Portugal 2003 with Carmen

ETSU Duoro River Uniworld Cruise 2003 — “Life is but a Dream” — Mary Garrett’s reflections

All difficulties aside (but rest assured, I’ll get to those stories later) this was a wonderful trip, with a pampered, close-knit family of travelers, dramatic and colorful surroundings . . . and plenty of port!  We had several tastings, learned that the neutral spirits are added to stop the fermenting, and saw how red-hot metal is used to open really old bottles.  The grapes aren’t irrigated, must depend on the natural water table, and their roots can go 40 meters down, thus also holding those rugged hillsides intact.  Someone mentioned a wonderful movie with that as part of the plot, but I’ve lost the title — any ideas? 

Our ETSU group was 18 willful (Carmen’s special “gifted” students) independent storytellers.  The repeated phrase was “This is like herding cats!”  (Having tried sorting out the cats who live below me, I can attest that it is an apt metaphor).  Carmen Deedy planned lessons for us, copied Spanish folktales for us, and gathered us together in the lounge or sun deck, only to suffer through a million “this reminds me of” stories before the next bridge or dam or wonderful vineyard would pull our attention completely away.  Kodak moment!!  It was great fun!  

We did find ourselves sharing and developing some wonderful family stories, with themes (Barbara’s daughter getting locked in the bathroom, leaving people behind, “I’m going to kill him/her”) repeating themselves in story and in fact.   Carmen’s “Dancing with Hilda” was a wonderful example of family story, illustrating the power of a child’s love and the magic that comes with a determination to live up to that love.  In the swap, I told Sherazade and the fan story I remembered from high school Spanish.  Carmen had asked me to tell her a part of Sherazade earlier in the day and wouldn’t let me stop until I told it all — my favorite story!

The crew of the Duoro Prince was so nice, I wanted to take them all home with me — on the interminable trip home, I wanted Sufia to come along and help me find the beauty and history of my surroundings, Antonio to smile his “Cheshire Cat” smile, Rui to raise one eyebrow and pass a plate of appetizers.   We all chipped in for wedding present for Sufia, who is marrying in October — a wonderful bowl she had admired in the gift shop.  I also finished an apple hat on the trip and when she remarked on it, I presented it to her; usually I’d wait until a child is expected, but since I wouldn’t be there . . .    Her fiancé is a waiter on the ship, so they will stay together as they work — not like the families waiting at the dock for their loved ones to come home for one night between trips.  I don’t remember his name, but he’s the nice one who made a carrot and cabbage (no potatoes) soup especially for me.  Meals, by the way, were good, but food was less a focus than on other cruises — a healthier balance, I think.  When we docked back in Porto, we noticed people waiting on the dock, families waiting for crew members to get off duty and go home for one night — sweet!

On our last night, Carmen posed each lady with her new beautiful lace mantilla and comb — too much fun . . . I can hardly wait for the photos!  It was absolutely precious — How nice!  (inside jokes, ask me privately)    I do think “Snake Woman” may develop into a story I tell at some time — and it would have been interesting to try, with Carmen, the concentrated developing of a story in just a few days.  She says it works!  Usually I live with a story for weeks or months before telling it.  There was also a story about a sprig of rosemary — and plenty of rosemary plants to go with it  (and almonds, oranges, figs, pears, olives, cabbages as well as grapes).

The details of the voyage are a blur of cathedrals and bridges and  dams (one dam thing after another — what did the fish say when he hit something hard – dam.  Those puns, and the “Melting Princess” story, which I no longer remember, brought several threats to throw me into the Duoro, but it didn’t scare me; I teach high school).  Going through the locks was interesting, sometimes a bit daunting, too, as walls enveloped the ship and rooms got dark.  The bridges were beautiful, individual works of art — and the low ones were fun for people on the sun deck — “Lie down in a deck chair, now!!”  The roof on that deck could be lowered to allow for the bridges, a bit like a giant erector set.  Interesting!  We all agreed that we didn’t want the bus driver’s job — very narrow, winding, hilly roads, and people who don’t actually park their cars, just abandon them.  (I think “Driving Portugal” would make a good video game).  It rained the first two days, but Sufia promised to pray “on my knees” for sunshine, and it came!  Actually, the rain kept it cooler for us — Portugal, we were told, has “three months of winter and nine months of hell.”  The scenery was dramatic, mountains, vineyards, tile roofs, old cathedrals — and laundry hanging everywhere (expensive electricity – warm, dry days — why not). 

I may be able to sort the images once I take time to reflect — the church in Salamanca stands out; we revisited it after the initial group tour so Carmen could see it, and she decided that in addition to seeing the old church (scheduled to be demolished when the “new” church was finished in the 16th century but kept as an addition instead), we would climb to the roof of the tower — lots of stairs, amazing view!!!  

The University also was most wonderful —  fourth oldest in Europe!  We were interfering a bit with their orientation meetings for summer session, and it did look like a wonderful place to study.  One detail: when university study was only for the rich nobility (second sons – the first born would inherit the land), students would come with multitudes of servants to see to their needs.  The classrooms weren’t heated, and seating was on the floor — a servant would be sent ahead to warm a spot by sitting there until the student arrived.  Professors also allowed five minutes before class for students to stomp and warm up.  In one classroom we were told of a professor imprisoned by the Inquisition for translating a text into Portuguese (a “common” language).  When he returned after years in prison, he said, “As I was just saying,” and continued his lecture.  Paella in Salamanca was also memorable — and it’s fun to say Salamanca!

The Duoro  Prince was so small that all the passengers began to feel like family.  Brian, everyone’s friend, became unofficial ship’s photographer, putting a slide show of photos on his computer and promising a CD of all his shots.  His daughter Brittany (who was already out of the U.S. on June 21) borrowed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix from Carmen’s Lauren, and we three had a book discussion on the last day.   Brian curtailed musician Cheryl’s early-morning harmonica serenades with the request . . . “not until I’ve had my third cup of coffee.”  Two English ladies and a Scottish couple (Robbie & ?) were utterly charming (and I regret my terrible name dyslexia).  Of course, our storytelling group had special moments, working on stories together, and appreciating the wonderful creaking door in the ladies’ room at the monastery where we had dinner.  (That meal included chestnuts — the one food on my allergy list that I thought wouldn’t come up at meal times).    We took a peek (and photos) inside a couple of guest rooms — very posh indeed!  . . and those Ming vases, very tempting!

Leonard and Jenny (? I think) both were sick for part of the cruise — so they should get a do-over . . . .

Travel Difficulties — or “It Still Beats Sorting Socks”

(Why Mary needs a travel partner/keeper) —  See Mary arriving at the airport three hours early, feeling smug and virtuous when check-in and security went so fast, buying a newspaper, a new tote bag (on sale) for the newspaper, and Starbucks coffee to enjoy the wait, near Gate 15 to keep an eye on things.  Finishing the newspaper, checking the boarding pass just for something to do, and realizing —  THE FLIGHT WAS RE-SCHEDULED!!  BOARDING BEGAN TEN MINUTES AGO.  Throwing away the rest of the coffee, I rushed toward the correct gate 19, hearing my name over the paging system, and arriving just in time, rather embarrassed and apologetic but being reassured, “It’s fine, you’re here.”  Rule:  always double-check flight times!!!

(Some people will do anything for attention).  The flight from Chicago to Frankfort was rather pleasant, chatting with a young Air Force guy, Eric Love, going to Germany for airport training and one of his colleagues, a young woman with a plan to write travel books.  Dinner was pretty good, I had a little wine, and a little Bailey’s Irish Cream, and settled in for a little sleep.  Waking up a couple of hours later, feeling a little warm, I thought a trip to the restroom was in order, but while waiting for a vacancy, I felt dizzy.  Then I felt the floor on the back of my head — a near-by passenger came over, called the stewardess, she called for oxygen and “any medical personnel on board.”   Checked out by a paramedic and a doctor (both rather cute), I still don’t know exactly why (stress from condo problems before the flight, reduced circulation from sitting, standing with knees locked, drinking?), but I do know that the care and concern were real — Eric was berating himself for leaving a buddy alone to get in trouble.  Rule: listen to the body and sit down when dizzy (and less Baileys??)  P.S.  The Frankfort Airport is huge!! —  workers ride bicycles from place to place within the building!  It’s also confusing, with shops hiding the signs that point the way to gates.  Thank goodness people don’t mind pointing the way!

The return flight — very little sleep because dock-side partying in Porto goes on all night, and we had to leave for early flights at 5:30 a.m.  It was sad saying good-bye, but I looked forward to home.  Smooth flying, transfers, customs (well, I did join the elite group who have had scissors confiscated — so nice to know that I can’t run amok with those half-inch fold-up blades — also, my bags were opened by someone along the way — they had little plastic closers on the zippers and a tiny little note inside from National Security).  

In Chicago, I managed to keep a large group of Korean businessmen from getting off the tram at the wrong terminal (a real achievement for perennially lost me, and should be good for some Karma).  Then storms hit Chicago, and I spent five hours at O’Hare (hoping my seat-mate from Frankfort, a young mother heading home to her three-year-old, had gotten out before the storm).  We had kidded about our “refugee look” on the last day of the cruise, but this was real — a tired and cranky group milling from gate to gate, with rumors being passed around.  I wanted to throttle the mother of four squealing young boys (my sympathy ran out as I remembered my mother’s ability to silence us with a look), then I found a quieter gate and napped a bit.  Finally our pilot, calling himself  Captain Pinnochio, admitted that the plane we saw approaching wasn’t our plane, it was a plane that had been on the runway for five hours and was coming back to refuel.  Wow!  That put things in perspective!  We had room to walk, real restrooms, Starbucks!  He promised to get us home, and he did, piloting well through stormy skies — I thanked him for the flying and for his humor.  (I had, however, thought of staying in Chicago, since I had to return on Wednesday anyway, but three nights in my own bed won out).  It was so good to get back!

Carmen and Marsh, I believe I have found something that even beats sorting socks — knitting socks!!  No really, the knitting shop owner talked about it when I went to buy the right size needle for the little hats (about time for that one . . .).  The only latex-free socks I could find were thinlittle Buster Brown socks — if I can manage this pattern, I could actually have warm socks by winter.  (Of course, I could just winter someplace warm instead — want to come?)

England 2003 — EF trip

We aren’t traveling much these days, but we can remember the “before times.” I’m grateful to the Garretts who taught me to journal after a trip, the better to remember the experience. This is a bit wordy, a bit rambling, and photos will be scarce, but the memories are there. 😉 Nice photos on this travel blog (thanks for “liking” me) https://lovetravellingblog.com/category/united-kingdom/london/

England 2003 — EF trip Mary Garrett

“Never pass up an opportunity for a good loo stop,” words of wisdom from Penny, one of our guides to the wonders of London.  “Mind the gap” and “stand to the right” — heard frequently on the Tube.    Signs read “Caution, pickpockets and purse thieves frequent this area.”  I wondered why they weren’t told to move along elsewhere.  Then in Greenwich I saw a sign that said “Caution thieves: undercover policemen operate in this area.”  Now that’s more like it!  I also liked, “Polite warning: do not leave your bicycle in this area.”  We wondered about all the signs warning that anyone assaulting subway (or customs) workers would be prosecuted — our informants said it wasn’t a frequent problem, just a courtesy to warn people not to do it.

It’s a nice walk” meant prepare to hike to exhaustion!   The EF tour of London and surrounds was fast-paced, packed with experiences, exhausting, and wonderful.  Mary Lu and I were constantly saying, “I’d like to see . . . there isn’t time now;  next time” which means there will have to be a next time!  It was especially difficult to leave Stratford at 3:30, when I wanted to stay for days!  The next trip will be more leisurely.  At odd moments on the trip, I read appropriate books,  I Am Morgan le Fay (from my school library) and Parrot Pie for Breakfast: An Anthology of Women Pioneers (from the bookstore on “our” corner of Notting Hill).  On coming home, I’ve been listening to Amy Douglas’ Stories of Shropshire, to enjoy the feeling and sound of England a little longer.  (On the plane over I watched How to Lose a Man in 10 Days and asked the British youth seated next to me if what they said about commitment scaring a man away was true.  He said perhaps for American men, but British men weren’t so afraid of commitment.  On the way home there was no one next to me to discuss Chicago with).

