breast cancer, connection, Encouragement, Health, hope, Uncategorized

Two down, looking up.

It’s here! November 21. Finally, and forever in my head as a threshold I get to cross: the day I had that lumpectomy surgery. I had already put this day behind me when I was wheeled into that operating room two years ago, and now, I am grateful and looking forward.

Here I am. I’ve hit two years and then there’ll be three, five and that mother of all finish lines, ten, where they’ll hand me a “cured” ribbon. You don’t really get a ribbon, I don’t think, but, actually better, you get to drop off of your oncologist’s schedule. If there is a ribbon, I picture it a bright sunny yellow one vs pink and screaming all kinds of hope and happy. The pink doesn’t do that for me. Blood can be pink, Pepto Bismol is pink, calamine lotion is pink, and at the center of the storm, nipples, are pink, unless you radiate them 21 times, and then they turn closer to the color of your skin. Yellow, however, is hope, the sun, happy lemonade on a summer day, my hair keeping my head warm, the color of urine when it’s telling you to hydrate more, the circle of French knots in the center of a daisy. I vote yellow.

For this award, there are people to thank:

General gratitude goes out to people who show kindness. The nurses have it going on. The one standing close to my feet while I was getting biopsied initially, who took it upon herself to lovingly stroke my ankles and drape a warm towel over them. The others, who during office visits continue to hear me and my endless concerns, and help me get to the answers I need. The others during chemo who, like labor and delivery nurses, treat you like a queen when you didn’t think you needed or deserved it, and then like a regular person when you most do. They listen to your wired incessant jokes, as the steroids you’ve had to take for days surge through your veins, and they really laugh, the belly kind when you know you’ve struck a chord with someone. The ones who, after chemo and radiation is through, nudge you to ring that bell, and gather others around to cheer you on, noisemakers in hand, beaming ’til their sweet faces must hurt, and then sending you on your way. 

Hair stylists have it, too. When you go in with a crazy combination of long strung out strands and new little sprouts appearing on your scalp, and you leave with a legitimate cut, you know there are angels out there. You return every few months to lessen the gulf between long hair and short and, two years in, it’s just a head of hair now, like everyone else.

The friends you either don’t know well or else don’t see often, but who know what happened. They see me now and they always seem happy that they can. I worry, sometimes, if my brand is too bright, if this little health emergency I had to tend to might forever define me. Sometimes when I see these people, I wonder if there’s a little curiosity going on, like I’ve had myself with the few people I knew who had “it.” Maybe it’s a little hesitation to stand too close to that lady who saw things. Did she see a white light, you know getting so near to the other side? What were they like, those bags of poison, four of which ran through her veins?  Did she lose hair everywhere, I mean, even down there? And what has become of that poor boob, now that the show is over and the scaffolding has been removed? Is this girl now cloaked in a hopeful gratitude blanket skipping along pink meadows through her journey, or does that why did this happen to me bitterness ever come calling? To which I can answer: I was of course joking about a white light. The IV hurt like any IV does going in, but as for the poison itself, you wouldn’t know that’s what you’re getting. Days later, though, it definitely brought skin and taste and stomach annoyances as it worked its magic. Hair left all the different parts of my body in waves and returned in a similar staggered fashion, but now it’s all back and glorious. The boob is just dandy, thank you very much, and all things considered, seems quite normal and happy for its future still here with me. Gratitude is brighter and I literally must stop and smell every rose I see.  And I do. The small stuff, however, can definitely still grate on my nerves, but any bitter taste in my mouth, literally from chemo and figuratively from all this existential stuff I’ve been wading through, has given way to staying on the hunt for improvements in every area of my life. 

To those individuals, friends of mine, not naming names, but you know who you are, you did things, good things, that I won’t forget. 

-You were with me when I got the call, and only had love – not worry – on your face when I later told you.

-You sent emails telling me I was on your mind.

-You bought cards and mailed them to me, sweet words lifting me up, cards I’ll always keep. 

-You hugged me tight, that yummy long embrace that came out of nowhere, but I so needed, and which still lingers.

-You thoughtfully read my blog and commented, cheered me on, sometimes even remembering important milestones I was about to meet. 

-You helped me get curious about meditation even though, like my only occasional church visits, I’m a sometimes meditator. Still, you let me break down and cry and sent me home with some wonderful books, each with its own accessible, healing approach.

-You cooked for me, all of it handmade with love: chicken with broccoli, kale stew, broiled shrimp and roasted vegetables, vegetable and kale soup.

– You were going through your own similar slice of hell at the same time, yet you were open to meeting me and sharing your story with me over coffee, emails and visits, and we got to root each other on.

-You sent flowers and sweet notes.

