Tuesday, September 25, 2018

All the Lonely People

A good friends of ours, who is also a colleague of Martha’s, was recently diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer. Her treatment plan includes at least 9 months of chemo, radiation and then, if those are successful, a double mastectomy. She is a single mother with an 8 year old son. As soon as she allowed her diagnosis to be public, people started volunteering. A schedule was almost instantly filled with dinners to be delivered, rides to chemo and play dates for her son. All the kids at the elementary school made her get well cards. The village stepped up in a big way.

Last week a young woman (Sarah) I have known since she was 3, and was most recently a colleague, got the news that her 21 year old son was killed in a motorcycle crash. She had had this baby boy when she was only 15 and gave up a lot to be able to raise him. I went to the wake with my dear friend Anna who 28 years ago suffered a similar loss when her 5 year old daughter and 4 year old nephew were killed by a drunk drive. We got to the funeral home early and already the line was out the door and around the building. The show of support was tremendous. Once we reached the receiving line Anna hugged Sarah and whispered something in her ear. I have no idea what she said but I am sure it was something that will help Sarah as she navigates through this tragedy,

So while it was an extremely sad and emotional week for me and my community, what happened next hit me even deeper.

Margaret, the elderly woman I am now grocery shopping for, told me that her daughter has abandoned her. She has had no contact with her for over 3 years. She had signed her house and her father’s house over to the daughter and once that was done the daughter just wrote her off. She told me that she has spent all of those Christmases, Thanksgivings and Mother’s Days alone - with her daughter and granddaughter living right across the street!

I have no idea why the break happened but I just can’t imagine being that alone. She sits in her house in a deep state of depression. I emailed my organization’s volunteer coordinator with my concern and this was part of her reply:

“It is a sad situation and hate to say we are seeing more and more of people alone with no one they feel they can ask for help.”

I had been quite melancholy about my friends who have very long roads to healing, but this broke my heart even more to think of all these elderly people sitting in their homes, alone.

Much like everything else in our society today, there seems to be an ever widening gap between the haves and the have nots while we overflow with resources. I know people have so much to give and in these days of uncivil and mean divisiveness, community acts of kindness and love stand out even more and give me hope. But we need to figure out a way to funnel some of this generosity to the people who are in so much need of it.

I don’t have the answers but in reading about loneliness I read that what lonely people miss most is intimacy. Yesterday I visited Margaret and gave her a hug. She cried. It’s a small drop in the ocean of her loneliness but it is a start.

All the lonely people, where do they all belong? They belong to all of us.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Grecian Adventure

Everything started out smooth enough. Leaving from our small, hometown airport, we breezed through security. But then we learned that our flight would be delayed because our plane was stuck at a different airport. That would cause us to miss our connection to Athens but we discovered a different flight leaving so we hopped on that. We taxied out only to come to a full stop. Apparently there was too much air traffic in the NYC airports and we had to wait. Then we were told that because of low cloud cover we would have to wait longer. We finally arrived - 10 minutes after our Athens connection had left. First we were told we had to wait 24 hours for the next flight but after some wangling we were able to catch a flight to London later that evening and then a connection to Athens. All in all we arrived about 7 hours later than originally planned.

Unfortunately, our luggage did not arrive at all. It is such a lonely, sinking feeling to watch all the other people on your flight collect their bags and leave while you stand there, alone, hoping against hope that your bag will miraculously appear out of the shute.

We reported the bags lost and found our driver to take us to our hotel. This was our view, from our room - the Temple of Zeus:

And the view from the rooftop restaurant where we had breakfast every morning:

I always carry one change of clothes in my take-on bag but of course my daughter, who never thinks anything will go wrong, did not. So out we went into Athens to buy some essential toiletries, underwear, and some clothing to carry us through.

The next morning we had booked a tour of Athens and the Acropolis. We saw the 1896 Olympic stadium which hosted the first modern games

And Hadrian’s Arch:

And of course, the Acropolis.

The Acropolis museum is built over an ancient settlement and there are glass walkways through which you can view it:

We spent about 1 1/2 hours with a guide learning much about the building of the Acropolis and the meaning of the sculptures and particularly the reverence for the goddess Athena:

And then walked up the hill to view the buildings themselves.

Throughout my career as a city planner I always worked with historic preservation. But now my efforts to preserve and protect 200 year old buildings seemed humorous in comparison to the 600 B.C. buildings I was witnessing. I was awestruck. But this was my daughter’s dream vacation and she did not want to spend too much time with history lessons so off we went shopping again. At least they were old historic neighborhoods (Plaka) we were shopping in:

Our luggage had still not arrived (which I write calmly about now but was a major source of stress at the time) when we were off to take a ferry to the island of Mykonos. On board my seat mate was a Greek woman who worked in hotel development. We had a long and educational (for me) conversation about our different development experiences and parted with shared email addresses.

