About Me

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Delray Beach, FL, Westport, MA, United States
Undergraduate degree, Colby College; MA in teaching, Columbia Teacher's College; former high school English teacher in three states; former owner of interior design co. with advanced degree from R.I. School of Design. Published first book in 2009 titled, MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS. Her humorous manuscript titled ELDERLY PARENTS WITH ALL THEIR MARBLES: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS was published in June, 2014. In 2015 A SURVIVAL GUIDE won a gold medal in the self-help category at the Florida Authors & Publishers Association conference. See website By CLICKING HERE.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Home for Xmas...Even in a Hotel

I love the concept of Christmas! Without examining religious implications, I start singing Christmas music along with the radio the day after Thanksgiving. I love the energy of the season, and appreciate others' efforts to make things beautiful and meaningful.

I love the crass commercialism, too, if it means I can find perfect gifts for loved ones (besides, it helps the economy, right?). I love having a daughter-in-law text to say she can't wait to see her twin eighteen-month nephews open their inflatable, punchable football players. I love having a son call to ask advice on earrings for his wife. Everyone's trying to make someone else happy.

Since our Massachusetts home could accommodate everyone (immediate family now eleven), as well as an in-law or two, I used to leave Florida three weeks early to begin decorating, baking, and shopping. Charley begged to stay in the warm weather till two weeks later, when I needed him as a "gofer." He'd cut the holly and evergreen boughs, string outdoor lights, help me put up the tree, and "go for" anything I needed. As the former owner of an interior design company, I wouldn't miss the house tours in Providence or store windows in Boston.

Christmas Eve we'd all visit friends in R.I., where our sons grew up, and then my husband's family (an Irish clan). Christmas Day, my daughter-in-law's mother brought her recipes, which we prepared together. The holiday was exhausting but provided memories of a two-year-old granddaughter returning again and again to gaze up at the illuminated angel swinging slowly back and forth at the top of the tree; or our satiated son with his hand on his pregnant wife's belly as we all watched "The Christmas Story" together.

Several years ago, after carolling in a horse-drawn sleigh with 20-degree temperatures and a 15 mph wind, Charley declared he didn't want to return to open our home in Massachusetts for the holiday. So the family came to Florida twice; then we alternated between our sons' homes for two years. Due to time constraints for work, as well as travel with twin eighteen-month-olds and three granddaughters under seven, we decided to meet this year at a hotel between our two sons' families.

I hit the internet in August. We had a lot of requirements: a suite big enough for a small tree and gift-opening on Xmas morning; a pool for the kids to swim; rooms with sofa beds for the granddaughters (plus two cribs); decent restaurant(s) in-house or close by.

I traded in a lot of "Frequent Flier" and "Frequent Guest" points and we ended up in...

White Plains, New York!

I wasn't expecting much...

But it was PERFECT!

Eighteen-month Jeffrey laughed hysterically as he splashed me in the pool. Our youngest granddaughter, Ashley, had her first sleepover, nestled against cousin Devon. Arden and Ashley, hand-in-hand next to us, wore antler headpieces across Main Street and stopped pedestrians. The boys dressed in buttondowns with red sweater vests and the girls in embroidered or plaid dresses with ribbons in their hair for dinner and photos. Both twins ran away from Santa in different directions after grabbing small gifts from him. The hotel provided gingerbread cookies to decorate with icings and sprinkles, as well as aprons. Uncles, aunts, granny, and grandpa read The Grinch Stole Christmas for the 100th time and cuddled to watch "Barbie the Snow Princess." We stole a million kisses and hugs, and gave way too many horsey and piggy-back rides for our backs!

On Dec. 24th, granddaughter Arden said to me, "This is the bestest day ever! We get to stay in a fancy hotel, swim all morning, go to Build-A-Bear in the afternoon, and Santa comes tonight!

Wherever we all are, we are home for Christmas.

And to all, a good night... and a very healthy, happy 2012!

(Follow my next two blogs about overnight train travel.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Our Safari Guide

Our guide every day in Thornybush Game Preserve (25,000 acres next to Kruger Park, South Africa) was Werner Pretorius. When I first heard his name, it sounded Roman to me. But we were in South Africa, so I asked him a far-fetched question. "Are you a descendant of one of the founders of Pretoria?" I didn't really anticipate his answer.

"My father and his brothers have traced their heritage back that far, yes," Werner answered in his quiet voice.

Although Orlando, our tracker, sat exposed on a small iron seat above the left headlight, Werner was THE MAN! A rifle rested securely in its open case on the dashboard in front of him, for an emergency. Werner steered our eight-person, tiered vehicle through ravines, across trees ravaged by elephants, and over twelve-foot saplings to catch glimpses of "the big five" up-close and personal. And we did - day after day! He manned the two-way radio, directing other guides in Afrikaans to rendez-vous at our locations. Then he'd switch to German to suit visitors in a passing jeep or to English for us. He had passed advanced courses as an astronomer, a naturalist, a marksman, and solo guide on foot. He was twenty-five.

Charley took a personal interest in young Werner. He peppered him with questions during our four-hour forays into the bush twice daily. Maybe it was his fatherly image - who knows? - but they bantered easily together and Werner liked Charley enough to answer.

"My father is a farmer outside Pretoria," he told us. "It's a very large farm - hundreds of thousands of acres. I hope to take it over some day."

"Do you have a girlfriend?" Charley finally got around to asking.

"Yes, she's a civil servant in Pretoria. I think she's the one I'll marry some day," Werner confided.

"If you move near her, will you still be a guide? You're so good at what you do, and you certainly enjoy being in the bush."

"Probably for a while. There's a problem with my taking over the farm. My father has several brothers who also own it."

"So you're working as a guide to save some good money?"

"Right! Then I'll ask her to marry me, and maybe one day I'll have my own farm."

The next day, Charley followed up. "Have you thought about when you'll propose?"

"Yes, soon."

Werner sat with us every evening for dinner. The third evening, Charley persisted over a couple of beers. "When is soon?"

"Very soon," was Werner's only response.

Our last day on safari, Charley needed a more definitive answer. "When is 'very soon?'"

"Maybe by the end of the year. She's already decided to leave government service to train in pre-school education. She could open her own pre-school anywhere."

"Sounds as though she's making plans," Charley commented. "I guess that means you'd better pop the question. I hope you tell her you met a guy named Charley who wanted to know exactly when this blessed event is going to happen!" he added, laughing. "Maybe she'll send us an invitation and thank me in person."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Disparities in Soweto

It was embarassing! We arrived in Soweto, Johannesburg, inside a steel, air-conditioned fortress - fourteen white faces peering out the windows of a bus, while black faces peered back at us. We sat in comfort, driving past a mile of squatter camps and corrugated iron shanties (with t.v. dishes). Then we ventured into the heart of the 'hood.

"Soweto": an acronym for "South Western Townships," a cluster of townships sprawling across 20 kilometers southwest of Johannesburg. It was established in 1904 (Klipspruit - oldest township)as primary residence for black day-laborers in the City. Soweto burgeoned when migrants moved in. In the '50's it became a relocation center for blacks under apartheid, when the government reserved inner-city neighborhoods for whites. Census 2001 put Soweto's population at close to a million. That census will soon be redone in 2012. Whites will self-enumerate; census-takers will have to track down those living in rented rooms cemented onto legal residences, in tin shacks, or nowhere ("Kwerekwere" is a term for those who have immigrated illegally across national park boundaries and probably cannot be found).

Soweto: vibrant, colorful, sexist, dangerous, juxtaposing differences. Piles of garbage and pitted roads offset green fields, rustic streams, and luxurious mansions (i.e., Winnie Mandela's three-story fortress behind barbed wire, though she no longer lives there). Brown or gray four-room dwellings (the original migrant "matchbox houses") exhibited flowers along the front walk. A "shebeen" or local drinking joint neighbored Nelson Mandela's and Desmond Tutu's original residences on Vilakazi Street.

Soweto: Site of the 1976 Student Uprising, commemorated in Freedom Square. This spark ignited an entire country to overthrow the apartheid state.

We ventured out of the bus and began walking. Directly in front of us was a busy barbershop. Plastic sheets covered the sides of a 10'x10' structure. The back wall was half cement block and half iron fence. Razors hung from metal supports, with extension cords running to an unknown electric source outside. We asked permission to take a photo. No hostile faces reacted to our request - just curious ones, like us.

There were arrangements to eat lunch in a private home/restaurant there. Our hostess was a star in Soweto - a cook whose meals became so famous she won a government grant to take courses in Business. She had become a leading entrepreneur in the Soweto community and a role model for businesses in the home.

