Friday, October 5, 2018

Not all is forgiven

"Never again, not in this life will I be taken twice
Never again, not on your life will I make that same mistake, I can’t make it twice."

In light of the hearings on the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, Neil asked me if I thought someone should be held responsible for his or her actions as a teenager that took place thirty some years earlier.

It's not a no-brainer.

On the whole, I don't think the elapse of time makes criminal actions any less criminal.

While I do think people deserve forgiveness for many stupid things that they did when they were 17 years old, I don't think assault falls under that umbrella.

If I drank too much and had inappropriate but consensual sex, that is forgivable. The person I harmed was myself. Of course, I am female. I don't think there is a true equivalent for taking advantage of a man who was so intoxicated that he wasn't fit to consent. I don't think a woman can rape a man who has passed out. There are simply anatomical dissimilarities that make a valid comparison impossible.

So let's go with another analogy. If I drank too much and got in my car and caused a fatality accident, is that forgivable? Here we start down a slippery slope. Was it the first and only time I drove while intoxicated? Did I ever do it again? Should the rest of my life be forfeit or should I be able to chalk it up to the bad judgment of youth and move on past it to live my life?

What if I drank too much and got in my car and somehow by the grace of the universe, I got home safely? What if I did this many, many times, and just was lucky enough to avoid tragic consequences? Is that any more or less forgivable?

If you think I have the answers, you've come to the wrong blog.

The Kavanaugh confirmation waters are further muddied by his denial of the the claim by Christine Ford that, at a party in the early '80s, when he was 17 and she was 15, he tried to force himself on her sexually. Did it happen or did it not? It's a classic "he said, she said," but as a woman, I'm more inclined to believe her story. That's because it's a familiar story.

I'm fortunate that it didn't happen to me, but too many women I know were raped or otherwise sexually compromised during that time frame, in similar situations, where alcohol impaired judgment and unfair advantage was taken. And these women kept these atrocities secret for decades, from guilt and shame, or because they knew they wouldn't be believed, or worse, they'd be blamed. Why were they at that party, why did they dress that way, why did they drink too much, how could they put themselves in that situation?

It's only after the years pass, when we are mature, when we've grown into confidence or just don't give a damn any more, that we finally empower ourselves to speak of these evils, to name those names, and to feel only righteous anger, without shame.

I have a friend who in her youth posed nude for pictures. She has lived in fear throughout her corporate career that these pictures will materialize to humiliate her. She has now broken her silence about it and so taken away some of the threat to being outed.

Yes, I'm sure we've all made mistakes, we've done things that we regret, we've wished for do-overs, and hopefully we've learned some lessons along the way. And certainly we are entitled to forgiveness for those regrettable mistakes.

Maybe we've even raised our hands and lashed out in anger. Maybe we've pushed and shoved and thrown things. Perhaps we've let our tempers get out of control. I myself have two deliberately broken windows to my credit.

I also once smacked my daughter. For this I will always feel deeply remorseful and repentant. There are better ways to deal with anger, however justified.

But assault? Sexual assault?

I'm not here to say that it's unforgivable. That power is not mine. Let she who has not sinned be the judge.

But I'll go out on a limb here. What may be forgivable in the ordinary course of things, especially if done by a minor, especially if many years have passed, especially if the person has lived an exemplary life in the intervening years and would condemn such behavior in retrospect, may be held up to a higher standard if the person responsible is under consideration for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.

It's a big country with a lot of people in it. There are numerous qualified individuals with no stain on their character. It's my considered opinion that any such person must have an untarnished lifelong slate.

So even if Kavanaugh has no recollection of the event, if he so much as remembers being in a situation where the alleged assault could have happened (i.e., intoxicated, with raging hormones, and the slightest attitude of male entitlement, or disrespect of woman) then he should acknowledge he is not the ideal candidate and disqualify himself.

If he truly values his reputation and his family's privacy and well-being, as he claims, well then step out of the fucking limelight, because there are more ways to do good and redeem yourself than by serving as a Supreme Court justice.

Let someone else have that honor.

Especially if you don't have the temperament to maintain your composure, if you choose to play the victim card, and if you generally fail to comport yourself with the dignity, objectivity, respectfulness, and grace under pressure that are essential elements of sitting on the bench of the court of last appeal.

Case dismissed.

I wish.

Lately I’ve been walking all alone through the wind and through the rain
I’ve been walking through the streets and finding sweet relief in knowing that it won’t be long

Lately it’s occurred to me that I’ve had enough of all that
Lately I’ve been satisfied by simple things like breathing in and breathing out

Never again, not in this life will I be taken twice
Never again, not on your life will I make that same mistake, I can’t make it twice

Lately it’s occurred to me exactly what went wrong
I realized I compromised, I sacrificed far too much for far too long

Starting out from here today swear I’m gonna change my ways
Once mistaken in this life but never twice

Never again, not in this life will I be taken twice
Never again, not on your life will I make that same mistake, I can’t make it twice.

(Natalie Merchant, Indian Love Bride ©2001)

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A yarn of a different color

She is a weaver
Through her hand the bright thread travels
Blue green water, willows weeping, silver stars.

The sun is shining again. As I predicted, we had no ill effects from the storm, Florence. Hardly any wind or rain to speak of, just days of gray skies and a bit of cabin fever.

Still, I’ve yet to leave the house much beyond a frozen custard, a sushi dinner, and to give Neil a ride to the airport. It’s unseasonably hot, at least compared to our only frame of reference for this season in North Carolina, one year ago. I’m ready for cooler temperatures, crisp mornings, spending time outdoors. Dare I say it? I’m ready for fall.

I’ve always been about spring. Rebirth and all that. The one redeeming thing about the Texas climate was the long spring. We’d have balmy days as early as January, and while we might have a cold snap or freeze for a few days, we’d have mostly perfect weather through April.

We paid for it with bastard, blistering summer heat that lasted from May until October. Then we’d have a short transition to bleak damp chilly weather through November and December, with maybe a few scattered pleasant days.

I’d forgotten how stunning fall could be, with the leaves changing colors and “October’s bright blue weather.” (H.H. Jackson)

With my bead sales on the demise, I’ve taken up a new creative outlet. I’ve been teaching myself to crochet. And I’ve discovered a new passion for yarn. If you think about it, the colors of yarn speak to that same deep longing that my glass colors do. I’m in love with color, always have been, as long as I can remember, dating back to my first box of 64 Crayolas.

I once knew the bare basics of crochet and knitting, but I never paid much attention to patterns or yarn fiber content. I bought cheap yarn at the craft store and made very simple scarves and throws. Knit one, purl one, single crochet, double crochet.

A year or two ago, one of my bead customers posted on Facebook about her local yarn store going out of business, and how she’d bought a lot of yarn at about 90 percent off. I teased her about buying some for me, and she took it seriously, said she was going back for more, and offered to buy some to send me. We eventually came up with a budget for as much as would fit in a large flat rate box.

It was a silly impulse and when the box arrived, it had an assortment of yarn, one skein or cake per color, some prettier than others, a few winners, a few losers. I put it away and packed it up when we moved. I did nothing with it. Until now.

