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.  


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Starting the new year off

A Traditional First Day Hike is my way of starting off a new year on a positive footing. Walking was a little tricky, and after a slip slide along the edge of the road, I gave up and went to the center. Fortunately, there was no traffic to contend with and all worked out. There was a complete stillness in the air except for the crunching under my feet, and therefore, it kept me focused on the present. Peace. Abiding peace. Country living at its finest. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A new year's wish

Wishing readers, writer friends and everyone best wishes for a HAPPY NEW YEAR filled with 

possibilities and challenges.

Thanks for your support. An incredible amount of words were written in 2016. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A new year of travel possibilities

     I’m hanging up a new wall calendar for 2017. There are blank squares waiting to be filled, and I am impatient to get on the trail.  
     You are either born with it, or not… that wanderlust of spirit for travel and adventure. Others get their kicks from the armchair variety along assorted, vicarious routes  - books, documentaries and storytelling. Neither way is right or wrong. It depends on your temperament. Physical ability. Pocketbook.

     However, money is secondary for those who have the urge to be off on an excursion. They figure it out. Take my two vagabond acquaintances. These young friends are not settled permanently anywhere and roam the world hopping from one continent to the next on an extremely limited budget making up for it with boundless energy. Sometimes they work for their keep, and stay in one spot for a season. They engage with locals in every possible way and have created an amazing set of pictures and writing to accompany their journey.
     Recently I caught up with my vagabonds via the Internet while they are in Southeast Asia, and their passion for exploration has not dimmed since I first met the wife several years ago in a local writers group when they were temporarily staying with relatives in our area. Their aim is to live on all seven continents – they are getting close - before they settle in to life somewhere. I didn’t want to tell them, but I expect that they won’t stop for long before the urge will take them off again seeing the world.

     For most wanderers, like those two vagabond rovers who brag on their minimalist lifestyle, it never ceases. Another good example from a different era is Jack Kerouac, who said,There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”  Kerouac was an American writer best known for the novel On the Road, which became an American classic, pioneering the Beat Generation in the 1950s. His spontaneous prose is a method that allows one’s muse to bring the thoughts out on paper without interruption from the writer.  I confess that reading his work gets me lost, and I wonder if I will see my way clear to a road sign. There is no direct path but wandering according to Kerouac.
     A local storyteller friend uses Kerouac’s broader theme for her presentations. Actually, it is “keep the wonder rolling,” and that says a great deal about those who travel in their minds as well as by other methods of transportation. Her folktales are from around the world and she deftly points out the cultural nuances of each before she begins to engage her audience into the characters and specific location inviting them to use their imaginations. Personally, I relish putting my mind to work and creating images in my head to go with the stories. Storytelling does that so well, and has for centuries, before literacy and its advances.
     A Native American storyteller quietly spreads his tales about Great Mother Earth without as much as a raised voice, and his audience remain at rapt attention. There’s a harmony evident and a rhyme to his message. It reminds me of traveling in the Southwest of our country, one of my favorite regions, and the natural beauty of lavender New Mexico sunsets, the Red Rocks near Sedona and life on native reservations. While the storyteller speaks, folks are traveling in their chairs and envisioning a different, more fruitful earth where water abounds and co-existing in nature is foremost. The Great Peacekeeper taught the community of Native American Nations to respect each other and all living things.

     My vagabonds manage quite frugally, but that doesn’t fit with others like newfound friends in the San Francisco Bay area who are going all over the world like mad women – their term - on a quest to see every possible highlight. I toured with them in Morocco and I was exhausted trying to keep up with their plans for 2017, 2018 and beyond. They are happy, though, and who am I to question their motive?  Some people don’t need the home base as much as others, and off they go emptying their bucket list in double time.
     There’s the couple from New Jersey I met on one of my trips that have disconnected themselves purposefully from their town and its activities and are letting their grown children fly to wherever they are to connect periodically. They live the retirement life as they dreamed it would be after spending grueling hours on the highway commuting from the suburbs back and forth to New York City teaching jobs. Or the recently widowed man who had planned a trip around the world with his wife only to have her die of complications of cancer before they could start out. There’s that rush for some people of a certain age to beat the clock.
     My vagabonds think that they have all the time in the world and push certain realities to the back of their mind. They haven’t come to the stage of having children…and grandchildren, if they ever choose that direction. Dealing with aging parents and health issues of their own isn’t in play for them right now either. Steady jobs in one place…well, that may not be in their cards.  
     As for my travel plans for 2017, you will have to wait and see.
May all of us fill our days at home, or on the road, with what matters to us. “Think and wonder. Wonder and think” – Dr. Seuss.  




