Sunday, June 16, 2013


I wrote this blog post on the 30th anniversary of my father's death in 2012, but today, Father's Day 2013, it seems appropriate to repost it.     "Happy Father's Day, Daddy, wherever you are." 

July 9, 2012.  

Thirty years ago today my Daddy died, and I still miss him.  The date of his death is certain, but the date of his birth was not.  Lucky for him he got to pick a birth date that was his favorite month, a day he would always remember, and a year that made him younger than he probably was.  When he arrived on Ellis Island without any documents, no one asked any questions.  They didn't ask because in those days people of all nationalities were welcome here.

Daddy always said he would die when he was 85, but he made it to  86, so  there was an extra year to get his affairs in order.  He and my brother made a trip to Bennett's Funeral Home to make all the arrangements, just in case there was no warning.  He made my brother promise to have a big party after he died.   He wanted to say goodbye to all his friends, but then, jokingly, added we would have to do it for him.   He was Greek Orthodox, but only by birth for he scoffed at those who went to church, and especially his Catholic friends who went to confession.  The local Greek priest attempted to visit after Daddy's cancer diagnosis,  but he would have none of it, until a month or two before he died when he began having second thoughts.   If there was an afterlife, he thought, maybe there was still time for God to forgive his years of badmouthing and negative talk. 

Do you remember the father in that wonderful movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding?  Well, I grew up with a Dad like that.  He didn't clean my scrapes and scratches with Windex,  but he did have a habit of interrupting my conversations with girlfriends to remind us of the Greek derivative of the words we used.   After seeing the movie, this habit endeared him more to me, but it was too late to tell him.  For someone who only went to the second grade, he had an impressive command of the English language.  His grammar wasn't perfect, but yet he didn't need a dictionary to read the New York Times.

The party was held in a local Greek restaurant and the room was packed with Greeks and non-Greeks.  My Dad loved people and people loved my Dad.  He was an affable man who had rich friends and poor ones.   He loaned out money, but never worried if he wasn't paid back.  Then there were some kids who couldn't afford college, so he made it possible with a generous check.   When I asked him for a quarter, he gave me fifty cents, but held me accountable for some of my expenses during college, saying I would thank him in the end, and I did.   His needs weren't much except for a new Pontiac every year, which he bought  from Bill Walker, one of his trusted Masonic friends.  Driving the latest model car and wearing a new suit made my Dad happy and feel secure. 

 Even though my folks were born in the old country,  we didn't grow up in a typical Greek household.  I wasn't required to date Greek boys like some of my cousins were, and I was spared a 
full-dunk baptism in the Orthodox church one hundred miles away.  I also didn't know that the "last supper" was a tradition among our kind.  It was not meant to be a memorial service.  It was definitely a party.  Dolmathes, spanokopita, and roast lamb  filled our plates.  There was bouzouki music, line dancing and hilarious stories that would have made my father blush.   He arrived in America with only a name and a New York address written on a piece of scrap paper  tucked in his pants' pocket  He told us stories about sweeping floors and washing dishes before owning his own restaurant, but the funniest tales were the ones about going door to door as a Fuller Brush man.

Both my parents were story tellers, but the ones my Dad told usually had a purpose.  He wanted me to know about his early years,  so I would understand and appreciate his values and not take my good life for granted.   He taught me about hard work and the meaning of the words, I earned it.  He signed me up with a Social Security number when I was 13,  so I could report all my earnings.  When I started drawing on that account, I wish I could have thanked him.   Politically he leaned to the left, but socially he was straight down the middle.   Having your ears pierced is ok,  he would say, but home by midnight is the rule.  He made a big deal about my dating, and even a bigger deal when I said I wanted to get married.  As far as he was concerned, knowing the boy's parents was more important than knowing the boy.  He said he didn't care what color he was.   If he came from good stock and a good home that was all he needed to give us his blessing.  

I spent a few days with him in New Hampshire before he died.  He looked thin and gaunt from the cancer that was eating him up inside, and had to use a pillow to sit on because he was all bones.  He hadn't given up yet, and although he had decided not to fight it,  he was never in the hospital or laid up in bed.    He didn't seem to be in pain, and still enjoyed meeting his cronies for their daily coffee and philosophy talk.   

When I pulled out of his driveway and headed for the airport,  I didn't know his time would be up later that day.   As I walked into my California house eight hours later, the phone rang, and I heard the words,  he is gone.  After a lovely meal with Mom and some of our family, he collapsed and within minutes passed away.   His heart gave out before he would have to experience the awful pain of cancer.  Everyone said it was a blessing.   Now thirty years later,  I see him standing in front of my car waving good-bye and blowing kisses on the day I backed out of his driveway.    

