Saturday, March 25, 2017

Surf's up. School is open

School's in session, and look at that location - Tamarindo, Costa Rica - for eager minds to soak up their lessons. Well, it is spring break for lots of North American kids, and what better than to try their skill at surf boarding. 

Might I add that this was 6:15 am when I walked past, and yes, kids will hop out of bed if they are motivated.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A little observation from a recent trip

Ten years ago in Costa Rica, you couldn't find a plastic bag anywhere in this eco-friendly country. I must say I am disappointed at the neighborhood grocery store to find bags plentifully and at no charge either like in other countries such as Ireland. The one positive that can be said is that littering is at a minimum on the side of the road, and people do pick up trash. I saw this with my own eyes.

 For more pictures - ones a lot more inspiring, too- check out the blog:

Monday, March 13, 2017

Memories from my mother's recipe book

     Last week I came across a black notebook with grease-splattered pages about the size of a large paperback book. On each page is a recipe written in my mother's warm, yet tidy, handwriting.

     My mother died over twenty-five years ago, so opening this notebook is a bit like finding hidden treasure, but with a huge helping of poignancy.
     The notebook contains all of my mother's go-to recipes —Spaghetti Loaf Casserole, Tuna Rollups, Pigs in the Blanket, Forgotten Cookies (I should skip the rest of the column and just give you the recipe for this one — perhaps another time).
     This was definitely cooking from a different era. Recipes include a lot of canned Campbell mushroom soup, mayonnaise, crisco, and butter by the stick. Jell-O is represented in specialty molds and tiny marshmallows, as well.
     Remember this was after World War II and American housewives were supplied with all sorts of shortcuts in the kitchen to make life simpler, and they loved all those conveniences. There was a plentiful supply of food, too, and no longer was rationing an issue, although like my mother, these women remained frugal for the rest of their lives.
     Since my mother cooked from her head and not strictly from the actual recipe, I remember how difficult it was for her to write each one down for me when I went off on my own to my first apartment. She had been a Home Economics major in college, and for her, cooking was a breeze.
     “A little bit of this, or that,” or “about” for a time limit on baking, was not so easy to follow as a novice cook trying to get the old and familiar dish like mom made. I struggled through the recipes often with a spoon in one hand and the phone in the other consulting her wisdom. Patiently, mom would “talk” me through the process, and I would muddle along with my entire kitchen counter in disarray from repeated attempts at assembling a casserole.
     When the results were in, I never could make any recipe the way mom’s dishes tasted. Perhaps, it was more than just her cooking skills. There was much to say about coming home to her table and having her loving hands prepare a meal. I appreciated her expertise so much more as an adult.
     In fact, during a long eight-hour drive from Upstate to Long Island, I already would smell the traditional ham and sweet potato casserole that we would have that evening as my welcome home meal. It got me through old Route 17’s windy roads in a rural woodsy setting, and the heavier traffic closer to the city where my driving skills were raised up a notch.
     I pulled the notebook off the shelf and dusted it off. I hadn’t looked at it in a long time. Just reading the recipes was enough to unlock memories.
     Like how I would come home from school to the smell of a fresh apple pie baking and a little light conversation with her.  Mom was an excellent listener, and often I would pour out my troubles while she was finishing up. Looking back, my issues were petty, but at the time they seemed immense as a young girl growing up.
     Like how effortlessly it seemed she put together a holiday meal and somehow she managed to feed a ton of relatives. I never paid enough attention to the planning and the shopping days ahead in order for everything to run smoothly. She would be up at dawn of the feast day getting the turkey in the oven, before I would make my first sleepy-eyed appearance to peel the potatoes.
     Like how everyone waited for her cranberry orange relish mold that had just the right tang to it from the orange juice and ginger ale, or some other unnamed spirit, that was her little secret to be set down in front of them at the picnic table. It was one of those dependable dishes like deviled eggs that made for a perfect outing.
     Like how she would whip up a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies, skin the chicken breasts and mash potatoes in a quick ten minutes. The entire clan from far and wide considered Aunt Eleanor as the best multitasker in the family hands down. No one came close to her in second place. And, she would appear at the meal in her best outfit, hair curled and lipstick on as if she had been prepping herself instead of the meal for the last hour and a half.
     Like how she would save up her energy when she was older to teach her granddaughter how to make her special Christmas cut-out cookies never minding the flour spilled all over the floor.  She was passing on her skills to another generation. My daughter tells me that she would ask her grandmother questions about me and what I was like as a kid.
     But today, I longed for something more. So this afternoon I made my mother's Chicken and Potato Chip casserole. Normally, I would cut down the amount of sour cream used and go easy on the chips, but this time I wanted to make it just as my mother had.
    When my husband and I sat down to eat, the casserole was almost as I remembered it. I nearly got it right.  The aromas and tastes were transporting and the stories flowed. It was as if my mother were there with us.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Unspeakable topics of discussion