-You called.

-You sent love in a blanket with hopeful words embellished in its fabric.

-You sent socks with treads on them that I still wear, ginger lozenges for chemo, special shampoos and other helpful goodies you lovingly researched to carry me.

-You joined me on some of those 21 days, walking to radiation, the six miles there and back. What fun that was noticing things, catching up, laughing too.

-You went to a long day of chemo with me where we hunkered down and where you helped ice my fingers and toes, so chemo’s poison wouldn’t bring on neuropathy. We caught up, killed the time, and we lunched, and I learned that this is what friends do. 

-You checked in.

-You showed up. 

-You loved me as if nothing had changed.

To my family: you continue to dilute my worries and reset me in the direction of everything’s going to be okay. Two of you flew down to be with me for my last chemo. How special that was! Another one of you sat with me and watched TV as I lolled in bed wrung out from that one beast of a nausea episode. You walked with me to radiation that gorgeous early spring day. You all continue supporting and encouraging me as I’ve changed things up and largely lessened my alcohol intake, dropped beef off my menu, and continue to try and make healthier choices. For those of you who pray, you prayed. All of you loved me and listened and cared, and you still do. I know this has been a long haul, exhausting for you, too, but you went through this with me, and we came out the other side together, now with two years under our belts. Now, it’s that much farther behind all of us, thank god, and thank 💛you💛 from the bottom of my heart. 

Uncategorized

Toast Points

This morning, I attended a virtual Creative Mornings event titled Street Wisdom, the idea being a little tune-up we can all give ourselves, this first one guided by David Pearl, author at http://www.streetwisdom.org. We were given three tasks:

The light

1) Look around where you are. What attracts you and what doesn’t? I looked up from my bed from where I was participating–I determined my bedroom’s cream curtains made for a better Zoom background as opposed to the construction plastic draped from the ceiling in the other option for a Zoom call–and settled my eyes on a lamp on my dresser. This lamp and I go way back, 50+ years, actually. It was in my room growing up and always on my dresser, and now it sits on a different dresser wearing a new linen shade. The lamp base is the same, and offers a reliable consistency, like a good friend does, who knew you way back when. How is it that this pretty pink English calico lamp came to mind and into view? It attracts me on so many levels: its beauty, elegance, quietness and femininity, and especially its connection to my childhood and that little girl who walked up to it every day as she rifled through her dresser for something to wear, barely noticing it, really. It has stayed exactly the same while everything around it has changed. These artifacts from my past validate that this other life I had–which seems as if from a fading dream–really existed. The parents I had who left me nearly three decades ago, my mother who likely purchased this lamp. Was it for her living room initially, or was it always bought with her younger daughter in mind? If this lamp could talk, what would it tell my earlier self? It sits there ever so steady and peaceful; I want even a fraction of its unflappable grace. All the moves I’ve made, all the tabletops it’s sat on, the people who’ve touched it, moved it, dusted it, and here it still stands, not terribly tall, but proud and elegant, confident of its place in the room. This is what attracts me. 

The heap

What doesn’t? The pile of clothes heaped on the slipper chair next to the dresser where the lamp sits. They are haphazard, a cacophony of colors and wrinkles and not, some folded from clean laundry brought up days ago, some dress shirts, still unhung and flung over the chair’s back to keep more wrinkles at bay. The two dark pieces of luggage on the floor next to it, one perpendicular to the wall, one parallel. The disarray, the tasks needing doing, the darkness, the bold swaths of colors and shapes sloppily bleeding into one another, the visual stimulation that corner brings is a detraction and is what doesn’t attract me.

2) Our next task in this tune up was to “slow right down.” If I had a clean corner for every time someone told me to slow down, well, I’d have a tidier house and mind than I do now. This exercise involved getting up and moving about, wherever you are inside or out, and slowing down your thoughts, your pace, your breathing as you move. Noticing each step, a changing environment or a cat walking by, took me away from my predictable looping brain reel and into a reality outside my head, which replaced my usual thoughts, if only for a few minutes. It changed my vision from a wide frame taking in all stimuli at once, a busy horizon stretched to its edges, to a narrow aperture seeing single things in a slide show style succession. The external world felt smaller, but each item was bigger and more beautiful, and the overwhelm of tasks was delightfully at bay.

