family, travel

DOLPHINS AND JELLYFISH

It was a bright clear morning barely a wisp of a cloud in the blue sky. The temperature slowly creeping from a cool 60 to a much warmer 75 in less than two hours. A perfect breeze like there was a fan on my neck at a slow even speed. People of all shapes and sizes beginning their long jaunt to claim their perfect spot where they would be laying their heads hoping for a day of rest from their busy lives.

I speak of the glorious Florida beach in February- Siesta Key, white granite cool sands and the lucky draw of a fine week of sunny perfect weather. A stunning break surrounded by temperatures from the otherwise blustery frigid February of unpredictable New England weather.

Though the temperature “up north” has ebbed into a brief and unusual fifties, purely a chance happening in a New England February, fifty is never the same in the north because of the stark lack of green. Everything is grey despite the teasing warmth. Until I land in my beloved home away from home, I am always surprised that in addition to beach air and warm sunlight, what the absence of green has had in its effect on my personal brightness.

I watch the families and couples, the aging partners holding on to each other for dear life as they try to stay healthy to keep enjoying what I take for granted with both the luck of my youth and my health. I see single women like myself enjoying time alone with only their ruminating thoughts to keep them company. It is hard to close your eyes at this beach because there is so much to watch. The glee in the eyes as the beach goers are filled with the hope and expectations of the day that before them.

There is the sound of the tap tap tapping of the soccer ball being kicked between two men, the tossing of a football between a mom, her husband and two sons, glimpses of conversation between women catching up on family gossip as they breeze by with matching hats and those calf length pants so many of women of their age seem to wear down here on their way to the shoreline for an early morning walk together.

I sit here in the heat this time under a bright red umbrella I have chosen to splurge on renting for seventeen dollars along with a five dollar deposit and a five dollar tip for just one day. If my grandfather knew what I was spending he would say his familiar one liner, You’re out of your cotton pickin mind. The rental, mind you, includes a sandy haired surfer type probably around my son’s age dragging the umbrella, setting up the umbrella and dragging it back when I am ready to leave. Worth every penny if you ask me. Though I don’t have to rationalize the purchase, it is easier to part with the twenty-seven dollars since I stay here for free every time I visit. This money spent today seems like a drop in the bucket.

Siesta Key is an expansive beach and is quite a walk from the parking lot to the shoreline. I have learned where to claim my own piece of territory since the unfortunate award of # 1 beach in America turned my beloved beach into Disneyworld. But at least there are plenty of parking spots now though out of habit I still get here at 8:00am so I can enjoy some quiet before the throngs of people descend with their loudness and boom boxes of country or rap music interrupting my peace like I am the only one deserving to claim the right.

Though I read entire books, write endlessly and deliberately leave my phone at home, the beach does not allow a bent head for long. There is just too much to see, to hear, to witness and watch. I find myself torn between the intensity of focus my current book requires and the lifting of my head to pay attention to the excitement and curiosity of my surroundings.

The water is cloudier than usual, remnants of last year’s highly publicized and horrific red tide causing temporary breathing problems and a rapid drop in tourism and beach closures unheard of on this beach. I must head for the February dip though since I have to pee like every other person who uses the span of water instead of the long walk to the row of bathrooms at the concession stand. To go to that bathroom, I must get dressed, take my wallet, put my shoes on and traipse. It’s easier in the water and the dip in the gulf in February is like the Atlantic at the end of June refreshing, reckoning, like a mikvah, a Jewish renewal and rebirth I have only once been part of in a much younger life or a baptism for those of you who don’t know what I am talking about.

I do my ceremonial dip that demonstrates to the beach audience that I am indeed a northerner and make my way back to my chair. Because I look up often, I see the familiar pointing from the many walkers at the shoreline as they notice the fins of the dolphins swimming by. Seeing just the fin of a dolphin dip in and out causes pause allowing us if only for a moment to leave our very blue screened lives reminding us that yes, there is a real world out here. Dolphins actually swimming at a real beach at a real shoreline can never be duplicated by watching it on YouTube, though plenty of people can’t resist filming this instead of just watching. Smiles! Excitement! Bliss. Just watching people looking up gives my heart an extra skip as it reminds me that we have not all succumbed to the seclusion and isolation we have allowed our phones to dictate in our non-beach lives.

After I dry off and take a delicious nap dipping in and out of the most meditative REM sleep no app could replicate, I sit back down in my squeaky old beach chair to notice another crowd gathering again at the shoreline. This time they are all looking down at the sand discussing a new finding. A jellyfish. Not just any jellyfish, a nuclear size jellyfish I can easily see from my very far away perch. Men referring to the size of its stinger like the fish that got away on their last fishing trip with the guys.

I was just in that water. I do not want to get stung by a jellyfish especially at the beginning of my solo vacation and I am now concerned that this may be a possibility. Woe is me.

I watch a beautiful couple walk by me speaking what sounds like Polish or Russian annoyed I can’t pinpoint the language. He is fit and his shorts are shorter than the usual length an American man would wear. If I hadn’t heard his voice, the shorts would have still identified him as someone from another place. He is a muscular sort and she is voluptuous and stunning with a rounded curve now in fashion among younger women at last. He sits and promptly checks his phone; she prepares the towels and herself then sits down to take her dress off, a familiar move I recognize. I am transported back to my twenties when I was self-conscious about my own curves and shape. I felt a moment of sadness for that time when I didn’t appreciate what I am sure was a kick ass body.  What a waste of time and a perfectly good body in retrospect.

