Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Stopping by the Woods on a Wisconsin Afternoon

When using a public campground, a tuba placed on your picnic table will keep the campsites on either side vacant. Author Unknown  

My husband and I bought a used Airstream trailer. I’d always kinda, sorta wanted one. I’m almost done writing a book about an Airstream caravan following a famous trail — a middle-aged woman’s coming of age story. 

An Airstream calendar from several years ago hangs in my house, still getting turned to months long past. On another wall hangs a barnwood plank depicting an Airstream hand-painted by my daughter-in-law, Chelsea. In the wall socket is an Airstream night light given to me by other daughter-in-law, Leigh. On the coffee table is a history book of Airstreams, given by my friend, Michelle, who is mad at me because I got one before her.  

So, okay. I really did want one. However, having a real one in our driveway was a little intimidating. The learning curve very high. Where most Airstreams look very small when you see them in RV lots next to the other brands, they do indeed appear tiny. Hook one onto the back of your truck, and, well, it ain’t so damn tiny. 

Walkie Talkies have aided in our backing up, provided the man in the truck takes the directions from —— a woman. And we’ve launched our first long journey. A road trip up north to get out of the oppressing Texas heat. 

Over a week ago, we took off on our first adventure. We’ve discovered covering 350 miles a day is an ideal distance for us — so contrary to our days of knocking out 900 miles. My husband is getting used to driving in the slow lane, now keeping track of how many cars he gets to pass in a day. Banner Day? 5. 

Our first campsites were only for one night so we booked pull through RV parks. Not very exciting. The one in Missouri was a big gravel parking lot with trailers lined up next to one another. Most of the people lived there full-time.  

On the road, it was easy to stop and use the trailer bathroom and make lunch. Didn’t have to go into stores or gas stations. Or eat fast food. Been a little interesting filling up with gas — with a trailer behind us. 

We made our way through Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois to visit with family in Wisconsin for a few days. We plan to visit some good friends in northern Minnesota, but right now we’re hanging in a beautiful state park on the Chippewa River in western Wisconsin. 

A little bit of crisp in the air says fall is here. On my bike ride this morning, I stopped to pick up several maple leaves that have already turned orange. I often set my kick stand to take in the beauty of the river and tall trees and the rustling of the leaves in the trees. I miss the large rustling leaves living in Texas. The leaves on most the trees are so small, one can barely hear them swishing against one another. Something I immediately notice when I venture up north. 

An occasional acorn lands on the roof of the trailer. I’m wearing a sweatshirt. I slept with two Mexican blankets covering me last night. 

And this is my new friend. He nudged my leg yesterday. I must be in his parking space.

For those of you yearning for a change of scenery, I am happy to share. 

I want to learn how to forage.

A violinist!

Beautiful and peaceful. Except maybe for me. Forgive me if this post doesn’t look right.  I’m learning how to work on an IPAD. Many, many swear words have accompanied the process of this post. I’m working on the picnic table and the people next to us just packed up and moved to another campsite. Hmmmm. Thinking I don’t need no stinking tuba. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

What to Do in a Pandemic? Of Course, Buy an...

You can avoid having ulcers by adapting to the situation: If you fall in the mud puddle, check your pockets for fish.   Author Unknown

In April, my husband and I began a five-week trip-of-a-lifetime to New Zealand, Australia, and the Cook Islands. Yup. Dream trip come true. The two of us exploring -- from Milford Sound to the Great Barrier Reef, finishing with a weeklong stint in a one-bedroom cottage steps from the lagoon in Raratonga. Floating in the South Pacific. Heaven.

Our dream trip remains a dream. As does all the travel everyone else in the world has planned. Not much excitement for any of us -- except the navigation of life in the time of Covid-19. Due to a dedicated stance on masks, social distancing, and maintaining our "pod," we've been fortunate to escape the illness and loss many have suffered and continue to endure. For us, a long stint stuck in our home has proven to be our adventure.

I'm not one to get bored. I can't recall the last time I was bored. The pandemic hasn't changed that. My unread books pile up on my ToBeRead shelf like always and I'm borrowing audio books from the library, via Overdrive, like normal. (Okay, maybe a little more.)

There are more behind that front line.

Yup -- that front line of books has a back line.

Playing with watercolors and acrylics and practicing patience with my lack of ability while organizing my thoughts?  I haven't even begun to scratch the surface in that venture.

Now and then, I have grandchildren to play with. Makes life easier when you do what a four-year-old tells you to do -- or follow a 17-month-old around the perimeter. 