In the front room we helped ourselves to a sumptuous buffet of hot meats, vegetables, and Papa. On the walls hung the proprietor's awards and degrees, while to the side her husband stood eating on a built-in counter. Behind was the kitchen. In back of the house was an open area, then newly-constructed men's and women's toilets.

We sat in the double-length renovated garage at long tables, while uniformed family members served us drinks, cleared our plates, and brought desserts. Our table of travellers had a few beers and relaxed, while two of our group described an enrichment course they were taking together in California.

"We pick the topic for the semester ourselves, and the topic this term is 'The Popes,'" Nancy explained. "Each of us researches a Pope, writes a paper, and presents our findings to the class."

"What's been the most interesting Pope so far?" someone asked.

"It was Pope _______, who turned out to be a woman!" Myrna said.

"A woman??" we all wanted to know.

"Did they have to turn the chimney smoke from gray to pink?"

"How did they figure out he was a woman?" The jesting began.

"Well, after that they had to test each Pope to make sure," Nancy continued.

"How did they test?" my dear husband asked. "Did someone have to reach up under the robes?" Charley raised his right hand and motioned as if he were changing a light bulb!

No answer, amid the laughter.

"And who did the testing?" Charley continued. "The unlucky bastard!"

"The head Cardinal has to do it, even today," Nancy explained. By this time, we were laughing so hard, we had discontinued all eating and drinking.

When we regained our composure, we thanked our hostess outside. I snapped a photo of three local children in front of the house. One of them had severely crossed eyes. That snapped me back to reality. Still in Soweto.

We walked a couple of streets over and began a ritual that has, apparently, become protocol for tour groups in Soweto. Since the democratic government spearheaded a movement to develop parks and provide electricity and running water in the townships, its funds are depleting to do so, with 25% unemployment in the country. So tour groups help. We planted a sapling that we had brought in the bus. Two local men provided the shovels and chiseled away the rocks in the red clay, then watered with buckets. Each of us shovelled dirt onto the tree. The local children joined in, some in shoes, others barefoot.

Mrs. Kekana, the owner of the house, watched with interest. Behind her the high cement wall surrounding her dwelling was littered with drying laundry. "Did you know you had been chosen for this?" I asked her.

"Yes, someone came to the door one day and said they would like to plant a tree here! I don't know why it was me."

I asked her if the clothes that were drying were for her family. "Yes, they are for all my children and grandchildren." I suspected that she, like so many others, ran a very successful business out of her home.

We walked back and re-entered our bus. Our afternoon had been a peek - a very whitewashed peek - into a disparate lifestyle. I thought of the hardships and atrocities we hadn't seen, described by white author Steven Otter living in Khayelitsha, a black township outside CapeTown. I was grateful for the air-conditioning, among other things.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Souvenir Shopping

I used to collect eggs from all over the world during our travels - ceramic, crystal, stone, beads, etc. But I ran out of space on our glass shelf.

So I started buying gifts for family members and friends during our travels. That really mounted up, with siblings (Charley was the oldest of seven), parents, sons, aunts, uncles, etc.

Now I try to take at least one quality photo on each trip that I can blow up to 11" x 14." We have two walls full of them, but at least they're conversation starters and memory prods.

On the South African trip, the only things I bought were small Christmas presents for the immediate family. Our tour operator hadn't scheduled shopping time. We found items in hotel gift shops and managed forty-five minutes in a craft market in Johannesburg. I discovered a 250-pound wooden hippo there, which would forever remind me of the "Danger: Hippo Crossing" signs along the Zambezi River in Zambia. Charley insisted I curb my enthusiasm!

I observed we had different kinds of shoppers among the fourteen of us. Grandmothers like me were always on the hunt for kids' outfits, headbands, books, toys, and girls' accessories.

The die-hard shoppers rushed from shop to shop in the airports and at the craft market. They compared prices for items on their lists (like African fabrics) and returned them, when possible, if they found a better price. They knew the managers in each hotel gift shop on a first-name basis.

The professor who accompanied us from Brown University had lived in Johannesburg and planned to grab a taxi to her favorite shop as soon as our plane hit the ground. Unfortunately, a traffic jam (perennial, in South Africa) prevented her excursion that day, but eventually she sneaked away and did some damage.

Then there were those who needed a second (or third) opinion before coming to a decision. A choice between two heavy stone necklaces necessitated a lengthy discussion. "Do you think she would wear something this heavy?"

"Yes, but the stones are more neutral in this one, and she could wear it with more."

"True, but the colorful necklace is less expensive."

"Do what you wish!"

In the shop at Thornybush Game Lodge (next to Kruger Park, South Africa), I pointed to a woven blue and brown handicraft hanging on the wall. "I love that basket!" I told the sales lady. "Would you mind getting it down so I could look at it?"

She was snickering as she handed it to me. "That's not a basket! It's a Zulu woman's headpiece!"

I looked at the loose weave and realized anything small in this "basket" would fall right through. So I put it where it belonged - on my head. Just then Charley walked into the shop. "Why do you have a basket on your head?"

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Phyllis and Gert Check into the Westcliff Hotel

The following is a composite of calamities that befell several of our group checking into the Westcliff Hotel in Johannesburg. For purposes of this blog, I have combined the incidents into one story and attributed them to two travel companions.

The Westcliff Hotel cascaded down a hillside, with pool and terrace overlooking the majestic Magaliesberg Mountains and the forests (none native) of the northern suburbs. The brochure we received prior to departure described the Westcliff as having "an understated elegance, holistic spa, palatial marble baths, and individually furnished guest rooms decorated by South Africa's premier designer, Graham Viney."

The brochure failed to mention that the accommodations had previously been apartment units, some smaller than others. In fact, some much, much smaller than others. And some not fully reconditioned.

The fourteen of us arrived via air from Zambia in the late afternoon and checked in. The abundant staff (in uniform) shuttled us up the hillside to our rooms on golf carts. "See you tomorrow morning," Gert yelled to us, as she and best friend Phyllis disembarked. A staff member in the black pants-black jacket-white shirt uniform walked in front with their key.

Phyllis and Gert entered their boxlike room and saw piles of crumpled sheets and towels strewn across the carpet. An open container of lotion and a used razor accessorized the "palatial" marble bathroom. Splashed water darkened the marble floor. At least there were two beds, but no space to walk around them. The "premier" designer Graham Varney had screwed up in this one!

Phyllis, being the more assertive, turned to the black jacket-black pants-white shirt carrying the luggage from the golf cart. "Put those back, please. We don't want this room. We need to go back to the lobby!"

Upon arrival at the front desk, three receptionists (same uniform, skirts, no pants) consulted their computer screen. "You see, ladies, we are booked with two conference groups. There is no other room to give you. We will have yours made up immediately!"

Phyllis was quick on her exhausted feet. "We'll go have an early dinner in the pub," she replied. "Please come get us when the room is ready." Gert nodded in agreement. A drink sounded delightful! The same black pants-black jacket-white shirt that had brought them down the hill carried them back up.

The two ladies enjoyed a leisurely dinner and a couple of frosty pink martinis. Black pants-black jacket-white shirt appeared to escort them back to their room.

This time it was clean. Although the outside temperature had dropped into the fifties, the room still smelled musty. Gert went over to get the air conditioning going. No luck!

Phyllis got right on the phone to the front desk. "Could you have someone come right away to fix the air conditioning? It won't go on!"

They began to unpack. A knock on the door and the air conditioning man appeared (dark pants, white shirt with logo, no jacket). Some fiddling and sometime later, VOILA! Cool air began to circulate.

Gert went into the "palatial" bathroom first. "Phyllis! You're not going to believe this! There are no towels!"

Phyllis jumped back to the phone. This time she asked for the manager. Every inch of her 5'2" frame was rigid, down to the tips of the hairspray on her blond coiffure. Only her voice shook. Soon, another knock on the door and a woman (you guessed it - black skirt, black jacket, white shirt) appeared with towels and washcloths.

"Gert, we'd better not try to get around the side of these beds," Phyllis warned. "We'll get stuck!"

"I don't think I could slide in there soaking wet!" Gert responded. By now, she had a towel around her and was looking forward to a hot, soaking tub. She leaned over, adjusting the water temperature in the spout. Like a statue, she leaned and leaned.

"Phyllis, I can't get any hot water in the bathtub!"

"OH MY GOD!" was the response. "What next??"

Back on the phone with the manager, an enraged voice came from a petite lady. "This is Ms. Gotkin again! This is supposed to be a five-star hotel and we have no hot water. We're exhausted and we need a plumber here immediately! We've run out of patience!"

Another knock on the door (black pants, white shirt with logo, sans jacket). By this time, Gert was fully dressed again.

Eventually, Gert got her long bath. Afterward, she wrapped herself in the warm terrycloth robe hanging on the back of the "palatial" bathroom. She put on her slippers and quietly shuffled between the two beds, so she wouldn't wake up her good friend. "Ahhh!" she sighed, gratefully sliding under the clean sheets.

