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A NEW MEMORY

A NEW MEMORY

“I think you need a new bag or fix this one,” Jane said to me inspecting my blue and white evenly squared checked cotton throw bag that takes me on my travels happily and joyfully. She was looking at the straps that were coming unstitched because this bag has come with me on all of my adventures for well over ten years if not more. I quickly became defensive; I am not nor will ever be a fashion icon for anything especially a purse. For me it is what bag climbs with me, what bag has the right amount of pockets to hold just enough without being cumbersome.

“This bag was given to me by an old friend who was a traveling superchick right into her eighties. Her daughter used to make them, then they both died within a few months of each other and I keep this bag with me on all excursions to remember Joy,” I said a little churlishly. She realized my sass and quickly reminded me that she was just pointing out the stitching so I could fix the straps. In the end, it was a win win because Janey got to learn about Joy and Anne and their connection to the bag and I got to see the straps coming undone before they did, before the day before my big hike up the mountain.

I went to the front desk of my five star hotel knowing that they would likely have one of those handy sewing kits. They did and as I got into the elevator, I was already stressing out about how I was possibly going to thread the eye of the needle with these eyes. Take a breath, relax, I could almost hear my old friend Joy saying proud and happy that I was still using the bag all these years later. I got into the room and it was like Joy the angel was looking out for me, of course the seven different colors of thread would already be threaded in the seven different needles! I was relieved and so happy that Jane now would become a piece of this bag as I pulled the navy thread choice out of the package.

I have never been much of a sewer. My grandfather, my great uncle and my father owned a textile factory and all sewing was given to them to do any repairs there. My father knew how to sew, not my mother. This was odd in Fall River, Mass at the time as most moms were stay at home moms and did stay at home kind of things. Also living in a major Portuguese community, you would have thought that my mother might have picked up some of that luscious home care. But this was not my mother and though we lived in this community, our community of friends and life were Jewish. I am guessing and this is a broad generalization, that most Jewish women in my mother’s circle of stay at home moms didn’t sew either.

As I pulled the thread out, my index finger and thumb automatically looped and knotted the end of the thread so that when I pulled my first stitch through, it would stop at the knot. It was such an automatic reflex, I almost didn’t notice. But then my father appeared before me like he was standing there and I could remember him teaching me this when I started to take sewing lessons at about eleven or so at the Singer store in the Harbor Mall. I think it was a Singer store, maybe it was a material store that had Singer sewing machines, but I took lessons there on Saturdays until I made a few skirts using patterns. My father used to drop me off and then pick me up after the class. I remember the patchwork skirt I made out of left over velvet that he gave me from pieces in the factory. I loved that skirt and was so proud of my work. I may even have a picture of myself at my grandparents house for some Jewish holiday. I will have to find it when I get back home.

Memories come out of nowhere like that. An innocent comment from a dear friend who also lost her father to Esophagus cancer just a few months after my dad passed from the same illness. Our friend, Jen also part of this trip who was my cohort in this surprise, lost her father suddenly after a family vacation in this very place. Witnessing the conversation then going on the trip with me hiking only to find out that the Portuguese folk song Christina, our tour guide, belted out on the mountain was her dad’s favorite. I learned this because her mom who is also on this trip told us before we went to dinner. Everything connected. All because of a torn strap in need of repair.

Healing is like this, one stitch at a time, the wound will never be completely healed. There will always be that scar that when you glance down at can make you absently put your finger on it to feel the bumps and rough patches, it is an omnipresent guide as you remember what caused it in the first place. But then there are those tenderest of moments where one can see and hear that long deceased person like he is standing in front of me saying, Alayne, this is how you thread the needle, this is how you make the knot and these little memories that flood out of nowhere are the gifts that keep on giving.

All because of a tear in a strap and a need to repair. Our dads convened yesterday for sure as a dynamic trifecta, maybe it was the blood moon, maybe it was the connection of Portugal that my father loved like it was his homeland, maybe it was the power of five women traveling with their own baggage separately and together trying to heal their own wounds. What I do know is that there is magic among the tribe and our lives are better because we know each other.





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THE UPHILL CLIMB


THE UPHILL CLIMB

Guiltily opening up my laptop at breakfast, I was waiting for the disapproving stares of my fellow breakfast buffet goers. Breakfast included in my hotel stay is usually a cringeworthy addition to any vacation, but for this trip it was somewhat forced upon me by the odd travel agent from Fall River, Mass who “specializes” in Azore vacations. I used his agency, another something I usually don’t do when I go on vacation, but because my friend I was surprising used them, I thought it would be easier. It kind of was, but now that I am here, I would have planned my life for this first run completely different. Ahh the wisdom of retrospect. Anyway, in the case of the breakfast buffet though, it is a convenient morning yesterday as I woke up at six am bright and bushy tailed after already four glorious nights in this beauty of a place called Sao Miguel I have placed myself in. I have learned how to order a good cup of coffee and the meats, cheeses, breads, Azorean butters and fruits are a perfect early morning rise for this eager hiker ready to move and shake at nine am.

We had big plans for the day ahead to do a 4.5 km hike in Faial da Terra village. We started on Sanguinho to see the waterfall called Salto Do Prego which I looked up in my new handy Portuguese translator app and could only find salto= jump, prego= nail, hobnail. I emailed my fearless tour guide this morning and she translated it to iron stick jump. No idea what this even means, but the hike was like standing at the bottom of the hill called President Avenue in Fall River, Massachusetts and looking up at the top knowing you are going to have to walk up, straight up. Not to sound purposefully like a world traveler, I am not, but I have done a walking tour in Tuscany. The hill we needed to climb to get to the village of Montepulciano was the hill that made me realize how out of shape I was when I was newly forty as I watched my friend Kathy, blast by me and I was thinking I may have to call an Italian ambulance to save me. I didn’t and I made it which was one of the best hills I have ever walked. Thirteen years later and endless fitness routines and workouts, turns out I love walking hills. The feeling in my heart, my legs especially, my quads, wakes up every single muscle and organ contained in this one hundred and sixtyish pound female (because the Sao Jorge cheese and the waterfall flow of bolos and breads has surely tipped the scale and not in the downward motion I am always hoping for). There is a strength that happens in my soul that creates a nothing can stop me, I am a bad ass and do not fuck with me ever attitude that only a hill can bring out. Especially knowing that the top, the one with the view and the peace and quiet, the one that has no noise from traffic sounds and no internet (hopefully), the one that makes you want to take photo after photo but no photo is ever going to replace the moment between you and the earth and the world you get the privilege to be standing in because you said, No, I will not be a twenty minute tourist, I will use my phone only to research where to hike or how to speak Portuguese to a group of people who are only too happy to speak English.

