What the Funk?

In my little world the Covid vaccine has made my life more “normal.”  I feel guilty saying that as India suffers devastating losses every day and in some areas of the US thousands of cases are still reported every day. My “world” is pretty small and I’ve been cautious about where I go and who I’m with, but I’m able to do lots more than I was at this time a year ago.

So why am I in a funk?  It’s not an easy feeling to describe – the word malaise works. Generally, I don’t feel like doing anything. There are days when I read and doze, wander the house, sit and stare, avoid social contact, work jigsaw puzzles, and look forward to an early bed time.

I have a standing walking date with a friend three days a week at Lake Lily (below). Because someone else counts on me being there I force myself to show up. Thank goodness for that. The company of my walking partner gives me an opportunity to get out of myself for 45 minutes, or 5,200 steps, whichever comes first!

I’ve Googled “chronic fatigue” and other illnesses I imagine might cause this lack of emotional and physical energy. It would be easier to have a physical condition (other than ageing) to blame.

Why am I longing for life as it was a year ago? I did not leave the house for weeks. When I did venture out the roads were deserted. It was eerily quiet out in the world. Because all my obligatory volunteer work was canceled I felt no guilt about staying home. No guilt about spending two hours reading. Life was simplified.

Online ordering became my favorite activity. The one person I could count on visiting me everyday was the Amazon delivery person. I discovered Etsy and the endless fabric shops that curated bundles of fabric for me. My interest in quilting was revived. I bought and sewed, and bought and sewed, and then bought and stored. The quiet visual and tactile pleasure of sorting  and touching each length of fabric was soothing. Now I have a fun fabric collection and have lost my oomph for sewing. I have completed quilt tops galore and they are hanging in my “to be finished” closet. So many of the projects I wanted to complete during pandemic lock down (photo sorting, closet purging, kitchen reorganization) are still undone and I feel like an underachiever.

I am dealing with a case of the “blues.”  I can now go to restaurants, hug my friends, be with my kids and grandkids – and yet I feel myself withdrawing more and more. The kids have hugely successful and chaotic lives of their own (wasn’t that our goal?). The grandkids are now the independent teens that we still think our kids are.

Our writing group began meeting again in person a few weeks ago. Guess what? I’m not the only one feeling this sense of disorientation, lack of energy, desire to isolate, funkiness. Gloominess.  The desire for gray, rainy days as an excuse to stay inside.

I do believe this is a temporary condition. I know there is a way out of this feeling of inertia. There was a hint of optimism yesterday when I returned to the sewing machine for a few hours.  I forced myself to stay away from my napping spaces. I watched my son-in-law try a court case that was streaming online. I was the 13th juror and felt so engaged that I wanted to text my opinion!

It will take some intentional acts on my part to get back in the world. I’ve mooned around long enough. I’m even annoying myself with my grumpiness. It’s time to re-engage with my gratitude journal for I have forgotten how abundantly blessed I am.  Today begins my journey back to peace.


When I was a kid and assigned a chore I detested (all of them) I griped and whined until my father would say “Aw, quit your bellyachin’.”  At a certain age I learned it was better just to stuff it, stop bitching and get on with it. That way I didn’t suffer the 1950’s version of “grounding,” which was GO. TO. YOUR. ROOM. My room offered nothing in the way of entertainment.  Even the windows were so high up on the wall that I couldn’t see outside from my bed.

Stuffing it became my way of dealing with unpleasantness and anxiety for the rest of my life.  Several times, like a worn out teddy bear, the stuffing would leak out and I’d spin into a panic attack or a doom and gloom mood that lasted a week or longer. The stuffing is coming out now.

Let me say that I am extremely fortunate, so far, to have remained virus-free.  I have friends who are suffering serious effects of coronavirus so I feel guilty bitching about how my life has changed since early March.  Nevertheless, the last 4 ½ months have affected me in ways I couldn’t imagine.

The first few weeks of social isolation were glorious days of napping, reading, painting and sewing.  I was feeling free from the pressure of “have to” meetings and volunteering. I was Zooming with extended family whom I rarely get to see — feeling blessed that these people share my DNA and are so bright, accomplished and varied in their world views.