3) The last tune-up task was to see (and sense) the beauty in everything and everyone. The instruction was to see gratitude as a wallpaper in bright colors. Participants had 15 minutes to move about and do this. Many lived in trendy Brooklyn, donned in black with contrasting white AirPods in their ears, and they moved about soaking up those high rpms that are signature New York. During most of this Zoom call, I had wrestled with keeping my camera on and then off, rinse and repeat, distracted and a bit discouraged seeing my pale morning face, glasses and floppy pillows behind me. The jig is up, folks: this girl is wearing the same tank top she slept in, she’s propped up in bed for God’s sake, and hasn’t bothered to turn a light on, so of course her Zoom background is a dull, just woke up shade of grey! After the back and forth of video on/off indecision and background adjustments, I was relieved to simply turn my camera off and go downstairs. If something doesn’t work, unplug it for a while. Passing a laundry basket, I’d moments earlier filled with soaked towels catching rainwater (from poorly tarped renovated spaces, an entire other story, but did you SEE last night’s rain?), hungry, I made my way to the kitchen.

A logo so pretty you can practically smell the bread baking

To kill my fifteen minutes, I chose to do something useful, like moving a load of towels to the dryer and making myself some toast. The bread I’d be toasting was a gorgeous hand-crafted country sourdough loaf I bought yesterday from Evergreen Butcher and Baker. I told them they need to rent the place next door, where they could employ the third member of their holy trinity, the “Candlestick Maker.” The girl in the bakery laughed and told me her roommate had said that, too. The bread has that homemade substance you envision in an artisan loaf, but is light and airy, too. I forced the toast up from the toaster after what I determined was an interminable wait. I had two thin pats of butter ready to go and minced them for easy dispersing over the hot bread. I sprinkled a little salt over the top as I stood there watching the butter slowly melt, and helped it along with a knife, so I could eat it quicker and to uniformly spread the salt. I stood at the counter to deliberately eat the toast, one luscious bite at a time, salt and butter finding its way into the cavernous pockets of this sumptuous slice. I heard the dryer spinning on the other side of the wall and I heard the crunch of warm toast bites in stereo inside my head. I had thought to pop in two slices, but I don’t think a second slice would have compared, and my toast fascination and amazement would have been largely diluted. Sated, I slowly wandered back upstairs, back to the Brooklyn, Sydney, Paris and even a handful of Georgia Creative Mornings Zoomers. The screen slowly woke up and the chats began to flow. We’d each noticed different things, me, the hypnotic quality of towels tumbling in a dryer as slowly melting butter and salt sank into toast air pockets. We each were revived from this quarter of an hour, which offered a fascinating meditative hyper-focus where we could find a simple pocket of stillness and become reacquainted with our wide-open hearts, and minds, and eyes. 

Throughout the session, a few quotes were offered up, and I jotted them down. 

1) Whatever interests you is your future self-seeking to manifest itself in the present.

2) Sometimes you have to turn something off to turn something on.

3) Don’t stick with what we know.

4) Be patient with yourself.

5) Sit with your discomfort.

6) New things can be built up around the things we already have. 

7) How am I moving forward for myself?

8) You know where to go. You can steer.

9) Put what’s inside you outside you so you can see it. 

10) Creativity is that rare phenomenon where teacher and student reside in the same human.

Have yourself a wondrous weekend and maybe some toast.

xo

Uncategorized

Sans Souci : without worry : free of care

That unmistakable September light

I started this post weeks ago when the month was brand new. New month, new energy and that smidgeon of crispness you get in the morning. Even though we’re a week away from October, it seems only fitting to recognize this gorgeous month. Hello September! Some months, a select few for me, sparkle more, and I’m more inclined to sift through whatever is heavy, break it up, and move it out. This is that time.

You know it’s fall and summer has surely slipped away when you get that pool eSplash notifying you that pool hours have now been reduced. For at least a second year in a row, we visited all of one time this year, making that lone visit a several hundred-dollar swim. Why do we keep signing up for this steep madness? 

Ben’s cat, Rufus

My boys’ rooms are now morphing into storage areas for various things – linens, clothes, and all that other stuff you put into bins. Some of their belongings are still in there – swim ribbons and soccer trophies, clothing they never chose to wear, little figurines a child keeps on a dresser, wopsy pillows, and long-ago bedtime books still tucked away in Pier I and Ikea Billy bookcases. My babies, now men, are both in college and settled into their own apartments, and one even just adopted his first pet, a cat named Rufus.

But it is here that their rooms remain, albeit picked over and missing an energy, unless a cat chooses to nap in there. Aside from the rooms’ storage utility, the beds are at least made, but my younger son’s is missing its pillows. He returned the other day, the Grinch from Ga Tech, plucking the remaining ones to join his other two. I get it, it’s easier to study when you’re all propped up, but whenever I pass that room, the naked bed calls out, “Get me some pillows, will you?”