Now that no one is likely looking at this aging body with the obvious fake boobs, cellulite that seemed to arrive overnight and a bloat that is caused by even one morsel of food these days, I so easily remove my sundress and walk around in a bikini like I am Giselle. I love the irony of this. As I reflect back on my beach day I am sitting on my grandfather’s patio cleaning up my beach writing. Life is ironic in so many ways and as I sit here transcribing my penciled writings onto the computer this morning, I listen to the baby monitor bellowing out the conversation between my grandfather and one of his caregivers sharing yet another intimate moment as he makes his way back into the womb with the slow inevitable journey back. This is irony.

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A NEW SPOT

A NEW SPOT

Change is good. I say this phrase often and for the most part I am an earnest believer of change being a good thing. I like to move furniture, change places I hang my art, sometimes my dishes and pans and my closets, certainly. I enjoy the notion that energy shifts created by change are great and healing for the soul. I love the feeling after everything is moved and put back into a new place, the zest in my physique after gathering the adrenaline to singularly move bookcases and couches. The calm and satisfaction of the final sit after a hot shower with a cold glass of white wine or a steamy cup of earl gray tea depending on my place in the I am not drinking or I am drinking life I lead. I am a happy soul as I look around at my work and feel the shift that happens as I sit in my newly created space surrounded by the peace it gives me from both my creative side and my get shit done side.

The change I have realized I don’t like is when a routine changes that I have come to depend on for most of my life especially since I have been a grownup buying my own groceries and paying my own mortgage. A routine forced upon me because well just because. A routine like buying my beach pass, getting in my beach accouterment packed car on a Sunday morning and driving to the beach lot I am accustomed to and walking to the spot I have been going to for most of my adult life. Do not fuck with my happy place- the beach and everything that goes with the beach. From the first packing of the bag, everything sand-less and clean, new cans of sunscreen, new tubes of the better one for my face and décolleté (yes I know- roll your eyes here), my new books and stacks of magazines I have been saving even if they are from March. Clean fresh towels, my big cotton blanket I got in Menorca seven years ago, a new tube of lipstick, a new hat, all of these rituals are part of my tradition. Like the same dinner I make for Passover every year, there is a predictability I have come to rely on in an unpredictable world.

Last year the entire beach situation was upheaved, a rug pulled out from under my neat little perfect beach world when the Middletown Town Council decided on July 5th to change the parking lot to a residents only. Imagine. Now please dear reader, bear with me, this new “problem” is not at all anything to be fretting about. I know this. I really know this. As I passed the woman with the I NEED A MIRACLE sign standing in the baking sun by the Mount Hope Bridge today, a woman many of us have passed daily for at least a year I realize these are what should be considered problems. Not being able to park my sparkly new car with my one hundred and forty dollar pass at the parking lot I want is not a problem. I shouldn’t even be complaining or making commentary or writing an entire piece about it, I realize this but there is an end to this discourse, I promise.

Today I decided to just get over it. I am never going to be able to park in the lot I have always parked in again and whining about it is not going to change anything except my beach experience for the entire summer. Today I decided to get to the beach at 8:30 am to see if I could stake out a new spot for the summer. In the spirit of total detachment, I chose to leave my phone at home so I could just focus on what the best part of what the beach brings out in me, napping, reading, writing, eating, swimming and meditating, staying present. I found a new space in the new parking lot and walked a very short distance (one positive already) to a spot that shall remain nameless as to not open up its whereabouts. I was almost the first one there, a personal best for me, and plopped my things down. The water was calm, the air was clear, very slight cool breeze; the day was a definitive ten. People started to come around ten but mostly families with little ones, no blaring music, no one yapping in annoying one way phone conversations and mostly there was generally great beach behavior.

I woke up from my nap to one of the dads standing strangely close to me and I realized he was staring at a hawk who had taken up residence about ten feet from me eying some prey below. We all had some quick conversation about whether it was an eagle or a hawk (come on, there was no fucking way it was an eagle), but regardless it was a big bird. I have witnessed a lot of red tail hawks and it definitely looked like this to me. I watched him (or her, not sure, but it seemed very male like, I don’t know why) I stood there with no camera just watching, then a red winged blackbird made its way over to the tree about six feet away from the hawk screaming like she was warning whatever was beneath his gaze. She was not happy and she sounded like a lioness protecting her nest. Watching this for about fifteen minutes was a spectacular moment in my new spot at the beach that wouldn’t have happened if I had been at my other spot. The reward for surrendering. As a matter of fact I had earlier floated on my back eagle spread in the crisp Atlantic water breathing deeply to the words I SURRENDER, I SURRENDER, trying to LET GO AND LET GOD take some of my troubled and sad self into the heart of the universe for a fresh wash in the spin cycle. These words help in times of crisis for me and as my old go to guy Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” This change in my new view finder today was rewarded with the beauty of a simple witness to nature today. And I feel better already.



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A FLOCK OF FORNICATION

A FLOCK OF FORNICATION

I have been an avid beach enthusiast for most of my life. It is my Pieces calm, I am drawn to the water, the sand, the waves crashing, the screaming children and their parents trying to get some rest along with keeping a watchful eye. I am drawn to people watching, reading, writing with an actual pen and paper to shake it up a little knowing that whatever I write, I am going to have to type hoping later I can read my sunscreened oiled and water dripping on the page writing.

I love having all of the proper beach accouterments with me, great beach eating food, plenty of tubes of sunscreen, a pile of books and magazines and plenty of beach towels. At the Siesta Key beach which is like my second home, there are plenty of birds too. Pelicans diving, sandpipers and of course seagulls. Black faced, grey faced squawkers making an inordinate amount of noise all grouped together like they are their own island. This past week, as usual we got to the beach super early and claimed our spot unbeknownst to us unsuspecting beach goers right in the middle of the soon to be flock who in a sweeping motion decided that where we were sitting would be there new home for the duration. They surrounded us. For the amount of beach paraphernalia we traipse to the beach we decided we would just suck it up and be part of their party. The only good point of it all was that no other beachgoers really wanted to sit next to us and so it was us and the flock.