One of the docents at the Field House once said, “Children see faster than adults” when Joy was trying to hurry me along as I lingered over the Victorian rooms.  Since this was a student tour, things moved fast, and the kids had a great time!  I did my best to keep up and used free time to rest, savor, and reflect.  Before I left St. Louis, Margie had suggested that I’d be better off just staying over for the two weeks before the ETSU cruise, and on the way home I vowed to remember that if I ever have two trips come so close together again.  I also have to admit that the U.S.Air flight was the most “basic” flight I’ve ever had to Europe — pampering was not on the agenda.  

The 7-day trip was really only 5 full days in England, since travel took so long, and I am writing under the influence of jet lag and exhaustion.  (By Fri. a.m., after 12 straight hours of sleep, I am feeling better.  Thursday I had naps between doctor visits — passing my annual physical even at my worst — by the time I finished all the tests and bought groceries, I was really wiped out, almost sick from exhaustion).  I had taken a cab home from the airport, wise enough not to want to drive exhausted, and the driver was an interesting man from Ethiopia, happy and grateful to be here, proud of his U.S. citizenship, providing well for his family, but filled with worry about his homeland where his parents still live.

Pam Lowy was a wonderful tour leader!  Her friendly, “perky” guidance took us through and around all “obstacles.”  We were especially impressed with her facing off cars and buses, determined to get her whole group safely across busy streets together.  The music of many horns often accompanied her performance.  She coordinated transportation and guides masterfully, and befriended everyone along the way.  We were impressed with her skill and patience, and her tattoo of the Japanese characters for patience.  We gladly followed her up-raised notebook, umbrella, or hand anywhere, and laughed at the young man on a street corner who tried to imitate her with an up-raised program.  Her mnemonic tricks for remembering the stops were fun, effective, and contagious.   I especially appreciated her efforts to secure latex-free meals for me, sometimes difficult because we would be  told that there were no latex gloves used and then find out we were misinformed.  Fortunately, kindness prevailed, and managers would find a way to prepare food without the gloves. 

The (Nottingham) Hill Gate Comfort Inn was a charming old building, with tiny rooms (our twin beds were touching, with little room for moving them apart), balky elevators, and noisy plumbing (but a full-pressure shower, not like American low-flow restrictions — it felt so good after a day on the Tube).  There was a substantial breakfast downstairs to get us started on our day, and they were accommodating enough to provide it at very odd early hours to meet our schedules for tours and airport (one group had to leave the hotel at 3 a.m. for the airport — they stayed up for it, which I had been tempted to do in Istanbul).  One of the participants said, “Everything in England is upstairs, hot, small, expensive, and not to code . . . and we love it!”  

The Tube — very interesting, complex, and complete system, overcrowded at times (we had a discussion of “accidental contact” vs. “inappropriate closeness — get an adult if you need help” after one encounter).  Efforts to reduce traffic in the center of London now include a tariff for cars traveling there, and encouragement to take buses, not the Tube, which is already so full.  Pensioners have a discounted fare, but only after morning rush hour — they will say to the driver, “Am I too early?” hence the nickname “Twirlies.”  Finding our way as a group was really easy; if I did lose sight of Pam, I just looked for the blue and orange EF backpacks several of the students carried.  The “cult of the blue and orange backpacks” is taking over the world; we saw several other groups along the way.

When I finally ventured out on my own Monday afternoon with a lovely boat ride from the Globe to Greenwich and “tubing” back to join the group for dinner, I was impressed that people were not only willing to help me find the way but actually very interested in figuring out the best way, with the fewest changes.  It is sometimes hard to find the stations, tucked away in odd spots.  When a disabled train stopped the line at Piccadilly, I was assured that Covent Garden was only a little walk (not a “nice walk”) and really not that hard to navigate, using my time-honored method of asking someone every few blocks to make sure I was still on the right track.  One man, about as confused as I was, sent me a half-block or so the wrong way — he realized that when he passed our group waiting outside the restaurant I was seeking and asked them to pass along his apologies for sending me the wrong way — how’s that for courtesy!!  

Dealing with money was interesting, too — I hadn’t realized how slow it is to make change when  I have to actually read the amounts on the coins instead of just knowing; I felt like a five-year-old just learning what money is.  After visiting the Globe, and using up most of my money (should have used the charge card), I found myself with a handful of coins, mostly “coppers,” realizing they wouldn’t be enough, and having the vendor graciously accept the handful as “close enough.”  Just a kid again, begging ice cream with my pennies.   It’s nice when people are so kind and gracious.   Of course, a trip to the ATM restored my purchasing power.

On our first day, MaryLu and I took a brief stroll of the neighborhood and came back to move in and rest while Cassie (from Arkansas?) took her kids on a long walk through Hyde Park, past Buckingham Palace, and who knows where else.  On one free morning (6/7?), I slept late, breakfasted slowly, and took a short walk to nearby  Kensington Garden where I enjoyed the children’s play area/garden, sat and read for a while, and enjoyed the conversations of ravens and starlings.  The young and energetic used the time for a trip to the Tower of London, which I will see on my next trip.  I did rather come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t really have the stamina to take a student group, unless I could feel confident enough in them to let them go some places alone.  I felt bad about my lesser energy until I did some math and realized that I had 20 years seniority on those intrepid chaperones, and that my restful free times allowed me to keep up the pace of the rest of the adventures.

So . . . adventures!  On the first day, once all groups were present, Pam took us for a tour of the area.  By the way, our bus driver in from the airport estimated that renting one room, with kitchen and bathroom shared, would cost the equivalent of $1600/ month!!  My, weren’t we posh, in our room with its own bath!  We took the Tube and walked across the Tower Bridge (? — I’m a little sketchy on notes here).  We took nice photos of London, Big Ben, the Eye (another attraction that some of those very active students managed to take in) and enjoyed nice barbecue at Sticky Fingers, to the background of Rolling Stones music.  

6/6  Liz was our guide — talked about the “Upstairs/Downstairs” history of the West End houses, built to accommodate families with servants, now broken up into expensive flats.  She showed us a “flyover”  (overpass) which I had wondered about in a short story “Billenium,” and detached houses out by Riding Court Road.  (I noticed that the owners of “attached” homes asserted their individuality by painting and roofing their units with individual style and choosing different colored doors).   We also found out that St. Matthew’s, built 1888, the burned-looking church which MaryLu and I had seen on our first day’s walk, was most likely so dark because of pollution from the days of burning soft coal. Liz remembered being sent home from school early on days when the smog was particularly bad.  Many buildings have since been cleaned; now that the air is cleaner, it makes sense to do so.

Windsor Castle was one of those “pinch me” experiences — I didn’t quite believe I was there.  We crowded around to see the changing of the guard — I loved the bagpipe music!  It took a while, as they did paperwork connected with turning over responsibility.  Jim recognized the Captain of the Guard as an Australian chum from his time in the Vietnam War, and he ended up having “tea with the Queen’s own”!  The Queen was home, according to the flag, but she didn’t come out to say hello.  I did get to see Queen Mary’s Doll House, with such intricate detail (I decided I’d like to stay in the Queen’s bedchamber, if she were ever not using it) and the King’s Closet where The Merchant of Venice was once performed.  There were most impressive displays of weapons, and the Order of the Garter was explained as well,  Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense . .   Evil to him who thinks evil.  

Nice pictures at  http://www.heraldicsculptor.com/Garters.html

My Fair Lady in England, with real English accents.  A wonderful production, with an interesting  version of “Get Me to the Church” using trash cans for rhythm, as in “Stomp,”  and chorus girls dancing to “London Bridge” and  bringing in a bit of “Moulin Rouge.”  It was wonderful and left me humming the tunes.  The million or so stairs to the balcony were almost too much for˙ us, but it was worth it!  Mary Lu and I debated whether it was a love story — I think it is, though not the usual romance, more unspoken and undemonstrative, but understood.

6/7  St. Paul’s, Christopher Wren’s tomb plain — “my monument” the church above.  I loved the plaque commemorating the masons “the men who shaped the stones.”

The guide at the British Museum was the prim, proper, intellectual one would picture for the site, a bit too dry for our youngsters, tired out as they were from their active “free morning.”  She took us from the beginnings of Cuneiform Writing, through Egyptian works, Greek (no remorse for taking the Elgin Marbles), Cornish, and the ship burial.  I have to admit to being a bit befuddled myself on some details, though they were impressive displays.  It was the 250th anniversary of the founding of the museum, and among the special events of the day, they were giving all the children . . . balloons!  I spent much of my day dodging children with balloons, and while my companions tried to “run interference” for me, they hadn’t the practice the “greats” have had.  I finally moved outside to wait for the group and go home.   Sigh!  (stupid allergies!)  I wasn’t so distracted, though, that I didn’t notice when the guide said Persephone was in Hades with her father (now that would be a whole different story, wouldn’t it?)

Medieval Dinner, was fun if a bit hokey.  Eating soup without spoons was only partially effective, and the place was a bit smoky, but the singing was good, the dancing was boisterous, the sword fight was interesting, and good will abounded.  On the bus going home, I sang the “Anne Bolyn” song and Jim sang an interesting “Circle Song” that I want to learn.  We enjoyed the lights of Harrod’s and an interesting traffic light sculpture, and we discussed the mysterious zebra crossings we had seen earlier (having to do with the zig zag lines painted on the pavement). 

6/8  Stonehenge — 2000-1500 B.C.  shrouded in mystery, and now protected by barriers.  I kept wishing we could get closer, but I suppose it has to be protected (one of the few places I saw No Smoking signs — outdoors at the Stonehenge site).  Our guide explained that the stones were erected using carpentry skills in stone, using as tools the antlers of red deer and cattle shoulder blades (this theory tested out by scientists, as Larry Kinsella has done with his atlatls).  The fact that they could spare so much of the strong male work force meant that they were relatively wealthy.  It was amazing!  We saw lots of poppies on the way — they only grow where the dirt has been dug up (as for trenches).  We saw contented sheep, too, and lovely rolling hills.

Bath — the Roman baths were much more extensive than I had imagined, and the “Bath water” wasn’t all that bad, a bit warm and some mineral taste, but nothing you’d have to hold your nose for, and it’s supposed to make you strong and healthy.  Residents can have daily doses for free.  (Of course, the story we heard of prescriptions of Guinness – Guinness is Good for You — for pregnant ladies sounds like more fun).  There are plans to build a working spa using this natural hot spring, and remembering how rejuvenating the bath was in Turkey, I’d say do it!  There was a craft show in progress, so I came away with Forget-Me-Nots preserved in a pair of earrings and a little limestone hedgehog.  Mary Lu met up with Amanda and spent the afternoon and evening with Amanda and Tom — and their baby! — instead of playing tourist.  Taking the train back to London was quite successful also.

We ended the day with Pizza in Soho, wonderful pizza and a wonderfully eclectic place — chandelier and exposed ductwork, disco balls, partially exposed brick walls.  Delightful!

6/9  Globe theater.  Exciting connection to the past — almost a pilgrimage.  The theater is lovely, but we couldn’t take pictures (though other groups were — go figure!  Right now I am wishing I had been more defiant).   It is so much more decorated than I imagined!  The workshop leader explained how different it is to perform in the Globe, with the audience so close and so much interaction between the actors and the audience.  This was echoed by one of my helpful “guides” on my afternoon adventure.  I wish we could have seen a performance (– next time!)  I loved all the exhibits of how clothing was made and dyed, woodworking, past performances.  I even indulged in a computer which allowed the recording of myself in a scene, then replay with other voices and applause!  It was fun!  I saw school children doing it later and having just as much fun!

