Greece Blog 2016: First Day’s Nostalgic Walk

My brothers and I inherited a love for Greece when we were teens, even though we recognized the country itself to be a bit of a throwback back then for some basic conveniences — like TV and air conditioning. We loved the light, the aromas, the gushing love of our relatives, and, of course, the food. The only Greek we had heard spoken before that was our parents holding secret conversations or the constant buzz and laughter at loud family gatherings. Adults attacked us with sloppy kisses while we stuffed our faces with spicy meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves, tasty bits of roast lamb and all manner of food topped by paper-thin pastry dough.


After waking up feeling sleep-drugged the morning after my arrival, I venture out from my little apartment wearing my usual chunky heeled shoes. I know. I am such a creature of fashion habit and realize now it’s a big mistake. Athens sidewalks are a patchwork quilt of uneven, unmatched tile and lumpy concrete, ripe for an ankle roll. My brothers are staying for free in a posh hotel in the heart of Athens (one of them is a travel agent) and I am determined to figure out where I am on my way to see them.

Using a street map, I make my way to the tail end of Ermou Street without incident, asking a few folks along the way to confirm I am going in the right direction. That brings me to my ability to speak Greek. By rights, the college year I spent in Athens should have made me fluent in the language. As it was, I arrived here not being able to say more than “nice to meet you” and “thank you”…. As the year progressed I learned some phrases and was able to name a few things, but I was never truly forced to converse in Greek very much except for visits with relatives, where I usually had a bi-lingual cousin somewhere around to rescue me. The reason my fluency sucks? I lived in a dormitory full of Americans, Brits and English-speaking Greek girls. It wasn’t until I had graduated from college and moved in with an immigrant woman in San Francisco that I began learning to converse. She feigned lacking fluency in English, but I found out months into my tenure with her that she got along quite well in the language when one of my friends visited. She had me fooled. Since then, I picked up more ability to speak the ancient tongue, but I have never been able to do so at a level of pride. I make up for my lack of vocabulary with my creative ability to paint pictures with the words I already know. This may work every time, but it makes me patently lazy…

Ermou Street is part of a fashionable shopping district that becomes closed off to traffic as it nears Constitution Square. Also called Syntagma, the huge plaza holds a lot of memories for me. It is here that I walked arm-in-arm with my girlfriends. This is where I visited the American Express office to pick up packages from home. And here is where I used to sit at open-air cafes with my friends and flirt with handsome foreign strangers or backpacking American hunks. My familiarity with it is also colored by the fact that every hotel my family has ever stayed at in Athens was located nearby. The most tourist-y parts of Athens are within walking distance – the Plaka, the Acropolis, the Parliament Building, St. George’s (Lycabettus), the King’s Garden, and a host of museums. It is a bustling, car-packed, exciting hub that locals try to avoid and tourists are drawn to like flies.



Walking up the far end of Ermou Street means filing down streets selling junk. Flea markets hold treasures for some and look like garbage heaps to others. I am a member of the latter group, never having been one to sift through dirty artifacts of the past to find gems. As this part of the street ends, small cafes begin to populate the hardscape, followed by department stores and chain stores like H& M, Sephora, etc. Along the way,  the famous byzantine Monastiraki church sits like a relic amidst commercial buildings and bag-laden shoppers.


When I reach the square itself and look up, I am 18 again. Did I really live here for an entire year, taking buses and drinking watery orangeade? American Express is long gone, as is Papaspyrou’s, the mega-café that once spread from one side of the huge street to the interior of the square by way of an endless sea of tables, chairs and umbrellas. Waiters stood with trays as traffic lights changed just to get across to serve their patrons. Huge buses unloaded an endless supply of tourists craning their necks to find the Acropolis in the background or watching the “evzones” (soldiers dressed in traditional garb) changing guard in front of the Parliament building. Back in the ’70s, few Greek men were more than 5’8” tall. So these 6 ft.+ tall soldiers were practically freaks. Strangers were dressed in Bermuda shorts, while no Athenian would be caught dead in the downtown area wearing anything but suits, white shirts, or their best dresses.


Today this part of Athens is somewhat stripped of its color while remaining stately — unless riots or demonstrations are the mood of the day. A Metro station’s escalator now carves a hole into the square, diving hundreds of feet into the foundation of an ancient European capital. So many artifacts were found as the transit system went in prior to the 2004 Olympics that entire glassed-in displays grace several of the metro stations. And gone is the aroma of fresh flowers from the dozen or so flower shops that bordered the square –  the most special part of my walk from the bus to the square I will forever miss.


Horns blare and teeming crowds begin to surge across the street as I find my brothers’ marble-clad hotel, with its huge rotating door and uniformed bellmen. The lobby is elegant, air conditioned and wifi-enabled. I sink into a leather chair waiting for a sibling to emerge from a diminutive elevator, but I am not in my Athens any more.


Greece 2016: The Arrival

Booking a flight to Europe only six weeks in advance is what I call a last minute decision. Never having done anything that impulsive before, it feels very strange. In fact, everything about this trip to Greece is about to be a night-and-day contrast from all the trips there before it. Airfare has come down in price, I book an AirBnb (not a consideration for me in the past) for under $55 a day that includes wifi as well as air conditioning in my own private apartment  — because this time I am going alone. My purpose for going is unique as well.

I base this decision on two ironclad reasons. First, my brothers had been planning to go there for the past year, repeatedly having asked if my husband and I wanted to go along. I kept turning them down, citing the amount of money we had spent on our house lately. But the more I think about how none of us are young upstarts any more, with my oldest brother pushing 70, perhaps being there with them might be a good idea. We have, after all, not been in Greece at the same time since our 20s. The other reason is to visit some of our Greek relatives, who are now getting quite advanced in age. Three sisters, all my father’s first cousins, are in their late 80s to mid 90s. To confirm my reasoning, I ask myself if my parents would want me to do this — to see these precious relatives in the company of my brothers while I still can. The answer was a resounding yes.  So honoring the memory of my parents, who loved these relatives dearly, is a huge motivator.

While he has no objection to my going, my husband George is simply not interested in accompanying me to Greece this time. We had been there together twice since our marriage in 2005, visiting both his relatives as well as my own. This time, however, he wants to stay home, play golf and watch our pup. I accept his decision and begin to look at this trip as an opportunity to reconnect with my adventurous side — the one that had taken me to Greece at age 18, when my parents took me to New York Harbor and waved goodbye as I steamed away on the Queen Ana Maria for a year of college in mid-1970.

