How many unexpected paths life takes us down. A friend texted with news of her engagement. It’s her second time around, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
The last time we tried to get together, I was steeped in grief over the accidental death of my boyfriend. I was in Boston, utterly paralyzed by the deep wound of sudden loss. This was six years ago. I had no idea where life was going to take me, or if I had the will to hang on for the ride.
Now I’m with a very special man. An adventurer, a sea captain, a teller of tales, a kind hearted ‘tough guy’ who raised three kids by himself.
How lucky I am! We wake up to the magic of waterfront life on Biscayne Bay every day. Sunrises, wild dolphins, manatee sightings, fancy yachts and powerboats whizzing by, and more birds (it seems) than the whole Everglades.
As Auntie Mame quipped, “Life’s a banquet — and most poor suckers are starving to death!”
A summer road trip from Miami to Cape Cod led me to step away from a good friend, her trusty Toyota Highlander, and her two lovely dogs. En route from Miami to Cape Cod, after leaving Roanoke, VA at 4:30 am, I was filled with guilt – and anxiety- for committing to such a fatigue-inducing trip.
I am a cancer survivor. My mental and physical weariness and the monotony of city traffic were draining me in a BIG way. My traveling companion, a dear high school friend, understood my discomfort. I’m just not as free and easy as I was in my younger days. Or as free and easy as I’d convinced myself I could be, just for the spirit of a summer road trip with dogs, a school buddy and good tunes.
So I listened to my inner needs; I embraced my intuitive need to STOP and REST.
I needed a calm hotel, a soft bed and, most of all, to be OFF the road. I spotted a Marriott Bonvoy in Stamford, Connecticut and jumped out of the Toyota into the asphalt exaggerated heat with my three small duffel bags. I collapsed in the lobby while gathering my wits. I booked a room for two nights but changed it to four. I intended to see Manhattan solo – and salvage a much needed summer escape.
No agenda, no conforming to other people’s – or dogs’ – schedules. I carved out the ME time I was in such desperate need of after clearing out my family home, the only home I’d ever known, following my mother’s death. As an only child, it had taken a huge emotional toll on me.
Age and weariness – and the stress of discarding and donating 54 years worth of my family’s stuff – had made me a less than ideal travel companion.
The road trip involved too many miles and a sleep schedule that upset my own personal body rhythm. As a cancer survivor, I always need to listen to that intuitive inner guide. So I finally tuned in, turned off and chilled out.
What followed were the best three days I have ever spent in New York City. Taking the train after a good night’s rest from Stamford, CT, I was revived by the pulsating energy of Grand Central Station. I headed to Soho, Tribeca and the Village. Places I’d heard about but never really experienced.
All I had in mind for the day was a big steak at a French restaurant. No museums, no shopping, no tours, no theater. Just a steak.
I people watched endlessly. I made mental notes of effortlessly chic women who looked cool and comfortable in the 85+ degree heat. I took photos of beautifully staged shop windows on 5th Avenue. I stopped into St. Patrick’s Cathedral and lit a candle, saying prayers for my parents and one to ask for a quick and easy sale of my childhood home.
Here are the highlights of my road trip recovery:
– Brunch at Balthazar’s bar with steak frites and rosé Champagne (plus an extra glass on the house because the bartenderread my mind, as good bartenders always do)
– Visiting The Whitney Museum
– Finding a chic black Audrey Hepburn dress with a button down front and ditching my dirty jeans and frumpy t-shirt
– Buying street art from a spirited, witty artist who knew that complimenting a middle aged woman on her dress could lead to a sale
– Cocktails at the St. Regis New York’s legendary King Cole Bar
– Buying soap and facial products from Marianella Soap Bar, a mother/son enterprise I’d supported on Kickstarter
– Capping my last evening in NYC with dim sum at Nom Wah Tea Parlor (13 Doyers Street)
– Wandering into the open air street fun of Little Italy and savoring a real-deal cannoli
Here are my life lesson takeaways:
– I’m a solo traveler at heart.
– It was good to stimulate my brain by navigating one of the world’s greatest cities all by myself.
– I can find — and document — more beauty by being alone and having the time to focus on the moment.
– I meet people easily and relish their stories. I’m learning to listen more and talk less.
I’ll be paying my friend for my share of the trip and cottage rental. I’m pretty sure that she had a much better time without me.
I sense that she’s a solo traveler, too. We’ll be sharing our journeys with each other when we meet up to see The Rolling Stones together in Miami on August 31.
With age comes wisdom. With wisdom comes foresight. With foresight comes the realization that, after a nine-hour coach flight, I need to soothe my mind and body in a BIG way.
