Saturday, July 18, 2009

Coming Home

Today Saharan sand is blowing in from Africa. I know this because the weatherman gave the forecast last night. He said winds aloft would carry that sand all the way over here. Guess we could use some more since our beaches are eroding. The sky is hazy and it's warm, reaching 95 degrees today. But we've had some beautiful weather for the last week or so. Hot and windy, much like the Sahara.

I moved to South Florida for the tropical moisture, the rains that come in every afternoon as they did in Panama when I was a child. That moisture builds up over the Everglades and the clouds carry it eastward toward the ocean. Once a day until November we get drenched. Then things taper off. November is cooler and sunnier. Ideal for the plants and our skin, the humidity in the air functions like a natural moisturizer so we all look younger and healthier, unless we go out in the sun and end up looking like cowhide.

At the age of 13 I few to Panama with a stopover in Miami. It was arranged that I stay with friends of my parents. George, the father, was, like my stepdad, also in the airline industry and his wife was away visiting relatives in Lebanon. George picked me up from the airport.

"Jeanie, be careful because I have two boys. I'm worried about you."

I wasn't exactly sure what he meant but ventured a guess.

"Oh I'm sure they'll be gentleman."

"No, no, it's not them I'm concerned about. It's you."

I laughed. I was only thirteen. I was to learn later, that both boys had a crush on me. Recently, one of the boys, Jeff, called me fifty years after our brief acquaintance. A mutual friend had given him my number.

I told him how fondly I remembered his Dad and my visit. How well I remembered going to a yacht club for dinner and walking out onto the dock to look at the boats. Jeff was a few years older than me.

During the three day visit waiting for my connection to Panama, Jeff and I became friends and our walks in the rain changed me. The daily deluge, the realization that someone thought I was pretty, the sensuous layers that puberty brought to the table, the humidity and my first lipstick, Revlon's Persion Melon all captured my heightened senses. Jeff told me on the phone I was the first girl he had ever kissed.

But Panama was the icing on the cake. Luscious lagoons, mountains and the fragrance of mango trees did me in. Soon, my time in Panama was up and I was to move back to live with my father. But I wasn't going to be satisfied until I got back to the tropics. Twelve years later, I flew to Miami for training at the Pan Am training school on 36th Street in Miami Springs, the building and grounds known as the Taj Mahal. After one short year based out of Dulles airport, I was flying out of Miami to South and Central America and the Caribbean. That would last two years. Eight years later, I would come back to South Florida.

I would leave one more time from 1992 until 2005 when I came back for the last time like exiled royalty feeling the same homecoming I always felt. Best of all, the man I fell in love with while flying to Panama, found me again in 2006 and rekindled what I had always known.

To be continued.........

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Locally Grown, Organic and Mouse-Friendly

I'm sitting in a cooking class with Yvonne, watching as Chef Lynn prepares Toasted Crostini, Marinated Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Salad, Sauteed Vegetables and Mojo Criollo Shrimp. It's all organic, fresh and bought from local farmers. We are sitting on comfortable barstools at Whole Foods' Lifestyle store where other classes like yoga and Samba lessons are taught.

Chef Lynn, a young and healthy looking native Floridian starts the evening by asking if we know why we should buy locally grown food. Our group of six gourmands respond with the right answers: It's healthier and cheaper because there are no transportation costs and leaves no environmental footprint. It's also much more delicious because it's fresh and it supports local farmers. We munch on the crostini as she continues to tell us that all of Florida is considered local.

This is my first cooking class and I'm amazed that she prepares everything so simply. Nothing is prepared with salt or pepper, but they are available on the bar. Everything is served with seltzer water or plain mineral water. We dive into each dish and I am full in short order. The flavors of each dish are detectable and delectable. After the class, Chef Lynn tells us she'll take us next door to the store to show us the label used for all the foods that are locally grown. I'm amazed that prices are lower than at other non-organic stores I shop in. I pay my $10 which includes the class and the meal then purchase grapes and strawberries.

We sit at tables outside eating the grapes and strawberries grown in California. Next to us, I notice some life form darting in and out of the bushes. This thicket of bushes is between the sidewalk we are sitting on and the parking lot with lots of cars. No one but me notices the little shape. I tell Yvonne to slowly turn her head and she sees it. It isn't a lizard, it's a very tiny mouse. It's eating something in the sand, but it doesn't look like much is in the ground. I look at my grapes and strawberries and look back at Yvonne. 

"What do you think?"

"Go for it."

As soon as I get to the spot near the doorway to its little house, Mousie runs away. I take three red and three green grapes and throw them directly on the small space where the mouse had been before, wondering if it was even going to want to eat grapes.