Hiking sounds like I have a backpack (I kind of do, but it is more of a two strapped navy blue and white checked cotton purse worn from endless travels that I have slung on my back). Hiking sounds like I have on a pair of hiking shoes (I usually do, but since I did zero research on this trip, I neglected to bring them so instead am wearing my workout sneakers). Hiking sounds like a scary notion to people who do not hike. I am not a “hiker” like the kind that your brain is likely conjuring up. I have no plans to climb Mt. Everest or Kilimanjaro, but when I travel, hiking has been a linker for me and the outside. There are just so many towns and shops and museums one can go to. The outside is my museum and frankly there is nothing more that makes me feel like I have had a full vacation then being outdoors in the sunlight or the rain with the clouds, the random surprising and surprised chickens along the route, the birds singing to me and a waterfall as the main attraction.

As I traipsed up the hill, my heart pounding, the pace of my breath quickening, my muscles telling me that yes, alayne, you are alive in more ways than a heartbeat, we marched forth. Knowing that two or three hours from that moment would be a rush of physical and mental satisfaction yes, but more so the spiritual experience would be the shining best part at the end. When our tour guide Christina was coaxed into singing a Portuguese Folk song at the top of her lungs in the open air of the forest and tears welled up in my eyes for no apparent reason other than the moving of my heart, I knew I was lost and then I was found. Right there in the middle of the trees and the earth. No tour in a van could ever match that. My life is good.

Sim a vida é boa. Indeed.








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THE CAFÉ

THE CAFÉ

(I wrote this the day before Jane arrived, thought it would be different to try my hand at some amateur travel writing.)

The baking hot sun with the slight ocean breeze, air filled with smoking and smells of Galão and layers of warm pastries. The clanging of the church bell begins the count down reminding me it is 10am and I have missed the first five hours of my day again by drinking too much Dao wine last night, eating too much cheese and just staring at the 7/8 filled moon from my sixth floor balcony in a five star hotel. I watch an older woman dressed in mostly black holding on to her sturdy but aged husband wobble towards the bus stop. They look tired, of each other, and their lives, but dependent too like they have been together so long they can’t imagine any other way. They have probably been married since they have been teens and they have seen much on their lovely small island that just got cars only forty years ago.

It is another magical day in this paradise only four short hours away from home. Sunny, hot, breezy. They jokingly say it is the only island that has four seasons in one day. People are kind, warm, friendly, easy, slow. There are tour busses everywhere reminding travelers that this place is a hot bed for tourism, oddly undiscovered and a rare gem. Sitting here with my coffee and half milk, Galão a Portuguese version of Café au Lait, I type at the outdoor café as the world goes by. Today is my last day before the mayhem begins with all of the crazy ladies arriving at 6am tomorrow so I will take my time today and try to stop my chatty head filed with what I should do rather than what I am doing right now. I am drinking this Galão because my tour guide Paula told me yesterday that the milk served in all of the Azores is produced here on Sao Miguel.

As I marched around yesterday on scenic trails in Sete Cidades and the surrounding areas with my tour guide, Paula at the helm giving me a detailed tour of the city she was born and raised in like we were old friends visiting after a long absence, there were free roaming cows everywhere. I am not speaking of the “free roaming” cows barricaded by a fence on one farm, I am speaking about cows who roam wherever they want on the volcanic mounds disguised as hillsides. The farmers go to them to do their milking, rather than the other way around. In my own non scientific opinion, it seems to me that the milk in my coffee today as a much more healing energy than any half gallon of grass fed six dollar milk found at Whole Foods that I have been told to stay away from anyway because of its estrogenic energy and my breast cancer. I am curious if this fact can be backed up by any alarming rate of breast cancer on this island where milk is like water. It has occurred to me that we are all under the illusion of eating natural farm raised beef, dairy and eggs unless we actually witness the natural farm they are raised on. I have witnessed this and am humbled greatly.

As I suspected, yesterday in the lobby, I hear, “Alayne?” Yep. Someone I knew from a few towns over, Barrington, here with her family. I was afraid she would want to take a picture and I am trying to stay undercover for one more day so I explained my surprise as she waited for the very slow elevator to arrive. Then off she went and I haven’t seen her since. I want to hike this whole island. It is magic here. I want to learn Portuguese and travel to all of the other islands. I want to be a part of this fabric of simplicity and peace and pride.

As I sit here drinking my second cup of coffee, buzzing because their coffee is espresso and anything else is nescafe, an older man stops to chat and comments in Portuguese, (I am guessing here,) to stop working and enjoy the sunshine. Communication is miraculous as he points to my laptop, to me and then sweeps his arm around to the sky and I hear the word Sol. He doesn’t realize that I am. Writing is my sunshine and without it, it is dark and cloudy. We don’t discuss this, we discuss where he is from, how he arrived here and his life on the island. He tells me as he walks away to enjoy my stay and the people, “We are a calm people,” he says. I well up for some reason at his simplicity. It feels like something I identify with and I am again humbled and satisfied with my choice to sit at the simple café recommended by Paula because I asked where to get a good cup of coffee. Tomorrow I will set my alarm for five am and make my way down to the lobby to blow my friend’s mind. I don’t know if I am more excited to be here or to surprise Jane. I love this place and I don’t want it to end.




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THE PORTUGUESE PARTY

THE PORTUGUESE PARTY

My entire life- the part when I started to remember- like four or five-was spent surrounded by Portuguese people. Men and women of all ages, sewing, measuring patterns, steaming clothes with five foot presses to be sure that the suits just hot off the final sew would literally be hot off the press, wrinkle free, ready for shipping to whomever was on the receiving end. My experience of this phenomenal group of people all took place at my grandfather’s textile factory in Fall River, Mass, some of the best years of my childhood memory.