I actually have no preconceived idea of what the trip will look like beyond seeing my relatives and reconnecting myself with Athens. There are no plans to travel or see anything in particular.  I had done all that several times over during my many visits to Greece. What makes things even more surreal for me is how sick I have become just ten days before my departure date. After a trip to San Francisco to have dinner and see a musical, George, his sister and I all got some kind of respiratory infection at the same time. Chills, fever, and wicked, projectile coughing has us hunkering down just when I am trying to gather enthusiasm-steam for the trip. With every hacking cough, I swear. Sometimes in Greek and others times in English. And when the aches go away or I get an unexpected good night’s sleep, I rejoice. My chest crackles with each breath, messing with every waking and sleeping moment. But canceling this trip is not an option, since the timing of it is everything. So after being dropped off at 3 am at SFO by my devoted husband, I warn the gate agent that unless she switches my seat to an isolated location, I already pity my seat mate. Thank God she believes me. It enables me to sleep almost the entire flight to Philly and then beyond to Athens with an empty seat next to me. I swear I don’t even remember those planes taking off. And I NEVER sleep on long flights to foreign countries. I am usually keyed up about getting to my destination.

After claiming my bag in Athens fully aware I look like someone who has not gazed in a mirror in 24 hours, I plant myself in the airport lobby to be claimed by my cousin, Dimitris, who, unbeknownst to me, decides to act as my de facto host during my entire stay. He had visited us in California a few years earlier, and George and I had stayed with him on our last trip to Athens. so there is a close, cousinly bond between us.  Tight hugs are followed by a walk out into the Athenian sunshine and his new little diesel car, where I envy his energy as he throws my luggage into the trunk. We maneuver the morning traffic as he GPSes his way to the studio apartment I had rented, eventually swearing about all the one-way streets in my adopted neighborhood. This place is not my first choice. My original hosts had bailed on me, citing plumbing problems with their apartment building. I LOVED that one. It had everything I needed, was close to the Metro and even came with gym privileges. So when they informed me my reservation was cancelled, I had to choose another property within days of my departure. Since I am a looks girl, I choose a hip-looking studio in an up-and-coming neighborhood in Athens but have no idea where it is, unlike the former one, which was located near my old college campus.

The district my cousin drives me to is called “Gazi”…. No. It’s not a strip in a Middle Eastern country, nor is it the name of a triage tape for injured bicycle riders. It refers to gas. You heard it. A neighborhood named GAS. I find it hilarious that words and names translated into English are ten times funnier than they sound in a foreign language. Soon we pull up to a modern-looking building in a tacky-looking neighborhood. Kind of like San Francisco’s South of Market area before the Silicon Valley techies gentrified it. Small, active cafes dot the streets and tiny shops operate underneath old buildings. My cousin repeats to me that it’s a really FUN place to be. He is referring to the night life of Athens, most of which begins around 11 pm and goes until 4 am….During the daytime, this place is quiet and subdued. Advance into the wee hours of the morning and there are people out in droves at the cafes, bars, and eateries. And they’re talking. Greek are ALWAYS talking. But I will get to that later. The reason for the neighborhood’s bizarre name comes from the gas factories that used to produce the synthetic gas used by Athenians before they switched to natural gas. The place is full of old warehouse-like buildings and the surrounding neighborhood once housed the working-class types who worked there. Over the past few years, it evidently became a district beloved by artists and actors because of the wealth of space and light, with these structures now housing theaters and art studios. travelyourmind-wordpress-com_-gazi_

We are greeted by a very attractive woman named Vicky – evidently a friend of my hosts who happens to live in the area and helps with orientations for their guests who stay at the gassy Mikalis 26. I can tell she is my bachelor cousin’s type and his eyes light up. She explains the keys, the bathroom, the hot water switch, the wifi and AC as well as how to stay in touch. Then she disappears. I thank my cousin profusely for his attention, hug him goodbye, and can’t wait to test out the bed for some much-needed sleep. I have not had nearly enough. It is still morning, and my brothers are not due to arrive until the evening, having located the world’s cheapest airfare by flying via Istanbul. I know. Istanbul.

I begin my nesting ritual.  This is something I do whenever I am staying somewhere more than one night. I unpack everything, put clothes in drawers and on hangers, line up shoes, strategically place makeup and hair items right where I might need them, hook up my laptop, and charge my mobile phone.  I look around my new digs. At first glance, it looks like the AirBnb web site photos, but like other elements of Greek life, it is a friendly facade. Like beautiful gates along a road that make you think you are about to enter someone’s elegant private estate only to discover the house is mediocre, something seems amiss.  The lined-up painted-black tree trunks that are part of the hip decor and act as a partial room divider are shimmied against the ceiling and floor with thick pieces of folded cardboard. The tiny bathroom’s shower is merely a way-station to the toilet. By that I mean a curtain that completely draws around you is the only thing keeping the water out of other areas, and the floor is perennially wet after a shower.  And slippery.

Athens has the oldest plumbing infrastructure known to man, so toilet paper is supposed to be thrown into a tiny bin next to the toilet. This has always grossed me out. The curtains around the apartment don’t quite spread out to cover the entire window area. And the clothes washer I am supposed to use is out on the porch behind the tiny efficiency kitchen, where my hosts evidently dry towels and sheets. An attempt was made to make things even more special, with colored lights in strategic locations around the room. A bamboo screen has Christmas lights attached to it. The bottom of a coffee table lights up in multiple colors with the flip of a switch. Only problem is that the cord to it is in plain sight, snaking its way across the living area. And last of all, when I switch on the TV, my wifi becomes inoperable.

As if an earned reward, I flop down on my Athenian bed. My delight comes with the realization that this one is SOFT. Yes. I am in shock. Every European bed I had ever slept on was like lying on two hard chairs put together, but this one is – well – dreamy. Greeks evidently don’t believe in fitted bottom sheets and the four pillows are either lumpy or so hard you could bounce coins off them, but no matter. I had my tiny airplane pillow on board; perfect for the face-sleeping I so dearly love.  All the other tacky things about this apartment are now moot because the bed is EVERYTHING. And I am out.

When I awake, it is dark and texts begin streaming onto my phone. It’s my cousin again, looking to find a place to eat with me. My temporary life in Athens has begun.





Truth, Fiction, TV and Me



It is a humble ask. “Do you think they’d let me watch as they shoot some of the San Francisco scenes?” After all, who am I to expect to be included in all this?

My daughter’s assistant has just picked me up from Burbank airport and is taking me to her company’s corporate offices in downtown LA. I am about to be her guest on the #Girlboss Radio podcast, and because I do some customer service work for her company in my spare time, I have a meeting to attend there as well. What I am asking about, however, has to do with the 2017 Netflix series that bears the same name as my daughter’s popular self-help manifesto/memoir, #Girlboss. Hearing an “I’ll arrange it for you” from her delightful assistant sends my brain into warp speed about what it will be like to see my only child’s persona depicted by someone else. What I don’t realize, however, is that what I am about to experience, is about so much more.

The following week I begin exchanging emails with one of the show’s assistant producers – an articulate and responsive guy named Adam. I am aware that a Girlboss episode will be shot all over the city – from the Haight to Pacific Heights, on steep city hilltops and on grungy South-of-Market streets. In successive emails, Adam begins telling me when and where scenes are being shot during daytimes and at night. I choose the daytime Saturday shoot – one where there is a cable car, extras, and views of the Bay in the mix. The call time for actors and producers is mid-morning, so I can leave my house by 8 am or so and get there in plenty of time to leave my car downtown and Uber it over to their “home base” along the Embarcadero.