The flock of fornicators. Yes. In all of my years of beaching it summer after summer in New England and winter after winter in sunny Florida, for the first time in my life, we somehow managed to be right in the center of their mating season.

But let me backtrack just a minute. Just a few moments before, we watched groups of people stop and stare at the seagulls temporary habitat, the fornicating hadn’t started yet. At this point, the birds were just standing there almost in a trance, making some squeaks and squawks, but it looked like almost any other day at the beach. Kids weren’t around too much yet to disrupt them so they just stood there kind of sleep standing. But there were throngs of people in an almost matching trance with the birds watching them. My partner and I couldn’t understand what they were watching so we just shrugged our shoulders and read on.

Their sounds and shrieks soon to follow got our attention, though and we couldn’t stop watching them as we tried to come up with what all of the ruckus was all about. It seemed like they were trying to pair up; I watched them peck at each other’s beaks like the male was trying to steal a kiss or wow the female with his prowess. (I presumed it was a male, there were no noticeable markings that this amateur could decipher, sorry bird watching aficionados). We both sat in amazement as we watched one seagull bring a small fish to feed maybe as a dinner bribe to a potential candidate. She ate it hungrily without a blink of an eye or a care in the world and she surely didn’t look like she was obligated to give a little nookie in return, but her potential mate kept trying. How did I know this? Because he jumped right on her back like it was a wild rodeo- his feet firmly planted and his body girating because of his wing flapping motion to maintain his odd off kiltered balance smack on the left and right side of her spine. She just stood there like if she had a nail file she may have used it to file her nails with a big yawn basically saying, alright already, get on with it.

We couldn’t believe our eyes actually. First off we never imagined seagulls screwing their brains out for all eyes to see in broad daylight. Of all the times I have been to the beach, I have never seen this happen. After we wrapped our heads around the fact that this was actually happening, we became entranced with what should have otherwise been their private moments, but it was an amazing (no pun intended) birds eye view into basic primal behavior. I couldn’t stop watching as male bird after male bird circled around each of the females trying to prove their worthiness so they could catch a break and make their literal jump.

Once the male bird found the balance he needed, the she-gull (haha) lifted her tail ready for entrance, old school style. Yes for real. The only romance was the brief fish delivery and we didn’t see this in many of the other interactions.

It was like seagull porn, totally weird I know, but we couldn’t take our eyes off the spectacle. The odd thing was now no one was stopping and watching, it was like front row seats at our own private viewing of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

The bird on bird orgy fest was in and out in less than two minutes. The sea-gal (I’m full of them, aren’t I?) was disinterested, unaffected almost in the whole she-bang, (yep another one, can’t stop) frankly. As soon as he was finished with his business he flew away leaving her to clean up whatever mess he left, baby, delivery, motherhood, it didn’t seem like he was planning on returning and helping out the little mama anytime soon, perhaps off to his next conquest. This continued for a few hours in the midst of their flock of at least one hundred seagulls, probably more, males circling, mounting, flapping, and flying away.

We finally had to move because all of their spastic sounds and movements combined with the pumping sounds of a cacophony of humans and their speaker systems blaring a variety of horrible music were getting to be noise overload. We decided to pick up and move away from them leaving the frolicking seagulls for other observers if they decided for just a moment to look up from their cell phones.

The rewards are endless when we look up and around. This day was no exception to the nature around us every minute of every day.

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THE PERFECT SPOT

THE PERFECT SPOT

There is a science in preparing for a day at the beach- in many ways going to the beach has a precise professionalism to it for the seasoned beach goer like myself. From the evening before to the packing up at the end of the day and everything in between I can say with complete confidence that I am a master. I am proud of my self-anointed status. This was all learned from the original master, my grandmother, my mother’s mother who taught me the routine that starts with an early rising and an early departure so you “beat the traffic.”

To this day if I leave for the beach anytime after 9:30 in the morning, I feel like I have gotten off to a late start and I actually have pangs of anxiety in my body as I make my way in my car towards my second home, the beloved beach. Some people can’t sit for any time at all at a beach; I am the opposite. I write, I walk, I sit, I stare, I read, I nap. Most times, I don’t bring my cell phone because I find that I too easily get time sucked and sidetracked and I like the break I get without one.

Seasoned beach goers according to Kathryn Black, my grandmother, (yes her last name is Black and mine is White in case you didn’t notice this and it shouldn’t go unnoticed that my mother’s is Black too, irony. Yes.) head to the beach and are on the road by 9:00am, latest. If friends want me to drive them because of course I always buy the outrageous one hundred and forty dollar beach pass, they know that the train leaves at nine or else they have to meet me there. I have softened a little over the years on this, but only if it is a weekday. Weekends, forget it. Everything must happen succinctly in order for this to happen and this is where the expertise comes into play.

My aim is not to be first at the beach, I don’t strive for this, that is like trying to get the A1 spot on Southwest Airlines, a near impossible feat no matter what time you get ready to hit the check in online button. No. The point is to get a parking spot and to get on the beach to claim my real estate for the day, the perfect spot. It is this spot grabbing that makes for a perfect beach beginning and there are a few choice spots I head towards depending on the day of the week, the way the wind is blowing and a few other factors that are part of this declaration today. The perfect spot is the spot away from the masses, so the quiet surroundings of the waves lapping and the seagulls chirping is the sound I hear. I don’t need to be right at the shoreline anymore. I used to, but now privacy and quiet is my go to spot and this is not by the water. The sounds I don’t want to hear are the booming music (music should be relegated to earphones if you ask me), annoying conversations between people that never stop for the entire day, (isn’t the beach for some quiet time?) and as far away as possible from the dreaded rookies, the ones who think it is cute to feed the seagulls. Even though, thankfully and finally, smoking is no longer allowed on the beach, some still smoke knowing that there are surely no beach police coming to give them a smoking ticket and surely the teenage lifeguards are not going to cause a stir. This is another reason for the early arrival to get to the perfect spot aka ‘my spot’ and sitting away from the masses. The final reason to be as far away as possible is the dreaded one way cell phone conversations. This really puts me over the edge.