With four hours to kill before my AirBnB check in time, I headed straight from the airport to the Thermalbad & Spa Zurich. Truly, this was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
Housed in a former brewery, Thermalbad offers a divine rooftop infinity pool with 360 degree views of Zurich and the Alps. It’s a sanctuary for the senses. A Swiss pleasure palace with cozy lounge beds, massage rooms, candlelit chambers with angel statues, a lavender-scented pool (pure heaven!), steam showers, sparkling clean dressing rooms and a menu full of delightful snacks, wine and beer and light meals.
Staff was super friendly and offered to stow my suitcase. I paid extra for access to the Irish/Roman pools, which were simply divine. The main fee is for use of the rooftop pool only. If you want a massage or other spa treatment, you need to make reservations. Otherwise, it’s walk in friendly.
Jet lag, seat pitch stiffness and everyday worries dissolve amidst Thermalbad’s arched stone ceilings, soft lighting and hot and warm bubbling pools of bliss. The B2 Boutique hotel adjoins the spa. I did not personally visit the hotel, but I can easily imagine rolling out of bed and into this divine day spa the next time I’m in Zurich.
Cost: About $40 per person for the rooftop pool. It’s an extra $20 per person for the Irish/Roman spa pools, which is well worth the price.
Bring your swimsuit in your carry-on bag.
Have some Swiss francs on hand to pay for a locker. It’s 2 CHF for a locker key.
Decide in advance if you’d like a massage, then call and reserve ahead of time.
Taking photos is strictly prohibited.
Take a taxi or Uber since the Thermalbad is in the middle of a pedestrian friendly office and shopping plaza (right across from Zurich’s Google campus). You may need to roll your suitcase about 80 yards or so across cobblestones from the drop off spot.
I could move to Amsterdam in a New York minute. After 30 years away, I was gobsmacked by the international flavors, sounds and sights of Holland’s grandest city.
The joys of Amsterdam are many. One of which is bitterballen, a Dutch snack similar to a croquette. I am happiest in a city where snack food and small plates abound. Port cities agree with me on a gut level, you might say.
On this trip to Amsterdam, my adult self waved back in sweet relief to my youthful self. I was no longer a naive twenty something, jumping off a train at Centraal Station to “experience” the allure of a place where one could legally smoke pot. I was now a mom with some miles behind her, and way, WAY over drugs of any kind.
Back in the ’80s, I backpacked around Europe with a college pal who insisted he wasn’t “grungy enough” to actually carry a backpack, shower infrequently and stay in hostels.
We both had some extra money in our pockets in the summer of 1987, so we bought matching black canvas Lucas duffels (cheap and roomy but NOT backpacks) and booked First Class train tickets for our jaunts through eight Northern European cities. We thought we were fancy, staying in basic B&Bs with their stale rolls and coffee while our friends “slummed it” at hostels in bunk beds – and no doubt had a lot more fun.
As I recall through the fog of bong hits and Space Cakes, I saw very little of the city apart from a quick blitz through the Rijksmuseum, a rainy tourist boat excursion and a walk through the Red Light District that left me feeling creeped out yet fascinated.
Predictably, I got paranoid and panicky from all the pot, and my travel companion had to steer me back through the canal streets to our B&B, where a very strict Dutch lady checked our eyes for any signs of drug use. She had yelled at us earlier that day when we checked in: “No drugs, no drinking! No bed for you if you use drugs!”
Somehow, I made it past her scrutiny and went to take a shower to try and shake off my stupor. The shower itself only added to my state of “high” anxiety. With its tall, white tiled walls and bleak fixtures with too many hoses, it felt like some sort of Dutch torture chamber. I couldn’t wait to leave Amsterdam.
This time around, however, I couldn’t get enough of the place. I arrived by air with my twenty-year-old daughter, who is (thankfully) smart enough to avoid pot, alcohol and the weird dorm drugs of the moment, like Adderall (prescribed for ADHD but currently being abused as a so-called “study drug”).
We promptly got on a bus headed in the wrong direction, AWAY from the city, and ended up in what I called the “west West Kendall” of Amsterdam. Like Miami, where West Kendall is located, Amsterdam is a very large, very flat city made up of many neighborhoods which are delightfully different from one another. Miami is larger than Amsterdam, by about a million people. This factoid surprised me.
5 things I love about Amsterdam:
1. Bitterballen: A tasty Dutch snack of crispy fried balls filled with a gooey pot roast mixture. Served with grainy mustard, these could easily fortify you through an entire rainy Dutch winter.
