Re-Entering Yangon, Myanmar

IMG_9969What does travel to the controversial destination of Myanmar (or Burma, as some still affectionately call it) mean today as a US citizen? It means getting a raised eyebrow from the Verizon Wireless salesman when you ask if your travel pass will work, as he fidgets saying, “um, well that country’s not supported.” It means signing on with a well-established tour company. It means getting a visa far ahead of time. It means loading up on cow colostrum. It means getting a flu shot. And it means landing in at least one other country (ours was Singapore) before reaching Yangon.IMG_9946

And for me personally, it means walking out of a Singapore Airlines flight this morning to the same musty smell and moist heat that I experienced on my last trip here to Yangon (Rangoon) back in May 1997 as a newlywed with my husband Rob. A lot has certainly changed since then. It was so much more deserted and empty back then, and Aung San Suu Kyi was still under a form of house arrest, a mere 6 years after earning her Nobel Peace Prize for her work as a defender of human rights here in Yangon, in response to military brutality. Today she is State Counsellor (similar to being Prime Minister) of Myanmar.

During my college days (1987-1991) I was tangentially involved with Amnesty International and her struggle was paramount back then.  She was a Gandhi, a Joan of Arc, an Evita, a champion of doing the right thing in the face of so much wrong. She personified human rights to college-age me.

Now, I stand as a mom of three, as they stamp my visa and passport and allow me into this country once again. My parents and I are warmly greeted by a man in a long skirt who smiles and thanks us for coming to visit his country. His gratitude has an urgency to it as he gushes,  “It is so important to have visitors now, especially now, your visit means so much for our country.” He is referring to the recent military events that have happened up north and how that has so negatively affected tourism to this country.

But we are here, my eager and adventurous parents and I, to explore this country that has suffered so much under such a corrupt government. Our guide proclaims, “we are better now, we are the 13thmost corrupt government. For a long time we were 2nd, behind Somalia,” he pipes up optimistically, smiling his biggest smile. I try to echo his optimism as I let his statistics sink in.

I change the topic and inquire about the yellow paste I spy on so many Burmese faces out the van window and am quickly told it’s Thanaka. We are then given a lesson in how to apply it while we are checking into our hotel, as we sip ginger concoctions through lemongrass straws and settle into the intimate allure of this space along with the smell of wafting incense. Our other guide rolls the bark onto a smooth stone and she adds a little water to create a paste. IMG_9958I find it calming and clever and realize that this is a lot like what I used to do when I was 8 years old playing pretend in the backyard, crushing stones with Krista Jones and applying the powder like it was make up. The bark is a natural sunscreen and also a skin smoother. Later on at Scott market I can’t resist buying a container of the stuff for a dollar.

We settle into our lavish teak bedrooms complete with mosquito netting adorned beds, IMG_9979then manage foot sugar scrubs and a swim before sauntering off to Bogkok Aung San Market, (aka Scott market) to hunt for jade and gold, clothing, fabrics and purses. The prices are extremely low and we buy a a few items. But my real focus is on the pink dresses and shaved heads of the young nuns who seem to be everywhere in the market. IMG_9998The youngest girl looks to be about 4 years old. I give them as much kyat (Burmese currency) as I have in my purse.

We finally birth our way out of the market, all the more sweatier for it, IMG_0007and head to The Strand Hotel. It has been 21 years and I wanted to see if it had changed since our stay there just after it’s first restoration in the 90’s. (Coincidentally it just underwent yet another facelift in 2016 and is now even more polished, and has a pool and is much busier, that’s for sure.)

Then we head back to the sanctuary of our hotel, the Belmond Governor’s Residence located in the quiet tree-lined embassy section of Yangon to nap. Boy my parents have a lot of energy! We are lulled to sleep by the jasmine and sandalwood scented serenity that this hotel provides.

When we wake, we watch a movie about Ang San Suu Kyi entitled “The Lady.” I cry three times at such stoic bravery and selfless choices made for her country.

Afterwards, we dine alfresco in the soothingly warm, still, humid night air on a teak porch surrounded by floating lotus flowers and small shimmering green ceramic tiles which line the pool’s shallow floor. IMG_0023It could be 1921. Nothing except our cell phones tell us otherwise.

It’s the end of our first day in Buddhist Burma, and it’s also Halloween 2018. And I realize that the only costumes I saw today were real ones, small, pink and dusty. And worn every single day…and not necessarily by choice. 🇲🇲IMG_9985

Visiting Cuba Safely, as an American in 2018

The somber, quieter Havana that I experienced on a pre-normalized U.S. relations trip in April 2013 with my parents is now a louder, more robust one. Construction cranes hover high above halfway-built hotels in Old Havana, in large part thanks to the thaw in diplomatic relations furthered by Obama in July 2015. IMG_2550Meanwhile trucks and handcarts compete for space along narrow roads. Russian LADAs from the 1980’s mix in to the scene with mint-condition classic American cars from the 1950’s, all shiny and colorful.

This time instead of paying homage to our family history here, I brought our daughter Emily, a sophomore at Boston College, to show her how truly safe and stunning it can be to explore Havana.

 And thankfully Emily fell in love, as I already had, with this tarnished gem full of architecture frozen in time, whispering what once was and beckons at what could be again. Possibility is written across the facade of every magnificent crumbling building.

Cuba, as I hoped Emily could see, is a living, breathing lesson of communism and socialism, a mere 90 miles from Key West, Florida. “But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated,” as Hemingway once wrote. The Cuban people have been through so much oppression and destruction, but what we saw in their eyes and from their lips on our visit was far from defeat.

And although not admitting failure, the government of this Caribbean island nation under communist rule is clearly recognizing the value of tourism, and relaxing its grip on the country. But yes, I could still feel the socialist stranglehold in places that hurt my spoiled American self, like the scratch-off government issued WiFi cards that we had to buy to get a fleetingly precious hour of connectivity in our hotel.

We stayed at the Hotel Mercure Sevilla in the heart of Old Havana, just down the street from the Capitol.

This afforded us the chance to throw open our giant corner room windows each morning (what building codes?) to take in the sights and sounds of this charming neighborhood. There were birds chirping in the trees along Paseo del Prado (picture Barcelona’s Las Ramblas), red-uniformed children laughing and playing, ballerinas pirouetting between wide open yellow windows of the famous National Ballet school next door and salsa dancing captivated us from across the way.

As we drank our morning cortado, I felt a bit high from the exhaust rising up from the street resembling a classic car parade (what emissions inspections?). It’s certainly less claustrophobic and more “cowboy” here, and it reminded me of the freedom and possibility I felt when I lived as an expat in Saigon in the 1990’s. I was also reminded that the loneliness of being a foreigner can be mitigated by open-air buildings and welcoming neighborhoods.

So yes, our location was ideal, and so inviting—with balmy rustling palms, a lively band and wafting cigar smoke encircling dancers in the open-air salmon-colored courtyard.

It felt as if Hemingway himself would round the corner at the bar, with a mojito in hand. He had indeed stayed here, many years ago. But with all that said, Cuba still has rough around its edges—our toilet backed up each day, the beds had no blankets, the elevator broke down (yes, while we were in it), and the smell of mold and mildew overpowered us each time we approached our door.

But we took it all in stride. Safe? Yes, we felt safe here. And our U.S. Embassy was open, albeit minimally staffed. I felt like I’d entered a small town that took their time with everything and everyone. There was always a long wait at the front desk, but only because the receptionist staff was taking their time with each individual. They seemed to know how to relax, even while working.

The hotel maids were the same way, lounging around the hallways chatting and smiling. Then we’d walk into our room to find that that they had not only left it spotless, but had turned our bathroom towels into insanely ornate animals with long hand-written notes wishing us a great day.

I wanted to find the secret, to learn from them, from each person we met. I might be an uptight, impatient American but I too could learn how to relax and be cool, be Cuban. Perhaps this was what Hemingway was after too, to be in on all this Cuban coolness and to find the ability to simply relax and enjoy life as they do. Perhaps this is why my great-grandfather was lured here in the 40’s to open up his nightclub at 1 Bernaza Street, a few doors down from La Floridita.

I wish our governments could finally relax and trust, the way Emily and I did on this trip.

And as American tourists, we felt compelled to visit the requisite sights: cabaret show at the Tropicana,

canon-firing ceremony at night atop the old Spanish fortress, sitting with Hemingway’s statue at La Floridita, IMG_8830the fascinating Gaudi-like Fusterlandia,

“the happy son of Sugarcane,” tour at Havana Club Rum factory,

standing in Revolution Square staring up at the image of their beloved Che,

taking in the Gulf of Mexico vista from the Malecon,

Plaza Vieja, Cathedral Square, seeing chicken sacrifices in the Havana Forest along the Almendares River, IMG_2443San Franciso de Asis Square, Obispo street, Hotel Nacional,

and Hemingway’s “Finca Vigia” (lookout house).

