college, Women

THE FEMALE ASPECT TO THIS COLLEGE SCANDAL

The college scandal continues at every corner I have turned this past week since the story broke. With good reason, it is a dire and despicable example of what goes terribly wrong with too much money not used for the right reason. Despite the plane crashes, the school shootings and the massacre in New Zealand, these college scandals are still in front of us. This is serious business, this college outrage. It is indicative of the layers of entitlement and greed that is nothing new in our young country or world for that matter.

I have an old friend who is almost 97 at this point, walks every single day, lives on his own with his wife and still drives. He speaks the way an old Italian man who survived WWII gets away with. A few years back as we were walking, he said to me in regards to some scandal involving a politician whose name escapes me, “Anytime there is a scandal it is because of money or a woman.” I cracked up. Such an old-fashioned way to put it because I see it with a slight twist. The money and the women are more often the result of the behavior caused by the person causing it- usually a man and of course I said this aloud. It fell on deaf ears. He really didn’t see it this way at all. Now before you think this essay is headed towards some bra burning male bashing, let me assure you it is not. I love men, the good ones. And there are plenty of women who are as guilty of scandal and bad behavior. This is not male centric by any means. But his notion that scandals were because of the women not symptomatic is part of the reason I write today.

I remember reading The Scarlet Letter in high school and feeling so outraged that Hester had to walk around with the big A, not her lover who she protected with a vengeance. Sure the reverend’s identity wasn’t so obvious, but the female shaming was and continues to be so typical. The #Metoo movement finally brought some men out into the open for the parade that women have been walking for centuries and I think this may be progress? I put the question mark because I am not sure. We have had many feminist movements in the past century, yet we still struggle for equal pay, representation in our government and our boards. We still worry about our reproductive rights and our daughters’ safety if they choose to go out late at night alone. This is a universal problem- the double standard of our gender.

What I have found interesting in this recent college scandal is the female shaming. And we barely notice. Why is it that every news story features photos and names of the two actresses? Any story I have seen or heard says, “A list of people including two actresses.” Then their names, their photos, the photos of their children and the endless parade of their shame walk to and from court.

Where are the rest of the over thirty people and more involved? Why are their names not in the news? I am not protecting the two women and their children. Their example is an embarrassment to parenting, BUT so are the rest of them. If the news is not going to show the lists, the faces of the remaining, why should it just be the two women and their daughters? Women have been doing the walk of shame forever, what we wear, what we eat, how we choose our partners, our sex lives, how we have sex, the way we give birth, feed our children, choose to work or not work, constantly we are under the microscope in such different ways than our male counterparts. In the alanon meetings I have gone to for years, just like AA, the first step is awareness. Until we are even remotely aware of the imbalances that the media portrays us in, nothing will ever change. We women barely notice that there is an imbalance because we are just so friggin use to it, it is our norm.

I refuse to call out the actresses in this essay today until the media starts naming everyone, showing pictures of everyone involved, not just two women. I am not protecting them. All you need to do is google college scandal and see what shows up in the search. Two names, two faces over and over again. Once again, the media doesn’t get it right.

As a woman who takes care of women for a living, who employs almost twenty young women in a female centered business, I write today to remind us to start noticing. Just that first step in paying attention and having conversation about how much this happens. Ads that show women in the kitchen, at the washing machine, taking stains happily out of their children’s clothes with great big smiles, men cutting the grass with their John Deere mowers, fixing their cars, the media loves gender pigeon holing. I just turned 54 and in my lifetime I can recall the first time I saw an ad that showed a female doctor. The first time. What came first? Why aren’t we noticing? Our children are watching. This scandal is shocking and sad, but like all bad choices, there are strong lessons to be learned. Let’s start with simply learning that just showing the two female actresses over and over and not talking about the rest is part of the conversation we could be having with our children too. Teachable moments come in all forms. We are having more conversations about why the obvious is wrong, but there is an undercurrent of bias again that is also part of the conversation. Just google it and you will get my point.

book reviews, books

READING LILAC GIRLS

library or bookstore, this book is worth your time.

The gift of the vigorous writing I have been doing has been the books that have landed on my desk about writing. I have learned when I am on the right path, the exact things show up in my life at the perfect time. This has been a consistent force in my life history and between Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg, Stephen King and a few more I can’t think of as I sit at my grandfather’s home in beautiful sunny Florida, these advice on writing books have been helpful.

Some books say, “Write every day without fail.” Others say, “Take a break, walk away, get inspired.” But all of them without fail say, “Read. A lot.” So reading I have been doing.

“How do you have the time?” My friend, Marcia asked me one night at dinner. I thought about this for a moment. When something speaks to your core with a such a force that I feel almost nauseous by not writing, I make the time.  I make the time because writing has become such an integral part of my priority list that everything I am doing right now must support this.

Once I made a commitment to write and write and write, reading became the necessary counter balance. What a gift that reading more books helps writing more stories because now that I am reading a book every three of four days, I am learning much more about the craft of writing. I appreciated great writing before, but now it has taken a hold of me with a fervor.

My favorite genre has always been historical fiction especially when a book takes the place during World War II. Perhaps it is because I am Jewish and because my grandfather was drafted, or because my parents were born a year before the war ended. Maybe it is because I am getting older and the world seems more fragile then ever. All of the historical foreshadowing for the world we seem to be living in pulses around me because I have watched too many episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, but when I read of a book that takes place during the early 1940s, I am drawn.

As I gathered my beach books for my trip, I came across a book called Lilac Girls that had found its way to my house around Hanukkah. I was between library books waiting to hear that the ones I had placed on hold were available for pickup so I began reading this debut novel by Martha Hall Kelly with a vengeance. As I made my way through yet another story about a female Holocaust experience, I couldn’t put this book down.

The Holocaust trauma is usually about Jewish people, six million children, women, men just because of their beliefs, but Lilac Girls reminded me of the many others who were put in concentration camps. People we seldom hear about and in this case a group of Polish women put in a concentration camp for women only called Ravensbrück in Germany, many because of their resistance work.

I had the pleasure of taking a course at Rhode Island College called Women’s Resistance in the Holocaust. It was here that I really began understanding the importance of resistance and how many layers there are to this response to a political movement gone terribly wrong. Lilac Girls reminded me of the varying ways one can resist and fight and the way that women do this or not is shown beautifully in this book. These women were held as prisoners not even knowing what the charge was. I never knew that there was only one concentration camp just for women. This fact alone makes the book a lesson in history. Even though it is a fictional account, the author does a brilliant job in giving us the factual details that a great historical fiction novel can do.

We so often hear of the Jewish resistance movement during the war, occasionally we hear of non-Jews who helped hide and save Jews, but besides the famed Schindler, so many heroes and heroines go unnoticed the further away from the time we move. This book introduces us to a real-life character who was doing her own resistance work in New York, a socialite with many connections named Caroline Ferriday and how she came to know about the prisoners at Ravensbrück.