This void isn’t sad, it’s just airy, especially now, since off each bedroom is the construction start of a bath and closet. The timing for this renovation is ironic, though not unique. Kids leave and only now do time and resources present. For the cats, the open air behind those plywood doors is fascinating, and sometimes when the 16-pounder’s paw succeeds in prying it loose, exposed is all manner of goodness for both to explore. I’m not always sure when they’ve snuck in there, but when they show up for mealtime, exhausted, and with cobwebbed whiskers and filthy paws, you can tell how they spent their day. 

The void isn’t sad, it’s just airy.

This month has me taking care of things. My laptop was throwing fits, so I dialed up the nice folks at AppleCare. They patiently hear me out each time, logically break down my problems, and leave me restored and empowered. The AppleCare guy wanted to share my screen, which I allowed, but not without first apologizing for the embarrassingly large mess of icons littering my desktop. I’m cluttered, and this busy screen is a sampling of my world.  Sure, we’re in the midst of a house renovation, but who are we kidding? I was no minimalist before. I once read somewhere that clutter is dodging decisions, and along these lines, there’s a movie called Minimalism http://minimalismfilm.com/watch, with Dan Harris (author, Ten Percent Happier), that I want to watch. It’s going to change things up and push me to ask that illuminating, simple question: Is This Useful? Stay tuned for the transformation.

Clutter is dodging decisions.

I’ve begun working part-time from home, a little editing gig which, if consistent, will help offset one of our boys’ apartment rents each month. I do love details and this job unquestionably challenges that hunger. Other than sharpening my eye for detail, on the list of things to learn if I’m going to function in this working world is a way to stop spell check from flying away with my email the second it has completed scanning it for errors. There is always that other thing I wanted to look at or fix, but once spell check is complete, from my laptop’s speakers emanates a flock of birds gleefully flying away with my message as fast as their wings can carry them. Without that final review, any remaining errors are carelessly flapping in the wind.

The house where we live and work has little storage, and flat surfaces fill up quickly, mantles included, all seven of them. I once had some tenants who were remarkably reductive – no labels visible anywhere. Pasta pulled from its box to stand vertically in tall glass canisters. Same for laundry detergent, shampoo, coffee beans, all of it. Unlike me, these people were calm, too. There’s a connection there. Clean, airy rooms open up space in your head. I know this to be true. Every time I load the car and head to a donations place, I never look back. I always leave lighter, happier someone else can use these items, and proud of myself for driving them to their next chapter.

Clean, airy rooms open up space in your head.

Heading home and still cloaked in calm, I typically come upon an insane intersection near my house where, to turn left, you must cross oncoming traffic and merge into two lanes of traffic. Merging puts you on the left, and next you must creep over to the right if you’re going to head in the direction of home. I scan the drivers’ faces – are they friendly, or pretending to ignore me, or will they choose to floor it at the precise moment I could slip in front of them? I take great care to lock eyes with that one driver who will feel my struggle and do the right thing. I read them wrong most times, yet still assuming the best of these people, I attempt to inch in front of them only to have them close the gap the instant the light turns. But there, lurking in the sea of motorists, is that occasional driver who surprises me and motions me to tuck in and join the procession. 

And so, I keep going, one thing at a time. Lately it’s washing dog beds. Lucie was spoiled silly, a comfy bed always a few paces away. From the looks of things, you’d presume I was a canine inn-keeper, fluffing up for the next guest, but for now, I’m dog-less, and simply cleaning and storing. My favorite bed I bought her last year right before Christmas was a plush sage green orthopedic one. I was thrilled to find I’d scored the last one, plucking it from its high shelf and hauling it out of the store just as a light snow began to fall. I knew it would quiet her arthritis and bring on solid sleep. Instead, her paws got stuck in the deep plush quilted panels between the tufts, making it hard to get up, offering little incentive to get back in. She didn’t mind this waste of a gift taking up space, and instead just plunked back down on her familiar half-inch gel mat. 

And so, I keep going, one thing at a time.

This clutter thing has been interesting. I know the way out is a place for everything and everything in its place, but there’s just too much stuff that sends my brain spinning. Where can it all go? I’m learning for most of it, the answer is “out!” I’m getting there, but, still, with no real closet to call my own, but for the Ikea armoire in the hall, any wardrobe additions find themselves homeless. Closets, plural, are coming. I recently sold a pair of lamps, and the lady who bought them texted me the next day, thrilled with her find, including a photo of how her living room was shaping up. For me, this made the sale. 

In the spirit of taking care, I’ve been justifiably consistent with medical visits. Recently, during an ultrasound, I found myself once again in an exam room undressed from the waist up and waiting to be seen. Why is it they always barely knock and simultaneously open the door? How do they determine how much time to allow before going in? Is there a set time it takes a woman to get topless and into a gown, opening to the front? Mind you, I’m no slow undresser, but am certain for those who are, that scant knock and immediate open door affords an awkward zero time to respond. Makes you wonder.