There is a lot to being an expert beach goer. First off there should always be a beach bag ready to go in the back of the car. As much as I have certain rules and regs about the getting to the beach, there is also a certain release that must happen to make sure that the bag stays put. I am not a stickler about two important aspects of excellent beach preparedness. I do not care the slightest bit about sand in my car. Anywhere. I don’t clean my feet, or force people to shower and rinse off before stepping in. I barely shake the towels out. This is freedom and beach efficiency at its finest. Too much work, frankly for the frequency that I go to the beach. Sand can accumulate, pile up. I don’t care. I will attend to it at season’s end. This all makes it easier for the second element of importance in beach perfection- leaving the towel in the car. Now I don’t leave the same towels in the car for the entire season, I take them out when the weather is not predicted to be beach worthy or when I know I am not going to make it to the beach for a few days, but for the most part, I keep towels in the car. I don’t just keep one, I bring at least three now along with this awesome cotton blanket I got in Menorca a few years back. Last year I added a few hand towels to the bag because I can take them easily from my business, they have become quite handy, no pun intended, really.

The permanent beach bag always contains the following: hair ties, lipstick, beach earrings, (if you are a regular, you totally get this) writing instruments usually in a Ziploc baggie- sharpies, pens and very sharpened pencils, good sunscreen for the face and 2–3 bottles of coppertone spray 30 for the body purchased in bulk from BJ’S at the beginning of the season, said beach towels, my beach hat, a scarf, a sweatshirt, a long sleeve cotton shirt and a pair of beach linen pants in case it is chillier than I thought. It is always chillier than I thought. This bag is always in the car alongside of the beach chair so when I need to leave, I only have to bring along the overpacked cooler and the bag of reading and writing. Lunch for a full beach day needs to be substantial. Like the way I layer my clothes, I must prepare accordingly with food as well. Tuna or egg salad usually with some type of greens, plenty of fruit and something to crunch, I love cashews, and of course water. This is usually more than enough to graze all day on and I will often wait to eat breakfast so my first meal is more like brunch when I finally sit and get settled.

I don’t often bring a sandwich anymore because I really don’t eat bread that much, but this past week, I found myself on the beach on my actual birthday. It was a divine gift and I made the most delicious lunch of fresh tomatoes on sliced brioche with mayonnaise and it was heaven. For the less seasoned soul reading this (or for my dear friends, you know who you are but who shall remain nameless that belong to Bailey’s Beach where beach going is a completely different and zero effort (aka glorious) experience, this likely sounds exhausting. It is not. It is heaven for me, it is a tradition handed down to me from my grandmother and it happens automatically.

I hang on to traditions and as much as my son never really enjoyed the beach to the level I have, I hold out for the magnificent moment that some day in the distant future, I may get to have the joy of a grandchild too. Then my beach going experience will be a whole new level and for this I smile as I know my grandmother taught me well.


it looks like I am super far from the water, but not really for the glory of privacy.
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FLOCK OF SEAGULLS

FLOCK OF SEAGULLS

Avery! Avery! AVERY! The impatient mom stood there, primary color buckets and shovels in hand, bathing suit tucked under army green shorts and a tank top. Her voice sounded breathless, loaded, followed by a pause with a capital P. Avery with her super emphasis on the A, was being called out by a voice gaining crescendo as Avery’s mom tried to somewhat patiently lure her no more than three year old daughter away from the area where less than a minute ago had encouraged her to go.

Avery, Bradley! Go see the seagulls! The lone mom voiced happily to her little ones as they made their way to the beach this early morning. The two little ones tip toed at first towards the semi resting flock of seagulls until the birds caught wind of the little cherubs acting like lioness and immediately went into flight. This caused Avery and Bradley to storm into them running like all children at the beach do. The seagulls of course flew away likely annoyed as their morning peace was disrupted promptly, but they were used to this cat and mouse game. Chasing seagulls is one of the oldest childhood beach pastimes. Children are fascinated with trying to catch them thinking they may be lucky to actually touch one.

Avery! Avery! Avery! Bradley! Three times for the girl, one time for the older brother who was likely about six, Come this way! The mom likely didn’t realize that less then three minutes ago she just instructed her children to head the opposite way and they are not on grown up time. Trying to distract them back towards her so she could finally sit down on the beach on this not really a beach day after all. Trying again, she squealed in a voice that didn’t sound normal to me, “Look at the white seashell I found!” Avery was not taking the bait. She was in the midst of a flock of flying and agitated seagulls- a white seashell was too tame for little Miss Avery who at almost three clearly had a will of her own. Mom, starting to sound a little impatient with a tone that was easily recognizable to all who were in close proximity was thinking that she was in charge by her incessant shout outs. She wasn’t and anyone listening could clearly hear that Avery was never going to be the obedient and rule following daughter like her older brother.

The observation took me about three minutes. I am a self proclaimed untrained expert in mother and daughter interactions especially at the beach because this is where the family dynamic unfolds. This was where my family dynamic with my own mother started in 1968, right out in the open for the world to see when you think no one is watching. The beach experience has so much expectation in families especially here on the white sands of the “most beautiful beach in America” Siesta Key. This former lovely old school styled beach has turned into Disney World with its contrived picnic spots and signage directing beachgoers everywhere, but it is still magnificent once you make your way. Florida has become one giant Disney experience from the moment you step into their airport and take the tram to the main area. It is like we need to be told everything and can’t possibly figure out how to get from here to there without some happy sign pointing us there. The only semi advantage of the beach metamorphosis is the gargantuan parking area that has plenty of spots now. But I love this beach and I love Florida especially in March when New England is expecting eighteen inches of snow this week.