Fast forward to last month. On the way home from a doctor’s appointment, while Neil was away playing softball, I stopped at the Habitat for Humanity Restore. I bought two small glass bottles and a bundle of beautiful New Zealand wool yarn. Then I went by the local yarn store and bought a crochet hook.

A YouTube video later and I was crocheting a scarf. I think it's finished. It's a bit narrow, so I'm letting it sit, trying to decide if I want to go long enough to double loop it around my neck.

I have a lot of learn about yarn weight, fiber content, hook size, gauge, and I don't even know yet what I don't yet know.

The yarn my customer sent me turns out to be some pretty nice stuff. Lots of wool content and some very pretty color gradations. A few on the bulky side and I'll have to figure out how to use those.

The next thing I did was start a scarf for Neil with one of the skeins from my customer, but I completely underestimated how much yarn I'd need. I was able to find the same yarn online. It has no dye lot number, so I'm hoping it will match closely enough. I'm not going to be a perfectionist on my first attempts. It's soft and will mostly go under a coat and no one is going to be studying it for subtle color deviation.

I also started a blanket. I already knew I wanted to do varied stripes. I used up the first cake of yarn to give me an idea how much more I'd need. A lot, as it turns out. I couldn't find that yarn online at a price I was willing to pay. Who knew how expensive yarn could be? So I figured I'd go with a similar weight and fiber blend. I bought 14 more cakes of yarn, seven different color mixes - I already have one more of the original one in a different color to finish the blanket with. Hopefully I bought enough.

In case I don't, I also have 11 more skeins coming, possibly for a second blanket if I don't need them for the first. And I have another 40 items in a shopping cart for the next series of scarves or blankets. Everyone in the family will be getting a scarf or throw or both this upcoming holiday season.

I've also been shopping for crochet hooks and having my eyes opened to the broad spectrum of type and cost. When I first fooled around with yarn, you had a choice of aluminum or plastic. They still make those, but now there are fancier ones with ergonomic handles and a range of quality, based on their Amazon reviews. I'm going middle of the road. I might buy one upscale one, just to see if there really is a difference.

All this is making a good job of keeping my mind off the above-mentioned demise in my bead sales. I've finished my hundred fish project for Beads of Courage, and now they want 100 Carry-a-Bead pairs, which is all good, since I have 100 suitable pairs in inventory right now. I'll ship the fish this week and the pairs in a couple of weeks.

I think I will sell some glass to downsize my stash a tad, and take some time to figure out where to go next with my glass art. I still believe in my product, I still enjoy the process of making beads. I see that sales are slow for others, I see a lot of destashing going on, people downsizing their hoards of artisan beads. But of course I see certain artists sell all their wares.

Honestly, I think I've over-saturated the Facebook market with my beads. I've noticed that the artists who sell out all the time sell sporadically, whereas for more than four years I've sold steadily, almost non-stop. Some artists only do trunk shows and never sell in the daily groups. I wrestle with my head monkeys, I think, maybe I need to take a break, then I think, if you don't list it, it sure as hell won't sell. I need to find a happy medium.

Yeah, same story, different day. I need to write a different story. I need to play more with new things at the torch. Or revisit old things. Or something.

I'm still planning a prototype for a larger scale bead project. I have the materials and maybe I'll work on it this weekend while Neil is away.

My first two yarn orders will all arrive this weekend.

And I had a brainstorm. After I finish the throw blanket that I started, which I want to use as a throw, I am going to make a sort of mixed yarn media blanket for a wall hanging. I've going to do rows of solids and heathers and variegated colors and specialty fibers. It won't need to be perfectly symmetrical, if the yarn weights vary a bit and it won't need to be washed so I don't have to worry about differing care instructions.

I'm really excited about this - so much so that I took the plunge and placed that third yarn order.

I'm done buying yarn now, until I get a few more things made. I really do want to use what I'm buying and not hoard it the way I've hoarded glass.

I also need to curtail my spending for a while. I went absolutely nuts this year with shoes and sandals and boots. I did exchange the one pair of shoes I kept for a smaller size and returned one pair of hikers for a smaller size, which will come in the mail.

So the total damage is one pair of boots, one pair of shoes,, two pairs of hikers and one new pair of sandals, plus the half dozen pairs of sandals I bought earlier in the year.

It sounds pretty bad I know. But I think I really am ready to resist even looking at any more shoes. And glass. And beads. And jewelry and clothes and all the other things I have over-indulged in.

Yesterday, I was looking for a particular small clutch pin because the neckline of the dress I had on was gaping just a bit too much. I didn't find it, but the looking process forced me once again to feel overwhelmed by how much jewelry I have accumulated. Some things were gifts, some things I bought still have the tags on them, some things I loved at the time, now not so much, some things I just never think about. I wound up choosing a small cameo pin that worked with my dress. I don't think I've ever worn it before.

In the larger scheme, this is made all so much more ridiculous by how infrequently I dress up to go anywhere. I mostly live in comfort clothes, skirts, tank tops, t-shirts, yoga pants, shorts, capris, and in cooler weather, leggings mostly, with skirts, or jeans, long sleeved t-shirts, cardigans, athletic shoes. I try to dress nicely every day, for Neil or even if he's away or I'm just going to the doctor or store or park. I almost never leave home without earrings and a necklace and rings.

I suppose it's OK to just dress for me and not for anyone else. For months before the cruise I made so many buying decisions based on wanting to look good while out with my girls and their beaus. Not dressed to the nines or anything, just cute but understated simple outfits. To go with my red purse and sandals, naturally.

Maybe I'll spend some time weeding my possessions over the next few months. I know I'd feel better if my closet shelves were somewhat lighter. And I know I've made similar resolutions in the past to stop buying more than I need, more of what I already have plenty of, too much of. But today I feel like something has shifted and I'm ready to follow through and to sustain the intent.

There are other things on my mind I want to write about, so maybe I'll tie this up with a woolly ribbon now and begin afresh next time.

She is a weaver
Through her hands the bright thread travels
Blue green water, willows weeping, silver stars
She sings and sighs as the shuttle flies
Through the yarn like a Kerry dancer
Pink and purple, velvet red for a lover's bed

Living north of San Francisco
With a man who built his house alone
Living peaceful in the country
The lights of the golden gate will lead her home

She is a spinner
In her hands the wooden wheel turns the wool around
Then around again
A gypsy from Bolinas
Sits and plays the mandolin
Faces smile in the firelight of a foggy night

Living north of San Francisco
Sometimes it's nice to be alone
She says, it's peaceful where she is living
The lights of the golden gate will lead her home

You can see the bridges of the city
Hanging in the air by steel and stone
She says it's peaceful where she's living
The lights of the golden gate will lead her home

She is a weaver
Through her hand the bright thread travels
Blue green water, willows weeping, silver stars
She is my sister
The baby born when I was older
Her hands are light, her hair is bright as the summer sun

Living north of San Francisco
Sometimes it's nice to be alone
She says, it's peaceful in the country
The lights of the golden gate will lead her home.

