I'm On a Roll

IF I HAD A DOLLAR for every time I changed the toilet paper, I'd be rolling in dough.

IF I HAD A DOLLAR for every time I changed the toilet paper, I'd be rolling in dough.

It’s a Funny Thing, Seriously.

I don’t know when I first noticed it. It’s one of those things you wouldn’t normally notice. But I gradually came to the realization that I’m always changing the toilet paper. I mean always. Everywhere I go. In all seasons, all times of day and night, all situations, all locations, including several states in New England and all along the eastern seaboard.

REALLY??? It seems to mock me.

REALLY??? It seems to mock me.

I know it’s been going on more than a decade, because I remember laughing about it with my ex. How changing the toilet paper was my “thing,” like being a traffic magnet was his “thing.” We would be driving in the middle of the night through a deserted area, not a car in sight. As soon as we needed to make a turn, there would appear a car, one solo, lonely, well-timed car –one-- and we’d have to wait to make the turn.

I’ve talked to other people, and they have a “thing” like that too. One of my relatives always gets a good parking spot but ends up having to wait in line wherever he goes, even if he picks the shortest line. Another always gets through lines quickly but can’t get a close parking spot to save his life. Although maybe, ultimately, the extra exercise will help prolong it.

My daughter, it seems, has inherited her Dad’s traffic magnetism, along with the misfortune to get locked out of places, usually by me.

No. My thing is toilet paper roll replacement. And I want to know why.

EVERY TIME. EVERY TIME! It's calling my name...

EVERY TIME. EVERY TIME! It's calling my name...

At one wedding reception it happened three times, enough so I jokingly mentioned it to the bride. It happens whenever I travel and use the well-maintained restrooms, where there’s even an attendant in there cleaning up. An attendant, who I assume, would check to make sure there’s enough toilet paper. By now I’ve learned to always check to make sure there’s toilet paper, because God knows I’ve had times there was an empty roll and none to replace it. So I choose the stall carefully. There’s always paper on the roll, but invariably it’s the fake-out end-of-the-roll situation which has me scrambling to find a replacement, or dig through my pocketbook (hanging, of course, from a hook out of arms reach on the stall door) for a tissue or napkin. I’ve learned to allow for this toilet paper “thing” and stash napkins in my pocketbook at every pit stop.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS check for back-up!

ALWAYS, ALWAYS check for back-up!

I’m not talking about the run-of-the-mill toilet paper replacement situations, like at home or at work. Where I am one of the few who will always replace the empty roll. But of course it happens there most of all. I mean, when I go to stores, at concerts and movies, when I visit other people’s homes, doctor’s offices, restaurants, public restrooms at quaint New England coastal towns, or Capital Region bike trails, even porta-potties and on airplanes.

TWO...

TWO...

ONE...

ONE...

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

No. This is more than a coincidence. It’s more like karma. What have I done in a past lifetime or this one to deserve such an odd fate?

I thought back to how I was raised, the first girl after two boys in my family. Is it a way to keep me humble because I was spoiled as a kid? Or remind me how fortunate I am to have toilet paper at all? I have relatives who used to use outhouses and were happy to have the Sears and Roebuck catalog. And there are people today who don’t have access to fresh water or indoor plumbing. Toilet paper is actually an under-appreciated and fairly recent luxury in human history.

A FAIRLY RECENT LUXURY, but she doesn't care--sure, she'll help empty it...

A FAIRLY RECENT LUXURY, but she doesn't care--sure, she'll help empty it...

Or is it a way to atone for being some tyrant in another lifetime, mistreating servants and expecting other people to take care of even my most basic needs for me? Is it a way to remind me, with my tendency to isolate and be a hermit for periods of time, that I’m not alone--I am connected to other human beings, and actually all living creatures by this most basic need? Does asking the person in the next stall to hand me toilet paper underneath the divider a way to help me practice reaching out to others and be willing to ask for help?

HELP! Lesson learned--always check the roll before committing.

HELP! Lesson learned--always check the roll before committing.

At times when other people are trying to think of cures for cancer and ways to end world hunger, I’m trying to puzzle out why I always end up changing the toilet paper. I have noticed that I tend to be someone who helps other people through transitional times in their lives--for example, when they move from one home to another, or when one of their parents dies. Is it a cosmic symbol for my mission to help with endings and new beginnings?

Maybe it’s a lesson in letting go. I tend to have trouble with transitions myself, having difficulty in letting go and moving on to the next thing or phase in my life, full of fears of change, fear of the unknown. When the roll of toilet paper ends, it’s over. No extending it, no hanging on. I literally just have to roll with it. Let go and move to the next roll, which may or may not be of a texture or type I like.

I don’t know.

My father liked to tell jokes, often over and over again. He would ask, “Did I tell you the one about the rabbit?” and even if you said “Yes,” he’d proceed to tell you again. Well one of his jokes went like this:

Dad: “What is the longest piece of furniture in the house?”

Me: “The couch?”

“No…”

“The coffee table?”

“No…”

“I don’t know. What?”

“The toilet paper.”

THE LONGEST PIECE OF FURNITURE in the house???

THE LONGEST PIECE OF FURNITURE in the house???

“Oh.” Then silence and a puzzled expression. I didn’t want him to know I didn’t get the joke, though it was obvious I didn’t from the resounding lack of laughter.

He told me this joke over the span of several years and I never got it, but didn’t want to admit it. Finally, when I was in my late teens, he told me the joke again, but this time I risked looking stupid and said, “But toilet paper isn’t a piece of furniture.”

And he said, “Any a**hole knows that!” He looked so happy, I couldn’t believe he used a swear word, and that he loved jokes and humor so much he could delay the gratification of delivering the punch line—however lame--for 10 years, not knowing if he’d ever get to deliver the punch line at all.

Maybe this “toilet paper thing” is a way to remember my father and honor him, his sense of humor, and two of his life lessons for me, the ability to persist and to delay gratification.

And there’s another thing--I like to see things changed for the better. I love when talk shows have transformation themes. I used to love helping my Mom with the ironing because I liked seeing clothing go from wrinkled and messy to smooth and neat. I tend to wait until my house is really messy before I clean because I like to see the difference. It’s why I enjoy editing, proofreading and publication layout.

My family’s philosophy is, “Try to leave things better than you found them. Leave them better for the next person.” Or on a grander scale, do what you can to make a better life for the next generation.

ROLL IT FORWARD Try to leave things better for the next person.

ROLL IT FORWARD Try to leave things better for the next person.

I used to get angry that other people didn’t bother to change the toilet paper. Angry that they were so inconsiderate. Why couldn’t they change the toilet paper and leave that tiny little corner of the world better for me? But I’ve come to feel differently about it.

I’ve come to understand the “toilet paper thing,” is a manifestation of my conflict between wanting to be helpful and not wanting to be taken advantage of.

