Friday, September 14, 2018


I treated myself early this morning.  It was the first morning in a long time that I woke up feeling as if I hadn't gone ten rounds with a prize fighter.  We talked about mattresses yesterday at lunch and I got out our old blow up bed, blew it up, and slept on it.  My theory might be right.  It may have been our mattress all along.  Within minutes of getting up from the bed of less air than I started out upon, I made my coffee and grabbed the little stack of writes that you put into my hands before we departed yesterday.

I felt like jumping for joy.  Your stuff is good Bev.  No, it's great Bev.  I read the three new essays and re-read the shorter piece that you shared at lunch.  I hung on every word.  Why you lack confidence in your ability to deliver is beyond me.  You hang the moon.  I think a book of your written gems would be a great seller.  Maybe not a best seller, but a great seller.  You'd miss capturing that vast audience that begs and calls for violence, smut and cranked-out crap.  You would not appeal to the crowds of Americans who don't breathe, who don't process feelings.  Yours would be an audience of sensitive, intelligent people who appreciate the beauty of the written word and see that  it is through words, and words alone, words beautifully chosen and interwoven, that stories are told. The size of your audience is what scares me about life.  The fact that you write so freely about prayer shifts the balance.

You tell stories, Bev.

We've been writing together for over six years now.  Can you believe it?  I adore and love you and feel that every moment you give to me is a gift.  Your life is busy and filled with things that I can only wish to have.  Yet, each time we meet, you make me feel special and honored. You make me want to write. You affirm my belief that it is when we write, we learn about ourselves. You affirm my belief that words make worlds and sometimes bring us into worlds begging for more words.

Look at yourself.....who would have guessed that you would become the prompt.

You are the story, Bev.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Buen Camino

The Scallop shell was used by early pilgrims as a vessel for water, wine and food and therefore was adopted as the symbol for the Camino.  It is one of the most important route markers and is seen in variations all along the hundreds of miles.

Not a week goes by when I am asked if I have written about our Camino yet.  Not a day goes by when I have not given hours of my thoughts to that very idea.  Before setting out, I promised myself, and lot of other people, that I would stay in touch through my writing and that they could do a virtual trip with us.  I fully intended to use my writing as documentation and to fill spaces with photos that would capture moments and bring them quickly across the sea into the lives of those who chose to follow us. Alas, it did not happen that way.  Oh, yes, I did document.  But Instagram became the perfect repository for those photos and quick thoughts became the only ones that documented those moments that were too magical and too powerful for what it would have taken to have sat down for a greater write.  Life on The Camino de Santiago is life unlike anything I had before encountered and it has taken from May until now, to process it all.  My week of magical thinking.  I am a fan of the late and great Leonard Cohen.  I think of his Hallelijah  as my personal theme song for this life-event.  It contains a multiplicity of positions and, while it is complex, it is stirring and moves me.  Not surprising, it was the song done by a young busker, that greeted us and overtook my emotions when we arrived in the Cathedral square at the completion of our journey.  It has several different endings and it took Cohen five years to write it. Five years.

It's only taking me four months.  R.I.P. Leonard Cohen.

The Camino in its entirety, stretches over five hundred kilometers from France through the top of Spain.  Completing a full Camino takes a month or more and pilgrims who traverse the route carry everything they may need in packs on their backs.  Packs are heavy at the start and become lighter along the way as the decision to "downsize" is made,making burdens easier and walking less strenuous. By the time they reach what was our starting point in Sarria, many already have lighter packs.  Metaphors are born on the way and this one is an easy one to get.  Our Camino was the shorter version, the one hundred kilometer Camino Frances, spanning only five days of walking with day packs.  We stayed in hotels each night; our luggage went from one to the next each morning via vans. Each evening,  clean beds, hot water, private bathrooms and lovely regional dinners awaited us.  We had few expectations as we did our planning, but the knowledge of a meal, bed and hot shower at the end of each day, were on our list.

Sarria is a lovely little city, located an hour and a half's drive from the airport of our arrival, Santiago De Compostela. (Yes, we started at our completion destination!) A river runs through it and an ancient stone staircase sits in the outskirts awaiting pilgrims as they follow the yellow arrows  that became the first of many for us to follow.  The arrow and the simple lines of a scallop shell, painted yellow against a brilliant cobalt blue background (my beloved high school colors) are the singular route markers.  Follow them and you stay on track.  Realize that you haven't seen one in a while, stop and think about where you're going.  It's best to not lose track of the markers for to do so results in back-tracking or becoming totally lost and alone. No taxis!