(Judy Collins © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Storm track mania

"And when the sand was gone and the time arrived
In the naked dawn only a few survived
And in attempts to understand a thing so simple and so huge
Believed that they were meant to live after the deluge."

Waiting for a hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle.

I didn't make that up. I read it on Facebook.

It's so true though. For days, more than a week, Neil has been relentlessly watching the news and graphing the position of Hurricane Florence.

It is ironic that we left Houston on the heels of Hurricane Harvey and here it is, one year later, and we have Florence on our doorstep.

Did I say our doorstep? You'd think she was, with the number of people checking in with me. But we're 200 miles from the coast and 800 feet above sea level. We may see some wind and rain, but flooding is unlikely and the threat of power loss seems remote.

Anything could happen, and something surely will happen, but first we have to hurry up and wait. And while we're waiting, we might as well enjoy the sunshine, the breeze, the calm before the you know what.

I'm OK with waiting, really I am. What I find harder is everyone's obsession with the storm. We went to the grocery store, which was well stocked with everything except bread, and replenished our pantry. We didn't buy a lot of perishables, just in case we lose power, so no ice cream for me.

We have three bathtubs that we could fill with water, but probably won't. We have some candles, not a lot, since we mostly switched to Scentsy warmers when my daughter was selling them. We have some batteries and flashlights, gasoline in our gas tanks, and the ability to charge phones and tablets in our cars.

I think we'll be fine.

Keeping occupied, I returned three pairs of shoes and exchanged one pair for another size. But I can't stop playing the shoe game, I have more shoes in my shopping carts. I may need another size in the pair I kept. I have one pair of hiking shoes on the way and two more that I'm looking at, even though I only need one. But it may as well be the right one, and how would I know that if I don't try on at least two or three?

At least if I order enough to get the maximum discounts and free shipping, there are free in-store returns and they prorate the discount. Plus returning shoes gets me out of the house.

And takes my mind off, not the storm, but Neil’s brooding obsession with it. I wish it would just get here or pass by. It’s a strain to live with his palpable anxiety, fixation, and negativity. Probably because it’s unlike him to be other that level-headed and relatively upbeat.

I’ve had so many people checking up on me that I’ve come up with a form letter response. “Hi Xxxx - Yes, we’re fine, 200 miles inland and at 800 feet elevation. We may get some wind and rain, but I think the risk of flooding or power loss is low. We did pick up supplies, just in case we are stuck at home for a bit. Thanks for checking! Love, Liz” ...

It’s very sweet that so many care. It does make me miss my mom, who always checked in, usually daily.

I’m not such a great mom. I probably don’t call my kids enough. My mom used to call me every Sunday, without fail. During some of the dark years of my life, that phone call was one of my lifelines. We’d often talk for an hour, back in the days before email and text messages and Facebook and Instagram.

Nowadays, if I don’t call, at least I usually have a clue what my kids are up to, since both post semi-regularly on social media.

In later years, my mom’s calls became shorter and didn’t always happen on Sunday. Then, if she couldn’t reach me, my mom would call Monday, because, she liked to say, the week isn’t complete until I’ve talked to my daughter. After she got email, she’d sometimes leave a phone message if she couldn’t reach me, telling me to send her an email to let her know things were OK.

I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes I felt a bit stalked.

In the last few years, the Sunday calls continued to happen but the became short and devoid of content. I said at the time, it was as if, once she’d reached me and heard my voice, she wanted to get off the phone as quickly as possible. Knowing now what I didn’t know then about her dementia, it makes sense. My dad probably prompted her to call, but once she’d called, she didn’t have much to say.

I’m grateful that in the years when I really needed an ear and a long-distance shoulder, she was there to listen and care. Not that at times she didn’t tire of the topic before I stopped needing to talk about it, but at least there was always something to say. By the time she stopped wanting to engage in conversation, my life had reached a stable place and I had other support systems in place.

Once my dad died and my mom moved to assisted living and a three-year semi-fugue state, phone calls were a challenge, short, awkward, superficial. My mom’s aide would dial my number, and mom and I would exchange simple words, but the days of dialogue were over. We did our best, and just touching base was something.

At the end of next month, my mom will have been gone for five years.

And a month after that, it will have been eight years since my dad passed.

I know I was lucky to have had them as long as I did. Both lived for 90 years, give or take three weeks or five months.

Even though I’m not worried about the storm, I keep the NOAA National Hurricane Center site open in a tab on my iPad. I check it periodically, mostly to keep perspective and for a reality check to counterbalance Neil’s worst case scenarios. More and more it looks like it will be circling around us. At most we’re on the very outer edge of the cone.

Ironically, the storm will be hooking a u-turn and heading up toward the east coast, where Neil will be in a week or so from now.

We saw his mom and dad recently, but Neil’s dad especially struck me as frail and something of a shadow of his usual self. Neil is the executor of his dad’s will, and Bob wanted him to plan a trip in January to go through all the finances. We both thought that maybe sooner would be better than later, so Neil booked a trip. And as long as he’s there he’ll pop down to his mom’s for a couple of nights.

At least both his parents are still quite sharp mentally. But they’re not getting any younger.

And it strikes me that we are also waiting for what happens next. The handwriting on the wall is even less conclusive that the meteorologists storm track predictions. Neil’s dad is 89, his mom is 88. They could have years left to live, and we hope they do, but the alternatives are there at the back of my mind nonetheless.

Mortality. You can’t run or hide. Neither should you focus on it overmuch. Because how does that help anyone?

Like waiting for Florence. Do what you have to do. Evacuate if you’re in a coastal flood-prone area. Keep an eye on the news, stock up on supplies, fill your gas tanks, bring in your patio furniture. Then find something else to do.

Ideally something other than watching the trees sway in the wind, listening for raindrops, or watching for water to boil.

Some of them were dreamers
And some of them were fools
Who were making plans and thinking of the future
With the energy of the innocent
They were gathering the tools
They would need to make their journey back to nature

While the sand slipped through the opening
And their hands reached for the golden ring
With their hearts they turned to each other's hearts for refuge
In the troubled years that came before the deluge

Some of them knew pleasure
And some of them knew pain
And for some of them it was only the moment that mattered
And on the brave and crazy wings of youth
They went flying around in the rain
And their feathers, once so fine, grew torn and tattered

And in the end they traded their tired wings
For the resignation that living brings
And exchanged love's bright and fragile glow
For the glitter and the rouge
And in a moment they were swept before the deluge

Let the music keep our spirits high
Let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal its secrets by and by, by and by
When the light that's lost within us reaches the sky

Some of them were angry
At the way the earth was abused
By the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power
And they struggled to protect her from them
Only to be confused
By the magnitude of her fury in the final hour

And when the sand was gone and the time arrived
In the naked dawn only a few survived
And in attempts to understand a thing so simple and so huge
Believed that they were meant to live after the deluge

Let the music keep our spirits high
Let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal it's secrets by and by, by and by
When the light that's lost within us reaches the sky.

(Jackson Browne © Jackson Browne/Swallow Turn Music/Night Kitchen Music/Open Window Music)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

If the shoe fits, buy it

We're all confused, what's to lose?
You can call this all the United States Blues."

