Archive for the 'vacation' Category

Far from the maddening crowds

We are far away from almost anything – yet we are also in the center of something called ‘local community,’ the kind of community that looks after is members, celebrates talents and instead of talking incessantly about why we are going to hell in a hand basket, is quietly farming the land.

Last night we went to a community talent show (Brooksville’s got talent) which took place in Buck’s Harbor’s community center which doubles as a basketball court. The show was a fundraiser for the West Brooksville Congregational Church. The newly appointed reverend, his wife and their two grandchildren opened the show, grandma with a fake beard, grandpa and grandson (8 maybe) with top hats and some costume I couldn’t quite place. The grandson was still new to performing and talking into a microphone. As a result I didn’t understand what the story or song (what was it?) was all about but it was cute and the audience was supportive.

After that a range of Brooksville citizens from young to old, some with amazing talent indeed, performed on a variety of instruments and in a variety of styles (modern, folk, Scottish). There was the accomplished guitarist with CDs in his CV, a rock band with what looked like mother and son, but also a line dance by two 7 year old girls who had not quite mastered the steps, a Hawaiian fishing and luau song, including a ukulele and matching outfits for grandma and granddaughter, and a poem for the oldest resident whose birthday wishes we heartily sung after her recital.

Our grandkids didn’t make I through the entire 12 act show. Faro kept eyeing the bake sale table with the kind of high sugar content items he is unlikely to get at home and Saffi because we had passed her bedtime and vacation can be tiresome.

The next day there was another evening of music, this time at an old farm with the musicians using the barn floor as their stage. Sita and Jim had performed in Belfast (ME) some years ago and knew some of the musicians.

As the sky turned various beautiful but menacing colors the adults knew what that meant. The 20 or so kids quickly understood as well that something exciting was going to happen and impatiently started chanting for rain. They were doing their first protest march with sticks and the stomping of their feet, chanting in unison: we want rain, we want rain! They, and all of us, got it but it didn’t matter. 

We moved into the barn and under the canopy of the food tent and simply kept going.  There was a keg of beer, huge jars of ice tea and lemonade, a bucket for donations, big pots of various wholesome foods and a suckling pig on a spit.  Our friends J and P who are renting a little further south joined us. We were the old people there – probably the only one who noticed the similarity with the 60s (the rain, an old farm, music?).  Only the mind altering substances appeared to be missing which was nice. 

Faro, after exploring some of the rusting old farm machinery scattered willy nilly in the field, joined the band of overexcited kids (most his age or a little older) and participated in the chanting. Axel, with is usual flair, introduced himself left and right, making the rounds as if he was a reporter, collecting the life stories of the (mostly) millennial with great gusto. When we left it was as if he was leaving a family reunion.  Everything we learned and experienced was hopeful.

When the chanting for rain started Saffi moved to the sidelines and watched the older kids in perplexed amazement, eyes wide as saucers. I would have loved knowing what was going on in her brain. I suspect that all the existing circuits  were lit and new ones forming on the spot; new circuits that had elements of watermelon, rain, music, and kids marching and chanting for rain; all thoroughly infused with a sense of intergenerational community, joy and safety; even the dogs that usually instill fear in her, made her laugh and approach (other little kids did it, that helped).

In the center

After a last swim in our hosts’ swimming pool, we made a visit to a Korean/Asian section of San Diego, had a pho lunch and explored the large Korean supermarket. Then it was time for goodbye and we ‘lyfted’ our way into the center of things yesterday. It was good we were in the suburbs while the big ComicCon (conference) was going on with hundreds of thousands of people who had flown in to enjoy/see and be merchandised all things comic (popular arts according to the banners on the streetlamps). 