Thinking this will be one of those memorable (albeit short) car trips of a lifetime, I leave the top down on my car, thinking I have sufficiently lacquered my hair for the open-air adventure. When my bangs begin flying straight up I am sure I look like the mascot for a Bob’s Big Boy. So I pull over at an exit to take shelter under the ragtop and then get back on the freeway. Experiencing the many micro-climates of northern California, I drive from sunshine to overcast, hit fog on the Golden Gate Bridge, and into chilly sunshine as I speed down Van Ness Avenue, turn onto Broadway Street, and gingerly avoid hitting tiny people with huge parcels in their hands as I roll through China Town, through the Stockton Street tunnel and into the garage I use on almost every trip downtown.

Finding an Uber car in San Francisco means a wait time of 4 minutes or less, and distances simply aren’t very far in this tiny city. Soon I find myself at the staging area I am supposed to use to get a shuttle to the location. I look around the gate area and all I see are a few cars parked around me. No people. Nothing. So I call Adam’s cell phone. “Walk back toward the Bay, deeper into the lot,” he tells me. Soon I see a mini community of gigantic semis in the distance with huge trailers and elaborate equipment and I begin traversing the expanse of empty asphalt.

Peering between the trucks, I spy someone waving at me in the distance. “You need a ride?” says a friendly face as I get closer. We chat as the shuttle driver learns more about why I am there, driving through parts of downtown and up hills into the Pacific Heights area. It’s funny. All day long I am to experience people doing jobs on behalf of a story they really have no clue about because their function is simply to shuttle, provide equipment, or keep people safe – important ones at that. Story lines, my daughter, the book she wrote – none of it has been explained to them, and because they do what they do every day, they may have stopped asking about the nature of the show they are working on along ago. I am to find out later that 130 souls had driven or flown up from the LA area for this, including caterers. Local shuttle bus drivers take the various players everywhere; local security guards keep people at bay, and cast and crew are being housed at two different hotels.

We arrive at the intersection whose streets have been blocked off in each direction and I see a crappy old red car and a cable car on wheels in the midst of it all. Microphones are on mobile booms and worker bees are everywhere. Being ushered into this microcosm of people and equipment feels both special and a tad intimidating at the same time. I had agonized over what to wear; too fancy and fashionable and I would feel silly around people in jeans and sweatshirts doing their jobs. Too casual and I would not look like the mother of someone who owns a fashion company and wrote a bestselling book. So I had opted for a lightweight trench with a sleeveless black turtleneck and leggings underneath and my trusty high-heeled black boots and a bit of bling on my ears just to jazz things up a bit. I left the 100-degree heat of Sacramento behind and now I am cold. In reality, Mark Twain never said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” But those of us who are natives hear it said by almost every Bermuda shorts-clad tourist thinking they can stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge with a light windbreaker on in the middle of August.

“Are you Sophia’s mom?” Kay Cannon, a 30-something who has already collected awards for her writing for 30-Rock as well as two Pitch Perfect movies, greets me as though I am a celebrity. She is petite, adorable and looks like she can even play my daughter. Aren’t people that successful supposed to be older and a tad more wrinkled? Life can be so unfair. We become chatty as I am introduced to LaVerne McKinnon, one of the producers. Being treated like the Queen mother is not something I am prepared for, so now I am in full denial this is all happening. They walk me to the intersection where only one scene is to be shot throughout the day. We plebes who watch these shows don’t realize that camera angles, dialogue, extras – everything and everyone gets tweaked for hour upon hour so they can have footage to cut from and create the final product. In the middle of all this, my daughter messages me to snap smart phone photos and send them her way, regretting not having made plans to be there with me. Her uncles have even parked nearby, watching everything going on incognito but enjoying every second of feeling part of all this.

As Kay and I become better acquainted, I begin telling her why this is all so meaningful to me. Sophia’s maternal great grandparents came to this city from northern Greece exactly 90 years before, as did immigrants of every other ethnicity you can think of. My infant mother (her yiayia) can be seen in a passport photo, sitting atop her mother’s lap, having been processed through New York’s Ellis Island before taking the long train ride to the left coast. My grandfather had sent for them after having established a small mom-and-pop grocery store on McAllister Street, subsequently moving it to Guerrero and 16th, where he eventually acquired the entire apartment building that sat atop his tiny store. Through mutual relatives, my mom, a bobbi-soxed 17-year old, was introduced at a family gathering to a visiting Indiana-born Greek-American, a 25-year old Army officer who was recovering from a back injury in a Santa Barbara military hospital. And the rest is history. To me, San Francisco represents not only a breathtaking place, but a family legacy. And now my own daughter, who began her business by scrounging for vintage clothing in the mothball-aroma-laden used clothing stores of the Haight, is being depicted in a TV series about her crazy young life. And I am on hand to see this.

My day is spent outside, chatting with people who work around the set, as well as sitting in a van with Kay, Laverne and a handful of others, watching two video monitors as they repeat the scene as changes are being made. By 2 pm, it’s time for lunch. The ravenous crew piles into huge vans to take them (and me) several blocks away, where the caterers’ trucks are parked. An elaborate buffet is served up on long tables along a sidewalk and the workers and executives seem to know what food they already enjoy from this selection – prime rib, grilled chicken, ahi tuna steaks, huge cheese-filled ravioli with paprika cream sauce, marinated tofu, three different varieties of salads – and the list goes on and on.

We take our plates into an emptied old restaurant and we spread all over the place — some socializing in small groups and others off to themselves, preferring to bury their faces in their cell phones to get caught up on missed emails and messages. If you ever saw the 1997 movie, The Game, with Michael Douglas, and recall a huge cafeteria scene where all the people who had put him through his “experience” were sitting in one place, that’s what this feels like to me, even though I know few of these faces. Actors and extras are still in costume, such as the cable car conductor. Britt Robertson, the tiny actress who plays my daughter, has donned sweats, since the shorts and platform knee-high boots she wears in the scene are simply not enough to keep the chill out. The effect is something strange, fun and (I suddenly realize) a world few of us will ever be privy to. It is then I realize that I have had my dollop of fantasy and would not be able to absorb much more.

I thank and hug my hosts as they invite me to visit their LA shoots any time I am down there visiting my daughter, I graciously accept that plan, and I tell them I am honored to have spent time with them. My heart is full, and I know I would have endured even more than the agonizing commute I experienced that time of day on my way back to my lazy Sacramento suburb — just to be on hand for this very special moment in time. My grandparents, my parents, and all who came before my baby girl would have as well.

Life takes its turns and shows us new realities – and even a few fantasies. This one is one I shall not soon forget.



Good Pals, Graceful Falls and Furry Friends



Some experiences only register as adventures when you look back on them. Such is the case for the car trek on which I took two of my dearest friends this past week to a beautiful national park.