Tuesday, December 20, 2016

With appreciation

     Thank you to those of you who took advantage of purchasing a free copy of Shimmering Japanese Sunlight. 

      And, a big thank you to all  who have been reading this blog throughout the year. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Keeping the memory

I decided to create a photo/essay book to keep the memory alive of my desert adventure, and iPhoto worked well. Not for sale. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

FREE kindle book TODAY only

Read about one woman's experience traveling to Japan where she discovers the unexpected in a treasure of an island country.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Answers come on a clear, starry night

     The desert brings clarity to mind and spirit. I need that remaining feeling (from a trip to Morocco) while the holiday season is in full swing in order to keep me sane in a frantic world.

     For centuries the desert has had its metaphors, and like the three Wise Men following the stars to find the Christ Child, all spiritual souls have wandered deeper into their beliefs after thoughtful, uninterrupted contemplation.

     It’s the stark presence of earth all around me while I perch on a campstool watching the stars pop out into the night sky. When all is said and done in life, there is not much anyone really needs except a personal belief system, basic needs and a few added on luxuries.

     I was visiting a country where the population is poor, but happy. No one can take that joyful spirit from Moroccans. People ride into rural markets on donkeys loaded with produce for sale, or they come in a cart, dilapidated car or truck. In cities, often the contrast between wealth and poverty is more evident, but without a social welfare system, everybody takes care of each other as much as possible. Surely that is the meaning of true happiness, and not the fleeting kind that vanishes after the holiday season bell ringing is over and January lifts its head.

     One night an hour before sunset, my travel mates and I walked the dunes a distance from our camp. The sun was setting yet the temperatures were still in the high 70s.  Our 4x4’s brought us to a secluded spot and some of us prepared for hiking sans sneakers, and others not. Later on the trek, I gave up with the sneakers and went barefoot, which is what I should have done in the first place. Each of us filled our water bottles and began slowly single file up the side of a dune digging in deeply and then carefully planting our feet when we reached a narrow ridge on the top for a bit. It’s hard work reminding me of breaking a trail while snowshoeing.

    I trudged and stopped way too frequently for others who were more on a march than me. I wanted the aloneness and held back always keeping the group within my view as was our instructions. Something wonderful was building inside me that I couldn’t explain. Besides, our 4 drivers were walking alone parallel to us out of sight to keep us from getting disorientated. Once in a while I would hear a voice and an arm motioning someone up ahead to get back in the right direction.

     Photographs do not do the Sahara justice. You have to be in the middle of the place to get it. What surrounded me was a world landscape so much bigger than my insignificant being, and I felt my importance diminish by the foot. I was like a piece of fine sand sifting through my toes for a mere moment. The world came before me, and will continue long after I am gone. That is for sure.

     I’ve had a similar sensation near the ocean in an indirect way, but the ebb and flow of the tides has a different scenario for me. The desert, on the other hand, is simply there. Man has to figure out how to survive in it.

      I came to a greater appreciation of a clean water supply and how much our world needs to protect what we have presently. Water is a common sense requirement for adaptation to a desert climate, and somehow my body sipped water day and night from a plentiful supply provided for me. Even today at home, I look at my simple glass of water and an adequate supply of hot water for a shower and don’t take it for granted anymore. Water is a gift that can’t be wrapped up and put under a tree.

     And I contemplated more and more about my purpose in my present life – thoughts of which I shall keep private, reader ‒ while I completed my round trip walk in the dunes exhilarated from pushing my body beyond its limits. When I reached further than I expected, there was a fine tingling sensation throughout my limbs hours after.

     One of the women with me was a recent breast cancer survivor, and she came on this trip as a personal thank you for her blessings. Her hair hadn’t grown out yet, and she was wearing a lovely wig.  I was excited for her and her accomplishment more so than my own ordinary one. The desert not only calls on us to be self-reliant thanks to its harshness, but also, to be in harmony with those in our landscape. We must depend on others, too ‒ the camp staff preparing my dinner on return.

     Finally, I made my way to the point of watching the sun nod below the dunes, and being a slightly hazy night, there wasn’t a lot of color for a grand show. A couple pictures more and I wound back to our vehicles shaking off the grains of sand covering my legs.
     For you dreamers and drifters, stargazers and peacemakers, lovers and gypsies of the night, for you global souls and sunshine chases, for those with salty skin and wild hearts, the desert will refresh you like it did me. That’s the best gift I could ever desire of life. Oh, and a few precious grains of desert sand that I brought home.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Viewing life from a camel's back

     A camel plods along taking forever to get anywhere by 21st century standards. Life should be played out in the slow lane once in a while, too, for your own good.
     Actually, a dromedary normally averages about 2 to 3 miles an hour when simply walking, 9 or 10 mph when trotting and 16 mph during a gentle jog. Camels have been known to go as fast as 40 mph for a short burst. I’ll take the word of the camel driver on that, and let him manage the speed for this inexperienced rider.