At another appointment – the annual bilateral mammogram – after a long stint in the waiting room where I loved comparing notes with a lovely woman waiting on her own results, a gentleman wearing a dress shirt and tie (you can be sure getting assigned the well-dressed male is never a good sign) came to get me. He had a question, and on the walk to find a room for our Q&A session, the only question I could envision was, “Ma’am, why is it you have such astonishingly shitty luck?” I soon learned he was confused why my scans showed a second pin in my breast. They knew about the first marker they’d placed from an earlier biopsy but didn’t know I’d had another one at a different hospital. All this was long ago, but new to him. Nothing to see here, just a little shrapnel from the war zone. I assured him that was it, and it was then that I was released back into the world of regular people. At least for another year. 

Sans Souci, Jekyll Island Club

Last weekend we got to go to Jekyll Island for my husband’s conference. Our stay at the Sans Souci was true to its name, quiet and with the quirky combination of Covid and mid-September, the hotel was at just two thirds occupancy. It’s refined and grand in its well-built simplicity and old, 1896 old. I studied every bit, soaking in the rich details: the moldings, buttery soft bannister, heart pine floors, stained glass transoms, porch floor paint colors, curved trim, all of it. With our 1860s house getting its own loving care, I imagined the many people who built this place with their own hands. There were framed pictures to prove it. 

Cuttlefish clatch?

I got in a little beach time, too, and concluded late September is the sweet spot for getting to the Georgia coast when the glaring hot sun is replaced with a sweeter, gentler one, and the beaches aren’t crowded. You notice more in that dappled light and without all the people – sandpipers, flitting, looking for lunch, their curving paths skirting the foam at the water’s edge, seagulls parked on the sand, chatting it up and flying further down the beach as I approach, and sand dollars, lots of them, sweet round perforated miracles, dotting my walk. The next day there were no sand dollars, but instead, a livelier surf and sky chock full of sun, and even a sweet dog who let me toss him a tennis ball. Every new beach day is so very different from the last. Every any day is.

connection, Encouragement, Friends, Uncategorized

Mean Girls

I met my son for lunch yesterday. He’s now a fulltime worker with a direct deposit and a lunch hour, and we agreed tacos on the westside would taste good. It’s both strange and wonderful to see him midday in khakis and wearing the new J.Crew golf shirt I bought him. He’s starting to show a little fatigue from the grind, but thankfully is challenged and using his brain far more than he would hanging around the house. And a paycheck sure feels good.

Afterward I decided to pop into Serena & Lily, an overpriced home furnishings store which sends me their catalog I’ve occasionally flipped through. Its expensive beachy vibe and pillows with playful pom-poms both attract me and put me off – much like the Williams-Sonoma catalog does with similarly overt overpricing. Having never seen a store in person, I was curious. I’ve tried before but there was an “appointment only” sign on the door – in italic tasteful script of course – and so I left. This time, that tasteful off-putting sign was still there, but I thought I’m already here and besides, I don’t see any customers inside. A woman on the sidewalk nearby beamed at me, surprised at my gall; she’d wanted to browse too but admitted she didn’t dare bother with such an unfriendly, exclusive vibe.

Through the door as I was peering inside, I saw three women, one wearing that anxious look you get right before a party you’re hosting is to begin. We locked eyes and I stood at the door and waited it out. She walked toward me, a head shaking no look on her face, as if I were a rat scratching to get in, and she’d once again need to remind me the answer is still, “No you can’t come in here.” My persistence paid off however and she unlocked the almighty door, poked her head out feigning ignorance as to what I might possibly want. There was a rushed exchange: HER: “We are appointment only.” ME: “I just wanted to browse quickly.” HER: grudgingly looking at her watch, “I have a 3 o’clock appointment.” Seeing as I wasn’t going away, and it was barely 2:00pm, and disgruntled by the few choices left her, she let me slink in past her and promptly locked the door behind us. 

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

One friendly looking woman was fluffing pillows and positioning an expensive throw diagonally over the sofa’s arm.  As I looped through the store leaning in to turn over price tags – ouch! – the main woman was back at her post at the large white desk in the center of the space. She was the queen bee and it was clear behind her tortoise shell low sitting readers that she called the shots. I made my way to fabrics – one of the reasons I wanted in in the first place – but the grey windowpane Sunbrella swatch advertised online wasn’t instore. The woman working fabrics offered me a sample of a different brand performance fabric – perhaps my consolation prize if I would just leave already ?- and encouraged me to go home and dirty it up, even pull out a Sharpie, because this linen-like square was indestructible, and could even tolerate a Clorox soak if it came to that. It was beautiful but unfortunately my cats would shred it to pieces.