In between sights, we ate long leisurely meals with mojitos at local paladares (private restaurants) and also in a few government restaurants, to learn the difference.

The garden on the rooftop of one paladar in particular, showcased Cuban ingenuity and resourcefulness with greenery growing beautifully out of old toilets, bathtubs, and sinks.


We also noticed are so many more European and Canadian tourists, thanks in large part to European cruise ships in port. Havana, especially Old Havana, is being slowly refurbished, but that bump in investment that occurred since Obama’s 2015 relaxation of the ban has been scaled back since Trump’s hardline speech in mid-2017. Living conditions are still extremely difficult, and so much of the breathtaking Spanish-colonial architecture is literally disintegrating, having had almost no upkeep since the revolution of 1959.

We had a truly magnificent dining experience with a wonderful fellow AirBnB traveler from Nevada at La Guarida, the best paladar in Havana. We dined on rabbit and mojito, at this remote mansion where Jack Nicholson and countless other celebrities had dined before us.

Midway through our meal, some Americans from California smiled toward us from the neighboring table, reveling in our mutual good fortune at being here in Havana, happy, safe and supporting the Cuban people, in spite of the recent cooling of diplomatic relations.

But the best moments of the trip by far were those spent walking along the pastel-colored streets of Havana with Emily, day and night, feeling cradled in that delicious small-town sensation.

One night we walked down to the Malecon seawall at sunset, where we were immediately enveloped by musicians and fishermen. It felt like we were part of one big happy block party full of Spanish guitars and African drums.

We also took advantage of a few AirBnB experiences. During one of them we spent an afternoon with Josue, who charmed us with his cowboy hat and story of his family’s 1954 Chevy, affectionately called Marilyn.

The vintage cherry red convertible was his grandfather’s, who had named it after Marilyn Monroe. Apparently Josue’s grandparents used to argue a lot over how much time his grandfather spent polishing the car each night in hopes that when Marilyn Monroe arrived to Cuba, she would come take a ride in it. As the story goes, one night his grandmother got so fed up that he wouldn’t come in for dinner (because he was too busy polishing Marilyn) that she locked the door and made him sleep in the car overnight.

Our favorite moment with Josue was our heart to heart conversation over coffee at Café Fortuna in Miramar about his family, his love for Cuba and it’s nightlife. He sold us on La Fábrica de Arte Cubano (La Fabrica, for short), housed in an old cooking oil factory in Vedado since 2014. A close second was our drive with him along the Melecon at sunset, with Hotel California playing on the radio (and cool winds in our hair).

Seeing Havana through Josue’s eyes while listening to his open and honest love of his family and his country was priceless. He has never left Cuba, and has no interest in doing so. That was food for thought.

We also loved it when he drove us up to Morro Castle, where we felt the influence of 400 years of Spanish colonialism most profoundly. He showed us the precarious cliff (not a guardrail in sight, mind you) that held so many wonderful memories from his youth (and drop dead views of Havana and the Gulf of Mexico too).

IMG_8886Then we stood beside El Cristo de Havana, which is a large statue of Christ overlooking Havana (think Christ the Redeemer in Rio) before we saw La Cabana de Che Guevara.

The nearby statue of hand-holding, symbolizes, according to Josue, how Cuban people only have each other to hold on to in the face of hardship.IMG_2389

And yes, with so much taken away under the Castro dictatorship, all they had was each other to depend on. The same is true of all the devastating hurricanes this island has had to endure. And now with the growing influx of tourists, I hope that they continue to lean on each other and appreciate the power and the gift of their small community.

Emily truly impressed me with her poise, as she keenly navigated our way along the picturesque streets of Old Havana.

As we explored different neighborhoods, we could feel that strong sense of community and it was so comforting. We felt such genuine kindness and helpful attitudes in every Cuban we met. And I now realize, that is the thing that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s the feeling that the guidebooks don’t tell you or can’t quite explain. The whole town feels a bit like a family reunion, with the same kind, helpful faces popping up at every turn.

Even with over 2 million residents, we kept running into the same people all over the city. And that small town feeling was better than all the rum, coffee, cigars and sights put together.

I hope that no matter what the future holds for Cuba, especially in this ever-increasing climate of tourism, that they can retain their powerful sense of community. It is what gives them strength and protection in the face of oppression and natural disasters.

Jet Blue took us back to JFK, on International Women’s Day, where we touched down between Nor’easters, in the land of snow and cold,

bringing back only our warm memories of Havana, our slightly better Spanish, rum, cigars, coffee and yes, a much greater love for Cuba and it’s people.

To ensure that your tourist dollars are being directed toward the Cuban people, not their government, please follow these tips when you are ready to book your trip:

  1. Buy a ticket on Jet Blue out of JFK, it’s direct and inexpensive, but be prepared for a long wait at the “CUBA Help Desk” thanks to current diplomatic relations.
  2. When prompted, select “Support for the Cuban People” when making your reservation.
  3. Use AirBnB to book a room or apartment (I prefer superhosts.)
  4. When you get to Cuba make sure to eat in paladars (they are better than government restaurants)
  5. Bring cash to cover your stay since U.S. credit and debit cards are not accepted in Cuba.
  6. Buy handicrafts from self-employed shopkeepers.
  7. Get to know the difference between Cuban Peso Convertibles and Cuban Pesos. To get an authentic (and far less expensive) experience, look to the shops that sell things to the locals in pesos, not convertibles.IMG_2646
  8. And if you decide to hire a guide, do so privately (one option is: Enrique Nunez: cell: 535-391-3768


Transportation: I like Jet Blue if you are coming from Florida or New York.

Hotels: Hotel Mercure Sevilla, Hotel Nacional, AirBnB’s, Ambos Mundos (especially the top floor), Hotel Inglaterre.

Attractions/sightseeing: Tropicana, Havana Club Museum of Rum tour, Revolution Square, Old square, Cathedral square, San Francisco de Asis Square, La Bodeguita del Medio, La Floridita, Hemingway’s house, Fusterlandia, Callejon de Hamel sociocultural project,

Morro Castle and Cristo de la Habana (Christ of Havana).

Restaurants & Bars: La Moneda Cubana (rooftop Paladar), 12 Apostles, La Guarida, Paladar Café Laurent , El Rum Rum de la Habana on calle Empedrado, La Flauta Magica, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and the fairly empty American Embassy.



Winter Break in Barbados

The easternmost Caribbean island of Barbados, located just 250 miles northeast of Trinidad & Tobago, landed back on my winter getaway map after the havoc of the 2017 hurricane season left it unscathed. You do need a passport to visit this island nation which boasts warm sunny weather year-round and a dry season from January to June. A British colony since 1627, Barbados achieved independence in 1966, allowing it to be an independent state within the Commonwealth Nations.

As a lifelong disciple of Bermuda, I had only been to Barbados once before, on my high school spring break with my parents. I had some fond memories of it and of the house we had rented and of visiting Crane Beach. I remember celebrating the golden sunsets and the sunburn I got from playing lacrosse on the front lawn with my best friend, Joanna.

So I booked a mother-daughter trip on the direct Jet blue flight, determined to surf and explore the island with our 15 year-old daughter, Audrey, for her high school winter break. We landed in this tropical oasis on February 20, 2018, affectionately termed “the rock” in reference to it’s coral core and volcanic creation and were welcomed by gentle trade winds and vibrant colors.

Upon disembarking the plane in Barbados, the similarities to Bermuda began assaulting my senses: the fragrant mix of coral caves, frangipani trees, and farmlife; the harrowing feel of those roundabouts; the sound of the public buses revving at every stop and the warm lilting yet formal accents of its people; the comforting sight of churches and colorful houses in every parish; and the tastes of rum, mixing with freshly caught mahi-mahi and truly fresh fruit. That island colonial feel that is such a part of Bermuda is still noticeable in Barbados, with familiar British influences everywhere I turned.

We rented an Isuzu D-Max pick up truck the color of the ocean, from the only car rental spot at the airport, Drive-a-Matic, and drove off to our hotel in Christ Church Parish. I think I put the wipers on 15 times in that 15 min drive, in my attempt to get used to driving a car where I sat on the right hand side to drive on the left hand side of the road. I was so nervous that I was frantic, especially at those tricky and ubiquitous roundabouts.