As the earth completes this particular circle around the sun, the one that began last September 21, the day we arrived with the cats and started living here, I find myself pensive and introspective.

In other words, much as usual, only more so.

I’ve had some moments of late when the heart heaviness of those first months has again loomed, threatening.

I tell myself, anniversaries are hard, which is only partly the truth for me. Some anniversary seasons are hard. I remember the summer after my love affair with Marty. All those summer months, the same ones as those when our passion flared, followed by those ones after it ended in misery, I ached all over again. I’d made so much progress in my healing, and then the feelings surged back, not the happiness, just the heartache.

It was just that first summer. By the second summer I was well into my relationship with Neil. I wasn’t looking back, not ever again.

I won’t compare the grief of moving with the grief of the broken love affair. That was full out desolation, coupled with remorse and anger and weariness, complicated by hope against hope. Moving was just a small disruption in the continuum, some tripping the light fantastic with the black dog while I passed the time it took to regain equilibrium.

But now, a year later, some of the feelings have resurfaced and I sense that the black dog is waiting in the wings, watching for a chance to get back on my dance card.

I’m doing my best to fend it off. I’m keeping myself busy. I bought some yarn and a crochet hook, watched a YouTube video and started a scarf. I’m working out some necklace designs, and have one almost finished.

I’ve been cooking a bit too. I made a potato and egg salad with some of our garden potatoes. I made a pasta sauce with our homegrown tomatoes and eggplant and a little okra, plus onions and celery. I’m baked a scrumptious carrot cake with carrots that we grew, in my new bundt cake pan, with my new spices from Penzeys. (I finally pitched out my beaten-up 40-year-old bundt cake pan - after the lemon cake I baked last, I tossed it in the recycling bin without bothering to wash it.)

I’ve also pretty much decided to be a vegetarian, except that I’ll continue to eat seafood. Meat just doesn’t taste good to me any more. We had some turkey breast that was dry and chewy. Neil thought it was delicious. We grilled hamburgers on Labor Day and I ate one but honestly, it was tasteless. A veggie burger tastes better to me.

Neil constantly wants to pick up chicken from Tenders and I keep telling him he should, but I don’t want anything, not a grilled chicken sandwich, not a salad, not fries, nothing. I’m totally happy to heat up soup or have tortillas with cheese or a bagel. It's easier to just be a vegetarian than to negotiate what I'll eat meal by meal.

Of course, immediately after my decision, we went out for a Thai food, and the lunch specials came with a cup of tasty chicken soup. I decided I won't be ridiculous about the little things, since I'm doing this based not on principle but on personal preference.

Cutting now to national news for a moment, I’m trying to decide where I stand (or kneel) on Nike’s ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. I wrote about my mixed feelings about Kaepernick’s choice of sitting, later taking a knee, during the national anthem at NFL games, to protest racism in America. I’m all for the sentiment but not so much the venue.

And now people are burning their Nike’s to protest the company’s choice of Kaepernick as spokesperson.

I haven’t followed the story but Neil brought it to my attention that Kaepernick has essentially been blacklisted by the NFL, and that he’s suing the league for collusion. Just days ago, the NFL’s summary judgement request for dismissal of the case was denied.

And while, as I’ve said, I believe it’s fair for private enterprise to make rules for employees - such as standing for the national anthem - and expect them to follow them, I don’t believe a conspiratorial career-ending value judgment, goaded by a lunatic president inciting reprisal, is a just solution. Find a compromise. Racism exists. The point has been made. Let the men kneel, let them stay in the locker room. Move on.

One could argue that Kaepernick made his bed. As he pointedly says in the Nike commercial, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Beyond that the commercial baffles me. I’m not exactly sure what having crazy dreams has to do with the price of athletic shoes in New York City. Will it really sell more trainers if you’re told, ‘Don't try to be the fastest runner in your school or the fastest runner in the world. Be the fastest ever.“ Is it really not enough to be the fastest runner in the world? Who decided that? Who writes this stuff anyway?

I did enjoy the memes.

In the end, I conclude that Kaeprnick himself is the message. People are talking about Nike. Nike is in the news. Is bad publicity a thing or not? Will Nike sell less shoes, will people choose their athletic footwear based on principle? Or will people drink the Kool-Aid about dreaming crazy big dreams, somehow connect the dots with buying Nike products, and just do it? Just buy the shoes?

I for one will continue to select my running shoes based on price, style, and comfort.

And speak of shoes, I've sinned again there. Someone on Facebook showed off their pretty new L'Artiste sandals and of course I had to have some. DSW had a discount deal for $60 off a $200 purchase, so I bought a pair of boots and clogs. Then I used the discount again a few days later to buy a pair of shoes and two pairs of sandals. I wasn't planning to keep all of them. But now I might. The boots are a little big and had little arch support, so I ordered some inserts to see if they will work. If not, the boots go back, possibly to be exchanged for another pair.

I'm incorrigible. Don't I know it. Don't we all know it. But how cute are they?

And while we're having true confessions, I also ordered these hiking shoes for me and Neil, after our hike last Sunday, when another couple about our age were clad in cool looking hiking shoes.

Just think how easy these will be to pack, vs. our clunky ankle height serious hiking booots, for those trips where we intend to do easy hikes on well-manicured trails.

Am I rationalizing? Of course.

Don't say it. I've already thought it.

Red and white, blue suede shoes
I'm Uncle Sam, how do you do?
Gimme five, I'm still alive
Ain't no luck, I learned to duck

Check my pulse, it don't change
Stay seventy-two come shine or rain
Wave the flag, pop the bag
Rock the boat, skin the goat

Wave that flag, wave it wide and high
Summertime done, come and gone, my oh my

I'm Uncle Sam, that's who I am
Been hidin' out in a rock and roll band
Shake the hand that shook the hand
Of P.T. Barnum and Charlie Chan

Shine your shoes, light your fuse
Can you use them ol' U.S. Blues?
I'll drink your health, share your wealth
Run your life, steal your wife

Back to back chicken shack
Son of a gun, better change your act
We're all confused, what's to lose?
You can call this all the United States Blues

Wave that flag, wave it wide and high
Summertime done, come and gone, my oh my.

(Jerome J. Garcia, Robert C. Hunter © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc)

Monday, September 3, 2018

Home and heart

I see myself a child running through the trees
Looking everywhere crawling on my knees
Searching for myself, looking for my life
I cannot see the leaves, I cannot see the light.

On our way home from the airport after our recent trip, as we reached our freeway exit, Neil asked me if it felt like coming home.

I said it did.

In about three weeks we will have lived here for a year.

And in most ways it has become home. I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent unpacked or that we've hung many pictures on the walls. But we are pretty settled now. The days of furniture shopping are behind us. No more regular runs to IKEA, no more stops at the consignment shops, no more trips to Pineville or Hickory.

No more perusing pages and pages of rugs online,

No more tears.

It's hard to believe now how many, many tears I shed, those last months before we moved, those first months in North Carolina.