There was a knock on the door. Gert couldn't believe her ears. She willed her swollen ankles from under the covers and found her slippers. "Who is it??" she asked through the door.

"Something for you from management," was the response.

Gert peered around the chain lock to see another black pants-black jacket-white shirt holding out a tray. On the tray were two bottles of red wine, four wine glasses, and two boxes of chocolates. "Please accept our profuse apologies," the note read. "The management."

"Thank you," she said to the uniform, taking the proffered tray and relocking the door. Gert looked around for a place to put it. Their nightly necessities covered every inch of the small bureau and nightstand. Balancing the tray in one hand, she began to push earrings, watches, and bracelets to one side. A wine glass teetered against the edge of the tray, then toppled over against the hard metal suitcase beneath. Glass shattered around her slippers.

Phyllis sat up. "Pour me a glass," she muttered.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ferryride across the Zambezi River

We were at the mercy of the tour guides that the company operator assigned us at each location. We had become skeptical, after Wendy had more than a few "senior moments" around Cape Town.

Leaving C.T. and the wine country, we flew to Johannesburg, then into Livingstone, Zambia. There we were, plopped in a corner where three countries intersected: Zambia, Namibia, and Botswana. Pushing our luggage carts in the searing heat, we scanned the airport for someone who looked as though he/she could speak English. Turned out everyone did - they were taught English in school!

Then there she was! Mary turned out to be an incredible spokesperson for her adopted Zambia, as well as a superb guide. Raised in England and transplanted to Rhodesia by her mother and father, she married and stayed till Rhodesia became nonexistent. When the government took over the farm she and her husband owned, they headed to Zambia.

The next day she warned us, "Don't expect a customs and immigration office like you're used to!" We were about to take a "ferry" from Zambia across the Zambezi River to Botswana for a safari into Chobe Park.

We had an inkling of what to expect, having passed through the town of Livingstone, Zambia, on the way to our hotel at Victoria Falls. In town, red clay surrounded chicken-wire fences, which surrounded the schools, boarded factory, tin-roofed shops, and "Fawlty Towers." "That's the best hotel in town," Mary pointed out, "and the only one!" The one-story structure looked like it was constructed of fiberboard, and did, indeed, lean.

Our road was paved all the way to the ferry crossing, unlike the one we'd taken to board the Sunset Cruise the previous evening. About a mile from the ferry, we began to see eighteen-wheelers parked along the side of the road. They were fully loaded with copper and other goods leaving Zambia. Beside many of the trucks were tables and chairs, set up under small tents. "Is it a strike, like in Italy?" someone asked.

"No," Mary answered. "There's a hoe-down up the road, so they all stopped," she quipped. "Just kidding! Really, the ferry that carries these trucks across the River can only load one at a time. So some of the truckers wait days, even a week, to get across. They have full living arrangements in the cabs of their trucks."

"Aren't there roads or bridges?" someone asked.

"The fee is too expensive. And it would take even longer to drive all the way around than to sit in this lineup."

Like dutiful sheep, we got off the van, following our leader. Hundreds of native Zambians stood in a queue inside another chicken-wire fence. The queue led to a one-room wooden building, the customs office. On the other side of the building the dirt road became muddy, as it neared the River.

"Just follow me!" Mary instructed. "We have to get our passports stamped, then we'll get on the ferry."

We wound our way past the waiting Zambians, then cut in front of them. "This is going to be trouble," I thought to myself. Still, they kept smiling. "Where you from?" they yelled in English.

"U.S." we replied.

"Obama! Obama!" they began chanting.

We kept moving. One at a time, at a single window inside one room, we got our passports stamped and filed out. By this time, all of us white people were sweating profusely in the heat and humidity.

"Just keep moving toward the ferry," Mary advised. "You'll have a lot of hawkers trying to sell you wooden carvings and things, but as long as you keep walking, they'll walk with you. No-one will stop you or touch you."

I spotted our "ferry" - a pontoon boat that may or may not fit all fourteen of us. Were they kidding? Mud squished around my sneakers. As we moved down the bank, the hawkers descended. Still chanting, "Obama!" they held out wooden crosses, giraffe carvings, bracelets, or necklaces.

"What your name?" they asked each of us. Suddenly, they spied Mary, their savior who brought tour groups to them each week. From, "Obama!" the chant changed to, "Mary!" "Mary!"

All of us successfully boarded to cross the River. None of us had spent a dime. As we were pulling away, I noticed the black tee shirt on the hawker nearest us. It read, "Get Every Dollar." He raised his arms in triumph. "See you later - afternoon!" he yelled across the water, as we pulled away.

The other side provided more fanfare in Botswana. We were met by uniformed guards and our passports brought to an office and stamped. Guides whisked us away in two vans. Botswana was more developed with substantial shops, paved roads, and luxurious developments along the River. At a beautiful safari hotel we embarked upriver for the morning. Hippos and their babies swam alongside, followed by herds of Cape buffalo, impala, and more pachyderms than we'd thought possible. The giraffes simply ignored us, as we approached in open jeeps in the afternoon. Still, we had to return to Zambia.

The reverse crossing proved more costly. "G.E.D." tee shirt positioned himself at my elbow when we hit the wire mesh laid across the embankment. He insisted on knowing my name. I avoided eye contact, then felt guilty, as he walked with me. Finally, I wilted under his gargantuan smile. "What's yours?" I asked.

"Thabo," he responded. "Your name, missus?"


"You like necklace, Pamela? You must have!"

OK, OK, one more trinket wouldn't kill me.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Out of Africa: Overview

There are some trips you wait a lifetime for, and they disappoint. And then there are some that exceed your expectations. And more.

South Africa fit the "more" category. Though it was not for the faint-hearted. The flight to Frankfurt was eight hours, with hotel rooms waiting for us there after our early morning arrival. That same night we flew another ten hours to Johannesburg, then connected to Cape Town. The trip back was seven hours by bus out of "the bush" to Johannesburg, with reverse plane trips to Frankfurt and on to Boston, after a six-hour layover.

Our group of fourteen alumni from various colleges went under the auspices of A(lumni) H(oliday)I(nstitute). The tour company handled visa and shot procedures, all modes of transportation, tickets (with better airfares than we could get individually), itinerary reservations, and suggested reading. With us for the entire trip was travel director Joanie, our "mother-hen." It was a good thing, since one of the group fell getting off the escalator with her luggage in Johannesburg, and ended up in a hospital with sixty stitches. This fearless traveller rejoined us the next evening in CapeTown.

Also with us was Nancy Jacobs, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History from Brown University. Nancy had lived in Africa and been a U.N. observer during the 1994 elections. She was insightful and funny and a wonderful companion (also a mother of two who left the kids with her husband while she travelled with us on sabbatical, doing resesarch). She provided three fascinating lectures, in addition to those of local experts in various destinations.

Did I mention the average IQ of the group was probably 150? Apologies if I got this wrong, but I counted seven PhD's among us, one LLD, one retired surgical ophthalmologist, one retired city planner, among other degrees. Everyone was an experienced traveller and really cared less about degrees. We all bonded well, laughing till I peed in my pants, helping each other with luggage, pushing from behind onto high jeeps or buses, getting the lighting just right for couples' photos, identifying birds and wildlife so Kay could check them off in her Guidebook, counting heads when Wendy miscounted, and sharing insights.

At each destination, we picked up local guides who stayed with us until we departed for the next location. Wendy, Mary, Mark, had full days planned in the Cape Town region, the Victoria Falls area of Zambia and Botswana, and Johannesburg. There was no sleeping in on this trip, unless you wanted to miss a tour...which Charley and I did in CapeTown. We skipped the wine country tour in favor of spectacular Kirstenbosch Botannical Gardens and, as it turned out, that was the ONLY morning we slept past 7 a.m. In the South African bush, we were on a jeep every morning at 5:45 a.m., followed by breakfast at 10 a.m., followed by a lecture, then lunch. Back out on the jeep at 4 p.m., unless you wanted to miss tracking the elusive leopard. Why did they think we had to eat so much?

Neither was there any shopping time (except at hotel gift shops), or time to wash out our undies, or shower (except maybe 5 a.m. or 10 p.m.), or answer all our emails. Somehow, though, the shoppers among us managed to bring back enough souvenirs to claim "VAT" (shopping for souvenirs will be the subject of another blog post).