We somehow navigated safely along those crazy narrow bumpy roads to get to our hotel, Ocean Two, positioned at the edge of Dover Beach, a short walk to the hopping nightlife of St. Lawrence Gap.

We settled in and got a fantastic room overlooking the ocean, and an empty wave, with it’s own kitchen and large balcony. IMG_1861We went to the rooftop to watch the sun drop into the horizon and it was truly magnificent.

I then attempted to watch the Olympics, because I wanted to see Lindsey Vonn race, but was met with futility. My frustration was met with Barbadian (Bajan) balm and all the air was taken out of my sails. Perhaps the welcoming rum punch and the humid sea salty air contributed, but whatever it was, it was wonderful and I was glad for it.

The next day Audrey and I woke up and met the kind driver from Calabaza Sailing charters in our lobby. He drove us to Bridgetown to board a beautiful spacious catamaran for a five hour lunch cruise. The staff was stellar, captained by Danny who was extremely funny and helpful and assisted by Chris and Cody, who filled us with local knowledge, like how to play cricket, and served us non-stop delicious food and drinks. It was most certainly the royal treatment. There are plenty of other tours you can take but this one caps the number of guests at 12 so it is an intimate and personal experience that made it exceed our expectations.

The snorkeling, which included all gear, was wonderful and had us hovering over shipwrecks, which were close enough to the surface to make for easy picture-taking, and we loved seeing the sea turtles, tropical fish and even starfish. We anchored at Sandy Lane beach for a while to take in the stunning west coast scenery there. Audrey hopped on a jet ski for a thrilling ride when one pulled up alongside the boat.IMG_1952

We made it back to our hotel salty, relaxed and much more in island mode than we’d been before the cruise. I meandered next door to pick up the two surf boards I’d arranged with Barry’s Surf School and met a cool monkey named Lucky there, then took a board out at sunset, alone.

It was a fire wire 9’1 and as I sat astride it staring at one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, a rainbow appeared to my right, then a large sea turtle popped it’s head out of the water to my immediate left and I honestly sat in awe at this paradise I had found myself in. Then behind me some local Bajans were short boarding and whooping it up as they carved and glided, at one with the wave. The water was so warm, so perfect, then the sky filled with puffy pink and blue clouds and I felt as if I’d just gone to heaven. I wasn’t catching many waves, but I was too taken with my new surroundings to care.

We ate at Cocktail Kitchen, in the lively little jewel known as St. Lawrence Gap, because we’d heard he was the best chef on the island. We sat at the bar, and I highly recommend the coconut ceviche and alfredo pasta. The place had an awesome vibe. Then we had the tricky business of driving home in the dark without hitting pedestrians or the curb.

Our second full day in Barbados began with an epic surf session at Freights Bay, thanks to the care and planning of Barry’s Surf School. It’s best to arrange surf packages (which can include airport pick up/drop offs at the airport) in advance of your stay. Christie, Barry’s wife and business partner, is organized, responsive and very easy to work with. I loved the boards, especially the 9’1” Modern, and all were in excellent condition. I will certainly go back to do their five or seven day package next time.

Barry took the greatest care with his surfing students and was a true gentleman in and out of the water. It makes sense that he has a successful business and is highly respected here on the island. He’s a born and raised Bajan with a pretty cool history—his great uncle, Colonial Banfield, helped choose the Barbados flag that flies over the island today!

Barry and his instructor, Andrew provided an easygoing vibe in the water and I felt safe and learned quite a few new things while we were out there catching waves at Freights.

It was also drop dead gorgeous out there, especially when surfers appeared above us on the coral cliff, poising in defiant silhouette, short boards held like shields, before leaping into the churning ocean far below. I will always have that mental picture, but I was too busy catching waves to capture it.

The Sargasso Sea “moss”, as Andrew called it, was clumping up near us while sea turtles seemed to play in the waves like fellow surfers. I was back to Ocean Two in time for lunch with Audrey followed by some beach and shopping time. We especially liked the Dover Market in front of our hotel for local homemade chocolates, groceries, sunscreen and trinkets and the quaint and colorful Chattel House Village where we found colorful handmade jewelry and wooden turtles to buy.

We went by taxi over to the west end of the island to watch the sunset and dine at Sandy Lane Hotel’s L’Acajou restaurant, overlooking the beach. We had made the reservation in advance and arranged to come early for a drink and to watch the sunset. I have always wanted to see what all the fuss was about with this hotel. Why do Tiger Woods, Simon Cowell, and Rihanna like it that much? And well, OK to be honest I was hoping to run into my all time favorite, Mark Wahlberg as he strolled along the beach. And although we didn’t have any celebrity sightings, Audrey gave the place a big thumbs up after our deliciously indulgent meal.

For me, Sandy Lane felt like one giant pink upholstered chair perched on a just-polished marble floor, flanked by century old trees straight off a southern plantation. As my dad puts it so well “the whole place seems so precious, like it doesn’t belong beside a beach.” But there it stands, “a club by virtue of its price”, meticulously maintained, in over the top decadence and luxury.

The trees are what took me—they envelope the entire property and are so magnificent and magical, and so seemingly out of place. Sandy Lane also smells amazing—they must pipe it in somehow.

Our third day included more surfing in the care of Barry’s, this time at the protected break in neighboring Dover Beach. The swell had gotten bigger and I was just shy of brave enough to surf the waves directly out in front of the hotel. Nonetheless, I surfed some fun waves when the sets rolled in at Dover.

Afterwards, Audrey and I drove over to The Crane Resort to re-visit that place I remembered from my youth. It had changed a lot but still had that breathtaking view of the ocean from the cliff and that pool with the columns around it. So I stood by the pool and Audrey took a picture—its hard to resist a good “then and now” moment. IMG_2277

After we ate lunch at L’Azure we drove over to Enterprise Beach to check out Café Luna at Little Arches. What a great spot that is. We got back to our hotel just in time for a quick rainstorm that felt like a mini-vacation from our vacation.

Then we drove over to Oistins Fish Fry, to eat some pretty fabulous fish, hot off the grill with Bajan seasoning, from Pat’s Place, while taking in the atmosphere of live music and a mostly local crowd. Oistins is the most crowded and liveliest on Friday nights, so we chose that night to go. There were so many food stalls to choose from but we’d gotten a good tip from Barry to eat at Pat’s Place so that was where we hunkered down to eat our tuna and mahi-mahi at an open air picnic tables under a tent.

The heady mixture of warm sun, sandy surf, salty sea air and slower pace had begun to work its magic on us, and relaxation arrived, like a long lost relative. We couldn’t fight it even if we tried. The fresh food, especially the fish, were so flavorful and made us feel lighter and healthier while the local Banks beer was refreshing and the rum drinks were delicious. And after all that fresh air and sunshine, we were sleeping long deep sleeps.

The fourth day was the last one of surfing fun waves with Barry’s, getting familiar with the reef break right out in front. Audrey and I indulged in massages, which they offered on the balcony of our room for total convenience. It was great to listen to the waves during the treatment!

Then we hopped into our truck and drove north, winding our way all the way up to the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, arriving in time for the 2pm feeding. It was magnificent to be surrounded by free-roaming green monkeys, tortoises and peacocks while we just tried to take the whole scene in.

We also saw a Mara (a startling cross between a rabbit and a deer that made me think of Alice in Wonderland) and alligators.

We took the scenic route back to Christ Church parish, by way of the jaw-dropping view from Cherry Tree Hill and then Lewis Morgan Mill, before making our way along the feisty pounding surf of the east coast.

We had plenty of blind steep hairpin turns that took our breath away before and after we reached the truly breathtaking rock formations of Bathsheba. It should made a mandatory part of a visit to the island. We stopped to look north at the top the hill as we wove up and out of Bathsheba and I’m so happy that we did.

We got back to our hotel just in time for sunset, and I can safely say that I had finally mastered the art of driving on the left.

Dinner at Castaway’s was delicious. Sit on the second floor balcony and you will not be disappointed, as it has a great view overlooking the clear shallow green water that laps at the Gap.

Our final day was one of pure relaxation. Audrey sunbathed and swam in the pool while I surfed and swam in the ocean. To each her own. I got waves—clear turquoise waves that crashed over the shallow reef bottom while sea turtles popped their cute heads up while sounds of tinkling steel drums drifted out from shore. I was clad in just a bathing suit and rashguard, a far cry from wetsuit land, and had basically worn the wax off my board, but somehow I had the ocean all to myself, except for an occasional skiff and jetski. It was magical. I took a few breaks, to hydrate with a freshly cut coconut or jump in the pool but mostly I just stayed in the sea.