Mykonos is a beautiful island of whitewashed buildings (by law your house must be white) and small churches (by law, in the rural areas, you must build a family church - about the size of a garden shed - before you build your house) and vineyards. We had a lovely hotel right on Platys Galias Beach (Pelican Beach)

Our luggage had still not arrived although by this time they had found it - one still in Newark and other in London - and they promised it would be delivered on the next plane. So back to shopping in Mykonos Town.

It is a very compact town with winding, narrow streets. I was told this was to deflect the strong winds that sweep across the island and also to confuse pirates:

Here we ate amazing seafood (although I had to ask the waiter to behead and debone a sea bass for me as I didn’t like my food looking at me) and wandered the streets buying bathing suits and more clothes.

And then we spent the evening walking along the shore, eating gelato:

On our second day in Mykonos my daughter scheduled a bike tour. The description sounded wonderful - starting from a family owned vineyard and organic farm, take an easy bike ride to a secluded beach, have a picnic and return to the vineyard, all while our leader, Dimitra, told us about life on Mykonos.

Ten of us gathered and were assigned mountain bikes. We were told to bring water, a bathing suit and towels which I carried in the backpack I used as my plane carry on. Out we started in the blazing Mediterranean sun. Our first stop was a small church where we learned about the religion of the island.

Then the ride started get difficult. The roads were all arid dirt and rocks and I was terrified of wiping out, especially on the steep downhills. Soon I was trailing the rest of the pack by greater and greater distances but one group leader always stayed behind with me.

We finally made it to the beach and I lost no time in jumping in to cool off.

We shared a picnic of wine, fresh lemonade, seasoned tomatoes, cheeses, breads, meats, olives and an orange cake in honor of the 30th birthday of a woman in our group.

There was a long and steep hill to get back up so I left the group early and started walking my bike back up. Soon everyone lapped me and I was once again pedaling in the back of the pack. But I made it back, huffing and puffing, my heart rate far exceeding safe. I should note here that I carried the backpack in the blazing sun because my darling daughter didn’t want to ruin her tan lines.

At this point some of the folks left but we stayed at the vineyard sipping wine and lemonade and chatting with a couple from Germany, a couple from northern Greece and two sisters from Chicago.

One more day at the beach and visiting the windmills and eating amazing seafood and finally our luggage arrived!

Then off on another ferry to the island of Santorini, known for its white buildings and blue domes.

Here we had a beautiful hotel room facing the volcano with phenomenal sunsets.

While Athens was for history, Mykonos for shopping, Santorini was to be for sunbathing and wine. We spent a day at the Black Sand Beach, made from the volcanic lava rocks smoothed into small black pebbles.

We dined in Oia and watched the world famous sunset, and we went on a wine tasting tour that took us to 3 different wineries, tasting 5 different wines at each stop.

At the first stop we learned about how the grape vines were kept low to the ground because f the high winds, and because they had no wood to stake plants. Instead the vines were wound into low ‘bird’s nest’.

Then we saw where the grapes were stomped, by feet, and the juice funneled into barrels for fermentation.

Our last stop was on a hill top where we could watch the sunset while sipping the last dessert wine. I did take a tiny sip of each wine but then my daughter drank the rest. She was pretty much wasted by the time it was over.

We spent our last day lingering over breakfast and getting massages at a fancy spa. Delightful.

Then it was onto Santorini airport for a flight back to Athens.

Santorini airport reminded me of a third world, 1940s airport - a small building with 6 gates and about 20 seats. The place was mobbed with weary travellers strewn all over the floors and there were no working outlets to charge phones and few working bathrooms. I was never so happy to board a cramped little plane and get out of the terminal.

One more night back in Athens where we enjoyed a lovely rooftop dinner overlooking the spectacularly lit Acropolis

and then back on a plane for the 12 hour flight home.

I am still struggling to get back on a sleep schedule and I still haven’t finished unpacking.

When asked about my favorite parts of the trip they were mostly the times we spent away from the tourist spots like the killer bike ride and times spent talking with folks from other countries. Having grown up near New York City I was used to multiculturalism. Now I live in a homogeneous suburb. It was very refreshing to see and hear different languages, dress, foods, etc.

Other little weird observances -

Almost everyone speaks English - most better than I do.

New York Yankees caps are worn by people around the world. I personally found people from New Zealand, Germany, Greece, Spain and Great Britain all wearing them. When asked if they were fans the answers were always “no, but the caps are prized.”

Nutella everywhere. I mean everywhere. It is in cookies and gelato and crepes. I had a Nutella calzone the size of a football and there was Nutella on every breakfast bar. I have no idea how these people stay so thin.

Cats are also everywhere.  They wander in and out of shops, which always had open doors, and sunbathe in shadows.  People apparently put out large plates of food for them and they inhabit the islands as if they owned the place.