In a beautiful eulogy read at my father's last supper party, my articulate uncle said it best:  

"Close to midnight, like in a fairy tale, the soul of the once immigrant child, who had become a model citizen, a husband, father, uncle, grandfather, and to me a very dear brother, left this world of roses, birds, brooks, breezes and daisies for an unknown world from which no traveler has ever returned.  Good night, sweet Prince, Bon Voyage Kalo Taxithee."



I know you haven't heard from me in a while, but riding my bike and spending time outside is more appealing in the summer months than dealing with writer's block at my computer.   Another reason for the hiatus is because we have been on vacation.    No special shots or visas were required this time, but we did need a passport.  

It makes me laugh to say this out loud,  but occasionally laziness
becomes me, and 
I became quite an expert at doing nothing during this vacation. This is the seventh summer we've spent a week at a Club Med with part of our family during the grandkids' school break.  For Bruce and me, it is one of the few times we fly out of the country to relax and simply hang out.



I worked on my tan, took naps on the beach and fantasized about my next meal.  You can burn thousands of calories if you want to  sail, snorkel, water ski, play tennis or beach volleyball.   If you are really athletic, limber and a risk taker, there is always the trapeze, but at our age that activity is definitely out of the question.  We look at it this way.  The additional calories are part of the total entertainment package, so we don't worry about it--but I put off weighing myself for at least a week after I get home.

 Every day we set up our tanning spot on the beach, where we could watch women of various shapes and sizes parade around in their tiny bikinis and uncomfortable-looking thongs.  Not all body types are made for this type of apparel,  but why some men don't get that their skimpy Speedo suit is no longer in style really surprises me.    

 Every morning I asked the chef if he would make a special scramble with   tomato and a little cheese.  Along with some fresh papaya and mango, I had a delicious and healthy breakfast.  Afterwards I would slather myself with sunscreen and go looking for beach chairs far enough away, so I didn't have to hear the kids at the pool yell Marco Polo back and forth ad nauseum.  Although I worked out in the well-equiped gym and took a few long walks on the beach,  most of my days were spent in the lounge chair trying to even out the tan line created by my bike shorts.     In my tote bag,  I carried last week's crossword puzzle from the New York Times,  my Kindle loaded with enough best sellers for a month's worth of good reading,  sun screen,  beach towels and swim goggles, just in case.  

Californians are not used to Mexico's high temperatures and wicked humidity, so the tropical breezes on the beach felt good.  My lounge chair was about twenty feet from the water's edge, so perfect for cooling off.  Nothing feels better than jumping into the turquoise blue ocean and getting wet when you are hot and sticky.

Kids had a ball on the beach, laughing and playing, burying each other in the sand, and building castles that would crumble in a few hours after the tide came in.    At night giant turtles came ashore and laid hundreds of eggs on the same beach where the sand castles stood only hours before.   Cancun has a turtle release program, so the eggs were gathered quickly by rangers and transferred  to a protected nursery until they hatched, weeks later.   Then the baby turtles were safely released back into the sea.   Having watched this amazing process in a remote area of Borneo a few years ago, I was surprised to see a repeat of the natural phenomenon on a heavily touristed beach in Mexico.   



A big crowd gathered around a beach volleyball game, and I spotted my athletic son-in-law spike the ball over the net.   From the cheers I heard,  it was obvious  he was on the winning team.    

My grandson hung out (pardon the pun) at the trapeze center every morning, where he learned to perfect the aerial routines he'd been learning since he started coming to Club Med at the age of five.   Last summer at the Club in Ixtapa, Mexico he was old enough to do "the catch," which he successfully performed in the trapeze show. 


Club Med did not pay me to write a promotional piece, but I have only positive things to say about this all-inclusive resort, part of a unique international chain based in France.  The food here is terrific.  At lunch there were a variety of healthy salads, sandwiches on homemade bread, Mexican specialties, vegetables and local fish from the grill, roast chicken, and for the kids, macaroni and cheese, pizza, pasta and hamburgers with fries.    Dinners were more elaborate with a different culinary theme every night:  beef wellington and roast duck on French night, fettucini alfredo and veal scallopini when it was Italian.  I had second and third helpings on the night they had giant prawns.