Lunch was a flying fish wrap with avocado and a Banks beer under the shade of an umbrella on the beach. Nothing better.

We headed to the airport (which also happens to house the Concorde, so you can check that out) at golden hour and enjoyed its glow over the now familiar bumpy Barbados roads…from our now beloved blue truck.

An easy direct JetBlue flight home got us back to JFK late Sunday night, just in time to get back to school Monday morning.

Hotel recommendations: Ocean Two, Little Arches, Sandy Lane, The Crane

Other Hotel Ideas: Maxwell Beach Villas, Turtle Beach, Sapphire Beach condos, Sea Breeze Beach House, Sandpiper, Yellowbird, AirBnB spots in the Freights Bay/Enterprise Beach areas, Coral Reef, Colony Club.

To do: Surfing with Barry’s, Sailing & Snorkeling with Calabaza Sailing Charters, Oistin’s Fish Fry, Cuzz’s fish fry, Karaoke in St. Lawrence Gap, Paddleboarding, Jetsking, Paddlesurfing,

Restaurants & bars: St. Lawrence Gap: Cocktail Kitchen , Castaway’s, Primo, Café Sol, Crave, Cove, Pure Ocean, McBride’s, Sharkeys; Good breakfasts: Happy Days Café in Chattel House Village, Yellow Bird Hotel

South/SouthEast Coast: Café Luna @ Little Arches hotel, Surfer’s Café, L’Azure at The Crane Hotel.

West Coast: The Cliff, The Beach House, The Tides, JuJu’s Beach Bar, Catch 22 at Sunset Point.

Best Local Foods: flying fish cutter, banana & coconut breads, banks beer, rum punch, papaya & pineapple, fresh coconut, fishcakes, mahi-mahi with Bajan seasoning,

Attractions: Barbados Wildlife Reserve, St. Nicholas Abbey, Hunte’s Gardens, Bathsheba (soup bowl surf spot), Harrison’s Cave, Sam Lord’s Castle,  The Concorde Experience at the airport.

A Few Surf Spots: South coast: Freights, South Point, Dover, Carib, Brandon’s

East Coast: Soup bowl, Conset Point, Sand Bank, Round Rock

West Coast: Sandy Lane (I was fortunate enough to see it breaking), Batts Rock

Freezin’ for a Reason


With Rye and its environs having undergone its own polar plunge since Christmas, it seems that nearly all of us have been feeling everything from inconvenienced and uncomfortable to unsafe and unsure. But in the midst of this deep freeze, some hardy souls made sure that the 16th annual Ray’s Polar Bear Plunge, held on New Year’s Day, was a glowing success.IMG_8680

In collaboration with the Town of Rye, City of Rye and Rye Town Park Commission, this event, held at Oakland Beach, raised awareness and funding for MAC Angels Foundation, Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), Outreach Resurrection Food Bank and SOUL RYEDERS.

I was lucky enough to participate this year, and, as a first-timer, I found the entire experience beyond my greatest expectations. I get it now. I see why the ice bucket challenge and the polar plunge are used to raise awareness and support for ALS. The frozen sensation in my legs and arms from that ice-cold water helped me understand, if only fractionally and briefly, how it must feel to suffer from ALS, with my body not listening to me, and not feeling like mine.

Before we ran through the 12 degree air, into the chilly 46 degree Long Island Sound, Phil Gormley, who joined Ray Kelley at the helm of this event in 2004, gathered our bundled bodies together. He read an inspirational poem to us entitled Life in Reverse, by Jay Curtis, a well-known creative force at CBS, diagnosed with ALS in 2015.

A portion of the proceeds of Jay’s most recent poetry book goes toward MAC Angels, a support group that bridges the gap in services for patients and families affected by ALS. And to give a little background, the precursor to MAC Angels was an organization called Friends of Claire, named in honor of Phil’s sister, Claire Gormley Collier, who passed away from ALS in 2009.

I was cold and nervous, but as Phil read aloud to us, a comforting stillness took hold, as I stood within that bundled crowd, limbs moving to stay warm against the -5 degree wind chill.


I felt a rush of empathy, and tears sprung to my eyes, upon hearing Phil read Jay’s haunting stanzas, “My grandfather taught me to sign my name. My mother taught me to tie my shoes. My father taught me to throw a knuckleball. Skills gone like a seeded lawn under spring snow,” and then Jay’s final, “Look for me in your rearview mirror, as I live the rest of my life in reverse.”

Then Phil released us, and we were on the beach within minutes, hot pink tutus being uncloaked and bikinis were bared. Bare skin was being exposed, in spite of how wrong it felt to do so in such bitter cold. IMG_8698

The parallels began for me then—how ALS is just so wrong, so wrong to rob people in the prime of their life of voluntary movement through a progressive degeneration of motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. It has no mercy, there is no cure, and it carries a swift goodbye.

I was swept up in the crowd and the excitement as we raced down toward the water. It was what we had come to do, and there was no backing out now. We all yelled “FREEDOM,” signifying freedom from the suffering that ALS inflicts, as we splashed and screamed into the frigid salty water.IMG_8700

I only went in up to my shoulders, I just couldn’t succumb to a full submersion, but as I ran out back up the beach, I noticed how my leg muscles didn’t quite feel like mine anymore. They were being slow to respond. They were tingling and seemed, well, distracted. They were not listening to my brain as it told them to run up the beach. And I thought, this, this is what ALS must feel like.

Later that day, at a warm and cozy gathering at Rye Grill & Bar, attended by over 100 polar plungers and their families, my legs were back to listening. And stories of PLUNGE were exchanged over truly awesome live music that set a celebratory mood. A raffle included an impressive grand prize of a 1-week stay at the Playa Linda Beach Resort in Aruba, valued at $2,205, thanks to Doreen Kralick, and an couple from Team April excitedly won it.


Then I grabbed a celebratory beer and met Gabriel Cardier, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident while attending UCLA for his MBA in 2014. Gabriel is a grantee of the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and over good beer and live music he smiled, expressing gratitude for being a part of the Polar Plunge and for the support he gets from CAF. That support also allowed him to compete in the NYC marathon this past November, by awarding him a travel grant, and a running blade. I felt a flash of unworthiness, mixed with awe.

Also present at the Rye Grill gathering was SOUL RYEDERS, a Rye-based organization that supports families affected by all types of cancer. SOUL RYEDERS had a team of plungers plunging in memory of April Deen, a young mom of pre-school twins who tragically passed away from ovarian cancer on December 6th. SOUL RYEDERS had supported the family, and April’s husband, Adrien, and his friends plunged in her memory.

The PLUNGE proceeds also support the Resurrection Outreach Food Bank. This committee was formalized in 2006 during the tenure of much beloved Monsignor Patrick Boyle. And today, it operates “with a mission of neighborly love, sharing time, treasure and talents with those in need of life’s basic necessities: food, clothing, education, and emergency services.”

If you missed the plunge this year, but would like to donate, here is a link to our website: Type in PLUNGE in the honor box.

And if you haven’t yet, please mark your calendars now, for Ray’s Polar Bear Plunge 2019, and prepare to start next year off with the best feeling—and perspective, possible.



Women in Innovation: Empowering Women in a Technological World


The panelists

img_8884-e1515297894288.pngOn October 18, 2017, Women in Innovation held their fourth panel discussion, entitled STEM leadership: Science and Technology.

This inspirational and educational event was hosted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Rye Brook, New York and documented by Rye TV. Deb Barker, Executive Director of Westchester, Hudson Valley and Connecticut Chapter of LLS welcomed the attending “Winnovators,” IMG_8906while co-founders Suzanna Keith and Grace Fedele moderated the evening’s empowering and important discussion.

Grace painted the directive with her introductory remarks, “Women in Innovation is a community organization, founded on International Women’s Day 2016, focused on elevating women who are pushing the boundaries of innovation and accelerating the pace of change across industries including, Technology, Digital Media, Advertising, Marketing, IT, Venture Capital, Entrepreneurship, Engineering and Science, Bio-Tech and Pharmacology.”

IMG_8889She continued, “our hope, as such, is to empower and educate women with the latest innovations in science and technology trends by hosting events that feature top speakers and great networking opportunities. We do this so that they can stay at the forefront of change in their fields. And today, we have the opportunity to have a conversation with some truly incredible women in STEM.”

Suzanna added that their goal is to get more women into the C-Suite—a term referring to titles of top senior executives which tend to start with the letter C, for Chief, such as Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), and Chief Information Officer (CIO), also known as “C-level executives.” IMG_8910 2Women in Innovation is an organization designed to support and empower women in the field of science and technology. Gender gap topics such as equal pay are at the forefront of this discussion. Over 400 people signed up in their Meetup and Suzanna encouraged all attendees to use social media channels to further awareness of this organization. Then she added that all of the evening’s panelists have careers in science or technology—or careers that impact it.