But, now that we’ve been at this a while I can feel the anxiety bubbling up.  I’m a grand worrier. I worry things to the worst possible conclusion. At Publix I worry whether someone has touched and rejected the very avocado I am now testing for ripeness, or the person going the wrong way on the X or arrow aisle is going to breathe in my face. How about when on my walk? Is the guy running past me at excessive speed shedding sweat, drool and God knows what else into my air space?  AND, what about that damn squirrel in Colorado with bubonic plague?!  Could it be the Black Death headed east?

Michelle Obama, I totally get your “low-grade depression.”  This week I have been in the doldrums.  My casual survey of friends suggests that I’m not the only one feeling low. I think I’m facing the reality of this pandemic.  In March I thought this would be over by now and maybe we would return to normal in September.  September approacheth and I know we will be living this way for probably another year or longer.  So it’s time to quit my bellyachin’ and move on. When there are bad days I give myself permission to go with it.  Stay on the couch.  Finish the Anne Cleeves mystery.  Thumb through YouTube for silly videos.  Let John “cook.”  (Yay, UberEats.)  Or, heck, nag the grandkids to send me videos of what they are doing right this minute.  Who knew there is such a thing as apple nachos?

Though I love making masks,  I initially wasn’t keen on wearing a mask. Now I’m used to wearing a mask every time I go out and become a real bitch when I spot someone without one.  (Kinda like I was with smokers after I quit the habit.)  I have an assortment of masks hanging on the gear shift knob – for any mood .  Maybe today I don’t feel like red plaid, but the yellow polka dots call to me.  Can the Publix person see that I am smiling behind my mask?  I put on a great big grin so that my eyes scrunch up and show the smile.  I hope. Or they think I’m a maniac.

I’ve let my hair grow white. Some people don’t recognize me with the new hair and the mask.  Maybe I can get away with being a little sassier and no one will know it’s me. Hmmm, this photo has me looking pretty glum.  Michelle Obama’s depression picture was much prettier.mask

Just acknowledging that I feel blue makes me feel better.  I went through my camera roll and found lots of reasons to be grateful. I’ll share.

I am grateful for grandkids who can still act like silly little kids even when they are teens.

wm in sand

I am eternally grateful for this guy who just goes with the flow of my moods.  “Yes, dear.”

j eins

Thank God for fabric. Satisfies my sense of touch and sight.  Washing and ironing new fabric is almost more fun than the actual construction of a project.


Little projects are satisfying because I can see the finished product very quickly and that brings me joy!  The lump is an iphone stand.

iphone stand

The addition of two babies to the family (grand/great niece and nephew and one on the way) have made me smile more than once. This is DJ.  He lives in Jakarta with his parents.


This is Hazel.  She lives in Minnesota.


Watching the Dragon capsule return to the Gulf of Mexico entertained me for the best part of a Saturday afternoon.  We spent many years living on the coast in Indialantic, FL and never missed watching a launch.  That habit has not left me.  Even though I’m an hour west in Orlando I still run outside to look for the launch vapor trail and wait for separation. This splashdown was so spectacular and I’m happy that NASA photographer Bill Engalls caught this breathtaking moment.


Sharing anxiety sure helps. Thanks for listening.   I feel much better. You may email me your bill for services rendered.



Recently a friend texted me before a regularly scheduled Zoom get-together with our quilting group and said she just couldn’t join in because she was in a funk. It happened to be a day I wasn’t in a funk so my first inclination was to tell her to cheer up and get on the video call. That it would make her feel better. However, my better self (which pops up rarely these days) told her to go with her down day and just do whatever she needed to do to get through it. We all have them at random times.  Sometimes when I’m feeling low I get silly.