     The murkiest thoughts often come closest to home. Debating whether to share them with the public is another thing.  It ‘s all in the timing, too.
     In my case, I was sitting down to my laptop considering what I could develop into a column, when lo and behold, right next to me was a book, “Unspeakable - And Other Subjects of Discussion” by Meghan Daum (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, copyright 2014).

     Daum’s book has been marked up and dog-eared from numerous readings. It’s a treasure trove of impressions from a talented writer — those ones that are painful to verbalize and yet, linger in the back of your mind.
     If you ever shared such sensitive private topics as Daum writes about with a best friend or family member – even a stranger in a doctor’s waiting room – what in the world would they think of you? Should you keep them to yourself? Perhaps, certain topics are best opened-up after-the fact when outcomes have been achieved and a valuable point can be made.
     Daum comments in her introduction, “Over twenty years now I have been making something of a specialty of writing about myself.”
     Daum sounds like an older sister of mine with more mileage in the press.
     “Serving as my own main subject has been a great convenience,” she goes on to say.
      I agree again.
     Sometimes I think that I am lazy when I write too much about myself.  It could be an easy way out. Then again, it might not.
     Like Daum, my very best writing makes me a peripheral character, the narrator, rather than the star of the show. The pieces I look back on that are most worthy come from the outside world. Granted, it is the way I see things, but the focus is off me. I know when I have hit the target when I receive a lot of reader response. And it is not always of the thumbs-up variety either. Negative replies mean that I have hit a nerve, and that is positive engagement on the reader’s part.        
      Daum’s book considers if some of life’s most burning issues are inappropriate for public discussion, and for confiding with family and friends as well.
    “It’s about the unspeakable thoughts many of us harbor.”
     Should such thoughts be left dormant and private, or with the skill of a writer like Daum, be brought out in the open without useless ranting, raving and complaining of the unfairness of life? 
     Personally, that’s when I take those thoughts and turn them into fiction where I can stretch the truth and bend it without making myself uncomfortable and in the spotlight. That’s my approach to writing a novel.  Or, I put in just enough detail to break it away from my life.  I don’t know what else to do without exposing myself to massive scrutiny.
     Stories and real life often mirror each other, but in a distorted way. It is hard to show my vulnerability, although if the truth is told, others feel the same way and are relieved that I am speaking for them when I write.
     “You put in words what I couldn’t say,” is a comment I often hear from readers.
     I have wondered how author Joyce Carol Oates writes such gruesome murder gothic novels. To look at her petite self in person so prim and proper, you wouldn’t guess that she has had difficult periods, too, that are unspeakable, yet work well in fiction.