    When I slowed down and took a camel ride in the Sahara Desert, I viewed the massive vistas from a different, higher perspective. Parts of the time I looked down at the camel’s feet – I named him, “Buddy” ‒ and how his hoofs dug into the sand to go down a slope, or how they stretched out and caught their footing for climbing uphill. When the thick, leathery pads of his foot hit the ground, they spread wide, preventing the camel from sinking into the sand. When he walked, the camel moved both legs on one side and then both legs on the other, rocking side-to-side. The driver would yell, “lean back” and that turned out to be the best technique for staying comfortable and eliminating potential back misery.
     Other than that, once I got into the beat of a slower pace, my mind let go and I permitted my senses to take over. I dropped thoughts of what I would be doing next – a visit to a working Roman well – and raised my head high scanning the horizon. Earlier I had let my Berber tour guide take my multicolored scarf and wrap it around my head. It made me feel part of the total scene, and in all practicality, it was shading and cool draping down over my neck. Like everyone else, I took selfies of my new desert chic style, and I even wore my turban around camp for the rest of the day.

     The camel driver was in charge and I had nothing to worry about. Well, I was a little nervous about how awkward I would look getting on and off, but it turned out to be a piece of cake. Once I mounted and I readjusted to the camel’s lurch to rise on his four legs, I shifted to get comfortable on the mounds of blankets and held on to the metal halter with my hands. Soon I was loosening my grip and relaxing into the movement. My legs dangled freely and I held my posture upright. I assumed that I would be sore and stiff the next morning. (Didn’t happen.)
     Camels are domesticated; they provide milk, meat, hair for textiles or goods such as felted pouches, and are working animals with tasks ranging from human transport to bearing loads. While in a medina (market) in the city of Fez, I saw cut up portions of camel meat for sale by vendors, and I quickly walked away from one place with the camel’s head swinging from an iron rod. That was way too graphic.
      It was only 9 o’clock in the morning and already the sun was beating down, and the dryness in the air was making my skin feel like a sandpaper. Some fellow camel riders suffered from dry eyes and bloody noses, but I was lucky in that respect. Eventually, I would purchase some of that famous Moroccan black soap and exfoliate my skin for hours under a hot shower.

     The sun’s shadows played tricks on my eyes while going up and down over the natural wonders of the dunes examining the shapes and designs. Distances were out of proportion and I could see how you would get totally lost in no time flat. Still, the beauty of the desert in all its glory was evident from miles of tan fine sand. There was a slight breeze, which kept the bugs away fortunately, and periodically we would stop to take a breather…well, mostly for more photo ops. And we literally drank bottles of mineral water supplied by our caravan leader. The desert can fool you into an euphoric high and not take dehydration into account.
     The more I moved along and Buddy followed the leader, the more I appreciated where I was in this great wide world. It was relatively quiet, too, for minutes and that made everything peaceful.  Well, we did come across a group of French tourists out with rented dirt bikes and all of us wished them to go away almost like noisy jet skis interrupting our relaxation on a lake.
     Buddy moved a little out of line and snuggled by the side of the camel ahead, and I told him that he was in training to be the lead camel. I felt his anticipation in his quicker step before I even realized our ride was almost over. He knew that he would have rest time and food.
     When the ride was over, I slipped off the camel and stood stiffly for a minute and my legs became rubbery until I walked the kinks out of them. I turned to take a close up photo of Buddy, and he ignored me. I patted him on the head, “good job.” and slipped away from a priceless moment in my journey on this earth.  
     The Sahara Desert doesn’t offer an explosion of colors, but certainly it provides subtleties of hues. Ordinary life can be like that, too.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Over the river and through the woods

...'to grandmother's house we go' is a little bit of nostalgia I'm humming this Thanksgiving week 2016 re-living years gone past and simple childhood memories of assorted "relatives" - at least as a child I thought we were all tied together by geneology - piled around the dining table feasting on a well-cooked meal. There were those conversations, too, and politics always raised voices and hands waved in animation either for or against. I listened a lot and asked questions later when I got home for my family was never shy in that respect, and oh, the diversity of opinion. Beloved Giants' football games on television kept the older folks contented - many a snooze, too - and outside play in the nippy air with cousins infrequently seen made the afternoon go by quickly and before you knew it
...'the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh' home safely.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Lingering grains of thought from the Sahara Desert