Afterward, I took the short boat ride to Greenwich, passing the church that blessed our Pilgrim fathers (and mothers) on their way to America, and the Mayflower pub, made from some of the timber of the ship.  We also saw Cuckhold’s Row, where a row of ducking stools punished unfaithful wives once upon a time.  The guide was funny, explaining that the donation box was for “research” funds — and that they did much of their research in the pubs along the Thames.  He pointed out that the view of the river from one pub had been a favorite of many artists, then said that he had seen Van Gogh there.  The bartender asked, “Vincent, do you want another beer?”  but he answered, “No thanks, I have one ‘ere.”  (My favorite corny joke of the trip; Pam’s frayed knot story is second). 

I walked a bit in Greenwich, admiring the college quiet and the Cutty Sark, and then took the train to Canary Station, walked past six million shops to finally find the Tube station, and made my way to dinner in Covent Garden at Bistro 1 (where the waiter worked so hard to come up with a latex-free and potato-free dinner.  He brought tiramisu in place of the banana dessert; so he is of course my new best friend).

The evening’s theater was Bomb-itty of Errors, a rap version.  I tried to keep an open mind on this, and truly there was some clever rhyme and lots of energy (and too much volume — I used kleenex to make ear plugs and wished that this had been the night of the balcony seats).  Several of our group were offended, and some of the humor was far over the line.  I keep thinking of really good comedians who refuse to go for the cheap laugh.  This could have been a far better effort if they had avoided scatology and worked more on wit.  An evening at the Globe would have been far better.

6/10  Stratford!!!!   This was the best part!  Sacred ground! Avon means River — Strat (street) ford.  John Shakespeare was a glover (samples of work and materials in the Birthplace House) and a usurer (like Shylock?)  It was wonderful to walk in the houses and imagine life, relatively cozy apparently.  The garden at Anne Hathaway’s House was stunningly beautiful, and both gardens smelled wonderful, with all the fragrant herbs.  Mary Baker, the first curator of the house — no relation to my colleague Mary Baker, but I still loved it!  Pewter shown off as a sign of wealth, polished to look like silver.  Wooden trenchers for everyday, licked clean, thrown out when too greasy.  Clockwork spit to turn the meat.  Showing off the best bed in the main room — conspicuous display of wealth.  

We walked to the Avon, of course, but the graveyard was “a nice walk” so “next time.”   We had a pasty for lunch (Cornish meat pie — I had them in Jamaica).  I had refused to stop at a McDonald’s — not after going all the way to England!   I found the t-shirts at the lovely art shop Cassie told me about, and got M. Night’s Dream and The Tempest shirts, lovely shirts, designed by the owner’s son, who also designs beautiful glass.  If we had had enough people signed up, we could have stayed in Stratford for a play there . . . ah well!  

On the way, we admired all the beautiful Cotswold farms, rolling hills, hedgerows, dry stone walls — farmland as it should be, perhaps.  We learned that sheep raising was so successful because, as an island, England could eliminate the wolves.  (Rams with bag of dye to mark the ewes).  Most important crop — high protein grasses to feed the sheep and cows.  Second — wheat, bred shorter and with heavier grains on top.  Third — barley.  Also rape seed (canola).   Post office because of posts on which the mail would be hung.  He also explained why the private schools are called “public” — open to the general (paying) public, not restricted to church members or clergy.

Woodstock — Rosamund kept there.  Then Queen Elizabeth I (by Mary).  

Blenheim Palace — Churchill born there

Oxford was interesting for architecture, Christopher Wren. 

Bodleian Library — King James —  all 5 orders of columns, Tuscan, Ionic, Doric, Corinthian, and Composite.  Late Gothic — 15th C — fans, buttressed.  18th C. Baroque — Radcliffe, Camera

The students’ dining hall — very like Hogwarts’ though on a smaller scale. 

Broad St. — Martyrs’ Monument — Cranmer, Ridly, Latimer — Queen Mary’s burning of Protestants (5 years, 350? victims). 

Dinner was very nice stir-fry, once the manager provided untouched-by-latex ingredients.

Home on 6/11 — tired but full of memories.  Seatmate on the plane had been staying at a low-cost place, the Cherry Court Hotel (for future reference).

Our tour leader constantly warned us to tuck our vital stuff inside our shirts, and either it worked or we were very lucky.  It’s a shame that there have to be dishonest people (as I think to myself whenever I fumble for my keys).  My friend left her passport on the plane (she had tucked it “temporarily” into that little pocket on the back of the seat in front of her).  Fortunately, the customs guy was nice and gave her a temporary pass to the baggage area, where the USAir rep. went on the plane and rescued it.  Whew!

I am finishing this on Sunday, 6/15.  Last night I saw a powerful Macbeth in Forest Park.  Joy and Joe brought all five little ones, and toward the end I had Robin barely awake on my lap, C.J. to my right, sleeping against me, and Nikki in front of me, asleep with his head on my knees.  When Macduff was exclaiming, “all my pretty ones, dead?” I felt his sorrow more intensely, surrounded as I was by such little innocents.  That was surely the monstrous act that would turn all with a pulse against the monster Macbeth had become.  

Joneal Joplin as King Duncan was also a presence one had to respect and mourn as well.  I had been afraid that the play was too intense for such young ones, but when I pointed out everyone safe and sound at the curtain call, Robin said, “Aunt Mary, they are actors; it’s just a play.”  They fully understand so much, bless them, and the plays live on.  My Aunt Yoko and her grandson Isaac came with me.   Isaac declares himself not a reader, but loved the play, performed as it should be.

Glaciers and Tundra and Bears, Oh My

ETSU 1998 Storytelling Cruise to Alaska

Glaciers and Tundra and Bears, Oh My

ETSU 1998 Storytelling Cruise to Alaska  on the Dynasty– Denali, Seward, Cordova, Prince William Sound, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchican, Vancouver.

Reflections by Mary Garrett

Too much to do and see (and eat), not nearly enough time (or sleep) on this adventure north.  For the first time, we found ourselves asking, “Now where will we be tomorrow?” and sandwiching class time in between exciting new sights and sounds, like glaciers and whales.  As Donald said, an odd thing to be complaining about, a trip that was too interesting.  I’ve tried to fall back on Perrin’s mantra of “just enough,” and while I really think we went beyond that in many aspects, we did have “just enough” friendship, sharing, and warmth (ours, not the weather’s).  Though we didn’t want to leave, we had perhaps “just enough” time to leave everyone wanting more.  I’ve already signed up for Storytelling ‘99!  Everything proceeded smoothly, no disasters, probably due to Marsh and Leonard’s good planning, helped along by Merle’s red travel blessing envelopes.

(7/18)  Donna and I began to realize just how far we were going on the flight up.  Of course, that was accentuated by flying Southwest — a hectic way to fly.  (We decided on the way back to avoid the competition for seating, hang back, and take what we got, which turned out to be the emergency row, with three people sitting backwards and facing the other three.  We renamed it the party row and had a great time visiting with our neighbors).  We had been warned that Southwest, in addition to not assigning seats, did not feed its passengers; so we brought along a little picnic of our own, which along with Southwest’s “snack pack,” proved to be more than adequate, leaving us with left-over snacks for later, and beginning the infamous “food box” that Marsh teased us about throughout the trip, as we collected all our leftover treats in the pretty box that held our snacks in Denali.   When we got home, we shared all those treats with Joy’s children — they were excited to get food from Alaska, even if some of it had started out in St. Louis.

Alaska Airlines was a civilized respite, with their Alaskan native painted on the tail of the plane.  Then a ride to the Big Bear B&B on the Borealis Shuttle, the driver complaining that it was “barely midnight and already getting dark” and giving a mini-tour of Anchorage as he drove.  I was especially tickled by the “whaling wall,” a mural of whales, and his story of the Orthodox Israeli who liked that joke so well he asked to get out and take a photo to take back to Jerusalem.  The B&B was lovely, full of beautiful Alaskan art, but we were so tired, all I wanted was to be tucked into bed (Mary Kay said her B&B host did tuck her in). 

(7/19) Breakfast was a real treat, and our hosts drove us to the train depot early in the morning for our trip to Denali.  I love the Alaskan Railroad!   It is such a pleasant way to travel, and the high school students acting as guides on board gave wonderful commentary on the way and seemed to be really enjoying their work.  We now all know not to go out on the mud flats, which act like super quicksand, and we looked for wildlife from the train windows as we went.  Views were excellent from every car, especially the observation dome, and even the excellent dining car.   Reindeer sausage is good, if you don’t think about Rudolph.   Several members of our ETSU group were on this tour, also, adding to the pleasure.

The Knightly Tour people drove us to our cute little Sourdough Cabins, and then provided shuttle service to supper (halibut for me — good stuff!) and then back in the rain (we saw a lot of rain on this trip!)  

(7/20)  Our trip into Denali began bright and early (5:30 a.m.), and was completely perfect!  (Well, except for the grumpy guy across the aisle from us — it became apparent why his wife was less insistent on a seat together than he was).  The sky was so clear that we saw Mt. McKinley all day!  (Many people had told us that only about 20% of visitors ever see the mountain because of the clouds).  It was magnificent!

Our guide was interesting and informative, and quickly taught us to call out “stop” if we saw wildlife, and to locate them (i.e., left side, 10:00).  It worked well, we saw amazing animals:  bears (including a mother with three 3-yr-old cubs and another with one 2-yr-old in close proximity), eagles (including two fledglings in a nest on a cliff and adults in flight), a moose with a calf, caribou with a yearling, lots of cute ground squirrels, ptarmigan, a fox with several ptarmigan in its proud little hunter mouth, Dall sheep, marmots, snow shoe hare, and mew gulls.  We had to keep all our snacks in the bus so our crumbs wouldn’t corrupt the animals’ natural behavior (we watched the ground squirrels eagerly licking up spilled hot chocolate — they obviously like people food).  The guide told us of an incident when overfed ground squirrels attracted a bear to easy food, the bear was trapped and moved, but returned three times; on the third return the bear was killed as a possible danger to humans, “All because people thought it was cute to feed the squirrels.” 

After the tour of Denali, we boarded a bus back to Anchorage.  Our driver was very informative, and I enjoyed his Kodiak Island accent (much like northern Minnesota, must have the same Norwegian background).  He gave us a thorough education on the types of salmon: King or Chinook, Red or Sockeye, Pink or Humpies, Chum (keta) or Dog, and Silver or Coho, and got us so ready to have salmon for supper, but there were only hamburgers and hot dogs on the menu where we stopped.  Sigh!  He made it up to us by reciting Robert Service poems to us — the best of all the R.S. we heard on the trip! I told him to look up the Anchorage storytellers and join up.  He also pointed out Wasilla (all I saw), where the Ididarot actually begins, since the water is impassable at the time of the race.

Back to Big Bear, and up very early the next day (Tues.,7/21) to take the train to Seward.  Our hosts got us to the depot late, barely five minutes before departure, and the husband took our bags to the bus station before our B&B buddy Rick Marshall straightened him out.  It was a narrowly averted disaster!  Once on the train, we were in storytellers’ heaven, with our own storytellers’ “party car”, and lots of free coffee (decaf for me) in our Alaska RR travel mugs.  We even saw Dall sheep closer than in Denali, not white specks on the mountain, but real animals with legs and everything.