It's just my life now.

And yet, there are aspects to it that feel more like we're on vacation. Sitting on our screened patio, looking out over the back yard and the rain garden and little wooded area beyond it, I feel like it's some sort of idyll.

The deer have come back. We've seen them quite often again, a little group of three usually, maybe the same ones, maybe new ones.

The house still has that new house smell, and it's even more noticeable after a few days away.

The year has gone by so quickly. The days fly as well. I drift through them, dreamlike.

Yet at times I feel adrift. It's as though I'm not anchored in the world. I'm happy, I like being where I am. But I'm not really connected to this place.

I'm not connected to any place really.

I'm connected to Neil, and to my children, and to my grandchild. They are more home for me than any geographic location.

Although I lived in Texas for the longest time that I'm likely to live in any one place, I was never "from" Texas. When people asked, I always said I was from New York. I was just living in Texas.

Having just come back from New York, I have to admit I'm not sure I'm really from New York any more.

There is a TED talk that I watched for one of my online Colgate classes that made an impression on me. It is called "Where is Home" and it's given by Pico Iyer, a travel writer of Indian descent, born in England and living in the USA.

The gist of the talk is that most people have many homes. There is "one home associated with their parents, but another associated with their partners, a third connected maybe with the place where they happen to be, a fourth connected with the place they dream of being, and many more beside."

Iyer also says that "Where you come from now is much less important than where you're going." And that "home, in the end, is of course not just the place where you sleep. It's the place where you stand."

So probably what I need to do is to stop wondering where my home is, or worrying that no place is home, and start thinking more about where I'm going and where I want to go. Where I want to stand, what I want to stand for.

Then again, it's so much easier to just drift.

I'm not complaining. I feel very privileged to be able to do just that. Drift.

I worked hard enough for long enough, didn't I? God knows, I spent enough time fighting a war with my own neurotransmitters, years of therapy and drug reactions and side effects and white knuckles and dysfunctional relationships and self-doubt.

Nothing is permanent. Life can go from bad to good, great even, but you must take nothing for granted. Anything can be taken away away in a heartbeat.

I tried to explain this to my new doctor recently. She had me make an appointment before she would renew my anxiety medication, the same medication at the same dose that I've been taking for the last 15 years, give or take.

We spent something like half an hour debating the question of why I should keep taking the medication (me) or why I should taper off it (she).

She said in older people, the medication could make them unsteady on their feet, which might result in a fall, a broken hip. She also said that in older people, it could reduce cognitive ability.

I said that I am steady on my feet, strong, supple, and relatively flexible. I said my mental clarity was fine, thank you very much. I said, can we just cross that bridge when we come to it?

She looked at me like I was an alien. She said, you don't want to take more medicine than you need. She asked me when I visualized myself getting off this medication.

I said, I think it will be when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

She didn't laugh, but she may have smiled.

In the end, she wrote me another 3 months supply. She wrote it for 5 pills less per month, 55 tablets instead of 60, so that at least 10 days of the month I'd take a half dose for my second dose.


I can usually refill my prescriptions a few days early.

And I'm taking a half dose already at bedtime. I didn't tell her that though.

If she won't keep refilling this med, I will probably have to go see a med management specialist. One who I predict will laugh and write me 90-day mail order refills and say, see you in six months. And not try to give me an object lesson about it.

The kicker is that, after this overlong, awkward conversation, my doctor decided to listen to my heart. And then said she heard a heart murmur.

It's the first I've heard of that.

I think it's more likely that I was agitated by the medication discussion. I doubt there's anything wrong with my heart. I have no symptoms, no shortness of breath, no cough, no swelling or sudden weight gain, nor loss of appetite, no sweating, chest pain, dizziness, or faintness.

I think I am healthy as a horse - a healthy horse.

But I get to go back in a month so my doctor can have another listen. If she hears a murmur then, I will have to schedule an echocardiogram, an electrocardiogram, or both.

I think there is better than a 50/50 chance that my heart will sound fine next time. And if it still murmurs, then I predict it will be an innocent murmur, i.e., harmless, and require no treatment.

Time - and possibly tests - will tell.

You have many houses, one for every season
Mountains in your windows, violets in your hands
Through your English meadows your blue-eyed horses wander
You're in Colorado for the spring

When the winter finds you, you fly to where it's summer
Rooms that face the ocean, moonlight on your bed
Mermaids swift as dolphins paint the air with diamonds
You are like a seagull as you said

Why do you fly bright feathered sometimes in my dreams?

The shadows of your wings fall over my face
I can feel no air, I can find no peace
Brides in black ribbons, witches in white
Fly in through windows, fly out through the night

Why do I think I'm dying sometimes in my dreams?

I see myself a child running through the trees
Looking everywhere crawling on my knees
Searching for myself, looking for my life
I cannot see the leaves, I cannot see the light

Then I see you walking just beyond the forest
Walking very quickly, walking by yourself
Your shoes are silver, your coat is made of velvet
Your eyes are shining, your voice is sweet and clear

Come on, you say, come with me, I'm going to the castle
All the bells are ringing, the weddings have begun
But I can only stand here, I cannot move to follow
I'm burning in the shadows and freezing in the sun

There are people with you, living in your houses
People from your childhood who remember how you were
You were always flying, nightingale of sorrow
Singing bird with rainbows on your wings.

(Judy Collins © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Have cats, won’t travel

"I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert
You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record."

Finally, we’re home for a while.

This last trip felt longer and more tedious than its six-night length.

A quick recap. We flew into Newark on Wednesday, met Neil’s dad and sister at the Bagel Buffet, then drove to the outskirts of Philadelphia. We had dinner at a diner because there’s nothing like a northeast diner. Thursday we went to the ANA World’s Fair of Money. I did my usual course of the bourse. I bought some earrings, a sterling silver teaspoon, and for $5 I scored a couple of partially filled coin booklets for Ryland when he gets a bit older.

Nickels. Yes, I know, some are in the wrong holes. We'll fix that.
Neil and I will fill most of the holes before we give him this,
When I was a kid I’d have been enthralled with these sets of coins, including a couple of shiny 1943 steel cents.

From the coin show we went to Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phillies play the Mets. We watched a crazy game where the Mets won 24 to 4. Neil had gotten second row seats, but I never sat in mine because they were in full sun and it was hot. I had a good shaded spot to watch and eventually we were allowed to sit in the last row, because the staff was sympathetic to fans who didn’t want to get heatstroke. We had dinner at Panera because after the crab fries at the ballpark, I just wanted some soup.

Friday morning we drove to Neil’s mom’s house. Eleanor fed us lunch, tuna salad, hard boiled eggs, lettuce and tomatoes, lunch meat and cheese, bread and crackers. We sat around the kitchen table and talked, which is mostly what we do when we visit her. I took a nap from 3npm to 6 om. None of us had worked up an appetite for dinner, so we just had leftovers from lunch. Neil and I took a walk in the neighborhood, we talked some more around the kitchen table, I read my book.

Saturday was busy. We went out in the River Lady, a reproduction paddle wheel riverboat, for a lunch cruise.