This mom today calling Avery about twenty times and watching Avery tune her out was like a study in a childhood behavior class. Avery has already learned that it is not her name she will choose or not choose to respond to but the tone of which her name is projected. This is so obvious to this quiet female observer getting to spy on this early budding relationship from the vantage point of the ghost of Christmas Future.

Mother Daughter relationships are a precarious balance of emotion. Love, we hope, is always the underlying energy, but that is for the mature and calm mothers who perhaps learned this from their own mom examples. Often the emotion of love is laced with a rickety balance of power, control and sometimes jealousy and this is when those relationships go awry. What constitutes a healthy mother and daughter relationship from my viewpoint is the release of those three dynamics of power, control and jealousy that frequently come out on autopilot. The healthy relationship is instead when love prevails, unconditional love where children feel safe and able to make mistakes as well as rebel knowing they will still be loved. If moms can offer this up on a sliver platter, it makes for a stronger mama and ultimately a way better mother daughter connection. This is all easy for me to say. My personal experience is based on my own challenging one with my mother where love was used as control and was a meager piece of the quadrant. The other three- control, jealousy and power had a much larger piece of the pie. Love in my world was demonstrated by material things as well as food, so it is no wonder I have struggled with money and food issues for the first part of my life. Seldom were the feelings of affection and trust used as the base of support that builds the foundation of a healthy connection. This base of support creates the foundation that ultimately allows for the literal stories to be built above.

Does this mom even know that a complete stranger already feels sympathy for her tiny daughter? She would likely be horrified to know that this is my observation. Maybe none of it is accurate; after all I am making a sweeping judgment in less than five minutes and maybe they actually have a really loving connection that will blossom. My experience with my own mother and our tumultuous and mostly irreparable relationship is my guide on the beach always. I will never know what will become of the dynamics of Avery and her mom and their future that lies ahead. There is something that I identify with though every time I see a mom have a less than patient tone at the beach. It definitely is a trigger that reminds me of my own past with Ann and as much as I have a positive beach memory with my mother from my childhood, I also know that our relationship was never to be the one that most daughters hope for. The only satisfaction I have though is my deep awareness of what went wrong so I could be sure that my mothering of my son would be what went right. This I am sure of.

As Avery finally made her way to the lame seashell, I could see her looking back at the lure of the wild seagulls flying, the wind in her hair and the sparkle in her eye and I knew at that moment as I watched her that just like me, Avery would be more than just fine.

a family photo i came upon from September 1964, my mother in the green dress would have been three months pregnant with me. My father is to her right and my grandparents are in the center. Uncle and aunt to the left. My grandfather was 47 (and he is 100 now) and my grandmother was 44. My parents were 20! the same age as my son is now. Married and pregnant, it is no wonder my parents struggled being grownups.
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DOUBLE M OR PLASTIC B

DOUBLE M OR PLASTIC B

The toggling between observation and judgment is a cautionary one. Sitting on the beach on a cool March morning praying for the slightest peak of sun to take over the overwhelmingly cloud laden sky causes an inordinate amount of people watching. There is so much to watch and consider as I try to keep my judgmental side at bay and just tune in to the show of vacationing humanity. This is hard and I am annoyed by my thinking as I try to consciously and kindly observe, but I find myself plastering adjectives and nouns to just about everyone who passes in a stream of descriptors that won’t shut off. Is this just human nature? Fit. Fat. Family. Rookies (they definitely get a label at anyone who feeds the seagulls). Rednecks. Newlyweds. Europeans. In love. Out of love. Active. Miserable. Happy. Deliberate. Old. Young. Healthy. Weathered. Stunning. The list is a long one and it is automatic. This disturbs me as I try to train my brain to not send out anything other than kind thoughts so I smile. This usually helps as I make eye contact with the people walking past. We looked like we were on some type of conveyer belt moving up and down the beach on our walks taking in the Florida air. I attempt to watch unencumbered by the auto thinking that spews because there are just so many people moving about. Besides the timeless joy of of book reading, writing, napping and eating a cooler full of beach food and no phone deliberately left home to not distract, this is my literal facebook. I sit here today in much different garb today than yesterday. Hat, scarf, pants, dress, sweater, two towels as blankets; it is chilly but it is also only 10am. The temperature is supposed to climb. Yesterday the beach got up to about 75 and I was stripped right down to my bathing suit because it was hot with no breeze which brought me to the water. My bathing suit is what brings me to the title of my essay today.

People watching is one of the glorious pastimes of beach going no matter if you are walking a beach or sitting on one. The shapes and sizes of men, women and children are here for the taking. It occurred to me yesterday as I fiddled with my now too small Lululemon top I wear as a bathing suit that as much as I people watch, so does everyone else. My top is too small I thought and I must get another one, a larger one to house my immobile breasts that not only point straight out, they also have no feeling either. So my dilemma became one of perpetual fidgeting as I was in a constant battle to keep them tucked in and hidden. Because they no longer have feeling, this became an almost full time watchathon to make sure they didn’t pop out for the full exposure to the entire beach population. I know luxury problems for sure, after all I am on the white sands of Siesta Key and life is pretty splendid despite my personal bathing suit challenges.

Up until this moment I thought my implants from my final surgery looked pretty natural. The fact that I even have breasts as well as my own nipples is such a positive after all of this we caught it early breast cancer that has been my life for the last three years. Lying in the one spot and not needing to go in the water was one thing, but walking down to the water with this first roll out was entirely different. These bad girls that are part of my upper half are their own force to be reckoned with and this round out proved that maybe they are more natural looking behind the safety of a nice crew neck t shirt.