Panelists included Arjan Eenkema van Dijk, Inspire Shift founder, who has an expertise in gender equality. IMG_8891Arjan affirmed the existing gender gap referencing the differing proportions of women versus men when it comes to promotions and the C-Suite. She then explained how women need to navigate the workforce bearing in mind an unconscious gender bias, which is in part, culturally created. “It’s a leadership issue more than a women’s issue, and we need to do a lot more awareness training and added diversity within companies to overcome the unconscious bias in the workplace.” She spoke of the importance of projecting personal power, and of having charisma and clarity.

Arjan underlined the importance of being bold, and mentioned how important the relationship between competence and confidence is today and how being up-to-date and relevant within the tech world is so crucial. She also emphasized the critical elements of interpersonal skills and building trust and respect. She talked about positive intelligence, which lets you live up to your potential, rather than getting bogged down with worry, which shuts down your pre-frontal cortex and stalls productivity. She also talked of the importance of the 4 C’s of career building: control, confidence, competence, and clarity.

Panelist Heather Cabot, co-author of Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood, Adjunct Professor at Columbia Journalism School, former newscaster and an Angel investor wowed the audience with her dynamic personality and her words of wisdom about the tech-feminist movement. IMG_8902Heather explained, “my partner and I have sought to change the narrative with our book of how we see women in tech and to get away from that stereotype of a ‘hacker in a hoodie’ and to really show that there are women in the industry that have overcome sexism and have charted their own path. We compiled years of interviews in the writing of our book that underscore the secret sauce that empowered those women who have survived within the digital revolution world. Role modeling is so important in building people up. We can build the visibility gap of women in technology and the way for people to help this effort is to tell your stories and amplify your voices and own your expertise. This will help the next generation.”

Next up was Cheryl Einhorn, Creator of the Area Method and Author of Problem Solved, about Decision Making and founder of CSE consulting and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School. She attacks decision-making with a unique analytical perspective—think of that good ol’ pro and con list, but on steroids. IMG_8903

Cheryl described how her mom had graduated from medical school in 1967, so she “benefited from being raised by a trail blazer. Role models are so important. The heightened awareness of the issue is key. For example, in the Advanced Investment Research class that I teach, there were no women in the class, no now they are making a real effort to get women to register. I feel that we are at a wonderful moment for ourselves and for our daughters. I actually feel good about our future BECAUSE of the negative spotlight.”

Dr. Gwen Nichols, Chief Medical Officer of LLS added in her powerful two cents, IMG_8895My biggest concern is that young women who are benefitting from fair and equal treatment in educational systems will be lulled into complacency about what happens once you leave school and enter the workforce. If we don’t talk to each other, support each other, congratulate and push each other forward then that 30 percent that thinks its OK that there are no women at the top, when we all started out together, well then…shame on us. The strength comes from us saying “I deserve this” and if you have to be twice as good for half as much, then the good news is, You Are! And that’s the message we need to tell young women.”

Last up was Lucie Guernsey, Managing Director at Woodland Bay Capital Managing Director, IMG_8901who had a no-nonsense way about her, stating,I’m a banker for 35 years. Women were only clerks back when I started, but I joined the training program to enter the entertainment and media world. I think this whole woe is me regarding sexual harassment—is our problem, not the men’s problems. The men will always come after you, whether they are 5 or 50, and it’s your decision to take it or not.”

And then she added, “I didn’t feel that glass ceiling because I was specialized and I went after that. That’s what you have to do. Go after what you want and don’t let people trudge you down.”

Two questions in particular stood out in the final Q&A.


The panelists

1) What advice do you have to women to be more encouraged in STEM?

Heather Cabot responded, “We are living in a tech-enabled world so we need to become more literate, through online courses and such. Understanding how things work and how they are built, as well as knowing the lingo is key to going far, no matter what industry you are in. Get out of your comfort zone! Men will apply for a job if meet 3 of 10 criteria, women will only apply if they meet 9. That’s a problem—guys are applying for it and we should too! We suffer from putting ourselves down and imposter syndrome and ‘am I really good enough?’ The truth is that the guys are asking for the promotion, for the job and we should too.

Cheryl addresses the question by referencing her book in how it’s important to “work with and through ambiguity, identifying assumptions and evidence and perspective-building. She explained, “in making decisions, we all come with mental shortcuts but we are laden with them too, we are all flawed thinkers, for example we might think we are better than average drivers, and we tend to have the planning fallacy (underestimating the time to complete a task).” IMG_7933 2

Then she added, “When faced with high stakes decisions we must understand and counteract all of those flawed thinking pitfalls and cognitive biases. What we really need is a collaborative backbone, and it’s uniquely feminine. We need a way to step into the incentives and motives of others so that we can let that mirror back on us so that we can assess our own assumptions and judgments and have an opportunity to solve our problems holistically.”

Dr. Gwen then responded by saying that “there are some fundamental things that we need to look at in how we raise women and what we teach them about what’s nice and that asking for what you know in your heart you deserve can be seen as being not nice. We need to look at ourselves and believe that we are deserving. We need to accept our own strengths before we can expect others to believe it. We need to change our idea of deserving and accept our own strengths. I hear my mom say: “you did very well on that, but don’t want to seem like you are boasting.” The more we can see our our own inhibitions and not teach that to the next generation the more successful we will be.”

Arjan added, “yes, it’s all about confidence and clarity—this is who I am, these are my strengths and accomplishments and we are all perfectly imperfect and that’s OK! We need to teach our children to be bold, not perfect.”

 Lucie added that there are no more glass ceilings in the entertainment industry. The studios used to control what films were put out there, but today if you have money you can call yourself an actress and put a film out. The film industry is getting more funding from private money, away from the big banks.

2) What is the added value of Women in Innovation? Is it networking, inspiration, or the collaborative process?

Lucie explained, “Dialogue is the real added value. Tracking change in technology in our chosen fields is one of the most important things in life, because if you miss that technology change then you will miss out on taking advantage of it, no matter if you are male or female.”

And Heather noted, “we saw in our interviews that there is evidence and real truth behind the idea of a sisterhood and the shine theory, meaning that those who are in the tech world really do abide by a code to help each other out. By pulling each other up and pushing each other forward, we shine more ourselves.” I was lucky to attend the Grace Hopper celebration of women in computing, and the takeaway message from that was about helping each other. And more specifically, women who share meaningful volunteering experiences bond and are more likely to help each other out. When I shine you shine—successful women surround themselves with other successful women. The new school of thought is ‘let’s help each other,’ replacing the old school theory of ‘every woman for themselves.’

Suzanna Keith concluded the evening by announcing that the next event will be an International Women’s Day event in March 2018 at the Rye Arts Center, and then at Bryn Mawr College in June 2018. She also mentioned it will be even more interactive next time.IMG_8911

For more information please go to



A Moment of Gratitude for Rye’s Preserved Seaside Spaces

December 23, 2017


The Duck Pond in Rye Town Park, on a cold December 2017 day 🙂

It’s 28 degrees and my fingers and toes are cold, bloodless. It’s a white winter day in Rye Town Park and I’m here because it makes my dogs happy.


They are allowed to roam free in this park every morning. And they love it. So here I am.

I usually chat with other dog owners and roam around the park, but on this particular day I find myself standing stock still, boots crunching into frozen ground, surveying the Long Island Sound. An old-fashioned Amelia Earhart-era plane putters overhead. The noise is calming. I take it all in, and the scene resets my breathing and slows my heart rate.

I watch my breath as it puffs, backlit by the glare of the morning sun against the white carpet of snow, and the shimmering Sound.

Our dogs, Bode and Libby, are small and exuberantly gallop around. Time slows down as I stare a good long while at that plane, as it makes it’s way leisurely across the sky. My gaze lowers to the attractive terra cotta rooftops of the Rye Park Bathing Pavillion, erected in 1909, then to the smooth glistening slope of the park, dotted with meandering dogs and wool-bundled Rye residents.

Beyond them, I focus in on the sight of the white wooden Ferris wheel at the historical Playland Amusement Park.

IMG_7629I think back to when we first moved to Rye, in January of 1998. I was pretty pregnant and my husband and I moved into a Nantucket-style 1940’s saltbox on Rye Beach Avenue. Back then, we often walked the length of the boardwalk that cradled Playland Park Beach. The amusement park, a part of our own childhoods (and also featured in the blockbuster movie BIG, which was about transcending time, in fact), was a constant, as we pushed our new babies along the weathered grey planks that crinkled under the big wheels of our snazzy double jogger.