All in all it was a wonderful trip making memories with my daughter. The lost luggage stress has faded and been replaced with beautiful new clothes we would not have bought otherwise.

Personally I would have liked to do more historical/educational wanderings - there is a town in Santorini that was bured by the volcano that is older than Pompeii and an archaeological site on the island of Delos that many people list as a “must see”. But wandering around beautiful small towns, relaxing at extraordinary beaches with crystal clear water, chatting with locals and folks from elsewhere, dining at seaside restaurants and sharing the most breathtaking sunsets every night with my daughter was a pretty exceptional adventure.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

August Odds and Ends

August has been extremely busy with mostly good and fun times

My sister and BIL visited at the lake which is always time spent chatting and mindlessly eating. (Did we just eat an entire half gallon of ice cream in one sitting?)

Beaner took Martha and I to see the Piano Boys as our Mother’s Day present. I didn’t know the Piano Boys were actually a pianist and a phenomenal cellist. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person play their instrument which more joy and abandon. Soul nourishing.

We went blueberry picking and filled the freezer for future pies and muffins but squirrels ate my entire orchard.  There's not a peach, apple or pear left to be seen. At least I had a couple of peaches off the tree before the plague came.

We have had extremely overcast skies recently which, we are told, are not clouds but rather the smoke from the California fires. Holy smoke! I can’t imagine what it is like on the west coast.

Thanks to one of my alma maters, the entire family congregated at Yankee stadium to enjoy an unlimited buffet, free hat and great seats on a perfectly pleasant night to watch a game. And our team actually won - something they have had difficulty doing lately.

Wedding planning going at full pace. Venue, check. Date set, check. Wedding dress, check. Peachie has been planning this since she was 5 so I don’t have to do much.

Roaming around the County Fair watching sheep shearing and cow milking. And, of course, this.

The passing of Aretha Franklin. She was the soundtrack of one of the most beautiful chapters of my life. I am enjoying all the tributes which are taking me back to that very happy place. Bittersweet.

Tomorrow Beaner and I leave for Greece. I am grateful to be able to create such memories with my oldest daughter but claustrophobic me is very anxious about the 10 and 12 hours trapped in a plane, plus feeling responsible that all plans go smoothly. I would ask that you send some travelling mercies into the universe for us.

Wow, August flew by..See you in September.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Day at the Beach

I grew up a few miles from the beach. My parents loved the ocean and I learned how to swim, to build sand castles, to quickly eat a frozen fudgy wudgy bar before it melted there. My mother would pack sandwiches and drinks and we would spend the entire day playing in the surf and sand. These were the days before sunscreen and nobody worried about being in the sun too long.

Occasionally my grandparents, who lived in New York City, would join us. I don’t have many memories of my grandfather as he died when I was four, but I remember seeing some photographs of them at the beach with us. My grandfather dressed in his street clothes - pants, shirt, socks and shoes, and my grandmother in her house dress, stockings and shoes and a gigantic sun hat. My parents would bring beach chairs for them and they would sit under a huge umbrella and enjoy the open air reprieve from the city, but never bathe in the sun.

Once we were teenagers we went to the beach every day, either hitching a ride or, once old enough to drive, strapping our surfboards to the top of the car. Our closest beach had 5 parking fields, each which developed their own following. Field 5 was generally for families, Field 1 for fishermen, while Field 2 was for teenagers. We would congregate there every day to surf and play beach volleyball but most importantly to work on our tans. From 9 am to 4 pm we would lay out on our towels, slathered in baby oil, and soak up the rays. Back in those days we only had transistor radios and everyone listened to the same station and the sound covered the entire beach. Every half an hour the DJ would say “roll your body” and the everyone on the beach would turn over. It would be fair to say that the main activity of my misspent youth was sun worshipping.

Over the years I have given into bringing a beach chair so I could comfortably read. I still used a towel to lay on so I could evenly tan both my front and back. Then, when the girls were babies, knowing more about the dangers of sun exposure, we bought a respectable beach umbrella to shade them from the heat of the mid-day sun and slathered them with sunscreen. I still laid out with abandon and found the feeling of the sun on my skin to be one of the most pleasurable feelings in the world.

We just returned from a beach vacation. My daughters are in their twenties and I am in my sixties. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, I can no longer tolerate too much sun like I used to. What changed? My daughters stretched out in their skimpy bikinis and I wore a one piece bathing suit with a pair of water shorts and a large brimmed sun hat I just bought for my upcoming trip to Greece. I lugged a beach chair and umbrella through the sand. But it was windy and we couldn’t keep the large beach umbrella firmly in the sand. Having just read that a woman had been impaled with a blown away umbrella made me take this very seriously. I went up to the beach shop and bought one of those small cheesy personal umbrellas that latch onto your chair. I could direct it to keep the sun off the majority of my body but wound up draping a towel over my burning knees and legs.