I found myself fidgeting a lot because the bumps and curves (and not the good kind) just seemed like they were in the wrong areas and this small tank was not helping. I went into my old stomping ground of Swim City where I have bought a new bathing suit every year for thirty years and was for the first time at a loss. I didn’t need the support, they do that on their own, thank you. I didn’t need to be strapped in like a Scarlett Ohara corset, I already feel like I have one on 24/7. I needed coverage, I needed something hip but not young and easy for the straps to come off of my shoulders to avoid the dreaded tan lines. In case I haven’t made it clear, I am a professional beach goer and tan expert. I walked out of the store for the first time with no purchase which is great anyway because I am on month three of no shopping and have been doing exceptionally well. Not great though because of my present dilemma.

I couldn’t tell if I was making this up because the fact is I was looking straight down, not straight at so I did what every crazy chick does when in doubt, yep, I took a selfie. What am I in eighth grade? I am embarrassed for myself even writing this. I know any readers out there are wanting to scream at this piece, “Are you fucking kidding? You just had a double mastectomy, who CARES?!!!!! You are alive and you had a double mastectomy! Are you out of your bleepin mind?!!!” I would say that to any woman I know too, but when it is you, I don’t know, it was my first ride out at the beach and I was self conscious. And clearly my ego was let loose at this wild rodeo. Let me just say that taking a selfie was a bonehead idea and my great Dr. M. should have given me a warning card in October that said this:

Warning- You will be tempted to take a selfie of your body in a bathing suit on your first beach trip. Don’t. I repeat. Don’t. Just enjoy the beach and your good fortune. You are alive. Nothing else matters.

But I didn’t get the card and my observation head turned inward as I made the assumption that everyone at the beach was staring at my saying, Wow. That is an awful boob job. Why would anyone do that to themselves?

I realize that this writes and sounds completely insane. I was insane for a moment. I am being honest because maybe just maybe someone will read this having contemplated the same exact scenario. I clearly understand that not only will I never see these people again, I don’t care at all what they think. I know my truth and this is all that matters. I am likely not even in their thoughts and I am not the center of anyone’s universe except my own and clearly for a few moments it was spinning out of control. This first jaunt at the beach was another milestone to get used to with these new contraptions permanently affixed to my top half. These are those weird moments no doctor prepares you for as you navigate the endless emotions that come up at the least expected times. I realized that in my own observations and occasional judgmental people watching, why wouldn’t I expect the same from my fellow humans? What interests me in this process is the assumptions that any thoughts coming my way yesterday were negative. This is the work. As Wayne Dyer said in one of his many profound quotes,” When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” I decided to see myself as lovely bad ass bodacious, and my walk out of the water and back to my spot with my lusciously fake and silicone companions sassed right back with me. Double M AND Plastic B. Who cares? I am alive.



sitting super far from the water to avoid the masses, you can see the long trek i was facing. poor me, boo hoo.
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A BIRDS EYE VIEW

A BIRDS EYE VIEW

Sitting at Siesta Key Beach yesterday, for the past week and actually for the past thirty five years frankly is a birds eye view on humanity. Or at least the privileged view of humanity. I mean I am not talking of Aleppo, the plight of Rohingya refugees in Myanmar or the humanity of people helping others after disaster. I am talking about watching the tribal interaction of families going to the beach. I have been an observer of this since I have been writing which has probably been since I have been going to the beach.

Watching family dynamics on a beach during holiday is like eavesdropping on the most intimate of life. Family dynamics, husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, sisters and sisters and brothers and grandmothers having their full circle of conversations revealed in front of total strangers knowing likely that all will be forgotten as quickly as it has been revealed. These conversations will not know they will end in a story written upon reflection as I fly home after a full week of witnessing them. My words have become my version of photographs of their day at the beach.

I relish the self appointed honor because the sounds of their voices, their intonations, the rise and fall of their pitch are all clues to their seeming highs and lows as they make their way through the maze of life we call relationship. The way a woman talks to her husband as she navigates her womanhood as a new mom with one on the way, barking orders like she is talking to a dolt. I want to get up and point out how belittling it is as her husband, patiently for now anyway, doesn’t take notice. He almost seems ambivalent to her patronizing tone. Is he already tired of it and ready to accept that this is simply his cross to bear as a husband and a new dad? She is likely unaware of this communication style as she is probably just regurgitating what her mother did as she carries on full conversations about “put more sunscreen on her,” “take her for a walk,” “your turn,” and the constant desire to get more food and water into the little girl. Smoothiiiieeeeee? More fruuuuuiiittttt? Cheeeeeeesse? Every word has an upturn that is slightly irritating especially knowing that she thinks she is being the best mom by feeding her little girl this seemingly healthy collection disguised as sugar. They seem like a happy young family, but I can almost forecast the problems that will be arising in the forms of resentments because they lack the skill set in how to talk to each other. These skill sets come way after and more often then not it is usually too late.

Then there are the young lovers, snuggling close on a towel as their sexuality is ripe and strong I can almost smell it. Watching sexual tension is an opportunity to reflect back to my earlier moments in my own young romantic phase of the beginning of relationship. The parts we women yearn for as time goes on and the acceptance phase kicks in as we try to hang on to that original feeling. The gracing of a hand over another, the draping of a leg over a waist, a connection of two sets of eyes lying face to face on a blanket wordless in voice, but screaming out what is to come later. The longing a woman feels when she watches this and then simultaneously shifting to the comfort of her own relationship’s present day comfort. Knowing that the sexuality is only the start and is not the definition and learning to accept this without feeling it as a loss.