Looping back around to the queen’s desk, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to discuss our unfortunate greeting at her door. I asked if this appointment-only situation was due to Covid, and she nodded yes before I could even finish my sentence, happy I gave her a response to offer me before she’d have to rustle one up, using up precious energy reserved for her 3 o’clock. I told her she might find she’ll lose customers turning them away at the door. All I got next was, “We’re California-based” – as if that helps explain the unfriendly vibe? – and smiling, enthusiastically adding, “… actually, we’ve done really well.” (with the implied: … by being picky about just who we let in). Pleased with her rapid recovery from and command of our exchange, she went back to the desk and her busy downward glance mode, eyes ever watching but with readers now slid lower.

I told her she might find she’ll lose customers turning them away at the door.

I finished my two-minute sweep through the store returning to the fluffing pillows woman who seemed flustered when I asked her a product question. She revealed it was her first day and I warmly congratulated her. What I really wanted to tell her was to run now, because I can’t imagine the queen would tolerate such product illiteracy or ease her career path in any way. I considered sitting on the couch because it was gorgeous and I sort of wanted to fall in love with it, but with the puffed perfect pillows in place and three sets of side-eying eyes, I thought better of it. The price for the soft linen sofa, like most things in there, was ridiculous, untouchable and untestable, so I cut my losses and headed for the door. The queen rushed behind me as if unsure I might change my mind and stay or if I could work the lock. I surprised her with my lock turning skills and she seemed newly energized with the prospect of my leaving. I left, heard the lock turn and never looked back.

Sorry folks – I’m sure this is a great store and if you shop there and can afford the cute pillows and such and the ladies take you in and manage to find smiles for their faces, then good for you. I, however, don’t fall in that group and this experience reminded me why I don’t want to. There’s a certain feeling you get around people like that, and it’s mostly with women I’ve found. You know the sinking feeling. Like after you’ve gotten a haircut you’re unsure about and an acquaintance (or good friend even) will do the long stare, cock her head and with a knowing naivete inquire, “Did you get your haircut?” which is usually followed by a smirk, another stare taking in the atrocities and then silence. And there you are, naked AND with a questionable haircut. 

There’s a certain feeling you get around people like that.

There was that time I hosted a dinner party for good friends and another couple they’re close with joined in. We know this couple, but haven’t hung out with them socially, but because our friends made the suggestion, we happily included them. As I do with most gatherings I host, I busted my ass marinating beautiful meats and seafood for grilling, making delicious sides and getting the house picked up and (mostly) cleaned up for the event. The guests brought wine and the wife of this other couple, a salad. It was delightful yet simple, and there was something about it that drew me in, but I wasn’t sure what. When the time was right, I complimented her and then asked what was in it. Gatekeeper of salad secrets, she looked my way, smiled and offered up a paltry, “a little this, a little that.” I’ll stop here and admit there was a time I wasn’t as generous with giving out my recipes, and there are still a few for cookies and cakes I occasionally sell that I won’t give out. But mostly, if you liked what I made you, I’m thrilled because c’mon, folks, isn’t that the point? And if you bother to put yourself out there and ask me for the recipe, I will gladly give it to you. Thinking perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, later in the evening as we’d all further loosened up with more wine, I asked directly, “Your salad is great. I’d love to make it some time. Could you share your recipe?” And then the smile returned to her face and then… nothing. Again, I’m standing there naked before her and she won’t even throw me a towel. 

Be warned: Mr. Longlegs loves swings

Flashback to Trinity School, 6th grade and I’m eleven and enjoying time on the playground in that relaxed dappled autumn sun September brings. I noticed a Daddy Longlegs at the base of the slide and shrieked, quickly moving toward the swings. My friends noticed and snickered, but now on the swings, I was safe. After several minutes pumping my legs and climbing high into the sky, I felt something. There it was, another one climbing up the chain of my swing. Heart racing, I slowed down and jumped off, unable to silence my shriek or this terror, running inside to the bathroom where I’d stay until recess was over. Sitting on the toilet in my stall, I gradually calmed down and let the horrific events fade, when all of a sudden, the bathroom door opened, and a few giggly girls came bounding in. I stayed quiet but I knew they knew I was in there, and then they flung handfuls of Daddy Longlegs over the stall door. It was then that I endured a slow-motion horror flick, Daddy Longlegs raining down onto my head, their bent quivering legs scurrying around my scalp and neck. Of course, I had to run my hand through my hair to get them off and, thanks to the adrenaline kicking in, I stayed at it until it seemed they were literally out of my hair. 

