Beach Strolling

As the chilly winter rains pelt against my windowpane, I seek solace in front of a warm crackling fire. As much as I love to surround myself with people, I equally love to separate myself and take time to nurture my spirit with relaxation, reading and journaling and sometimes just letting my mind wander aimlessly. As the days grow longer and the sun rises higher in the sky I am drawn to a different kind of solitude. One that nurtures the soul and satisfies my senses. Having just found this new beach, I am excited about returning to it. And today seems like the perfect day to go beach strolling. So I head to the beach.

I pull into a parking spot and turn off my motor. The sun overhead gives me a false sense of the temperature outside. I wrap my warm scarf tighter around my neck and brave the winter chill waiting for me outside my car door. I step out into the cold and the crisp smell of salt water washes over my senses as white puffy clouds dot the blue sky overhead.

As I walk along the waters edge I gather shells and keep adding just one more to my already bulging pockets. I remind myself to leave some for the next "beach stroller".

Two crabs, washed up on the sand, lay silent…

A mother runs along the shore with her young child…

Down the beach I pass a woman perched on a log. I notice the contemplative expression on her face as I pass by. I wonder… has she recently lost a friend or lover or is he waiting at home for her return. Is she happy? Sad?? Or just here to soak up the ambiance as I am.

As I walk closer to the shore my eyes wander out over the smooth, glassy water and I catch sight of a sail boat as it is being propelled across the water with its small engine tilling the water sending rolling waves crashing against the shoreline at my feet. I am tempted to not move and let the water wash over my feet, but think better of it as I remember the cool temperatures of the day. I get lost in the sounds and the smells as my eyes catch a glimpse of more perfect shells that lay resting on sand just out of my reach under the water.

It's getting late in the day and I sense dusk is quickly approaching. As I head back down the beach towards my car I spot a young couple tossing rocks out into the water, competing with each other and lost in the moment unaware of passersby. I pass careless bundles of driftwood Mother Nature has placed in unsuspecting places to add to the already perfect ambiance of this place.

As the sun begins to set, I feel a loneliness settling in alongside my contented mood and I long for the warmth and familiar sounds of my home.

My pace picks up as I spy my car and I am excited for its warmth. As I settle in behind the steering wheel I feel contented and refreshed, ready to return to my busy world.

Winter Wonderland

Snow-kicking Walk

Early one morning a couple of weeks ago I woke up to my phone ringing. It was my friend who lives just a block down my street. We're walking buddies. Actually I was probably awake. I just had a feeling it was cold out there and wanted to draw out this early morning snuggling under my warm, cozy comforter as long as I could. She asked me if I'd looked out my window yet. She's a teacher, so I knew if she was home there must be snow outside. So I crawled out of bed, walked over to my window and opened my shades to a beautiful winter wonderland. She said, let's go walking! I'm beginning to sound like the lines from the story "The Night Before Christmas", where it reads, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. Away to my window I flew like a flash, Tore open the shudder and threw up the sash. And something, something on the new fallen snow. O.K. anyway. . . A few minutes later she was at my door.

One of my favorite ways to talk with friends is to walk with them. Conversations flow easily mixed with moments of comfortable silences. As we walked that morning the world around us fell silent. The only sound was the crunch of snow beneath our feet. It was absent of the everyday sounds of rubber hitting the pavement as cars climb the hill in front of my home and the chatter of kids running to catch the school bus at the corner of our block. I walked with a sense of "wonder" that morning at the beautiful picture mother nature had painted for us. As we passed shade covered windows I knew families were probably still tucked under their warm blankets, because for this moment the world had stopped. For this moment - it felt as though it belonged to just me and my friend.

Last week-end my friend moved into her new home they just had built eight miles from my home. I know we'll still walk. We'll just have to work a little harder at it.

Serendipity - Chance Encounters

We arrived at the airport in Florence at 8:30 am for our flight home at 10am that morning. As we stood in the check in line I suddenly sensed chaos at the counter. It wasn't long before an attendant was walking down the line asking everyone where they were headed. When she got to us and we replied Seattle, she said, "not today you're not". Air France just went on strike. She then went on to tell us that the strike would probably last at least 4 days. My first thought was, "well how bad can this be, having to spend 4 more days in Italy". There was still a lot of Florence we wanted to see. And it gave me one more opportunity to eat, you guessed it, gelato! I got busy designing new plans in my mind when I find her standing in front of us again, asking if we would mind being re-routed on our way home. If not, we could possibly still head home that day. So we headed to the next counter and quickly found ourselves holding new tickets to Munich, Germany. (with a layover) From there we would fly to London (with another layover) and then on home. That sounded perfect to both of us and interesting. It was a clear day as we flew over Germany and I felt gifted with an aerial tour of this beautiful country where rows of houses were graced with red tile roofs surrounded by lush gardens and I caught a glimpse of the snow covered Swiss Alps. I traveled between Munich and London with my nose pressed against the window as our plane silently carried us through the air. I'm sure at times the stewardess thought I might have been trying to escape the plane through that little window.
We arrived in London and found ourselves in the middle of the most amazing shopping mall. Nothing around me resembled any airport terminal I had ever been in. The first store I saw was Mohamed Fayad's (Dodi Al Fayad's father) chain of exclusive Harrods stores. I don't know, but I think there was probably a cover charge just to get in. Well, probably not a cover charge. I just didn't want to take the chance of falling in love with something that I couldn't even remotely afford, so I headed to McDonalds for a Big Mac. The first American food I'd eaten in 3 weeks.