When we arrived in Seward, Marsh and Leonard kindly took charge of taking a bus load of luggage to the ship so everyone else was free to wander.  We took the Trolley to the Sea Life Center, where we enjoyed seals and puffins, starfish, octopus, and especially the writings and drawings done by school children. We even took pictures of the men in scuba gear cleaning the inside of the seal tank.  (We also shopped!  I do more of that with Donna around . . )  

We took the trolley back to the ship about 4:00, found our cute little cabin,  and had the first of many excellent dinners with Rocky and Irma Rockwell, our table mates.  The dining room was beautiful, with many large windows so we didn’t miss any of the wonderful sights.  Roderick and Milton, of course, took good care of us, also.  Donna was impressed that Milton remembered that she drank milk, even at lunch the second day when we weren’t seated in their section, and he  always gave me decaf (I decided not to mention no chocolate; so I could cheat a little).  On the last night, I said I didn’t want to go, and Roderick offered to hide me in his locker — almost a tempting offer.   I would love to have a complete set of dinner menus among my souvenirs, but it I might make me too sad, now that I am back on Budget Gourmet.  

After dinner we had a brief intro meeting of our group, interrupted by the all-important lifeboat drill (weird life jackets, but perhaps designed to do a better job of keeping the head out of water).

The Dynasty  is a smaller ship, 800 passengers, and I liked the personal atmosphere, plus the fact that it was easier to find my way around.  Our group was approximately 1/8 of the passenger list, so it was like traveling with a big family.

We fit class time and story swaps in around shore time and sightings, feeling that we had a little less time together than we wanted, but still sharing, critiquing, and most of all learning from Donald how to better put together our stories.  (Normal world, Trouble coming, Crisis event, Outside help and New knowledge, New normal).  We talked about how to change the length of the story, spending less time on each “stepping stone” or making the story a quilt square rather then a whole king-sized quilt.  He also discussed the importance of a good master of ceremonies — introducing the teller and creating energy to enhance the experience for the teller and the audience.

The Kit Kat was the best classroom we’ve had yet, large, comfortable, and blessed with excellent windows for viewing the lovely Alaska scenery.  (The card room was a little less wonderful, but gave us a chance to prove we could tell anywhere.  I told Sherazade and Grandma’s Doughnuts there, and the Old People’s Wisdom story for critiquing).  We heard many wonderful stories, and I especially want to remember Priscilla and Duncan’s stories, and Chris’ story of his shaky beginning in life.

(Wed., 7/22)  This was the only stop where we had to use tenders — it is fun to ride in to dock, but it also makes debarking slower.  We saw a field full of small airplanes.  Cordova  has more airplanes per capita than anywhere — not surprising since boats and planes are the only way in.  We had a wonderful tour, which included Child’s Glacier up close and personal (while we snacked on home-baked goodies).  Donna and I were with the last hold-outs determined to see the glacier calving.  When the bus started and the guide said that was our signal to leave, we walked backward up the path so we could keep looking.  We were discussing the possibility of lying about seeing it when we heard an especially loud crash, ran back, and saw a huge piece of ice fall right into the water.  The resulting wave was quite impressive (surfing size if it weren’t so cold).  The driver heard us cheer and came back, too.  We also saw a sign depicting how high the waves had gone a few years back when they destroyed the observation tower and hurt several people, and we were advised that if we saw a really big calving to run away fast!  (Funniest tourist question:  “Can’t you clean up the glacier and get rid of those dirty brown streaks?” — the boulders scraped up by the glacier).

Later on at the Million-Dollar Bridge, broken in the 1964 earthquake, we were again the last ones out at the end of the bridge, and we saw more calving.  Sometimes it pays to be the last.  On the bus ride, we stopped the bus and several of us got out to see some moose, but they kept hiding behind brush — a good first hand look at moose defensive behavior — they didn’t know we weren’t hunters.

In the Cordova Museum, we saw interesting relics of early residents.  I especially liked a raincoat made of bear gut, sewn with seal sinew — all that sewing and work, and it would last about three months in use.  We got pins from the Ice Worm Festival, an annual winter celebration — carnival rides at 20 below –an attempt to  keep busy so as not to go crazy in the long winter.  Ice worms are real creatures that live in the ice; children dig them up and throw them at each other.  I also got a fireweed pin — fireweed was everywhere; it’s the first plant up after a fire, and when its flowers get to the top of the stalk, it’s six weeks until first snow.

Back on ship, we dressed up for the captain’s welcome party (Captain Tor Dyrdal — very formal gentleman).  I wore the ivory necklace Dad brought back from Alaska 50 years ago.  Our group shared stories after dinner, and then I stayed up for the Chocoholic’s Buffet, but couldn’t get Donna up for it (she was so much more sensible than I was about sleeping).

(Thurs, 7/23) Prince William Sound — We scheduled lots of class time, and then took breaks when it was time to stop for glacier watching, Hubbard Glacier, among others.  It was so very cold and windy, I was glad I had gloves, and that  Donna had gone back to our cabin for all our warm clothes.  The Captain blew the ship’s horn, which echoed delightfully, and caused repeated calving.  Donna was persistent in wanting to see a “shooter”  (underwater calving) and she did!  I got too cold, and went back in the Kit Kat, where we could see, but not as well.  We had a Tlingit guide on board during this time; she declared the passengers who wrapped themselves in blankets to be unofficial members of her clan, and invited us to run 11 miles across the glacier to her village.  No thanks!

(Fri., 7/24)   Skagway was also wet and cold — I broke down and bought a warm fleece top, and immediately felt much better.  The Lands’ End rain poncho did its job splendidly.  We wandered around, shopping, taking a ranger-led walking tour (hearing all about the notorious con man Soapy Smith — one shop sold Soapy on a rope), seeing the costumed drivers of the vintage touring cars, and wondering how they kept warm.  Then we took a bus tour to Liarsville, met the madam (she was hiring, but we passed that up), saw the sled dog, heard some Robert Service (with excellent, funny pantomime), and panned for gold.  I got six little specks of gold in a plastic zip lock, “just like the original minerXs used”).  The gold, of course, was brought in from Canada, since Skagway was just the beginning of the Chilkoot trail into the Yukon. In the museum we saw an example of the 2000 pounds of supplies each miner had to carry in before being allowed to cross the Canadian border.  They had to be crazy to try!  The husky we saw was part wolf, but we were told that doesn’t  make her wild or mean; it does, however, give her a very strong need for her pack, and huskies can die of loneliness if there aren’t enough other dogs and people around to interact with. 

(Sat., 7/25)  In Juneau we were treated to the day of activities that Marsh put together for us.  We teased her a bit, because the bus, which had a confirmed time of 8:15, did not come until almost 10:00.  There seems to be some flexibility in “Alaska time,”  except for the railroad.  Many of us just walked to town and (you guessed it) shopped.  I should also mention how pretty the shopping areas were in all these towns, with beautiful flower boxes and hanging baskets, I’m sure for the benefit of “visitors” (sounds friendlier than “tourists”) but also, I think, a result of being starved for color for that long, long winter.  (We were told keeping busy is the key to staying sane, but that supplies for winter crafts have to be bought during the summer when the shops are open).

We toured Juneau, and saw a school nicknamed the “penitentiary school” — its playground is surrounded by a 20-foot-tall fence to keep bears away.  We saw lots more small planes and boats, necessary to get to this capital.

We saw the Mendenhall Glacier — cold and huge; glaciers still seem more magic than physical science to me.  The park area is well-designed; our tax dollars at work.  They even had some glacial silt (or “flour”) for us to touch, smooth and gritty at the same time.  Five baby swallows  right by the path added to the fun. 

The Salmon Bake was terrific!  Finally, fresh salmon — and lots of other food, too — a veritable feast.  We were entertained by raven stories and stories of Alaska history by a wonderful woman who captivated even the non-story-tellers who just happened to be eating then.

Some people went back to town rather than pan for gold, but I’m glad we did it.  Our guide was fun, and we panned in the river, rather than a trough.  I put my first batch, from the dirt he had already filled the pans with (dug up “just over that hill”), in one vial, and then scooped some “free range” dirt from the stream and put that gold in a separate vial.  It was an adventure, but I don’t think I’d like bending over a cold stream like that on any sort of regular basis.

(Sun., 7/26) Ketchikan — and amazingly enough, sunshine!  That only happens there about 100 days a year — rainforest, after all.   Of course, we had to have sun at the end of the trip — to make us want to come back — and I do!!!

Donna and I explored a bit on our own, had lunch on the ship with an interesting older couple from San Diego (being able to zip back on board for lunch was one advantage of being docked at the pier), and then returned to the visitor’s center for a short bus tour of the town).  We did our random act of kindness by piling our stuff on a front-of-the-bus seat for an older couple who had been left behind the mad rush to the bus — one guy looked like he was going to try to challenge us, but then thought better of it.  At Totem Park, we noticed parking spaces “Reserved for Elders” and thought perhaps that kind of respect should be a more constant part of our culture.  The totems were magnificent, and the story of Seward’s “shame totem” for not returning to host a reciprocal pot latch was especially amusing.  The carvers had stepped out when we finally got into the carving hall, so we couldn’t ask about Daddy’s totem, but maybe we weren’t meant to know.

On Creek Street, we saw Dolly’s House on Creek Street, the only creek where salmon and men go to spawn.  We also saw salmon climbing upstream, and saw the salmon ladder they can use if they are too tired to manage the waterfall.  We also saw teens who had been swimming, too cold for us, but not for them.   There’s a covered playground at one school, so the kids can get out to play a little.  The sports field is paved with cement, and games are played even in the rain (“or we’d never finish a season”).  Hot dog cookers and microwaves are used to dry balls.  She also explained that they catch rain water for household use, and divert glacier run-off (all the pretty waterfalls coming off the mountains) for good, pure drinking water.

She took us to see the rain forest (and more kids who had just been swimming) and explained why cutting the trees would make them healthier, since in the constant dampness, they are rotting and being infested with beetles.  I’m not a forestry expert, but she seemed to make sense.  She also pointed out a nearby island with cheaper real estate, but no bridges, so you would have to do everything by boat, and in the winter the winds can be 90 mph, and the water is so cold you would die in 20 minutes if you fell in.  Doesn’t sound like a bargain to me. 

(Mon., 7/27)  Inside Passage –whales!  Too far to see, except with binoculars, but real whales, just the same — Shamoo on the loose!  It was thrilling (though difficult) to spot one in the binocs.

We had a hard time convincing the cruise director, John, that he should set aside a time and place for Donald’s public concert, but our nagging finally prevailed.  (Good thing, too — I was planning a major sit-in with all of us wearing our spiffy “Alaska Invasion” shirts and singing “All we are saying is, give us a room.”) Donald’s long-awaited concert filled the large Rhapsody Lounge with a very appreciative audience. (See, John, we told you so!)  We also got a first-hand demonstration of the power of good introductions, first John’s, and then Tracy’s excellent intro.

(Tues 7/28)  The Dynasty  docked in Vancouver, and we left soon after an early breakfast.  

Jody witnessed a final example of seeing whatever we talked about (previously demonstrated by animals in Denali and calving of glaciers).  She asked if they ever dropped any of the baggage into the ocean (They move impressive mountains of luggage onto the deck and then on carts across the gangway to shore).  Just after a crew member said “Never,” a woman’s bag went right over the side, then burst open and all her stuff floated away — what a disastrous end to her trip!  We decided to be very careful what we said from then on.

Our chartered bus ride to Seattle was pleasant, once we got Donna’s suitcase back from the woman who accidentally made off with it (once again thanks to Rick M. who sent her back with it).  Our driver entertained us with information and jokes (Conus roadis constructionis), once he recovered from loading all our luggage.  When we went through Canadian customs, we all thought positive thoughts, and were waved through.  Whew!  Good night’s sleep in Seattle (unlike the movie), once we found the right  Ramada.  I know there were wonderful things to do in Seattle, but they will have to wait for another time.

(Wed., 7/29)  The Southwest flight to Salt Lake City and then home was actually pleasant in the “party row,” enjoying wonderful views and interesting people.  Jessie and Al were waiting at the airport, and  then to Joy’s to hug those sweet children and give them t-shirts and snacks, and little gold centennial coins that they loved (Donna is a clever shopper).