There is the witnessing of an argument between a over tattooed masculine energied thirty something woman with her mother who has that resigned disposition of yet another disagreement between two generations who seldom understand each other. Watching this reminds me of my early days at the beach with my own mother and the less tumultuous times between us. But unlike us, they plod along realizing that they only have one of each other and they keep trying. Donning their swimsuits and their beach chairs for another round, forever hopeful that this day could match the fantasy they have played out in their minds for this very day.

There are the tender gestures of watching an aged couple who have spent the day in the sun turning their chairs away from its heat, noticing her husband has fallen asleep and knowing that his left ear is taking a direct hit from the strong Sarasota sun. She gingerly lifts the towel up from his shoulder to protect his ear trying so hard to not disturb that wondrous beach nap that rests a soul like no other. I am almost sure they are European as I can see the man’s bathing suit is one of those tight Speedo type black shorts, almost Jack Lalanne like and she is very easily sporting a bikini. They both seem so comfortable in their own skin, like Europeans do and I am so sure of this that when I walk to the water for my third dip in the glorious Gulf, I peak my ear to confirm. Yes, they are speaking a different language. I could just tell and I am reminded of my expertise at human observations.

These delicious moments give me pause knowing that I won’t have that aging marriage and those fleeting points in time at the beach on a beautiful day with a husband of fifty years. There is a sadness in it, but also a feeling of relief knowing that I freed both of us from a relationship that had passed its time. I watched them thinking that though I may not have the time invested, I am in the right place with the right partner now. Watching them reminds me of how important it is to be with the right companion because watching the ease between these two lovely people is also my ease.

Birds eye view on all of the phases of relationship, the ones barely starting, the ones in their infancy state, the ones hanging out. There are the ones who sit there alone cherishing the silence within themselves. There are the couples reading books, there are the people who can’t put their phones down even on the brightest and most gorgeous of days continuing to look down instead of looking up and out. There are the ones who have grown gracefully with the acceptance that is part of a successful relationship and there are the ones hanging on for dear life. There are the ones that don’t even know the tsunami is on its way and they sit together in their vulnerability and silence not knowing.

As I sat there making my observations I of course imagined what I was seeing. After all I don’t know anything about any of these people. I don’t know which ones have just suffered deep loss, which ones are celebrating the joys that are part of the natural ebb and flow of life. I just add to the stories by my birds eye view as I sat there for eight hours looking at their outsides with my insides. And I can’t wait to go back and do it all over again.





moments at the beach in Siesta Key over the years in my travels.
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BOOBS AT THE BEACH

BOOBS AT THE BEACH

The thing about reconstruction surgery after a double mastectomy is the lack of feeling in your upper body. What’s interesting about reflecting on this part of my daily non feeling is how worried I was about this presurgery. Now that I live with it as a part of me though, it really isn’t that bad after all.

When I was at the beach this past weekend after a few week absence from my otherwise regular beach going, the ramifications of the lack of feeling became more apparent. It was a hot perfect beach day. Barely a cloud, barely humidity, just clear delicious New England sun and air. The water matched its perfection. Crisp enough to cool you off from the heat, but not cold enough to take your breath away. I took about seven dips to cool off from the heat and it brightened my soul each and every time I plunged in. A deep dive into the Atlantic is like no other, though my Danish friend, Ken would likely disagree as the very breath taking water off the coast of Denmark makes the Atlantic seem like the Mediterranean, but I am talking USA here. I dive in for my first dip of the day and as I stood up looked down (thank God) to see that my bathing suit top had plunged south leaving most of my new breasts exposed for the people at the shore to see. There is simply no sensation that the front upper half of my body is clothed or not clothed. This definitely adds a new layer of awareness as I need to constantly check in with my top half ensuring I am not fully frontal.

I am actually not horrified by this at all. My only concern is (no pun intended) full disclosure here that these bad girls I now sport that make their way out and available for the eyes that happened to be my way were forced on me because of cancer and not chosen because of vanity. And as I write that, who gives a flying fuck if I chose them or they chose me and why do I even for a moment care what anyone else thinks about my luscious upper half? I don’t know. I guess that is the organic hippy side of me, the human chick side I’m still working on. Mostly I don’t care, but sometimes I do and there it is.

Lying on my front after four months is still not super comfortable. Not sure of ever will be again, but like all of my projections and worries, it probably will be fine. You may think that because I don’t have any feeling, it would be a breeze. The rock hard super expanded tissue expanders that still reside in place of the more flexible silicone implants soon to exchange places have no give. So it still feels like rock hard bowling balls on my front and lying on them creates an odd sense of pressure that isn’t a feeling of pain, but is more a feeling of discomfort. If I am slightly propped up on my elbows and have a blanket of some sort snugly placed underneath, I can manage to read a book for at least a half hour. This is way more than I ever imagined even last month by this time so I will take the thirty minutes because there is nothing like a great book on your front side, bright hot sun warming our backside on a beautiful beach day. The first round of “we caught it early” breast cancer two summers ago, I couldn’t sit out in the sun because I was getting radiated for most of the summer. I needed an umbrella and lots of sunscreen. This summer is total freedom, how ironic. Ahh the trials and tribulations of beach going with new hopefully cancer free forever ta-tas.

I often wonder if the radiation did more harm than good, but as my almost 100 year old grandfather would say, “Be that as it may, it is what it is.” There are no regrets of my first decision to go the route of lumpectomies and ovary and fallopian tube prophylactic (aka preventative) removal. I think that it was a great decision for me and this is the thing about decisions, they are ultimately yours. I had the luxury of making them from the “we caught it early” rooftop, some people are not that lucky. Some people are in the dire place of deciding to continue treatment or not because the cancer has spread so much. These life decisions become relative to the bigger picture of cancer and my own experience. As my last few weeks of over scheduling myself have created feelings of being overwhelmed, I am reminded of how quickly things can change in our lives. As I adjust to my new schedule of working more out front of my wonderful business of beauty, I need to remind myself of this. I need to remember how quickly life can change and attempt to surround myself with only the tasks and lists that give me pleasure. I live the life I live because of the conscious choices I have made to live it and it is easy to go astray to the bullshit that sucks energy from me. This is when I realize I need to get out in the garden, pull some weeds, call my grandfather and be thankful for this moment. This is what the beach does for me and even though I can’t be there with the fervor and frequency of my previous work schedule, when I am there, I am reminded of the deep gratitude I have for my life.