Of course, there is the online ordering of groceries and the creative cooking. Ina Garten's Instagram entries have certainly added variety to my repertoire of the past 42 years. Continuous watering of the container garden vegetables, since I didn't plant a garden this year, takes up time. (I wasn't supposed to be here for the spring planting and harvest. Right?)

And, one can always clean house. (For me an occasional necessity -- an activity I accomplish with efficiency and speed.) 

But, still, somedays, I get itchy. 

Not bored. Just itchy to be somewhere different.

So itchy, I announced to my husband I was pulling out all our old camping equipment and we were going camping. The tent. The campstove. The coffee pot. The lantern. The clothesline. Everything. We were getting out of Dodge.

My husband shuddered in his chair. "I'm too old to sleep on the ground."

"We'll buy a huge blowup air mattress for your tender body," I snapped. 

Once upon a time, we were big campers. On our honeymoon, we drove from Michigan to the Pacific Coast Highway, camping from Astoria, Oregon to below Big Sur. We didn't have much money in our early years so campouts at Lake Michigan, and, later, while living in Colorado, Utah, and Connecticut, became our vacations and getaways. Our entertainment.

Having all three sons become Eagle Scouts meant we did significant time at campgrounds. Since getting rid of the kids, we've taken to seeing the world. We don't stay in the fanciest of hotels as we only use them for siesta, shower, and sleep.  But much nicer to sleep in a hotel on the Zambezi River than a tent where the crocodiles can have you for a midnight snack.

With those future adventures on hold -- and even road trips curtailed from visiting family or anywhere to get out of the relentless Texas summer heat, camping was the only solution I could come up with to avoid hotels and restaurants. Camping with a river to cool myself.

My husband wasn't on board. While I researched open campsites on the Frio River, he pounded away on his laptop. One morning he said there was something we needed to see in Houston - a three-hour drive away.

Next thing I knew, this happened.

This was not an idea out of the blue. Our plan in our retirement was to purchase a used Airstream -- after we satisfied ourselves with more international travel. The afore-mentioned Oceania areas of the globe followed by South America, Asia, and Spain/Portugal/Morocco. And, and, and...

As long as our bodies and pocketbook held out, we were going for it. No fancy cruises. Rental cars and roadmaps, picnic lunches and guidebooks in hand. The Airstream would come after, when we were older farts traveling the US and Canada, leeching real showers off friends along the way.

Enter the virus. Adaptation. The re-arrangement of the plan. Online shopping to explore grey/black water hoses. And, our first adventure. 60 miles from home at Blanco State Park. Floating down the river. Oilcloth on the picnic table. AC! on a hot August night in a campground. 

I write this post today as my husband and I celebrate 42 years of marriage. Where we had to use our wedding gift money to fund that 6000-mile honeymoon trek, and our VW broke down in Chicago, and my parents towed it home, and lent us a car, and it snowed while we figured out how to put up our new tent in Yellowstone National Park--in the dark -- we are now in a little better position to purchase our used 2014 Airstream. 

Although we're not snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef or watching the glowworms in New Zealand or hiking up to Machu Pichu this year, we are back where we started -- at a campground.

Needs a little decoration.

Poetic, I'd say. 

Now, if this thing could just learn how to back up by itself. 

Hope you're all doing well as we all plod through this, our newest lesson, in perseverance --

and life. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Introvert's Dream

I get along with myself quite well. 
Julie Sucha Anderson

In this day and age of Shelter-In-Place, I must say that I, the closet introvert, is not having that hard of a time. The virus has made me take notice that I've cut a world out for myself where not having to go anywhere is sort of what I prefer to do.

I'm not a total recluse. I do like people. I'm in lots of groups. Book Club (18 years), Bunco Bitches (29 years), writing groups, creative circles. I love worldwide travel and studying new cultures, museums, and talking with the local people--whether we speak the same language or not. I'm a foodie, so eating in restaurants that have tasty and delightful dishes works for me.

However, I do get weary if I'm out and about for too long. Back in normal times, once a month I had what I called my Social Week. Bunco, Book Club, and writing group all met during the same week. Dinner out or in with friends and family, too, most often.

It's all fun but when the week is over, I breathe a sigh of relief and return to my quiet world.

As to those who might say I'm not an introvert? Those who call me the Camp Director? Well, I am a great hostess. Hundreds of people have stayed in my home. I've never been one to shy away from hosting a shower, a party, or out of town guests.

But there is introvert heaven in that, too. For if you're in your own home, you can always hide in your bedroom. Or leave the scene to get something, anything ready. Feign sleep while in your hammock.  Introverts learn how to do these things. For me, it's often much easier being the hostess rather than a guest.