So maybe it isn’t a punishment at all. Maybe it’s the proof of some good impulse in me. A very small thing I can do to make things better or easier for other people. A symbol of my willingness to do a menial task that most people avoid or don’t even notice. To be of service to others in some way, even a small, thankless, mostly invisible way. And a possible stepping stone to being willing to help in other, bigger ways.

At that wedding, the new bride laughed when I told her about my “toilet paper thing,” and she said, “Well, maybe it says something nice about you that you are one of the few people who are willing to change it.”

Yes, indeed. I am out to change the world, one roll at a time.

SEEING THINGS IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT Changing the world one roll at a time.

SEEING THINGS IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT Changing the world one roll at a time.

Christmas in July (1970-something)

HAZY, HOT and HUMID--Hate it!

HAZY, HOT and HUMID--Hate it!

Man, is it hot. Hot and humid. I hate hot and humid.

But it’s okay. Madrinha, Padrinho and the cousins are coming today. And that’s always good. Of course, it’s even better once they’re here, Mom has been in her cleaning frenzy for two days, and I just want to hide in my room when she’s like this.

All the windows are open. Dad insists the huge fan upstairs is enough to ventilate the whole house because it’s set on “exhaust.” None of us has the courage to tell him otherwise.

The lawn mower din outside the window whirs down and sputters out. The sudden absence of that noise helps my nerves settle a bit. I feel like I did the time I drank too much of Dad’s coffee, all wired, jittery and fluttery inside my chest and belly. I can’t wait to see my cousins. Our ages mostly match up; there are five of them and six of us. And we’re double cousins, Padrinho (which means Godfather in Portuguese) is Mom’s brother and Madrinha (our Godmother) is Dad’s sister.

I feel like I did the time I drank too much of Dad’s coffee, all wired, jittery and fluttery inside my chest and belly. I can’t wait to see my cousins.

My brother Bob spots the motor home. He sticks his head into the living room and smiles, “They’re heeeere.”

We pile out the front door, waving like crazy. Padrinho pulls the gargantuan Winnebago into our driveway. They’re waving, too.

Finally, the moment we’ve waited and prepared for—the cousins come pouring out. The air is full of squeals, hellos and laughter. For all my family’s insecurities and emotional intensity, it’s full of love, laughter, and good will that always surprises me when I don’t find it elsewhere.

“Amy Cakes! Kim, Froggy baby!”

“Debbie-kins!” We give each other big hugs and kisses. I love how it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other, it’s like no time has passed.

All of us make the rounds. Always when we see family, we hug and kiss hello, and ask the grown-ups a blessing.

Abençóe,” which sounds like, “Bansa,” when I say it.

Deus abençóe,” my aunt replies, and it sounds like “Deshtabensoo” to me.

We kiss hello, “Cursa querida.” She takes my face into her soft hands and looks directly into my eyes, “Cursa linda,” she says warmly. We give each other a big hug. She is my favorite grown-up in the world. I love the way she still uses the Portuguese words. They sound so much prettier than English—“dear thing, beautiful thing.”

I give my Padrinho a big kiss and hug, too. He’s my favorite uncle.

Abençóe,” “Deus abençóe.” “Bless me,” “God bless you.” I think the world would be a nicer place if we all greeted each other this way.

ABUNDANT BLESSINGS. Abençóe,” “Deus abençóe.”

ABUNDANT BLESSINGS. Abençóe,” “Deus abençóe.”

We help them unpack. The grown-ups stand in the shade of the big tree out front and talk. I head inside. When I open the door, the warm aroma of coffee swirls around me, as welcoming as my relatives’ hugs. The dining room table is covered with coffee cups, plastic cups for soda, and sweet treats—donuts and Danish.

Everyone else starts filing inside, too.

Then we get another treat. As everyone grabbed food and drinks, Madrinha, Amy and Kim had disappeared into the motor home.

Now there’s a knock on the front door, and the jingling of bells through the open window. In come Kim, dressed like an elf; Madrinha, dressed like Santa; followed by Amy in a brown, furry reindeer suit. Madrinha puts a large canvas bag down with a thud and a “HO! HO! HO!”

"PRESENTS FOR EVERYONE!" Though their presence was the real gift.

"PRESENTS FOR EVERYONE!" Though their presence was the real gift.

“Oh!” I clap spontaneously. We all look around the room at each other, wide-eyed.

“It’s Christmas in July!” she pronounces, raising her arms and giving a slightly gravelly, mischievous laugh. She claps her hands together, “Presents for everyone!”

My Dad, Tio Louie my cousins call him, is next to me in his corner couch spot, and I see him smile between glugs of coffee. My Mom, her name is Lillian, but they call her Auntie Peep, has come out of the kitchen and stands behind the recliner, drying her hands with a dish towel. She’s smiling, too.

I love Christmas in July. I love this surprise. I love my family and am so glad they’re here.

As Madrinha hands out the last of the presents, with the help of her elf and reindeer, I think they really must love us, too. They drove all that way, then put on those costumes on a hot, humid day in the middle of July.

And that is very cool.

WICKED COOL--July's heat tempered by a cool yule. "Christmas in July" is an excerpt from my memoir-in-progress, Kale Soup: Life by the Spoonful. This piece was chosen as part of the Memoir Project, "Bookmarks: Family at the Holidays," at The Arts Center of the Capital Region.

WICKED COOL--July's heat tempered by a cool yule.

"Christmas in July" is an excerpt from my memoir-in-progress, Kale Soup: Life by the Spoonful. This piece was chosen as part of the Memoir Project, "Bookmarks: Family at the Holidays," at The Arts Center of the Capital Region.

Springing to Life

Of Darkness and Light

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

I’m sitting in the kitchen on my day off, enjoying a cup of coffee at my own pace. I look out the four-paned window in the kitchen door that faces the neighbor’s house. I notice how the blue of the door frames the scene outside. A breeze blows the still-bare branches of a Rose of Sharon bush that will be flowering soon. The yellow siding on the house next door is illuminated by the sun; the sky over the roof is steel gray. The scene is made more beautiful by the contrast.

LOOKING FORWARD to the new blooms...

LOOKING FORWARD to the new blooms...

 I’m very aware of the effect the weather has on my moods—the dark, heavy cloudiness of winters here in the Capital Region of New York make me sad and lethargic, even depressed. It’s called, appropriately, Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It’s just that my body knows it should be hibernating but my mind has to force it to keep going.

 The sunny days, as for most people I encounter, find me happier, more positive, more active. I have begun many new projects in the springtime, just like Mother Nature.

 This year, since starting a website and blog, I've been taking pictures again. I’ve always loved taking photos. And I’ve had several incredible drives home from work recently. There are so many beautiful things just in those 30-minutes. It’s been more than 10 years and I notice something different every day.

LOOKING UP Noticing the sky again and appreciating the clouds I've been cursing all winter. A kind of Rorschach test, and apropos of spring fever, I see hearts in the sky.

LOOKING UP Noticing the sky again and appreciating the clouds I've been cursing all winter. A kind of Rorschach test, and apropos of spring fever, I see hearts in the sky.