Along with Caroline, we learn of the Polish women prisoners who suffered brutal surgical experiments on their legs, causing the women who actually survived this torture to hop around the camp because of the disfigurement and pain the surgeries caused. This gave them the nickname Rabbits and Martha Hall Kelly brought them back to life in her first novel. The women’s stories are only a part of this mind opening first novel. I highly suggest this book if you are looking for a poignant read that also gives you a time travel back to a time in history we must force ourselves to keep in our consciousness.

The glory of writing is that more reading helps more writing. A break from writing also helps writing and both are part of this week of solo vacation for me. I only hope that as I march forth with my own research for my first historical fiction novel, I do the same justice that Martha Hall Kelly did for hers. She is writing her next novel called a prequel to this one and I can hardly wait.

Breast cancer, Health, Women

MY BOOBS IN HINDSIGHT

“You know this is elective surgery,” Dr. Hottie said to me over two years ago. I love Dr. M almost as much as I love Dr. W. Almost. But let’s face it, Dr. M. is a male doctor and no matter how progressive, how much of a male feminist he may (or may not) be, he is not sitting in the chair across from me with having to make the painful choice of no breasts or reconstructed ones. He is a man. He is also a plastic surgeon and that alone should create a bias in the arena of female body parts.

Though I appreciated his candor at the time, I had four doors to choose from, two of which did not seem like options at all.

DOOR # 1 Do Nothing and Die at some point.

DOOR #2. Have a single breast mastectomy and wear a prosthetic like my grandmother.

DOOR #3. Have double mastectomy with no reconstruction.

DOOR #4. Have a double mastectomy and have reconstruction, (the “elective” surgery Dr. M. referred to back at paragraph one.)

I am guessing if he were about to face having his penis cut off and having no penis or one put on so that when he looked down at himself in the shower he wouldn’t look so different, maybe he would choose to omit the word “elective.” The word elective should not be a choice word anyway, though I appreciate the intent reminding me that if I really consider this as elective perhaps I may choose to be totally flat chested and remove all traces of the very female part of who I am. Call me vain, I don’t care, as I have said on more than one occassion, I like my breasts, I like the shape, the form, the wonder woman activation that a proud set of pointed boobs give me. 

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maybe this shirt will read, yeah their fake the real ones tried to kill me and the fake ones are too. I hope not.

I fully understand what he meant now that I am facing the two year mark and though I am not facing the horror show of what I may find if I typed in bad breast reconstruction in the Google search bar, my experience is much more subtle. Subtle in the way I would imagine that my comments would invoke maybe an eye roll or maybe the thought that wouldn’t be said aloud, It’s all in your head.

In the recommendations of drinking celery juice on a daily basis  (SEE IS CELERY JUICE THE NEW KALE?  for clarity if you are scratching your head here) I found the medical intuitive, Anthony William. Now before you start to want to punch me for even taking the word of someone who calls himself a Medical Intuitive, hear me out. He was recommended by a really credible and incredible Doctor I know and his advice, though not conventional in the least, has some legs because of his vast success. Believe what you want, but last I checked, the medical community as it relates to credible scientific research doesn’t always get it right. Think DDT, smoking, low fat, eggs, dairy, food pyramid, opiates just to name a few pesky mistakes. I like to think I am open to all possibilities when it comes to health, but more often than not, it is the knowledge of my body as my own personal science experiment that informs me.

And I have not been feeling right. Tightness in my upper body, bloating that has changed my lovely flat stomach into something I no longer recognize, weight gain, intense headaches out of the blue, gas, indigestion, joint ache and a racing heart, a little dizziness, a little nausea, sharp pain like cramps that come out of nowhere on the left side of my fake boob and lastly if this is all not enough, washing machine head on the spin cycle, not symptoms I regularly identify with, well maybe the last one.  If I had to draw a figure of myself on paper, I would draw a scarlet red rectangle from my upper chest to my belly button. When I am meditating, the image that continues to appear is the middle of my chest opening up and red cardinals flying out of it. Is this all in my head? And more importantly what are my options, medically? I suppose I could beg for MRIs and body scans and go digging for problems. Who wants to live like that? Not me for sure.

I decided to look up to see if Anthony William had any podcasts and no surprise here, of course he did. Lots of them. And as “luck” would have it, I landed on one called “Breast Implant Illness.” I did hesitate albeit briefly before I hit play, yet being a glutton for punishment, I proceeded. Probably not the best idea because Anthony, who by the way readily admits that the information he is sharing is not even discovered by science yet, and claims he is being informed by Spirit, a guide who speaks to him regularly. Roll your eyes here, I know, but you can also see my predicament of having to bring my new information to any doctor. He said something that struck me though so be patient with me and hopefully keep reading.

When there is a foreign object made out of synthetic material such as silicone, your liver sends out an army of enzymes to see what the hell is going on. The enzymes make their way to the implants and latch on looking to protect and get to the bottom of the enemy invader. Because the silicone is encased in some type of material, (I find it amusing that I don’t know the answer to this off the top of my head), the enzymes stay on the shell and this energy coupled with my body heat over time creates a slow porosity in the impants slowly seeping gasses from the silicone into my unsuspecting body. Now for you scientists out there- I have not a clue if there is any medical evidence out there that supports or denies this, but what I do know is that ever since these new additions have been placed in my upper half, I have had under the radar symptoms hard to put my finger on. Coincidence?

When it comes to history as it relates to science and the female body, I am not overly confident in our past. Though birth control has revolutionized a woman’s control of family planning, why is it that it is one of the top three questions I was asked after we discovered the breast cancer the first time? Women have been short changed in the health research department compared to our male counterparts for sure, yet we are so accepting of the words, They are totally safe, when it comes to the due diligence we think we are giving ourselves by timidly asking the question. When Anthony William said this on his podcast, it struck a chord with me and frankly it kind of makes sense.

Boobs are one of those body parts that seem to get a lot of press. When I did a quick google search the CDC only had leading causes of death since 2014, but the number 1 was heart disease and the number 2 was cancer, not breast cancer, but cancer. That is a lot of cancer. Heart disease isn’t sexy, it doesn’t sell lingerie, it is not as innocent and traditionally female as the color pink. Breast cancer gives permission to let the talk about tits and breasts and tatas and boobs out of the bag. When my son was at La Salle, a Catholic school in Providence RI, the kids were all wearing pink rubber bracelets that said I LOVE BOOBIES. This is the same school that took down the picture of our current Governor Gina Raimondo for allowing Planned Parenthood to support her. Mixed messages? I’d say.