Amazing what we accomplished in two weeks!! We stood in Nelson Mandela's prison cell during a tour of Robben Island with one of Mandela's prison contemporaries as a guide; we cablecar -zipped to the top of Table Mt., then whisked out to the Cape of Good Hope; sampled wineries' products; stayed at Victoria Falls, Zambia, then crossed via "ferry" into Botswana for a daylong safari along the Zambezi River; lunched at a private home/restaurant in Soweto (Johannesburg), then planted a tree in front of another home not far from Mandela's and Desmond Tutu's first residences on Vilakazi Street; toured the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, followed by four days in a private game preserve on the edge of Kruger Park (northeastern So. Africa). Not only did we see all of the "Big Five," we told our guide to "Drive On!" when impala herds or kudu passed by. They became mundane!?

What didn't I do that I wanted to (besides sleep and shop)? I wanted to take an outdoor shower in Thornybush Game Preserve, but it would have been 5 a.m. or 10 p.m., with the monkeys and who-knew-what-else accompanying me. And I wanted to swim in one of the gorgeous pools at our hotels or venture out of the hotel in Johannesburg (only by vehicle!) for dinner. Too tired...

Stay tuned for humorous glimpses of group travel in future posts. We're still reliving the experience!

Monday, October 10, 2011

50th H.S. Reunion Recap and DON'T Rules

I didn't want it to end! The weekend started Wednesday with six ladies at my home for a "mature" slumber party. Weather perfect for long walks along Buzzard's Bay and sitting on the deck. Didn't count the wine bottles in my recycling! Charley made a smart move - to his sister's for the duration.

The ladies followed each other in a caravan to Greenwich, met up at a private cocktail party (have you gotten the impression that even the tea drinkers were drinking a lot of tea?), followed by the reunion dinner, and brunch on Sunday. Of the 130 attendees (including significant others), I think almost 100 of us were out on the dance floor at one time or another. We grabbed anyone close to the wooden platform and formed big circles. Didn't have to recognize the person we were dancing with - in fact, probably couldn't! The "oldies" kept our hip replacements gyrating and new knees bending. "Primo" and "secondo" platters of Italian food kept coming and coming and I kept taking and taking. Finally I gave up trying to hold my stomach in. Was so wound up, I didn't sleep a wink all night, and neither did my friend who'd driven down with me. Both husbands decided to stay home (wonder why??).

Here's a list of DON'T RULES, if you plan to enjoy yourself at a 50th reunion. I had lots of help putting together. Here goes!

1. Don't assume you can ignore the questionnaires during the year preceding the blessed event. If you don't respond, nobody will care if you come or not by then.

2. Don't refuse invitations to pre-reunion gatherings. You might not recognize people when you get to the actual reunion (you won't!!).

3. Don't lean in to squint at someone's nametag and photo. You will look like the old fart you are, instead of the hipster who sticks out his hand and asserts, "I'm ______________."

4. Don't ask people if they remember you. You might not like the answer!

5. Don't ask someone you've just met, "Are you wife number two or three?"

6. Don't introduce your second wife as "Mary Two" and attempt to explain that she has the same name as your first wife.

7. Don't answer the question, "How are you?" with, "My last surgery was a total failure."

8. Don't answer the question, "How are things?" with a monologue about your bitter divorce, lack of funds for a vacation in the last five years, and necessity to work till hell freezes over!

9. Don't french-kiss your old boyfriend.

10. Don't put your hand on your old girlfriend's butt.

11. Don't assume the best-looking in the class is still the best-looking.

12. Don't assume the nerds are still the nerds. Or that they are poor.

13. Don't eat garlic bread before dancing.

14. In the event you disregard rule number 11, don't leave your TicTacs at home.

15. Don't ask someone to dance if he/she has a walking stick propped against his/her chair.

16. If you suspect someone had several facelifts, don't stand next to his/her ear, searching for surgical scars.

17. If someone is wearing a hearing aid, don't continue to shout in that ear. Move to the other one, dummy!

18. Don't dance for three hours in a pair of heels you just bought.

19. If you ignore rule #18 and must remove your shoes, don't point out how grotesque your bunions have become.

20. Don't assume that you will look like a dance instructor after a few sippies. It is not a life-altering event, and no-one cares if you make a fool of yourself on the dance floor! Everyone else out there is doing the same thing.

LAUGH TILL YOU CRY, DANCE AS THOUGH NO-ONE'S WATCHING, AND LOVE AS THOUGH YOU'VE NEVER BEEN HURT. That's what our reunion was all about! Any other contributions? Write them under "Comments." Thanks for the memories. Will post following our So. African trip.

Monday, September 26, 2011

My New Devices

I know. I'm a little late joining the 21st century! But I'm trying to catch up.

I just ordered an e-reader, which the manufacturer promises will still be visible in direct sunlight (and there will be a lot of direct sunlight in Africa!). Charley and I usually lug five paperbacks each on a trip. I did not get an IPad because it would duplicate what my new phone will do, and we needed an international calling device. Hope that wasn't a mistake!

I had to get rid of my beloved old Sony Ericsson pink cellphone. The back kept falling off and I had to hit each letter three times to find the right one. Typing a text message took forever.

So I got the simplest Iphone available. It is pretty ugly - black and industrial-looking. The cost was $49. Of course, tax is charged on the retail value, which was $424. Then I needed some kind of special ap (short for "application" - I'm learning) for $69, a charger for the car, a service agreement, and most importantly, an indestructible case and film over the glass (I don't want an elephant trampling on the thing, but maybe it would survive?). The only feminine choice for a cover was white, but that would get black, anyway. I walked out of there with a $245.41 bill.

Well, I didn't exactly JUST walk out of there. Lovely Ashley spent two and one-quarter hours with me. First she had to call Charley to get HIS permission to add my cellphone line under my own name, since his was on there as the primary account-holder. That was not pretty, as Charley not only won't touch computers, he won't touch cellphones and doesn't understand why any company needs six security questions answered to change an account. Finally Ashley turned him around.

Ashley should have sized me up when she saw me walk in the door with my pretty pink phone. Nevertheless, she persevered and answered my every question. Even downloaded all my photos and address book from the old phone and then gave me a demonstration by calling me. I was put to the test and passed (answered my own phone)! And then she wrote Pam's "To Do List." No kidding!

I felt like a kid in kindergarten, but at home I was eternally grateful. I had to download ITunes to set up an account. I had to create a password and username and then plug my white cord into the new device and download the info onto my computer (so I never lose any information). Then I had to mark in my calendar the date to remove the International Traveller plan in November, when we return from our trip. Oh yes, and I have to remember not to answer emails on my new phone overseas. That would cost me around $200 more. I'll find WiFi (I know what that means, too!) at the hotels.

Lastly, Ashley printed out the charges on my first and second phone bills that will be coming in, and showed me that the third bill would be the constant one.

Little did Ashley know I wasn't finished! When I got home, I emailed her with two more questions, since I couldn't view the tutorial that AT&T sent me about using the thing. She told me to email her anytime. And guess what - she answered my questions that day.

And the next day, when I had to email her again with another question.

So I guess I got my money's worth. I've already deleted all the worthless emails on my IPhone, but have to go out on my deck to do it. We don't get decent reception on the coast of Massachusetts!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Forty-six Years and a Few Compromises Later

One of my husband's favorite stories about his ability to compromise actually took place way back in 1975. On a Friday evening when he wasn't travelling, I had arranged for a vacuum-cleaner salesman to come to the house after dinner to give a demonstration. We needed a new vacuum desperately!

The last thing a tired husband wants to do is to sit through the demonstration of an appliance at the end of a long week of work! Especially if he played baseball in college, is a devoted Red Sox fan, and there is a game on tv...

Like GAME SIX OF THE WORLD SERIES!!! Little did I know I had arranged the salesman's visit the same time that the Red Sox played the Cincinnati Reds.

As the salesman threw dirt all over the family room floor, Charley dodged and bounced around him, trying to follow the plays. He couldn't hear a thing. After the salesman left, I lit into my weary husband.

"How could you be so rude to that man?" I demanded.

"You were lucky he got in the door!" was the response.

Thank goodness Carlton Fisk hit his game-winning home run in the twelfth inning at 12:33 a.m., not while the salesman was there. I can't imagine if Charley had missed seeing Fisk's arms willing the ball fair, or the ricochet off the pole. I have no idea whether we bought the machine!

Another compromise situation is still in progress. Our Kenmore refrigerator in Massachusetts is 27 years old. It is still functioning perfectly, which I regret every day. However, I have learned to pick my battles!

We have had Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, July 4th, and Labor Day parties at the house, not to mention graduation and birthday parties. We added another small set of three refrigerated drawers to accommodate the larder and the preparations.

The refrigerator is under a service agreement, since parts are no longer available. That means that if Sears can't replace the part, I get a new refrigerator.

It just isn't going to happen. The thing keeps going and going....

The repairman who checks it out every year keeps telling me the same thing. I am sick of hearing it. "They don't make them like this any more! Don't ever get rid of this machine!"