The harsh sounds of the language have an almost guttural sound, unlike their romantic sisters, Italian, Spanish and French. Those languages are more singsongy, light with lots of upended intonations at the end of each word giving the listener more of the feeling of being sung to then spoken to. Portuguese, though has a meaty and throaty quality and for those fortunate to have been raised as a voyeur to the culture because of close proximity, can feel often like you are being yelled at and bossed around by a commanding army, rather than a gentle conversation between two people. Watching and listening to Portuguese women talk with their flailing arms and hands, and their tsk tsk sounds layered with the throaty and outer artichoke leafy sounds is a feast for the senses reminding the listener that as much as the man of the house wants everyone to think he is in charge, we all really know it is the female in the lead.

My experience of Portuguese women is alpha. There have been times in my life when I have been determined to speak of feminism to this strong group, as I have learned of their seemingly subservient ways, preparing their husbands morning outfits, their lunches for their workday and dinners at five pm, but I have withheld my own belief system often realizing after much conversation that they are really the ones in charge. Maybe not always with every woman and man, but for the women I know, there is a strength in them I have watched and learned from. Their ability to run a household is a force of nature. Now these traits I mention may be a broad paint stroke, but every single woman I have met who is over fifty or sixty is of similar status. Cleanest house, kitchen in the basement for their regular cooking so they don’t get the “good” kitchens a mess, incredible cooks.

Starting with the first one, the cleanest house, I am not talking about just neat and tidy; I am speaking of houses built in the seventies that look like they were just finished by the contractor. I am talking about houses that you could eat off not only the floor, but the bathroom floor. Clean like nobody’s business. Cooking falls into the same category. It is full throttle cooking. Four people coming for dinner? Food for forty. I am not joking. I have been at my friend Jane’s mothers house for a graduation party that about fifty people came to and I am not exaggerating when I say there was enough food for well over one hundred. Waste? No. Jane and her mother bought convenient Styrofoam to go containers in bulk (like five hundred bulk) and insisted that every guest pack a doggie bag or two or three.

It would seem obvious to most to simply just make less. This is not possible. This would be like saying don’t take down the winter curtains and wash and press them before putting up the spring curtains. This would be like saying not to worry about cleaning the master bedroom from top to bottom before guests come because there would not even be a remote change that someone would be stepping over the threshold. I am not sure why this is a common trait of Portuguese women, to clean and cook like there is no tomorrow. But I don’t know a single woman who does not fall into over achiever status in this category. What I most enjoy about it though is its familiarity in my life. I have watched it and been an observer of it like it is my own family since I was five. Forty eight years later, when I still see and feel its presence, I feel like it is home away from home and for me I always love (and need) more of this feeling.

This is why I think I decided to surprise my dear friend Jane with an appearance in Sao Miguel, in the Azores, smack in the middle of the Atlantic, only four hours from Bristol, RI. She is coming here with her mom, her mom’s sister, her best friend and her best friends mom and daughter and has no idea that I arrived three days before she has. She is arriving at six am on Thursday and I am going to be waiting in the hotel lobby hopefully behind the area behind the desk so when she checks in the receptionist will say, “Welcome Mrs. Medeiros, so happy to have you, I just need to get the manager to check something with your reservation.” Jane, of course, will be noticeably annoyed because she will be tired and cranky after a four hour flight and a four hour time change. The woman will come get “the manager” and I will be that person coming out to a very surprised Jane who will promptly flip the fuck out. There will be yelling, and screaming and disbelief and the only person who is in on this is her best friend who I got the thumbs up from before doing this crazy stunt.

Traveling alone is one of my greatest joys. Total control over my destiny. Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with my partner Michael, my son Michael or a few friends for special occasion and if any of them chose to come, I have welcome them with open arms, but when they say, no thanks, I can’t wait. Life is too short to not see the world and to wait for people to do things with. I must march forth and I love the challenge of speaking to people, to learning about cultures and rhythms and food. But what I love even more is the chance to be in the company of women who are from the area.

I have done this with Spain and my friend Ro, Denmark and my friends Inge and Sten, Israel with my friends Kalman and Tsipee and what is the most joyful is learning their towns and cities and love of country from their eyes. The best way to travel for me anyway. And if I miss something, I don’t know what I missed. It doesn’t matter because having a Galau in Ponta Delgada in a small seemingly hole in the wall bakery recommended by a woman who grew up here is better than seeing six sights in six days on some hideous tour bus promoting twenty minute tourism to people who barely want to get off the bus. Tourists who can’t make it up the short climb to the view or they have already lost interest because they are too busy on their phones to notice and slow down to the pace of the island time they have found themselves in.

I sat here Tuesday evening at 11:08 pm on my ocean view deck in the moonlight with the planets in full view and the town abuzz with activity in this busy tourist spot finishing off my glass of glorious Douro knowing that this writing will not be posted until after the surprise. I am so grateful I have chosen to take a crazy risk and jump in to the deep end of the pool, naked and free. My friend Jane will be here much longer than my trip so we will get to spend four days together with her crazy and glorious family. This is what life is about, isn’t it? Jumping in, looking up and leaping when you can. I can and this is why I am here and I can’t wait for Thursday.


a successful surprise. let the games begin!
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IN A WORD

IN A WORD

44.00, the Ebay auction item said as I perused my watch list. No bidders until the last four or five hours. She was a standard run of the mill simple but sturdy looking beauty with little or no wear as I could see by the eight pictures provided. The description was pretty simple as most of them are and this draws me for some reason.

“Very nice original vintage royal quiet deluxe typewriter. Appears to be in great condition. I do not know much about typewriters. i would assume it needs serviced before using it. Some letters don’t go back down instantly so it probably needs oil/grease. Were going to be selling this as is do to our lack of knowledge of typewriters. Please bid accordingly. If we look learn any new info it will be added to the description.”

At first, I turned my head away. There was no flash, no shiny newness. There was no story of some young woman getting this as a gift for her graduation from Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School in the 1950’s as she entered a career in office life. It wasn’t bubble gum pink, or bright turquoise or Corvette red. Just a sturdy old grayish greenish gal, in a barely worn case with a few scuffs and scrapes….waiting. In Ebay’s brilliance, by some algorithm a nerdy tech person set who probably has never even used a typewriter, I received the reminder that the bidding would soon come to an end and that one person had placed a bid for a meager 45.00. I put a max bid in of fifty dollars and saw my bid entered at 46.00. I couldn’t help myself; something made me just want to save her. I have become an addict and we should all be concerned.