Less than a year ago, my visit to Chicago with my college friend, Kay, revealed that she had never looked up at sheer granite walls amidst towering redwood trees, never experienced the mist of a powerful spring waterfall on her face, and never, apparently, had a squirrel enter her living quarters. So before my time with her was over, we made a plan on her next visit to my side of the U.S. to see Yosemite National Park – one of America’s greatest natural wonders. We invited Cheryl, another dear friend from my childhood Kay had met on a previous trip, to join us and we were set to go. Kay and Cheryl arrived within a few days of our road trip, armed with snacks, emergency meds (Cheryl is a nurse practitioner), clothes to layer themselves for changeable spring weather and a good deal of enthusiasm.

Leaving early on a weekday morning, we arrive at the park entrance around 10:30 with the top down on my convertible, ready to take on the sights above us unobstructed. As Kay holds her smart phone up for photos, we pay the meager $10 for this bunch of “senior” ladies to enter the park and find our way to the valley floor, with its concessions, shops, tents, campgrounds, hotels and restaurants. Armed with a confirmation and what I thought was a photo of our lovely hotel, we begin looking for our overnight home away from home.

But first, a bit of recent history. The park’s services had been taken over by another company just months before our trip who, to the chagrin of those of us who have been visiting Yosemite our entire lives, changed the names of places within the park. The Ahwahnee Hotel was renamed the “Majestic Yosemite Hotel” and Curry Village was renamed “Half Dome Village” among other changes. All over the park, canvas tarps with the newly printed names covered the old signs that had been there for at least 50-60 years. We stop to ask a park employee where our magnificent hotel is and she acts puzzled. “There is no big hotel in what used to be Curry Village.” I show her our reservation – a fairly costly room with a full bath, a living area and a fireplace. She says she has never heard of it. I think it’s because of the name changes, but I am wrong; she has never heard of it because it doesn’t exist.

We finally find our way to the newly named Half Dome Village, where there is a registration desk surrounded by bus stops and tiny cabins. The front desk clerk studies our printout. “Wow. You got the best room in the park!” she says with delight. We look at one another and then ask, “Where is the big hotel?” She laughs and says the only big hotel in the park is located in Yosemite Village. Our room is a large log cabin – right there in Half Dome Village. To this day, I have no idea what photo I had pulled up on Google that convinced me we were staying at a resort-like lodge. And I feel in no uncertain terms that I had deluded two of my besties. We proceed to check in, but are told the cabin is being cleaned and we’ll have to re-park the car anyway.

When I find a “lucky” close-in parking space with a curb next to it, I happily display my parking pass on the windshield and eagerly begin to exit the car with my friends, ready to take our luggage to our unusual-sounding cabin. Little do I know that the parking curb beneath my feet is not flat. As I step out, the dome shape under my foot finds me taking a step, rolling my ankle to the outside and falling to the park asphalt. I hear a discernible crunch and the next thing I know (after the pain subsides), a park ranger in a golf cart pulls up, having witnessed my spill first hand.

My embarrassment is surpassed only by my anger over this klutzy move and what it portends for our entire stay at the park. After my friends register the appropriate amount of shock, awe and sympathy over the accident, Ranger Lucy compassionately tells me my fall was a graceful one – almost slow motion in nature. “Can you stand on it?” she asks as she helps me up. I can. “That’s a good sign,” she reassures me. “Let me radio ahead and let the emergency clinic know we’ll need a wheelchair to meet you.” A wheelchair. And I have been at Yosemite for all of 30 minutes. With that, we all pile onto her golf cart and get our first tour of the valley floor. My foot (in shock like the rest of me) rests on the golf cart dash.

After the paperwork and insurance card are exchanged at the clinic and everyone is assured my foot is not broken, we wait for our savior Lucy to reappear to take us back to Half Dome Village. By then my foot is tightly wrapped, I am supplied with an ice pack and my friends have had time to pick up a few snacks before their blood sugar drops precipitously. Lucy gives us a verbal history lesson as she putts along the park byways to our lodgings. As she graciously loads our bags into her cart, I stare at the dastardly rounded concrete strip that caused my calamity and whisper a four-letter word. Then I offer my goodbye to Lucy, but not before thanking profusely for her above-and-beyond level of service and goodwill.

The cabin is not what I would call luxurious, but it’s large, charming, homey and lovely. We dump our stuff all around it and proceed to take a breather after our 3.5 hour drive and my physical drama. Kay sinks into a huge armchair and soon begins having an imaginary conversation in her sleep. Ex-hippie Cheryl flings the cabin doors wide open and goes outside to see if her smart phone can attract enough wifi to communicate with her grown daughters. I lay down on the sofa with my foot higher than my head and soon begin passing out from exhaustion. As we slip into and out of sleep, I begin noticing a scratching sound. Being prone with my leg up, I can’t look around me very well and at first think Cheryl had come back in. I begin to see a small figure near the fireplace moving furtively. A tiny squirrel suddenly overturns a short, empty garbage can. I  wake Kay up by announcing the critter visit. My expressive friend’s eyes grow wide and she begins to freak, as if a horror movie were being filmed before her very eyes.

I hobble to the open door and inform animal-lover Cheryl of our visitor. She quickly gets up and enters the cabin ready to watch the little guy in action. Seeing Kay’s reaction, however, she begins looking for it everywhere just to calm our friend down.  Then Kay announces, “I’m going to the office to get a manager! We need someone who’ll know what to do!” And she is gone. We listen and look everywhere and can’t find a thing. By the time a clerk arrives, our tiny friend has taken flight. Kay is clearly not convinced the creature will not be atop her face with claws fully extended in the middle of the night, so she keeps pointing to places she thinks we had not checked. Finally, she is convinced the scene has ended.

We get ready to head to dinner fully intending to have a few stiff drinks before enjoying a gourmet meal at the hotel that reminds us of the one in the movie The Shining. I was the last to dress, trying on shoes that would no longer fit my fat foot. Outside I heard Kay and Cheryl identifying a squirrel frolicking near the cabin. “There he is!” says Kay, pointing to what she wants to think is the very critter who invaded our luxury accommodations. I stifle my laugh.

The rest of our stay there is, of course magnificent, despite the slowdown my bum foot causes and the crowded bus rides that get us places later than anticipated. Yosemite Falls cascades in its powerful glory and Kay is in tourist heaven. Cheryl and I reminisce over past visits to the park but are no less impressed with what we see. We are a motley crew — Cheryl layered in five different patterns of earth mother, Kay decked out in her sensible clothes and coiffed hair, and me with my REI duds and permanently placed baseball cap. A lady stares at the three of us curiously the day we leave, asking where we are all from and clearly expecting us to be aliens. We look at one another and burst out laughing after she walks away.

There is something special about hanging out with old friends – people who knew you in your much younger days. There are no judgments, no preconceived thoughts — just our unvarnished selves, ooohing and aaahing at what we see and loving every second of it. We marvel at nature and ourselves, ending our time together later that week as if we had spent a month in a foreign country. It’s a trip we won’t soon forget. And now that we are Yosemite veterans, we are already planning our next, more involved visit there — one we KNOW will include even more adventures and definitely more laughs.

The Bag From Hell

“Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions” ~ T.S. Eliot


I once worked in an airline baggage service office for a day. One. Day. And it was a disaster.