silly ann

During this time of the Coronavirus I find myself going from perfect calm and enjoying the isolation and few demands on my time, to a day I feel so blue I just cry, or get grumpy, or want to just nap and read, nap and read. I have found that, for me, it’s okay to go with whatever I am feeling on a particular day and lean into it. Otherwise, I make myself crazy judging why I can be such a downer when I am healthy, following the distancing rules, and have a nice stockpile of toilet paper.
This cooking thing. I hate cooking. Actually, it is more the planning I don’t like. Being responsible for meal after meal. What am I in the mood for? Besides alcohol and Mexican food. My husband can fry a hard egg, but still doesn’t know which drawer the spatula is in. And it’s not even in a drawer. It’s in a pottery jar on the kitchen counter. In plain sight. Next to his tin of Oreos. Which is next to the tin of “homemade” cookies (depends on what is available in the refrigerated dough section at Publix.)
Speaking of the kitchen. Here’s what my kitchen counter looks like now.
kitchen counter
Not pictured are the 15 lemons I need to zest to put in bottles of 100 proof vodka to make Limoncello using my friend Cynthia’s recipe. Folks, it takes 80 days in a dark place – for the vodka brew, not me – to create this wonder. Come on June.
The other night I decided to try a Pinterest recipe for One Pot Pasta con Olio. Well, it’s NOT one pot. You need a pot to cook the spaghetti, a pan to saute the 15 different herbs, several cutting boards, a mess of olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes. I have never used that ingredient before and had to send my daughter, who also has never used sun dried tomatoes, to Trader Joe’s to purchase them. She had to ask an employee where they were kept. I wasn’t even able to give her a hint about whether they came in a can, a bag, or were in the vegetable aisle. FYI, they are in the pasta aisle.
Here’s the thing about directional aisles in the grocery stores. It’s not that I don’t understand them. I know a red X means wrong way. Almost at the end of a one-way aisle I will discover that the item I needed was at the beginning of the aisle. Do I leave my cart where it is and walk backward to pick up the item? I actually did that the other day! But, here’s the genius about the one-way aisles – if you haven’t had your morning walk you can pick up quite a few Fitbit steps doing your grocery shopping if you follow the arrows. Invariably you will discover on aisle 5 that you need something else on aisle 3 (which you have already covered). To get to aisle 3 you have to return to aisle 4 and then make a sharp left onto 3. And then return to 5. It takes a little longer, but totally worth the Fitbit steps. Yesterday there was a party on my wrist (when I reach my goal and the little fireworks go off) for the first time in a month. I walked two miles outside and then went to Publix. GOAL!
Anxiety is a problem I’ve always struggled with. I can worry almost anything to the worst possible conclusion. I can only tell you that when each of our daughters took off driving a car alone for the first time I was alert for siren sounds. Now I find myself anxious about “going back to normal.” I am fearful of ever going to a movie theater again (so much good stuff on Acorn, Netflix, Prime, Apple+). I’m pretty sure we have taken our last cruise. Will we sit every other pew in church? Find a new way to pass the peace. Namaste? I like the idea of a slight bow with hands over heart. What about my carefully written end of life plan if I get this virus. No Yo Yo Ma at the side of my death bed? No one massaging my feet? Holding my hand? Thinking through the awesome eulogies they will deliver at my funer…..oops. No funeral. Some days my stomach feels like this:
twisted branches
Frequently I walk in Mead Botanical Garden with my friend Grace. She knows a lot about the green growing things and some of the birds. I learn a lot, but I love when we take a break from wandering and just listen…And then I ask Siri to play the cardinal song and wait for my scarlet friends to appear.