I did the math and figured the executive chef and his staff prepared approximately 1500 meals a day.  
Despite all the fattening temptations,  I was able to stick to eating healthy, except I blew it on my last night with a special Club Med treat.   It began with a piece of delicious white chocolate bread, for which Club Med is famous.   Then I topped that with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream and smothered it with hot fudge.  The next day's sugar spike was intense, but the splurge was worth it. 

  We have had many one week vacations at various Club Meds, mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, although Bruce went to both Morrea and Bora Bora in Tahiti before we met.   We also
considered extending our Oman trip last March and flying to the Maldives Club,  but the air routing was complicated and too expensive.  The resorts on the coast of Turkey and the one in Phuket, Thailand look awesome too.  Some times we go by ourselves,  although last year we had a great time in the Bahamas at Columbus Isle with a group of nine adult friends.    

Other times there has been a cohort of just our immediate family, but this summer our group expanded, and we were with several families, who were also friends with our kids.     


Back in the old days, Club Med was pretty much geared to serving adults, but the company was smart when they saw the changing demographics and decided to focus on families, not simply adults.  Having said this,  think twice before you book at a kids club, unless you are part of a family group, because kids rule!  


I went to my first Club Med in Hawaii in the mid seventies.   Still in my early thirties, I wanted to do every sport the Club offered and dance at the disco until really, really late.  I was the Energizer bunny in those days.   My how things have changed.   Now we are too tired from doing nothing, so we head for our room around ten and leave behind the younger set, who sing Hands Up and dance Crazy Signs, both of which are hallmarks of the Club Med experience.  

The evening shows this year were terrific, the best Club Med entertainment we've seen.  

I  had my ten minutes of fame in a magic show when I was  selected from a crowd of about a hundred to be the stooge on stage.  I'm not sure it was an Academy Award performance, but I sure got a lot of laughs.   And then there was the Fourth of July parade, beach party, and stupendous fireworks after dark.   




I always enjoy meeting and talking with the G.O.s, an acronym for gentile organisateur.   These are the young employees who run the place.  They  manage the front desk, organize and oversee all the sports, choreograph and perform in the fabulous evening shows, and serve as counselors for the kids at the mini-club.   They also manage the business operations, like HR, house keeping, reservations, and accounting.   I'd say they range in age from roughly 19 to 35.  

When we arrived  at the Club, there were a couple of G.O.s to greet us with a refreshing cold towel and a welcoming drink.   They often sat with us at meals, where we heard their stories about what it's like being a G.O. and learned more about where they are from.  We also offered to get them drinks at the main bar, which for us were free, but not for them.   It takes a very special person to be a G.O. since they have very little time off and the pay is not that great, but most of the G.O.s we talked to still love their job.   They work hard six days a week from 9:00 AM until early hours of the next morning, smiling all the time and making sure that the guests are having fun and all their needs are met.   Introverts need not apply.    For a long time, I figured there were a bunch of MBA suits running things behind the scenes,  but the only suits we saw were bathing suits worn by people who were on vacation.  The guy in charge, also a G.O., is called the Chef de Village, a prestigious position that takes many years to earn by climbing the corporate G.O. ladder.   

Five Beautiful G.O.s dressed like American GI chicks on the Fourth of July

At Cancun the GOs represented many countries from around the world -- Mauritius, Morocco, Brazil, France, Israel, Tunisia, South Africa, Australia, United States, Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Canada

Since the Club is owned by a French company, many of the guests are from France and the French-speaking regions of Canada, but there are a lot of American families too.  French is the predominant spoken language,  although most G.O.s speak English,  and in Mexico, there are many who also know Spanish.   All the classes and evening entertainment shows are bi-lingual, which can be a little confusing at first, but you get used to it.  

This summer we were very fortunate to already know one of the G.O..s,  whom we met last summer when we were at the Club in Ixtapa.  Born in Israel, Josh, who is the Chief of Land Sports at Cancun,  speaks four languages and has boundless energy in everything he does.  He told us his mother spent her entire professional life in corporate administration, and she and he lived at Club Meds all over the world.   

After lunch my lazy girl beach chair always called out to me.  Time to apply more sunscreen and ask Senor Beach Boy to bring me a glass of club soda with a splash of cranberry, a refreshing drink that has become an all time Club Med  favorite.   


I was just getting settled when Bruce suggested a walk on the beach before playing bocce ball with Connor.   They were going to practice for the tournament later in the week, since they have won medals in previous years and wanted to preserve their record.   Bruce hoped to see some topless on our walk,  but I reminded him that this was a kids' club and not the French Riviera.