Typewriters, the manual kind, are heavy, inconvenient, noisy, frustrating old machines for those not familiar with them. You can’t throw one into your purse and head off to a coffee shop with barely an extra pound or two over your shoulder. You can’t change font sizes or have spell check automatically correct words or change your small letter ‘i’ automatically to a capital ‘I’. In the old models at least, there are no italics , no bold, no number ‘1’ (small ‘l’ instead) and no exclamation mark ‘!’ because frankly your vocabulary should be better than a single symbol.

You need ‘things’ for typewriters- paper, for one, ink, for two and a big vat of PATIENCE, for three. If you haven’t used or ever used a typewriter, a manual one, you probably and ironically need to be great with YouTube (I am not) or find yourself a typewriter repair person. In my case, I am going old school here, typewriter repairman, (my apologies to the superchick typewriter repair women out there). Marr Office Supply in Pawtucket, RI is my new best friend and so are Ray and Michael who as a father and son team have lived through the rise and fall and rise again of the lowly typewriter.

What you don’t need, though, is a power cord, an electric socket, a back up hard drive or a save button. A manual typewriter is a machine of great engineering. Everything is connected to something else and when you come down off of tech brain and just dig in to its workings, each button and lever is pretty obvious in its use. I cheated with my first one, Royal circa 1947 standard weighing in at probably forty pounds and hard to move. Old Bess, as I call her, is a stationary model firmly planted on my kitchen desk with a slight view of my gardens. My grandmother would approve of her placement. I had to take her to Ray because YouTube videos are too cumbersome for my hands and visual brain and honestly this feels like cheating. I had to see and feel how to put the ink in, and quickly learned that the ink could be reused by moving a lever one way or the other to reverse the spools and back again! Can’t do this with our fancy printer cartridges. After a few desperate shakes of the cartridge, you may as well buy a new printer since the replacements often cost as much.

What pray tell (is this even a word combination?) is alayne going to be doing with the six typewriters she has purchased in less than three weeks? I know you are asking this question to yourselves as you read my essay today. There are a few thoughts to my new love. First off let me clarify, in case this is your first reading, and if not you probably are well aware, that I get on what my aunt and I fondly call ‘Jags.’ When something speaks to me, it is full throttle, when it leaves me, it is like it never was. I have accepted this about myself and though I wouldn’t label myself as manic, I do fully understand there is a manic quality to this part of my personality. A little mania is what makes the world go round so here I am. Unapologetic and joyful jag girl. I have learned to like this part of myself rather than think there is something wrong with me so I lean in whole heartedly. From a chocolate babka making obsession, to drinking bio dynamic wine every single night, then not drinking a drop, the list goes on and thankfully the people in my life who love me don’t roll their eyes as much as they likely could. This is love.

So what is my big plan for these beauties who have now entered my life at almost a box delivery a day pace? In a word, fiction. I have never written fiction and I have quickly learned that I am awful at it. I have been writing non fiction personal essays my whole life and almost daily for a solid year and a half and have gotten pretty good at this, but I need a new challenge, a new task. Fiction. In a word. I have been prompted by the idea of flash poetry, where you give someone a word and they type you on a real typewriter a poem in less than ten minutes. This is incredible and my experience of this was fun and fulfilling, but I am not a poet. So I thought it would be fun and super challenging to write flash fiction, one word, one page short stories. Someone gives me a word and I write an entire fictional story using the word on one page of paper. My self imposed rules are as follows:

No date, no reference to my name, no title except who the story is for (To Michael, for example) at the top, no whiteout or erasing (like erasing is even possible), no copying, no posting, publishing or looking for the addictive behavior modifying likes and only one page, one side. It can be single, single in a half or double spaced and handed in its original form to the person who gave me the word. I am sparingly allowing myself a little google to get a date or a peron’s name correct if I am making a reference to it. This is it. And it is way harder than I thought. I have written eight so far and all but one have been typed on the front porch outside in the fresh air. Written on my new Royal portable bought from someone’s son or daughter in West Roxbury, Mass given to their mother by their grandmother in the fifties. This is a practice I am hoping will improve my writing skills because as I am learning, my vocabulary and rhythm of fictional attempt is pretty pathetic. But I am ok with this. There were many famous fiction writers who started late. http://mentalfloss.com/article/63112/11-writers-who-started-late.

I am not looking for fame, just intellectual curiosity and stimulation and an excuse to step away from all things wireless, blue tooth and screen filled. I am looking to engage the people who walk by in eye to eye conversation and starry eyed talk of yesteryear. I am looking for a more creative life and a less technological one.

So throw out a word and I’ll write you a story, stop by and type with me if you see me on the front porch or if you visit my business. There will be a few typewriters soon for you to throw your thoughts on. But trust me when I tell you, you may become hooked as fast as I have become. I take no prisoners or responsibility for anything that happens after your first glorious pound of the key. For the “AArrggg” sound you make when you realize the backspace key does not delete or erase and the thrill of the bell ding when you have completed your first sentence.

In a word. I am waiting.


this is not the Royal I have fallen head over heels for, but a Swiss Hermes I bought before the Royal arrived. Trying it out on my luscious front porch before I wrote my first in a word fiction for Michael, both of them. And Cat and Dave and Gary and Alicia and Ashley and Peg. Aurelie is next, are you?
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THE BUS

THE BUS

Gently at first, (but or and), then with some purposeful vigor, my Birkenstock covered foot pumped the brake like an adolescent boy having his first sexual encounter. Unsure if this back and forth up and down motion would bring this old beast affectionately referred to as THE BUS to the stop I intended, perhaps I should have tested out the old bus on a smaller hill before I decided to take it for a journey over the three bridges to some far away campground in Connecticut to meet up with my father for the fourth annual Portuguese Campout. I probably said a few Hail Mary’s as I tried to slow down like I was driving a crane or some big piece of yellow machinery on the highway during rush hour.

It was like a kiddie roller coaster, Wind flying, all windows open, the vroom vroom of the gurgling I think I can, I think I can engine, four speed, baby blue, piled in, the four of us, two superchick friends along with our two eight year old sons on our way to a Connecticut campground in a 1982 Volkswagon vanagon- my first weekend camping trip in “the bus” as my brother called it. Stepping into any volkswagon, the ones with the engines in the back not the new bullshit ones that they call vw these days is a jog your memory kind of experience. The smell of an old VW is like nothing else probably from all of the heat that never seemed to work and the frosting on the windows you had to scrape because the Germans couldn’t seem to understand that a defroster was actually something needed to help the cause. Add to the recipe of aroma, kids sleeping and camping and of course the likely pot smoking and beer drinking that occurred and voila, a VW smell that I can summon just by thinking about it.