Call me crazy, call me hysterical, call me an alarmist, but there can’t be a coincidence that I am having these subtle symptoms. And that when I bring them up, I feel guilty because frankly I am one of the lucky ones, I chose to have implants and I am alive. I didn’t have chemo, didn’t lose my hair, didn’t really worry about dying unless I had chosen Door #1 at the beginning of this party. 

I am not a scientist, I have never done research in my life, the last biology class I took was in high school. I fully realize the frustration that real scientists must have when they read these assumptions by lay people like me, unfounded in their own profession. I also know that by looking up regulatory history of breast implants in the U.S. on go to Google, some worrisome history came up relating to long term studies of silicone implants. More interesting is that the silicone implant doesn’t seem to have been studied for any length of time. When I say length of time, I am speaking what I would consider reasonable, more than ten years surely. This timeline in particular and the panels and votes raise my eyebrows. 2005 wasn’t that long ago. Though the implants were introduced well over 20 years ago, is that really enough time to develop a what if this happens, what could happen in the future? What is in silicone anyway? Who are on these panels anyway? Men, women, doctors, pharmaceutical executives? What informs them? All worriesome. 

What shocks me here is I never thought to ask. Perhaps knowing all of this would have made me make a different decision, I will never know. But even when I did ask, these subtle symptoms wouldn’t have been given much credence anyway because first of all, I don’t think many women are as in touch with the way their bodies tick and even if they were, there are so many factors that could explain this away. Menopause, empty nesting, emotional changes due to life events, death, divorce, previous thyroid issues, family history, not enough exercise, too much exercise etc. I could also add here the radiation dose I had from my first surgery, goodness knows what that did to my upper insides. After signing away my life in some hospital document that said that radiation could cause heart lung problems later on in life due to its close proximity, I am sure we can add this to the list as well. 

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a chick has to laugh, right?

Breast cancer is big business. For profit hospitals, for profit pharma, for profit doctor’s offices, what a woman is willing to do to keep the wo in woman is pretty shocking now that I have made that choice. What defines woman anyway. Breasts are certainly only one part of the recipe, but clearly they have been significant enough to warrant all of this writing. I am not sure where this will all take me and frankly I had never considered the possibility of their voluntary removal until I listened to this podcast. For now, I will continue to write and talk and see who writes and talks back. First step is awareness. And for sure these tatas have done nothing except made me aware.

 

2005 – April The FDA held an Advisory Panel meeting to review Allergan’s updated PMA and Mentor’s PMA. In a 5 to 4 vote, the panel did not recommend approval of Allergan’s PMA (due to a concern with one style in the application). In a 7 to 2 vote, the panel recommended approvable with conditions for Mentor’s PMA. The panel recommended that FDA require conditions including a minimum age requirement for augmentation and Post-Approval Studies. 
2006 – November The FDA approved Allergan and Mentor’s PMAs for silicone gel-filled breast implants.  This was the first time silicone gel-filled breast implants were available for augmentation, in addition to reconstruction and revision, since the moratorium was established in 1992.  As conditions of approval, each manufacturer was required to conduct 6 post-approval studies to further characterize the safety and effectiveness of their silicone gel-filled breast implants and to answer scientific questions that the premarket clinical trials were not designed to answer.
2011 – January The FDA issued a Safety Communication on anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) in women with breast implants.  Based on a review of the scientific literature, the FDA believes that women with breast implants may have a very small but increased risk of developing this disease in the scar capsule adjacent to the implant.
2011 – June The FDA issued an Update on the Safety of Silicone Gel-Filled Breast Implants. It included preliminary results of the post approval studies Allergan and Mentor were required to perform as conditions of their silicone gel-filled breast implant 2006 approval.
2011 – August The FDA held an Advisory Panel meeting to discuss and receive recommendations on postmarketing issues related to silicone gel-filled breast implants. Also discussed at this meeting were innovative methodological approaches to postmarket studies regarding silicone gel breast implants, as well as key long-term safety issues associated with silicone gel breast implants in the real-world setting.

 

 

 

 

 

Breast cancer, grief

A LONG STRANGE TRIP

Surrender- Giving up what we think should be happening for what is actually happening.

-McCall Erickson

When my insides used to feel discombobulated on occasion, I would run through the usual suspects and review from the day before. How much wine did I have? What sugar did I consume? Is it a full moon? Is mercury retrograde? Am I getting my period? Though the latter no longer applies (at least there is one good gift of breast cancer and preventative surgery, there has to be something good from all of this hell). Once I would run through this dictionary of possibilities, there it would be. I could check off at least one if not two or three of the list that summarized alayne’s brain and feel at peace immediately knowing that the frizzle in my brain would calm down when the items listed passed. Sugar and alcohol would leave my body, the full moon would move on and mercury’s retrograde I would just have to suffer with.

Knowing my body and my mind and what makes it all tick has been a major science experiment for most of my adult life, but even more in the last ten years. I enjoy exploring all of the different forks in the road that cause my mind to wander and dart at a perpetual one hundred yard dash. This is all part of the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of who I am and after fifty-four years, I finally understand and embrace its strong force of power. More apparent in my on again off again drinking or not drinking daily date with a big glass of red something or other, is the off again. When I am off, all of the shit that delightful glass of Barolo edged out comes raring out as if a damn just broke loose.

“Maybe you’re finally grieving,” my beloved Dr. W. said as I was pouring my heart out to her last week at my check up. I had just told her that I was exercising regularly, meditating every day without fail, writing like Charlotte Perkins Gilman as if I was locked in a room with Yellow Wallpaper. I am living closer to my insides and my truth as I have in my entire life. So why do I feel fragmented and lacking elation as I normally do? And as I was pouring said heart, I was feeling almost a tad embarrassed about what seemed to be my personal pity party. After all, I am alive. There are so many worse cases. I felt almost guilty loading on her. I may have even apologized. Yep.fullsizeoutput_e7

Ahhh blasted Grief. Grief is that vaporous trouble that permeates your heart without ringing the doorbell.  As I considered her comment for a moment, I realized that this question was likely the answer. My personal experience with breast cancer as I told her is that I was lucky in the overall collective of possibility. I compared the emotional part of my experience to a classroom. Let’s say there are twenty kids, two or three who are completely self-sufficient, smart, get their work done on time and the remainder of the kids need lots of extra attention. There is one teacher so she usually, human nature here, lets the ones that are ok do their thing and focuses on the outcomes of the class as a whole. Naturally, she will lean toward helping the underlings.

In my case, I was the self-sufficient one. My experience was physically OK. So I marched forth as I do, as most of us do. Checking tasks off of my list, crossing the t’s dotting the i’s and relying on my resilience to get through the emotional scars that were planted. Despite the fact that the physical part of this experience healed and I didn’t need as much support from the powers that be, the emotional and mental scars stayed behind simmering in wait unbeknownst to me. Until I was ready to let them open up and begin the healing process, trauma and grief don’t know the difference between a lot of pain and a little pain. They still cause the same stressors on our emotional selves. When the locomotive train of moving forth slows down, and it definitely needs to at some point, this is when the opportunities for healing arrives. And as the wisdom of hind site as taught me over and over again that there are opportunities in the awareness, I still forget that I must go through, not step around, not ignore, but return to the rink and wait for my opponent to arrive.