Coronavirus accomplishments – other than becoming a white-haired overweight alcoholic: making almost 200 masks to give to friends and friends of friends. My sewing table would make a good photo for a jigsaw puzzle.
cutting table
John’s workshop is in much better shape. I think he cleans up after every project. A policy I have not adopted. I’m a project hopper. He came up with this clever ipad holder – because we never buy anything that can be made at home. This doubles as a weapon.
ipad holder
And I found this forbidden piece of equipment on the back step. No one over 70 allowed on a ladder. Since the dog didn’t drag the ladder to the back yard then I’m pretty sure I know who did. And he’s 77. Way beyond ladder climbing age.
Some people have become very productive during this time. My buddy Liz keeps faithfully blogging. Libby plays Zoom bridge. I meet virtually with my writing group on Thursday mornings. We start out with 30 minutes of chat followed by 2 hours of writing. Today our time ended with dog bed hats.
dog bed hats
There is so much I miss. Hugging people. Going to a restaurant and being served where I sit. Unloading groceries without wiping down every Cheetos bag. Being able to sit in the Barnes & Noble café with a stack of books and magazines. My husband going out to play golf for three hours at a time. A lot.
So much I appreciate. The kindness of friends making donations to buy more mask supplies. The nearby fabric store that lets me order online and pick up the next day. The locally owned small restaurants that prepare delicious meals for me to take out (Café Linger, Outpost Neighborhood Kitchen – check them out on Facebook, Krispy Kreme.) The way I have begun engaging with the check-out people.
Appreciating young neighbors with kids offering to run errands for us – as if they didn’t have enough to do. The mail carrier who sings her way along her route. My husband vacuuming and doing dishes regularly. And bringing Vodka Tonics at 5 pm. I do clean the bathrooms, but had to buy a toilet brush for the first time in 12 years because I’m lucky enough to have a helper in Usual Times. There is even a shortage of toilet brushes which I think speaks volumes. Zooming with my kids and my extended family is a blessing. Seeing photos of my brother-in-law holding his first grandchild has brought tears. My sister Cindi would have loved being a grandmother.
bill and hazel
To put myself in a better place I go to this chant by my friend Katrina, who does the singing. Give it a try. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyCkclDGqzM

Where is Penny Evans?

Where is Penny Evans?

No matter the state of the New Jersey weather I walked the mile to third grade every day. Knee deep in snow or sloshing through oily marbleized puddles of spring rainwater I was expected to make this journey on foot without complaint.  If it was a good day and the timing was right, I would meet my friend Penny Evans at the crossing of the “big road” for the final block to school. We amused ourselves by choosing a rock and then attempting to kick the same rock the whole distance.  My mother hated this because it wore down the toes of my black and white saddle shoes which had to last until the next school year.

Mountain Lakes Elementarymtn lakes elem school

The classroom smelled like schools did in the 1950s – old wood, chalk dust that reminded me of Milk of Magnesia, and the fusty odor of wet garments which we hung in the cloak room – a long narrow room with hooks to hang damp wool coats. The floor was lined with rubber galoshes fastened by industrial strength metal buckles which were nearly impossible to unclasp with fingers stiff from the cold.

Cloak Room

cloak room

When the school day ended it truly ended.  Homework was a thing of the future waiting for me in junior high. In elementary school afterschool time and summer vacations were for making up our own activities.  Building “boy forts” (no boys allowed, but sturdy like they built) in the woods across the street.  Shooting toy bows and arrows.  Climbing and jumping from the huge granite rocks in the back yard. Riding bikes to the ice cream shop to buy a ten-cent mint chocolate chip cone – with sprinkles. It was an idyllic time with freedom to roam as long as I was home by the time the streetlights came on.

We played at life situations with Ginny dolls (before Barbies with boobs) on the soft grass in the yard.  At 8” tall, they had the body and look of a 9 or 10 year old girl, like ourselves.  They had enviably shiny and smooth hair, and bodies without  curves. “Designer clothes” could be purchased for them, however, in our frugal family, my grandmother mostly sewed the outfits for my Ginny.  Nor did I get the fancy “fashion trunk,” instead, my doll’s clothes were stored in a shoebox.

Ginny Doll

ginny doll

At the end of the school day I couldn’t wait to change from my school clothes and skip-run to Penny’s house. Both our families lived in two of the humblest homes in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey – a wealthy enclave of immense homes within commuting distance to New York City. Moneyed families with names like Briggs & Stratton built mansions in the heavily wooded community.  Stone pillars at the entrances to driveways were chiseled with recognizable names from business and industry.

Our modest ranch house was situated between two sizeable stone homes. Penny Evans’ family also lived in a ranch house but hers was perched on a hill. Theirs looked more imposing than ours because of its hillside location. Funny that I remember this detail.  I thought of her family as economically a step above ours because their house was up a steep driveway, a location I associated with “rich people.”