     Daum breaks out and writes wonderful memoir pieces about living life in an imperfect world. She recognizes in her mother’s passing that she isn’t part of an average family at all – who is?  She has spent much of her life faking it for fear others would catch-on to their abnormal behavior.   
      It may seem unspeakable, but Daum was reading a piece on Hillary Clinton in Vogue magazine and her only brother was checking his Facebook account while watching intermittently their mother’s last couple hours on earth in the hospital.
     And the week before, the two of them had already cleaned out their mother’s home before she’d even died.
     That’s the truth, and Daum comes clean with her feelings. She’s not heartless when you know her dysfunctional family history. She’s honest.
     Then during Daum’s single period in life she dated guys not for being part of a couple and combating loneliness, but she was doing field research – looking for characters, for experiences to write about.
     As a dog lover, often her emotions are stronger for an animal than they are for humans, which she says explains why she frequently puts on a show and is a phony with others. She rails at herself for being so pathetic. Don’t we all?
     You can’t help but love a person who tells it like it is about her weaknesses and flaws. Her honorable ways are nothing to be ashamed about for the rest of us has similar thoughts, and we conveniently hide them most of the time. They surface, though, over and over, and not always in acceptable ways.
     I haven’t learned how to be a writer like Megan Daum yet, and certainly, I don’t want to copy her style. I have my own voice and stuff I want to say.
     In the meantime, I will go back to mining my own life for material, and it never fails, there is more to my own story.





Thursday, February 23, 2017

A chance meeting between strangers

    Let’s do it.” My husband and I were driving a rental car in the Southwest somewhere – I think it was near Gallop, New Mexico – when we saw a tumbled down wooden shack of a place with a rusted sign, “Fossils and Other Assorted Adventures at Your Own Risk.”
     We looked at each other realizing we might be on to something.  With no pressing agenda that morning, we pulled over and stepped out of the car into at least two hours of fascinating conversation with an old crusty codger about his relics and dinosaur specimens. You’d have thought that he hadn’t talked to a living soul in days — or was he such an expert at the art of entertaining that we didn’t realize that we were been taken right in? Good storytellers can do that, you know.
     Then again, I might have been attracted by the crusty codger’s long white hair knotted with a thin Zuni string-like beaded decoration at the nape of his neck. His face was etched in deep creases and weathering had done a number on his complexion like anyone exposed to the sun’s rays for years.  Here was an artifact from the 60s living among his collections as if Jimi Hendrix and Purple Haze were there playing in the backroom. It could well have been, too.
     That’s the advantage when you don’t lock yourself into a tight schedule. A simple pleasure like pouring around a dusty barn for treasures and getting a little bit dirty is what I mean. It makes a vacation all the more memorable, too, and some trips work out in that way naturally.   

     Regardless, whether or not the crusty codger was leading us on a merry chase of talk, we never did figure out. Sometimes the fun is in playing along, too. All I know is that we saw an authentic bit of New Mexico, and if I remember correctly, we added a dinosaur bone to our collection to put on the shelf for the neighbor kids to discover on their next visit. Certain people have that witty capacity with language and everything coming out of their mouth is a pun. We recognized that we would never run across him again in this lifetime and no photos were needed to recreate that morning. I think we did take a couple pictures of the crusty codger’s relics, but he didn’t want one of himself. “I’m running from the law,” he grumbled with a twinkle in his eyes.  I would doubt that seriously.
     The crusty codger told us tales of life in the “golden” days – I’m not certain he was much older than us – and where he had found his specimens braving wild conditions and fighting off other competing collectors. He would get distracted from his main story and wind into another one like a bunny rabbit on a trail moving abruptly to keep his audience enthralled. His friendly beagle would wander in and out requiring appropriate attention from us until something outside else got his ears pricking up.
     Springtime in the desert is plush and the colors were peaking as far as we could see on the blooming cactus. The distant mountains shimmered and the last of the snow was dripping away into streams. The crusty codger took out his red workman’s hankie and blew his nose lamenting allergy season for him.