Enter Coronavirus 19. Enter Zoom. Oh. My. God.

If someone had told me years ago you could attend meetings from home, sitting in your favorite blue chair, via Zoom? Host Bunco, book club, happy hours or join your writing group, even a Yoga class, via Zoom? See your entire family or extended families all at once without airport pickups or having to change sheets, via Zoom?

Talk about a revelation. I can invite people into my home and not have to clean it first -- or wash my face. Or put on makeup. Or pluck my chin hairs. I can wear yesterday's clothes. No cooking or cleanup afterward.

 Zoom? Where the hell have you been all my life?

I can now go to Happy Hour and not worry about driving home.

I can still bring people together and joy of all joys, if someone is monopolizing the conversation and not understanding they have to wait their turn to talk, I can mute them. Ha!

Having everyone before you on your computer screen, you can see their reactions to someone's tale. So fun to study them and see your friends and family laugh or frown as they chat.

Bunco Bitches (missing a couple -- late to the photo taking)
Some of the Book Club (again, too late to get all 15)
I must say it isn't only Zoom that suits my life during this troubling time. Take Curbside pickup at the grocery store. I order online,  pull into a parking spot, and someone puts it in my car. Wonder of wonders.

I check out my library books on my Overdrive App and load them on my Kindle or receive it in audio form.

Perhaps I fit into this world so well because I've dabbled in this direction for years. I'd rather write letters than talk on the phone. I'd rather argue in a letter, than in person. I'm a big fan of catalogs and online shopping. If I have to enter clothing stores, it's a surgical strike. I know what I want and get in, and out. I have better things to do than meander for hours in a store. Just ask my friends. I'll always meet for lunch, but don't call me to shop. (Unless it's a book store or garden center.)

Right now, I'm more than ready to travel somewhere. But, this isolation thing isn't bugging me too much. My husband retiring a couple years ago helped with having to see him every day -- all day long. We've actually managed our time together quite well. He goes for long walks. I hide in my hammock.

Other than him, that love of my life, I don't see anyone. Except for these guys. They get exemption from Zoom. After an initial several weeks of quarantine, to insure everyone's safety, we've helped care for them while their parents try to work from home without day care.

A three-year-old -- sits still longer.
The older grandchild we get to see more often and treasure the time. The younger lives further away so the time together is beyond precious. Wears our old butts out, but it's also become a new weight loss program. Chase a 14-month-old for seven days and see what your scale says.

As the world begins to open up, I know I'll have to rejoin it -- at some point. Meantime, I'll share the world outside my window. I'm humbled with gratitude to have it.

As well as my new virtual world.

Zoom -- The Introvert's Dream.

Stay safe everyone. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

When Your Son Has a Son

A baby dances with its feet in the air.
Ruth Krauss

In 1988, my husband and I lived in Connecticut. We rented a house two blocks from the beach on Long Island Sound. I had a great job in New Haven. My son had the best babysitter in the entire world and we had many friends. I loved exploring New York City and New England having moved there from Utah two years earlier. 

My husband hated his job. When he was offered a job in Austin, Texas, let me just say this. There were fingernail marks in the freeway from Milford, Connecticut all the way to Texas. I wasn't upset only for the things I would miss. I was also six months pregnant. I knew no one there. And now my second child would be a Texan rather than a New Englander. God forbid. I'd never been to Texas, but.what I'd heard scared me. What if my new baby came out wearing a ten gallon hat?

Austin turned out to be a great place to raise our family. And that new little baby, my Jordan, well, he was a sweetheart.

He did grow up to wear a hat, but not like I pictured. After years of wearing one like this while running Pioneer Farms Living History Museum, 

he now wears another. That of a father. 

Last September he moved from Austin with his pregnant wife (I so felt your pain, Leigh) out to East Texas to take a job with Texas Parks and Wildlife. At the beginning of March, I was boogie boarding with a bunch of wild women aging boldly while this incredible child was born. Too much fun showing everyone my new grandson's picture. 

Miles Robert

I spent five days with Miles when I returned and they are five days I will cherish forever. 

I watched as this beautiful new family worked through the exhaustion and trials of new parenthood, My daughter-in-law quickly realized that she had prepared well, but just because women had been having babies forever didn't mean first time around they knew what the hell they were doing, especially when your body has been through the ringer and you're sleep deprived. With that simple recognition she chose to trust herself. Smart mama. Great mama.