Let me take a few steps back and ‘splain a few things. Some airline ground personnel are better than others at the various airport jobs. Back when I worked for Pacific Southwest Airlines (the precursor model to Southwest), we had some agents who were lightening-quick at ticketing, evidenced by how quickly their passenger queues disappeared. Others had smooth, flawless ways of announcing flights and keeping an entire gate area calm and handled, even during a weather or mechanical delay. I prided myself in being one of those folks.

Then there were people who were simply stellar at passenger empathy and loved working independently, away from the crowds, good at problem-solving and adept at soothing what I call “travelers’ angst.” Those were the people who worked at baggage service – a place where every person approaching the service window has a problem.  Unlike our planes with smiles painted on in perpetuity, the only time smiles occur at this office is when passengers were notified their bags were found.

I happened to make a day trade with one such baggage specialist, figuring – how hard could it be? It was the 1970s — LONG before 9/11. There was no TSA and there were no rules about bags being required to accompany their passengers on the same plane. So if you checked in too late and your bag didn’t make the baggage cut-off for the 11 A.M. flight from LAX to SFO, the baggage service agent would encourage passengers to wait for the arrival of the next flight from LAX, usually arriving just an hour later.

Most of the time it worked. People grumbled but retrieved their bags after an hour or so and disappeared. The fateful day I worked baggage service, however, this tactic didn’t work.

A well-dressed woman approached my counter complaining that she waited until the rest of the shuffling crowd had claimed its bags, but hers never made its way down the chute to the carousel. I politely spewed the company line about waiting an hour and she was okay with it at first, subsequently returning every hour for 3 more flight arrivals, but ultimately having no luck.

Then things turned ugly. I kept checking my noisy, archaic teletype machine that notified me when unclaimed luggage appeared at other PSA stations, but nothing contained in its transmissions resembled the bag in question. In between flights, I put up my “back in 30 minutes” sign and took a dinner break. By now this woman was frustrated enough to give up and head to her hotel. But before she left, she informed me that she was furious I had abandoned my efforts for 30 solid minutes. I tried like hell to make nice and assured her we would deliver her bag to the hotel as soon as it was found. She gave me an untrusting look and disappeared.

Toward the end of my shift, I found the bag was sitting in Oakland. I called her to let her know the good news. Then I went too far.

Instead of simply saying “We’re doing the best we can to get you your bag as soon as possible,” I explained the process by which we got lost bags into our hands. Instead of arranging the bag to be delivered via taxi from Oakland, we would reroute it back to LA to be placed on another flight to SFO. It was a case of TMI. I was young, pretty dumb, and WAY too transparent.

Before I closed down my window for the evening, however, I left clear hand-written instructions for the morning agent. The passenger in question was staying at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero, but her room was registered under another name, which I provided in my note. I felt I had offered the next agent enough information to get the bag there safely and securely, then I headed home.

To my surprise and dismay, the morning agent did not heed my instructions. An attempt was made to deliver the bag, it failed, and the bag came back to SFO. It got re-delivered, but by then the passenger was almost ready to return to Los Angeles.

The following week, I was called into my manager’s office. Evidently, a FOUR PAGE letter had been received by him, outlining everything that had gone wrong with this woman’s experience flying PSA, citing me as the central reason for it. The letterhead was on New York Times stationery and the woman was a journalist.

I was asked to sign a union warning citation and suddenly realized that by a comedy of errors and missteps (not all my own, but I took ownership nonetheless), my ass was temporarily grass.

Within the next week, I decided it might be time to leave heavy public contact work for a while and join the guys on the tarmac, tidying up and pushing back planes, throwing luggage into aircraft bellies, wearing red uniforms with our names sewn on them and sporting Redwing work boots.

I must admit — I looked pretty damned good as a ramper.

Pretty Cars, Watershed Realizations and Horse Trading Moments

For as much time I have spent occupying this earth, how did I not see this coming? When my somewhat publicly-known daughter was about to sell her almost-new car in favor of one she would not be recognized in (she mentioned its brand in a book she wrote), I was beside myself with concern that her stunning piece of automotive jewelry would not remain in the family.

Shame on me. I coveted her car. So she gave it to me.

My daughter is an amazingly generous person, but aside from her nostalgia over it being her first luxury car, her main reason for simply handing it over to me was that she wanted me to be safe. I was deeply touched and soon I flew down to her half of California to drive her gorgeous car home like a person who had just won the Lotto.


For one year I drove a car that did not appear to belong in my Sacramento suburb. Did it make head turns? Absolutely. In fact on several occasions I found people waiting for me in parking lots where the car was parked just to tell me how gorgeous it was. And they were right. Every time I got behind the wheel it felt elegant. It was white, it was sleek, it had curves and it gleamed.

It also felt uncomfortable in ways that had nothing to do with looks or physical comfort. The car was huge – at least as long as many SUVs and a good foot longer than most sedans – and I was accustomed to a very used-but-nimble little 2-seater sports car. I misjudged the distance to curbs. I trembled each time I parked it. And this was despite (and because of) a small TV dash monitor that audibly warned me how close I was to objects, including the Starbucks drive-through window. All this was bearable, however, since I rationalized that I would master it over time. Then the deal changer happened.

After I parked the car the first night upon reaching a recent road trip destination, one of the tires went flat. Normally I would not be terrified about needing a new tire. But these high performance car tires each cost as much as a round trip business class ticket to JFK. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found the tire was not really damaged and could be easily repaired, but in my mind I began to do a “pile on.” Reasons to not keep this car added up: the high cost of regular maintenance, my inability to get used to maneuvering the car in small spaces, the cost of insurance, the price tag on brakes and all the other things that can happen to a car that is no longer covered by a warranty – something that would happen in another 10,000 miles – and I began to understand that despite my penchant to LOOK as if I were a moneyed person, I am simply not in my daughter’s league. I would always be a big phony in a car I had never earned except for having given birth to a successful kid.

After discussing this with her, she was gracious and acknowledged my reasoning, thank God. And soon I began looking around for another car. I missed running around in a convertible, but this time I decided to hunt for one that had a rear seat and was a bit larger than my last one to honor my daughter’s wish for more safety. So I called my old mechanic who specialized in the brand of car I liked. He told me about the models he considered the most reliable and I took it from there.

The hunt begins …

Before you judge me for being a woman unversed in judging good car flesh, let me give you some background. I grew up with brothers, had a hustler of an ex-husband that taught me everything I needed to know about cars and had long ago learned how to buy a pre-owned vehicle. I look for flawless cars 3 – 6 years old. This means NO dings, NO prior accidents, a pristine interior, new car smell, all service records, one owner, ridiculously low mileage for its age, and newer tires and brakes. I am willing to pay high Blue Book, Edmunds or Car Guru pricing for something that has had an anal-retentive owner who – believe it or not — cares where the car ends up. I know the feeling because that is the kind of car owner I am. The looks people give me as I sit on an upturned paint bucket detailing my car wheels on my own driveway is enough to know I am not like most chick car owners.