     Mostly, the old codger sat on a stool in his faded denim overalls and plaid shirt whittling away at a carving and directing us in one direction or another. Nothing was priced, or organized, and still, I would imagine that he knew where everything could be located if need be on a moment’s notice. You’ve watched the show, American Pickers, and those two entrepreneurs have the art of the deal down just right. We weren’t in that category, and I bet he surmised we were simply “lookers” before we walked in.
     Several times we thought we were finished and started edging toward the open door, when the crusty codger would weave us into another yarn. Back we would come inside, and listen again.
     Once my husband picked up a beauty of a specimen – he has a good eye - and immediately the old codger came limping over taking it right out of his hands abruptly. “It’s not for sale.” Supposedly, we were part of the shed that was his private collection even though he told us with a broad sweep of his hands upon our arrival, “everything is for sale including my dog.” I was expecting him to say also, “and my wife,” so he rose up a notch in my estimation.
     As we were about to leave we asked him where we would find good home cooking at a nearby diner on the road back to Gallop. We were hankering for a bowl of chili by then as our stomachs were growling. Breakfast – Huevos a la Mexicana, or Mexican scrambled eggs - seemed like hours ago. With all his wealth of knowledge, we could see that he had no clue about the practicalities of life outside his immediate space, so we dropped the subject.
     We thanked the crusty codger for his time, waved good-bye and drove off laughing about our impromptu visit with an authentic charmer. If we spent five dollars, it was worth it all. I rather doubt he was in dire need of funds either when I glanced back at his silver Mercedes parked behind his shack.  



Thursday, February 16, 2017

Oh, what a life...a writer's, that is

The only way I am going to write a solitary sentence right now is to literally tie myself to my office chair and not let up. I am a wicked taskmaster. No coffee. No fruit. No excuses.  For if I don’t, I will go off wandering into other pleasurable activities far away from my writing work and free my mind of commas, periods and all that stuff.

But my muse is playing games with me like trying to rope in a hesitant baby calf for branding, and I realize that if I only force a few words to come on the computer screen begrudgingly, I will be on a roll once more for the morning corralling those sentences one after the other tied into first-rate stories.

Don’t get me wrong, reader. I do love to write, but like the greats, it can be painful work. 

Kay Thomas writer, check me out. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Another round of snow

During the winter at 5:30 am, I make out a low rumbling sound that has come to be a comforting one in my small world. Its distinct sound builds up to a roar the closer it gets. Our snowplow driver is making his first round of the morning in preparation for the school bus run in less than an hour. It’s my automatic alarm clock for getting out of bed and starting my day. 

Our property is on a corner, and the plow stops there, backs up before turning around for another run. He doesn’t have much room to maneuver and on one side there is a deep gully. Once a newbie driver slipped into the "hole" and he had to be pulled out by a tow truck later in the morning. I warn visitors coming to the crest of the hill for the first time in snowy weather that when they turn the corner, stay closer to the center of the road. 

The snowplow’s headlights reflect off my bedroom walls in patterned dark lines as the deep-throated rumble of the engine gains speed. The driver is off to do the next set of roads further into the hills. “The higher elevations” is the term meteorologists use to describe the locations like ours where extra portions of snow accumulate on a regular basis. Often my cat will perk his ears at the sound and hover closer on the golden quilt knowing full well that he is free of worry inside with us. 

I will close in saying that I am grateful for the snowplow driver and all that he does to keep the roads safe and usable. It’s a most appreciated service in our neck of the woods.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

My royal obsession leaks out

      I can’t get enough of the British Royal Family. For years and years, I have followed their every regal move as faithfully as watching a television reality show.
     The pageantry and elegance captured my attention back when Queen Elizabeth II was a new ruler and her sister, Princess Margaret, was denied marrying the love of her life in 1953 because he was divorced man. I fretted over newspaper coverage or Life magazine articles, and I was crushed to a pulp. How a princess wasn’t above the Cabinet and the Church of England dictating to her that her dream man wasn’t an appropriate choice fitting of her station in life was beyond me. Margaret was third in line to the throne, and as unfair as it struck me, the rules couldn’t be bent. As a commoner, I still could pine away for my own prince charming – he sat behind me in band — without those regal complications.