Sounds like Charley's philosophy: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." To put it another way, "A new kitchen? Not in my lifetime!"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Most Versatile Blog" Award

I have been nominated by Ruth Berge, Palm Beach County columnist and fellow writer, for the "Most Versatile Blog" Award. Thank you, Ruth, for becoming a "Follower" and nominating my writing! I graciously accept!! I hope everyone will click on "Follower" at my blog and yours (http://www.ruth.the.writer.blogspot.com/). And thank you, Ms. Saba, for establishing the award on her blog, http://www.worddiaries.blogspot.com/.

In order to follow the rules, I am going to divulge seven little-known things about me.

First, I morphed into a screaming hockey mom during the years our two sons played ice hockey (yes, both sons went on to play pro baseball). My husband would go to the opposite side of the arena and pace, while I just kept yelling, "Get that guy! Take him out!" To quote Sarah Palin, "The only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick."

Second, I have done the following on foreign travels: cartwheeled down an Austrian Alp after falling off a T-bar; remained confined in my room in Buenos Aires during a coup, while machine gun fire richocheted off the hotel; watched helplessly while a gang of youths surrounded, then lifted, our Volkswagen in Naples, Italy; suffered swollen eyelids from a severe allergy attack on a 12-inch trail over 200-foot gorges in Madeira, Portugal (do these count as four separate items?)

Third, I often can't remember why I enter a room.

Fourth, parts of my body are no longer where they should be!

Fifth, there was some glitch in the evolutionary process that landed me on the same planet with snakes.

Sixth, I work out at a fitness center but hate every minute.

Seventh, Ditto for playing golf twice a week! I'd rather be on the tennis court.

Here are some blogs or websites with blogs that I follow. Some are about writing; others are about life. I have been a follower of Nathan Bransford's for many years, when he was a literary agent and before he became an author. In fact, I queried him with my first manuscript, which became MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS, published in 2009 by Barking Cat Books (he rejected me, unfortunately, but I still follow him).

Thanks again, Ruth! Now back to practicing humor for the manuscript I'm working on (A HANDBOOK FOR GROWN CHILDREN WITH ELDERLY PARENTS). Pam

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Cat and the.....Horse

I'd like to share a couple of stories that had the whole family laughing over Labor Day Weekend.

Don, my brother-in-law, got a call from his sister's husband before the couple was leaving on a cruise. "Would you mind taking care of our cat?" Don heard.

"No, I guess not. What do I have to do?"

"Just feed it and give it some medicine."

"Well, judging from the size of your cat, I guess it eats a lot, but what kind of medicine?"

"Just some pills."


A week later, Don received another call from his brother-in-law. This time, the couple was aboard ship, as it pulled up anchor.

"I forgot to tell you, Don, the cat might need an enema."

"Say what?" Don screeched in his West Virginian drawl. "Are you sh___ing me?"

"Just insert the enema up his kazoo, if things get blocked up. Otherwise, he might have something burst."

"The h___ I will! I'll let the vet do it! I don't have a rubber suit."

"You can't take him to the vet! He charged us $900."

"Good thing that cat didn't have a problem while they were away," Don told us. "My sister would have found a dead cat on her hands!"

Our son had a financial client whose wife was a vet. The vet and her husband received a call on Christmas Eve Day from the frantic owner of a horse.

"Please come right over, Dr! Our horse is so old, its breath is labored, and we know the end will be soon. Can you ease his passing?"

"I'll be there shortly," the vet responded.

She and her husband arrived at the owner's house and and inquired as to the whereabouts of the horse.

"Well, it's so freezing cold out that we didn't want him to pass out there. So we put him down in the basement!"

"How did you get him down there?"

"We made a ramp."

Following the owner down the ramp, the vet and her husband found the horse in a tiny compartment in the basement. The horse was, indeed, about to expire.

"We have to get him out of here," the vet said. "I need to inject him and there's no place for him to lie down."

"What shall we do?" asked the owner. "We can't turn him around."

"Get a rope and we'll pull him backwards up the ramp."

The owner stood at his head, encouraging him, while the vet and her husband pulled from the rear. The horse was not only wobbly, but extremely reluctant to be pulled backwards up the ramp.

After several hours, darkness fell, marking Christmas Eve. The temperature plummeted. The horse finally made it to the top of the ramp outside, where the vet could inject him. She and her husband waited with the owner till the horse expired, then rushed home to pick up their family for church services. "May Christmas bring a day without ropes," they prayed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


So there was this little thing called Irene, barrelling up the coast. Only a Category 1 - no big deal, right? Charley and I live on the coast of Florida most of the year and lived through a Category 2, evacuated for a Category 3.

In Massachusetts for the summer, we prepared there. Our house sits a half-mile from Buzzard's Bay, just south of Cape Cod. It had survived Hurricane Bob. We took everything off the deck that could possibly fly around, stuffed the freezers with anything that might survive without electricity, checked the sump pump, notified a neighbor we'd be gone, and gave him our cell phone number. We got cash from the ATM and made sure we had gas in the car and prescriptions for a month.

Oh, yes! We were scheduled to babysit our thirteen-month twin grandsons that weekend in N.J., while the rest of their family were in a wedding in Chicago. Into the car we piled lanterns, boots, a battery-operated radio, non-perishables, and a few bottles of wine. We knew the drill.

Arrived in N.J. and helped our son prepare his house for the storm. Deja vu! We not only stuffed the freezer, we stuffed the garage. All playthings for the older sister came in - plastic playhouse, swings, bike - as well as the toddlers' wagon, water table, and double stroller. Diapers, paper products, and water gallons were piled high. Somehow we got the outdoor furniture, grill, and two cars in there.

The neighbor next door came running over. "We don't get hurricanes in New Jersey!" she insisted. "I didn't know what to do, so I went to Home Depot at 7 a.m. looking for kerosene lanterns. The guy working said, 'What hurricane? We don't get hurricanes in New Jersey.' I just finished pulling six mattresses into the basement for tornadoes. My daughter, Sarah, woke up at midnight and asked me if I'd brought the hammock in. She is really nervous!" I can't imagine why?!

The storm raged for two days, delivering pounding rain, but no severe wind. We never lost electricity. It was a good thing - one twin developed a raging fever that mocked the storm outside. "There's no way in hell we can take him anywhere! What did we do back in the old days?" Charley and I asked each other. Turns out there are some things that never change - stripping a child to lower his fever, using cool compresses, making sure he drinks cool water. We took turns rocking him under an a.c. vent, and called his parents at 2 a.m. for permission to give children's Ibuprofen.

On the fifth day, Charley and I climbed into our car for the six-hour drive back to Massachusetts. We stayed awake by drinking Diet Cokes all the way. Thankfully, the twin's fever had subsided. His parents and sister had returned on a rescheduled flight. Our home in Massachusetts remained intact, along with electrical and phone lines.

I married an Irishman, my only explanation for our good fortune! Loss of electricity or damage to a house? There are some things that can be replaced, and others that can't.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011





In October, 2005, Hurricane Wilma hit south Florida. It was only thirteen months after Frances and Jeanne had hit. Wilma went across the Gulf of Mexico and hit Cozumel as a Category 5 storm, then turned around and took aim at Florida's west coast. Its eastward path would carry it across the Everglades toward Ft. Lauderdale, just below us.

Ten years before, I had relocated my parents from Connecticut to Boynton Beach, just five miles from Charley and me in Florida. In 2005 Mom was 89; Dad was 93. I had left them alone in their cinderblock house for Hurricane Frances, a Category 2. During Jeanne, almost a Category 4 storm, my mother and I had mopped up all night in their house. When Wilma bore down, I made reservations for the four of us at the Hampton Inn in Brunswick, Georgia.

My parents protested that all their neighbors were staying in their homes. After age eighty, the herd mentality took over, reminding me of a bunch of teenagers. Evacuation to a shelter was unthinkable, because of the prevalence of germs. "God knows what we'd catch! Besides, we don't want to listen to screaming children all night," Dad insisted. "We'd be on cots and wouldn't sleep at all. We need a bathroom close by and the toilets would be overflowing."

We each packed one suitcase. In addition, I'd put water, snack items, rain gear, books, lanterns, blankets, and some canned food in the car. I'd recharged my cell phone and gone through a check list for our residences. Mom brought her knitting.

On the drive up Route 95, there was dead silence from the back seat. My parents were punishing Charley and me for uprooting them from their home without just cause! At a rest stop we heard, "Bob (next-door) says this will only be a tropical storm. Why do we have to leave our house? Bob has a generator and Ann is the new block captain, with a satellite phone."

"You certainly have a lot of faith in Bob's weather predictions!" I replied. There was no point arguing.