Popping the tall thin stick shift, similar to the shape of the microphone Bob Barker used to hold on the Price is Right except about a foot longer into neutral as we coasted down the hill, there is some magic to the sound of a VW standard. There is a unique knuckle cracking sound reminding me of the Barbie dolls I used to bend and shape from standing pose to a sitting one modeling the latest evening dress you begged your mother to buy for you. Crunchy knuckle popping sounds as I pushed and pulled the shifter into fourth gear realizing that the brakes do indeed work and we are going to make it to our destination alive.

The stereo system probably worth more than the van because it was installed by my twenty one year old brother, blasted Bob Marley and Peter Tosh on the cassette tapes he had recorded when he first bought the van. That was when he was a healthy stunning strapping young man with the world as his oyster ahead of him. As my dear friend, Ro with her spicy Madrid, Spain personality and I began our journey south in the heat of a steamy hot August day, we looked at each other with the same thoughts. Would this van make it to our destination? I had it checked out at the local garage before we left, but with these computer laden cars these days, I wondered if garages even understood engines pre-computers. I had the environmentally irresponsible leaking oil pump topped off with more oil, and I made sure the bus was as full on gas as we could imagine. Imagination was the only way to gage it since the actual gas gauge had stopped working well before my brother had bought the bus just a few years before. We said whatever quiet prayers we could summon knowing that we were divinely protected by my brother who had given this van to me as a gift back when he was still able to make these decisions.

This blue bus with the pop up top that we weren’t quite sure how to pop up, loaded with everything a party of six (our husbands would be meeting us) could possibly need for our family camping trip would be our vehicle, our home and our refrigerator for the next three days. Speed and power weren’t its personality traits as we began our first climb up the Mt. hope Bridge realizing quickly that the three hour trek would likely take up about four hours as we had to downshift to first gear just to get up the incline. And we still had two more bridges to climb before getting to the flat and easy ride of ninety-five south. Then there was the descent. As the free fall that was the downside of the uphill climb we had just battled approached, I am sure my friend Ro would have been praying the Rosary if she happened to have had them in her pocket. Like a rollercoaster ride downhill the van was in its happy place, not having to work so hard to get us upward, I could almost feel its relief.

Old volkswagons have their own personalities that between driver and car feels almost like a spiritual connection. I realized quickly that this would be a great time to test out the brakes, after all we did have our two children in the back innocently playing cards like the Vanagon intended when it installed the two movable and German pragmatic tables that could easily swivel to the brown and pale blue patterned couch back seat they were sitting in.

As I began pumping the brakes gently, because instinct takes over and quickly transforms the driver into realizing there was no power anything except my own muscles, I pumped a bit more to give myself plenty of stopping time. At the time I was married to a union man who drove a crane for many years and drilled into my head how much extra time trucks need to stop. This vanagon felt like a truck even though it was only a four cylinder lacking all possibilities of zest. I am not sure if the vanagon was ever supposed to have power which is kind of amusing since the fast Autobahn is actually in Germany. But Germany has always been a bit of a conundrum to me anyway.

As Ro and I sat in the bucket seats that I had covered with bright pink and yellow and orange hippy like flowers, listening to the sounds of reggae with the backround purr only a VW of yesteryear can provide, we found ourselves sweating and fanning trying to figure out why with the windows open we were so bloody hot. Neither of us were menopausal age so we couldn’t blame it on hot flashes, it was unbelievably hot. Not even a slight coolness was blowing through the windows and that neat little triangle window cranked open to force the air towards my burning face.

We headed towards our destination to meet our husbands and my father at the annual Portuguese camping trip I was excited to introduce my friends to. This was the third or fourth one I had attended and we were about to join about thirty Portuguese people from Fall River my father and his business partner, Albert, knew on an extravaganza hard to imagine.

My father and I were the only non-Portuguese people on the trip, even my son could claim a small percentage in his genes thanks to my former husband. This trip was filled with friends and families and potatoes and fryalators and cooking oil. Women in aprons peeling one hundred pound bags of potatoes, slicing onions and creating hot stews of rabbit and goat fresh from the local butcher. The sound and greasy delicious aroma of the gigantic drum of hot bubbling oil for the handmade malassadas on Sunday morning are a permanent fixture in my brain. The women in their aprons (or smocks rather) using ingredients from the four basic food groups flour, eggs, sugar and yeast from the recipes of the old country to prepare basically everything. Their husbands drinking brandy with their morning coffee as they prepared the provincially made spicket for the pig roast is a life experience you have to see to believe. How does a nice Jewish girl who started out in the Fall River Highlands find herself in this tribe on a random weekend in the hot August summer? My wacky father, that’s how. Who always wanted to come from a family who were more like the characters in My Big Fat Greek Wedding instead of the demure and boring family of the groom in the movie, waspy and dry. My family, my father’s side was the quiet and reasonable pragmatic, aka safe, Jewish family who played by the social rules. Not my father, he was a rebel from the time he was born to my grandmother when my grandfather was drafted thanks to Pearl Harbor extending his time. The world itself was rebellious and I am sure that energy leaked into my father’s genes in the womb of my unsuspecting grandmother in Brooklyn NY in 1944.

As we continued our sweat fest fanning ourselves, legs as open as we could legally allow them, faces red from the heat, we were excited to get to our destination and jump in the pool that awaited. I don’t think either of us were ever so hot and the thought of having to sleep in this stifling heat was not really something either of us were looking forward to. There likely wouldn’t be much sleep anyway as this group of men, women and children were a noisy bunch and from dusk to dawn and everything in between there was eating, drinking, more eating and drinking, playing cards, soccer, and lots of laughter.

When we finally landed, eager to get unpacked and started on this weekend of humor and familial bonding, we jumped out of the hot van into a cool breeze. We looked at each other to try to decipher why the damn van was so hot. In the old volkswagons there was always a joke between owners when people found out you had one. “Does the heat work?” If the answer was yes, there was likely envy promptly giving the vw more monetary value. In a VW if you were one of the fortunate to have heat, the heating system was either on or off, no in between. The vanagon was one of the lucky ones; it had working heat. I quickly realized that the reason it had been so caliente was that the working heat was stuck in the working heat position for the entire trip. Ro and I looked at each other with the sweat pouring off of us like we had just run a marathon and began what was to be a three day laugh fest and we haven’t stopped since.