     I don’t think that I am alone, though, by the looks of all the books written on the royal family lining bookshelves. Why, just yesterday I found a new one — The Game of Crowns by Christopher Anderson — at the library. It’s about the relationships between Elizabeth, Camilla and Kate. Sorry I am throwing names at you like a royal flush. The book is well written, although I believe it is a collection of assorted information from sources not sanctioned by the family. When Queen Elizabeth dies, will a fumbling, introverted Charles have the evil Camilla as his Queen, the accuser of breaking up his marriage to Diana, or will the monarchy become irrelevant? Could the younger royals save the monarchy from extinction in the second half of the 21-century? Stay tuned. I’m reading as fast as I can.
      Since we have nothing to compare it to in our country, I think the enchanted fairytale in Britain is what I have come to adore. We see our First Family for a short few years, and that is pretty much that without the fanfare.  
     Now my brother-in-law, British by birth, claims that the taxpayer is paying for a lot of the royals traipsing around. He can’t get too excited about it all. What a curmudgeon he was while we were out in California visiting when Will and Kate got married. Men are not so into weddings claimed my husband and he stayed in bed, too. I watched in the middle of the night (PST) all by myself wrapped in a Made in The British Isles coverlet and nibbling on English tea biscuits.  

     Last year for my birthday I gave myself a year’s subscription to Majesty magazine. Most of the pictures and news I already knew, and I guess I was hoping for more. Still, I keep the issues and pass them on to a friend, an admirer in all things royalty.
     I’ve been to London and each time I gawk at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace hoping I am lucky and get a glimpse of a royal face through the window of a black limousine racing past.
      My mother visited my sister – she was living in England at the time – and they stood on the streets of London in 1981 waving to the royal carriage carrying newlyweds Diana and Charles.  My petit mother claimed that she saw Diana’s famous wave even though she was knee deep in the crowd towering above her. She brought home all sorts of memorabilia  - tea mugs, towels – embroidered with the date and official wedding picture. They are somewhere in my attic, and I suppose to a collector, I might have a commemorative selection of value.
     I binge watched the Netflix series, The Crown – it is historically accurate – and I admire how a young Queen Elizabeth worked with Winston Churchill to gain her footing as a ruler. I highly recommend the series.
     Look at the Queen today as an active 90-year old monarch and her emphasis on the work ethic. She has encouraged the younger members of the firm to step up to public obligations.

      Who doesn’t remember where he was when the news of Diana’s death came in 1997? That Sunday morning a group of us were tailgating at a Bills game – we had parked our RV’s there overnight – and it was a topic for conversation. Fortunately, rooting for the Bills displaced my sadness, and I do think it was a time when they were making a respectable showing the year after the end of the Jim Kelly era. Things were much rosier for the team and the fans…well, the fans always support Buffalo’s pride and joy.
     After Diana died, the world took on her boys, William and Harry, like their own, and how we have observed them grow into manhood. The most watched television program from the BBC was the wedding of Kate to William, and closely following was the birth of two adorable rosy-cheeked children.

      Along with the rest of the world, my eyes are on Harry, and if he will get engaged to Meghan Markle this year.  She appears to have a lot of strikes against her as suitable for a royal – American divorcee, biracial, movie star – but the crown has become much more lenient in the last few decades. I’ll rely on Twitter to break the news.
     In the meantime, let’s have a cup of Earl Gray English morning tea. I’m staying calm and carrying on my obsession amidst a reality check from time to time with our country’s ongoing experiment with freedom.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Early spring breezes

Jumping the gun so to speak, or just plain wishful thinking. Perhaps, I need to take a break from the news briefly. 

Early Spring Breezes
I left the front door
open today
in hopes of
catching a warm breeze
for airing out
winter’s coat
from inside out.
It circled around
in wisps and swirls
bending cobwebs and
inching dust balls
out of sight.
Fresh clean springtime
permeate the stale
withered lifelessness
of a house buttoned up
from winter’s cruelties.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Maintaining friendships in a virtual world

     Friendships come, and friendships go. No. Wait. That’s not how relationships are supposed to work.
     I am going to point the finger in Facebook’s direction.
     Social media has tried to get you to redefine friendship by “helping” you make your lists of close friends, acquaintances and people who got on your list because you grew up in the same hometown.