Two good Alaska authors:  Velma Wallis, Two Old Women (based on Athabaskan myth) and Dana Stabenow,  Breakup  (and other mysteries)

Met on the cruise:  Priscilla Cogan; her book, Winona’s Web, is the most moving, spiritual book I have ever read.

Reading at a Social Distance

Picture 1

Staying in, reading more, reviewing the books I love, arranging parking lot pickup of produce, and wearing a mask when I must go into the allergist’s or Costco.  Spring is happening despite our problems, and the birds, frogs and turtles continue doing Nature’s work.

I review on Goodreads, Bookbub, and NetGalley, but since Amazon is being silly about reviews, and I refuse to “pay to play” by buying more than I actually want to, I’ve started putting reviews here, no particular system, and (I hope) no spoilers.  Reading for pleasure is such a gift, and with so many good writers, I need never be bored.

 

Hid from our eyes 

The tri-part plot of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s HID FROM OUR EYES reminds me of a three-ring circus, or perhaps Flora Joy’s Trispective: the 3-n-1 Quilt, in which the picture changes with a change in viewer’s position.  I did have to remind myself which plot was which, but dates and clear writing helped.  At the end, I slapped my forehead with an “I should have seen that” reaction, clues there but not obvious, just as I like them.  

Besides the triple murders, decades apart, there are other issues to complicate life.  Caring for baby makes it hard to schedule work obligations, and the doctor suggests that the erratic routine and stress might be upsetting baby Ethan.  Perhaps the new intern, who brings her own problems, can help lighten Clare’s schedule?  In addition, the town is dealing with a proposal to eliminate the local police department, and there is pressure from wealthy, powerful persons to replace Russ as Chief, (just another example of the way the rich and powerful treat others as less important, disposable). Kevin’s back, bringing a new set of problems and a lawsuit from Hadley’s vicious ex. Most delightful, we get to see Margy as more than just Russ’s firebrand mother.

I love the twisty plot, the interactions of caring characters, the descriptions (I almost felt summer’s heat despite the cold and snow here in the “real” world).  I do not love cliffhanger endings.  If you don’t either, save the Epilogue to read when the next book comes out . . . already anticipating that happy event.  

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3088992595?utm_content=review_cta_see_your_review&utm_medium=email&utm_source=bookend&ref_=pe_7171740_378325280

Lucy Burdette‘s THE KEY LIME CRIME is splendid!  The crime is only part of the story, as family and friends have equal importance in the plot, and the food adds so much “local flavor.”  (The cheese puff recipe looks almost easy enough for me).

Macabre murder, malicious vandalism, assault with pie . . . and a new mother-in-law for Haley. I did come to like Helen, but my favorite new character is T-Bone, the delightful and most helpful kitten, rescued by Miss Gloria.  (Is she really going to go on their honeymoon in the next book? If she does, who will care for all those pets? Time will tell. 😉  

A student once coined a slogan, “Drop Pies, not Bombs.”  We decided the pies would need parachutes to arrive in delicious condition and would be perfect overtures for peace.  I’ll add Key Lime Pie to the “must have” varieties. 

I loved the insights into Cooking with Love and the cooking school, not quite so in love with the idea of croissant corsages.  The quotes at the beginning of the chapters are insightful, but my favorite, timely offering is Haley’s “We should fight to the bitter end or die trying.”  Never, ever give up. 

https://www.bookbub.com/books/the-key-lime-crime-by-lucy-burdette

https://storytellermary.wordpress.com/2020/01/25/book-reviews-strong-women/

THE FIRST TO LIE  

 If Escher Wrote Books

Like a circle in a spiral . . ., like a series of fun house mirrors, or perhaps like those Russian nesting dolls, Hank Phillippi Ryan’s THE FIRST TO LIE spun through layers of truth in a mystifying kaleidoscope of “what if” possibilities. I suspected many of the tricksters, and many more that weren’t, and was ambushed by some I never saw coming. Disguises rival Shakespeare’s plays, and moral dilemmas hark back to ethics discussions . . . is it ever moral to lie?  Do ends justify means?  It’s rare for a book to be both an escape from reality and an illumination of truth, but this one qualifies. “Lies have a complicated half-life.”

Don’t we all play roles in life?  Teacher self, party-goer self, church self, date self . . . but how far do we take it?   Can one lose oneself in the pretense?  I found myself thinking of those flip books with the pages cut in thirds, to switch heads, bodies, feet. I used various-colored post-its to highlight significant passages and distinguish characters.  My book is now a rainbow porcupine. 

I believe this book will speak to many people, on a deep and intimate level, exploring issues that affect us all. I don’t want to “spoil” with too many details, but this story mirrored friends’ experiences with fertility clinics, false promises given to the hopeful.  Boston’s snowy spring and car crashes awakened memories of a trip one spring break, surprised by the snow still on the ground and carrying the weight of a student’s fatal crash just a week before . . . so many links to real lives, so many details magnifying the theme of mirrors and deception.  I want to be in a book club to discuss every nuance, and I’ll be re-reading in August when the book comes out because, as a favorite professor said, “Any book worth reading is worth reading twice.”

Ellen Meister’s LOVE SOLD SEPARATELY

My college drama professor told us that if there were anything else we could convince ourselves to do instead of acting, we should. The first pages of Ellen Meister’s LOVE SOLD SEPARATELY reminded me of his advice, as financial problems mount and Dana has lost her “day job” in retail.  Things look bleak, but best friend/agent Megan  arranges an audition at The Shopping Channel, something with which I am unfamiliar, but now feel I know a bit about.  The salary would solve so many problems, but a non-compete clause would mean giving up her theater group, Sweat City, but how can she let down her friends?  There are so many more complications, murder and mayhem, sabotage, intrigue and romance, but I won’t put “spoilers” here. 

I couldn’t put it down and at the end wished it could go on and on. I liked the characters and wanted more time with them.  I also appreciate the insight into the rewards for those called to be actors, getting lost in a character, using nervous energy to power the performance, working as a team.  The plot is rewardingly complex and the ending is satisfying.  I love when I think I know what’s coming, and then get a surprise twist.  

A bit of universal wisdom: “She needed this to be a mellow day at work.  But that wasn’t the way it went down.” (It never is . . . we used to pretend a lack of urgency to keep the school copier from messing up).

Crime Travel / edited by Barb Goffman 

Anthologies of short works are  wonderful “palate cleansers” between larger and sometimes heavier works and a way to discover new writers, after I’ve read my favorites.  I was going to name some favorites, but I can’t, as they were all so good!  I don’t want to give too much away, but I did enjoy the ghosts, the hard decision, and the guest appearance by a famous mystery writer. 
I read this over a few weeks and am now looking back with awe at the quality of the whole, with much to think about, much variety, a satisfying tally of wrongs set right, and overall a quality of writing far beyond the norm.   Even the physical package of the “tree book” pleases, lovely cover, perfect size, clear print . . . one could get spoiled by such attention to details. 

RESISTANCE WOMEN by Jennifer Chiaverini

Don’t ever get used to evil.  Don’t treat it as normal.  This was not an easy book to read at this time of escalating criminal malfeasance, but that makes it even more important a work.  I was reminded of Scheherazade, who couldn’t be happy and safe elsewhere when loved ones were in danger. There were echoes of READING LOLITA IN TEHERAN, as freedom, jobs, books were stripped away, and warnings “Where they burn books, in the end they will also burn people.”

A character says, “ . . . celebrate while we can.  What’s the alternative?” — fighting back . .
I had to take breaks, as when I read NIGHT, but their courage and loyalty is an example of the strength needed to combat evil.  Persist!  The more who join the resistance, even if we have to do it at a social distance right now, the more lives are saved. 

I knew of Martin Niemöller, but until I read Jennifer Chiaverini’s RESISTANCE WOMEN, I hadn’t heard of Mildred Fish Harnack.  Perhaps this book should be added to reading lists.  The author’s note says 9/16, her birthday, is celebrated in Wisconsin.

Annette Riggle Dashofy‘s UNDER THE RADAR kept me reading until 4 a.m. — yes, THAT good!  It’s twisty and full of conflicts and uncertainties, none of which will I spoil.  There are burglary, bullying, a blizzard, and bridal planning woes.  (Is there a word like “bridezilla” for the mother of?)  Oh, and there is news of a new half-brother, as well as serious questions about whom to trust, and a too-close-for-comfort election for coroner.  Is it any wonder my attempts to sleep failed?  Add to that a smoothly flowing writing style, which looks effortless, but we English teachers know is the result of careful revision and editing.  This book is a pleasure, the continuation of an excellent series, and there will be another soon. 

 (Purchased and read during Corona isolation closing of libraries — thank goodness for the invention of e-books!) 

ALL THE WAYS WE SAID GOOD-BYE  by White, Williams, and Willig

At first I resisted yet another book with multiple POVs and timelines, but then I fell right in.  It was surprisingly easy to follow, with clear labeling of each change, and sweet details tying them together, almost like the fade-out/fade-in of good cinema.  The reward, good characters and fascinating settings.  This is a book filled with courage, beauty, honor, sacrifice, and love and forgiveness, with mysteries to resolve and characters to love . . . and hate.  

Words of courage, for now and always:

“It’s nothing, it’s a raindrop in a thunderstorm.”

“It’s not nothing.  Not to those we save.  To them, it’s everything.”

“Don’t ever lose yourself thinking of the ones you couldn’t save.  Think instead of the ones you did.”

NO FIXED LINE by Dana Stabenow

Kate Shugak is a woman of courage, ready to stand up to “bad men” and fight for good, with courage to hope for better times, as she sees the younger generation in action, activism for good.

“The younger generation . . . Johnny and Van . . .weren’t buying houses, .. . believed in climate change, Medicare for All, dumping the Electoral College . . . voting.”

Not just the youngsters, either, the aunties hold things together. “Don’t mess with the aunties!”  Strong elders’ influence saves villages.
Dana Stabenow is also a woman of courage, willing to write about issues despite those who want dissenting voices silenced.  To stand up for right in compelling and rewarding fiction is brilliant! Powerful writing can make a difference, as did UNCLE TOM’S CABIN and GRAPES OF WRATH. Kate and Dana are an example to us all. 

“You can’t save them all, Kate.”
“No . . . more’s the pity, but I can save the two in front of me.”

 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek  by Michele Richardson

I was caught up in the action and conflict of this book, nesting comfortably out of winter weather, as the Pack Horse Librarians faced all the hazards.  I had heard of the blue people and was fascinated by explanations of (methemoglobinemia) lack of enzyme, otherwise healthy, undeserving of others’ fear and hatred.  “Colored” laws applied, and discrimination could turn deadly.  I was touched that Cussy and her father, each worried about dangers to the other, while each insisted on doing important work.  My heart warmed to the special folk who didn’t judge color.  

“Anyone knows a Kentucky man ain’t gonna let the wandering legs plant themselves anyplace other than here” reminded me of storyteller Stephen Hollen’s mountain tales.

Mention of a “children’s moon” in the daytime was sweet but sad. Hunger meant early bedtimes,  “That there were stores full of the cure for hunger kept me awake with . . . anger”

 

THE GIVER OF STARS  by Jojo Moyes

Very moving — I loved the sisterhood of horseback librarians, sticking up for each other and challenging the corrupt mine-owner and the restrictions of “woman’s place” and working, despite danger, to help others.  I cared about these women and the men who supported them and their work.  (I confess to a few tears, not a common reaction for me these days).  It started a bit slowly, but I’m glad I went back to it for a second look . . . another book with some moral ambiguity in the resolution — I suspect I’d have had more trouble debating right or wrong when younger. 

LOUISE’S CROSSING  by Sarah Shaber

Crossing the ocean in a welded, not riveted, Liberty ship with a full load of ammunition and other supplies for the Allied forces is a dangerous undertaking.  Add the discomfort of no heat in sub-zero weather, and throw in a possible murderer aboard, but with so much at stake, investigating takes a back seat to surviving the crossing.  This was an adventure I could not put down, as Louise Pearlie persists in her unauthorized search for justice.  