Wilma got stuck over the Yucatan. Mom lectured, "You are a worrier, Pam, and we should never have left Leisureville. Besides, we're missing Doc Schenecke's 90th birthday party, and he came to my party last fall!" My mother the social butterfly??? She hated even going to block parties right in front of her house, especially if she had to bring a dish.

The inhabitants of the Hampton Inn that weekend were all Florida residents, driven out by caution over the storm warnings. Saturday and Sunday Charley and I listened to a litany of complaints about my parents' accommodations. The beds were too soft; there were only three T.V. stations; the toilet seats were too low (after all, they had replaced all theirs in their Leisureville house with high-rises); there was no Florida newspaper at breakfast. "Let's go shopping at the mall," I suggested.

"No thanks, I think we'll stay right here." Charley and I left them in front of the T.V.'s giant screen in the lobby.

The next day: "Why don't you both come to a matinee with us?"

"No thanks, I think we'll just stay here."

By Monday morning, Wilma was gathering strength and heading east across Florida. It finally hit our area, nearly a Category 3. We, however, ate a leisurely breakfast in Georgia, read, napped, and went out for an early dinner.

"You know, Charley, I think it was a very wise decision we made not to stay in our house," Dad informed us. "My God, what am I eating? Catfish??"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I decided to pay some bills after breakfast. First, I took my cereal bowl and juice glass to the sink and rinsed them out. I tried to put them in the dishwasher, but it was full with last night's dirty dishes.

So I turned on the dishwasher, poured more coffee into my mug, and cleaned out the coffeepot. I walked toward the front room to get my glasses in the desk.

Passing through the front hall, I noticed the flowers in the vase were wilting and the stagnant water was beginning to smell. So I took the vase into the kitchen, threw the flowers into the trash, emptied the water, rinsed and dried the vase.

When I was putting it back in the front hall, I remembered I had come out there on my way to someplace else. But I didn't have any idea where. So I headed back into the kitchen and just as I remembered I was supposed to be getting my glasses, the phone rang.

After my conversation with one of our daughters-in-law, I decided I'd better get dressed. When I passed through the front hall on my way to the stairs, I remembered that I had been going to get my glasses. I retrieved them from a drawer in the desk in the front room, but couldn't remember what I needed them for. So I put them on top of my head and went upstairs.

In our bedroom, I made the bed and put the clean laundry away. I put the items that needed ironing into a pile. Then I went to my closet.

It was a very hot day, and I was going to meet someone for lunch. I selected a sundress to wear, but then I saw that it had a spot. So I went downstairs to get the spot remover.

I retrieved the spot remover but needed my glasses before I could do anything with the dress. I looked in my desk in the front room, but they weren't there. I looked around the kitchen counters and the family room sofa, as well as among the magazines. No luck!

I went back upstairs, got another dress out of the closet (I was going to be hot in this one!), put on some jewelry, and decided I'd better wait with the makeup till I found my glasses.

I started down the stairs, but half-way down, I remembered I hadn't brought the clothes that needed ironing. I went back up, but noticed the toilet was still running in our bathroom.

So I took off the tank cover and jiggled the lever a few times, lifted the float manually, and washed my hands thoroughly. I got down to the kitchen and remembered I had forgotten to bring down the clothes that needed ironing. Oh well, it was too hot to iron, anyway!

I noticed the stack of bills still sitting on the kitchen table. Since I couldn't find my glasses, I decided to cut some flowers from the garden to replace the ones I threw away.

There was a problem with cutting the flowers: the deer were eating our arbor vitae trees in the early mornings, and they carry ticks that cause Lyme disease. The arbor vitaes were right next to the hydrangeas and the roses I wanted to cut. So I had to cover myself with bug spray. That meant a shower when I came in, and I usually showered at night.

As it turned out, I was sweltering in that dress under the hot sun, anyway! After I'd cut and arranged the flowers, I went right for the shower. I took off my dress, then my necklace and earrings, and hopped under the cool spray of water.

I started to wash my hair when I discovered the glasses on top of my head! Now what was it I needed them for?

Sunday, July 17, 2011


I don't understand the problem! The little dimpled ball sits there, stationary. It is begging to be clobbered! All I have to do is swing at it.

I would not consider myself a novice at the game. Our property in Massachusetts abuts a golf course. We have owned it for twenty-seven years. I have taken clinics and private lessons. I have attempted to play in ladies' leagues.

Still, I stink! My handicap remains at forty. Some days, it's downright embarassing! And frustrating.

If I analyze, I conclude that I really don't enjoy the game. Therefore, I don't lug buckets of balls out to practice. I don't play enough, either.

I LOVE playing tennis. I am on the tennis court three-four times/week. I have played competitively on a team in Florida for many years. If I make a mistake on the court, the next ball is coming right back at me. I don't have to dwell on a screw-up, while I walk yards and yards to hit the next shot.

When I am not on the tennis court, I am writing. It is a new career, after my first book was published, and I have to take it seriously. Yet I still expect to go out on the golf course and play decently.

Golf I have to squeeze in. It doesn't always happen.

Golf takes time. You have to devote half a day, at least, to the game. You can go play a couple of sets of tennis (and get some ACTIVE exercise) and be home in two hours, max.

You have to play golf regularly, or at least practice regularly, if you expect to improve, like anything else. By regularly, I mean at least three times/week. There is no muscle memory, because there are so many variables.

The grip has to be just right. The stance has to be just right. The shoulders have to turn so the backswing is just right. And God forbid if the hips don't pivot with the shoulders! The head has to stay down. Do I need this?

If I choose the wrong club, I hit too far or not enough. If the wind is blowing STRONGLY, as it was last Thursday, I have to keep the ball low. I don't know how to do that, unless I choose a club that will make the ball go too far. I also don't know how to give the ball backspin when it lands on the green.

The three women I played with last Thursday were all steady, consistent golfers. They are good friends and were very positive and supportive, but they were always waiting for me.

I set the ball on the tees and took gorgeous practice swings! On one occasion I topped the ball and it landed five yards in front of me. Two other times, I whiffed. Four times I picked the ball up and stuck it in my pocket.

I went right home after we played, disgusted. Didn't even eat lunch. I tried not be negative or aggravated. After all, I was privileged to be out on the course. I tried to focus on the good shots. They were few and far between.

Yesterday I learned that.......we had WON the ladies' day last Thursday. How???? It must have been my handicap that pulled us through. Maybe I'll sign up for next week.

Monday, June 27, 2011


With the exception of common courtesy and a respect for human dignity, one must leave all assumptions behind when travelling. This is especially true for Americans in Italy.

Charley and I do not assume the following there:

-that the paper will be delivered regularly or that buses, trains, and ferries will be running (24-hour strikes occur with a day's notice);

-that the road to our hotel, with rock walls tumbling down the hillside at hairpin turns, will be fixed in our lifetimes;

-that garbage will ever disappear from roadsides, or even be collected;

-that drivers will move over for pedestrians (who have no sidewalks), instead of playing "chicken";

-that American prudishness about exposing the body is universal.

It is one of the things we love about southern Italy. Life is exuberant and loud. Neapolitans are brash, grabbing life as it comes and squeezing it tight (as evidenced by the antics of twosomes on scooters or in passionate embraces whenever the mood strikes).

Neapolitans are not afraid to flaunt their assets. The men and women are bronze, the women with thick chestnut tresses and filmy gauze dresses cut to their navels. They have little and live under the shadow of the ever-threatening Vesuvius. They disregard the mafioso clans that rule every aspect of their city: garbage collection, construction, gambling, drugs, pinball machines, and all other illicit activities.

"Humans are flawed," the Ischians tell us. Their island faces Napoli and Vesuvio. "We cannot be expected to perform perfectly all the time."

At our hotel pool on Ischia, I am surrounded by six-foot models in thong bikinis, topless women sunbathing, and men in Speedos. Some of the sights over age sixty are not pretty! Only the English and Russian women in that age group, like me, wear one-piece bathing suits.

Perhaps it's time to dig that bikini out of my suitcase!


I have cartwheeled down an Austrian Alp, after falling off a chairlift; remained confined to a hotel room in Buenos Aires, while a coup d'etat prevailed outside; watched helplessly while a gang of youths surrounded, then lifted, our Volkswagen in Naples, Italy; suffered swollen eyelids from a severe allergy attack on a 12-inch trail over 200-foot gorges on Madeira. But nothing can send me into a panic so much as....................................................................................................................


......................................................................................not being able to find a toilet when I need one!!!

Charley and I recently returned from our all-time favorite destination of Ischia - an island facing Capri outside Naples, Italy. We attended the last night of festivities honoring St. Vito in the nearby town of Forio. Our friend who owns an apartment there made a 9:30 p.m. reservation for a waterfront table to see the fireworks. In Italy, diners show up an hour before they think about ordering dinner. The wine was flowing. We thought the fireworks would start at 10:00.