     Jim Morrison stated that a friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.
     That’s not how it is playing out on Facebook from what I read.   
     To be perfectly honest, Facebook isn’t the culprit, though. It’s only the tool.  How people use Facebook is the problem.
     One of my FB friends wrote, “ post about my concern [political] began to create division between many people I care about. The friends I have on FB all mean very much to me. I hope the divide we are all seeing, even on FB, doesn't erupt into something greater.”
     Those who go on a virtual rant day after day turn folks off. Rather than pay rapt attention, others scroll right past getting slightly agitated to say the least. Too often thoughts are accompanied by links to articles that are uncensored, unreliable or simply fake news.
    Sure, every once in awhile you have to let off steam, and what better place than with your FB friends. Everyone understands. You’ve retrieved your phone from being water logged and you need a virtual shoulder to cry on. Someone took up two parking spaces. Rant over.

     Facebook has become a forum or platform for anyone and his brother who has a point to make whether based on fact or hearsay. Perhaps, the person is more concerned with how many “likes” his post gets, and that is interpreted in his mind that he is “loved” and valued. You wonder if he is self-centered, lonely or known as the complainer in every crowd. Sometimes the language gets vulgar, too. Nobody needs to wake up to that on his computer screen.
      Frankly, there are people on Facebook that have surprised me with their eloquent prose, and I wish that they would put it to better use advocating for causes.
     I have been watching, and in some cases put my two cents in, when someone states their opinion on a political issue, and subsequently, he gets demolished literally by others who strongly disagree. It is brutal. Our country was established on the principles of controversy.
     Words in print on Facebook can be so easily misconstrued. Why, even those of us who are professional writers get misinterpreted in print at times, and later, when we look back at our pieces and see it through a different lens, we shake our heads.
     Don’t get me wrong. I am a firm believer in our First Amendment right to speak out.

     I am also one who favors a fair debate between two people face-to-face when both sides are armed with facts and agree to disagree for the sake of presenting their points. Debate was one of my favorite activities in college, and it has served me well throughout my lifetime gleaning information before making intelligent decisions.
     And thirdly, I believe that there is a time to stand up for one’s beliefs on social justice issues, which will have far reaching implications for future generations. Rolling back hard won victories for women’s rights would be disastrous in my opinion.
     Impassioned rhetoric is one thing. Hurtful and degrading another human being as being ignorant, or implying such, is wrong, wrong. Assuming by where someone lives, or his lifestyle, that he is of one party affiliation or the other is not the proper way to welcome angels unaware into your life.

     So to be on Facebook this year, you either have to have a tough skin or shy away from reading what makes you feel uncomfortable. A lot of folks took a break over the holidays and came back in January refreshed…well, they thought so, until verbal tirades started right back up.
     I observed people “unfriending” others of different political bents, and in one case, telling someone to unfriend him if by doing so it would make his life more comfortable.

     As in any society there are those right out there with their beliefs with no holes barred. Then there are the people sitting on the fence. There are the peacemakers. We need all kinds and a variety of opinions to live in a democratic society. Our citizens need to be proud AND critical simultaneously.
     Those of you that are familiar with Japanese culture know that one of the main attributes of the Japanese people is “group think.” Their reverence for their leaders, teachers and those in charge is honored with submission. The Japanese people simply don’t question. Those with creative minds live with their thoughts and ideas without making a fuss, and work underground so to speak.

     It is so opposite of our independent mindset in the United States. We don’t buy into “group think.” Our travel group in Japan learned that young children are not encouraged to ask questions in their learning process, and we realized that as much as we loved the serenity, beauty and efficiency of the country, we could not live there. We value our freedoms way too much.
     Facebook is still an important part of my life. The best advice I have is to don’t let the dialogue get to you.  Maintain the high road.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Not all pillows are created equal

     Sooner or later I knew that my private feelings would come out in print. Something like that is impossible to hide under the covers.     
     The truth of the matter is that pillows don’t cross my mind very often, nor do I have a love-hate relationship with my pillow like others known to obsess over buying the best on the market. For me, a pillow is just a necessary essential like shampoo, car maintenance and duct tape.
      I sleep like a baby floating in my dreams with an expensive pillow. On the other side, it takes a few whacks accompanied by a couple grumbles during the night and I survive with a lousy one.