WAKE UP! The conductor bellows out as the train arrives at the station reminding the sleepy traveler it is time to depart from the long trip. And what a long strange trip it has been. There is the DURING part. The part when you are trying to get to appointments, learn as much as you can about this new life challenge you are about to embark on. There are the conversations, the hospital, the after of everything. While the physical is out in the open getting better every day, the emotions are left unchecked because frankly the Doctors who were in your ring during the fight are thinking you won so they are on to the next fighter getting them ready for their battle. Besides, your outward appearance is strength, toughness, marching forth. You are the kid in the classroom who doesn’t want to bother the teacher with double checking your spelling because spelling comes naturally for you or you can just look the word up in the dictionary.

Mental health, as we are learning more and more, can be a silent destroyer if left unchecked and uncared for. Thankfully, I have resources I can reach for, and I unabashedly do. Writing about this helps me and I hope it allows people who land on these pages to realize they are not alone. They are not selfish or being a baby by recognizing that they have pain. Inside. On their hearts. We all do. Just when I think I have “it” figured out, it’s like the universe says, “Oh yeah, Alayne, you think? Let’s see what you have figured out.” And some small drip barely noticeable turns into an emotional puddle suddenly expanding and needs a basin to catch the fall. Sometimes I can hear my grandmother saying, “Enough with the crying already,” like I am purposely opening up a wound rather than giving it the time it needs to heal, once again judging my feelings as good or bad, positive or negative, right or wrong.

Perhaps for my own experience are the triggers that this time of year presents as my birthday fast approaches. My birthday twice has given me negative news. I like symbolism of numbers and the way they tell a story. First diagnosis- 2015 (odd year) when I turned 50 (even year). Second diagnosis- 2017 (odd year) when I turned 52 (even year). So here we go. 2019, I will be 54. Just went for my check up- all good. Why worry? I am not really worried, I think I am just more triggered and perhaps this is the year that I really deal with the mending of the physical trauma I continue to heal from.

I am such a crazy checklist person that I likely (foolishly in retrospect) thought I would be done with by now. Diagnosis. Check. Genetic testing. Check. Surgery. Check, Surgical menopause. Check. Recovery. Check. Up and about. Check. Scars healed. Check. New Boobs. Interested in sex again. Check. Feeling like myself again. This is where it gets murky because that ‘self’ is no longer. Perhaps she is who I grieve. Our lives are long strange trips when we have the blessed fortune to have long ones. Maybe the rough current I have been feeling in my insides is the reminder that the shake up I have gone through for the past four years is my new self. I know I can’t fight the waves for sure, when there is a riptide, panic and struggle are not helpful, instead leaning back and allowing the wave to just take you where you are supposed to go is often the saving grace. This is hard for me, the release of working on the project rather than the surrender to it. But as I write this last word, Surrender, I know that this is my work. I surrender. This feels like the best way to take a trip so I lie on my back and let floatation carry me where it is supposed to. Let’s see what that feels like for a while.

life lessons

Making a List

 

Yesterday’s assignment generated from Day 2 of WordPress University that I have embarked on since deciding this past weekend that Yes, I can build my own website. Here is the writing prompt below.

“Today, let’s write a list. Compiling a list is a way to let loose, unlock ideas, and free your mind. Today, write your own list on one of these topics:

  • Things I Like
  • Things I’ve Learned
  • Things I Wish
  • Things You’re Good At

There are no rules, though you can create some boundaries for yourself by deciding in advance how many items you’d like to include, or by settting a timer — try a list of 15 items, set a timer for 45 minutes.”

The goal seems to be getting thoughts to run freely and wildly, but to contain them somehow in the confines of list making. List making is something I do not struggle with. I am a list maker. I am also a vision board addict. I have them in my office which is out in the open off of my living room forcing me to never forget the major projects I am working on. I just found out about a program called Creately that I almost bought until I realized that I already have organizational charts done that I created myself in excel that work perfectly fine.

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My brain never stops. You could say I have the entrepeneurial spirit, like my father, like my grandfather and if I didn’t make lists and storyboards and visionboards, I am certain my head would fly off the top of my shoulders like a spinning top. This intensity of mine, of the creative ideas that move through me as if a spicket was turned on full throttle and being stuck in the on position is part of my writing energy, though. List making, outlines and order to the electricity that is my head helps move it up and out. I am grateful for the ability to know myself well enough to know that all of these ideas must take up a residence outside of this very full brain. Usually the lists are To Do lists, sometimes the lists are dreams and desires, but the theme is always a call to action. 

Organize the basement, put the dishes away, clean the closet in the bedroom, call my grandfather, move the doctor’s appointment from this week to next week, sign up for the art class, even when I am hoping to add areas of spirtuality into a list, as I consider this list making, even that is active. Deepen meditation practice, take more yoga classes, go to Synagogue once a month.

So as this call to action from WordPress University asks me to consider a different way to look at list making and I write today with this in mind. I never use a timer for my morning writing, I let my writing class leaders do that. When I wake up and write, it is my morning peace. This is why I wake up at five am and jump out of bed, so I have the time to write. The prompts are a different way to think. This is what writing prompts do, they open possibilities and creativity in a way that five minutes before would have not thought of. So here I go. This is just a quick list otherwise this writing would be over one hundred pages

Things I Like

  • early rising
  • conversations with interesting people
  • learning
  • writing writing writing
  • going to the library, taking out a book, finishing the book and returning it before the due date
  • collecting typewriters
  • being introduced to new ideas and considering them
  • nature and gardening
  • seeing a cardinal when I am deep in thought about something I am planning
  • watching my son grow up and develop his own identity
  • wearing my grandmother’s lighthouse jacket
  • cooking, walking, going to the beach
  • going to the movies and to museums
  • travel
  • expressive arts
  • being home
  • organizing 
  • leading my team and developing leaders
  • hanging out with my partner
  • being with my close tribe of women
  • organizing fun

     

  • working out
  • a good stretch
  • remembering my dreams
  • silence

Things I’ve Learned

  • To let shit go
  • To let shit go
  • to not take things personal at every waking moment
  • that when someone leaves your life say thank you with grace not malice
  • living in the present moment is all that is important
  • I am good enough
  • boobs aren’t as important as I thought they were
  • food is thy medicine or poison
  • drinking alcohol is not good for spiritual clarity (but it tastes so good)