My granddaughter Catie and her sidekick Haley loved to model in their matching bathing suits and sundresses. While Connor excels in sports, Catie is fearless on stage.   Whenever there was an opportunity to perform in a Club Med evening show, she was one of the first to sign up. 

She was a big hit in Cancun when she sang an Adele song on stage, but no one was able to capture it on video, so if you will permit me some bragging rights, click on the word link and you will see the same performance but at her school's variety show last month.   I love the mike grab.  She's so darn cute.  


I went to the gym almost every day because I knew if I didn't,  I would pay for it when I got home and biked with my girlfriends.   Late each afternoon,  I would head over to the exercise room that had a beautiful lagoon view, so my workouts were very scenic.  

Doing nothing for a week is definitely out of character for Bruce and me,  but we really enjoyed spending time with our family and friends this year at Club Med, Cancun. 


Thursday, June 6, 2013


Back in the late 1990's, a few years after my divorce,  I decided to stop working so hard and spend more time traveling and riding my bike.  I hadn't been anywhere exciting for a while, and it was time to learn more about the world through my own eyes rather than through someone else's.  For months I flipped through various bike touring catalogs looking for a destination when New Zealand really jumped out at me.   This is a beautiful, English-speaking country that is known for its pastoral views, rugged mountains, multiple glaciers,  and a coastline that I would enjoy riding along.  Many companies had trips there, but most were out of my reach financially.    Finally, I read about a relatively new company that organized affordable bike trips for women, and biking for seven days down the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand was one of the adventures they offered.   Riding with only women appealed to me.  I definitely needed a break from men and wanted to bike in a supportive environment with no athletic competition and no macho comments.     Over the phone I gave Becky at WomanTours my credit card number and told her I would need to rent a road bike, but would bring my clipless pedals and comfy saddle.   

Riding the ferry to Whidbey Island, 1995

Up until this time the only multi-day bike trip I'd ever taken was with my ex-husband in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, and it was a dream come true.  I'd only been riding a year.  The first day when we rode from Anacortes to catch the ferry to Whidbey Island,  I whispered to myself I'm doing it, I'm doing it, and this has been my riding mantra ever since.   Maybe I mentioned this before, but even before I owned a real bike, I dreamed about riding.  Without having pedaled a mile, I contemplated getting in shape and biking from Montreal to Boston.  I was enthusiastic about riding on the backroads through my home town in New Hampshire where I used to ride my three-speed English bike and cruise with my boyfriend in his Chevy convertible.  We called them English bikes back then.  Mine was a three speed Huffy, definitely English.   Although the Montreal to Boston adventure never happened, it didn't stop me from dreaming.

For two months prior to the New Zealand trip, I made lists of things to buy and what to pack.  I bought a new suitcase.  I bought some new biking clothes too, but after looking at my pictures recently, I realize I wasn't into cycling fashion the way I am now.  To prepare for the trip, I lifted weights at the gym, swam laps before work in the early morning, and biked my ass off on the weekends.   I bought a map of New Zealand,  highlighted our biking route, and noted the challenging climb over Haast Pass.  I wondered whether I'd have to walk it.  

The riding each day was different, although the scenery was pretty much the same -- drop dead gorgeous.  Imagine riding with the Southern Alps on your left and the Tasman sea on your right.

Pam in New Zealand, 1999

The traffic was light, which was good for biking but made hitchhiking extremely difficult.  Hitchhiking, you ask?   Well, one afternoon when a strong wind came up,  I couldn't stay upright on my bike, let alone pedal any distance.  I was also far behind the others, so I decided to stick my thumb out and hitch a ride to our motel about ten miles away.  The crime rate in New Zealand was practically nonexistent,  so I wasn't scared.  Three or four drivers with good intentions stopped to offer me a ride, but when they saw my bike, they realized they had no  room.  I kept walking, occasionally riding when the wind abated a bit,  and eventually I got to our motel just as our guide came looking for me in the SAG wagon.  

Years before riding in New Zealand, as I was approaching the age of 50, my goal was to be in the best physical shape ever and to test it by cross country skiing over a three-day weekend in the Sierra Mountains.   Mission accomplished.   Fifteen years later, when I turned 65, I had the same goal:  To be in the best physical shape ever and to test it by riding my bicycle in the Pacific Northwest approximately 1500 miles for thirty days (with one day off per week to rest).   Cycling in a beautiful part of the country with 29 like-minded women appealed to me, especially when the average age of the riders was 61.  I also wanted to do a trip with WomanTours again.   