The first bath
I watched that son of mine as Miles added more days to his young life. So calm, so relaxed. Little Miles so comfortable and safe in the arms of that gentle soul. 

Watching my children with their children is something that leaves me in awe. I'm not quite certain how to describe what I see as I'm not certain how to interpret it. I still can't believe they are old enough to have babies of their own, yet I'm proud they participate in the raising, the doing, the work of raising children. Such an exciting time in their lives.

One afternoon I watched my oldest son as he and his daughter lay on the grass in the back yard, 'noculars in hand as they searched the sky for birds.

Or another day where I watched a tired new dad sit, his new son, Miles, lying in his lap, both content with the world. 

Baby Miles. Of course we ask questions like "Who does he look like?"

His Mama?

Or his daddy?

You decide.

Does he have Uncle Ian's cheeks?

Will Grandpa teach him good stuff or bad stuff? Will Grandma have to monitor?

Will he always keep us entertained?

Aw, little Miles. So very sweet. I'm sad he is two hours away. Now I know something of what my mother used to feel, her grandchildren 1402 miles away. I do get to see him every few weeks and rock him in my arms or have him sit in the crook of my crossed leg. To show him pages from a book or play a little music for him. In his early days of hanging with me, he responded best to the Stones and Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Gotta like that.

When I say goodbye, I can't wait for our next visit. For Miles, dear Miles. Even though I might still be learning about little girls, your cousin Maisy will tell you that hanging with Grandma is an okay thing to do.

But here's a little secret. This Grandma knows how to do boys. She's well seasoned in boys. We will have great fun. Just you watch.

When my son had a son, I cried. I knew he'd be a great dad and I held such joy for him. I have no doubt Miles will become as fine a man as my Jordan, my son.

Congratulations Jordan and Leigh.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Did I Ride In My Last Rodeo?

Spending that many hours in the saddle gave a man plenty of time to think. That's why so many cowboys fancied themselves Philosophers.
Charles M. Russell

I'm no philosopher. Far from it. But I have to say that a week ago while spending a couple hours on a real horse, I did a great deal of thinking. 

As a follower of Next Tribe, an online magazine for bold women 45 to 60+ years of age (and as a member of my local tribe) a friend and I considered one of their retreats. From what I'd read of the destination -- Troncones, Guerrero, Mexico -- it was a sleepy community of small outdoor restaurants and shops. The retreat facilities at Present Moment offered a beautifully tended landscape and Palapa-style bungalows with no windows. Activities available for choice were yoga and meditation, cave hikes, massages, kayaking, writing, photography, and horseback riding on the beach. 

Other than the additional surfing and boogie boarding, the trip sounded like a nightmare to my husband. But to me? I'm 62. The women I'd met in Next Tribe thus far were fascinating, creative, and adventurous. Why the hell not? 

My friend, Beth, and I arrived in Zihuatanejo, Mexico and took a 30-minute taxi ride to Troncones, the small surfer village void of touristo crowds, marinas, and glitzy hotels. 

Upon arrival, we quickly made 20 new friends of smart, accomplished, well-traveled and fit women. We ate fresh fruits and vegetables and fish from the sea. The uncrowded beaches and a sunset to die for greeted us as well. How could this not be perfect?

Perfect it was. Of course, most of the women were younger than me, yet a couple older. All were in much better shape than me. But, hey. I'd had eight months from the time I signed up until the trip to practice my yoga. That I started two weeks before I left didn't seem to matter. Ahem. 

The yoga hut
Next Tribe had a yoga session each morning at 8. Surprisingly, I was up that early. But I walked right past that lovely group of women up there striking poses. I don't exercise first thing in the morning. In fact, I don't talk to people first thing in the morning. I poured myself a coffee from the open air restaurant and found an Adirondack chair on the beach and wrote my morning pages, allowing the rising sun to warm my Tired-of-Winter body. 

My view when I looked back at those who move in the morning.

As class after class took part in all kinds of yoga and practices all day, I waited for Gentle Yoga at 4pm. When I got in there and found out it was an hour and half long class, I winced. My yoga tapes I'd been doing so smuggly at home only lasted 22 to 28 minutes. What had I done? 

But I loved it. The waves crashing in my view, the sea breezes blowing on my face. Comfort. Pleasant moments. The next day's class I was there and ready. When I followed the leader and looped a belt around my bottom and enclosed my feet in the loop in a suspended Indian-style grip where I thought my groin muscles would detach from my torso, the instructor asked if I felt supported. I said I hoped there wasn't a fire. I had no clue how to get myself out of the loop. 