     The desert changed me. I knew that instantly when I rode away in the 4x4 up and over the dunes to the main road over 45 miles away.
     A Sahara Desert (Northern Africa) tent camping experience in October made me a different person and I am barely able to put it into words. The mere notion that a writer is stumped is remarkable. I felt something powerful stirring deeply within my soul. I also assumed that thoughts would come to me, and I had to let things go. In fact, I needed to be far, far away from the desert to figure it all out.

      Wise men have gone to the desert in the past – some have wandered there for a long time - and filled their wells. Throughout my years I have had life changing experiences, and as a result, I discovered a new path. I was willing to trust and believed all would be well.
     I asked the fifteen other travelers if they had had a similar experience, and although the desert adventure was the highlight of everyone’s trip to exotic Morocco, no one felt it as intensely as me, or at least was willing to speak of it. Perhaps, we were all in a processing phase.
     Let me fill in the blanks for you about this adventure.  The travel company owes space about 25 miles from the Algerian border and manages a private camp with local staff. Each one of us had an individual tent with a toilet, shower and sink – thank you, solar power. Luxurious I would say, and not like my youthful tent camping days.

     Thinking about the movie, Lawrence of Arabia, and reading biographies of such desert aficionados as Gertrude Bell, all whom had a convoy of servants, survival on the desert must be taken seriously.
     When I showed up at camp – all my clothes had been previously bug-proofed - I looked out into a sandy expanse of flats and dunes with only a single lowly bush in sight. The beating sun overhead made sunglasses a necessity in high 80s temperatures – autumn in the desert – and I took another drink of water. I headed for a traditional tajine lunch – a stew cooked in a dome clay pot - with hot mint tea in the dining tent.
      Before our group arrived at camp, our caravan stopped in the last dusty little town at a grocery store that had a counter with an expanse of supplies behind it. We gave the owner our list – each of us contributed a couple dollars ‒ and he put the pile by the door. We bought essentials ‒ cooking oil, grains – in hopes of finding a nomad family somewhere near our camp to share our gifts.

     Later that afternoon we went out in our 4x4’s searching and we came upon an encampment. Our tour guide hopped out and spoke with a woman of about 45 or so, and she invited all 16 of us to sit under an open tent for mint tea and conversation (through our guide as interpreter) while she carded wool. Her teenage daughter was nearby herding in the goats, and was too shy to speak. The husband was off is a distant town working construction and came home infrequently. I had to pinch myself to remember what time period I was actually in.
      The woman and her daughter, like more than 80,000 estimated Berber people with a traditionally nomadic and pastoral lifestyle, are illiterate but desert savvy. Women hold down the home fort pretty much in Berber society.
     Who is to say that nomads should strive for more – education and health care ‒ for making a better future for their children? They don’t know any differently. That became a lively topic of discussion around the dinner table in the evening.
      After a tour of her humble shelter with its simple furnishings, we brought out our gifts. She was grateful, hung her head and averted her eyes, which is the custom. She said soon they would move on when the water supply got too low.

     Before bedtime the stars dotted the southern sky as far as I could stretch my neck and I played guessing games figuring out some of the constellations. The temperatures cooled to the mid 50s and I slept like a baby.
     The next morning I woke up way before the sun rose when all I could see was a faint outline of the other tents. I was too excited to stay in bed any longer and I climbed a nearby dune to the top. I proceeded to worship God in a natural sanctuary, and it was a special moment of thanksgiving. I saw the outline of a fellow traveler on a distant dune doing yoga, and another taking photos.
     Two highlights for me in the Sahara were the camel ride taking in the broad vista in slow motion, and a sunset walk out on the dunes far away from any civilization.
     Now looking back on those incredible days, I understand that the desert brought me to focusing on being in the present like nothing else has done before in my life.
     The desert’s solitude offered a message that quietness of mind and body is necessary for my existence.
     The daytime desert sky in its cerulean blue is always amazing because the light is just different and gives clarity to the visual.  But the night sky ... well, there is the stumbling for words. The stars. The stars.
     Natural beauty was imprinted on my soul.

If you want to see pictures and more from my Moroccan adventure go to my blog:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Meet me at the library today

Book signing with author Kay Thomas 

Wayland Free Library

TODAY, Wednesday, November 16, 3-5 pm.