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GET YOUR LED OUT


GET YOUR LED OUT

Somehow, when I was in my early marriage days, my husband at the time, his parents, his sister and her boyfriend coordinated a trip to Six Flags in New Jersey. This was before the one opened in Massachusetts and well before our son was a shiny beam of light in our lives so I am going way back here. Early nineties back. The fact that we all went somewhere together was a feat in itself, but that we chose a three day trip to an amusement park is definitely a head scratcher in hindsight. Nonetheless, it was one of the most hilarious and joyful trips I can recall in my young married life.

In the early days of marriages, back then anyway, young couples in my circle didn’t have much money so our vacations had to be a bit creative. Road trips were a little more cost effective, couple this with an amusement park and a discounted Marriot Residence Inn and a mini vacation is what we ended up with. Though I cringe at this combination now, this trip was well before I developed a taste for the higher end places to stay on the road less traveled, ignorance was indeed bliss.

Six Flags Amusement Park back in the early nineties was a really fun way to get out some stress. I didn’t realize any of this at the time as the six of us entered the park ready for the new Spiderman ride that had just opened. Dave and I got on this web of a roller coaster that turned us literally upside down on our heads as it twisted and turned for what seemed like an hour, but was probably more like ten seconds. Up, down, back and forth at a speed that took our breath away, the screams began on the first incline and never stopped. I screamed my guts out along with every other person on that insane ride. Then when the ride came to a screeching halt, we got off and stood in line again and did it all over again.

We went on every single roller coaster ride for the next two days together, we got Dave’s parents on a few and laughed so hard we almost peed our pants. We screamed and laughed some more and I can remember thinking how lucky I was to have landed in a family who would even consider traveling to an amusement park for a weekend. It was a memorable and happy three days and the amount of screaming and yelling on each ride was better than any therapy session I would find myself in my later years.

Getting the literal led out was what I did two nights ago at the Get the Led Out Led Zeppelin Tribute band concert I attended with two friends, one who is as big of a Led Zep fan as me. THE GREATEST ROCKBAND OF ALL TIME, was what I would drill into my son’s head and all of his friends when they were eight or nine who found themselves in my mini COOPER convertible rocking out. We arrived standing out like shiny white light in my friend’s white Mercedes SUV, my two friends looking like they were attending a tennis match more than a rock concert.

As we looked for a parking spot in the already packed venue surrounding the concert stage, I quickly realized that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. I mean we were never in Kansas to begin with, but attending a concert in the Indian River Campground in Webster, Mass was an experience you just can’t make up. On a river, Indian River to be precise, surrounded by camp areas with names like Conway Twitty and Gran Ole Opry packed with full on campsites each one set up to outdo the next one was a flash from my past that made me giddy. Dave and I used to go camping all over New England way before the term Glamping became a vocabulary word. I was one of these campsites and could totally relate to the whole super fun experience.

People were drinking, riding around in golf carts, the preferred form of transportation at seasonal campgrounds, smoking cigarettes like it was the 1970s and sporting Led Zeppelin T shirts as they proudly air guitared among each other. Smoke was everywhere as the lights from the stage with the river and the Indian River Princess Cruiseship as its backdrop showed the vapors. I looked at my friend amazed at the amount of blatant pot smoking everywhere when I realized, oh yeah, we are in Massachusetts, POT SMOKING IS LEGAL now! Everyone there looked and acted (me included) like they just stepped out of my high school yearbook except thirty-five years later. Throaty voiced women talking about yesteryear with their scraggly hair husbands hanging on to their hair of the past for dear life. AND IT WAS A BLAST.

I got to time travel Friday night with two of my dearest friends tailgating with bio dynamic wine (sorry I do have my standards) in the back of a white Mercedes eating Italian grinders and chips from Ricottis and screaming, singing and fist pumping my guts out. I danced and jumped and pumped and whoooo hooooed all night because I know the words to almost every single Led Zeppelin song. I was brought back to my life in high school like I was placed in a time machine. Back to the Future and for three hours it was just like I was on that roller coaster.

One thing I have learned from the wisdom of this past three years is to say YES to fun. To live in the parties, the gatherings and the playfulness of invites that come my way. Attending a Led Zeppelin tribute band who sounded just like Led Zeppelin on a Friday night was a non stop partying and gloriously happy evening. And yes we are going again. August 17th, Plymouth Mass if anyone out there cares to say yes to their own dormant selves. I got my led out and can’t wait to get it out again.





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DEAR OLD GAL

DEAR OLD GAL

The timing couldn’t be better for my new obsession. Yes, I have another one. In the early part of my years, when I was in my teens, no joke, it was vintage canister sets. Chrome, red, yellow, turquoise and pink — flour, sugar, coffee, tea, (two of the four basic food groups back in the fifties, the good old days). I had them everywhere and I am surprised that my former husband even wanted to marry me with the amount of sets that was part of the package called my life. After this, because let’s face it, how many canister sets does one person need let alone be able to house, it was tacky salt and pepper shakers. You know the ones, like strippers from Las Vegas where the salt and pepper were each of their boobs and they sat in the upper half of her body, hips emblazoned with the words Viva Las Vegas. Really, I had these. Perhaps these in particular were a little foreshadowing of my own upper half as the left one actually broke in transit. Weird.

Those got out of hand with the final ones being Ayatollah Khomeini, former Supreme Leader, (it is hard not to laugh writing that one) of Iran after my Iranian friend and colleague brought them back from Tehran after visiting his father. I wish I still had these; they were one of my favorites, but like many collections, the dump likely has them now or some other collector scored them after many yard sales later. I have collected old cookbooks from the depression era because it is a window into the lives of housewives pre processed food, pre frozen dinners, pre disposable income. These are the real moment in time history books in my humble opinion. We are so often intrigued by what is happening in the worlds outside our homes, when there are lots of more interesting stories inside them.