 It’s made me notice the sky again, has me being present as I “see” beautiful pictures everywhere. Most of them never get taken because the “photo” is on someone’s private property, or the scene or lighting changes and the opportunity, like the moment, is gone.

 The other day the sun was brilliant. As it began its descent toward the horizon, all the newly green trees, and freshly bloomed flowers were backlit by this beautiful light—I was driving and walking through nature’s chapel. The stained glass I love so well is just an attempt to capture that magic.

LOOKING BRIGHT--Beautifully backlit blooms reminiscent of stained glass brighten the landscape.

LOOKING BRIGHT--Beautifully backlit blooms reminiscent of stained glass brighten the landscape.

LOOKING GOOD Sun-kissed irises brighten the yard and my spirits.

LOOKING GOOD Sun-kissed irises brighten the yard and my spirits.

 There were translucent greens, the brilliant yellow of irises, daffodils and forsythias, and rich pinks and crisp whites of crocuses, tulips and magnolia bushes in bloom. It was breathtaking the way the tops of a stand of trees were made luminous by the sun’s golden kiss. Even the tall grass was vibrantly illuminated, gently waving and alive.

 It’s got me thinking about contrast--light and dark, sound and silence, the balance of power and the power of balance between opposites.

 I am better able to appreciate a day off, or a vacation, for the contrast with my working days. I cherish more my time with loved ones now that I’ve lost some who were so close to me.

 I, being part of nature and so not different from it, need times in the light and times of darkness. And embody the qualities of both darkness and light.

LOOKING THROUGH THE DARKNESS The moon waxes and wanes, its light is more noticeable and more appreciated in the midst of darkness.

LOOKING THROUGH THE DARKNESS The moon waxes and wanes, its light is more noticeable and more appreciated in the midst of darkness.

 As John O’Donohue says in Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom,
 “The world rests in the night. Trees, mountains, fields, and faces are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure. Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark. Darkness is the ancient womb. Nighttime is womb- time. Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything; the struggle for identity and impression falls away. We rest in the night.”

 If it is sunny all the time, I eventually need the refuge of shade. If it’s dark too long, I feel depressed and crave sunshine. But in those depressed times I try to remember--that’s when I’m processing impressions, information, emotions. I need that dormant time as much as Mother Nature needs it in the winter. And in that cold gray, I feel the desire to create warmth, color and beauty, whether through colorful winter clothes, decorations in my home, or holiday lights outside.

LOOKING FOR RESPITE The darkness that makes the Northeast winters so difficult, is a necessary part of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Of course, most people wouldn't mind if that part of the cycle were a bit shorter.

LOOKING FOR RESPITE The darkness that makes the Northeast winters so difficult, is a necessary part of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Of course, most people wouldn't mind if that part of the cycle were a bit shorter.

 It is necessary to my soul, for my physical and emotional well-being, my mental health, for me not to be always watched or seen. I need privacy, time to be me unjudged, unplugged.  I often spring to life after those depressed times, dark times, resting times with new ideas, stories, projects, with renewed energy and a different perspective.

 Much as I need daytime to be active and nighttime to rest, I need balance; it’s not good if I get too much of one or the other. I try to remember it works that way for relationships, too. There is an emotional as well as physical swaying back and forth, closeness, intense connectedness, love and joy, then distance. We breathe in then out. The moon waxes and wanes, the day turns into night turns into day, living things are fertile and dormant, the whole world cycles. I wouldn’t know darkness without light, silence without sound. In Zen Buddhism, it is understood that one implies the other, the head of a coin implies a tail, they are inseparable.

LOOKING FOR CONTRAST AND BALANCE Making photos and life more interesting.

LOOKING FOR CONTRAST AND BALANCE Making photos and life more interesting.

 There is always a balancing of power—pushing and pulling and trying to find equilibrium, and the energy that creates--like pistons in a car engine. I see it with labor and management, contrasting political parties or philosophies, light and dark, yin and yang, day and night, sunshine and shadow, destruction and creation—the two poles and everything in-between.

That includes the lighter and darker sides of my own personality. The "positive" quality of persistence has stubbornness on its flip side; kindness has pity; discipline has controlling; protectiveness out of balance can become possessiveness; healthy anger can become rage; life-preserving fear can become a life-diminishing phobia.

 As I was washing dishes recently, I took a moment to water the poppy flower plants I’m growing, and that are resting on the kitchen windowsill. I thought about how they need not only the right balance of soil and water, but light and dark to grow. The process of photosynthesis doesn't happen all at once--some reactions take place in the light while others occur in the dark.

LOOKING HOPEFUL I started growing these poppy flower plants to remind me that the world will flower again, and even the most colorful flowers need light and darkness to grow.

LOOKING HOPEFUL I started growing these poppy flower plants to remind me that the world will flower again, and even the most colorful flowers need light and darkness to grow.

 I also became very aware of how quiet it was. I’m the only one home, no electronics are on, there isn’t even music. I noticed the unintentional music of the beeping of a truck backing up, followed by the microwave beeping, the roaring of a plane in the distance, layered with the mournful sound of  a train whistle, water sloshing as I grabbed a mug to wash, and the dripping of the leaky faucet.

 Things and people need to leave room for each other. I don’t want darkness to obliterate light, sounds to drown out silence, other people to dominate me or vice-versa. The silence makes room for the sounds to come to be, life’s music is heard because there are notes and rests, life’s rhythm is created by activity and down-time. Human interactions are richer when there is room for everyone’s gifts to flourish.

 The first time I really took this to heart was when I found the beautifully illustrated children’s book, “Good Morning, Good Night,” by Ivan Gantschev while working in the children’s department of a book store. In the story, the bright sun brags about its greatness and the quiet moon explains why the earth needs the break it provides from that sun. They eventually become friends and learn to respect their differences, and the importance of the balance each provides.

 When I was a child, I was afraid of the dark. I said this one time when my uncle, Tio Tony was visiting. He had been a soldier in World War II, and said what helped him was understanding “If you can’t see your enemy in the dark, they can’t see you either.” It actually scared me at the time, “What enemies?” I thought. But I understood what he was saying, as in John O’Donohue’s quote; while the darkness can be frightening, it can also be a cloak, a cover, a nurturer and protector.

 As I was driving the other day,  I was struck by how magnificent the sky was—vast and imposing, beautiful with the sun barely visible, behind and peeking through billowing clouds. It created shadows, shapes, came through in tendrils reaching toward and caressing the earth below, creating a beautiful landscape--a heavenly and sacred atmosphere. It was a feast for my senses, filled me up, left me smiling, silent and awestruck, pulled me deeply into the moment, left me deeply content.

LOOKING ETHEREAL The sun's light beaming through clouds always seems heaven-sent.

LOOKING ETHEREAL The sun's light beaming through clouds always seems heaven-sent.