The Lyft and Uber people were having a field day even though the electric scooters and bikes  were competing with their business and became a bit of a traffic hazard. Our Lyft drivers have been great – we learned about the Chaldeans from Iraq (“why would I ever wanted to go back there?”), the conference from Dani who seemed to be half Vietnamese half Filipino (we didn’t ask), we dragged up our Lebanese and sang along with a Fairouz song with Mike Mohammed, our Palestinian driver who grew up in Lebanon. Why would one ever want to rent a car (in a city), when all these great characters are there to converse with?

We ambled along the curving paths in the Japanese Friendship garden of Balbao Park, Axel with his cane and me with my sore ankle, we made a sorry pair – elderly some would say, ughh. Befitting this label we went for the early bird dinner at the Fishmarket restaurant right at the harbor where we sampled and compared east coast and west coast oysters. After a coffee and gelato in Little Italy we had a superb foot massage around the corner of our hotel to tend to our sore feet. 

And now I am having a seaweed (picked up at the Korean market), dark chocolate and coffee breakfast in our spacious downtown hotel room while Axel completes his sleep. I am attending a refresher session of the zoom-delivered C-IQ training on how to ‘humanize’ conversations. If I get one of the gigs I am hoping to get in early September, facilitating a meeting with several very highly placed people from different walks of life, I have to know how to do this and so a refresher is in order.

Oysters and faint memories of work


We are enjoying the beauty of the Cape and the bounty of its oysters. Last night we brought a dozen home. I tried to shuck them but made a mess and Axel took over. How did people learn, way back when, that inside this hard shell was this slimy thing that would become a delicacy? How did they open the shells without oyster knives and Kevlar gloves (and no emergency room nearby)? 

As we usually do when we attend Cape Cod Institute sessions, we talk a lot. It is what makes this such a rich experience. There are moments when I forget that I don’t have to go to work next Monday and that we can keep living like this – wake up together, have breakfast together, go for a walk together, and keep talking. Such things used to be weekend luxuries. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind me this is for real. Of course the missing pay check, every second Friday will pinch us, but I am not too worried about that, at least for this calendar year. A few income generating opportunities are have popped up on the horizon. Some of those have disappeared, but a few (small ones) look like they will stay: one to Japan and one to Zambia. The latter a place I have never been to.

We made arrangements for Axel to accompany me to Japan. It will be a familiar routine: I work and he plays, though we will get to play a bit together as well. We arrive Thursday afternoon. I am busy on Saturday afternoon, Sunday and Monday morning and afternoon. Tuesday afternoon we fly back to Boston.

Next week I will start thinking and talking about the modalities of my new, not quite retired, phase.  There is the choice of how to operate: my own LLC, a partner in my daughter’s LLC, independent consultant. I am consulting with financial, tax and legal experts to figure out what to do. Then I have to figure out how many days of the year I want to work – definitely not full-time. And then the contracting can begin while I sort out my website, new business cards, logo, name, etc. I am very lucky that I have a daughter who does this as a business. I offered to be a training project for my son-in-law who she is training to be a graphic design partner in her venture, Align Graphics. 

The beauty of so much

I still wake up at 4:30 AM. I then realize I don’t have to get up and roll over. But at 5:30 I am really wide awake. Instead of the morning routine that has me out of the house and into the car to work by 5:30AM, I can now make myself a cup of tea and write, or go for a walk. There is that liberating feeling of not having to do something; making choices for this, not that.

It is our second morning on the Cape. A friend of a friend lent us her cottage in Brewster for the week. We are attending a week long course offered by the Cape Cod Institute’s summer program. The courses are mostly for therapists to satisfy their professional CEU requirements. Over the last 39 years this program has been led by Gil Levine who finally handed the baton to his son. We have known Gil for nearly half of those years. It has been one of our favorite learning experiences as a couple: classes from 9-12 and then play in the afternoons. The playing has included kayaking, biking, talking and digesting the material offered to us over a simple lunch consisting of smoked fish and good bread and wine, reading, writing, drawing, walking, followed at day’s end with a sundowner somewhere on this magnificent peninsula.  We always camped at the Audubon campground in Wellfleet. This year is the first we are not camping or biking – our bodies not quite up to the experience. 