My daughters couldn’t hide their amusement. Or was that embarrassment? I have now officially become my grandmother.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Going Home

Martha and I have been working our butts off at the cabin. We hired a contractor to rip out a concrete floor in a back room that had heaved and was allowing water to seep up through the floor. They replaced the floor but left us with only studs for the back wall. We put in new windows, installed beadboard, laid carpet and sided the outside. My hands and shoulders were stiff for days.

Then we ripped apart the last third of the deck, shored up the foundation, unscrewing all the boards, flipping them, screwing them back down and re-staining them. Brutal on the back and knees.

But the most difficult project was replacing a back door that was thoroughly rotted. The door sat in a frame that had settled significantly and was now a trapezoid shape and never closed completely and was barely held shut for years by a hook and eye. Plus the door was about 7 inches shorter than a standard door. Removing the old door I found lots of rotted wood that needed to be replaced. Then I framed out a rectangle for the door frame. We had to cut 7 inches off the bottom of a fiberglass door to fit but we did it a little at a time to make sure we didn’t cut too much. After each cut we carried the heavy door, jockeying it into this narrow space, then back to make adjustments including having to router and re-position the bottom hinge.  My shoulders and wrists are screaming in protest.

There is nothing on my body that does not hurt. Nothing. As much as I enjoy doing this kind of physical work, and my psyche absolutely needs it, my body needs so much more time to recover from each day of labor.

Image result for every day too old for this shit

And to that end I am leaving for a relaxing family vacation where I will enjoy the healing power of warm sand, beach walks at sunrise, salty air, the calming ebb and flow of the ocean and seafood meals while watching sunsets.

Having grown up by the ocean, for me it is like going home.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Full of Grace

Just when I think things couldn’t get much worse for this country, they do. Again and again.

I am fortunate to live in a state where my representatives all vote the way I would so I don’t have to put much energy into political lobbying. I am fortunate enough to have some modest funds to donate to sites and organizations that help those who are truly being hurt by this administration’s inhumane policies and I try to help those in need my local world. But these days it all feels woefully insignificant against this overwhelming tide of hate and constant propagation of fear.

Still believe in the power of kindness and joy as an anecdote to the ugly and so here are some of the joy filled things that made me smile and grateful this week.

  • Despite the torturous heat wave we are experiencing, my veggie garden is thriving. Our town is on water restrictions but we have a private well so I can water, with soaker hoses, to give the plants some relief.
The critters have not eaten the beans like last year

Squash and Zucchini
Tomatoes all grown from seed

  • Martha and I spent two days at the cabin removing the last set of deck boards, shoring up its foundation and putting it all back together. It was hard, hot work but the main part of the deck is now complete and should last another 20 years. Which is more than I can say about my back after this project. Still I am very grateful to be able to do such physical work at my age. I know that not everyone is so blessed.

  • Starting today I will have two daughters, two of their high school friends, two boyfriends, two bonus daughters, two dogs, and two cats at the lake for the week. Although it is often too much chaos for me, I do love that they all want to come home.

  • And the biggest joy of the week, Peachie got engaged to a man we like very much and makes her very happy. The next year of wedding planning we will be dealing with bridezilla but we are oh so grateful that she has found someone to share her life with. 

Wishing and working for freedom for everyone this holiday week.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Full of Grace

Things that made me smile this week:
(and boy is it getting harder and harder to find reasons to smile these days)

A house in my neighborhood has been a source of ill will because they never mow their lawn and it looks particularly unkempt among the adjacent manicured lawns. I remember many complaints lodged against them even when I was still working for the town. But yesterday when walking my dog I noticed these signs tacked to a few of their trees. Very well played.

Daughters and boyfriends all at the lake house to celebrate Peachie’s 25th birthday. 25??? When did that happen?

On a very chilly morning I happened to see a strange ripple in the pool. A baby chipmunk had fallen in and was doing the doggy paddle for dear life. I scooped him up in the skimmer and placed him on the lawn. The water had also been freezing and the little thing was shivering uncontrollably. I ran in the house and got a towel and he allowed me to pick him up and dry his fur and massage his little body until he had stopped trembling. I reluctantly put him back down and he ran away and disappeared down a hole.

Long time readers may remember my friend and therapist. Lauren, who died very unexpectedly after helping me recover from the darkest time of my life. Well, the other day Martha came home from school saying a man with Lauren’s last name came to the school to pick up his daughter and when she saw her she knew it had to be Lauren’s granddaughter. Martha said that she is a little copy of Lauren, with white blond hair, a huge, warm smile and those extraordinary piercing violet eyes. I don’t know why but it is making me stupid happy to know this.