Sarah Shaber’s writing is clear and compelling, descriptions feel real, so real that I had to bundle up a bit from imagined cold and appreciate baths and plentiful food.  

Wisdom, “After allowing myself an extensive pity party, I pulled myself together . . . I would make the best of it.”  “I thought about my future.”   7th in the excellent series

The American Cafe  by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

Sadie Walela, another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into . . . good thing there are good people to help you through.  A lovely childhood dream, to own and work a small cafe, a timely opportunity to purchase and rename the Liberty Diner, a bonus discovery of a loyal, helpful group of Regulars who show up early to have coffee and help, how could that go wrong?  It can, with murder, gun threats, broken window, familial disputes, and a reluctant agreement to sub at the bank.  I bought a used copy because my library, having ordered it months ago, still didn’t have it.  It arrived days after mine (of course — I should have ordered sooner).  I couldn’t resist reading their fresh new copy, but I’ll be glad to have mine to keep.  This is second in a series, read out of order because of difficulty getting a copy.  I’m ready for a fifth, whenever that shall be.  ** I looked up Cherokee tear dresses — beautiful!

 

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Three Little Pigs, Lego Version

 

 

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I was helping with a Lego camp and tailored the story to what I saw and heard that week (and so can you, feel free to make changes. 😉  These are my additions to the familiar tale, with wolf huffing and puffing and blowing houses down.  I wrote down these “bones” of the story for a friend and thought I should record and share it.

1st pig liked comic books, filled his backpack with his favorites plus a candy bar and soda.  Traded comic for straw, “Have to give something to get something,” and built straw house. Offered to share comic with wolf, who instead wanted “piggy for lunch.” Ran to brother’s house.
2nd pig had computer game, chips, and juice, let man with sticks play games while he built house, offered to let the wolf play Tetris, but no. Both run to . . .
3rd pig, heaviest backpack, filled with grains, apples, and water . . . and Lego bricks!  He built a strong Lego house with locking door and clear windows and chimney, near a stream, where he planted grain and apple seeds.  Three pigs safe inside house.

I wanted to end with the wolf showing up at Lego shows to learn to build a catapult, and the campers were fine with it, but the visiting little sisters insisted there had to be “wolf stew” from wolf falling down the chimney.  They were right; the menace has to be GONE at the end of a story.  “No one ever saw that wolf again.”

When I told stories to a friend’s high school class, a smart-alec made a comment about “3 Little Pigs” so I included it in the mythology lineup, pointedly saying it was in response to his request.  I’m ornery, but I also like to point out how to change the old tales to fit new interests.  I couldn’t think of a Lego story until I picked up on the fact that true aficionados refer to them as Lego BRICKS. 😉
Lego fun

Book Reviews — Strong Women!

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Ellen Meister’s LOVE SOLD SEPARATELY

My college drama professor told us that if there were anything else we could convince ourselves to do instead of acting, we should. The first pages of Ellen Meister’s LOVE SOLD SEPARATELY reminded me of his advice, as financial problems mount and Dana has lost her “day job” in retail.  Things look bleak, but best friend/agent Megan  arranges an audition at The Shopping Channel, something with which I am unfamiliar, but now feel I know a bit about.  The salary would solve so many problems, but a non-compete clause would mean giving up her theater group, Sweat City, but how can she let down her friends?  There are so many more complications, murder and mayhem, sabotage, intrigue and romance, but I won’t put “spoilers” here. 

I couldn’t put it down and at the end wished it could go on and on. I liked the characters and wanted more time with them.  I also appreciate the insight into the rewards for those called to be actors, getting lost in a character, using nervous energy to power the performance, working as a team.  The plot is rewardingly complex and the ending is satisfying.  I love when I think I know what’s coming, and then get a surprise twist.  

A bit of universal wisdom: “She needed this to be a mellow day at work.  But that wasn’t the way it went down.” (It never is . . . we used to pretend a lack of urgency to keep the school copier from messing up).

 

THE TESTAMENTS

Wow! . . . just wow.  Margaret Atwood’s THE TESTAMENTS is powerful, well written, scary, but hopeful and satisfying!  I read it in less than two days, finishing just before bed, and I awoke from a dream in which I kicked open a door to rescue a young woman from a rough man. I seldom remember dreams, but this was a moving book.

 I have a no-spoilers rule foTr myself, so am reluctant to reveal too much about the important aspects of the three threads of the plot, just that they do not disappoint.  A bit of wisdom, “once a judge, always a judge” and the “mills . . .  grind slowly but . . . exceeding small.” A bit of comfort, “The minor infirmities of age.  I hope you will live long enough to experience them.”  I was tickled to recognize a pattern in the names of the wedding arrangers, “Aunt Lorna, Aunt Sara Lee, and Aunt Betty” and the offered name, Aunt Maybelline, but it took TIME Magazine’s excellent interview to alert me to the Schlafly Cafe.  I admired this masterful bit of indirect permission, “You are strong.  Strength is a gift.  Gifts should be employed.” 

The teacher in me agrees that “the young are idealistic, have an underdeveloped sense of their own mortality, and . . . an exaggerated thirst for justice.” We’ve seen this in young activists, and I applaud them for their efforts.   

Michele Richardson

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

I was caught up in the action and conflict of this book, nesting comfortably out of winter weather, as the Pack Horse Librarians faced all the hazards.  I had heard of the blue people and was fascinated by explanations of (methemoglobinemia) lack of enzyme, otherwise healthy, undeserving of others’ fear and hatred.  “Colored” laws applied, and discrimination could turn deadly.  I was touched that Cussy and her father, each worried about dangers to the other, while each insisted on doing important work.  My heart warmed to the special folk who didn’t judge color.  

“Anyone knows a Kentucky man ain’t gonna let the wandering legs plant themselves anyplace other than here” reminded me of storyteller Stephen Hollen’s mountain tales.

Mention of a “children’s moon” in the daytime was sweet but sad. Hunger meant early bedtimes,  “That there were stores full of the cure for hunger kept me awake with . . . anger”

Jojo Moyes 

THE GIVER OF STARS

Very moving — I loved the sisterhood of horseback librarians, sticking up for each other and challenging the corrupt mine-owner and the restrictions of “woman’s place” and working, despite danger, to help others.  I cared about these women and the men who supported them and their work.  (I confess to a few tears, not a common reaction for me these days).  It started a bit slowly, but I’m glad I went back to it for a second look . . . another book with some moral ambiguity in the resolution — I suspect I’d have had more trouble debating right or wrong when younger. 

LOUISE’S CROSSING  by Sarah Shaber

Crossing the ocean in a welded, not riveted, Liberty ship with a full load of ammunition and other supplies for the Allied forces is a dangerous undertaking.  Add the discomfort of no heat in sub-zero weather, and throw in a possible murderer aboard, but with so much at stake, investigating takes a back seat to surviving the crossing.  This was an adventure I could not put down, as Louise Pearlie persists in her unauthorized search for justice.  

Sarah Shaber’s writing is clear and compelling, descriptions feel real, so real that I had to bundle up a bit from imagined cold and appreciate baths and plentiful food.  

Wisdom, “After allowing myself an extensive pity party, I pulled myself together . . . I would make the best of it.”  “I thought about my future.”   7th in the excellent series

The American Cafe  by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

Sadie Walela, another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into . . . good thing there are good people to help you through.  A lovely childhood dream, to own and work a small cafe, a timely opportunity to purchase and rename the Liberty Diner, a bonus discovery of a loyal, helpful group of Regulars who show up early to have coffee and help, how could that go wrong?  It can, with murder, gun threats, broken window, familial disputes, and a reluctant agreement to sub at the bank.  I bought a used copy because my library, having ordered it months ago, still didn’t have it.  It arrived days after mine (of course — I should have ordered sooner).  I couldn’t resist reading their fresh new copy, but I’ll be glad to have mine to keep.  This is second in a series, read out of order because of difficulty getting a copy.  I’m ready for a fifth, whenever that shall be.  ** I looked up Cherokee tear dresses — beautiful!

 

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ETSU New England Cruise 2002

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ETSU New England Cruise  2002 Mary Garrett’s reflections . . . .

This was an unusual cruise in several ways.  This was our first cruise of the northeast coast, a new and interesting area.  Also, instead of one storyteller traveling with us, we had a “teller in every port,” allowing us to hear a variety of tellers and get the local flavor of each stop.  This provided interesting variety, but perhaps less “bonding time” with our tellers and as a group.  The “freestyle cruising,” while allowing more flexibility in scheduling meals and other acÎtivities,  also kept us more separate as a group, with no set time and place for meals.  One suggestion I heard was to arrange one (or more?) reserved dinner seatings as a group.  (The main dining rooms would take reservations for 5:30 or 8:30). We were also an unusually small group, only 32 or so, because the cruise line had recalled the unsold cabins early to cover an over-booking.  Sigh!  Reserve early!

This cruise was also different for me personally.  First, I brought my 13-year-old niece, Jill, with me, a new experience.  She proved to be a delightful travel companion, easily fitting into the adult group of tellers, and finding friends nearer her own age at the pool.  I took her back to her dad yesterday (8/5) and I really miss her; after 12 days with her, the space around me seems empty. 

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My mom once said that my dad didn’t like for us to spend the night away from home; he said there was an empty space when one of us five children was gone — I somewhat understand now.   We brought several stuffed animals with us, including our matching purple hippos (“I want a Hippopatamus for Christmas”), and the stewards arranged Jill’s sweetly on her bed when they came to turn down the beds.  One night when I “hit the sack” before her, Jill even tucked me in, “just like you do for me.”  So nice!

Also, Flora asked me to organize the story swaps on the cruise, a new responsibility for me, and great fun to do.  I am glad to have been able to experience this, and I think it went well.  I had been a little nervous, especially since I also had to think about Jill, but she likes to be up late (later than me, even), and she really took to the sharing in the swaps, even telling some stories herself.  I modeled a little after Dan Keding’s approach last year, beginning most sessions with a short story to get things going.  We seemed to have, to quote Perrin Stifel’s favorite saying, “just enough” tellers and stories each evening, and an interesting flow of themes as well.  In the absence of formal workshops, the swaps were the only time we worked on stories as a group.  Flora had offered critiquing sessions as well, but they weren’t formally scheduled  and I don’t know if any were requested.  (Our special outings, shore excursions, and general shipboard activities did wear most of us out).  

The fun was enlivened by Rosemary and Lisa’s door poster interpretation contest, with prizes distributed at the last session on Saturday afternoon.  The poster had two famous Chinese sayings, and Amy had illustrated them with very nice sketches also.  I didn’t write down her exact wording, but the first was the “Travel safely” characters that John Wu had put on the “Jackie” calligraphy that Jill had bought in Battery Park (and carefully and safely hand carried through the rest of the trip).  Lisa said it literally meant “May the wind fill your sails . . .” and the second had to do with sharing stories. Your words are like a river flowing–or may your words flow like a river! 

It was a great excuse to go by their room (not that Jill needed an excuse — Rosemary and Lisa were her new best friends from the first day, and the three of them did a dynamite tandem telling of Cinderella, exploring the “happily ever after” part into three generations).  Prizes were lovely ceramic charms from Hong Kong and a special antique French salt spoon “so your stories will always be salty.”  Mary Kay’s answer was in the form of a Haiku, very impressive!  Their contest helped me decide how to give away the six copies of my dad’s books I had brought with me.   I gave them out at the end of Friday evening’s swap, calling in order those who had told at previous swaps, stories for stories as it were.

July 26 — Flight to New York — Fabulous New York!!!!