Northwest Loop Riders, 2009

We left Portland, Oregon on August 1st and biked east along the Columbia River into Washington State, down into Idaho, back across central Oregon to the coast and back to Portland.  The 1432 mile loop included approximately 60,000 cumulative feet of climbing.  The following are excerpts from my journal of what I still call one of the best trips of my life.  

Day 1

It was 100 degrees in Portland when I met my new cycling girlfriends.  Many of them knew each other from previous WomanTour rides, so it felt like a sorority party, and I was getting rushed.  We sure turned a lot of heads as 29 women wearing matching bike jerseys pedaled out of the city.  After six months of mentally and physically preparing for this trip, I could hardly believe I was finally "doing it."

Day 2

Let's call today's 56 mile ride "the agony and the ecstasy."  Ecstasy because riding along the Columbia River with its incredible vistas was beautiful.  All I could hear was the swish of my tires and the occasional click of my gears.  Waterfalls spilled down sheer cliffs and snaked their way through serpentine ravines.  Eventually the river disappeared, and we were biking under a canopy of trees.  I'm not sure when the forests disappeared and the landscape turned to sun-dried grass, but when it did, biking was agony.  The sun was blazing hot, and the hills were steep.  There was one climb that made even the saintliest of our riders use vocabulary she'd never used before.  Some grades on that blankety-blank hill were between 15 and 18 percent.  In Hood River, the bank's LED display read 101 degrees.

Day 5

At 6:00 a.m. we were on the road with the truckers  It was 90 miles
The Truckers and the Bikers
to Umatilla, Oregon, and it would be hot.  At 7:00 a.m. it was 75 degrees and by 9:30, it was almost 100.  There wasn't a tree in sight, and other than the support van, there were no services for the entire 90 miles.  With the help of a great tailwind, I biked the flat road between 17 and 20 mph, but the heat was a bear.  If I were in a car, the scenery might seem boring, but on a bicycle I saw things up close and personal, like watching the wind spin small pieces of tumbleweed and blow remnants of sweet onions across the road.

Day 9
Making P&J sandwiches for lunch on the road

Yesterday and today were my personal best.  Riding 70 and 90 miles two consecutive days gave me some time to reflect on my first 400 miles of riding.  What struck me is that I have only myself and my bike to think about.  I don't worry about cooking dinner, paying bills, or feeding kitties, but I do think about my safety on the road, eating right, stretching, etc.  The people we meet are amazed to see 29 women with so much stamina and determination riding their bikes.  I continue to be amazed too.

Day 12

Riding in the Palouse of Idaho
I guess I was a little naive to think I might not get a flat tire on this ride.  Picture this:  I'm coming down a long hill at a safe speed.  Ahead of me on the road is a rock.  It looked menacing.  I kept looking at it.  Suddenly the rock smiled and said "Hit me."  So I did.  KABOOM!  Man, oh man, did my front wheel shake, rattle and roll  The result?  A front tire pinched flat of magnificent proportions.

Day 24

Penny, Nancy and Pam
For the last year I've been dreading the climb up McKenzie Pass taking us over the Cascade Mountain Range, but it was a piece of cake.   At 5,380 feet I felt like I was on top of the world with a 360 degree view of lava fields surrounded by snow covered peaks.  And then came the 22 miles of downhill on a smoothly paved road through sweet smelling cedar and ponderosa pine.  It doesn't get any better than this.

Day 28

We are now on Oregon's magnificent coast and riding the home stretch back to Portland.  Today's 55 mile ride was outstanding,
Pam Biking the Beautiful Coast of Oregon 
although the first five mile hill was steep.  Fifty yards from the summit, I saw a smiley face with the words "You are almost there" painted on the road.  When we reached the top, our support vehicle was waiting for us with ABBA's "Dancing Queen" playing full blast from the car stereo.  I love these awesome women.  They are so darn much fun.

Day 30

It was a one-hundred mile biking day from Astoria to Portland, and it was raining.  But we made it -- at least some of us did.  I hate that this amazing bike trip has come to an end.  There wasn't a day when I didn't want to ride.  This is "the stuff dreams are made of."

So, next year when I turn 70, I'd like to test myself again, but I'm not sure what I can do with my fragile neck which ended my dream to ride the length of the Mississippi River last spring.  However,  I'm feeling pretty good,  putting in some decent weekly miles, and crossing my fingers that I can keep doing it.