 One of the questions we were asked often when we returned was "is it crowded?".  While hundreds
of people travel the Camino routes daily, there are few times that one senses that there are many
others on their path. We passed and were passed by at least a hundred others - no conversations or introductions needed.  Each and every person offers the universal salutation of "Buen Camino" to each other. "Have a good journey" One of the basic beauties of the Camino is the quietness and tranquility which allow for meditation, contemplation and prayer.  Each sound of feet hitting surface or walking poles making their connection became for me,  a tiny symphony and lent to the heightened awareness of the gift I was unwrapping. Those poles, by the way, made for a safer trek.  Yes, we did look like giant insects but our agility levels were so much greater than they might have been.  Ancient pilgrims used sticks found in the forests.  Modern purists still use sticks but most are found in shops along the way.  In ancient times, pilgrims simply walked out of the doors of their homes, turned left or right, and continued until reaching Santiago.  No special equipment.  No planning.  No Ace bandages. And no bathing. More about that later.

After departing Sarria, our days went on filled with new terrains and fresh experiences.  We found ourselves walking through forests of eucalyptus trees, over slippery rocks in streams, through mud, on hard pavement, over dry-packed soil, up hills and up hills and up hills. 
Just as in life, there were hills that were tough to climb.  There was no way to avoid them, and no turning back.  Each became a challenge and I approached all of them with different sets of resolve.  Some, I zig-zagged up, slowly.  Some I simply stuck the brim of my hat down over my eyes and, sticking poles into the ground,  climbed, allowing myself the surprise of arriving at each new plateau.  Others, I sprinted up, just because.  Each climb became a lesson.  Many of them were filled with prayers of thanksgiving for the ability to move is a gift. The spirituality of endurance.

Sarria to Porto Marin to Palas de Reis to Melide to Azura to Amanal and finally, to the beautiful city of Santiago De Compestela.

The Way or the route from Sarria to Santiago is part of the Camino Frances. Completion of the last 100 kilometers or roughly 62.1 miles, allows for certification in the form of a document, written in Latin,known as the "Compostela"  It is the route of choice for the older set but neither this route nor the 500 kilometer is mutually exclusive.  For almost a thousand years, millions of pilgrims have walked to the Cathedral De Santiago.  I'm not sure when the first "Compostela" was bestowed but I do know that the "Crudencial", the Pilgrim's Passport which is issued at the start of the journey must be stamped twice each day, in order to receive this document from an official office in Santiago. Forgetting to do this would be akin to forgetting to renew a driver's license.  Our  beautiful Compostela certificates, affirm the fact that we did, indeed, walked the required 100 kilometers. It does not, however, take into account the days before or after, times we got off-track, or walks at the ends of the day. 

We claim more like 161 kilometers in five days.

 That glorious day, after having received our documents, we attended the Pilgrim Mass at the Cathedral. The Romanesque and Gothic structure, first opened in 1211.  Tradition has it that the remains of St James the apostle, beheaded in 44 A.D. by King Herod in Jerusalem before being brought to Galicia, repose.  At the top of the altar, a large bust of the saint overlooks the full nave of the cathedral and lines of visitors make their way up a narrow stairway to put their arms around his shoulders and give him a hug. We came, we saw, we hugged.  It was he, after all, who brought us there in the first place.  Who could resist?  While hugging St James was an event in itself, it wasn't the highlight of our visit to the cathedral.  That came in the form of another ancient ritual.  The swinging of the Botafumerio pouring out incense at the end of the Mass was something that I wasn't sure I would ever see. It isn't done at every Mass. Six men are required  to swing it and due to modern day economics, the ritual is usually reserved for special occasions. But, on this day, due to the contributions of a group of worshippers, it was swung in all its glory. Had it not been for the kindness of a stranger, a lovely little lady of Santiago who grabbed my arm and ran with me through the crowd  until we reached the perfect vantage point.  Had she not done this, I would have missed it and I would have been unhappy.  Uniquely unhappy.  Devastated. It is said that while on Camino, you meet at least one angel along the way.  I did.