But this immersion into something I didn't know gave me confidence I could still learn something new as well as the old. When it came time to sign up for a sunset horseback ride on the beach, I was in. I'd ridden horses all my life, starting when I was 7. At camp on Lake Okoboji in Iowa every year, I signed up to get the horses brushed and saddled every morning. Often I went with my brother or husband up to Evergreen, Colorado to exercise and ride a friend's horses -- including the day my knee wiped itself off on the fence post netting the meniscus tear I ran on for the next twenty years before getting that baby trimmed up. 

My last ride had been up in the Black Hills while exploring South Dakota with my sons. I had my middle son in the saddle behind me and a car came near us with a yippy little dog. Scared my horse and he freaked and backed down into a deep gully beside the road. I didn't freak. I quickly guided the horse back up the hill and safely onto the trail, my son told to hang tight.

I knew how to ride a horse. 

When it came time for Next Tribe to ride, about 20 horses gathered on the beach. It seemed the ranch hands were assigning horses to my fellow riders. 

All of a sudden, there was only one horse left -- at the end of the pack. An old plug, just like me. When I placed my foot in the stirrup, I discovered I couldn't get my old ass up in the saddle. I couldn't plant that bad knee and use it to thrust myself up there. Nor did my shoulder strength appear to exist.

I'd seen the young caballerros help up one or two others, so I wasn't completely horrified, but I have to say the two young men who arrived to get my errant leg up, over, and across the horse weren't quite certain where to push. I'm not certain exactly where they did. I hope I haven't twisted those boys for life. 

Alas, I was aboard. Mission accomplished as far as I was concerned. I knew what to do next. Only I didn't. I'd worn the wrong shoes. No traction to keep my feet lodged in the stirrups. I also appeared a rookie, free hand clinging to the saddle horn. I attempted a photo of myself. Does it look like I'm having fun?

My bad knee didn't like the position it was in and I recalled that last ride in the Black Hills was in 1998, a mere 21 years before. But, so what? We were only walking down the beach. How hard could this be? My horse's name was Caterina and I patted her neck and said, "Get me through this alive, Caterina."

Off we went.
My traveling partner -- looking like she was born on that horse.

All was well until we took a turn and started climbing up through the rocks. My horse wanted to wipe my knees on them. Well, I let her know that wasn't going to happen to me again and I steered her away from that trick. But then she stumbled on the rocks. And stumbled again. 

Now, I know horses can do this to you on purpose, but as I patted her side and called Caterina by name, I assured her we didn't have to stumble. "Just watch where the f---- you're going."

We got through that and cruised along another beach until the next set of rocks, where my old plug stumbled again, greatly. I found myself perpendicular to a rock and I'm pretty sure I yelled out "Holy Shit" or something like that as my horse finally uprighted and stumbled again before coming out onto the next beach. 

I started to look at the places we passed on the beach. I hoped for a hotel with a bar. Me and Caterina would tie up and wait for them to come back. Have a few shots of tequila. 

No hotels. No bars. Surely we'd turn around soon. 

The sun set and in its magnificence, I tried to get my phone out of my back pocket so I could take a photo. I decided hanging on was a better idea as we came across more rocks to stumble upon. As the sun slipped into the ocean, we arrived at our third long beach and I was certain we'd stop here and some van or bus would take us back to our place. If my horse couldn't find her footing in the light, she sure as hell couldn't find it in the dark. 

But, we turned around. To go back the same way. I was so done. Which is when I started doing that philosophizing/praying the artist Charles Russell refers to in that quote above. 

Please, please, please horsey, whatever your name is again. 
Get me home safely.
Please do better on the rocks.
Get this old broad back alive. Please?

This is also where I began evaluating the choices I make. Even though when I turned 60 I agreed to go after whatever opportunities I'm given, I decided a less challenging approach might be in order. Yes, sitting on that horse, fear entered into my philosophizing.  

While I was doing the Plato thing, that old horse passed over those rocks just fine. When we cleared the last of them and had a free ride the rest of the way back, I again contemplated my future. As much as I took in the beauty of the setting sun, the opportunity to be present in this breathtaking place with incredible women, I wanted off the horse. And it was okay. Just as I'd walked off a ski slope several years before after 40 years of snow skiing, I felt no regret with the decision. There just comes a time when you know some of your riding days are done. 

The next day, I was back in the saddle. 

A saddle that fits me fine. My horseback riding days are done, but to answer the question of this essay? Did I ride in my last rodeo? Yes, but I'll still go to the rodeo.

You bet I will. Because at this one I also had THE BEST BOOGIE BOARD RIDE OF MY LIFE!



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