Beauty is the illumination of your soul.
— John O'Donohue, Anam Cara

 I’ll go out later for a walk and try to soak up some of this precious sun, enjoy the cool breeze. Since it’s sunny and cloudy out today, it creates a nice contrast, so I’m sure I’ll get some good photos. Things are more beautiful in the right light, and I thoroughly enjoy the increased daylight that springtime ushers in. I am learning to bring that light to every day and illuminate it, find the light within me and let it shine through. I will allow myself time to rest and nurture that light so it can continue to burn and sustain me, and I can share it with others.

Thousands of candles can be lit by a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.
— Buddha

 

Dear Coffee: A Love Letter

DEAR COFFEE I Love You. That is all.

DEAR COFFEE I Love You. That is all.

Actually, my dear coffee… that is not all.

 You are my espresso love, my aromatic amigo, my caffeinated companheiro. How can I thank you for all you’ve done for me? We have a long-standing friendship, you and I. You put a twinkle in my eye and a kick in my step.

 And I see I’m not alone. I found this 6” x 10” homage to you at Target recently and couldn’t resist. It got me thinking how you’ve been such an integral part of my life; your dark deliciousness saturates so many memories. The sound of you brewing and being poured, of spoons clinking on mugs and of people sipping, talking and laughing, is a ubiquitous part of the soundtrack accompanying get-togethers with friends and family throughout my life.

 My dear coffee, your rich aroma elicits a jumble of feelings and memories. The reassuring warmth of hot coffee and refreshing cool of iced coffee, are sensations I never tire of. You are simultaneously sweet and strong, fearlessly bold, but not afraid to show your mild side. Your steamy goodness rises from my cup, swirling up and around me, is woven into the fabric of my life, of my being. I stir sweetener and half-and-half into the dark depths of my mug, lightening you, and in turn, life.

 “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

-T. S. Eliot

 You have been a reassuringly constant presence in my life and I loved you from the start. My aromatic amigo, I love you in all your delicious incarnations. When we visited my relatives in Massachusetts on vacations we enjoyed coffee ice cream, coffee frappes, Coffee Nips candies and the grown-ups had hot or iced coffee. Yum. I can still see my grandmother, my Vavo pouring a bit of coffee syrup into my milk from the bottle with the word “Autocrat” and the little red bird on it. It meant I was able to have my own version of a coffee beverage until I was old enough to drink the real thing.

 They seemed to appreciate you more there in New England--my friends at home in New York didn’t know what I was talking about, coffee milk, but I knew what they were missing out on. Maybe the Boston Tea Party and resulting boycott of tea, and your willingness to stand in, ultimately helped the Colonists win their freedom from tea-loving England.

 Your name, café, which sounded like cuh-fah, was one of the first words I learned in Portuguese and one of my favorites in my limited repertoire. And it goes so well with two of my other favorites, massa, or Portuguese sweetbread, and malassadas, sweet fried dough.

 Your rich history has become part of my own. You’re always a welcome guest, whether it’s at a wedding, party, holiday meal, quiet Sunday brunch, or at a gathering or reception after losing a loved one.

 My precious perk, you even symbolized the process of maturation in our family. I wasn’t allowed to have you until I received Confirmation in the eighth grade, when I became an adult in the eyes of God and the Catholic Church. That was probably wise, since I’d heard coffee could stunt my growth, and with my genetics I couldn’t risk it.

 There were many nights in high school and college where I stayed up late with you by my side, cramming for tests or completing writing assignments. Nothing like a deadline and a shot of go-go juice to get my creative juices flowing. How many exams and final projects were fueled by you? How many good grades do I owe to you, my caffeinated companion?

 Then you supported me in another milestone of maturation. My dear coffee, I don’t know how to thank you for helping me get through college. Back in those days, I had an illegal hot pot and instant coffee to keep me going. Though many a night I reached the point of diminishing returns, all jittery, heart racing, stomach upset, and had to learn the hard way to pace myself. At your best, you provided the familiar feel of home on those days I was feeling homesick and overwhelmed by the newness of a campus and city I had yet to explore.

 If there had been coffee shops or cafes back then, I may have had a place to gather with friends to talk other than smoke-filled bars. And you provided fuel just as important as gasoline for road trips and the at least five-hour drive to and from college. You gave me a break, kept me going literally and figuratively--one stop for coffee, the next for a restroom pit stop and more coffee. I would sip you while singing along to my favorite songs, including “Black Coffee in Bed,” by Squeeze.

DRIVING FORCE The car has its fuel and I have mine.

DRIVING FORCE The car has its fuel and I have mine.

 College was a challenge, but it was nothing compared to entering the workforce or the bone-tired I experienced as a mom who worked outside the home. My caffeinated companion, you were there for me as I entered the so-called real world. Your Java jolt helped me through many a long, tiring workday, and helped me meet many a publication deadline.

“I can’t stop drinking the coffee. If I stop drinking the coffee, I stop doing the standing and the walking and the words-putting-into-sentence doing.”

--Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) in The Gilmore Girls

 

COFFEE TIME OUT This whimsical clock cheers me up every time I look at it on my kitchen wall. It features unique, miniature hand-made mugs, sugar bowl and cream pitcher, and was created by Carlos Silva of Centuries Claywork who "creates big moments with little pieces of art," according to the company's website.

COFFEE TIME OUT This whimsical clock cheers me up every time I look at it on my kitchen wall. It features unique, miniature hand-made mugs, sugar bowl and cream pitcher, and was created by Carlos Silva of Centuries Claywork who "creates big moments with little pieces of art," according to the company's website.

I wish I hadn’t needed to rely so heavily on you when my daughter was young; but there were so many days I had to work after a night of interrupted or no sleep. Or times when I had to work two jobs, or overtime. Like many people, I’d love to live in world where caffeine was unnecessary, where a cup of coffee would be a luxury and not a necessity, where there would be more time to stop the clock, sit and sip a cup of coffee for the sheer enjoyment and not the caffeine jolt. But in this ever-changing economy there is always a lot of work to be done. I don’t know how I would do it without you.

“I don’t know where my ideas come from. I will admit, however, that one key ingredient is caffeine. I get a couple cups of coffee into me and weird things just start to happen.”

--Gary Larson

My finely-ground friend, we are a dynamic deadline duo, now and when I worked for various publications as a writer, proofreader and editor. You give me editorial edification as I put notes, quotes and thoughts together into coherent stories. My time with you is a respite from stress, and gives the Muse space to roam for a few minutes unencumbered by my nerves, fears, insecurities and “Oh my God, I can’t think of anything to write, how am I going to say what I need to? What am I trying to say, anyway?” (Okay, sip, pace, take a moment, there you go.)

CAFFEINATED AND MOTIVATED Made in Portugal, the handled bowl doubles as a mug at deadline time.

CAFFEINATED AND MOTIVATED Made in Portugal, the handled bowl doubles as a mug at deadline time.

So many times, sipping a cup of coffee while writing gives me time to think, ponder, it’s part of my creative process. It sets thoughts in motion, as so eloquently expressed here:

“This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightaway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at a full gallop, ensuing to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of wit start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.”