At her house books were everywhere. The disorderly family room had floor to ceiling shelves of books. Books spilled from side tables and were haphazardly stacked on the floor beside the brown corduroy recliner. The atlases and picture books and other more literary volumes reminded me of my favorite place – my Grandfather Galt’s den which was also cozy and bookshelf lined.

Mealtimes were much more fun than at my house.  Her parents, both professors, were unconcerned with enforcing proper manners. Children at the Evans’ table were encouraged to participate in debate and dialogue. I wanted to live there.

I even envied Penny’s long dark brown pigtails.  Little frizzies poked out here and there. When the light was behind her it formed an aura around her head.  My short straight hair cut in a bob with bangs, which my mother trimmed with tiny manicure scissors, was nothing like hers. Oh, how I wanted long hair!

In fourth grade our family moved away.  It took me a long time to find a friend like Penny. We wrote letters for a while, but as we moved into our pre-teens we eventually stopped writing and lost touch.  In spite of sporadic internet searches I never found Penny Evans.

I like when my mind wanders back to the mid-1950’s.  I remember life then as blissful and carefree. I take a deep breath and try to shut out the chaos of the current world and experience briefly the unsophisticated and innocent ten year old me.

Favorite Travel Memory #1

I participate in a small writing group and each of us set a goal for 2020.  I’m counting on these women to hold me accountable to my goal of publishing a blog post once a month!  Random subjects, deep thoughts, shallow ramblings and travel stories.  I’m starting with a travel memory.  People often ask me when we return from a trip “What was you favorite part of the trip?”  In the moment I come up with the easy answer, then later think, “Well, that was a boring answer.”

Giving some thought to our recent trip to Norway and Scotland, I kept coming back to one particular day that wasn’t filled with rolling hills in shades of green, dramatic fjords, icy Arctic scenes with the midnight sun shining on icy islands in the North Sea.  This was a not a picture postcard day, but the memory sticks with me.


The excursion to the North Cape (Nordkapp) of Norway was described in the cruise line brochure as one of the highlights of our cruise.  We were to visit the steep cliff on the northern coast of Mageroya Island.   Anticipating dramatic views from the flat mountain plateau where we would view the Barents Sea, we bounced along in our fancy motorcoach to the northernmost point in Europe that can be accessed by car.  This is what we were looking forward to experiencing.


Skies were overcast as we left the port of Honnigsvag and the weather became increasingly gray and foggy as we headed north.  Rain began, not a torrent but enough to obscure the view of the Norwegian countryside. Enough rain that I could watch the “raindrop races” on the window for amusement because we couldn’t see farther than a few feet beyond the glass. By the time we reached  Nordkapp the weather was at Nasty Stage.  Wind gusts blew us into each other and turned umbrellas inside out.  A driving rain made the run from the coach to the tourist center a northern adventure like a scene from a disaster movie.


After warming up a bit in the tourist center we ventured outside to catch the view.  A “view” obscured by heavy fog – the plateau was located above the cloud base.  We looked for the huge metal globe that marked the best viewing spot.  Nope, nothing but gray cotton candy surrounding us.  Following close behind other tourists we did make it to the globe and fought off as many people as we could to get our picture taken in that famous spot.  If the Barents Sea was below us, we couldn’t see it.  Dramatic cliffs?  Only on the postcards in the shop.


It is a favorite memory because we made the best of something we couldn’t control.  Inside the tourist center was the BEST gift shop of the trip.  I loved wandering the aisles along with several busloads of other damp, musty smelling international tourists.  The center had educational displays and movies – we visited them all.  With hot cups of coffee in our hands we posed for pictures with trolls.


This adventure is now the one I share when asked about my favorite part of this trip, I believe it was because the pace slowed down.  The fog and mist were eery. We seemed cocooned by the fog on the top of the world. Our pace slowed down. We were relaxed and having fun and, for once, did not get back to the ship exhausted by sensory overload.  I’m thankful we were able to press “Pause” for a day.

Road Trippin’ with Meg and Bill

“You load sixteen tons and whaddya get?  Another day older and deeper in debt.”  The theme song of my childhood.  Tennessee Ernie Ford was the extra traveler in our old station wagon in the 50’s.  My sister Cindi and I would fight about “our space” in the wide back seat.  If it got bad, one of us would toss ourselves over the seat and into the “way back.”  We were free-range passengers.  No seat belts required.