The flight was easy and fun, with wonderful clouds and a good view of the city before landing.  The limo service was efficient (though confusing at first because I didn’t know he was really our driver; Mary Kay had spotted him first and pointed out Jill and me to him, and he had discarded his sign).  Once checked into the Milford Plaza, we formed a dinner group for the Steak House across the street — elegant, leisurely, and delicious.  Jill liked Neva Gail at once, but was a little less enamored with “slow, boring, stuck-up restaurants.”  The conflict over formal meals continued throughout the cruise, but we compromised with a few buffet meals in the Big Apple on 5th deck, and Jill learned to enjoy new treats like veal, zabaglione (which I had given her once by mistake when she was much smaller), lamb, and even tried (but didn’t like) escargot.  At first, the waiters brought children’s menus, then both menus, and by the end just the sophisticated adult menu.  One night we really tested their abilities as Jill decided at the last minute that she was hungry, and they quickly produced pizza and grapefruit juice, and a few nights later she tried the same meal from room service (also a useful source for coffee first thing in the morning — Aunt Mary is so much nicer when she’s had coffee).

The Milford was interesting, with avery elegant lobby, very small rooms (good practice for the cabins on the Norwegian Sea), and no soundproofing of the windows (though by the second night I was tired enough not to notice the traffic noises as much).  The staff was friendly, though service was a bit . . . disorganized?? After four or five requests for washcloths and extra pillows, beginning at about 7 p.m., I made a final request at about 1:30 a.m., “Am I really going to have to come to the lobby in my nightgown to get pillows?” — it worked; I recommend the line.  There was a nice deli on the corner, with a second entrance (we later discovered) from the lower lobby of the Milford — we had the rest of our meals there, very convenient, and helpful to have built a bit of a relationship when Jill’s retainers went missing Sunday morning.  They found the top one, and I left addresses in case the lower one was discovered.  They didn’t even want to accept a tip, but did when I pointed out they would need postage if the other was found (so far, no news on that).  All the storytellers reassured us that everyone loses retainers, but we were still very upset, and wrote careful, apologetic letters to Jill’s mom.

Theater!!!!  We had arranged tickets for The Phantom and Lion King, and both were wonderful!!  We were so close in The Phantom that “when he threw fire, we could feel the heat.” Sets were impressive, singing was awesome — I’ll never be content with the balcony of the Fox again.  We weren’t quiæte as close in Lion King (balcony, behind two women with very big hair), but the whole spectacle, the music, dancing, costumes, puppetry, and the amazing set were almost overwhelming.  Standing ovations for the cast and then for the musicians!!  We could walk easily from the hotel to the theaters, and only got a little confused here and there (a block out of our way — well-done for me, the champion of mis-direction).  On the way back from Phantom, we stoped at Sardi’s for dessert: cheesecake and boccone dolce.  It was so much fun!  I wasn’t sure we would get in without a reservation but the doorman (!!) welcomed us right in.  Times Square, on the other hand, wasn’t as glitzy as we’d expected — in fact, we agreed we could recognize it by its smell.

Jill and I took a tour on the Greyline  double-decker buses — the downtown tour on Saturday, allowing for a stop in Battery Park to transfer to the ferry for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It was disappointing (though understandable) not to be able to go inside the Statue of Liberty, but we did walk the circumference of the island (and stock up in the gift shop).  The new exhibits at Ellis Island were interesting; even more interesting was the gentleman we met on the ferry.  He was returning to the place where he had entered the country as a boy of 10, to join his American father after his Croatian mother’s death.  He had been accorded some special treatment, since he was already a citizen because of his father.  He was accompanied by his daughter and talked of his many grand-children and great-grandchildren.  Jill had not been pleased with the idea of “riding around on a bus all day” but was somewhat appeased with the on-off privileges, allowing for stops at places of interest, and fully enjoyed the banter of the wittiest guide in the whole world, Sherwood.  He was fun, funny, full of information, and friendly to everyone, even waving to various people as we passed by.  On our return from Battery Park, we insisted on riding his bus, and he helped to make it happen.   He has a wonderful philosophy of enjoying life, doing good, appreciating loved ones (he told the husbands on the bus where to buy flowers for their wives).  He says we’ll be seeing him on tv and in movies, and I believe we will.

Jill loved Battery Park, stopping to order a “your name on a grain of rice” necklace — when he offered to do two names, we each bought the other a necklace with both our names, a green turtle for me, a pink elephant for Jill (hers unfortunately disappeared from her neck going from the hotel to the ship — we’re on the lookout for another source).  The pigeons ate all the rice mistakes, and anything else they were offered.  One musician had pigeons landing tamely on his hands.  We waited a long time for the Jackie calligraphy, but it was so well done, and it was interesting to watch the work in progress.  The artist seemed pleased when we asked him to sign his work.  Our return to the hotel included a stop at Pokemon headquarters  — Jill needed to replace a game her dog had chewed up.  It was a huge and impressive store, and we only got a little lost finding it and finding our way home.  In front of the Milford, our N.Y. “home,” was the statue donated to New York by the Missouri firefighters, the one that had just been completed and was awaiting shipment last September.  It was quite moving.

Sunday, on to the Norwegian Sea

On Sunday morning, Jill and I did the uptown tour on the bus, though I think she would rather have slept.  It was great to see Central Park, Harlem, Fifth Avenue — then “home” for breakfast and taxis to the airport.  Boarding the ship was interesting — we had a new room number and accidentally sent our bags to the wrong room. Then when we got to 3212, the door was locked (someone had accidentally, I hope, taken our room).  A call to the operator brought a darling young woman named Jenny, who opened the door, saw someone else’s stuff, and promptly escorted us to a lounge for a cool drink while she looked into it, straightened it out, and arranged for the steward to “refresh” the room.  Her courtesy and sense of humor (“sorry, you won’t get to stay with me, after all”) made the situation fun and funny.  (Now, if we’d had a little of that in Colorado).  The staff were all wonderful.  One night Jill and I were having trouble finding each other, but we knew we would be fine because everywhere we looked, we got reports of each other, from the steward(ess?) cleaning the room, to the hostess in the dining room, we kept hearing, “She was just here.”  So sweet!  The hostess also started asking for stories, whenever she wasn’t too busy, and I was happy to supply them!!

  Jill had the great idea to look for our bags at the wrong room (so she could have her swim suit), and we brought them back ourselves so she  could hurry off for her first swim — well, after the obligatory and always-fun lifeboat drill. Watching the skyline and the Statue of Liberty as we left was very exciting.  We were on our way!!!

We had our own special reception the first night, and made plans to meet for dinner, necessary in the absence of assigned tables, but it did allow us to mingle more.  The next day (Monday 7/29) was at-sea, plenty of swim time (Jill even talked me into that cold pool, and taught me the secret, warming in the hot tub before and after) and dress-up dinner and photos with the captain.  Mary Kay, Fran and I even sat on deck and knitted for a bit.  I helped them get started with apple caps and even showed a waiter and two waitresses how to knit. (Ask Mary Kay about taking knitting on the plane in her carry-on.  If she’d been caught with them, she might have been accused of knitting an Afghan — seriously, put them in the checked bags nowadays).  I didn’t actually knit much on this trip.  I was busy during the swaps, and on the bus rides, Jill would fall asleep; so I was busy being a pillow (and loving it).  I used to fall asleep on car rides, too, until I became the driver.

We also had our first swap — great fun!  Rosemary Potter told “door knock stories” about her log house, and Neva Gail added a chilling story of the burning of an orphanage.  Lisa Tan shared a Chinese legend of the Monkey King in search of a weapon.  (Lisa has since written a book about the Monkey King).  Harriet told a family story of her uncle’s glass blowing (beer bottles, what else?) and getting advice from frogs, “too deep” and “go around” with really great frog voices.  Nancy told about her Nana, the best band-aid, with all that extra skin “to keep the stories in.”  

When we went back to our cabin, Jill stared our our window and made up her own ghost story, with ghostly warnings saving the passengers and crew.  I took some pictures of Jill sitting in that window, and when she told the story at the next swap, all were impressed that she could fit there (and Lisa was going to try it herselîf).  Jill really loved that window, and one day saw a whale from it.  On the first day while we were still docked, she made a joke about the “terrible view” — I told her I had read of someone actually calling to complain about the view once, and we decided the captain should have arranged to “change the view just for (you)” — big tips all around!!

Tuesday, 7/30 — Halifax, Nova Scotia

Our guide, Heather, was a trip!  Send future husbands to learn “light-house keeping” . . . older women can hold their liquor, but not the water.  Then a sad, spooky story of “widows’ island” when all the men were killed after helping pirates bury treasure.  Privateers were authorized by England and only became “pirates” if they attacked English ships.  At Peggy’s Cove, we enjoyed the lighthouse and the rocks (Jill was so agile on the rocks!!).  She even picked wildflowers after the musicians said, “She might as well, the goats eat them anyway.”   I believe it was also on this excursion that we saw all the dry stone walls (made with no mortar, these were a bit less elaborate than the ones in Golden, Colorado).  We started quoting lines from Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,”  “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”  “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Then on to Hubbards for lunch at the Shore Club, lovely old place where they often hold dances.  The lobsters were good (Jill had chicken, but did taste the lobster).  I gave my second tail to Marsh, and Flora was sad; so Jill gave her blueberry shortcake to Flora and got 15 ETSU credits for it!!!  Sheila Smith was our teller — very impressive!  A recitation of “sailors’ rights” led to the story of the Kingdom of Outerballdonia, a fisherman’s paradise to which “women need not apply.”  Then the sad story of Captain Hall’s Harbor in 1813 when the cabin boy of the MaryJane and the Indian girl Softfeather perished because of the curse of Midas.  Then the story of the ghost ship the Young Teaser(?) with the powder cache set on fire and no survivors.  Her final stories were also songs, of the sea people and the sea as a jealous mistress, and Sheila’s voice is lovely.  On the way back, we made a quick stop at the Citadel for pictures of the lovely view and the very patient royal guard.  It was a wonderful day!  

That evening’s swap was lively.  Jill started with her Jamie and Johnny story “listen to a warning, it could save your life.”  Ruth told her Malcolm Will-ya story, based on her own brother, but with the foolishness of Jack.  MaryKay told about her Kirkwood house, found to have secret rooms for the underground railroad.  Rosemary told the story of the odd housekeeping vocabulary (extra points for not being distracted by the strange lighting going on behind her). We all agreed that on the ship it is  best to take no “hot cockelorum” into your “barnacle.”  Fran finished the set with the story of her own recovery from serious injury and the lessons, “The body will heal.  Ignore those who laugh at you. Take a hot bath every night.”

Wed. 7/31  Bar Harbor, Maine

Marsh pulled a real coup, getting the earliest tender tickets so we could go ashore and wander before our formal tour.  We shopped and then found Oli’s Trolley and enjoyed a trip into Acadia National park to hear Jackson Gillman.  Jackson actually found us as we entered the park, and after a bit of scenery we joined him, his wife Susan, and daughter Jillian (!) for wonderful stories.  The two Jillians bonded afterward with Jill’s gift of grass-weaving and mutual admiration of their great name.  We enjoyed Jackson’s song of the “Hang-downs” (the one that scared Robin last October), and the clammer song, his Potato Head County Eastern music, and his hysterically funny skit about Archibald TooGood (performed in tandem with Flora rising to new heights).  We also received “News of the Finest Kind” from the Maineiac satirical newspaper (I bought one to bring home).  As befits a member of the Fraternal Order of Old-Fart Fathers, he shared his song of anticipated new life (Jill can do the gurgly baby sound quite well; I can’t, but the tune kept haunting me even after I came home).  Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon and a final admonition to re-charge ourselves in the outdoors sent us off with healthy aspirations.

 

Thursday, 8/1  Boston — Marblehead & Salem Tour

Jill and I chose to see Marblehead and Salem, and it was lovely.  Our guide gave us an “insider’s view of Marblehead, including a visit to see the original of “The Spirit of 1776.”  She even managed to find time for us to walk up to see the House of the Seven Gables.  The witch museum’s recorded historical background show was chilling, and the gift shop was terrific, but once back on the bus we realized we had taken a wrong exit choice and missed the self-guided museum part.  Time was too tight,  and I hope we can go back someday. (Jill wants to be there on Halloween sometime).  Jill had a long list of people to get gifts for, and a special commission to get five t-shirts for her mom, one from each stop (leaving out Newport, oops!)  Jill also used her own spending money to get a warm fleece jacket for her mom at Ellis Island — on sale even!