Things I Wish

  • I had been better with money management earlier in my life
  • I could see my brother one more time6d33b-1ndLRbRVhNrgu9pHv_-lsMQ@2x
  • my mother and I had a really good relationship
  • I had a condo on Siesta Key for two months a year
  • I had the time and money to finish my degree and get a masters in writing
  • To really make time to research my historical fiction book idea 
  • i was better at growing vegetables

Things You’re Good At

  • Life
  • being a mother
  • friendship and being a strong partner in my Living Apart Together relationship
  • being an exwife
  • developing relationships
  • connecting people
  • owning a business
  • writing
  • creative thoughts
  • kindness and charitability
  • hosting parties
  • dreaming new ideas
  • cooking and baking
  • growing herbs
  • Love 

I am not sure if I have ever done this before, but I must say it was a nice way to start my day. Thank you WordPress. Again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AN AWKWARD FRIEND

AN AWKWARD FRIEND

I met Kim Walker, formerly Kim Otterbein, through simultaneous traumatic events. My business had suffered a flood from frozen pipes in a crazy ice capade in a winter storm in February 2013. She was going through her own personal storm of divorce and personal issues causing her and her former husband to have to sell their magical dream house . They had poured their money, their love and energies into restoring a house born in 1865 that had been through many hands finding its way into their lives in 2005. Kim was an artist so her brilliant creativity redesigned the house giving it a feel of new, but magically making it feel like everything was original. Kim and I knew each other socially from around town because we both owned businesses and would often run into each other, but we never hung out in the same circle. We liked each other, though and we shared a common free spirit hippie chick vibe that connected us happily when we would run into each other.

We found ourselves intertwined when she needed to sell her home and I needed to find one to move my business into. My dear friend Morgan, randomly said to me one day, You should look at The Bead House when she saw the awful situation I had found myself in while my business was semi closed. The Bead House was the business Kim owned on the first floor while the second and third floor was her family residence. Kim was a magnificent jewelry designer, an artist, and had this lovely little shop on the first floor that taught jewelry making. At that point, I had never considered looking at property to purchase especially the glorious Bead House with a very high price tag that was way out of my comfort zone thinking it could even be a remote possibility. Morgan had other thoughts though. It never occurred to her that this space wasn’t a possibility and I credit her almost 100% to the literal key that got me thinking I CAN rather than i can’t. Purchasing this house changed my life in so many ways and my I CAN attitude has been rewarded and confirmed in layers of joys I am in perpetual awe of.

When I looked at The Bead House in February of 2013, I fell in love and made my offer which after some back and forth was finally accepted and Kim and I merged paths. I don’t know what it is like to have to sell your home. I do know what it is like to leave a home though and there is so much emotion tied into the experience. Kim and I found a kindred spirit between each other during this time. I think she was heartened to know that her baby, this home that she had literally poured her soul into, would move into the hands and heart of someone she genuinely liked and respected. I know that she felt like her home would be in loving and appreciative care. Though the entire experience was a sad one, she made peace with walking away and I became the proud torch carrier of this magnificent house I refer to as the Magic Palace.

When I first moved in, I had purchased a few of her large pieces of furniture, a couch and a chair and a table too and I had offered her a space to leave her grandmother’s armoire since it was way too big to move. I had told her that it could stay here as long as she wanted and when her daughter, Ali was ready for it, it would be here. Five years later, it still sits waiting and the offer is still open.

I felt for the first few years living here a certain responsibility to maintain the garden, the paint colors without too much of a change, kind of as a bow to Kim and only recently in the past two years have I started to really feel like the space was truly mine. This was nothing that came from Kim, just my own sense of order and right kindness. Kim and I spoke a few times, she visited one time when she was back this way after moving to Arizona, but even though it was a pleasant visit, there was also awkwardness to it. Hard to describe; I think we both understood that we would enjoy each other’s spirits but at a gentle distance going forward. This was unspoken, but it felt right. Again hard to describe.

Her daughter Ali walked by one July 4th and I invited her in for a visit and gave her some time alone to meander, to grieve and say a proper goodbye. When I got breast cancer I spoke with Kim a few times because Kim had breast cancer too. The irony I do not take lightly and I try not to think about it as some weird message. Kim was helpful with her advice and our exchange was always positive and understanding. She was a special soul and a kind one. And one that no longer is part of the now, as her cancer returned and took her life just a few days after her birthday and two days before the Winter Solstice just two days ago, December 19th.

A short life traveled well, rocky and smooth, but also my feeling was that she found herself in the after of this house. I on the other hand have found myself in the now of this house. I like the neatness of that, the visual of Kim passing the torch to me, a kindred female spirit. I can’t believe that another superchick I know has moved on so young again. I sit on her couch, look at her chair and her grandmother’s armoire. Everyday I brush my teeth, I look into the same mirror above the sink in my bathroom knowing that Kim looked at her own reflection as she went through her breast cancer, her decision to divorce her husband and the other daily mind thoughts that stare back at you during the simple rituals of teeth brushing and mascara applying. I listen to my son who is home from college turning on the faucet on the third floor and am happy he is home, but I also think about Kim sitting on this very couch hearing her own children wake up making the same sounds. It is an awkward experience knowing that this house was passed from a woman I greatly admired, who left this house closing the door to a part of her life that allowed me to open it to a wonderful life I get to call my own. Kimball Walker. I thank you for every trail and nugget you left me. I will always feel and honor your presence in my home that was yours and in the garden that you started. Rest in peace, your legacy at 11 Constitution will go on.







in good hands indeed, Rest in Peace Kim.
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A ‘SMART’ SCALE

A ‘SMART’ SCALE

“What is that?” I asked Michael, my partner, the love of my life, the man I share my stories, hopes and dreams with. I had looked down on the floor of his living room to see this perfectly flat square thin contraption sitting there. Waiting. Calling me. I had a feeling it was a scale, but I just had to ask, because normally scales find their homes in bathrooms on the floor next to the sinks and toilets and this modern looking shiny black square was by the front door, looking kind of like it was headed to the rubbish bins on trash day. (She said with her hands in prayer position.)

“We’ll need to put your info in the app for it,” he said excitedly, like I was actually going to stand on this contraption and allow it to record not only my weight, but my body fat, bone mass, protein and a list of other physical attributes I didn’t know I was supposed to be recording. He moved like a lynx to his phone to open up the app that connects with the scale. Apparently I am supposed to stand on this and allow it to do whatever it does and it takes all of this information and submits it through Bluetooth to the app that Michael has downloaded on his phone. It is here that he, with a twinkle in his, eye told me he could set up my own account on his app. Then like he had just discovered one of life’s great mysteries, he opened up the app to reveal his entire health profile including of course his weight without even a brief pause. I love this about most men I know. Weight is not a thing. 198 he said. 198 on a man who is a little over six feet that is mostly made up of stunning runners legs I only hope to obtain in my next life if we get to choose.