2. Museumplein: This lush, grassy park is the main square for three major museums in Amsterdam: the Rijksmuseum , the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art and the Van Gogh Museum. Strolling through here on a bright sunny day with my art student daughter was one of the highlights of my trip.
3. De Pijp: A hipster neighborhood with a shady park (Sarphatipark), a fabulous street market (Albert Cuypmarkt), fun boutiques and outdoor cafes. Next time I’m at Albert Cuypmarkt, I will NOT pass up the large cashmere throws I saw at the market for $69 each or the stunning hand-crafted Indonesian gold and green stone earrings for $35.
4. Oud West: Amsterdam’s “Old West” neighborhood was an accidental find thanks to aimlessly wandering the streets near Museumplein. We enjoyed restorative Thai massages at Nara Wellness – a gift from heaven for our tired tourist backs and feet! Oud West is full of home design stores, moderately priced cafes, beauty care boutiques and lots and lots of children speeding home from school on their bikes or being toted in little wagons behind their pedaling parents.
5 things my daughter loves about Amsterdam:
1. It’s Goth Friendly: She could wear black lipstick in public without getting weird looks. (This was not the case in more conservative cities we visited later on our trip, like Bern, Switzerland.) She was thrilled to get the “Goth nod of approval” from a girl who looked exactly like Siouxsie Sioux from the ’80s group Siouxsie and the Banshees.
2. Tacky Head Shops: Amsterdam’s pot paraphernalia shops reminded her of the kitschy tourist shops in South Beach. You know – the ones full of thong bikinis, cheap beach towels and “I’m in Miami Bitch” key chains.
3. World Cup Craziness: In the Leidseplein bar district near our Air BnB, we watched rowdy groups of Brits and Croats rooting for their home teams. “You just know they’ll all be ‘starfish drunk’ before the night is over,” quipped my daughter.
4. Cheap Dim Sum: We were both in raptures over the dumplings (and freshly brewed iced tea) at Dim Sum Now, located on Ferdinand Bolstraat.
5. Vintage Shopping: She loved browsing for vintage jeans and Moroccan leather hippie purses while David Bowie music played in the background at Marbles. We both enjoyed the slightly more upscale merchandise at Penny Lane.
My daughter asked if she could please add a “Number 6” to things she likes about Amsterdam. I said yes:
6. Death Grips will be playing at the Paradiso in September 2018.
If she gets to add a “Number 6”, then so do I.
6. Kwab: A wavy and whimsical “ear-shaped” ornament style I knew nothing about until I visited the Rijksmuseum exhibit: KWAB: Dutch Design in the Age of Rembrandt. KWAB features stunning 17th century silver, furniture, prints, drawings and other objets. It’s not every day that you get to ogle a silver drinking vessel made by one of Rembrandt’s friends.
I am reading a book I was afraid to read for the past 18 months: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. Isn’t that funny? The word “fear” is in the title, and apparently something in my subconscious did not want me reading this wonderful book at that particular time in my life.
Big Magic is a witty, serious, deeply soulful guide to embracing your creativity. No matter what you may call your day job, Gilbert believes we are ALL creative beings. The guiding mantra of Big Magic is: “You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life.”
As Gilbert explains, “Human beings have been creative beings for a really long time – long enough and consistently enough that it appears to be a totally natural impulse.”
She says that even if your present-day self doesn’t think you can draw, or sing, or paint, or dance – you’ve simply lost your way. Simply put, your ancestors HAD to make things. The everyday act of living meant that you sewed, cooked, preserved fruits and vegetables, made toys for your children, fixed what was broken, modified tools to suit your needs or came up with mini-inventions in the home or out on the farm that made life go a little bit smoother. Necessity and creativity went hand in hand.
It’s no coincidence that for the 18 months during which I neglected to read Big Magic, I also neglected writing this blog. Saying “oh, life just got in the way” is the easy way out. I think that I was fearful of putting myself out there, of telling the unvarnished truth, which was the whole point of starting this blog in the first place.
I write this blog in order to share my daily adventures, travel-related or simply life-related.
I call it “Pack and Go Now” because nothing thrills me more than having to pack at a moment’s notice!
Travel is the well-spring of my creativity. Seeing new places feeds my soul, informs my world view, and makes me a happier person.
I am also a strong believer that travel is a source of healing. Teddy Roosevelt took off for his Western adventures when his mother and wife died on the same day.
I mentally – and physically – “packed my bags” when I got kicked hard in the heart by a painful divorce followed by the sudden death of a boyfriend. My current life philosophy is: GO WHILE YOU STILL CAN. Book the flight, take the cruise, go on the road trip, pitch a tent. What are you waiting for?