We boarded our plane for home late in the day and I was ready to enjoy a little dinner (someone was serving me, so I wasn't complaining), settle in and enjoy the view as we flew over the English countryside, and then turn off my light and hopefully sleep most of the 10 hour flight home. I was hoping for a quiet seatmate that didn't want to visit. The plane was quickly filling up when this beautiful young lady sat down in the seat next to me. We smiled at each other and she immediately curled up and closed her eyes until dinner was served. Somewhere between the salad and the entrée we introduced ourselves and spent the next 4 hours exchanging stories and becoming friends. She was a TV producer from Lebanon coming to visit the U.S. for the first time. Somewhere out over the ocean in the middle of the night she looked at me and said, " it doesn't make any difference what color our skin is or where we're from, as women, in our hearts we're all the same. I think at that moment something in our hearts connected. The next week we met in Seattle for lunch and on Thanksgiving she called from Texas. The day she flew back to Lebanon she called from the airport and said "let's keep in touch". Today we connect through email. What if. . . Air France had not gone on strike and circumstances had not changed our plans. I would have missed this incredible encounter. What I have learned in life is that most things happen for a reason, and that it's just easier to go with the flow. . .and see what surprises life might have in store. Webster says "serendipity is a discovery almost by chance".

Vacation - Italian Style

2007 came to a close walking through Tuscany, Italy with my husband. A walk I had dreamed of for a long time. We rented a little apartment on a winery/farm tucked away on a hillside just outside Montalcino, with shuttered windows that opened to rolling hills filled with vineyards and perfectly planted fields. And miles of curving roads that wound in and out of this breathtaking Italian countryside. So with more enthusiasm than words can truly express, we began our discovery of Italy. I invite you to come with me for an edited version of my walk through Tuscany. Did I mention, I stopped at every gelateria to sample yet another flavor of gelato. And found there is never too much when it comes to eating gelato.

It's market day in Montepulciano. We park our car outside of town (as you do in most Tuscan towns) and walk up the hill into town. Most all of the old towns we visited in the Tuscany region were built on hilltops in the form of fortresses to protect its citizens from the ongoing wars that seemed to go on for centuries. After spending time around these fun-loving Italians it's hard to believe that these loving people didn't always love each other. The marketplace is filled with laughter and chattering and smells of Italian sausage, fresh baked pastry and people strolling and bumping into each other. (The vendors that make up the Marketplace travel from town to town throughout the week with each town having their designated market day). After hours of strolling and bumping we head back to our car with bulging bags tucked under our arms filled with Italian sausage, and cheese, (of course!), Italian leather shoes (my husband's), a new skirt and wool jacket (for me), many scarves and a nagging desire to bring home so much more.

As I strolled the streets of these Tuscan towns their ambiance washed over my whole being like a warm rolling ocean wave caressing the sand as it washes onto the beach. I daily fantasized of living behind one of the doorways surrounded by Italian pots filled with trees, vines and flowers. I wanted to bring every pot home with me including the plants that were trailing out of them and finding their way over doorways and around windows. I pictured them around my doorways. But I guessed somewhere in customs they would all be taken from me.

We embraced life on our farm Le Chiuse and quickly found ourselves settling into the rhythm of Italian living. Eating pecorino cheese for breakfast, sipping wine with lunch and dinner, always with a glass of Italian bubbly water which the locals refer to as "gas" water. Lingering over lunch for at least two hours and even longer over dinner. Arranging site seeing from noon to 4pm when all the stores are closed. Experimenting with the few Italian words we had learned, Buon giorno (good morning), buona serra (good afternoon), buona notte (good evening) and grazie (thank you). My husband tossing in bits and pieces from his slight knowledge of French. We found ourselves daring to communicate with our new Italian friends.

I have found that if we pay attention to the details in life, ordinary moments turn into extraordinary adventures. Italy was filled with both of these and my camera was constantly clicking because I didn't want to forget any of them. So as I settle into my seat on our plane heading home, I click my seatbelt and begin revisiting the memories of our Tuscany tour. These are some of my favorites: Leo the farm dog who showed up at our door every morning in time to share breakfast with us, usually bringing the farm cat along with him; trying to drive as fast as we could to stay ahead of the Italian drivers, but no matter how fast we went, they went faster and always passed us; the extraordinary colors and flavors of Italian food; the walk to Frances Mayes' home in Cortona; cutting clumps of grapes from the vineyard just outside our door to eat with our meals; washing laundry by hand and hanging it out on the communal clothesline, and sitting out by the pool early in the morning with my new friend Rosie the artist from Denver, CO, (also a guest on the farm), watching her draw and paint water colors of the surrounding landscapes and sharing our life stories. And taking a cooking class with my new Colorado friends - Rosie, Karen and Linda. Did I mention that I love gelato?? Ok, somewhere in there I think I did!

And I haven't even mentioned our stay in Florence, visiting the Acadamia, the Boboli Gardens and the Duomo, walking on the Ponte Vecchio, just to mention a few. But, that's for another time.