This man knows me better than anyone. He knows the insides of me, my fears, my angst, my dreams, my strengths and my weaknesses. He knows my schedule, how I think, almost, so when he said this so matter of factly like this was even going to be a remote possibility I laughed aloud. “That is so funny, Michael. No, I am not putting my information on your app. Do you even know me?” Insert laugh, chuckle, snicker here. I detected the tiniest tone of wound in his voice, “I was just showing you how it worked, you could probably put the app on your phone and do it,” he said so sweetly with patient empathy. Insert another small laugh here. That will not be happening. I hate the scale. I hate the number. I hate what the whole thing invokes in me and almost every woman I know. It is a downer. If the number is higher than I thought, I am depressed. If it is lower than I thought, it validates that what I am doing is in fact working and I feel like I will never be able to have a glass of wine or a piece of my friends delicious cheesecake again. Or it says, “That’s all? I have been following food plan number five thousand and I didn’t lose ten pounds in a week?” Completely ludicrous. Insane. Self defeating. Every single opposite of how I live my life in my fun and alayne’s brain world. That scale though, it gets to me. I allow it to get to me and I don’t know how to change the pattern, the belief. It has layers and years of layers dating back to my grandmother’s own issues with weight. I try to self talk my way through the brain fuck that is the topic of weight. Yes I am alive, I am healthy. I am fit. I am strong. All of that. But that pesky scale gets the better of me so I choose NO. I will not get on a scale that records a plethora of information. I will not put myself in the vulnerable position of wirelessly communicating my health to my partner’s phone and then likely transmits the information to Big Tech so they can have their way with my health data in however they choose.

We so carelessly hit the “I agree” button because they damn well know that we are not going to read the document they force us to sign for the access to the app in the first place and who knows it the data that is being recorded is even correct. I compare it to the variety of mirrors I have found myself staring back at myself. Some, like the one at Jackie’s Loft is like a magic mirror. No matter what I try on, I look amazing, svelte even. I think it is a thinning mirror. God forbid I should think that this reflection staring back is how I really look. Michael has one of these in his closet too. I can look at myself in a variety of outifts and the reflection staring back is one of a thinner version of how I think I really look, but I’ll take it. The bizarre aspect of the mirrors and the scales are that what if the lower number and the thinner mirror is actually the way I am? What if the scale that says the higher number or the mirror that adds so breadth to my hips (because it never adds to my upper half, a part of my body even before breast reconstruction was satisfying to me) what if it is that one that is wrong? All of this sounds crazy and completely fucked up, but it is part of my gene pool and who I am. Someone that no matter how much I try to meditate the negative thoughts away, it is like they are intrinsic to my femaleness. Arg. I think of the AA phrase Progress Not Perfection. Yes I totally understand that this world of advertising and catalogues coming at us does not help the cause of body delight. Even the thinnest healthiest women I know, you know the ones that can throw on a pair of leggings and tennis shoes, throw their hair up in a messy blonde ponytail seemingly without a glance in the mirror on the outside, have their own weight and body image demons. This I know because I have open conversations with women every day of my life and have for the last almost thirty years in the beauty business. I am not sure if the scale will ever be my friend. My beautiful Dr. Wiggins always says, “Alayne, you look great, the scale is just a number.” I know what she is really saying is “Alayne, Give yourself a fucking break.”

I am trying. Really. Every day. But in my opinion if the scale were truly a “smart” scale as it self proclaims, you would step up onto the two feet outlined for yours to fit into and it would talk back. It would say, “This number is only a number so today I give you a free pass. Go for a walk, smell the earth, look up, smile at a stranger and breathe deeply. Be grateful that today, again, like yesterday, you got to wake up and have the luxury of stepping on to this scale today. There is no number today, so enjoy your day and stop all this unnecessary fretting. You are alive. This is your day. Today. Enjoy it.

yeah, right.
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MY FAVORITE THINGS

MY FAVORITE THINGS

Last year I wrote about my favorite places to shop around town and that hasn’t changed. Bristol has some really lovely places as do many places in Rhode Island and as shopping in actual stores becomes more of what seems like a vintage pastime, I wanted to write again about some of my favorite things to do around the holidays. Maybe it will inspire anyone reading this to take some time before the actual holiday to enjoy the time leading up to the big day.

Without being redundant I will write briefly of some top favorite places to peruse, but I will add some different things in the mix as well as places I love to visit this time of year. My Aunt and I have a tradition for my whole life and now my son’s life too, to go to THE WAYSIDE INN in Sudbury, Mass for lunch. The oldest working inn in the country it really is the feeling of over the river and through the woods (once you drive by the massive Whole Foods and Range Rover car dealers that have taken over what was a lovely country road). This inn is a flashback in time and it has a history worthy of a special drive. It is the quintessential place that generations of families go to for their “special” place. When I go there with my aunt and my son, I am transported to a time where people got dressed up to go to lunch and drink toddies by a warm fire. If Sudbury doesn’t speak to you during this busy time, then THE LOBSTER POT in Bristol fits the bill too. Delicious food in a spectacular water view setting make this a place too that families go for the special occasions.

There are some fabulous shops in our state to visit this time of year. Grasmere on Franklin St., Jackie’s Loft on the corner of Franklin and Thames in Bristol, Harbor Bath and Body on Thames St. Kate and Company and Epilogues and Paper Packaging and Panache especially if you are trying to teach your kids to actually write a real thank you note with an actual pen and paper, (fingers crossed) on Hope St also in Bristol to name a few of my personal loves. There is a great new shop that opened on State St. too, The Sand Dollar. Of course if you are a vintage shopper, Second Helpings on Gooding Ave always satisfies. In Bristol even though it is an easy grid, one must really know that the shops are spread out and it takes a little extra walking to hit them all. But if you are patient, starting where Hope Diner is and walking down Hope St as far down as Constitution St, you can weave up and down each street all the way back to Franklin and you will cover the whole of shopping in the downtown area. You can even walk up to Wood St. (Wood St. Bakery for the yummiest of calzones, Azorean Butcher Shop for a little Sao Miguel, Common Pub for delicious Portuguese dinners ) crossing over High St. (C and R Mercantile and Roxies) and you will get a nice walk in as well as coming across some out of the way little shops and food places worthy of your extra time.

If you make your way to Providence, RI then Hope St. is loaded with some quaint shops that are worth a day of poking around even on the coldest of Saturdays. Stock, an elegant kitchen shop, Frog and Toad with such a wonderful variety of goodies you could spend hours looking around. Then there are shops I can’t remember the name of, but love walking in and out of simply because they are all next door to each other and it is so easy to window shop. Unlimited lunch and dinner places as well make for a nice day out with your daughter, best friend, aunt or mom. Another out of the way place that is really special is Simple Pleasures at 6 Richmond St. in Providence. They have beautiful items merchandised in a way that makes me drool.