The radio was always blaring.  My parents, Meg and Bill, filled the car with blue cigarette smoke and tunes that I will never forget.  “Melancholy Baby” was “their” song and one of the first we learned.  If we hit a spot with no radio reception then an acapella version of the Penn State fight song was the filler music. Frank Sinatra’s version of “Love and Marriage” was another song regular in our repertoire.

We only traveled to visit relatives, mostly my cousins.  I remember one trip to visit them in Colorado, mostly because my mother had a panic attack when we crossed the Royal Gorge Bridge.  Afraid of heights, we left her on one side as my dad drove us over and back just to say we did it.

Image result for royal gorge

My dad never wanted to stop for meals or potty breaks.  Any meal in the car was peanut butter and jelly brought from home in used brown bags.  Pee breaks were a stop on the side of the road, squatting in the weeds.  Oh, how I hated that.  I only remember one trip when we stopped and pulled into a little general store/Esso station somewhere in South Georgia for a break.  We begged our parents to buy us bottles of Coke for 5 cents from the old freezer style vending machine.  We were rarely allowed to get a soft drink and we were so tickled that I remember Cindi and I being struck with a case of the giggles. One of my favorite photos:

ann cindi 1952

I come from a family of travelers on the Galt side. My grandparents took my mother and her brother on frequent visits to sites in Pennsylvania.  Gettysburg became as familiar to them as their backyard. This is from a trip in 1938.  Not sure why my grandfather always wore a tie.  And a hat, for that matter.

galt kids on rock

Twice a year we traveled to visit the other grandparents, the Calverts, who lived on a farm in northwest Pennsylvania.  It was a trip of several hours and the excitement didn’t start until we turned left onto the hilly road that led to the farm lane.  There was one particular hill that my dad would speed up and then it seemed like the whole car floated down the other side.  It gave us little “stomach thrills.”  My sister Cindi, after several trips, decided that it was the sweater she was wearing that made her stomach lurch on that hill.  She demanded we turn around and do it again without her sweater on to see if that worked.  Of course, my dad, went slower this time time so she didn’t feel the affect.  From then on, whenever we approached that hill she made sure to have her sweater off.

farm ann cindi

I have always been a person who likes to explore new places and have traveled all my life.  The Galt blood runs strong in me. In the car, I often find my self humming “Sixteen Tons.”

Meating the Family

As a single mom in the early 80’s let’s say I was… “timid”… about dating.  As a first step a  friend suggested I go to a singles group at Oliver’s Carriage House in our town of Columbia, Maryland.  Soft drinks and mingling preceded breaking into discussion groups.  I met a nice man in a blue wool crew neck sweater.

Oliver’s Carriage House

olivers carriage house (2)

In my group the discussion topic was “Managing Multiple Relationships.”  Being fresh on the dating scene (meaning I hadn’t actually gone on a date since the marriage broke up) I could only think of one way to approach this topic.  I was told to speak first, so I launched into a halting statement of managing my relationships with my mother, my sisters, my kids.  The facilitator quickly moved on to the next person in the circle, who got into the heart of what multiple relationships meant in this world of singles. I learned a lot about how to handle dating more than one person at a time. I never returned to that group because I felt so naive and clueless.

However, the nice man in the blue crew neck sweater and I eventually began a relationship that culminated in our getting married three years later at Oliver’s Carriage House.

But, first, within a year or so after meeting, we decided to have our families meet each other at Christmas Eve dinner in my townhouse. In my previous life I was adept at fixing meals for a crowd, but hadn’t entertained in a long time.  I searched my clipping file and found an easy recipe for Beef Wellington that would serve 11 people.  Off I marched to the Wilde Lake butcher shop.  “How much is beef tenderloin?” I asked. Butcher replied “$9.99.”  Sounded good to me so I ordered a piece big enough to serve the crowd.

