New Beginnings

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.Waterfront on Biscayne Bay

Biscayne Bay

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!”

Road Trip Detour

Buying street art in NYCSometimes you gotta know when to bail.

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.

St. Patrick’s CathedralNo 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.

King Cole Bar at St. Regis New YorkWhat 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 bartender read 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

Cannoli in Little Italy

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.

Back at it Again

carolyn keating

carolyn keating

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?


A Trip and a Hip

  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.

Contemplating Fifty

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.