--Honore de Balzac

 

My Zen companion, you provide a sweet, creamy oasis from the daily grind. For someone like me who is at least as much introvert as extrovert, you give me a moment to be in the moment, to stop, to breathe.

 Working with the public as I often have and do now, means being interrupted, being on call, being “on” all the time. The 10 minutes of quiet in the break room, sipping coffee, sitting quietly and reading or writing, gives me a chance to do a mini-recharge. I can close my eyes, inhale the aroma, feel the hot liquid warm my insides. My thoughts go inward with the appreciation of a simple pleasure and I regain equilibrium. The hot, sweet, delicious coffee brings me back to the present, to myself, brings me calm and quiet while energizing me for the next go-round.

“We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup.”

--Jerry Seinfeld

Then there you were again when I worked at Barnes and Noble Bookstore, a job and place I loved because it combined so many of my favorite things—books and music; children’s books with their amazing stories and artwork; smart, funny, interesting people including readers and writers; an in-store café with pastries and Starbucks coffee; and the opportunity to host a writers’ group. It really was a pleasure to work in an atmosphere suffused with the aroma of coffee brewing, pastries baking, and the sounds of interesting conversations.

 When I hosted the writers’ group, it was always with a cup of you in hand or on the café table. It was reminiscent of my early days with extended family--people gathered around a table, drinking coffee, sharing stories-- in short, my Happy Place.

“What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?”

--Anthony Trollope

 

Like any relationship, my dear coffee, ours has changed over the years. There are times I quit you, but I always came back. I hear you even have health benefits, like antioxidants and helping people be more mentally focused. Though I now drink half-decaf on a regular basis, you haven’t been detrimental to me like other things I’ve quit, like alcohol and cigarettes, or am trying to quit, like refined sugar. Those substances ultimately took more than they gave, and like a bad relationship, I had to let them go.

 But most of all, my darling automatic drip, I love how sharing and preparing you helps bring people together. You little matchmaking mug of mud—you even helped bring my now-fiancé and I together. You have been a centerpiece of our relationship. We used to work together, first on an afternoon/evening shift, and then later on an overnight shift. He often made coffee for me with his one-cup brewer before I left, so I could get home safely.

PATIENTLY WAITING FOR THE FIRST CUP Coffee has enhanced countless vacations.

PATIENTLY WAITING FOR THE FIRST CUP Coffee has enhanced countless vacations.

 We often shared break-time and over time found we shared some common grounds—drank coffee, exchanged books and music, and got to know each other. I still have the Dire Straits Live, “Alchemy,” CD he let me borrow. The lyrics of one song, Expresso Love, made me think of the relationship that was brewing. And we have shared many conversations and quiet moments thanks to your beneficent beans. You are a wonderful part of our brunches together, and have enhanced countless vacations.

 Your glugs of goodness have also served as generational glue, helping me connect with my father, who is gone now. As I grew old enough to drink coffee, and into a young woman with ideas of my own and a temperament very similar to his, I found it harder and harder to talk to him. But we could always share a cup of coffee at my parents’ house, or at a Dunkin' Donuts or diner. You acted as a conversational catalyst and helped coax many stories of his life and our family history from him and my mother. In fact, my Mom, who is normally talkative before coffee, is a veritable chatterbox after.

COFFEE AND A DONUT

COFFEE AND A DONUT

 Over many years and many cups of coffee, our relationship evolved. You helped my father and I find a way back to each other, and for that I thank you. My beguiling beverage, you inspire me to write, and this poem is a tribute to my father and the special place you had in our relationship.

 Love always,

Debbie

Coffee and a Donut

It was wonderful talking to you today--

Took you black coffee and a Dunkin’ Donut

Just like old times.

 

I was finally able to tell you

All the things I found so hard to say before,

Like thank you for all you’ve done

For me and my family,

And thank you for working so hard

All your life to take care of us.

 

And I’m sorry I never let you finish a song

But you made it so much fun to say,

“Don’t sing it! Don’t sing it.”

Because you’d say, “That makes me want to sing it more.”

And when I cried, “OK, OK, sing it! Sing it!”

You replied, “All right, if you insist.”

And you would proceed to sing off-key

To the music of your children’s groans and laughter.

 

I am finally able to tell you

How much it meant to me

Just to have you there,

Our lunch dates when you worked down the street

And I had half-day kindergarten,

It was a bonus that you taught me so much—

How to tie my shoes, ride a bike,

Play checkers and chess, think strategically;

Hop on a pogo stick—I was the neighborhood champ.

 

Then there was the hot pink Hula Hoop, the stilts, skateboard,

And the special surprises—

Like the time you wouldn’t let me play in the basement,

And with a sigh and a pout I obeyed,

And a few days later on my birthday,

Up the stairs came a beautiful hot-pink Stingray, three-speed bike,

The first hot-pink, three-speed Stingray with banana seat

And hand-breaks and pedals that pedaled backwards

In the whole neighborhood

 

Made possible by the biggest, best, smartest,

Strongest, most handsome man

In the whole neighborhood--in the whole wide world.

 

I am finally able to share with you

How perfect it felt to be carried into the house

Still warm and sleepy from the four-hour ride

Back from visiting my favorite aunt and uncle and cousins,

Your strong arms holding me,

My face nestled safely against your neck,

Strangely comforted by your beard-stubbled, prickly face,

And glad to be home to familiar smells

And my own pillow and bed.

 

I can finally admit now how thankful I am

For all the times you carried me,

Cared for me, tried to show

Just how much you loved me.

But because you never said it, I didn’t quite get it—

It didn’t dawn on me until you were gone,

Along with my defenses,

And my vision cleared and I remembered

All the times you tried so hard in your own awkward way,

The times you stayed, though I pushed you away.

 

But you also didn’t see, in spite of the times you hurt me,

How my whole life has been a tribute to you.

 

And I’m glad I came today and talked,

And grateful you got your message through to me,

But it’s time for me to go.

 

The coffee has seeped into the ground,

And I know you’ll be happy

That the donut crumbs will feed the squirrels and crows.

I’m glad we visited and I thank you for meeting me here

So you will finally know and I can finally say,

Dad, I love you so very much

And I miss you every day.

 

--Deborah Correia

 

 

Mug Shots

RACKING UP MEMORIES, MEANING and MESSAGES (L-R) Dancing Women -- when I need encouragement and inspiration; Beautiful Buoys -- special gift elicits memories of a Rockport, MA vacation; LITTLE BIRD -- made in Portugal, found at Pier One Imports, always makes me happy; Green/Blue Gift -- uniquely crafted tasteful ceramic treat from a special sibling; A Child is Born -- personal poetry made manifest through Cafe Press.

RACKING UP MEMORIES, MEANING and MESSAGES (L-R) Dancing Women -- when I need encouragement and inspiration; Beautiful Buoys -- special gift elicits memories of a Rockport, MA vacation; LITTLE BIRD -- made in Portugal, found at Pier One Imports, always makes me happy; Green/Blue Gift -- uniquely crafted tasteful ceramic treat from a special sibling; A Child is Born -- personal poetry made manifest through Cafe Press.