The Botafumerio is a censer suspended from a pulley mechanism on the roof of the cathedral.  Made of an alloy of brass and bronze and plated with a very thin layer of silver, it holds 40 kg of charcoal and incense.  It swings in a 65 meter arc, making 17 cycles for 80 seconds.  Each time it is swung, it costs 450 Euros and requires the work of 8 red-robed men known as "Tiraboleiros".  The custom of swinging the Botafumerio originated in 1604 and is thought to have been a way of ridding the cathedral of the odors brought in by early pilgrims after many weeks on The Way.

 Walking eight hours each day, I don't think we were so much focused on the details of where we were as much as the feelings that were evoked at each turn of the road.  What was this Camino stuff all about?  I had read so much before about the spirituality and the life-changing.  I, unlike a host of people who traverse the Camino, had no underlying reasons for my choice.  For me, seeking a way to celebrate a landmark birthday, it seemed like the perfect challenge.  God has been good.  I was not healing from a crisis, nor was I seeking spiritual enlightenment.  Simply put, I had, over the course of the year before, lost seventy pounds and had turned seventy in January so.....walking seventy-plus miles was my choice for the celebration.  I guess you could say that I was fairly skeptical about the whole thing and looked on it more as an adventure than a life-altering journey. I was awaiting a Saint Paul, a white horse, groups of angels, visions, raining holy water.  Nothing.  With my poles, click-clacking, I eventually started to hear a rhythm. Music to my ears?  Needed or not, I used those poles, dug in, and a sacred partnership formed.  Together, we forged on as if they were speaking to me, urging me, coaxing me and finally, celebrating with me the mystery of the Camino, one message at a time.  And finally, I got it. It was as if the soil beneath my feet leached and from it rose the spirits of the thousands of others who stepped upon it before I did.  Without words, without white horses, without visions, it clarified and beautified itself. The Camino provides.

 To understand Camino Magic, one has to do a Camino. Quickly, you learn that you do not "do" a Camino.  You become the Camino.  And there is the the magic.

Life moves forward, like the Camino. In Spanish, this moving forward and continuing one's Camino is summed up in the word Ultreia. It's a special challenge, to keep the experience and all the magic alive each day, to live what was learned, to change patterns and habits that took seventy years to build.  But, for those five incredible days, I removed what was not needed to be me, and slowly found a new reality of who I am, a shell seeker...... in small daily doses of wonderment.  My only regret is that we did not have more time, that we had to return to the burdens of another world too soon.  I would have liked very much to have slowed down, to have spent more hours on the paths that twisted and climbed and reached to the sky.  I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.  Next time, if and when, I will take the advice of the spirits and not be in such a hurry. After all, I was just on my way to meet myself.

Buen Camino and Ultreia!!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Give me a Break

If there is one trip-prep of which I can be certain, it is that my trekking shoes are getting broken in.

Each time I wear them, they feel better and I feel better knowing that all the quirks can be worked out long enough in advance.

I took my feet, in those shoes, to New York City for a few days this week.  It was school vacation and my daughter fulfilled a promise made two years ago, of more "family" trips. The girls are at a reasonably good age now and I know that in a year or two it may become "Nonni who?" so I jumped at the chance when it was offered. 

Our trip into the city was flawless.  No traffic either way.  The car got parked in a garage near our hotel and we logged on miles, literally, walking most of the time.  Our hotel, one I have used in the past, did not disappoint.  If you ever want a good valued, Euro-style hotel, right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, the Roger Smith is it.  Where else in that city will you be addressed by your name by the front desk staff for instance? 

Starting on Monday afternoon, we covered all of the highlights, the things that as a New Yorker, I always took for granted but this time, allowed myself to see in new eyes, those of a set of pre-teens who were determined to make as many memories and as many Instagram posts as time would allow.

Wednesday brought us a special gift.  The outside temperature soared to 76 degrees.  On February 20th!  A nice break from Winter. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

No Further Explanation

The decision to take on the challenge of walking part of the Camino de Santiago in April was an important one.  I had a good long time to contemplate how and why to celebrate a milestone birthday.