"Soon," Daniella kept saying. "Maybe tomorrow. Maybe July! Here - have some more vino!"

It WAS tomorrow when they started - 12:30 a.m., exactly. By then I'd switched to coffee and Charley had switched to Diet Coke.

The show was spectacular - the most impressive we'd ever seen, including July 4th in Boston. Marco Polo had, after all, brought fireworks back to Italy from China.

In fact, there were TWO fireworks shows over the marina. Forio's ended, and the town of Lacco Ameno tried to outdo its neighbor. By then, I was nursing a glass of water.

The shows ended at 1:30 a.m. I hit the toilet one last time. Along with 12,000 Forio residents and thousands more from across the island, we trudged half a mile to get out of the harbor.

Up ahead I spotted an available taxi. We ran! Then we sat for thirty minutes. Like bees (except they were carrying sleeping infants and toddlers), the throngs swarmed in front and in back of us, making last-minute purchases at open stalls. Vespas whizzed by. We progressed one car length at a time. The thought crept into my mind that our progress might necessitate an impossible pit stop. The power of suggestion is a dangerous thing!

There was construction on the road to our hotel. The taxi couldn't get through the traffic. We got out two hundred meters from our entrance to walk.

Ischia is volcanically thermal, lushly colorful, and demandingly vertical. Climbing up the road, I mapped the location of the nearest bathroom at our hotel. Our room was ten meters up the hillside from the lobby. The public restrooms were ten meters down the hillside from the lobby.

"Honey, we'd better step on it," I warned Charley. He knew what that meant.

We arrived at the twelve-foot iron gates marking the entrance to our hotel. They were securely locked!! By this time, I was crossing my legs.

There were two callboxes. I hit all the white bars on the first one. While Charley was pushing buttons on the second one, I eyed the surrounding bushes.

Suddenly the gates opened! We ran for the lobby.

"Room 415, please!" Charley demanded, as the night clerk turned for our key. "Can we get a ride to our room?"

"Certo, signore!" The clerk pushed a button, while I folded myself into a sofa in the lobby.

"Please, St. Vito, we toasted you so many times tonight! Now do something for me," I begged. "Let me make it to our room!"

An attendant on a golf cart appeared. Over every bump I prayed to St. Vito. He didn't forget me!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

France Revisited

We will soon re-enter French airspace en route to Normandy. It will be Charley's first tour of the D-Day beaches, but not his first trip to France.

During previous visits, we made mistakes. We didn't understand the French mentality. We didn't follow the rules. We didn't wait patiently as French men and women ignored us. We didn't ask the right questions.

On our first trip, we flew in from the States at 7 a.m. and had to connect to Corsica. Charley put our luggage cart, piled high, directly in front of the "Corsica" sign at the ticket counter. We needed boarding passes and had four hours to kill. Groggy, we took turns getting coffee and reading. Around 10 a.m. the "Corsica" sign moved. Charley grabbed our cart but wasn't fast enough. A French woman came out of nowhere, ramming the front bumper of his cart and cutting him off. He rammed her back. "Despicable Americans!" we heard, as she stepped up to the "Corsica" counter ahead of us.

On another trip, we met an American friend and her travelling companions at an outdoor cafe. We got there first and eyeballed the tiny cafe tables. "I'll grab a few more chairs and move this other table over," Charley declared, rearranging the furniture. A waiter ran over. "Monsieur! Monsieur! Non, non!" We had violated two waiters' serving assignments. Ten of us sat at two separate tables and waited thirty minutes for acknowledgement that we existed.

We drove along the Riviera from Nice. About two and a half hours beyond St. Tropez, we cut inland looking for our "Hidden Inn," right out of a guidebook. It was hidden, all right! No road signs anywhere. We stopped a farmer, who led us down a dirt road on his tractor.

We checked in and learned the pool was in back, with reciprocal privileges at a hotel right on the beach. We unpacked, put on bathing suits, and headed for the pool. All we wanted was to chill out with a cool drink! There were plenty of chaise lounges at the pool, but no towels. "Excusez-moi, les towels?" I asked a sunbather.

"At the main desk in the lobby!" he answered in English.

I went back for towels but diverted up to the room for sunblock I'd forgotten. The upstairs hall was in total darkness. I fumbled with our key at the door, shoved it around near the hole, but couldn't get the knob to turn. Back to the front desk.

"Madame, you must insert your key in the slot at the end of the hall. That will turn on the lights. Then the locks will respond."

We decided to try the beach at the other hotel, instead. We made our way to the attendant there, who explained, "Je m'excuse, no chairs at beach. OK on hill. I move you when beach chairs open."

That was fine with us, since there was shade on the hill. We spread out our stuff and walked toward the Mediterranean.

"Monsieur! Monsieur! Non, non! Non beach!"

"What? We can't go in the water?"

"Non, monsieur! The prix on hill - non beach."

Back to the lobby for towels.

Before flying out of Nice, our last stop was the Chevre d'Or Hotel in Eze. Eze is on a cliff along the Grande Corniche, hanging high up over the Blue Mediterranean. We had to leave our car about two hundred yards below; a golf cart took us the rest of the way.

We had booked a reservation for dinner in their famous restaurant, filmed in "The Bucket List" with Jack Nicholson. It was one of the two most expensive dinners we've ever paid for. Problem: we couldn't see two feet out the windows. We were completely fogged in!

The next morning the fog burned off and Charley decided to use the exercise room. The receptionist had proudly told us it opened at 10 a.m. Right at 10, he climbed the fifty stone steps from our room, hanging over the cliff, up to the exercise room. Closed! He continued up fifty more stone steps to the lobby.

"Non possible, monsieur! It's after 10 o'clock. It must be open!"

There was no point arguing. Charley figured by the time he got back down fifty steps, he might find the door unlocked.

Not so! But where there's a will, there's a way. He spotted a louvred window on the bottom row that was cracked open. Yup! He climbed in.

The exercise attendant thought he was hallucinating when he unlocked the door and saw Charley pedalling calmly on one of the bikes. "Monsieur, what are you doing here?"

Charley pointed to his watch. "It's 10:30. The exercise room is open!"

Anyone else have travel stories??

Saturday, May 7, 2011


AT&T: "Hello, my name is Melody."

Chas: "Are you a real person?"

AT&T: "Last time I checked!"

Chas: "Well, I've been pushing buttons on your menu for ten minutes before I got anyone with vocal cords."

AT&T: "I'm sorry about that, sir. Would you kindly give me your phone number?"

Chas: "....................."

AT&T: "Now I need your password, sir."

Chas: "........... "

AT&T: "Would you please give me the last four digits of your social security number?"

Chas: "...."

AT&T: "Now I need the answers to a couple of security questions~"

Chas: "I'm not Osama bin Laden!"

AT&T: " I guess we wouldn't be having this conversation if you were! Just a couple more, sir. What was the name of your childhood pet?"

Chas: "Blackie."

AT&T: "What was the street that your wife grew up on?"

Chas: "River Road."

AT&T: "You have answered all the questions correctly."

Chas: "Do I get a prize?"

AT&T: "I suppose I could sing for you, since my name is Melody! Otherwise, how can I help you, sir?"

Chas: "Melody,I have a very simple request. We have your UVerse system for two phone lines and high-speed internet. We are leaving Florida to go north for four months and would like to put our service on seasonal hold."

AT&T: "I'm sorry, Mr. Carey, but I can't help you."

Chas: "Excuse me? We've been putting our account on hold each summer for fifteen years!"

AT&T: "Yes, Mr. Carey, but you didn't have UVerse before this year. I'm afraid UVerse customers will have to do that on-line."

Chas: "But only my wife deals with the computer. I don't touch it!"

AT&T: "Then have her go on-line to AT&T.com and I will walk her through the steps."

Chas: "I don't think she'll want to hear about steps right now. She's in the middle of a project. I'll have to break it to her at another time. Can't you just flick a switch or fill out a form, like the cable company?"

AT&T: "I'm afraid it's not that easy, Mr. Carey. Is there anything else I can help you with?"


Next evening

Chas: "Are you having any luck getting our service suspended?"

Pam: "I've been on for over an hour and opened every possible link under 'UVerse.'
When I hit 'Move or Change Service,' it asks where we're moving to!"

Chas: "This \/!!***! Company is useless! What other links are there?"

Pam: "I've tried 'My Account' and 'Technical Support.' The word 'Suspend' or 'Hold' doesn't exist in their vocabulary. Call them back for specific instructions."

Next morning

AT&T: "Hello, my name is Samantha."

Chas: "Am I speaking to a real person?"