An amazingly wonderful trip to Colorado with my fiancé was cut short by my mother’s broken hip.
This Rocky Mountain getaway of mine had two reasons behind it. First, to support my fiancé’s sister who is undergoing chemo and radiation for multiple cancers. Second, to get my fiancé away from care taking for a few days so he could relax and recharge his batteries.
I am now, officially, in my fifties. Middle age is serving as a daily reminder to ‘carpe diem’, to seize each moment of each day like it was your very last on this planet. As a cancer survivor who battled the disease in my early thirties, ocarpe diem has been my motto since being declared cancer free more than 16 years ago.
Literally, for me, every day IS Christmas. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I weep with happiness watching my teenage daughter receive school awards, take band trips to Washington, DC, and reach milestones like getting her drivers license and taking her SATs. I cry at the drop of a hat, mainly because I am so damned glad to be alive to see her enjoy (and struggle through) her adolescence. After multiple surgeries for cervical and colon cancer, I still cant believe I was lucky enough to watch Erin graduate from Kindergarten. And now her high school graduation is right around the corner. We’ve made plans to visit colleges over the summer. The world is her oyster right now.
Two weeks ago, I had my annual physical with my oncologist and scheduled my mammogram. Now, I am playing phone tag with the oncologist’s office, trying to return his voice mail message. I am wondering what the call is about. Is my cholesterol high? Are my triglycerides a tad too fatty? Or is it the Big C knocking on my door again?
I keep getting the oncologist’s answering service. They close the office on Fridays. Besides, Ive been immersed in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and joyfully NOT focused on my phone messages, Facebook, or any of the other electronic intrusions that normally suck time out of my days at home in Miami.
But before I can even catch up with my own annual exam results, I get an emergency call from mom’s neighbor, who heard her screaming for help from her garage and rushed to her side. Apparently, she fell in the garage and broke her hip. Joe, our neighbor, waited with her while the paramedics came, and called me in Colorado with updates on which hospital she was being taken to and which police officers I needed to speak with while trying to find someone to come get my mother’s dog.
I watch Joe’s children play in their front yard each day. He has an adorable baby girl who started walking not long ago. But, as is typical of life in the big city, we’ve never actually met or spoken to each other. His wife and I have waved at each other. We’ve said hi to the children’s grandfather. Now, I am indebted to him for hearing my mother’s cries for help while I am on vacation 2,000 miles away.
This morning, I reach my mother by phone from the Denver airport. She’s groggy and in a lot of pain. She tells me she is scheduled for an operation. I tell her I am on my way home and will be at her bedside by dinner time.
I am an only child and my father died in 1985. I feel the weight on my shoulders to get home immediately, to figure out where to rent a hospital bed for her recovery, to be the caretaker she deserves.
After driving down to Denver from the Rocky Mountain high country, it was back to reality last night with the neighbor’s phone call and the news of mom’s accident. This morning, it was back to reality saying goodbye to my fiancé’s sister, who has been given less than a year to live IF the chemo and radiation begin to work. I hope to see her at least one more time. I fear the weakened state I will find her in. She shaved her head bald last night rather than watch her hair fall out in tufts and handfuls. It was the only good tip I could give her: Cut it all off before it begins to itch. Have a moment of control over your cancer before it takes over every single aspect of your being.
I go to bed with the exasperated acceptance that this is the reality of midlife. Aging parents, aging siblings, dealing with assorted health crises the way we once dealt with pesky acne breakouts or boyfriends who didn’t call back. There is the daily awareness of your own limited time here on Mother Earth. There is faith, and the safety net of friends and family who keep us afloat during tough times. The best you can do is to keep plodding, and to return the kindnesses bestowed upon you during your own times of need.
When I began this blog, I was leaving my Miami tourism marketing job of 12 years. My plan for Pack-and-Go-Now was to travel the world, to grab my passport and do my own post-divorce version of Eat, Love, Pray. I wanted to roam the back alleys of Cairo, eat my way through India, hike to Machu Picchu, parboil myself in the hot springs of Iceland and let go of the pain and stress of the divorce. It was ME time; time to reassess my life, my goals, my future. Time for the healing balm that travel has always been for me.
Of course, as the saying goes, when you make plans, God laughs. Clearly my dream of international gallivanting was not part of His plan. To make a long story short, my first romance after my divorce was with someone I had known since childhood. Danny was a gentle soul with devastating wit, surfer good looks and the bad boy mien that had first enthralled me back when I was a college freshman.