TWO SIDES TO THE STORY: PART ONE (L-R) I Love You Mom, a treasured hand-made gift from my daughter; Blue Whale changes colors when hot beverage is added to the mug, reminder of trip to my birthplace, New Bedford, MA; Winnie the Pooh on a soft pink background, comforting reminder of my daughter's childhood, my days as a bookseller in the children's department at Barnes and Noble, and my love of children's books.

TWO SIDES TO THE STORY: PART ONE (L-R) I Love You Mom, a treasured hand-made gift from my daughter; Blue Whale changes colors when hot beverage is added to the mug, reminder of trip to my birthplace, New Bedford, MA; Winnie the Pooh on a soft pink background, comforting reminder of my daughter's childhood, my days as a bookseller in the children's department at Barnes and Noble, and my love of children's books.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY PART TWO (L-R) Eyeore knows how I feel on those days I really need a cup of coffee; KOBO King of the Blue Ocean at home in the New Bedford Whaling Museum; Keepsake With Heart for Mother's Day.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY PART TWO (L-R) Eyeore knows how I feel on those days I really need a cup of coffee; KOBO King of the Blue Ocean at home in the New Bedford Whaling Museum; Keepsake With Heart for Mother's Day.

AZURE AMORE Grab a cup of coffee and I'm not blue for long.

AZURE AMORE Grab a cup of coffee and I'm not blue for long.

GULPS of GRATITUDE Many of my favorite mugs were gifts from loved ones.

GULPS of GRATITUDE Many of my favorite mugs were gifts from loved ones.

LOVE MATCH -- A WONDERFUL WAY TO START THE DAY Coffee is made for sharing in these matching blue ombre mugs.

LOVE MATCH -- A WONDERFUL WAY TO START THE DAY Coffee is made for sharing in these matching blue ombre mugs.

LIQUID HAPPINESS--JUST ADD COFFEE This well-loved, well-worn mug (left) was hand-painted by my nephew, Antone and said COFFEE + CUP = HAPPY. He knows his Tia Debbie. ONE FOR THE ROAD (right) Simple but effective.

LIQUID HAPPINESS--JUST ADD COFFEE This well-loved, well-worn mug (left) was hand-painted by my nephew, Antone and said COFFEE + CUP = HAPPY. He knows his Tia Debbie. ONE FOR THE ROAD (right) Simple but effective.

WAKE-UP CALL This rooster, a well-loved symbol of Portugal, graces the coffee mug and napkin holder, both gifts from my late Tia Mary.

WAKE-UP CALL This rooster, a well-loved symbol of Portugal, graces the coffee mug and napkin holder, both gifts from my late Tia Mary.

TIME OUT Keep it simple with an old-fashioned blue, black and white mug for those times I want to sit and ponder.

TIME OUT Keep it simple with an old-fashioned blue, black and white mug for those times I want to sit and ponder.

FILL 'ER UP! "Portuguese and good looking... Oh where will it end?" Especially humorous before the day's first cup of coffee.

FILL 'ER UP! "Portuguese and good looking... Oh where will it end?" Especially humorous before the day's first cup of coffee.

Festa, Friendship and Fado:

Going on Vacation to Find My Way Home

We finally arrived.

A WELCOME SIGN This bright banner welcomes us to our first Portuguese Festa.

A WELCOME SIGN This bright banner welcomes us to our first Portuguese Festa.

We tucked our brochures for the Provincetown, Massachusetts Portuguese Festival into our pockets after studying the map inside and getting our bearings. We knew we would get lost, both my fiancé Bob and I, because neither one of us has a sense of direction. Ironic for me because the Portuguese were world-renowned navigators and map makers, and led the Age of Exploration. Magellan and Prince Henry the Navigator would be appalled, as would Christopher Columbus, who was married to a Portuguese woman, Felipa Perestrello.

We set off down the hill after finding a good parking spot on Bradford St. Luckily for us; Bradford runs parallel to Commercial Street where most of the shops are and where the parade would be. Immediately, I started trying to spot my fellow “Portagees,” as we headed (we hoped) toward Portuguese Square. Portuguese Square! There isn’t even a Portuguese alleyway where I live. It was a cloudy, drizzly day, but I felt happy and warm inside anticipating the festivities. I had even packed my “got linguica?” t-shirt to wear to the parade the next day. I wouldn’t need to explain to anyone here that linguica is a delicious Portuguese sausage, and important ingredient in kale soup.

A GOOD SIGN Portuguese Square!

A GOOD SIGN Portuguese Square!

All my life I’d heard about the festas, (sounds like feshtuz) but had never attended one. My grandparents lived in New Bedford, Massachusetts, a town--like Provincetown--with a large Portuguese population. Most immigrants were from the Azores islands, especially Sao Miguel, where all my grandparents were from. They were lured by the promise of a better life.

We visited my grandparents often, but spent most of our time at their house with family. Every summer they would talk about the Festa, but we never went. Just as I never went to the New Bedford Whaling Museum until I was in my forties. I was intrigued. As my parents were encouraged to assimilate into American culture, encouraged to shed their “Portugueseness” like an old snake skin, I was left with a longing to know more about my Portuguese heritage. That gulf seems to have widened over the years until all I am left with is a few Portuguese words and phrases, a few recipes I’ve gotten from Portuguese cookbooks, the little Portuguese I hear spoken, usually by people from Brazil, and memories of family gatherings and my childhood visits. I have tried to bridge the gap by learning about the history of Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula and listening to all kinds of Portuguese music. Nelly Furtado's "Island of Wonders" especially speaks to me.

As my parents were encouraged to assimilate into American culture, encouraged to shed their ‘Portugueseness’ like an old snake skin, I was left with a longing to know more about my Portuguese heritage.

I had recently read on “Rob Brezsny’s Free Will Astrology,” words that encouraged me:  From an astrological perspective, now would be a good time to go on a meditation retreat for a few days or make a pilgrimage to your ancestral homeland. You would generate just the right shifts in your brain chemistry by doing something like that.”

I couldn’t afford to travel to the Azores, but it gave me the idea to access Google Street View and “drive” through Sao Miguel, especially the towns my grandparents were from. It was amazing. They were beautiful--sunny, with pink flowers and lush vegetation along the road, homes that were white with brightly colored trim, mountains within sight and beautiful blue sky and ocean within reach. On another part of the island there are hot springs, remnants of the islands’ volcanic past. In the smaller village where my father’s parents lived, a beautiful church, and pink and yellow buildings welcome you. From the Google satellite view I could see a cemetery, and I wondered if any of my relatives were buried there. In the larger town, where my mother’s parents came from, there is a small harbor where lights twinkle along the water’s edge at night. I was enchanted.