Finding that perfect used car, however, takes patience and fortitude. I scour only warm weather states for just the color, condition, make and model I want. It’s like looking for that perfect dress in that perfect color for the occasion. Having driven a car that was clearly a head-spinner, however, I was hooked. I knew I must wear my next car with pride because I kind of got used to the attention. My bad.

After a week or so of searching locally, I found one on Craigslist that appealed to me in — of all places — Las Vegas, a destination we were just about to visit in honor of our ten-year wedding anniversary. How fortuitous! According to the articulate way it was described (yes, this matters to me…) it ticked off every box I mentioned and then some. But his price was high, even according to the figure various car-judging web sites that indicate what cars in “excellent” condition should command. So the dance began.

At first, I wrote the owner one of those anonymous Craigslist notes. In it, after some banter back and forth, I told him the high watermark price I would be willing to pay if the car was everything he represented. It made allowances for the extras he said were of value, but it did not reach the price he was asking. He said he was out of town, would be returning in a few days from the east coast, but did not address my potential offer. Still, he remained in communication. We agreed that I would try to see the car the evening we arrived in Las Vegas.

As it turned out, we arrived later than anticipated. To be polite, I texted the car owner that we would not make it there until the next day; if he already had a solid buyer, do not wait for me. I followed that with a frown-y face so he would know I would be sad that the car might escape my capture. The seller told me how many people had seen it and how many people wanted to see it, but said he wanted to offer me first right of refusal since I had come so far to see it. To me, anyway, that meant NO one had brought up the dollar figure I had. Then he told me someone else was coming to see it after I did. That’s when I had to (tactfully) state my terms: I would not be strung out all week while he entertained other offers on the car. If my offer was not accepted on the spot, he could kiss it goodbye. After some time went by and dots on our texts continued to flash, he agreed and said he wanted his gorgeous little car to go to a good home. I was 90% there. Communication is, to me anyway, everything.

When I go to see a used car from a private party, I always judge the car by the neighborhood in which it resides. His house was stunning.The moment the car owner opened his garage door, I noticed that this vehicle occupied space on a perfectly epoxy’d garage floor capable of being graced with knife, fork, and a folded cloth napkin. I barely had to walk around the car once to see it was everything I wanted. We struck our deal and did the bureaucratic paperwork we had to in order to bring an out-of-state car into California. And the next day (after some hearty winnings at the craps table that paid for our entire anniversary trip) we caravanned home. As I drove my new friend home, I reveled in being able to see the front of my vehicle, how nimbly it handled and how its smaller size suited my tastes and driving capacities.

Why am I telling you all this? Perhaps it’s because I like to share stories of lessons I’ve learned as well as convince myself I am still pretty good at buying used cars. All I know is that each time I stare at my new beauty in my garage, all is suddenly well with the world.

The Waiting Game


It’s a first for me, this idea of drumming my fingers as I wait for word from big time publishers about my book idea.

Having found my calling in midlife, for the past 18 years I have delighted in seeing my byline in newspapers, being the co-author of someone else’s book, or being mentioned as “editor” when I basically wrote a book for someone else using their ideas but my words. I’ve paid my dues writing online and print columns for consumers and produced many a blog – a solitary but rewarding exercise in keeping my writing muscles toned. While I did produce my own coming-of-age memoir eBook about 5+ years ago, I have never been at the mercy of book editors in a position to expose my writing to the universe. So here’s an abridged version of the story, pretty much from the beginning:

Being the mother of an only child, I figured I’d have it easy. As we listened to frenzied and sometimes manic stories of parents who were juggling several kids at once, my then-husband and I were ultimately okay with the idea that even if we never planned on having a sibling-less child, one would be enough in the big scheme of things.

Then our daughter was born. And the child was ready to take over the world.

After my having collected countless parenting books, conducted trial and error experiments meant to help her make sense of the world around her, put up with repeatedly tense parent-teacher conferences and fidgeted in the overstuffed chairs of five or six therapists, my daughter was as fully formed as I could get her despite a number of misgivings about having taught her everything she truly needed to know by kindergarten. By age 18 she was ready to take on adulthood armed with the gifts, moxy and determination God gave her — all with the memory of having had a mother who scored off the anxiety charts and had developed analyzing skills on steroids. I let go and let her find out just how the rest of the world would cope with the limit-testing she subjected me to for much of my motherhood. It was painful, it was scary and it was necessary – for both of us.

Before her 30th birthday, however, my daughter took it upon herself to tell her own story – in a book that instantly hit the New York Times Best Seller list and stayed there for 18 weeks. While it received rave reviews from young women like her and a host of people in other demographics, some commenters blatantly referred to her as a “parenting failure” — despite her meteoric rise to success — because of the colorful, non-mainstream experiences she admitted to putting herself through to find her reality. To say that didn’t pierce through me would be dishonest. Through it all, I would smile and tell people asking me about her, “Oh, yeah. Someday I will tell my side of things.” I figured that would take place by the time my baby girl had brought up babies of her own so that we could write that book together.

But time waits for no mom. Because of my now-married daughter’s encouragement (she swears her experience will probably be NOTHING like mine, and I think she’s right) and everyone around me telling me a book about challenging children was sorely needed out there, I mustered the courage to write an inquiry letter to the same literary agency that represented my precocious child. They read it, sounded excited about it and asked for a formal book proposal. Then they said my idea was so good they wanted to run with it and began pitching it to the big book boys and girls in New York and elsewhere. Today, my proposal is in the hands of dozens of editors being read, mulled over, included in meetings and evaluated for its marketability and potential for success in the now very exclusive world of traditional book publishing. And the waiting game has begun.

One thing you must understand: just getting this far with a book idea has been on my proverbial bucket list for some time, even if it goes no further. At least I could someday say, with a wistful look in my eye, that I made it to “also-ran” status in the daunting world of non-vanity-press-published authors. But I have to ask myself — what if it actually happens? My OMG moment would mean being in Writer’s Digest heaven over the idea of telling the stories of people like me and many others who survived to tell the tales of their amazing-but-off-the-wall children – kids who possess seeds of greatness that can blossom into the world’s future business owners, entrepreneurs, ideamakers and rocket scientists. And even if they don’t become famous, that oddball/crazy-kid that used to drive you nuts can apply his or her well-used blinders and delightful strangeness to find a new watermark in the world – as long as you keep on keepin’ on as their loving, supportive parent.

As this story unfolds, unlike many writers who keep things under wraps, wondering if talking about a book just might jinx it, I want to take you along for the ride – through my disappointments, my learning experiences and if nothing else, to tell the ending to this waiting-for-Godot story. Please know that as I write this, just by the act of reading it you are holding my hand, saying “There, there, Dena. Everything will turn out fine”… And I thank you for that. Because the waiting is driving me to drink.

20/20 Hindsight Advice for Mothers-of-the-Bride

Moms often wait what seems like forever for their baby girls to get married. I was never sure mine would go the conventional route nor have a traditional wedding but in the end, she surprised me. Truth be told, this is a life event mothers with daughters think about a LOT from the time their girls are small.