He still carried a torch for me more than 20 years since we had sporadically dated, going to Miami Hurricane football games together and even taking a madcap trip to Southern California to attend the wedding of my college chum. Like me, Danny was a cancer survivor. He had never married. Best of all, he had many, many pirate tales to share with me. Miami in the late 70s and 80s was a very different place, and, for a time, Danny had been part of the drug smuggling scene. He’d also been a chauffeur for a Miami Beach hotel. He’d driven Truman Capote, George Plimpton and Mother Theresa around the Magic City at various times. He had met and driven various White House officials around too, mainly during the Bush Senior era. Oh, Danny had enough stories to fill several books. He was a true pirate.
I started to hang out at his house every night after work. It was a sanctuary for me. I drank goblets of red wine, bitched about my ex and all of the legal mumbo jumbo I was still sorting through. We stayed up late and watched movies. We filled each other in on people we hadn’t seen for years. We laughed at how surviving cancer had changed us. We didn’t sweat the small stuff. We were survivors, tough as nails in so many ways.
Danny was a great listener. He gave me the encouragement I needed to begin healing, put the past behind me, and get back on my own horse, so to speak. We had 10 lovely months together when he died suddenly. He fell and broke his neck in the shower in the middle of the night.
As awful as it was, it was not surprising. He had balance issues from a neck surgery he had needed during his long journey through throat cancer. He also had a tracheotomy, which complicated his life in many ways. I rushed over to his house, arriving while the police were still there.
The policeman sized me up, realizing that I needed closure on Danny’s sudden death and that I was tough enough to go view the body. Which I did, saying a prayer that thanked God for sparing him any pain and for not letting him die in a hospital — which I knew was Danny’s worst fear. He had suffered enough.
Still mourning my marriage, I now found myself spiraling even further downward to a very sad place. I had just lost a dear friend, a confidante, and the one person who’d been able to make me laugh and smile after the dark days that followed the end of a 20 year marriage.
It’s coming fast. My 50th birthday. This is one birthday I can’t just ignore. I’m one of those shrinking violets when it comes to celebrating my own birthday. I’m not sure why, exactly. Over the years, I’ve planned surprise parties for friends and family. I’ve taken pleasure in the details, aimed my camera to capture the startled looks from the birthday boy or girl, relished the excitement of pulling off a big surprise.
For me, hitting the half century mark represents a new start. A throwing off of chains; a celebration of the new life I had to carve out for myself after a very painful divorce. This new life is still very much a work in progress. Some days I embrace it eagerly. Other days, I struggle to find my rhythm.
My head has been spinning with ideas about how to celebrate this upcoming milestone. A cruise with my mother. An island getaway with my boyfriend. A solo journey to a faraway place. Or perhaps, a vow to do 50 cool things over the course of the coming year. Reality rears its head in the form of the very real need to save money for my daughter’s high school band trip and the art camp she wants to attend this summer.
I’m blessed to live in Vacationland, aka Miami Beach, where snowbirds flock to escape winter’s chill. I’ve got the beach in my backyard, orchids blooming in February, blue sky and palm trees. What I long for are hills and mountains, rivers and streams, and big showy rock formations. The list of great places to hike in Miami is rather small, unless you count shopping malls. I’m bouncing back and forth to web sites in Utah, Wyoming and California, taking pleasure in the fact that eventually I will find the perfect place, and design my perfect 50th birthday trip.
Lately Miami has had me frustrated. Traffic, endless construction sites on Miami Beach, tourists driving mapless — and hapless — around my ‘hood. All testing my patience.
Time for a reboot. Time to go fishing!
We headed out east of Haulover Inlet, looking for sailfish. After a couple hours of three- to five-foot waves, the sea laid down as flat as a lake. The sky was bright blue, and, thanks to a Miami “cold front”, there were very few boats out.
My boyfriend, a fishing captain for more than three decades, showed me how to rig a ballyhoo. It was more intricate than I’d imagined. Twisting the wire around the tiny ballyhoo’s bill, getting it balanced so that the bait “swam” just right when it went into the water to lure the big fish.
We had five rods ready to go. I munched on tortilla chips and salsa, trying not to dump the salsa over in the pitching waves. My boyfriend watched the baits bouncing behind the boat. We followed a line of seaweed, knowing that a weed line attracts fish.
There was no catch of the day, but it didn’t matter. The cool ocean breeze, the views of the Miami skyline and the bliss of being out on the water were more than enough to change my state of mind.
It’s been an adventure filled summer. I reunited with my old boyfriend (circa late 80s) and went on two great road trips along the east coast. A quick list of things I did this summer for the first time includes: shooting a gun, running moonshine, picking apples, standing behind a roaring waterfall in North Carolina, visiting a roadside goat attraction and attending a Pittsburgh Steelers game.