The reasons were obvious to me. I've worked hard on getting my body ready for a new life.  Right now, I can say with confidence that I have lost at least sixty pounds of unwanted weight since last year and will, in fact, be celebrating a year since my bariatric adventure began.  Within that year, I also celebrated my seventieth birthday.  Both events, I reckon, are worthy of being marked by something extraordinary.  

People walk the Camino for various reasons.  The full Camino, done by pilgrims for centuries, stretches over 500 kilometers.  The Camino de Santiago known in English as The Way of Saint James among other names,is a network serving pilgrimages to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The town of Compostela, is in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried here. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. Others, simply for exercise or the challenge of having completed something that they find to be life-altering, no matter the reason.  The modern-day "pilgrims" come to the route from all parts of the world, all cultures, all ages, and all shapes and sizes.  Some only make it part of the way, stopping their journey for reasons that they may not have anticipated when they started out.  For most of those who enter the route, backpacks and hostels become their way of life for at least thirty days.  

For people like myself and my husband, the last one hundred kilometers will suffice.  We won't be backpacking, nor will we be hosteling, but we will "qualify" for the much-desired "Compostela" when we arrive at the end of our journey.  At that point, we will have to present proof of our having completed the route and we will have to state our intentions, whether they be religious or otherwise.  At this point in our journey, the days before our departure, we find that we are called upon to state those same intentions, by curious friends, acquaintances, and family members.  When I'm asked, I'm never quite sure what to say.  I know, in my heart, what the answer is, but I am not always willing to share those innermost thoughts.  But, I will tell you, that when thoughts have been shared, the responses have not always been, shall I say, thoughtful or even sensitive.  Both my husband and I have been told that we're "crazy" or that the choice would not be his or hers. 
We've been "warned" about blisters, foot problems, lack of stamina, difficulty.  You name it, we've been "advised".  As if we don't already know all of that!  As if we are looking for an easy way to spend a week in the Spring.  

I've decided to stop trying to make other people happy.  I've decided to look deeply into why we are doing this in the first place.  I'm not going to answer any more questions regarding our motivation.  It's like the old saying....."if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it". 
So, perhaps my future blogs will reveal some answers.  Perhaps, not.  This is MY Camino and My journey.

But, I did look for some help and found it in a forum.  A woman of my same age, who, incidentally, is doing her second solo Camino, when summarizing her motives, simply says that she doesn't want to die without having done this.  Buen Camino!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Now it Begins

I'm cold. All the time.  Feet, hands, nose and big time, my neck.  It's a side-effect of my bariatric surgery.  The one that will have its first birthday in two weeks. So, I have joined the throngs of people who are looking for signs of Spring, hoping that the worst of the Winter has passed and that we soon will be enjoying warmer weather and brighter days.  This means that April can't be that far away, can it?

The very fact that people are talking about April brings me a tad bit of fear along with the excitement. It means that we have to, in earnest, start getting our bodies and minds ready for our Camino.

My trekking shoes have been purchased and the breaking in phase is well under way.  The sun hat is waiting and some bits have been put aside, ready to be stricken from the list of those things that we now think may be important enough to make it into luggage.  Back packs are ready to be packed. Socks have yet to be purchased as are Joe's shoes.  In other words, things are well under-way.

The Camino walk that we will take is known as the St. Francis Way.  It isn't the toughest of the walks that make up the Camino Santiago, but it does qualify us for the certificate that will prove that we have undertaken 100 kilometers, some 63 miles of the Way.  For us, it will be just as challenging as it will be for those who bravely take on the entire route, all 500 kilometers.  They will have an experience that I am sure, will differ in many ways from ours.  For instance, most of the "pilgrims" on their route will be staying in hostels every night.  We will be staying in hotels, already booked by an agency.  The only snoring I will have to hear will be my own husband's.  We'll have our own room, our own bathroom, and the luxury of not having to haul everything we own in a heavy pack on our backs as we walk every day.  Our luggage will be moved from hotel to hotel along the way.  We simply are not "young" people any longer.

So, it's time to start the process, to get serious about the big "challenge" and to not second-guess ourselves.  The Camino awaits and we'll be there.

Tomorrow, it's shoe fitting time for Joe!!  We're heading back to REI in Hingham and we better come home with those important first steps......