I sit back down and we both wait. Mousie is not coming out to investigate. Ten minutes later, the little shape appears slowly and runs off with one of the grapes. We wait. And wait. And wait. Is the grape too big to eat? Does Mousie not like it? Does she recognize it isn't locally grown? Afterall, Mousie is a Whole Foods mouse. Her plush and comfortable apartment lies directly in front of tables where food is left at day's end, and a rather large smorgasbord of delicious, organic and healthy food at that. Best of all, Mousie has customers who like mice. Mousie is working it. This part of Fort Lauderdale is her home. 

Suddenly there's movement across the sidewalk. Mousie is back for another one. The grape is not huge, but big enough to cause trouble in transporting it back to the den.

We wait.

But soon it's time to leave. I'm tempted to leave a bunch of grapes to last for awhile, but consider if Mousie is anything like me, she doesn't know when to stop. I'll be stopping by now and then to see how she's doing and keep everyone posted. Might even start another blog dedicated to Mousie. But since I don't like tragedies, if anything bad happens I won't be writing about it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Murder She Didn't Write

In the summer of 2008, I met my friend, Yvonne at Barnes and Noble. It was around 8:00p.m. and we sat and talked until the bookstore closed. Yvonne, told me about a great place called Lifestyle directly across the street and next door to Whole Foods. It was owned by Whole Foods and they offered cooking, yoga, and salsa dance classes. I told her I'd check it out on my way home.

By 9:30 we were all talked out and left. I drove across the street and parked my car directly in front of the entrance to Whole Foods. I noticed the parking lot was empty but for two or three cars. I checked out the calendar of events hanging on the window of Lifestyle then walked over to Whole Foods. I tried the door and could see people inside, but the door didn't open. I looked at my watch and it was 10:00 p.m.

I walked back to my car and as I was getting in, I noticed a young man from across the other side of the parking lot running toward my car. I shut my door and put the key in the ignition. He was flailing his arms and hands as though he were in some kind of trouble. Because the parking lot was well lit, I was able to notice some distinguishing characteristics about him. He didn't look homeless, he had on light blue jeans and a long sleeved white shirt rolled up to his elbows. But it was his receding hairline that got my attention. He also had unusually long arms. He was well-groomed and in obvious discomfort. His black hair was close cropped and he looked to be around 30 years old. He was very lean and around 6 feet tall.

Suddenly, the man was standing next to my driver side window, talking loud. But I had turned on my radio and couldn't hear him. I could see him now only peripherally and kept my head looking forward. I was intent on driving away. Oddly, I felt nothing, no fear, no panic and no concern about him at all.

As I backed out, he kept astride of the car. When I turned the car to head out, I looked in the rear view mirror and he was ambling toward my car in no apparent hurry. He had a bag in his hands and was looking down at it. I kept driving and suddenly in three seconds, he was standing directly in front of the car, inches from the hood. That's when I felt anger. I pushed the pedal down hard and had no concern for his safety.

He jumped out of the way as I sped passed him. I considered calling the police, but didn't. I considered driving down to the police station, in case he might follow my car. But I didn't. All I wanted to do was drive home and go to sleep. I was calm, but tired.

The next day at work I mentioned this to two of my coworkers. One told me about a man who just the Christmas before had carjacked a woman and her son in Boca Raton. He had tied them up and killed them both, then threw their bodies out on the street. It was on the news and America's Most Wanted.

I went onto AMW's website and there was a photo of the same man who had tried to carjack me. The photo was taken from a surveillance camera at the Boca Raton Town Center Mall. Because he had made the woman take him to her bank and give him cash, I made the connection that he was hanging around the pricier malls and stores, knowing the people there probably had money. He had made another attempt on another woman with a child in the car and this woman remained calm because she didn't want her son to be afraid. In her case, nothing happened. She did everything he told her, including going to the bank and then back to the mall to go shopping again. When he got out of her car, she gunned it and left.

I don't have a cell phone. And that night I didn't have my car door locked. I was calm and uninterested in helping some man who was obviously out to do harm. Why did nothing happen to me. He had lots of opportunities. Many women act nice and want to be helpful. But that's exactly what not to do. Perpetrators recognize a vulnerable woman. This vulnerability is a way of behaving that mesmerizes and locks the perpetrator onto the victim. I was calm. I had no intention of "being nice." I was not clueless to my surroundings and I was aware that I should not look at him because looking directly into the eyes automatically translates into the recognition of "I see you." That's when things go south. Ignoring the person, while still using peripheral vision to know what he's doing without looking directly at him, is a way to save your life. But it still might not. I was completely certain that I would not allow this man to carjack me, even at the cost of his life. It was that simple.