We’re all vulnerable but often try not to look the part. Each time, the hurt that seeps in when you share your heart or fears with a friend and instantly regret it because you’re now exposed or when you ask for help when you’re feeling awkward or ashamed revealing your weaknesses, feels awful and trains you to retract back into your shell. Those times when you let your guard down and complain about a relationship you’re struggling with, suddenly you aren’t interesting any more. Your mystique has melted and faced with the real you – or the real you on that particular day – some people don’t want to look anymore, don’t want their image of you to become too real, too human, because maybe it makes them all too real as well, and feel less special, especially now hanging out with you. They need things fluffed up and crisp, like the Serena & Lily showroom promises and delivers.

Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people. – Fred Rogers

If we’re being honest, I suspect we’d each agree that it’s our weak spots that make us interesting and real, make us special, and help us grow. If only we could stop judging each other and ourselves, maybe we’d learn more about one other and really see each other just as we are. I’d like to think that there are far more women out there who are supportive, loyal, and unconditionally generous, and thankfully I know many who are. 

Maybe we could be a little less picky about who we let in, give everyone a chance, and put bullying, elitism and shaming aside, or even better, away for good. Women can be a source of great support, information and joy for one another. We can lift each other up, share our delicious secrets and do away with making the other girl undress while we quizzically stare at her. We’re all naked and imperfect and just doing our best, so please girls, let’s give each other a break and a chance to grow and learn and let go; let’s give each other some love. Ourselves too.

Nothing’s perfect, not even this gorgeous magnolia.
Birthdays, Food, hope, Sunshine, Travel, Uncategorized

Up With The Sun

Never once have I regretted waking up early to see the sun rise. It’s your own private preview to the day before the world begins to stir, your chance to discover what awe, sparkle, brightness and hope look like. Sometimes there’s a dramatic sky previewing the show, other times, a cloud cover has settled in so thick you’re certain you won’t see anything. Once, years ago, I walked away from waiting on a sunrise to begin, assuming I’d either woken up too late and missed the show, or there was no show at all, since the clouds wouldn’t let the sun out, only to turn around to find a giant orange ball had risen, tiptoeing in just when I’d stopped watching. Today’s clouds parted and presented us with a shimmering gold nugget, actively stretching and spreading its molten wonder. Everyone quietly found their seats – some on yoga mats in the sand, others climbing on overturned chaises, some standing still, reverent and expectant – each of us humbled and respectful, talking in hushed tones. 

The hot glittery gold began to spread out and thin yellow rays extended across the sky, reaching out to each of us there looking up. It’s real, these golden tentacles which stretch from the center. They’re like the sunshines I used to draw as a little girl, when I’d carefully select colors from my Crayola box: orange, yellow-orange, orange-yellow, goldenrod, yellow, lemon yellow and gold, and if you were lucky enough to be coloring in 1972 as I was, you had access to the new fluorescent Crayola collection debuting that year, adding chartreuse and ultra yellow along with other colors to the mix. Those rays aren’t just in a child’s imagination, they are real – real enough for an iPhone to capture and so much more engaging in person than in any stock photos or inspirational motifs. They’re as real as those smoke curls I used to draw which spiraled out of the chimney of my house.

As the performance heightened, seagulls circled, perfectly picturesque and swooping into every frame. The sun broke out of its gold shell and rose up quickly, spreading a bright yellow haze all around. The crowd then shifted and scattered, and we moved on into the day, filled up from the performance, and my sister and I agreeing it was well worth setting the alarm. The show would resume tomorrow, but by then, we’d be back home in different cities, returning to the less interesting routines we’d left.

Afterward we went for coffee at a large Starbucks nearby. From our table outside, we watched lots of people – singles, couples, joggers and partners with their dogs – and talked for hours, a pair of sisters full on conversation, caffeine and celebration from this rare birthday getaway. This week she turned sixty, my warm, beautiful slender, forever-young sister, and me, just two years behind. For four days, we walked, sunned, swam and shelled. Lizards darted across our paths, a pair of parakeets flew overhead, pigeons cooed nesting on the hotel’s roof, and a bright green iguana even appeared, jumping in our pool for a quick swim across.


The four of us – my sister, her daughter, my husband and I – got along well, and it was easy making plans from our rooms directly across the hall from one other. Nearly identical, one room felt like a girls’ dorm with The Food Network on TV running in the background, bikinis hanging out to dry and no shortage of chatter. The other doubled as a couple’s room and workplace, since Joe needed to dedicate time each day connecting with his office. The rental car stayed parked throughout our stay and we instead explored the area on foot – past successions of royal palms in street medians, pastel Art Deco buildings, stark Miami-hot streets, Cuban sandwich shops and stylish cafes with lush outdoor seating. 