My daughter’s elegant and somewhat elaborate wedding was amazing; a stunning visual display of the love and excitement she and her husband-to-be shared for this life-changing rite of passage.

It would be impossible, however, to avoid every pitfall the intricacies any wedding can produce, especially for the MOB. So for those moms out there who want a heads-up on how to improve upon my recent experiences, I offer the following advice:

(1) Don’t question your daughter’s taste for wedding details. It has nothing to do with you. Moms tend to project how they want to see things when their daughters marry and often use the excuse (especially if they are paying for any of it) that their daughters should just go along. Just remember, no matter how off-the-charts her ideas about her own wedding are, the day is not about YOU. And it’s not about guests who will be there on YOUR behalf. It’s about the beginning of your daughter’s new life. Practice lots of nodding, smiling and repeating “if it’s what you want” –ing. Answer questions honestly when asked, but don’t be insulted if she does not implement your idea, take your advice, or observe the things you deem important. If you take that approach, you won’t look back with regrets about fighting over details that will not really matter years from now.

(2) If you are asked to say a few words at one or more of the wedding events, prepare it in advance but commit much of it to memory. The words you use and the comfort with which you say them can mean the difference between a memorable toast/speech and one where you are fumbling with a piece of paper using your iPhone light to see it while holding a microphone in the other hand. Tell sweet stories, speak lovingly to the family that is about to merge with your own and remember that everything you say and do here can and will be used for future reference. She will hang on every word.

(3) Don’t use a self-tanner you’ve never tested out before. I was mortified when a product that said it “dried quickly” left hug marks on people’s clothes and I had to hightail it back to my AirBnb apartment to wash it all off. I was livid.

(4) Realize that your daughter is in panic mode most of the time. If the photographer tells you to pretend to pull back her blusher to give her a kiss for a photo, ask her if she is ready for it and don’t be hurt if she flinches. She is thinking about her makeup, the expression on her face and whether you might get self-tanner on her crisp, white veil.

(5) Don’t stress over a wedding gift. It is often family heirlooms and keepsakes your daughter will value at a time like this. A food processor from her registry list simply does not measure up.

(6) Bring more than one pair of shoes and arm yourself with pain relievers. You will be on your feet a LOT.

(7) Make a list of people with whom you’ll want to have your photo taken throughout the day/event. I did not do this and the evening went by without even smart phone photos taken with my dearest friends and relatives. It’s a homework assignment you will want to complete before cutting loose on the dance floor.

(8) If you’re getting ready (hair, makeup, etc.) with your daughter and her bridesmaids in anticipation of her putting on her wedding gown, bring a pretty robe to wear. Chances are, they will all be in satin robes that match. Having mom in her yoga clothes as photographers snap “getting ready” photos just doesn’t cut it. And bring a REAL handkerchief. There will be lots of happy tears.

(9) Make it a point to dance with your daughter. I didn’t and I cry now when I think about it. Both of you may be so busy with guests that you forget to do a number of things that will someday feel like important small gestures on her wedding day.

(10) Realize that this day (hopefully) comes but once and that you must concentrate on savoring every moment as it happens. Don’t let the social whirlwind rob you of that. Be gracious. Be happy. Remember that the wedding will be perfectly imperfect no matter how meticulously it was planned.

A Mother’s Day Tale: Sewing Notions

Perhaps it really wasn’t necessary to clandestinely whisk away Mom’s sewing basket into my car during a visit to my parents’ house; I suppose I was afraid to ask my father if I could take it with me, for fear he’d turn me down. It seemed as though everything that had belonged to my mother was now sacred to him. images

And after all, I had my own sewing basket—an efficient plastic see-through box with a removable tray that Mom had bought for me years ago. But (I weakly reasoned) my sewing basket didn’t contain the right color thread to hem dad’s trousers. A pretty lame excuse. After all, how long does it take to run to the grocery store for a spool of khaki-colored thread? Even now that she’s gone, I am amazed at the reliance those she left behind have on Mom for the simplest of tasks. And so it was, in relative anonymity (with a sweater draped over it), Mom’s sewing basket was spirited away.

Upon my return home, I found myself struggling for a while with the reasoning behind this bizarre act. As I approached another anniversary without Mom, I was faced daily with the feeling that I was not someone’s “little girl” any more. A constant ray of unconditional love in all our lives, Mom brought a quality of grace, innocence, domesticity and maternal “religion” difficult to match by any woman, least of all me. Missing from our lives for several years now, we are still dumbfounded by her disappearance due to a weak heart. Perhaps the sewing basket was a reminder of the multitude of small tasks she performed for her family, helping to bring her back in some intangible way.

Of course, it was all so overwhelming –the idea that I would ever have to face any segment of my life without her. Although common sense dictates that we will eventually lose our parents to old age or illness, no one in my family could even imagine the thought of Mom’s just not being there any more. My natural instinct at the time was to capture as many memories and details or her life on paper as I could from my singular, daughterly perspective. So, within the first few months following her death, I spent hours burning up the keys of my computer. The laser printer churned out my work of memorial to the earthly angel we called Mom, while I proceeded to purge, express, celebrate, and create her legacy. I reasoned that somewhere in these pages, my daughter (her only grandchild) and my daughter’s daughter may someday understand the stock of women from whence they came.

As noble as it may sound, however, I have today discovered that it will never be printed words or flowery expressions of memory that will provide a meaningful link to Mom’s existence. It will be the simple items she left behind that will remind us of her love for us.

Safely sheltered in the darkness of the closet of the spare bedroom at my parents’ home, the sewing basket’s ostensible need, created by my father’s simple request to hem some trousers, left me both flattered and honored with the transference of maternal duty from mother to daughter. My mother had been the person upon which Pop had relied for such domestic chores for fifty years. Since her passing, I tried to clean and straighten their home when visiting, attempting to sound and act practical and mature, while the overwhelming presence of my mother wafted from each room full of knick-knacks and specially placed furniture.

Discussions of Mom lessened as my family tried to cope while healing time passed. Today, many of us wouldn’t think twice about paying a fee to a department store or dry cleaner’s alterations department to hem a pair of trousers. My life was so busy at the time—full of two parent paychecks, soccer practices, and those much-needed fast food meals when we rationalized that our schedules leave us no time to shop, cook, or clean. Even though many of us “Baby Boomers” were spawned from a generation of stay-at-home moms who learned early on to express their love for their families by domestic doting, I doubt that I will ever possess the simple dedication to wifely and motherly duties exemplified by my mother and women like her.

As I carefully opened the blue wicker basket, its crevices seasoned with dust from years of service, I am first impressed by its orderliness. Under the calico patterned and pin-cushioned lid, a plastic tray sits atop its cache of contents, the crackled edges lovingly mended with duct tape. The usual sewing scissors and seam rippers lay untouched since Mom’s departure, and it suddenly occurred to me that some of these items are the very ones I used as a teenager during my sewing classes, at a time when “Home Economics” was required of junior high school girls. I am amazed now that I actually made clothes for myself at one time. Admiring handmade clothing sewn by teenagers—or even adults, for that matter— seems nowadays an activity relegated to state fairs, where these creations are displayed for throngs of city dwellers. We are fascinated by this dying art and awed by the time, concentration, and planning it must take to accomplish a fully completed handmade article, let alone the skill required to make garments appear “store-bought.”