I like to stay away from the big box stores during this time of year and really capture the essence of small businesses who spend a lot of their time thinking and planning for this very short month hoping that the business will sustain them so they can stay in business. Small businesses are taking a big hit from the discounts offered in the big stores as well as the hard to pass up ease and convenience of ordering in your jammies at three am. Shopping locally and in these small businesses takes a conscious effort, but it is so nice to get out, park your car, bundle up and walk in and out of these stores. Talking to the owners, getting to know your community, showing your kids that shopping is so much more than the simple click of a button ensures for a thriving downtown. Empty storefronts do nothing for our home values and a little concerted effort even if you have finished your shopping goes a long way with these hard working store owners. Store owners are asked daily for donations for our schools, sporting organizations, churches and synagogues and charities. We ask a lot of them in our little towns and this of all the times of the year is the time to give back to them by making a little extra effort to shop in them.

I never thought I would look at actual shopping as a vintage approach to virtual shopping. I never thought I would actually think there would be something called virtual shopping, but it is clearly here to stay. Like writing on a typewriter instead of your laptop, it takes a bit of conscious intent, it takes a bit of planning, of calling your aunt or your mom and saying, Let’s make time for each other before December 25th. Let’s enjoy each other. If not now, when?

This is an excerpt from an essay Steve Jobs wrote before he died.

“Therefore, I hope you realize, when you have mates, buddies and old friends, brothers and sisters, who you chat with, laugh with, talk with, have sing songs with, talk about north-south-east-west or heaven and earth, that is true happiness! Don’t educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy. So when they grow up they will know the value of things and not the price. Eat your food as your medicine, otherwise you have to eat medicine as your food. The One who loves you will never leave you for another because, even if there are 100 reasons to give up, he or she will find a reason to hold on. There is a big difference between a human being and being human. Only a few really understand it. You are loved when you are born. You will be loved when you die. In between, you have to manage! The six best doctors in the world are sunlight, rest, exercise, diet, self-confidence and Friends. Maintain them in all stages and enjoy a healthy life.”



making time is what the holidays are about, this pic with the flowers in my hair is taken at the WaySIDE INN with my brother when he was about 4.







family, friends making more time, because we never know when they are going to leave us. March forth and enjoy your tribe.

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THE BATHING SUIT MIRROR

THE BATHING SUIT MIRROR

There is a bathing suit store I have visited in Sarasota every single year since I was in my twenties. My grandmother would take me there to buy a suit and I would traipse off to Siesta Key for sun and tan during my visits with my grandparents. My grandmother would plead with me to buy a bathing suit that would cover my “tuchas,” (Yiddish slang word for derriere) and I would roll my eyes with disdain and impatience. At twenty four, there was no way I was going to prance around on the white sands of Siesta Key with some old lady skirt. Rumps are for displaying, especially the twenty four year old kind. My grandmother would of course concede and I would get the bathing suit I wanted, usually skimpy as most twenty something girls were wearing at the time. As I reflect back, especially these days when thongs are the new normal, my bathing suit choices were relatively conservative. To my grandmother, though, who was all about outward appearances when it came to modesty, my choices were horrifying and we had lots of body talk or more like body commentary creating a self consciousness that I still struggle with to this day.

Bathing suits and self talk go hand in hand for me and I am guessing most women. I can see why, since suits are more or less like prancing around in a pair of underpants and a bra for the world to see. All shapes and sizes in a multitude of dressing rooms trying on bathing suits after a winter of hibernation and head to toe cover does not usually make for a good recipe in the changing room. But for some reason, we go back year after year because for the most part either our suits are too ragged from over use the year or two before or we are gluttons for punishment. For me actually, I am hopeful that this year will be the year that I look in the bathing suit mirror and see a reflection back that says, Wow, alayne you look amazing. All that working out and clean eating has actually paid off. You go girl.

Before I head there, though, let me describe the bathing suit dressing room just in case the reader hasn’t indulged recently or perhaps the changing rooms in other places that women try on bathing suits is not the same. I shall set the stage. I walk in to my go to store like I have done every single year since 1989 when they opened. I would have been twenty four; I am now almost fifty four so this is thirty years of bathing suit changes. The store hasn’t changed much except they have Pergo floors instead of carpeting and have added a men’s section. There are a few mannequins in the window sporting the latest in trends, usually on about a size four model and always bikinis. I always love those suits the most and head towards the wall that has them. Size 8 if I am really lucky, though usually more like a ten, but more on this shortly. The large wall immediately on my right above all of the sundresses is the wall I have usually made my way to, but a few years ago, I learned that this wall was now juniors. This would explain why not even a size 12 would cover the ass my grandmother was always nagging me about. Instead of saying juniors, they should say teens, this way there would be no pretense that I should even be close to that wall. But for some reason every year, I still think that these suits are not going to let me down. On the other wall, across from the juniors toward the back of the store are the clearly non juniors. Now why some bathing suit company has not realized that there doesn’t have to be Juniors OR Missus with nothing in between is beyond me. I am not a one piece girl, never have been because one thing I do know for sure is that I have a good stomach, always have. No one pieces and no tankinis either. But in this section that I fondly call the old lady section, my choices were slim. Like J. Jill, the assumption is that every older woman is trying to camouflage their mid section. This is not my problem. I don’t want a two piece that is like wall to wall carpeting, I also don’t want a two piece that had layers of fabric that is supposed to do some fake illusion thing to your hips.

A year before my mastectomy, I discovered the company Jag. Jag made a bottom that was like a hip skirt, kind of Athleta type and because I must always have back up, I promptly purchased four of them. The store still carries them and I am guessing that this must be a go to brand for the in between type of woman like myself. My grandmother was right apparently, skirts were the way to go and I was finally free at the beach to not fret and poke and pull constantly at my bottoms that no matter what the size always landed promptly between my cheeks. Skirts changed all of this for me. And now that I have a set of some very upright fake mastectomied boobs, a sporty Lulu top finally gave me peace with my body at the beach.

Until I went to Sao Miguel this past summer and made my way to the beach where there was not one woman with a skirt. I am talking the largest to the smallest, no one was sporting my sporty skirt and I actually stood out oddly making me feel self conscious. I am clearly fucked up when it comes to body image and this is for another piece at a later time, but I decided then and there that enough with the skirts. I have a healthy body and I am alive and happy. I am wearing a pair of bathing suit bottoms and ditching the skirt. I have an ass, I have always had an ass, I have strong hardy thighs and I have always had strong hardy thighs, I am woman hear me roar. I walked into the familiar and strangely comforting store yesterday this time with my partner rather than my grandmother. He needed a pair of swim suit shorts too and had offered to buy me a bathing suit. I was relieved to find a grown up sales woman (often there are college kids working there and they do not yet understand my plight) and told her my dilemma. I relayed the above information to her and let her know that since my reconstruction surgery, I have struggled to find a top as well. I finally conceded that if I were going to make my way back to a standard bikini I would have to aim for a full coverage pair of bottoms.