Today my mission is to stay in the present, follow my lists so I can complete the tasks that need to be done before the weekend and to try to, in each moment, feel thankful for the privilege of being alive and healthy.

This is joy.

AMEN!
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THE BEACH AND ME

THE BEACH AND ME

Finally after a super busy week and a very successful garden tour yesterday complete, I had today, this perfect summer Sunday to get to the beach. My ever patient beach and life partner kindly got the umbrella ready and secure (umbrellas are a must now that I am over the five-o mark). Shoes off, towels down, chairs placed- sunscreen on, followed by my hat (which is also now a must- post 50). I grabbed my beach earrings from my bag, (I can’t go to the beach without earrings and lipstick) and put them on, tarnished from the many beach trips and salty air and sand. I looked around to search out the familiar faces because kind of like season tickets to Fenway, you get to know the regulars. After recognizing the one woman who I call crazy chick, I sighed with the delight of the familiarity of it all. I sat myself down with my pile of magazines and a cooler full of food, ahhh… my beach ritual, tried and true.

Sundays are super crazy at the beach and as much as I love the beach (I seriously could go every single day from 9–3 if I could) Sundays are not my favorite day. Too many people, too many tourists, too many families of the regulars, but like a trooper, I suck it up. After all, this “complaint” is a luxury problem and I laugh at the notion that I would even dare to differentiate a “good” beach day. Aren’t all beach days good — great, actually? I know I am returning back to my sassy self when I hear the first blaring note of a deep base beat coming from the couple in a matching polka dotted bathing suit. They had just driven their dinghy from their big ass boat and not only unloaded pretentious beach equipment, but two very cute, but very yappy dogs and a special dog umbrella to protect them from the blaring heat. And before I knew it, one of those portable Bose type speakers to play their techno crap.

When the second dinghy arrived with another group that polka dot couple seemed to know but didn’t sit next to each other, the sounds of their conversations hummed my way along with the technobeat. “If they are going to have full blown conversations, why don’t they sit next to each other instead of screaming their talking across from each other?” I impatiently stated in a kind of factual annoyed statementy kind of non question. I mean does anyone have any type of beach etiquette anymore?

There is a list of unwritten beach rules that are just part of your fabric if you have grown up anywhere near a beach in your life. The first one besides not smoking, thank goodness this isn’t allowed anymore, should be noise level etiquette. No yelling, no screaming at your kids or your partner, no loud music- definitely the top if the list for sure. I mean why is it that someone thinks their music should be the defining entertainment for all to endure? Today was an unusually odd day because it seemed like no one got the memo that dogs are not permitted on the beach. I love dogs, but if you are going to break the beach rules and bring your dog to the beach, please make sure he or she is not a yapping one that disrupts the beautiful sounds of the waves crashing at the shore and the seagulls flying overhead. On top of the three families who brought their dogs, the yapping from all was followed endlessly by the sounds of “Shhhh. Stop that. Quiet. No.” about a thousand times.

I tried to look at the positive side. I am at the beach. This about sums up the positive. Doesn’t get more positive than this simple fact. I am at the beach with my boyfriend. I have a one hundred and forty dollar beach sticker on my car that I can afford so that I can go to my preferred beach with my partner. I have a cooler full of organic food from Green Grocer in Portsmouth, RI and pies from Sam’s Bakery in Fall River, Mass where I drove to at 8:00am this morning because I am alive and healthy and I could. I am at the beach ELEVEN WEEKS after a seven hour surgery. I am at the beach rocking a kick ass body because not only have I a stellar new set of bad ass ta-tas, but I have been working out and eating clean for almost 4 full weeks straight and feel stronger than I ever have for real.

How’s that for a positive spin around? I sat there starting to go south with my feeling personally offended bitchatude and took a big fat pause. How dare I? I have a friend who just got a really shitty potentially fatal diagnosis and I am guessing she would really appreciate one day on a hot beach with loud music and a set or two of yappy dogs. So I stopped myself. I stopped my feeling of self-righteousness and entitlement and I said thank you. Thank you for the gift of another Sunday at the beach. Even though the peripheral folks were breaking my self proclaimed beach rules, I don’t have to feel personally offended by them. The fact is that their behavior has nothing to do with me UNLESS I LET IT. My life as it stands today with my Wonder Woman lovely bad ass attitude is how do I want to spend my precious time thinking and being.

Two great quotes came across my inbox today sandwiching my day. This one started me off from my dear friend, Chris; quote by Dr. Robert Holden

“The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see.”

Then this great quote ended my day in the universal timing it usually does by the Matriarch of Positive Thinking, Louise Hay,

“I do not fix problems, I fix my thinking. Then problems fix themselves.”

I simply must let the “stuff” go. I can’t control it. I can’t allow it because it impacts my health and I choose health over nonsense and drama that has nothing to do with me. So when I go to the beach again, I have so many choices. I could bring headphones, I could meditate, I could send love and light, I could ignore the bullshit or I could choose to stay home. Whatever I decide to do and think is up to me and me alone. I just have to catch myself when I start to go south in my head, the rewards of doing so are really the stuff that makes a beach day truly spectacular.

BAM.


“my” beach on a not so busy day.