We hadn’t been back long when Neil and I left again to meet my brother for dinner. I met his girlfriend of the last 10 months, which is some kind of record, and my second cousin Ruth and her husband Paul, who were visiting, came to dinner too. It all felt a bit rushed, and it was bad planning on my part to build in so little time to spend with Philip. But honestly, Neil engineers these trips, and I feel bad for stealing time from his parents, who are elderly and have health challenges, and won’t be with us forever.

Still, it’s Neil who carved out the time for the coin show and ballgame, but there really is a limit to how long you can sit and talk at a kitchen table. So on Sunday, after breakfast and more talk, we left for the Catskills where we were meeting Neil’s dad, his sister, and her two sons. We all checked in, then headed to Phoenicia for dinner. We were all tired and called it an early night. Monday we had a continental breakfast at the inn, then went for a drive to the bungalow that Neil’s grandfather once owned, where both Bob and Neil spent time as kids.

After that we went back to Phoenicia, where we had lunch at the same place that we’d had dinner the night before, then ice cream a few shops down the short drag.

Then we went back to the inn, where Neil and I took a walk and the others napped. No one was really hungry enough for dinner to trek back to the restaurant in Phoenicia, the only game in town on weeknights, so we raided the cereal and bagels laid out for the next morning. Everyone else played cards, I read some more. We spent most of Tuesday traveling home, driving from the Catskills to Newark, returning the rental car, jumping through the security hoops, waiting to board, flying home.

I was very glad to get home. I’m very glad to be home. The cats seem happy that we’re home. The cats are probably the main reason I don’t want to take longer trips. I feel guilty about them being without us so much. I know they’re looked after but they’re used to having someone home. They’re needy that way, at least in my mind. Other reasons I don’t love to travel are sleeping in unfamiliar beds with strange pillows, living out of a suitcase, laundry accumulating, no coffee first thing when I wake up. Small bathrooms, small rooms, no bedside table. My weird germ phobia, walking on carpet that who knows what has been on. The same for blankets and bedspreads.

Really, why would I ever want to leave my spacious, comfortable, familiar surroundings, my creature comforts?

There’s also the money aspect, hotels and meals cost money and even if Neil pays, I’m aware that it stresses him. That’s one way the cruise was so great. No worrying about what people ordered or ate or wasted. Plus, I’m always spending money on trips, shopping for souvenirs, shopping online while waiting to board planes or while sitting around kitchen tables talking, talking, talking.

I read three books on the trip. I finished The Wyndham Case, Slow Dollar, and Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy. The last, another by Rumer Godden that I’d not read before, was moving and thought-provoking. It’s a fictional story about the Sisters of Bethany, a real religious order established in France in the 1860s, that allows former women prisoners to become members of the order, undistinguished from their sisters. Like everything written by Godden, it’s lyrical and beautiful and I already want to re-read it.

So now we’re home for a while, and our routines begin again. I bought more glass, so I guess I will keep wrestling with my muse and trying to make better art. I’m working in a custom order of 100 small fish beads for Beads of Courage. I’m planning to work on my larger project to use some of the beads I’ve had for a while, the ones that I haven’t been able to sell. I’ve worked out in my mind how I want to do it, and I’m going to try a smaller prototype first. if that works I’ll attempt the larger installation. I won’t try to explain. I will post progress pictures.

And despite my less-than-enthusiastic attitude about travel, I’m hoping Neil and I can get away for a weekend in September, maybe to the Outer Banks, maybe the mountains. We have other trips pencilled in, Dallas, Orlando, Houston, in October, November, and December.

In the short term though, I’m looking forward to our weekly Whit’s frozen custard, our Friday $5 Smoothie King smoothies, cooking more soups from our garden bounty of potatoes and tomatoes, enjoying more fresh cantaloupe, hoping our eggplant will ripen, and figuring out what to do with an army of okra.

It's four in the morning, the end of December
I'm writing you now just to see if you're better
New York is cold, but I like where I'm living
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening

I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert
You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record

Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?

Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You'd been to the station to meet every train
And you came home without Lili Marlene

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody's wife

Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
Well, I see Jane's awake
She sends her regards

And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I'm glad you stood in my way

If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Well, your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free

Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried

And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Sincerely, L Cohen.

(Leonard Cohen © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

There and briefly back again

So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

In the blink of an eye, Alaska is two weeks behind us.

And talk of eyes, we took a red eye home. Not the reddest eye, that left two hours later. There are three non-stops a day from Seattle to Charlotte. At 6 am, before our ship docked, at 10 pm, and at midnight. We chose the 10 pm and rented a car for the day.

We said goodbye to the kids at our last on-board breakfast. After we debarked, I stayed with the bags and Neil walked a few blocks to pick up our rental car. He circled back and picked me up near the pier. We opted to head for the Tacoma Museum of Glass. On arrival we found that a craft show had broken out. Any purchase from the show included museum admission, so of course I had to find two things to buy.

I love how the two new mini vases match my Bombay closeout pieces.
I bought the fish on the Biltmore trip & Chelsea gave me the flower.

The museum wasn't anything special but the hot shop is its real claim to fame, and it was going full blast - pun intended. We watched a team of five glassblowers finish an art glass piece that was sketched on the floor. I bought some earrings in the gift shop with the money I saved on admission. Of course I did.

I wanted to go to Pikes Place Market but Neil thought it didn't make sense to drive back past the airport, so we settled for seafood in a little town between Tacoma and Sea-Tac. We walked around a bit, it was quite hot, and we still had time to kill. I looked on a map for parks, and found one close to the airport. We saw the sign for the park but missed the entrance, so we drove in circles for a while. We finally found the parking lot which was roadblocked because it was full.

So, with five hours left before our flight, since we were literally at the airport entrance, Neil persuaded me to drop off the rental car and get rid of our checked luggage. After dropping the car, we got to the American counter and had to wait 20 minutes, since they wouldn't check our bags more than four hours before boarding.

After we located our gate at one end of the airport, we decided to hike to the other end and use our United Club passes. United has a tiny club at Sea-Tac. The coffee was cold, but the water was too. The cookies were OK, but the snack mix was past its best, giving a true meaning to the adage, these free peanuts are stale.

In hindsight, I'd have stayed another night in Seattle and had another day to sight-see. And shop for glass, since there are three distributors in the Seattle area. Hmm, maybe just as well that we didn't.

So yeah, the red-eye experience was, um, interesting. We took off on time, 10 pm, it's a 6 hour flight, but we had to return the 3 hours we got back on the front end of the trip. So we landed about 7 am North Carolina time. On the plane, I read for a while, then turned off light and tried to sleep. I really did, for 20 minutes at least. I wasn't sleepy though, so I turned on the light again, and read for the rest of the flight.

The book I was reading was Coromandel Sea Change by Rumer Godden. I've been re-reading the Godden novels that I first read as a young adult, including Breakfast with the Nikolides, The River, A Breath of Air, Kingfishers Catch Fire, An Episode of Sparrows, China Court, The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, In This House of Brede, and The Peacock Spring. I also read some for the first time, Black Narcissus, The Greengage Summer, and, on the plane, Coromandel Sea Change.