Yes it has happened. I have crossed the line into the suits for mature women. She was so kind and understanding and quickly found me a few suits that she placed in the dressing room. The dressing room is very large hosting at least eight separate changing rooms. Each with their own mirror and if you are feeling brave, you can walk into the main very spacious part of the changing area amongst the tribe and use the three way. There is even a convenient hand held that you can torture yourself with to see your full back side. And to top off this torture chamber, lets add the brightest fluorescent lights accentuating every spot of cellulite you never knew you had. For all of this, I am willing to pay $150 for two pieces of spandex I could bunch up and place in my pocket while my partner doesn’t even have to try on his $28 pair of swim shorts that could easily make three full sets of bathing suits for me. This time though, because I had an experienced sales woman, the two suits she brought me fit like a glove. I pranced out into the main area, then decided to walk into the actual store to find my man and ask him what he thought. Affirmative. Though I am fully aware that the ask is a loaded question to begin with, I did feel that he would honestly let me know if what I was wearing looked good. Enough. Good enough. This is the part of the story that I really like. Despite the never ending cycle of jibber jabber body self talk craziness that has gone on in my head for as long as I can remember, yesterday’s bathing suit try on was actually pretty satisfying. I liked the way I looked. I finally found a top that actually fit these weird porn star silicone attachments that have found their way to my upper self and I realized that I am ok with the woman’s section. A medium is fine. For that matter, a large is even fine. Size 8 is bullshit in a bathing suit, numbers should be illegal when it comes to bathing suits now that I think of it, I AM a woman. The woman’s section is just fine. I have earned the status and proud of it.

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QUIET BEAUTY

QUIET BEAUTY

She walked into the voting poll, with a quiet elegance , but not the wealthy kind typical of old money and blue blood. More of the kind who was simply raised well with good standards and taught the difference from right and wrong. Her age was probably around the mid eighties, with kind eyes, the ones that smile without a the necessary matching grin. She was the type of woman who seemed to have had a nice long life, probably had children who enjoyed her as much as she enjoyed them. She had on the sweetest of sweaters, fleece, cream colored, tucked under a raincoat because it had in fact been raining buckets. She seemed to be the pragmatic type, covered in the gear necessary to keep her dry, but with the old school practicality of needing to be warm too. Probably left her umbrella by the door to be more considerate so the rain droppings weren’t left in the voting booth for the next voter. The slight glimpse of the sweater confirmed it was very clean and cared for just like her house probably is or was. This woman likely came from the generation of stoic salty ladies who got their hair done snow sleet or hurricane every Friday. She was likely the type of woman who changed her curtains and bedding with the seasons, stripped to bare bones, cleaning walls using a ladder while their husbands were off to the factory or the post office job. Her children were raised with good manners, and were taught from the early days that chores were the simple part of being a child in their house, taking the trash out, washing and drying the dishes, no dishwasher in this house, raking leaves, and helping out on Saturdays with the dusting to get the house ready for Sunday dinners. After church of course. She never missed church, one imagined. She was likely at least a third generation in this small town and had seen her town inflate with each passing year with outsiders, carpetbaggers and people she no longer recognized as she made her way on the errands of the week, the post office to buy stamps and mail her monthly bills, the local drug store to pick up her prescriptions and the market for the few items she would need for the small meals she found herself making these days.

Greeting her with a happy smile, then showing her where to put the ballot, I noticed all of her layers, but it was the red splash of color peaking out beneath the raincoat that drew me to her. That made me assess all of these assumptions about her quiet life, because my eyes were simply drawn to the redness that found itself on her fleece sweater. I didn’t want to seem like I was invading her privacy. I didn’t know her until that moment, but the familiarity of the emblazoned cardinals on the lapel of her fleece sweater caught my eye.

“I LOVE YOUR SWEATER.” I said to her with an enthusiastic brightness that required a reply. She immediately placed her right hand to her lapel, like she was getting ready to cover her heart for the pledge of allegiance. Her eyes lit up, her smile extended into a big grin, but a humbled one, like the observation from a total stranger peaked into her heart in a way she hadn’t anticipated on a rainy evening on the eve of a mid term election.

“I have a story about the cardinal, “ she said in almost embarrassed way in a way that made me think she doubted I might believe her. She hesitated for a brief moment. I could feel it. It was very busy at that time, but I have my own stories about cardinals and I couldn’t pass up a chance to hear hers. I also had a feeling that her story was an opportunity for connection. I managed to find the clerk and ask him to man the machine so I could take a break and listen. She began the story quietly.

“ A cardinal flew into my open car window and wouldn’t leave, even when I walked over to the car and opened the doors. He stood on the dashboard and watched me for a moment. I left the doors open and decided to walk away. I watched him from my porch and he finally flew out and landed on the porch staring, like he knew me. I always loved cardinals, so I stood there and we watched each other. Then he flew away. The next day, I was in the kitchen and there he was again, in the same spot on my back porch. I gingerly walked towards the door, this time with some bread and placed a few pieces down slowly moving back as to not startle him, he approached the bread with confidence as if were old friends and ate it hungrily. I watched him and he looked up at me almost nodding with gratitude and flew away. The same thing happened the next day and the next and this went on for almost a full week. Then I didn’t see him again, but it was such an interesting experience. This sweater makes me remember him.” She smiled at me hoping that I would believe her.

I smiled broadly, knowingly, and found myself with barely a hesitation saying, “That is a magical story, has anyone important in your life died recently? “ She paused, surprised by my question for a split second and said, “Yes. As a matter of fact my husband had just died, he has been gone now for three years.”

Without hesitation, I said, “Cardinals are known for showing up after someone dies, perhaps your husband was there to say hello and one last goodbye, letting you know that everything was going to be alright. They are miracles for sure.”

I have known this magic about cardinals since my own father died and since others have moved on showing up in the oddest of times, singing on a quiet morning, landing on a tree at an arms length. Every single time, I have seen the bright red beauty, I am reminded that yes, everything is going to be alright. This has been happening since I separated from my husband almost eight years ago. They give me comfort and gratitude in the briefest of moments. I was all too happy to share this with her, somehow knowing she would understand immediately.

She did. I could tell by the immediate tear that welled up in her eye.She smiled with so much love, and longing. “I never heard that before, thank you for saying that. “

I wished I could have asked her for her phone number so we could hang out. I haven’t stopped thinking about her since Tuesday. We were meant to meet, I was meant to be her cardinal conduit. The notion of feeling vulnerable and taking the risk to communicate something to a complete stranger and be rewarded with the reception of the message in such a caring way reminded me how many layers underneath the surface of a first glance there are when you just take the time to say hello.