Now those babies are in college, that stroller is long gone, but the boardwalk is still the same.

My eyes roll to the right, following the length of that boardwalk as it juts out into the sea. The pier is still splintered, but solid, stalwart and sea-soaked. The sky is a machine-gun grey, blending in with the calm, dense ripples along the surface of the sound. The water laps gently at the sand, a cold hard strip of beige, just as it did a hundred years ago.

The dogs are buoyantly wrestling. The cold air seems as if it is making them frolick faster, while time slows down. It hits me then, this feeling, this is why I come here. It’s not just the dogs, or the babies, it’s me, and it’s this park. I’m drawn to this space because it slows time down and slows down my racing heart and mind.

I used to get this same slowed-down feeling when I spent time with my grandparents. God I miss them. Then I look around the park and realize how serenely still and silent it is, this timeless scene. I’m full of gratitude to everyone who has ever played a part in creating, and then in preserving this space.

I look down and swear the dogs are smiling. I’m so happy that they give me an excuse to come here, since my babies are all grown up, to experience this calming sensation of timelessness.

Technology, development, change, hustle and bustle—this place is such a respite from it all. Instead there is preservation, history, and a frozen-in-time feeling, which creates a  transcendence—a weightlessness. I can almost feel the parasol in my hand, the long blue skirt edged in dust and wide-brimmed hat, and hear the honking of my Sears motor buggy. I can almost picture the bathers in their black taffeta bathing suits, handkerchiefs and wool dresses with sailor collars, milling about the bathing pavilion. IMG_8232History is closer here. And I leave feeling so calm and serene, so rooted, yet so timeless, just like the park itself.

My takeaway materializes then: the more we rely on technology these days, the more imperative these unplugged moments become. And when we travel, with loved ones or alone, our vacations, trips, getaways should always hope to contain these moments.

Unplugged moments from my own travels come to mind: that cozy train compartment when my best friends and I backpacked around Europe during college, the climb up Huayna Picchu with the kids above the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu, that first pink glimpse of the Taj Mahal at sunrise, stepping into a silent cathedral in Salzburg in the middle of a hot summer day, sitting inside the coolness of Barcelona’s La Segrada Familia with my kids, staring up at all that soaring stained glass, standing alone on a Montauk beach in winter.

The off-season, empty of all the mayhem, is filled with powerful moments of appreciating preserved beauty. Go at sunrise, go to cold beaches in the winter. Go stroll in a park or get a little lost. Go out of your comfort zone, perhaps some cold-water surfing,


Kristin Senese of Corey’s Wave this winter in montauk. 🙂 Go Kristin!

or hop onto a paddle board in the middle of a snowstorm.

Go find the empty spaces of the Long Island Sound in the middle of winter–be out there when no one else is–and take a look around.

It is such a magical and timeless space. We are so lucky to live right here in Rye, with so much of this natural beauty right at our doorstep. Merry Christmas, and go get out there, the sea is calling.

Letting Go of Grandma, in Northern Spain


Grandma (Angelita) far left, 1947

It is November 15, 2017 and Grandma “Angelita” Newton would have been 96 today. So, I am marking the occasion of her birthday by finally sharing this very personal story. We made a family pilgrimage up to the north of Spain last summer, to retrace grandma’s unusual childhood. The trip was a memorial, a tribute. But mostly, it was a goodbye.

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Grandma’s house in La Frecha, Asturias, Spain

Maria de los Angeles “Angelita” Gilbert Alonso was born in Barcelona in 1921 and lived on Valencia street. But she was abruptly taken from her mother, by her father, and brought up to the north of Spain when she was only 19 months old, along with her brother Wilson, who was just three years old. These two young children were left in a town called La Frecha, located in Asturias, Spain.

My mom and dad, my aunt Pam and uncle Ben, my cousins Janine and Christine (and their husbands) and I met up in Madrid.

The nine of us, ranging in age from 34 to 75, meandered around Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor taking selfies and eating large quantities of tapas, as Americans tend to do.

We strolled through Retiro Park, taking photos with the big stone lion statues beside the pond (just as grandma had done on a visit to her beloved home country in 1947 at the age of 25).  IMG_5618 2IMG_0108Mom and I watched flamenco dancing under a full moon

We had cocktails at sunset, overlooking Ciebles FountainIMG_5613 3 and had a good laugh while looking at art in the Prado.

and then walked back to the Hotel Ritz to sleep.

On June 17, 2016 (my brother Bentley’s birthday) we piled into a rented stick-shift van, and affectionately referred to it as a “prison van” because of how uncomfortable it was. IMG_5634

But as we ascended into the north, with plenty of comraderie and funny comments–I even started a book of quotes–the vans’ lack of comfortable seats mattered less and less. And as the scenery of the stunning mountainous region of Northern Spain began to unfold before us, it was clear our adventure had begun. IMG_0573We arrived in La Frecha after five hours and climbed out of the van, having a tough time standing up straight, but in very good spirits nonetheless. IMG_5636

And then there we all were, standing before a 300-year old stone house. Grandma’s House. The house and its surroundings looked just as they did in all the old photographs from when grandma was a child.

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Me, in front of Grandma’s house in La Frecha


Grandma, as a child standing in front of the house in La Frecha

We were warmly greeted by a mom and her daughter—two women from the village who mom had corresponded with by letters and emails.


IMG_5626 2

Mom with Marie Carmen Dodero, current owner of the house in La Frecha


Grandma with Marie Carmen, 1985

They remembered Grandma and Uncle Wilson. They brought us into the kitchen and fed us a Spanish feast of bread and cheese and meats, and the traditional pungent sidre, that they poured from high above, without even looking—a lifelong skill.

These women, so warm, so welcoming, so wonderful, reminded me of grandma, the way they moved their hands, and the way they pulled us inside with their mannerisms, their warm touch and the lilting sound of their voices. It was the same way that Grandma behaved when we arrived to her home in Bermuda, every year of my own childhood.

I felt that warm nurturing sense of being taken care of and of being invited into a home where I was truly wanted. It was so enveloping and so calming. The way they fed us felt familiar too. The food was all prepared in advance and laid out, and they encouraged us to drink sidre and then to eat ‘til we could barely move.

IMG_0156They spoke mostly Spanish, while we spoke mostly English, but the communication was strong nonetheless and the welcome was heartfelt. We walked around the damp thick-walled house after the meal. I stood stock-still in grandma’s old bedroom, trying to picture her in it.

Then we opened the windows to the little balconies and leaned out. We then took a family photo of us perched in the windows and doorways like that and it was a full circle feeling to compare it to the photo of grandma standing in front of that house, so many years ago.

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We walked down to the river in front of the house. We scattered grandma’s ashes and Uncle Wilson’s there. I did not cry.

We drove on, to Oveido. We ate dinner at a restaurant, all nine of us, with sidre being ceremoniously splashed from high above every table.

IMG_0524We were all reminiscing about grandma and grandpa and uncle Wilson and we were smiling and laughing a lot. It was so good to have this common denominator, to share our matching and mismatching memories of grandma. It reinforced our feelings of being a family. I needed this trip. I needed to put her to rest here. I still need her, but I have the women in my family to lean on and to remember her with. To talk of her sayings, and of her cute little quirks and of her mothering ways.


Family Gathering on the Bench in front of the house, 2016 and 1947. Grandma is 4th from right in the black and white, looking at her camera

                             Grandma and Uncle Wilson, on a visit to La Frecha, 1985

I miss being mothered by grandma. She was great at it, in spite of not having her own mother in her life as she grew up. Grandma was our collective mother hen, and we all loved her for it. I wanted to mother like her when I grew up—feeding, worrying and clucking about.

The next day we drove in our now-beloved prison van IMG_5643to the seaside town of Gijon to find the boarding school, with adjacent church, that grandma attended from age 6 to 13. Standing inside that church where grandma had attended daily mass was a powerful pause button for me. IMG_5625 2Mom had also lived in Gijon for a summer when she was 14, and so did my Aunt JoAnn. It was a quiet beautiful town with a beach (and surfing!!).IMG_0543I felt grandma’s presence very strongly while I stood at the water’s edge, feeling the ocean breeze moisten my hair, my face, smelling the saltwater and gazing at the majesty of St. Pedro’s cathedral. IMG_5624 2An elderly husband and wife, she in yellow, held hands and walked slowly along the boardwalk in the foreground—and it felt like God giving me a special moment with my grandparents. The fisherman and the surfers, and even St. Pedro’s were all suddenly blurry, while this elderly couple came into sharp relief. I took a photo and felt that moment take a strong hold over me.IMG_0213

Afterwards we went to a restaurant and ate lunch with family members in Gijon. IMG_0222 I cried alone in the restaurant bathroom, missing grandma fiercely. I guess it hit me then, in a wave of grief, that Angelita, my grandma, in all her regal Spanish beauty and motherly homemaking wonderfulness, was really gone.