Touching these elementary sewing implements somehow transported me to that awkward age. Mom was always there to compliment and mildly critique my handiwork. I could never determine whether her flattery on the speed with which I threw together an A-line skirt was merely an attempt to make me feel good about myself, or a prediction on how long it would take for my hastily-sewn clothes to fall apart. My creations were never made with the attention to detail and time it took for Mom to turn out her own masterpieces. Her seams were always straighter, her garments fit the wearer better, and the unmatched concentration she displayed seemed to result in a thing of beauty every time. Mom’s pat answer to my queries of why this was so was always the same. “It’s because it was made with so much love,” she would say, her eyes glistening. Of course, the depth of this statement was lost on a 14 year old, to be left unappreciated until I was a mother in my own right. More and more, I find myself wanting to echo lessons such as this to my own daughter, as she rushes through tasks at home with reckless abandon.

I search further into the basket’s depths. A box originally made for straight pins efficiently holds a collection of buttons gleaned from years of discarded dress shirts worn by the men in my family. An unopened supply of safety pins, price tag still attached, sits next to an almost depleted card of Velcro fasteners, a vague comment on the progress of human ingenuity. Various sewing machine screwdrivers and zipper attachments are hidden among thimbles and small boxes of machine needles.

As I lift up the tray to reveal a recess of valuable sewing notions, my nostrils are filled with the faint fragrance of mothballs, an aroma that instantly causes me to remember my immigrant grandmother’s apartment. I’d swear I hadn’t smelled that since I was a child, and now it was here to validate another grandmother’s existence. As I peer into the brightly lined basket, an entire collection of colored threads dares me to choose from its assortment. Naturally, the perfect color spool of cotton for repairing Pop’s trousers is contained there. Beneath it lies a thrifty little plastic bag with its zippered and closed top, boasting another collection of salvaged buttons. This time, however, the buttons are still attached to scraps of fabric, as if Mom’s time had become more precious to her in later years.

At the very bottom of the basket are two items that have no real reason to be there except for sheer sentimentality. Mom hadn’t used these items in years, but both looked as if they might have been brand new. One was an army-issued sewing box; a palm-sized cloth-covered container of army uniform-colored threads and buttons my dad must have carried with him during his years in the service. Mom had married Dad at the tender age of eighteen, the first boy she had ever been allowed to date. The pictures we have of our parents at the altar reveal my father in full World War II regalia. I’ll never forget my mother’s stories of how she blushingly presented her dashing lieutenant to her array of bobby-soxed girl friends. Little did she know at that time that she was on the threshold of life full of children, hard work and the kind of fulfillment she later claimed was made possible only through her faith in God and those she loved.

The remaining item was mine, and mine alone. A red velvet pincushion I had stuffed and made when I was six or seven (with the help of someone else’s mother to surprise my own) lay there, reminding me that I was indeed someone’s little girl. Its heart-shaped softness and white-tulle edges stared up at me, and Mom’s smile appeared in my mind. I could almost hear her, “overdoing” it with unmitigated praise of my creation, making me feel almost “icky” inside for presenting her with such a mundane gift on Valentine’s Day.

It has become important to me to try to carry on this legacy of love and service to others I inherited through the stories hidden for a while in Mom’s sewing basket. In an odd way, I think she must have known I would discover each and every item there, but I doubt she would have predicted that I would attach so much meaning to each one. Secretively slipping a simple sewing basket into my possession now seems to make more sense.

Sometimes it is the little, perhaps at first unnoticed, articles of daily family life which give us the most strength in times of confusion and despair. Through my newly-found connection to the treasure within Mom’s sewing basket, I can better understand my role as my mother’s daughter. And perhaps, if I try hard to carry on Mom’s legacy of giving and caring, my daughter may someday ask how I accomplish the things I do in our busy lives, and I can respond with, “…because it’s done with so much love.”

Finally ‘Getting” It About Diet and Exercise

At first it was just about me. I wanted to lose a few dress sizes by my daughter’s wedding next summer for purely vain reasons, having carried around extra pounds for years now – all cleverly hidden by long sweaters and thigh-length jackets. Once I began looking at how getting myself into shape benefits those I love, however, I began to see my how it affected much more than the one writing this.


Even though I have been lucky so far not experiencing any challenging illnesses or conditions, simple issues surrounding one’s health/weight can come as a sudden wake-up call, especially when blood work reveals unhealthy numbers for cholesterol, vitamin and thyroid health. My lab readouts were a bit disconcerting, forcing me to think long and hard about just how long and how badly I wanted to be around. Suddenly not taking care of me seemed to be a selfish act, prompting me to think about how my lack of self-care might affect the people around me.

I had to ask myself why I would consciously doom my loving partner in life to years and perhaps decades without me. Sure, he might find a suitable partner again, but I know in my heart he would be devastated for a good, long time if I took the dirt nap sooner rather than later. Even sadder to me, however, was the idea of denying future grandchildren the memory my reading them bedtime stories until they are old enough to roll their eyes over it, or being embarrassed by their “yiayia’s” screams at soccer games and sobs at their milestone events.

When I began to think of all the laughter and good times I would miss by checking out early just to avoid doing anything about my “weight” situation, it made me realize that taking care of myself is so much more than leaving butter off popcorn or passing up key lime pie at a dinner party. In the end, staying faithful to a regimen designed to reach your size/weight goals isn’t even about the goals themselves. It’s about the journey one takes to get there – one laden with life-altering realizations along the way. Here are a few I have been hit with through the first few weeks on my own path to better health:

• Drinking water is as important as breathing air. All those Facebook posters and slogans about what water does for you can’t be wrong. After all, I don’t think anyone gets rich over pushing water. There’s no money in it. My skin has improved; my hair is healthier, and everything that aids in my digestion is suddenly having a party.

• Exercise once a day gives you energy after it initially zaps it; I had no idea I could be so productive so late in the day. I actually have to tell myself to slow down so I can get drowsy enough to go to sleep.

• Sugar cravings can disappear in just a few days when protein becomes your friend. It’s weird.

• I am beginning to find that I have wasted precious mornings for decades. Finding ways to sleep until the last moment only robbed me of life-affirming walks in the fresh air that now jump-start my day. Besides, it feels great to brag to my trainer about having done it.

• Being aware of diet and exercise takes being in the moment to an entirely new level. You begin to live consciously, thinking about every morsel that enters your body and using muscles that have atrophied. Your body screams at you at first, asking you why it took you so frickin’ long to pay attention, but after awhile you look forward to seeing the changes that are taking place.

• The feeling of accomplishment of completing a successful day and sticking to your personal commitment to do this is like giving yourself a gift.

• I am kicking myself for not doing this sooner.