Monday, December 4, 2017

Just Because

For the past ten months, the question of how I would most like to celebrate my January milestone birthday, has come up many times.  Becoming seventy is a huge deal, especially when one is fortunate enough to have pain-free hips and knees, not to mention totally good health.  I blew it for my sixtieth birthday.  I had so many fantasies about how to mark the occasion and, a the time, was still in the working world which allowed me to listen to co-workers who were also planning their own celebrations.  Dancing the tango in Argentina, going on safari, running, leaping, jumping.....I worked among some highly energized and may I say, well-funded people in New York City.  I knew that my plans would never hold a candle to their plans but it was nice to think that I could carve out at least twenty-four hours to call my own. After all, I had artfully arranged a special trip, complete with good friends at our side, to Italy in celebration of my husband's same milestone birthday.  One day would not be asking the world.  So, the day came and the day left.  I resorted to making my own cake (a gesture that did not go un-noticed by my aged parents who essentially mocked my efforts) and finally, inviting a good friend out to dinner (she had no idea why) because....the day belonged to a husband with the flu and a grand-daughter who was turning two.  Another baby on the way was also a huge pre-empter.  Okay, so it wasn't about me.  I've got so much more to be grateful for in my life.

Well, now, a decade down the road and things are going to be different.  Or, so I hope. If you're following me, you must realize that there is another milestone birthday in the pipeline and it's rapidly approaching.  I do not intend to make my own cake and if the flu hits, I'm heading for a hotel. The way I figure it, this is possibly the last milestone that will allow for frivolity.  The next one, I may simply choose to ignore.  Time will tell.

So.  Here's the plan.

On my "list" of things I considered for celebrating, the word "challenge" came up more than once.  For my seventieth birthday, I want to be challenged.  I want to celebrate all the things that I have done to change my life.  I want to reward myself, just this once, for good behavior, for good choices made, for kicking a few potential health problems in the butt.  If this sounds self-absorbed, I could not care less. If checking off one thing from that list of life's to-do's is what I will have ta-done, then I will consider this coming birthday as the best ever. Please, God.

For this birthday.....drum roll......

I'm taking a walk. A very long walk.  In the Spring.  After flu season.  After snow season.

Not the entire stretch  Just the last 111 kilometers.  Just a week.  Just because.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Opportunity Knocks Early

Part of the magic of the early morning is the time that I have totally to myself.  I fully embrace the Danish invitation to practice the art of "Hygge" and many posts ago, I wrote and explained that this is not a "thing"; it is a way of living.  "Hygge" pronounced hu-gah, and cozy are very similar but the Danes take theirs more seriously and there is more of an effort put into creating the lifestyle than there might be to creating a cozy something-or-other.

So, I live my mornings at this time of year in my Hygge capsule, filled with candles, just the right mug for my beverage, and just the right accouterments.  I find that surrounding myself with the things that calm and enrich my life is not such a bad idea.  Books easily fill that bill and I always make certain that I have those handy wherever my spirit might land me in the hours before sunrise and shortly after.

This morning, I picked up one of the current reads.  It's a book that can and should be read slowly, with intention.  I don't know where I got this one.  Maybe at the Swap this Summer?  Let's just imagine it found its way into my hands, ready for Hygge season.  The name of the book is "Rediscover Jesus...An Invitation".  I like that.  Not a command.  Not a demand.  An "invitation". So, I take up the invitation every couple of mornings.  Short chapters are what I have found to be especially appealing.  All of the chapters end with points to ponder, verses for contemplation and calls for action. 

I loved the chapter I read this morning.  It was simply titled "Invitation".  Good start.  Now, I'm not going to preach here, I'm just going to allow myself to publish my thoughts and get out.  We're leaving for a long weekend and it's almost time to get into the shower.  But, this will run through brain all day and hopefully, for a long time to come.  The little prayer at the very end of the chapter asks that we make the journey of re-discovery and not squander the opportunity. 

The words "squander" and "opportunity" jump off the page and sing to me.  Life is short.  Each moment that we live is important.  Every person, every place, every thing that we encounter along the way is important.  Seek opportunities to make it everything count.  Don't squander one single thing.
Get up, get moving.  Make friends.  Make memories.  Most of all, make time. 

Get up earlier. I guarantee, you will have so many more opportunities if you allow yourself to have so many more waking hours.