On Christmas Eve I went back to the shop to pick up and pay for the meat.  It was at that point that I realized I had ordered many pounds of meat at $9.99 a POUND.  (Obviously, I didn’t ever purchase meat that wasn’t prepackaged at the Giant grocery store.)  I didn’t even have $40 in my checking account so there was no way I could pay for that tenderloin.  I burst into tears and spurt out that I didn’t have that much money and needed to feed my possible future in-laws and whatamIgoingtodo?!

Whether it was my tears or my story, the butcher suggested that I purchase about a third of the tenderloin and also a small rib eye roast.  That way I could serve the Beef Wellington to my possible future in-laws and everyone else the cheaper meat. Worked like a charm.  Don’t the possible future in-laws look happy?

goodpasture sibs 1982

The possible future in-laws became actual in-laws a couple of years later.  It didn’t take long for me confess and now it’s one of my favorite stories.

Whose Idea was This?

This came up on my Goodreads Twitter feed today:  If you were transported to the setting of the book you are currently reading, where would you be?

Ever since I started reading the Canadian author Louise Penny’s Gamache series I’ve wanted to live in her fictional setting of Three Pines, Canada.  I know what it looks like in my imagination.  I go there often.  I know where every single structure is located. I can find my way around the village green blindfolded. Mostly I think of it as a place of serenity and coziness, but that’s weird because the community has a very high murder rate! (Watch out if she introduces a new character.  He/she is a goner.)

I have chosen my seat at the Bistro.  It’s in one of those four upholstered chairs by the huge fireplace.   A bowl of soup, a chunk of bread, a hunk of cheese and a good book are required.  Oh, and wine.  Red wine.  I will have chosen my book at Myrna’s book store.

I got the “Barnes and Noble Special Edition” of Penny’s most recent book and started it today.  The edition is “special,” the cover sticker said, because there is a map of Three Pines included.

But whose map is it?  It doesn’t depict MY Three Pines. My Three Pines has a different layout.  I know how to get from Clara’s house to Ruth’s house in my mind. But the Special Edition map has placed houses and shops where they don’t belong.  The church must have been relocated in a tornado.  I try to unsee the map inside the front cover, but it’s stuck in my head.  Like when my sister sent me a gross video of a skin cyst exploding.  Can’t unsee THAT!

I had the main character, Armando Gamache, pictured in my head.  Then somebody went and made a movie of the first book in the series, “Still Life.”  They didn’t consult with me before casting Gamache and got it all wrong.  I’m fighting that image, too.

Perhaps I’ve gotten way too involved with Penny’s characters and setting.  I have feelings for and about them.  When I’m reading her books I transport myself to Three Pines.  MY Three Pines, not the publisher’s vision of the old village on the banks of the Bella Bella River.  I love how some books suck me in so I feel transported to another place.  I just wish the publishers and casting people wouldn’t mess with my head.



The S*** Hits the Van

“This vehicle is not moving!  Look at the traffic backed up behind us!”  It was my turn behind the wheel of our 1973 orange VW camper as our family of four made its way from Heidelberg, Germany to Italy on a camping vacation. I was convinced the engine had malfunctioned on the steep Austrian alpine pass. It was mid-summer, the snow had finally melted, and the steep highway just recently opened to travelers.

In the back seat the girls – one toddler and one just past toddlerhood – were beginning to ask “Are we there yet?”  We had spent a restless night camped out in a park in southern Germany.  My Starter Husband had pulled another panic attack (read previous blog post) in the evening and not knowing whether or not to look for the nearest “Krankenhaus” (hospital) I hadn’t slept well.  Nobody had.  Van-full of cranky people, fueled by orange peanut butter crackers and boxed juice.  This two-week vacation was not off to a happy start.

The VW was not broken, just suffering an overburdened engine straining to cross the Alps. Practically coasting down the other side, we were relieved to finally arrive in Italy and a campground near Pisa.  With the top of the camper popped up and a small tent attached to the side of the van, we made ourselves at home.  Bedtime came and I gathered up girls, towels and toiletries for the trek to the communal shower and toilet building.  We had a small porta-potty in the van for emergencies when on the road, but bath time meant a flashlight hike to the not-that-great-smelling cinder block building.