We drove back to Oveido. We sat in a square by a church. We ate.

We then ran into a woman named Maria and her husband, while walking along the street. It turned out that they were relatives of ours. Well. How. About. That. So, of course we took a selfie…

Then we took a formal family photo with cousin Ignacio and left Oveido, feeling connected and complete. IMG_5627 2We drove in the prison van, past breathtaking poppy fields, and as we drove past La Frecha we made an unexpected stop.

We turned up a dirt road and parked. Then we got out and walked up a long road to the end of it, where a small lone church stood on a hill, surrounded by nothing but mountainous vistas. It was called Santa Cristina de Lena.IMG_5637 It was such a special moment, standing in that space out in the middle of nowhere, in a town that grandma inhabited as a child. I understood why mom wanted us to do this trip. As we retraced grandma’s roots—her young years before she moved to New York at age 17 and married my grandfather at 18—we all felt closer to her. We understood her more. We felt more connected, to her, and to each other.

We then drove back to Madrid, maneuvering over mountain ranges while managing fights with “Greta” (the name we gave the navigation system), carsickness, claustrophobia, and some fairly unnerving toll booths and while my dad and uncle took turns burning the clutch. We made it to Madrid safely and retreated yet again to Retiro park for sunset.

We drank champagne on the hotel balcony IMG_5628 2before a late outdoor dinner in the Ritz garden, where jasmine bloomed.IMG_6014

The next day I woke up early to run, unfettered, around the streets of Madrid. I found myself drawn in by the old buildings, all strung together and full of storied history. IMG_5615 2I let myself get lost among the winding cobblestone streets of the old quarter—the ones that connected the plazas and the squares.IMG_5617 2A weightlessness took hold, and I decided I’d like to live there. I loved being alone, exploring, feeling so calm and so full of adrenaline at the same time. I loved being so unencumbered, so free. As I ran with no plan or idea of where I was, I suddenly found myself at the corner of Calle San Ricardo and Calle Santa Maria. And felt grandma’s presence strongly, yet again.

I continued on and found great little nooks and crannies and stellar views and my knees were holding up somehow, and I felt like I was twenty years old again. I loved Santa Ana Square and all its little feeder streets. I loved Madrid.

I found a youth hostel full of kids in line—all talking with each other instead of lost zombies on their phones. Heads were up, eye contact was being made, and smiles were appreciated in real time while body language was being read. They were connecting, in person, and it made me wonder if travel is truly one of the last ways that these twenty-something year olds can find freedom from their phones.

Somewhere between the limbo of cruising altitude, jetlag, patchy WiFi, roaming charges, time zone issues, and cultural interference (such as the 11pm dinner hour in Spain) we become free from our hostage-holding devices. That freedom further enhances the empowerment found by traveling with only the pack on your back. It is so much easier to process and to sit with the culture and revel in the scenery when not “plugged in” to our phones. It allows one to rediscover the lost art of conversation and to truly share in the experience at hand with the people beside you.

In my case, it was my extended family, and it was a gift. I am so lucky to have such adventure-loving, wander-lusting family members. IMG_5642 2The irony here is that Grandma would have SO LOVED this trip. Oh my goodness she would have reveled in the adventure of it, and of being back in Spain, and being in all of these places surrounded by her family.

Grandma, I so wish you could have been there.

I love you and I miss you every day. You live on in all of us.


Post Script

Dear Mom,

You are incredible. Your self-appointed role as family historian is mesmerizing and such a blessing—one that benefits us all. You are a pillar of strength. You are funny and smart and compassionate (almost to a fault). You are my best friend. You are the one I want to talk to when I’m sad and also when I’m happy.

I can’t believe how you pulled off this amazing trip to Spain so beautifully. It all came together so perfectly. I still can’t believe how great it all was. I honestly had so many “feel closer to grandma” moments while we were there. I loved seeing so much family and feeling so connected to our Spanish heritage. You really amazed all of us. Honestly.

I just wanted you to know that all of your hard work in putting us together with the past was not in vain. I love you mom, and I’m so grateful to have such a funny, smart, adventurous, ‘keeper of the family tree’ for a mother. 

Love,  Lisa

Seeing Spectacular Salzburg, at an American Pace

Holy cow, we did it, we saw a sizable amount of Salzburg in just under 36 hours! We hit the ground running, arriving by train from Vienna (209 miles to the East) into the sparkling station, set against a Bavarian alp backdrop that took our collective breath away.

We taxied over to the Old Town (Altstadt), cradled by the Monchsberg mountain ridge on the left bank of the Salzach River, taking in the stunning 17th and 18th century steepled skyline of this festival city famous for Mozart and The Sound of Music. We checked into the quaint and lovable Hotel Goldener Hirsch at Getreidegasse 37, just a few doors down from Mozart’s house of birth. Oozing with character and luxury, the hotel was in a prime location and made us all, from teens to septuagenarians, feel “Austrian cozy” in an instant.

After settling into our spectacular Alpine rooms (#53 and 39) we took off to climb around Saint Peter’s catacombs, cut into the rocks of Monchsberg, and check out the abbey. We photographed and skulked our way through squares and past horse drawn carriages, winding alleys and outdoor eating spots, soaking in the scenery and feeling that out of body sensation and timelessness that only travel within foreign countries can create.

We chose to ascend in the Funicular, in place since 1892 and an attraction in its own right. We had no wait time, which in the height of European summer season, is nearly unheard of, then rose effortlessly and in total style. 43 seconds and bam, just like that, we were inside the commanding fortress known as “Festung Hohensalzburg.”13528425_10153793536627252_7560450267208477039_oBegun in 1077 and then expanded over the following centuries, it is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. We wandered and explored, winding ourselves further and further up until finally, we could go no further. My bum knee complained a little, but the commanding views served to quiet it down quickly.

The Rainer Regiment, Fortress and Marionette museums added to the well preserved interiors and atmospheric courtyards, forcing us to savor the Austrian essence, flavor and slower pace of the place. 13528302_10153786969717252_2412986132648339696_oThen my mom and I found ourselves in the top turret, taking in the 360 degree views of  mountains, swift running rivers, valleys, castles, and steeples of the storybook village of Salzburg and its environs. We were so high up and barely able to contain ourselves with such gorgeous views. We took panoramic photos and videos on our iPhones, in vain, to try to capture the magnificence.

When sated, at last, we climbed back down to wander our way back to the hotel, which had a great shower and a stunning fortress view from its little square stone window. We charged dead phone batteries and then rushed over to sit in amazement during a performance of Mozart in Residenz, at Kuenburg Hall, to soak up Salzburg’s claim to fame, Mozart.

Classical music filled our souls and spirits, and then just as we were settling into the calming Austrian rhythm, we snuck out early and raced (like the Americans that we truly are), to catch the 6pm boat, running along the riverside bike path like we were escaping a fire. We nearly got hit by relaxed, bicycling locals, just before we hopped aboard the scenic tour boat, in the nick of time.

The boat ride was worth the rush though, and it gave us a great overall view of Salzburg and the surrounding alps. As we sped up and down the river, we enjoyed the vistas and especially loved sitting in the back of the boat while the captain set it spinning against the fast currents.

After the boat tour we made a quick pitstop back at the hotel before ascending an elevator built inside the rocky Monchsberg ridge, to reach a breathtaking view at the glitzy bar and restaurant venue of M32 (also the location of the Modern Art Museum). We drank Austrian amber beer and reveled in the grand scenery and the minimal crowd.13585039_10153793586372252_6276773117858921429_oAfter drinks, we hit St. Peter Stiftskeller, the oldest restaurant in Europe, started by Benedictine monks in 803AD, to dine alfresco in cloistered bliss enjoying the best goulash in Austria where the ceiling frescoes were so beautiful they made me cry.

Following dinner we wandered around town in its evening glow, crossing the love lock bridge and checking out Hotel Sacher. We had the pedestrian streets, such as Getreidegasse, all to ourselves.

We watched the lights of the Fortress turn off at midnight, marked by church bell chimes. I fell asleep shortly after that, breathing in cool mountain air, still tasting the pistachio marzipan treat I’d found on my pillow. Scents lingered, damp hollow alley moss from Mozart Gate and horses from the clip-clopping carriages, wafting up to find me, as I perched in a small square red-curtained Austrian window, feeling time stand still, gazing at the church spires and domes, feeling so beautifully insignificant.