Then I realized the trip to the festa would also be a sort of pilgrimage to my ancestral homeland. I was starving for a sense of belonging, for a feeling of home. Aside from feeling very alien in this world of wars, power struggles and violence, I was raised Catholic in a predominantly Protestant town and country, was a female in a man’s world, a writer and artist in a world that worships sports and competition, and am soft and round in a world that loves hard and thin.

But aside from my family history, my genetics, my dark hair, unibrow and olive-toned skin, I was afraid I wouldn’t feel at home here, either. I can’t speak Portuguese but for a few words and phrases, I only know a couple of childhood songs in Portuguese, I have lived in New York state for all but the very beginning of my life, though Massachusetts seems like my second home. And my family was from New Bedford, not Provincetown. My excitement about this weekend was frayed around the edges as I worried I’d be found out for the fraud, the faux-Portuguese or Portagee-wannabee I was.

THE PILGRIM MONUMENT A powerful symbol and helpful beacon for the easily lost festa-goers Bob and I.

THE PILGRIM MONUMENT A powerful symbol and helpful beacon for the easily lost festa-goers Bob and I.

I felt like a pilgrim myself in the land of my own people, away too long and become a foreigner.

Then we heard them. We heard them before we saw them, the music wafting above the crowd within a stone’s-throw of the Pilgrim Monument. I felt like a pilgrim myself in the land of my own people, away too long and become a foreigner. But the vibration of the instruments—Portuguese guitars, classical guitars, maracas, accordions and Portuguese voices--soon seeped in. I didn’t just hear it, but felt it and was moved by it. I was entranced as I listened to the traditional songs, mostly new to me, and watched the brightly costumed dancers as they swirled around, hands waving and clapping above their heads. Bob and I were struck by how similar the folk dancing and costumes were to those from other cultures. Many of the groups that performed were from Rhode Island, and one of the women who was emceeing and singing welcomed everyone in the crowd that had gathered. As if she had heard my thoughts, she reassured us, “We are all Portuguese whether we or our ancestors were from the mainland, the Azores, the Cape Verde Islands or other Portuguese colonies; or we are second-or third-generation Portuguese trying to reconnect with our beautiful heritage and history.” I smiled even wider and felt a deeper warmth in the center of my chest. Bob and I took some pictures, and I talked to several people there. “Where are you from? What’s your name? Where are your people from? Have you ever been to the Azores? Have you been to any of the other festas?”

PORTUGUESE PRIDE The colorful Galo de Barcelos, Rooster of Barcelos, is a well-loved and easily recognized symbol of Portugal. It symbolizes honesty, integrity, trust and honor. This rooster, painted on the street in Portuguese Square, lets us know we're in the right place at the right time.

PORTUGUESE PRIDE The colorful Galo de Barcelos, Rooster of Barcelos, is a well-loved and easily recognized symbol of Portugal. It symbolizes honesty, integrity, trust and honor. This rooster, painted on the street in Portuguese Square, lets us know we're in the right place at the right time.

We had just purchased t-shirts for my daughter and I at a booth on the corner when I heard, “Would you like to go to the Azores?” It was a woman behind a table with brochures on it. “Yes! I would!” I said emphatically. Any shyness I’d felt was quickly disappearing. She and her husband, who was from Sao Miguel, were planning to host another trip to the islands--they had gone the year before--and were looking for people to join them. I took the information and talked with her husband for a few minutes, enjoying his accent and asking him to help me pronounce Portuguese words. Visiting the Azores is definitely on my bucket list, but seeing this couple and having the information and an idea of the cost, made it more real. This is something we could do, I realized. Bob and I had toyed with the idea of even living in the Azores for a while, but to me it was just an idea, now I knew with some planning we could do this if we wanted to. I want to.

There wasn’t a lot of festival activity the first day, so we saw what we could—the traditional singing and dancing, Portuguese food for dinner, including some very good kale soup, and noted the tent set up where there was a Portuguese soup-tasting scheduled later. We found the Portuguese bakery and made a note to get some loaves of massa sovada, Portuguese sweetbread and malassadas, a sweet fried dough, before we left the next day.

SURROUNDED BY THE COMFORT OF THE FAMILIAR Nothing says "home" like the taste and delicious aromas of Portuguese food-- Kale and other Portuguese soups, malassadas (sweet fried dough), massa (sweet bread), popos secos (Portuguese rolls often filled with linguica), call to passing festa-goers.

SURROUNDED BY THE COMFORT OF THE FAMILIAR Nothing says "home" like the taste and delicious aromas of Portuguese food-- Kale and other Portuguese soups, malassadas (sweet fried dough), massa (sweet bread), popos secos (Portuguese rolls often filled with linguica), call to passing festa-goers.

We were looking forward to the parade scheduled for the second day of the festa. By then we were more familiar with the streets. I was sorry to have missed a poetry reading because the venue was too far away, but toyed with the idea of attending a fado performance in the evening, thought it would mean getting home very late that night. Fado is a traditional Portuguese music, infused with feelings of love, loss and longing--feelings I was all too familiar with.

As we made our way down Commercial Street, I was excited. I felt like a kid again anticipating the parade, all my senses sharp, feeling fully alive. I was wearing my “got linguica?” shirt, which was green with white lettering, and had been a Christmas gift from my daughter. At first I felt a little self-conscious wearing it, but that feeling was replaced with a sense of playfulness and community as I started getting smiles and thumbs-up from people I passed by. Bob and I found a spot in front of a shop next to the library to view the parade. Some older women sat next to me, and proceeded to talk to each other in Portuguese. I was able to catch a word here and there, but mostly enjoyed hearing the cadence and rhythm of the words. Portuguese is a beautiful language, poetic, musical, and I sorely miss hearing it as I used to when my older relatives—my aunts, uncles and grandparents--were alive. As these women spoke, I sat inside their conversation, the words weaving comfortingly around me.

GOT LINGUICA? Home at last!

GOT LINGUICA? Home at last!

Before the parade got underway, I walked to the library to use the ladies room. A woman stopped me to ask where I got the t-shirt. I explained my daughter had found it online, and she said she was going to look for one for her nephew. I introduced myself; she introduced herself and her friend. We kept running into them throughout the day. It was wonderful to feel the connection and camaraderie of something shared, accepted, understood without explanation.

I have never enjoyed a parade so much. The folk singers and dancers we had seen earlier in the day sang and swirled their way down the street. One of the dancers, a young woman, spotted my t-shirt, smiled and waved, and I waved back. Floats rolled by--for a Portuguese club, for the Pilgrim Monument. There were even guys on Harley Davidsons, Portuguese flags flying, Portuguese music coming from radios on their bikes. They were stopped for a while as the dancers up ahead performed. While they were waiting, a young girl and her mother went over, and got pictures taken with them, and an older woman stood next to one of the riders, his arm around her for a photo. At one point a fire truck rolled by with two young men on the back, “I’ll give you $50 for that shirt right now!” he yelled over, smiling. I laughed and gave him the thumbs-up.

That parade, that day, was the best of what I remember of my family and the Portuguese people I knew growing up—funny, kind, friendly. I felt happy, content, filled up; satisfied in a way I haven’t in a long time. I felt complete, understood, appreciated, a part of.