I have a love for turquoise and pink vintage kitchen anything and when I streamlined my canister collection, I decided to just go turquoise. Telephone, mixer, Pyrex bowls, spice racks, serving pieces. Because I have a neat little pantry off of my kitchen that looks like a mini store, they all take up beautiful residence on the white shelves in the sunny light filled no larger than four by four square foot space. Any woman who comes into my kitchen pauses when she gets to the glass door and peers in taking a trip down her own memory lane. This gives me great joy and makes me happy I have hung on to the collection especially after my recent and apparently short lived minimize phase.

After all of this collecting and cleaning out the basement, one would think I would be swearing off collecting anything with any size component as its personality. I thought so too until I walked in to one of my favorite stores in Bristol, RI, Second Helpings, and found my new love. A Royal Typewriter, circa 1947ish weighing in at least thirty five pounds, a virtual beast or rather beauty of a machine that needed an extra set of hands to help me up the stairs. Portable nothing and I quickly created a space for it in my kitchen in the office the previous owners had designed. This area, as convenient as its intent was had really become more of a junk collecting space over the past five years and I had been thinking about taking the whole built in desk ensemble out of there. That is until this Royal typewriter I now call, Dear Old Gal, and I made our acquaintance. Dear Old Gal is part of my soul now and I will refer to her as my first love because like anything I get into my addictive traited soul, one is simply not enough. I must have more so I can come outside like I do almost daily with my laptop and instead pound away at real keys that have no delete button, no distracting apps that take me away from pure beautiful composing.

I didn’t realize how distracted I get when I am writing until I started my relationship with Dear Old Gal. When I type on my laptop, I check the spelling of a word on the convenience of the online dictionary, or a synonym on the thesaurus so readily available at the click of a button. Often this leads me to the brief shift to check my email for the fifth time or a review of a Yelp review that popped up in the right hand corner of my screen. Next thing you know I am off and running replying and reading reviews and forwarding and deleting emails taking me away from the slow creative ritual that has become my morning wake up. Typing on Dear Old Gal slows everything down for me.

First off, actual typing and thinking tempers my high speed moving brain down to a snail’s pace. Words have to be considered, letters because of the absence of that way too easy delete button have to be thought about before tapping my short nailed fingers on the small circular glass keys. The realization of what a bad typer I am is blatant as my head bobs up and down from looking at the keys to the winding paper and back again. Frankly it matters not because the evidence of errors is all too obvious since I don’t have any whiteout, white strips or any of the inventions created to correct this very problem. I just chug along, making mistakes, feeling clever when I figure out how to just cross out the mess with a nice happy strike-through (to the right of the zero just like on your keyboard, no shift required).

As on may imagine where this story is headed, a second typewriter would be next on the list, a Hermes 3000, bought on Ebay for a ridiculous sum becasue I lost my mind. “The best portable ever made,” to quote my new best friend, Ray who owns a typewriter repair shop in Pawtucket, RI. called Marr Office Equipment. His tagline is actually office equipment and repair, but when I did my handy and all to available search on Google, “typewriter repair shop, RI,” Marr came right up with pictures and everything. Of course in true lunatic aka alayne fashion, off I went the very next day to bring Old Gal, who I have now named Old Bess, for a visit and a mini ribbon threading lesson. When I got back home as luck would have it, my newest addition had arrived in the case and it even came with its original manual to which I immediately dove in.

Two typewriters in two weeks, and with my fresh new Ebay account happy to have me, more on the way because I am basically addicted to the ease, the happy way it helps me write and most of all, zero distractions. Though I have become perfectly addicted to writing on Dear Old Bess, and have been typing at least two pages a day, no small feat for this amateur, I needed a portable and lightweight. Hence the Hermes which despite the exorbitant amount I paid for it, it is basically like new and I have no regrets. It will easily make its way to my front porch sooner than later.

My overall plan for all of this wackiness is to sit outside with my new portable and offer free short stories to anyone walking by who cares to throw me a word or two, connecting, gathering, talking and looking up and at. I like shaking up the new normal with my own version of it. I also like the challenge of having to create on the spot for a stranger. Apparently unbeknownst to me, there is a bit of a typewriter movement going on. Like the words journey and gift when it comes to cancer, I am starting to feel the same way about the word movement so I prefer Renaissance. If I start my own typewriter Renaissance then I have done my part with the, unbeknownst to me at the time, nudging I needed from an Old Gal waiting for me at the consignment store to walk in be reminded of my Grandmother and take her home.




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GET THAT MAMMOGRAM

GET THAT MAMMOGRAM

“Look at that arm flexibility,” Kathy exclaimed in my workout class today. (Dear reader, note the absence of the much used exclamation point and instead the use of the word, exclaimed. You see, I am trying to live up to my new 1941 Royal Typewriter’s writing standard by the use of an expansive and vivid vocabulary rather than the 2018 version of writing in symbols and emojis to express myself. Doesn’t the word exclaimed remind you of a Nancy Drew book?)

Kathy, my fearless workout mentor, was commenting on something I, too, had been noticing in my recent workouts- the lifting of my arms especially my left one straight up over my head each hand carrying a fifteen pound weight. This is a big feat for someone who could barely straighten her arms, but because I like a good challenge, have now succeeded in this movement that used to be so natural for me. I can also place both arms above my head while lying in a prone backside position and can almost touch the back of my hand to the floor. Almost. Slow and steady, the stretching. And each time I get closer to both of them being even, I am in awe of my progress since I am two months shy from a one year mark of my final surgery. It feels longer, but maybe because the first surgery was a little less than a year and a half ago.

Sitting at the beach next to my dear friend, Karen, the subject of my boobs came up as it is often a topic since it is quite obvious to us that the two protrusions coming from my upper body are not the natural ones coming from all of my friends. Mine are straight out, zero sag, firm and sculpted like I have been working on chest presses and push ups on a daily basis for my entire life. There has to be some benefit to a double mastectomy at fifty-two. “Do you have feeling in them?” She asked. “No.” I replied affirmatively. No feeling, but that is not to say no pressure or awareness. It is hard to explain, but if you have ever had an epidural, there was an awareness, a pressure, that you were pushing a 6 pound baby out of your body, but not a feeling. I would compare it to that.

Now that I am blessed with the wisdom of retrospect, kind of like childbirth, it wasn’t that bad. Well that may be pushing the envelope, the time leading up to the double mastectomy was awful, unlike a pregnancy where you actually end up with your future little bean, this time you were waking up with a big minus on your upper half. But now that I am alive and cancer free for now anyway, I can say that it wasn’t that bad. This all leads me to my title today, GET THAT MAMMOGRAM.