We woke up the next morning, recharged. I had an awesome run thru Mirabell Palace and Gardens and past Mozart’s Residence and even into Holy Trinity Church. Then I wound my way over to search for the “YOHO” youth hostel that I remembered so fondly from a brief New Year’s Eve stay in 1989 while backpacking during college with my best friends, Joanna and Ellen. To my amazement, I found it. It has been 26 years, but there I was again, standing inside it, at Paracelsusstr 9, taking photos and texting them to Joanna and Ellen. It was such a great full circle feeling. I ran back to have a coffee and toast with Nutella with my family in the hotel restaurant, set in a historic vault, also a former horse stable.

Fueled up, we took to the souvenir shops on Getreidegasse and Residenzplatz to load up on dirndls and lederhosen from Trachten Wenger, 13582080_10153793578612252_1449933967574647334_otraditional hats, swiss army knives, necklaces, Swarovski crystal, dancing Mozarts and marzipan treats. 13494942_10153786338497252_1497760124899663455_nWe definitely got our fill of beer steins, cow bells, aprons and Austrian outfits, that’s for sure.

We then hurried to drop our treasures off at the hotel before starting off on a private tour with our guide, Deter, who piled us all into his van and whisked us off to Mirabell gardens where we stood on the top of the steps, just as Julie Andrews had in The Sound of Music, to admire the flowering gardens. 13559013_10153793578742252_8553738299225291737_oThen we headed off to see Leopoldskron Castle, which was depicted as the von Trapp family home in The Sound of Music movie. Audrey sat with the ducks and we all relaxed for a brief moment.13522883_10153789280292252_7633382382504242428_o

We then headed to Hellbrunn Palace to spend a little time with the actual gazebo from the movie. My mom pointed out that Jeffrey is 16 going on 17, just like the famous song described, and so we took pictures of the kids in front of the gazebo IMG_8113and then got back in the van to drive up into the hills. 13584944_10153793536722252_5432244459345991130_oAnd we all piled out to prance around in a field, singing “the hills are alive,” a la Julie Andrews.


Then we took off toward St. Wolfgang and St. Gilgen to admire Lake Wolfgang’s emerald water and the surrounding alps. IMG_8242Listening to the Sound of Music soundtrack while driving up into the mountains was just the BEST. It mellowed us all out…transforming us from angst-filled Americans to melancholy-filled European mushes. My dad was humming. Audrey was sleeping. Jeffrey was smirking and wearing that goofy hat. Pam and Ben were just chilling in the back and mom was singing along to the music. Rob was relaxing, smiling inside, I’m sure, probably mostly at the thought of me in a dirndl twirling through the fields of edelweiss like a loon, channeling my inner Julie Andrews in true cult film fan-ness.

All that Sound of Music song-singing I did when the kids were toddlers finally paid off, because while alp-ascending, I could feel a powerful head cocking coming from the backseat due to the recognition and comfort of songs harking back to their jogging-stroller days. Days when I could sing Do Ray Mi and Edelweiss, off key, to my heart’s content, and THAT was their entertainment. Whether they liked it or not, this music and this movie was inside of them. I’d put it there, instilled it deeply early on, when they couldn’t fight me on it or tune me out with their iPhones. And I was glad for it.

Now here we were prancing around Austria and they were quieted and calmed by the music and the majesty, in spite of themselves. Kids, it’s still in you, and now you have traveled into the birthplace and heart of the story, and the birthplace and home of Mozart too, for that matter.

The Sound of Music is timeless and romantic. It is a classic film that I loved as a child. It is filled with such powerful messages of  hope, change, and the importance of family and pride in one’s country. May we have a little Maria and a little von Trapp in all of us.

Salzburg gave us everything. Scenery, souvenirs, fortresses, cathedrals, abbeys, gardens and river fun. But mostly it gave us music and even gave me a throw back to those carefree college backpacking days, with that YOHO visit and also with the compartment-style train ride back to Vienna. 13532878_10153789262687252_2817958913850709917_nIt gave us good old-fashioned family fun and great bonding with music sung about making music. And all with clean crisp mountain air, blue skies with puffy white clouds and glistening cathedral rooftops. It left us enchanted, and in just under 36 hours.

Epilogue: This trip was taken June 2016 and on my next trip to Salzburg I vow to: 1) stay longer 2) visit the Durrnberg Salt Mines 3) check out Eagle’s Nest, 4) see the ice caves of Eisriesenwelt 5) spend more time in the Lake District 6) go to a Mozart Dinner concert 7) attend The Sound of Salzburg Dinner show 8) get a Salzburg card to make getting around a little easier. Oh yeah, and slow down a little. 🙂 maybe…




Wondering about Wanderlust?

I’ve always wanted to go to Wanderlust, you know, to find my true north and all, but it was never a convenient time, due to assorted graduations and other summer travel plans.

But this year it finally happened. I squeezed in ONE day of the four-day long festival, up at Stratton, Vermont in between other summer plans. And here’s what I thought…

On June 21, 1017, significantly both the summer solstice and International Yoga Day, I drove north alone, watching an endless sunset, as the world got greener, cooler, cleaner and just plain easier to breathe in. I rolled the windows down and relaxed into the warm clean air. I had signed up online weeks earlier for a full line up of assorted festival activities, so I eagerly got to bed on the early side.

Best laid plans…I overslept my alarm the next morning, but chose to see that as my body’s way of feeding itself a dose of much-needed sleep in this oxygen-rich mountain air. So I sadly missed out on my much-anticipated 8am “Rise & Shine SUP Yoga” experience, but made it to the base, just in time for my 10am Ridgeline Loop hike.

The gondola ride up to the top of Stratton Mountain was filled with fun conversation with eager ladies of the same mindset. They had come here from as far as Austin to create a healthier mind and body by engaging in rejuvenating and restorative experiences in this tranquil summer space. We all hoped to nurture our inner strength and peace. What I quickly discovered is that Wanderlust is SO much more than just yoga!

And so we hiked along the trail inhaling that strong pine tree scent and getting familiar with what drew us each here. Then we made it to the Firetower and climbed up it to cloud level, taking in the majestic views of green mountains for miles and ski resorts in lush summer splendor.

Giddy with the forest scented scenery, our little sub group followed the trail back to the gondola and rode it back down to the village, savoring our accomplishment and all that still lay ahead for us in Wanderlust land.

Mary Jo (my new hiking friend) and I proceeded to get face and body glitter and golden flash tattoos touting “#nohormonesPLZ.” We were behaving like middle school besties. Tribal markings now in place, we meandered around the various vendors getting free samples of everything from Goodnessknows granola bars to Calendula creams.


We then spotted a “popsicles” sign, and since it was a sunny 73 degrees and the hike had warmed us up we ended up indulging in homemade popsicles made out of champagne and berries! It was decadent and delicious. Then I left my newfound friend to go to listen to Katie Dalebout talk about her “Journey through Journaling” in the Chapel of the Snows. I bought her book and left feeling that my soul had been massaged.

I wandered over to check out the slackline and AIReal yoga and got to see a dear friend at the INDACreations booth, where she was selling sage bundles wrapped in sunflowers.

There was a great clothing boutique set up across from Stratton Real Estate selling beautiful wrap dresses and 70 styles pants in wild prints to complete the hippie look and feel. I bought a few fun frocks then went to my 2pm class and hung upside down in the AIReal yoga hammock. Talk. About. Fun.

We were all plied at every turn with unusual but insanely delicious tidbits, like butter coffee, chai flavored protein powder concoctions and tofu wraps pretending to be chicken. I felt that I was eating my way through the day, yet still feeling hungry. Foods like Buddha Bowl popcorn, in all its organic bliss, didn’t offer much in the way of calories, after all that yoga and hiking.

IMG_2962Much to my chagrin, just as the Justin Michael Williams daytime music set late was getting started, I had to hit the road to get home. The handmade and repurposed blue jay feather and leather earrings from Kelly Horrigan were a last-minute “must have.” They matched my new dress and were irresistible.

I left the base area as a hundred fellow Wanderlusters were assuming the down dog position in the main tent, wearing headphones “for a private experience.” I looked longingly for a minute before moving on, away from all the fun. IMG_2964 Wanderlust was a perfect solo experience, but I could also see it being great as a couple’s retreat or as a girl’s getaway. 2018, I will be back!! 🙂

#FindYourTrueNorth #Wanderlustfest #WanderlustFestival #StrattonMountain #Wanderlust2017