I think part of the reason I didn't get sleepy was that the story drew me in. The turbulent sea, the sharks, the mystical, charismatic, god-like Krishnan, the Indian political campaign, the British guests at Patna Hall, its goodhearted proprietress Auntie Sanni, the ill-fated donkey, the nubile, restless Kuku Vikram, and Mary Browne at the center of it all, with her sweet stubbornness and starstruck passion. I was reading the last few pages while we were waiting for our checked bags, and saved the epilogue for home.

At home I wasn't sure what to do next - have coffee and start the day, or go to bed. I wound up putting on my night clothes and taking a 2 hour nap on the sofa with Loki. After that I made coffee, got dressed, and made it through the rest of the day until bedtime.

Luckily there was little on our calendar for the first week at home. A quiet week was needed, not to recover from the cruise as much as to reset our body clocks. Normally I change time zones well and don't suffer from jet lag. I just immediately get on the new time and deliberately don't think about what time it would be at home. Losing a whole night threw me off. I've done that before, when we traveled to England and to France, because instead of sleeping on the flight, I watched free in-flight movies back-to-back.

(Which is why we fell asleep in the Paris airport and missed our connecting flight to Newcastle, the only connecting flight of the day. That's part of a longer story, but the long and short of it was that we flew to Amsterdam and I slept in a rocking chair in the Schiphol airport for 5 blessed hours before we caught another flight that got us in to Newcastle at midnight, instead of noon as we had planned, And then someone with a similar bag had taken my bag. Another time.)

Anyway, it's always good to be home, even if we are leaving again shortly for our PA-NJ-NY trip.

And I did something that I can't remember ever doing before. I finished Coromandel Sea Change and I immediately re-read it. I realize that when I was reading Rumer Godden in my youth, she hadn't yet written many of the novels I'm just now discovering. I've ordered three more from Amazon, Five For Sorrow, Ten For Joy, Pippa Passes, and Cromartie vs. the God Shiva. And I'm happy to note there are others to look forward to.

I'm trying to mix up my reading a bit. Right now I'm reading The Wyndham Case by Jill Paton Walsh, who completed the last Peter Wimsey novel and then wrote three more, loosely based on notes left by Dorothy Sayers. I'm hoping she writes another, but I'll probably read the other Imogen Quy novels in the meantime.

I'm also working my way through the Deborah Knott mystery series by Margaret Maron, which are set in North Carolina. Maron has another detective series set in New York City and I'd like to read those too, although the books are harder to find. I'm determined though, especially since Deborah meets the other heroine, Sigrid Harald, in one of the stories. But that's still about nine books away.

Beads. What can I say? After ten or so days off, it felt good to light the torch and melt some glass. I even came up with a new design that I'm excited about. But some days I struggle, both with the selling side and with the glass. Sales have been slow but that's nothing new, and I'm not alone, although there are still enough artists who sell out all the time. By which I mean they sell everything they list. At least I'm selling some things. A few things.

The struggle with the glass is different. At this stage, I don't want to waste glass, I feel like, if I dip 30 mandrels and make 30 beads, they should all be decent, if not brilliant. At one point, my philosophy was that glass was rarely wasted because everything was a learning experience. Now I'm less forgiving of myself. For example, I was making the second bead of a pair and I got sloppy with one of the dots. I tried to spot heat it and pick it off, even though that never works, so I wound up melting all the dots in and adding more dots, until it was something else entirely.

OK, that's not the end of the world. I tried again to make the second bead of the pair. To do that, I picked up tiny fragments of one color from my table to pull a stringer. So far, so good. I got to the final layer of dots, and I picked up a pink stringer instead of a gray one. So now I have three single beads. Maybe if they're pretty I'll go back and make them mates next time I torch. But history tells me to move on. I can keep a color combination in my head long enough to make a pair. I'm almost sure to get a color wrong if I try again later.

Oh well. They can go in my Beads of Courage bowl, or I can use them in one of my crazy quilt necklaces, or my customer Diane might like them since she uses singles, or I can put them up on eBay in an orphan set. Few beads are ever really wasted. If they crack, which is infrequent, or if they are truly hideous, they may get pitched into the fishing pond. Everything else eventually finds a home. Usually. I do have some focals that have been with me for a long time (think years), but I am planning to use them in some sort of large project. I have a notional idea of stringing them in stands across a large frame of some sort and making a hanging.

Speaking of frames, we framed the artwork I bought in Ketchikan. It's laying on the floor for it's photo op, but I'm hoping Neil will hang them this week,


I'll leave you here with a couple of photos of my new design. I've made more, but they've yet to be cleaned and strung. And these sets sold, so maybe I'm onto something. Or not. I never know.

Old man rhythm is in my shoes
It's no use to sittin' and a-singin' the blues
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

Feel like jumpin' baby won't ya join me please?
I don't like beggin' but now I'm on bended knees
I got to get to rockin', get my hat off the rack
I got to boogie-woogie like a knife in the back
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

I got to get to movin', baby I ain't lyin'
My heart is beatin' rhythm and it's right on time
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?
Feel like jumpin', baby won't ya join me please?
I don't like beggin' but now I'm on bended knees

Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Oo-ee, oo-ee baby
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

(Huey Smith © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

No road leads to Juneau

Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin'
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on.

Our trip to Alaska was wonderful ...

And ... a little disappointing.

Everything came together without a hitch. Months of planning, anticipation, and anxiety finally found the seven of us safely in Seattle on July 21.

Chelsea and Robert had a dawn flight and arrived before Neil and I had even left home. Kandace, Ryland, and Chris had landed before we boarded.

We had a 4 pm flight that landed at 10 pm, but we got 3 hours back. We hailed our first Uber ride ever to the hotel. Wait, do you hail an Uber? Or summon one?

At the hotel we had time to say hello to the kids - the ones staying there at least - have a snack, and hit the sack. After a nice breakfast, we shared another Uber ride with Kandace and crew to Pier 66.

Chelsea and Rob lodged elsewhere and we didn’t see them until we were on board.

We cruised on the Norwegian Pearl. We enjoyed our Norwegian cruise to Hawaii in 2014 on the Pride of America. The ships are almost twins, except the Pearl has a casino. We set sail on Sunday afternoon, in balmy weather.

Monday was a sea day. It was also overcast, windy, and hazy. There wasn’t much scenery to distract us, so we spent time exploring the ship, relaxing, and reading. Chris and I played bingo. We didn’t win. Neil and I went to a show in the theater about Alaska. The kids sampled the drinks menu.

On Tuesday we docked in Juneau. We had sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s. All the kids went whale watching.

Neil and I took the Mendenhall Glacier Adventure Hike. We took a minibus ride to the trailhead. Our guide, Mathew, told interesting stories about Juneau.

There are no roads to Juneau. You can only get there by air or sea. Unless you are born there, like Mathew, who said that he arrived by canal. Hey, he said it. The biggest industry in Alaska is government, followed by tourism.