     For discriminating folks, the size of the pillow and the fiber content matters, too. You’re up on the latest jargon - the fluff factor. The most common fills for pillows are down feathers, synthetic/polyester fibers and foam. Consider thread counts. Simply put, the higher the thread count in a pillow the more durable and plush it will feel.
     Sleeping position is relevant – back, side, stomach or mixed sleeping patterns ‒ so folks should give a scientific scrutiny to their normal habits. Choosing the wrong pillow can exacerbate headaches, neck and shoulder tension.

     Over the weekend while in the parking lot of a motel along a busy highway, I saw a young woman with a long ponytail under a Steelers cap clutching a bedroom pillow along with a large purse in one hand and her suitcase in the other. I gathered up my sole suitcase and followed her into the main lobby. Without being nosy and downright asking her, I assumed that she couldn’t leave home without her own pillow. It is something that I have heard others talk about, and more importantly, how their sleep is affected drastically without their usual headrest. For others, it is that creature comfort of having something from home in a strange and new place like carrying a stuffed animal or a special photo.
     Bringing your own pillow is fine, except it doesn’t work as efficiently at the airport TSA, although I’ve seen teens toting them along with oversized Vera Bradley duffels crammed to the gills. They need to be taught how to pack better in my opinion.

     Numerous times in hotels I have not had the ideal rest and I will blame it on the pillow; or should I say, the several oversized ones arranged to create a homey atmosphere. I feel like my head is wedged in like a vice and miss out on the benefit of the super duper deluxe mattress.  Still, no one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes back and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.

     When I was staying in a couple small rural Japanese spa retreats, I had the pleasure of resting my head on buckwheat pillows, and both times I ended up throwing them on the floor in disgust. I slept without.
     Buckwheat pillows are meant to be a natural sleep aid. It didn’t work for me. Buckwheat hulls have several advantages over traditional pillow fill like foam or feathers. Most significantly, buckwheat hull pillows do not collapse under the weight of your head. The buckwheat hull fill conforms perfectly to the unique shape of your head and neck providing support that most pillows lack.
     How many travel doughnut pillows have you left behind in one city or another?  They are visible looped to the outsides of luggage and certain people on long distance flights swear by them. I am a minimalist traveler and find them simply one more thing to carry. I can sleep sitting up or slumped over regardless. I will say that the person who invented those sleep aids was pretty smart, and analyzed his market well.
     Which brings me to the fact that I do like a sturdy pillow and I make sure that I keep mine in good condition at home. Before a pillow gets worn, I am not adverse to going out and getting a new one. I remember during my frugal years that I kept a pillow until I could fold it in half.  That was the final sign that the pillow was beyond dead and time for a replacement.

      A poll in the Daily Mail in the UK of nearly 2,200 men and women found that 82 per cent of people do not know how often they should replace their pillows. According to the Sleep Council, pillows should be replaced every two years, or more often if you have allergies or health issues.
     Anything will substitute for the real deal in an emergency. Travelers roll up jackets or rest their heads on their duffel bags in airport lounges.
      My friends who own large dogs use them for pillows when stretching out on the floor. They are so lucky for pet therapy and a quick snooze all rolled into an incomparable moment without the cost of a spa treatment.
     A wedding pillow designed and handcrafted by my late sister is the most priceless family heirloom that I have in my possession. As the matriarch, I am the pillow’s keeper for the time being before it will be passed on to the next generation.   It is a square ivory form with a lacey edge and it is dotted with dainty flowers holding several ribbon streamers in place. For all the cousins’ weddings, she carefully embroidered the name and dates on the back.
     All this hurry-up writing reminds me to buy a couple new pillows. Bring on the January White Sales.