The entrance had a ledge to step over.  Since I was burdened like a pack horse I never saw the step, tumbled to the ground and heard a faint snap from my foot.  “NO!  This can’t be real,” I thought.  For a few days I ignored the pain and laced my sneakers up tighter for support.  Seeing me limp, the German doctor camped next to us pronounced that the foot was “kaput.”  An astute observation as I hobbled around chasing kids.

We weren’t far from the US military base near Pisa so we drove to their medical facility where a tech did an xray and assured me there was no break and wrapped the foot in Ace bandages.

The vacation (and the pain) continued as we traveled to Venice.  At our final stop at a beach campground on the Venetian Lido we were awakened one night by the camp manager.  We had a phone call in the office.  What the . . . ?  Our best friends and neighbors back in Heidelberg had our itinerary but we never expected them to track us down.  They let us know that my mother-in-law had died.

Early the next morning we literally folded our tent and unpopped the pop top and decided to drive straight through to grab a military transport plane back to the States (Leaving the girls with Rosemary and Danny for what turned out to be a pretty long time. We still owe them a return babysitting gig 40 years later.)

Once again we found ourselves on a beastly hot June day creeping across the Alps going north.  Bathroom emergencies happened.  Several times.  Did I mention it was hot?  Since this porta-potty had no “max capacity” fill line we didn’t keep track.  One final poop did it.  The pot exploded inside the van sending a shower of unmentionable sewage into the air.   From one person’s point of view this was unimaginably hysterical.  From the other person’s view point it was a sign of gross household mismanagement.  If you know me, you know which was my reaction.  This camping vacation was our last.  (After an xray in a Florida hospital I was diagnosed with a broken foot.)

Frohliche Weihnacten

It was a bleak day in the military transport terminal at Dover AFB in New Jersey, 1974.  Christmas Eve Eveand sniveling toddlers, anxious wives, and nervous Army recruits were jammed together as close as marbles in a bag in the cold green-walled and dirty linoleum floored boarding area.  We were waiting for the delayed overnight flight to Frankfurt, Germany and a new Dept of Army civilian employee posting in Kaiserslautern.

Our nine month old was at the far limit of her tolerance for the car seat. The (starter) Husband was anxiously pacing and looked as if he was in pain.  Then he told me he WAS in pain and was going to go to the emergency room on base.  Maybe he was having a heart attack at 28 years old!  “Stay here,” he said, “and board the plane if it gets to that point.”  Oh, that struck terror in my heart!  Fly to Germany with a toddler and no knowledge of the language – by myself?! 

Of course, the time came to queue up and no sign of The Husband.  People with empty hands helped carry the kid, the baggage, the coats, the scarves ,and mittens for three travelers.  This was not a luxury plane, but some sort of military charter and there was little room for comfort in our 5 across row.  In a state of panic, tears flowing, hands shaking, I felt both relieved and angry when he boarded just before door closing.  Having suffered an anxiety attack he was blissfully high on Xanax and immediately fell asleep for the next 8 hours.  

We were met in the Frankfurt terminal by Benno, a German co-worker who spoke excellent English and drove us to the Visiting Officers’ Quarters on base.  At a service plaza on the autobahn we stopped to get coffee.  I took the baby with me into the Ladies Room where I discovered pay toilets.  I had no German coins and was too embarrassed to ask for help.  Looking around to make sure we were alone, I slithered under the door and yanked the baby through the opening.  I don’t even want to think about the condition of the floor we were mopping with our bodies.

I began to calm as we sped along the highway.  Baby finally slept. Snow covered the ground just enough to decorate the pine trees and roof tops.  Little villages, looking so different from our home town, reminded me of the miniature towns set up along a model railroad train track. Tiled roofs, candles in the windows. I was exhausted, sad at being away from family on Christmas, and apprehensive about this new life beginning in a foreign country.  

To my surprise, when we arrived at our temporary housing we found our rooms softly lighted and a small tree decorated with handmade ornaments and paper chains.  Other families in the same situation welcomed us and fed us, and best of all, took the baby for a few hours so we could settle in.  Christmas Eve was peaceful and calm and after all the chaos was a time to reflect on the moment and the adventure ahead of us.