Classes are held at the Nauset Regional High School in Eastham, here we have sat at the feet of some of the great pioneers of OD, leadership and coaching: Marvin Weisbord, Ed Schein, the Seashores, Meg Wheatley and many others. The OD offerings are a bit slim this year and this may well be the focus of a piece of writing one day.

Because of the many snow days the high school is still in session which makes for an interesting mix of young energy and white haired elders. This is probably also the reason why the invasion of New Yorkers hasn’t started and so the Cape feels wonderfully quiet and restful. 

When the date was set for my final day at MSH (June 15) Axel suggested we celebrate this on the Cape and attend Linda Graham’s course on the neuroscience of coping and bouncing back after disappointment and catastrophe.  Axel has been re-reading her book (Bouncing Back) that we both read after the crash. It is bringing back many memories but especially the ones that we know were responsible for our bouncing back: the healing power of community, the circles of friends, family, acquaintances and sometimes total strangers who built a scaffold around us so we could focus on healing our bodies and our minds. We are learning why EMDR (a therapy technique that is used especially to address trauma) works. EMDR helped me to stop the endless replaying of the last few minutes before the crash in my mind, wishing a different ending, the ruminating that happens somewhere deep inside the brain. EMDR is still helping Axel with memories loaded with emotional charges that are stuck in his mind, predating the crash by decades.

We may no longer do the camping, kayaking, or biking but we are enjoying the good life: learning, friendships, the beauty of the Cape and good food, especially Wellfleet oysters and a glass of good wine.

Dance as if everyone is watching

On Sunday morning we moved out of our cozy boutique hotel in Leiden and went to its opposite, an enormous and posh beach resort in Scheveningen,  one of the old grand seaside hotels from another century.  Axel thought they used the adjective ‘luxurious’ a bit too often and our upgrade to an executive suite made us feel special until we saw the room which seemed more of a run-of-the-mill room than anything ‘executive.’ An enormous seagull greeted us, clearly expecting some kind of offering as s/he was used to. There was none to be had.

We took a long walk along the beach, bent over against the strong winds which are common during this time of the year. Contrary to our neck of the woods where the seas are empty, here there was a lot to see: there was a race of large sailboats in the distance and nearby there were the windsurfers (storm surfers I’d call them) and kite surfers. The latter were fun to watch as they raced to and from the beach making enormous jumps into the air. I would have been ready to sign on for a lesson if I’d had the necessary gear.

In the evening we attended another show, Good (old) Times: Into My Arms with my older brother as a performer (of of three men, the most to the left in the picture). It is a modern dance performance of an amateur group of 55+ year old dancers, on the theme of discovering self and being at ease with whatever the state, shape and size of one’s body. This was the second time I saw him perform. My brother started (modern) dancing late in life. He is now 70+ and I am mighty proud. It was a moving performance.

On Monday we met up with friends who we first hang out with in Beirut in the 1970s and who have now settled down in Scheveningen. We visited a fairly new (private) museum of modern art (Voorlinden) that I had first visited in November and was anxious to show to Axel. It’s one of the rare musea not easily accessible with public transport. The stormy and rainy weather ruled out renting bikes, and so the ride with our friends worked out perfectly. The museum reminded us a bit of Mass Moca in North Adams (MA) – a combination of playful and reflective art.

Monday night we visited my nephew the theater technician, his Scottish wife and their young son who is completely bilingual, the only one of my siblings’ grandchildren with whom Faro could talk right away – we hope one day to bring them together as they’re roughly the same age.

By Tuesday the end of our whirlwind trip to Holland was in sight, regrettably. We packed up and made our way to my friend’s house in Aalsmeer, at a stone’s throw from Schiphol airport for our last dinner and night, early rise and check in for our very empty flight back to Boston.