The hike was in the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest, and while it boasted some nice views of the glacier, we weren’t really close to it. I suppose I should have known we wouldn’t be hiking on ice or even getting close enough to touch any, but I didn’t expect to be sweating.

I struggled a bit with the hike, which had some fairly steep climbs. I may have been the slowest hiker, but I was also probably the oldest. Two kids on the hike scrambled up like mountain goats. I stopped to rest a few times. Oh well. You can only do what you can do. And I did it, it just took a little longer.

It was fun. The Tongass covers most of southeast Alaska, surrounding the Inside Passage. We saw no bears. We did see eagles, a baby porcupine, salmon in the streams, a perfect mirror lake. We had plenty of water and granola bars. But we could have been anywhere. It didn’t feel like we were in Alaska. I’m not sure exactly how I thought Alaska would feel. Colder? Wilder? More glacial? Less rainforesty?

Back in town, we had the option to get off the bus, but after the hike, a mile walk back to the ship wasn’t appealing. Even the souvenir shops weren’t enough to tempt me. And I have a rule about not paying for any meals when I’m on a cruise with 24/7 dining included.

Besides, there really wasn’t a lot of time to spare, although the kids don’t have the same rule, and Chelsea and Rob stopped for crab legs after their whale-sighting excursion.

Wednesday found us in Skagway, a tiny burb about 1/10 the size of Juneau. Skagway is, however, accessible by rail. Along with Kandace, Ryland, and Chris, we took a bus tour into Canada’s Yukon Territory via a slice of British Columbia. We made numerous brief stops at scenic outposts, winding our way to Caribou Crossing and its namesake, Car Cross.

When we assembled for the excursion, our guide, Morgan, said there was good news and bad news. The good news was we had another bright, clear, dry, warm summer day. The bad news was, the sled dog ride part of our excursion was cancelled. It was too hot for the furry huskies to exert themselves. Instead we got to see a few bored, disinterested puppies.

After lunch (included) we went on to Emerald Lake, then headed back toward Alaska and the White Cross Railroad. I slept on the bus. We boarded the train for the last 30 miles or so, a two hour ride with some pretty scenery and points of interest as pointed out by a train tour guide.

We decided to walk back to the ship from the train station. It was hot, Ryland was dragging, so we bypassed the gift shops and made a beeline for the boat, followed by a pre-dinner soak in one of the hot tubs. That was the only time my swimsuit saw daylight on the trip.

On Thursday - could it possibly already be Thursday? - we toured Glacier Bay National Park. The only way to Glacier Bay is by sea. It is nonetheless a bonafide National Park, one of 10 in Alaska. There’s a ranger station there, and at 8 am, 3 rangers boarded the cruise liner to talk us through the history and wonders of the park.

I would have to describe the views as impressive, remarkable, spectacular even, yet somehow not breathtaking. The first time I saw a glacier, in the Canadian Rockies, when I was 20, I was shocked by how gray and dirty it looked. My vision had been of majestic pristine giant icicles, frozen cloudless rivers. Glaciers I’ve seen look more like snow. In Manhattan. A few days after the snow fell.

The geology of glaciers is amazing, thought-provoking, and troubling, thanks to changes in earth’s atmosphere that are causing our glaciers to disappear. Seeing the glaciers calving is both wondrous and ominous. I’m a fatalist though. While I’m not happy about damage caused by humankind’s carbon footprint, I think cosmic evolution is inevitable. If the thunder don’t get us then the lightning will.

OK, enough with the deep thoughts, this is summer vacation. The rangers departed by mid-afternoon. The ship sailed on south to our next port, Ketchikan, where we woke up on Friday.

I can’t think of much to say about Ketchikan. We were only in port for 7 hours or so. As a group of 7, we strolled into town and wandered in and out of the shops. I bought a couple of small prints from an Alaskan artist who signed them for me. Chelsea bought one too, Kandace bought some sparkly glass earrings.

We were back on board for lunch and a 1 pm departure for the long haul to our final port, Victoria, on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. We said goodbye to Alaska before I felt like I’d really absorbed it, left any trace of my soul there. Of course, in a remote state approximately as large as 1/3 of the entire lower 48, you can’t hope to do more than scratch the surface on a weeklong cruise. And that’s what we did along the south-easternmost sliver of number 49.

We pulled in to Victoria about 6 pm on Saturday. Again we had all of 6 hours or so to spend there. Kandace and Ryland stayed on board, the rest of us headed to Butchart Gardens, a glorious oasis of flowers conceived and seeded more than 100 years ago on the grounds of a played out limestone quarry.

Among the madding crowd we wended our way through a fantastic fiesta of flora, a glorious explosion of colors and scents, and a little fauna in the shape of a small rabbit. Far too quickly twilight fell. At dark there was a light show and fireworks display, after which we rushed back to our busses to return to the Pearl. If it’s Saturday, this must be Canada.

And if it’s Sunday, it’s debarkation day back in Seattle.

We said goodbye to my family at breakfast, our last one in my favorite outdoor buffet spot at the bow of the ship. It amazes me how the ship’s crew serves breakfast, then moves right on to lunch, without a pause, just like every other day, except in this day they’d be feeding a whole new crowd of cruisers. Staterooms are turned over in a small matter of hours, and by that night Dennis, our cabin staffer, was turning down beds for our replacements.

This goes on nonstop throughout May through September, when the ships move to balmier climbs for the winter trade, rinse and repeat.

Everyone I know who has cruised to Alaska has loved it. I liked it. Would I do it again? Probably not, although I’d definitely take another cruise to Hawaii one day. If I go back to Alaska though, I’ll do it differently. I might fly there directly and spend time at a national park or two. I have some interest in seeing the southwestern coast, which might be by boat, but I’d try to avoid the long sea days if I could.

All in all, I’m happy I went, happier still that my kids were able to go, happiest of all that everyone had fun and we got to spend a very rare week with each other. It doesn’t get much more perfect than that.

My absolute favorite photo from the trip
Neil, me, Ryland, Chris, Kandace, Chelsea, Robert

Photos in this post taken by me, Neil, Kandace, Chris, Robert,
a tour guide and a kind stranger.

Up next: the red-eye home, the books I read, and our first week back.

North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on

Big Sam left Seattle in the year of '92
With George Pratt his partner and brother Billy too
They crossed the Yukon river and they found the bonanza gold
Below that old white mountain, just a little southeast of Nome

Sam crossed the Majestic mountains to the valleys far below
He talked to his team of huskies as he mushed on through the snow
With the northen lights a-runnin' wild, in the land of the midnight sun
Yes Sam McCord was a mighty man in the year of '91

Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin'
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on

George turns to Sam with his gold in his hand
Said Sam you're lookin' at a lonely lonely man
I'd trade all the gold that's buried in this land
For one small band of gold to place on sweet little Jenny's hand

'Cause a man needs a woman to love him all the time
Remember Sam a true love is so hard to find
I'd build for my Jenny a honeymoon home
Below that old white mountain, just a little southeast of Nome

Where the river is windin' big nuggets they're findin'
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on
North to Alaska, go north, the rush is on.

(Mike Phillips © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)