Women have a fear of outcome when it comes to mammograms. Add to the recipe the confusion by our illustrious health care leaders on the guidelines as to when to get them and who should be getting them creates an outcome that leads to many women not getting them like they should.

Mammograms aren’t full proof. But is anything foolproof? Not getting a mammogram isn’t full proof either, but catching breast cancer early is the best outcome compared to putting our heads in the sand and pretending like it will go away if you do nothing. It won’t. Breast cancer is a bummer, a major life inconvenience in our endless lists and chauffeuring our children and our lives like we are the organizers of a world leader summit, but there are so many solutions to save a life that are available now compared to even ten years ago. None of us know how much time we have. I write almost daily because it is my therapy on dealing with the stresses I call my own life. My outcome was as positive as it could have been with a diagnosis after playing Russian Roulette in mistakenly not getting a mammogram for four years prior. I am lucky. This is why I am going on trips, buying and learning how to use old school typewriters, baking babka and enjoying my every day.

I refuse to use the words gift and journey as I have stated numerous times, I don’t wish cancer on anyone or any health crisis for that matter. I know that when these crisis’ do hit and it is inevitable that something will hit someone you know if not you personally, it is what we do with the experience. I chose rather than lie down face planted on my pillow (though I did have many of those days) to stand up and look up, arms high above my head towards to glorious sunshine and enjoy the view. This is because I had a mammogram that supplied me with information to make choices that worked for me and me alone. The one month a year that is “breast cancer awareness month,” where the entire world seems to turn pink is not enough. Every day is breast cancer awareness month for me when I look in the mirror grateful to be alive as these two new silicone objects stare back at me. Getting a mammogram is a choice, but know that it doesn’t have to be bad news even when it is. I am living proof of this and for this I feel like one of the lucky ones. Imagine that.

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THE AGREEMENT BOX


THE AGREEMENT BOX

Updates ready to install, my computer said to me like it does every single day in the upper right hand corner of my tiny screen on my laptop. Later, I choose, like I do every single day. Then in its infinite wisdom, a few choices are given, try in an hour, try tonight, turn on automatic updates. Once again I choose try tonight, but I have chosen all of them over time. Then the next message follows, your computer must be connected to a power source. It is not at this time, but it is every single night where I am thinking that the updates are automatically happening. They are not. My computer is not hooked up to a power source when I write because my power source for writing is outside, in the fresh air with the birds and the morning sounds of the beginning of the day. So is it too much to ask my fancy thousand dollar mac laptop to remember the choice I continue to make every single day so when I plug my said laptop in, the updates can happen then? When I am sleeping?

I went to my phone yesterday while I was doing my paperwork to turn on my stereo, (is it still called a stereo?), to turn on Sonos, which is another fancy word for another thousand dollar piece of equipment that has made me a slave to technology. Updates ready to install, my Sonos app said to me. Didn’t I just do this update last week? How many updates are necessary to make the On button Play and make a song or two come belt out songs while I whittle away at my paperwork?

Then there are the perpetual privacy statements now coming in to all of the apps and through the old school mail from my credit card statements. Yesterday I went to pay my American Express bill and I noticed that the bill was eight pages. I perused past the first two pages listing all of the charges and when I got to page three and beyond, it was all about their new privacy rules and regs. Six pages. Do they actually think people will take the time to read this? When we check off the I agree box in the unending parade, (or rather charade), of agreements we are asked to sign in order for any app, or website to work for us, what are we really agreeing to? And why are do we so easily check off the box with barely a scan of the documents we are asked to sign?

Trust is one reason. For some God forsaken reason, we or at least I trust that the agreement is not selling my soul to the devil. Trust is what makes me live peacefully in my world. Trust. It is a big golden beautiful word founded on the notion that there is an unwritten exchange between parties and people that we are not going to screw each other. It is the proverbial handshake, a look in the eye that makes my world go round. But the fact of the matter is that when I check off the box I am endlessly asked to check off OR ELSE I CAN’T USE THE APP or proceed with my form of payment, there is no handshake or a look in the eye.

I was struck the other day by the BITMOJI app which I am now humorously addicted to. Bitmoji cleverly (or rather sinnerstly if that is a word) asks for control of your keyboard on your phone. It even gives instructions to go to Settings and make the switch to BITMOJI keyboard. I eagerly forged ahead as I am sure every single friend and their children have likely done because every text now must include my new supercute looks just like me Bitmoji, like a dress up Barbie, I am transported back in time to my childhood with my wardrobe box of Barbie clothes and shoes. I go through the motions required to ensure my new keyboard will indeed make it easier to blast off an endless variety of Bitmojis dressed in splashy quotes and attire. Then just when I am ready to hit the Yes button, I notice a short two sentence easy to overlook.

“THIRD PARTY KEYBOARDS

When using one of these keyboards, (Google included here), the keyboard can access all the data you type.”

What? All of the data I type? This is significant. Beyond the obvious that it can be accessed, what is it being used for? Who is reading it? Where is it going? I felt like I was being watched by a stalker for a brief moment and then I considered how many of our kids young and grown just change their keyboards because Bitmoji said to because we are all so damn trusting.

No. I choose NO. I am not an alarmist and I appreciate them letting me know in a simple two line statement, but I must draw a line somewhere in the digital pavement. We all must. As I sit here writing this morning, I am concerned more than ever about how many boxes I have agreed to and what did I actually agree to? What have our children who now all have a cell phone as a body part agreed to? How is it possible to monitor all of this and where have we headed? I love my new Bitmoji, I love my Sonos, my iphone and my laptop and the ease of digital everything, but, well just but.

Who knows who is reading what I am writing and saying these days and likely no one really cares. But I do. I think. This is why I am kind of into old school typewriters now, no digital. Just me and the machine. A really peaceful, (well not really peaceful, those old gal keys are noisy, but in an old fashioned vintage black and white movie sort of way) and trusting relationship because there are no agreement buttons to check. Just a roll of a paper turn and a few punches of keys and I am off to the old world of yesteryear with a real manuscript. So if a real cup of coffee spills on it, it has to be retyped, not reprinted. The only thing missing besides the superfluous agreement box is an exclamation mark symbol, and of course my new Bitmoji.