Memories, mortality and a midsummer’s night

Saturday morning I joined a three of my erstwhile housemates for a breakfast reunion. I am the only one still married – one has been divorced for a long time and the other two are widows.  The men we were dating when we lived together in our student house, and later married (and the one I divorced), have all died of cancer (intestinal and pancreatic) before their 70th birthday – that makes for a 100% mortality rates of our men back then.  Was it the enormous amounts of alcohol male students consumed? The smoking? Or simply bad luck and chance? It makes one think.

We visited our old house and dared each other to ring the bell to see if we could take a look. A young Irish couple now live on the ground floor. I think we woke them up. Nevertheless they were gracious enough to show us around, including their bedroom – something rather unheard of as I remember. Their front room was my first room, the bedroom was F’s. We giggled and exclaimed as excited old ladies can, pointing out where the first encounters with our now dead mates took place. For some it was an emotional trip down memory lane.

The next part of the day was devoted to the reunion of the women’s student association which merged with the boys’ club one year after I joined, thus making my cohort and the next forever the ‘young ones.’ I caught up with people I hadn’t seen in 40 years, found out who was retired, who was not and who was ‘playing’ Sinterklaas (Santa) with their own or other people’s monies, reinforcing once more my belief that there is no lack of money in the world.

We listening to a very inspiring ‘sustainability’ activist, a young woman who founded Urgenda, trying to get Holland to do more to turn back CO2 emissions and even took the Dutch government successfully to court for irresponsible behavior in the face of undeniable facts on global warming. I wonder whether this would be possible in the US – irresponsible behavior is rather blatant and our influence is big, much bigger than little Holland. I was very inspired by her practical and creative approach to get people to do their share of the effort that will and can turn back the clock. A familiar cabaret from the late 60s by a friend of my sister who started her professional cabaret career in Leiden and was now grooming the next generation, had us all pull out the stops to sing along the melodies and words we remembered. Afterwards we split into smaller groups and dined together for a more intimate reunion and catching up.

To complete the day I caught a ride to Scheveningen where I joined Axel and my nephew and his wife and child for an extraordinary performance of Purcell’s The Fairie Queen (based on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night Dream) with music by the Dutch Blazers (Wind) Ensemble and the story told in a light-hearted way through enormous puppets. My nephew does is one of the technicians and provided us with complimentary tickets.

The good life in Leiden

A week trip is actually only 6 days/nights, with the two transatlantic crossings, and so it went much too fast. On Thursday we settled into our lovely little boutique hotel on the main canal (Rapenburg) in Leiden, and then hurried to Scheveningen to see my sister and her husband in the construction site that will become their new house – only the heating system was installed, to help with the drying of the plaster. For the rest it required a great deal of imagination to see what they had bought. Decades long unpruned bushes had grown into large and ugly trees that towered the house. One had fallen over in the near hurricane that swept over Holland some weeks ago. But in this town you cannot just cut a tree, even if it used to be a small bush – once the diameter of the trunk exceeds a number of centimeters it is considered a tree, ugly or not, and you have to ask for a special permission which can take months.

In the evening we obeyed Tessa’s rules about researching where you are going to eat but the number 1 and 2 wouldn’t let us in without a reservation, and reservations wouldn’t be taken until Sunday night, when we would have moved on already. Later we discovered that it was a special ‘dinner’ week during which participating restaurants offer 3-course prix fixe dinners hoping to attract people to go out during what is otherwise a very dead time of the year. We learned our lesson and reserved for the next night in the first restaurant that was actually taking reservations – it was not participating in the week’s specials. It was the most expensive dinner I can remember, but memorable indeed, if not for the amazingly creative cuisine and skilled plating, then also for the young and inexperienced waitress who dumped a fancy champagne/liqueur cocktail over one of the guests. The girl was mortified and close to tears for the rest of the evening. We kept smiling to here, sending oxytocin her way in the hope of counteracting the high levels of cortisol; a practical application of all the neurochemistry I have learned this past year.

September 2018
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