Later, that afternoon, after looking at AMW's website, I called the detective at the Boca Raton Police Department. He wasn't in so I left a message. He called me back the next morning. I told him the story and he thanked me. I suggested he might investigate if Whole Foods had a surveillance camera to capture him and his car if he had one and he said, "We know what we're doing. We'll be looking into all of that." I don't think he ever did.

I've been married so that qualifies me for detective work. I noted that he was carrying something. When he made his attempt to kill the second woman and her son, he carried a plastic bag. The surveillance camera also showed him carrying something. If a man has car problems, he will usually call a friend on his cell phone and get them to come get him. He wouldn't look for a woman to come to his aid. And everyone, except me, has a cell phone. His clothing was appropriate. He was not homeless and he wasn't a drunk or someone down on his luck. Those cues, coupled with my own lack of vulnerability and calm demeanor, meant I was not easy prey.

Too many women fall prey to such crimes. But there are ways to arm yourself, not with the usual guns and pepper spray. One of the best ways is for women to deal with issues that keep women in victim roles. Remaining calm and not looking at the perpetrator helps. Most of all, self awareness and common sense will go a long way in keeping one alert and safe.

I did ask the people at Whole Foods if they had a surveillance camera and they said no. They asked me to fill out a report which I did. There was little else I could do.

Favorite Quotes

I got struck by lightening yesterday. Now I can hear what men are thinking.
~ Jeanie Henderson

"You can say things like, "As I look at successful people, and by that I mean rich people, yes, and I mean happy people, and sometimes they're rich and happy." But when I'm talking about the successful ones, what I really mean is the really happy people. People that are really joyful, that want to get up every day, that are eager to get into their day. Almost without exception, they had a pretty rough beginning, which turned them into a powerful rebel initially. And then they found a way to relax into their natural birthright of Well-Being." ~Abraham - Hicks

"We would like to leave you with this very clear knowing that we hold: You are just a few laughs away from letting a whole lot of good stuff in. You are just a few kisses away from letting a whole lot of good stuff in. You are just a little bit of relief from letting a whole lot of good stuff in." ~Abraham - Hicks

"Anything worth having is worth having fun getting." ~ Jeanie Henderson

Remember the waterfront shack with the sign - FRESH FISH SOLD HERE.

Of course it's fresh, we're on the ocean. Of course it's for sale, we're not giving it away. Of course it's here, otherwise the sign would be somewhere else. The final sign: FISH. ~ Peggy Noonan

"Only good things will come." Anonymous

"God is an afternoon shower
A morning Rain
An evening of despair
A direction in which to go
An infamous person attaining all knowledge to himself
Pouring out tears of discovery
God is a Bowl of Light" ~ Terry Canady

The following quotes are excerpted from The Amelia Island Notebook by Jeanie Henderson

"Everything is all right. Everything is really always all right. It didn't seem that way last week or last year and probably won't seem that way in a month or five years, but it is always all right. Just it ride it out, like surfing the big one."

"When you recognize that we are all in this together, all hurting, struggling to make sense, searching, then there is only the tender reaching out of a hand, and in that instant, that Holy instant, there is no longer separateness, only the powerful, unifying conflagration of love. J'aime."

"I got head slammed by a Siamese cat last night. I'm so glad he thinks so highly of me."

"Original innocence is everyone's heritage. Our forebearers just forgot to mention that."

"Life doesn't begin at 40. It begins the minute you've had enough of compromise."

"A female Cardinal, a Painted Bunting and a Hummingbird visited as I sat on the porch overlooking the marsh. Beyond the marsh, beyond the towers of Pleistocene grasses, two enormous cabin cruisers motored south, their engines cutting through the still, quiet morning in defiance of Mother Nature's code. The birds were not disturbed. I was the only creature annoyed by man's folly. Baby Bunting came back, sat on a palm tree stump and warbled her little heart out."

"In writing, it is important to delete, that is, to create spaces, so your reader can fill in the blanks. In the spaces is everything. Look at the letters you write. In the hollows are quiet beats, rhythms barely audible, but so potent they can break the sound barrier."

"You gotta get down to basics, bubbles, the fluttering of an eyelash, a smile. Begin with these and go out from there. Then you will fly holding the very hands of angels. Everyone, every single being wants to fly." (written aboard a Boeing 767 enroute to Amelia Island)

"This moment, enshrined in my memory, is perfect. A painted bunting munching on seeds, a soft willowy breeze, acres of marsh and behind doors, the sleep-encrusted bodies of my sweet family. Lapsang Souchong jumpstarts my morning." "Alles Paletti!"

"The best restaurant I ever ate in was 35,000 feet above sea level. Pan Am's Flight 106 from Washington's Dulles to London's Heathrow. Seven courses and several glasses of champagne later, I fell into a drugged stupor, full and satiated with my life."

"The loveliest music I ever heard was rain."