AT&T: "Yes, I'm a real live wire!"

Chas: "I'm so excited for you! I have spent one evening on the phone with your Company and my wife~"

AT&T: "Excuse me for interrupting, sir, but would you please give me your phone number?"

Chas: ".............."

AT&T: "May I please have your password?"

Chas: "...................."

AT&T: "Now I need the account holder's name."

Chas: "Samantha, I AM the account holder, and my name is CAREY and the last digits of my social security number are .... and my childhood pet was named BLACKIE and my wife grew up on RIVER ROAD and I am UPSET! Please HELP ME!"

AT&T: "What can I do for you, Mr. Carey?"

Chas: "I want to put our UVerse service on seasonal hold for four months. I have called your Company once before and we have tried to do it online. Nothing has worked! Can you please give me the steps to follow on your website?"

AT&T: "I'm so sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Carey. Let me find out how you can proceed."

AT&T Supervisor: "Mr. Carey?"

Chas: "I can't believe it, but I'm still here!"

AT&T Supervisor: "Mr. Carey, I'm the Supervisor, Scott Regan, and I'm here to help you."

Chas: "That remains to be seen! I just want to put my UVerse service on hold for four months while we leave Florida for the summer. It used to be so easy!"

AT&T Supervisor: "Well, I'll find out how to do that. Would you mind holding?"

Chas: "Do I have a choice?"

AT&T Supervisor: "Mr. Carey, are you still there?"

Chas: "Is that you, Scott?"

AT&T Supervisor: "It's me. Thank you for holding. Now, tell me, is it correct that you do NOT have your cable t.v. with UVerse?"

Chas: "That's right, Scott. We live in a condo, and the building is wired for Comcast. We have no choice in the matter."

AT&T Supervisor: "Well, you see, Mr. Carey, right there is the problem! You have to have the ENTIRE PACKAGE in order to put your account on hold for the summer. You have to have phone and high-speed internet and t.v."

Chas: "So what you're telling me is that after two phone calls and an evening on your website, it's impossible to put our account on seasonal hold? What's the minimum we'll be paying each month over the summer?"

AT&T Supervisor: "$69.95."

Chas: "Even though we won't be here? That's outrageous!"

AT&T Supervisor: "I'm afraid so! But that's still quite a savings each month. Then when you get back, you just call us to reinstate full service."

Chas: "As simple as that, huh?"

AT&T Supervisor: "Is there anything else we can do for you?"

Chas: "I'd rather not say."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Snapshots from Key West

Charley and I head south - as far south as we can go until U.S. 1 runs out, just ninety miles from Cuba! We trade chocolate Easter bunnies for females with bunny ears who stroll the sidewalks with cups filled with frothy pink liquid.

Key West is a paradise for writers - and artists, lovers, snorkelers, divers, boaters, fishermen, campers, birders, foreigners, lesbians, gays, transvestites - ANYONE! Just the drive down is worth the trip. It takes five hours from Delray Beach, over forty-some bridges. The sea changes color on both sides of us, from deep azure far out to vibrant turquoise in the channels to beige over the sand bars to thin pea-soup-green in the runoffs. Nonstop photo ops, but not at 45 mph between Key Largo and the end of the road.

We try to go every year for the Conch Republic Independence Festival. It is a week-long celebration (the end of April) of the (unsuccessful) attempt by Key West to secede from the Union. Here, the bizarre becomes commonplace and acceptance is the norm. A young Irishman walks the sidewalk with pink dye in his blond mohawk. The spikes on his head are outdone only by the spikes on two green iguanas grazing on sea grapes at the edge of our beach. A van in orange and white psychedelic swirls advertises a number for pickup to "Live(!) Naked Dancers." As opposed to what - dead naked dancers? The mainland seems a million miles away.

First, there is the drag race down Duval Street. Men in drag - sequined dresses, bright makeup, wigs, and revealing undergarments - RUN in stiletto heels while pushing a cart. Then they have to jump through tires. Some of the shaved legs are pretty shapely, and the butts aren't bad. The contestants clearly work out for this! There are no bulging guts, but WAIT!! Something seems to be bulging from one of the tube tops! Could it be?? A starter stands with legs wide apart in a thong and no top. Somehow, HE just doesn't fit in!

Another event is the bed race. Beds are decked out as floats and pushed by the above "beauties" while real-life natural beauties sit on the mattresses, feathered, flocked, or fried. Monkeys and a lemur squat on spectators' shoulders, peeling peanuts, while parrots and macaws sqawk at the contestants. The pigeons are busy! We see a dog with its limbs spread-eagle in a baby back pack.

The other event that is a blast, literally, is the Coast Guard's attempt to subdue the rebel "Conch Republic" pirates in their ship off Mallory Pier. The Pier is the site of sunset kisses, cruise or Navy ship dockings, and acts of wonder at night (we have seen the same contortionist, now age 57, remove himself from a chained straightjacket for ten years). It is also the spot to be for the water fight. The Coast Guard, with its superior hoses, subdues the rebels, but not before they have thoroughly doused the spectators. None of us care, since we all have a glow from the sun or whatever.

There has been a gradual transformation in our modus operandi since Charley and I started going there. I no longer wear flip-flops with cute crystal beads cutting between my toes. Charley does not walk in his Birkenstock sandals. Instead, we ramble up Duval Street and back (two and one-half miles,total) in sturdy walking sneakers and socks. I have an elastic bandage supporting one knee that is burning. Charley does not wear his golfing straw hat or even a baseball cap. Instead, he dons his wide-brimmed Galapagos hat, looking for native Key West species. He sports a three-day beard, Papa Hemingway-style, and blends right in.

We no longer stop by the Hog's Breath Saloon, Sloppy Joe's, or Margueritaville. The stink of beer venting onto the sidewalk makes me sick. Instead, we stop on a porch near the Southernmost Hotel for a glass of ice water, lemonade, or iced tea.

There is a problem during our walk. I must shop by memory. "I absolutely HATE to shop," Charley reminds me. "You could always go out later, while I'm at the beach." The first day he indulges me by stopping in a few places. Thereafter, I must do a memory snapshot of the exact item in a window, the shop it is in, and where the shop is located. I down my ice water in the wicker chair and run back to look at the beach bag, watercolor, or necklace closest to the porch on which Charley sits. I know I will have only the time it takes him to finish one bowl of tobacco.

We have "done" the tourist attractions: snorkeling the reefs, the Glass Bottom Boat, Conch Train, Truman Summer White House, Hemingway House, Audubon House, botannical gardens, butterfly conservatory, Shipwreck Museum, Sunset Cruise. Now we collapse on our hotel beach after the morning walk. We can order lunch from our chaises, without moving. Reminds me of a story.

We have taken two different couples with us to Key West. While we were eating at an outdoor lunch place with one couple, the husband (Ed) kept jumping up and running toward the car. "What in the heck is going on?" Charley asked, when he returned to our table.

"I'm deathly afraid of cats. One attacked me when I was a kid." Needless to say, there are cats all over Key West to keep the rat population down. He only ate a few bites.

We proceeded with Ed and Kiva to our hotel beach after lunch, having no idea that the section we chose was designated "Topless." Ed settled in, took one look at what was in front of him, and never moved a muscle for the rest of the afternoon. He didn't even bother to open his book. "This is where I want to have lunch the rest of the trip," he declared.

It has been a process of elimination choosing the right place to stay. In the mid-nineties, our first booking was in a cheap motel at the southern end of Duval Street. It was the only thing available in our price range, so we walked five miles a day finding places to eat. Next we tried an inn that had been recommended. That meant we had no beach and had to lug our stuff. The inn compensated by providing free cocktails at Happy Hour each day! We stayed there two years.

Next we did a time-share promotion at a Hyatt facility on the southern end of the island. Charley was NOT happy about spending half of one day roaming around the property which he did NOT intend to invest in! Finally we tried the Pier House Resort, next to Mallory Pier. Great location and food, but we had a wall three feet from the edge of our patio. No view, and we were next to the lobby!

Tried the Pier House again, but this time I specified a room in the new "Spa" building. It was luxurious, compared to what we'd had before! We unpacked, roamed, ate, drank, and climbed in our king bed. Only trouble was, we were the end unit against a side street. The crowds of drunks kept us awake till 1 a.m. At 5 a.m. a very loud rooster began crowing on the property directly behind our room. At 8:30 a.m. the gardeners began SAWING down a trellis attached to the side of the building (and our room). We packed up and headed for the office!

We got an immediate upgrade. Following the guy pushing our luggage, we continued past the restaurant onto a dock. We were hanging over the water at the beach. We went up one level and looked at a king bedroom with adjoining living room. Beyond that lay our own private plexiglass balcony with chaises that continued around the corner of the building. Can we order lunch?