GETTIN' MY PORTUGUESE ON Let those Portuguese flags fly.

GETTIN' MY PORTUGUESE ON Let those Portuguese flags fly.

After the parade, Bob and I walked around, enjoying the shops and getting a bite to eat. We ran into the two women again. I mentioned we were thinking of going to the fado concert, but were afraid it was too late. “You have to go,” my new friend said, “you don’t want to miss that. It’s amazing.”

So we did. It was a magical ending to a wonderful day. While waiting for the performance to begin, I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me as if I had known her my whole life. I saw my two new friends in the row across from us. The music was incredible, the men and women sang beautifully. I felt bad that the whole weekend was about me and my Portuguese roots, but here Bob and I were in the same boat—not understanding a word of what they were singing.

At one point the hostess asked members of the audience to raise their hands if they knew Portuguese. Then she asked us to raise our hands if we didn’t understand Portuguese. She said they could try to provide a translation, but it wouldn’t really matter. You don’t need to understand the words; through the music you understand the feelings. And she was right.

I was sorry we would miss the “Blessing of the Fleet,” the next day, a Catholic mass and traditional blessing for the sailors and their vessels--fishing is a dangerous profession. But Bob had to work on Sunday, so we headed back. We literally had miles to go before we slept. But it didn’t matter what time we returned to the Capital Region, I had already found my way home.

 

--from the memoir-in-progress, “Kale Soup: Life by the Spoonful,” by Deborah Correia

The Mosaic of Friendship, the Amizade of Art

It stopped me in my tracks.

 There was a beautiful mosaic, spiraling, swirling, sparkling across the front of the Glazer Children’s Museum in Tampa, FL. I love anything to do with glass—beach glass, stained glass, ceramics, mirrors, blown glass. But I especially love mosaics.

INSPIRING SPIRALS: Mari Gardner's Spiral Fantasia-A Child's Dream graces the facade of The Glazer Children's Museum.

INSPIRING SPIRALS: Mari Gardner's Spiral Fantasia-A Child's Dream graces the facade of The Glazer Children's Museum.

MOSAIC OF FRIENDSHIP: Reflecting the bright beauty of a child's hopes and dreams.

MOSAIC OF FRIENDSHIP: Reflecting the bright beauty of a child's hopes and dreams.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, as so many are in Florida. Tampa has a yearly average of 244 total days with sun as opposed to Albany, New York’s 180, according to Current Results research news and science facts. It’s one of the many reasons my daughter decided to go to the University of Tampa, and she was the reason I was there walking around. While she was busy, I grabbed my camera and took a walk over the Cass Street Bridge across the Hillsborough River to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and The Tampa Riverwalk.

I got more than my share of amazing photos that day, aided by sunshine, clear blue skies and the thoughtful way the park is set up. It is surrounded by downtown Tampa’s beautiful business district where many buildings are made up almost entirely of floor-to-ceiling windows that reflect the sunshine, brilliant blue sky, palm trees and other buildings.

And the park itself has a wonderful view of the University of Tampa’s Plant Hall. Plant Hall, formerly the Tampa Bay Hotel, houses the Henry B. Plant Museum, beautiful with its six striking stainless steel minarets and other Moorish Revival architecture and detailing, including four cupolas and three domes. The park also put me in sight of the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts and the Tampa Museum of Art. Not bad for an afternoon stroll.

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE: The University of Tampa's Plant Hall as seen across Hillsborough River from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE: The University of Tampa's Plant Hall as seen across Hillsborough River from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

The children’s museum’s bright facade faces rows of refreshing water fountains doing a cooling dance across the concrete walkway. The palm trees and open spaces were a wonderful respite from the bare trees, steely gray skies and snow I’d gladly left behind in New York for a few days.

HOT, HOT, HOT: Savoring the Florida sunshine.

HOT, HOT, HOT: Savoring the Florida sunshine.

COOL COMFORT: Dancing fountains cool and delight.

COOL COMFORT: Dancing fountains cool and delight.

And then there was the mosaic.

I was dazzled by the beautiful shades and shards of blue, green, red, orange, brown, amber and yellow glass, and sections of silver mirror that made up the design by artist Mari Gardner, entitled Spiral Fantasia—A Child’s Dream. I noticed I was not the only one who felt compelled to touch it. I took photos to try to capture some of the brightness and beauty and take a bit of the happiness it made me feel home with me. I was so inspired; I used a portion of one of those photos as the cover photo for this website.

Art glass and ceramics are beautiful--colorful, lively, and often functional. They make ordinary spaces more extraordinary. Seeing them makes me happy. But mosaics always draw me in because with an artist’s caring and creativity, something so beautiful can be made from something so broken.

And artist Mari Gardner creates not only works of art, but community projects, in the US and around the world. She truly embodies the spirit of amizade, friendship.

Like it took love and support from a mosaic of caring people throughout my daughter’s life--family, friends, teachers, neighbors, and Allison herself, to help her become the person she is today, to make this dream come true for her.

I realized later, that spiraling mosaic contained every emotion I was feeling as I walked around, taking in that beautiful new place and contemplating the major life change my daughter and I were both facing in different ways as she prepared to go away to college.

As I think of it now, the title of this piece, its sense of movement and every color in Spiral Fantasia—A Child’s Dream was significant: I was in Tampa because my child’s dream of going to college there was coming true—there was bright, happy yellow, the Florida sunshine color; different shades of blue; proud, dignified purple; nostalgic amber; the green and brown of life and growth; the rich warmth of orange; life-force red and the red of a mother’s worry and love.

And the silver of the mirrored portions of the mosaic reflected not only the scenic place where my daughter  would be living, but the clarity I felt--that as hard as it was to let her go, it was the right thing to do. Clear even through my tears, that though part of me would love to keep her with me forever, I had encouraged her to leave home and follow her dreams. I knew it was exactly what she wanted and needed, had worked so hard for and deserved.

Like an artist creates a mosaic, friends can help us gather disparate, sometimes discarded pieces of our lives, of ourselves—colorful and broken shards of experience--bring them together with conscious intent, love and understanding and arrange them into something beautiful and whole.

This inspiring mosaic, Spiral Fantasia—A Child’s Dream, seemed to embody, reflect and express my emotions in a tangible, manageable and ultimately incredibly beautiful way.

--Deborah Correia 3/18/14

AMIZADE OF ART: Caught in reflections of life's color, beauty and emotion.

AMIZADE OF ART: Caught in reflections of life's color, beauty and emotion.

For more information about the artist, Mari Gardner, her art and community projects, visit her website at http://www.marigardner.com/index.html and see the feature on her in “my amizade heroes”.

For more information about places mentioned in this blog:

Glazer Children’s Museum: glazermuseum.org and https://www.facebook.com/GlazerChildrensMuseum

The University of Tampa: ut.edu

The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts: fmopa.org          

The Tampa Museum of Art: tampamuseum.org