We discovered a quieter beach away from the center of things and sprung for chaises with umbrellas, a first for each of us. Accustomed to hauling beach umbrellas from home, we’d typically find ourselves frustrated from their tilting or pulling up out of the sand and blowing down the beach, leaving us little choice but to bake in the sun or else call it a day. Esteban’s, our beach chair place, set us up, their drill boring a perfect narrow hole in the sand for our umbrella, creating an afternoon full of marvelous choices – sun or shade, surf or beach, walking the beach or lounging on cushioned chaises. I even fell asleep for a short while, infant-style arms overhead. Delicious. 

Meals were consistently wonderful except for dinner the first night when we got stuck in the middle of the largest, tackiest, rudest crowd we’d ever seen, who were constantly everywhere we found ourselves, blaring music and twerking, yelling, racing in cars and weaving on bikes around us. The restaurant was expensive as expected but unremarkable, feta noticeably absent from our Greek salads, canned California olives (c’mon, no Kalamata?), and tiny minced romaine, with a tasteless dressing on the side. It was loud and rushed – a sudden downpour contributing to the mood – as we all moved inside, bringing this crazy party uncomfortably closer. As we all fought fatigue from early morning flights and the rushing around you do before a getaway, this first night gave us a distasteful preview to our stay which luckily, four days in, faded like yesterday’s news. The rest of the time was quieter and what we’d been looking for and desperately needed – our soundtrack of tides, birds and our own spontaneous laughter. 

Meals were highlights and our hotel was our favorite place for good ones; it’s so easy opting to stay in when you can dine alfresco in lush outdoor rooms surrounded by tropical vegetation and cute critters minding their own business. Our hotel’s Caesar salad was a thing to behold: Crispy butter lettuce replaced romaine and bread crumbs stood in for croutons, with tiny Parmesan curls scattered all around the top, and a smidgeon of bacon, all of it minimally bound in a refreshing dressing. Grilled shrimp tacos came with soft white corn tortillas, cotija cheese, finely shredded cabbage and jalapeño mayo, another hotel homerun.A friend recommended an authentic Cuban sandwich shop, and a couple by the pool, a place for lobster rolls, so we checked out both, which were authentically delicious. 

The birthday – and reason for the trip – was full and fun. I got up early that day and slid a card under Anne’s door with a gift inside – a happier paper surprise on your floor than the usual hotel bill signaling the end of your stay, always a downer. Instead, the party was just getting started. We gathered for brunch and I brought down her bag of gifts – little nothings but each wrapped carefully with love. We got good coffees that day in lieu of the lobby’s free stuff and once more, sat outside in the early June heat. The four of us each found our thing – cappuccino, croissant, eggs and avocado toast – and reveled in it; I love how everyone gets to share in the same fun as the birthday person. 

Another beach day, more beautiful weather, and reliable Esteban’s set us up again. Red and purple flags flew like the day before, warning us of rip tides and Japanese Man ‘o War, so we lazily floated close to shore. Five o’clock brought happy hour to our hotel lobby every afternoon, and we patiently stood in line hoping the sauvignon blanc wouldn’t run out. Little clear plastic cups were stacked next to a serving tray and the hotel front desk person turned sommelier for the pour, another plastic cup set out for tips. One day there was only chardonnay and our faces fell, but I politely convinced the pourer to check in the back for more and, spared the dreaded oakiness, the party continued. 

We frequently coffeed and happy houred on our favorite patio on the side of the hotel with its snappy striped awning rolled up for evenings, revealing lovely strings of lights woven and stretching across the canopy of vegetation overhead. Lizards darted in and out of the plants surrounding us and one of them who came around every day was missing the tip of its tail.

A bizarre looking caterpillar appeared one morning as well, slowly motoring along a table top where we sat for coffee. An animal lover and learner, Hannah kept saying it might be poisonous, and a quick Google search revealed it was indeed. We had before us the puss caterpillar, a strangely beautiful creature born saddled with a horrible name. My search produced this: their wig-like hairs are actually spines that can cause intense pain, swelling, vomiting, and fever if touched, and with this, our fascination was over. Hannah held out a wooden stirrer for it to climb onto and then moved it far away into the vegetation where it leisurely dismounted and carried on.

It was during one last swim in the pool in the hours before check-out that we each admitted that we’d miss this place. I asked Anne and Hannah if at the end of a nice vacation they make little resolutions like I do, and they admitted they do. One such resolution, especially on the heels of that morning’s sunrise, was to get up earlier and notice the day when it’s its freshest and quietest. Another was to get outside and exercise more. Both ideas we carried with us as we boarded our plane for home, and even though the new season has barely begun, I think this sunny reset is firmly planted inside each of us.