Judith did her stories on board the Norwegian Sea — more finessing by Marsh to make that possible, and Judith had to leave her driver’s license for security!  Judith was wonderful!!!  She began by teaching us a song about cod, the livelihood of the Marblehead fishermen, “cut, clean and cut again, ah for the sparkling cod.”   This led to the story of Wilmott Red, the only Marblehead citizen to be tried by the “Calvinist foreigners” of Salem.  The adopting of a four-year-old orphan by the suspected “witch,” the “two trickling streams of sorrow” coming together to bring wholeness and happiness, the sad ending, but with life continuing afterward — it was so moving!  It also helped explain the Salem/Marblehead animosity our guide had alluded to Judith is brilliant!

Jill and I planned to go to the midnight chocolate buffet, but we lay down to rest for an hour or so before it — it was a strenuous day.  When the alarm and the wake-up call came, Jill was sleeping so soundly that I just couldn’t wake her.  I went, took pictures, met Lisa and Rosemary, and collected a plate of chocolates to make her feel better in the morning.

Friday, 8/2  Martha’s Vineyard

Again, Marsh got us ashore early, and we wandered and shopped.  We even sat and enjoyed the view in a closed restaurant and on the porch of a B&B with no one seeming to mind.  Jill craved ice cream (my fault for letting the kids have ice cream for breakfast when they spend the night).  I took a taste when we finally found an open shop (Yum!).  She also found magic tricks, a whole new area of expertise for her.    We also saw . . . Susan Klein!!  She had conducted a successful auction for charity the night before and had just a few minutes to spend with us, but they were wonderful minutes!  

We met at the pier for our tour, but were missing two people, whom I won’t name here.  We looked for them for an hour and then gave up.  Jill (and others) were upset at the loss of time, which gave us only a few minutes on the beautiful beach and made us cut short the stories in the library.  Our lost sheep, as it turns out, had been given directions to a shop, got on the wrong bus, and spent the rest of the day seeking us — you have to forgive lost sheep!  We ate our sandwiches on the bus (giving extras to the guide, her daughter, and the driver), and we did at least get to touch the water and take pictures of the Gay Head (Aquinas) cliffs.  As as every stop, we were told that we were lucky to have perfect weather, and that the day before was much hotter and less pleasant.  Did Marsh arrange the weather, too?

Barbara Lipke’s stories were fascinating, based on her Vineyard summers as a child (not a native — she told the same analogy as Jackson, “if the cat has kittens in the oven, that doesn’t make them biscuits”).  They had been getting sour cream free from a dairy, until he tasted it and started charging.  Three brave girls kept the Liberty Pole from being commandeered by the Phoenix.   Mrs. Sanford, the cook, married into money but was not accepted by the “finest people.”  “Lucy are they staring? . . . Then sit up straighter!”  Best of all, Barbara’s wonderful house, with remodeling to be finished in the spring (which spring?) and with a resident ghost who “seems to mean no harm.”  Martha’s Vineyard is so beautiful!  I may have to read those want ads at mvtimes.com, mvgazette.com, mv.com/diaspora.

Jill, Rosemary, and Lisa began our swap that evening with their tandem tale of Cinderella, and the continuing problems because you can’t get away from conflict.  Ann did a wonderful rhyming Cinderella story, and Lisa followed it with two brothers trying to take the golden squash.  I told “The Stolen Child” story from Healing Stories — the Scottish setting of Nova Scotia had brought it to me for Jill’s bedtime story (and it had taken two nights to tell — she was too tired to stay awake).  Neva Gail told of a weaver whose weavings came true, with a warning to demanding spouses everywhere.  Fran told of Jesus healing the child afflicted with demons.  Again it was an interesting mix of stories and tellers, and just enough time.

Saturday 8/3 — Newport, R.I.

Outstanding day!  We went to Belcourt Castle for elegant coffee, tea and pastries in the elegant dining hall that was originally the coach room.  Alva had inherited it from her second wealthy husband (divorced the first, Vanderbilt, for adultery and got much property there, too).  She was a staunch feminist, so when we got back to the bus, we sang “Sister Suffragettes” from Mary Poppins. (We had tendered over on the Amazing Grace, so we sang then, too). The castle was so elegant, and so filled with treasures!!  We took many pictures in the main room and garden (not allowed elsewhere).  Most of us couldn’t imagine living in such splendor.  (Of course, I’d be willing to try . . .)

Valerie Tutson was our teller — phenomenal strong woman!!  She had us singing in Zulu (Yabo means yes) and laughing and crying about her trip to discover her roots, to Africa by way of her grandfather’s Scotland.  In Senegal she visited Gore, the door of no return.  She gave me chills in that hot, stuffy room.  Her main story was of Duchess, owned by Wm. Ellery Channing, who earned her freedom by baking — even George Washington liked her baking.  She had been brought in 1739 from Africa to Barbados and then to Newport, which had the highest rate of slavery in the colonies.  She told as Duchess would have told to the children who gathered at her home for stories and plum cake, and then gave us plum cake.  She was so intense, and Jill, as the only child in the group, was a center of focus for her.  Jill declared Valerie her favorite teller.  Storytellers agreed — we want to see her in Jonesborough (and St. Louis?) and with some tapes for sale!!

We had lots of time left after the tour, and Jill wanted a beach.  We got good directions for using public buses and were prepared to do it, but the bus, when it finally came, was so slow that we worried we would repeat the “lost sheep” episode.  We got off, walked back (five minutes for what took the bus twelve — Folk Festival traffic) and tendered back for late lunch (they kept the line open way past scheduled closing) and swim and sauna (Lisa taught Jill about the sauna).   We watched sailboat races from the ship and saw the huge crowd gathered for the festival.

Then our last swap (sob).  I began with the “Dervish in the Ditch” from Doug Lipman and the “Heaven and Hell” analogy.  Fran told of Mother Mouse and of a monastery where the monks were told that one of them was the Messiah.  Henry and Flora warned of the dangers of Mother Goose and told the Frog Prince in a most amazing way.  (I was sorry Jill had come late, but then realized her presence might have inhibited the steamy princess).  Ramona told the story of the Samurai warrior and the tea master, a lesson in focus, discipline, and self-acceptance.  MaryKay shared a story of lost gold buried by fur traders on the Missouri River — the solution to our funding problems?  Rosemary told the familiar story of the monkeys and “hats for sale” but then added a piece from NPR about monkeys gathering oranges in . . . plastic shopping bags?!!  Lisa shared the good news/bad news/who knows? story.  It was such a wonderful  cruise and wonderful group!!  Mostly good news, I think.

On the way to dinner, Jill complained of a sore toe and back from a fall, and during dinner she seemed to feel worse, so on Rosemary’s advice, I stopped at the main desk to report it.  The nurse called us soon after in our cabin and asked us to come in to make a full report.  The doctor taped her cut foot and gave her extra-strong Tylenol, which she didn’t need to take.  There was also an amusing disagreement between doctor and nurse about what to call the “cots” for keeping her toe dry when she showered.  To use our new catch phrase (coined one night when we were both over-tired), “I never saw that on a cruise ship before.”  

Then we packed and celebrated the “closing of the suitcases” with one last smoothie apiece. Jill had purchased a book of coupons for special drinks and still had several left; she bought one for the photographer, which along with her bringing Rosemary and Lisa in to buy photos the next morning (really good prints!), earned her a free photo with her “push here for music” sticker on her nose.  (Sticker from the Tango Frog I bought for myself).

It was sad to leave, but good to get home.  I actually made it out to the deck to see Liberty one more time — Jill slept longer, with her Squeaker puppet-bird finally waking her.  While we were waiting for a taxi to the airport, we were offered a ride in a “stretch limo” for slightly more.  Marsh didn’t tell us not to (I try to check things out with Marsh when I can) so we set off, down elevators, out to the street,  and across a busy street hauling our luggage.  The light changed, and no one honked or anything (I think N.Y. drivers have been maligned).  Then we saw the limo, dull, rusty, dirty.  Jill was so disappointed.  I told her there was a lesson there about what h.appens when you go for the glitz.  We did get to the airport safely, though, along with the other family traveling in the same limo, so that’s what matters.  Someone on the cruise said I reminded her of  Auntie Mame — Mom used to call me that when I took kids on adventures, and I’m pleased to do it, and so far I’ve always brought them home safely . . . .

The flight back was great.  We played the Storytelling card game, and I was impressed with her creativity, and together we did the crossword and the Mensa puzzle in the in-flight magazine.  (We’d done the ones on the way out, too, but August was a new month).  Jill stayed one more night, so she could join me for lunch with Patricia McKissack (Jill is a big fan, of course, as am I).  Pat brought a copy of Fly Away Home and autographed it for her (I goòt it from the library to read myself –it’s wonderful!  A young girl, a “practical dreamer,” faces the KKK, befriends a Comanche boy, helps build desks for Booker T. Washington’s school.  I’ll have to get my own copy now).  We had the most wonderful long, chatty lunch.  I still think we could solve the world’s problems if we were given the chance.  Jill and I made one last stop at the Butterfly House (www.butterfly house.org), to honor Mom (we took two of her nightshirts on the cruise also), and then I gave Jill to her dad.  (Margaret had stopped by to see her in the morning — she missed her girl just a bit).  I am glad they both agreed to share her with me — what a great young lady, creative, a good traveler, able to handle adult situations so well, and just plain fun!

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About the Storytellers

SHEILA SMITH of “StorygemS” is a singer, song writer and storyteller and your community Storytelling host in Nováa Scotia for the 2002 ETSU Storytelling cruise. For more than seven years she has been sharing her gift of storytelling with folks as a national conference and workshop facilitator, entertainer, and recently as part of the “writers-in-the-school” district program. Sheila is a graduate of AST Ministry & Theology Diploma Program in Halifax, NS and the Summer Institute in Pastoral Liturgy at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Ontario. She looks forward to sharing the wealth of Nova Scotia’s folklore, music and Maritime hospitality with you.

 

BARBARA LIPKE tells tales—folk tales, original tales, and tales that make you giggle, guffaw, or send a shiver down your spine. A long time “summer Vineyarder,” her Vineyard tales recapture a time gone by. She has told at Boston First Night, Exchange Place, National Storytelling Festival, and at festivals throughout New England, including the First Storytel^ling Festival on Martha’s Vineyard. She has two audiocassette tapes: Tales from The Vineyard, and From Off-Island, Vineyard Summers. She is the author of Figures, Facts, and Fables, Telling Tales in Science and Math, Heinemann, 1996. All are available from Barbara at 799 Commonwealth Ave, Newton Centre, MA 02459, or by e-mail at bliptales@earthlink.net.

 

JACKSON GILLMAN is better known as “The Stand-Up Chameleon.” Energy, wit, music, and wisdom are his stock-in-trade. More than twenty years in the business of speaking and performing have given him an enormous amount of material on which to draw as he customizes an engaging program of comedy, music, and oratory for this cruise event. Humor can enliven and enlighten any group, meeting, or gathering, and his is based on a foundation of beneficence, hope, and a belief in the enduring power of the human öspirit. So come along with him and let him introduce you to some of his characters.

 

VALERIE TUTSON graduated from Brown University with a Master’s Degree in Theatre Arts and a degree in a self-designed major: Storytelling as a Communication’s Art. Valerie has been telling stories in schools, churches, libraries, festivals, and conferences since 1991. She draws her stories from around the world with an emphasis on African traditions. Her repertoire includes stories and songs she learned in her travels to South Africa, her experiences in West Africa, and stories from African American history. In addition, she is gaining quite a reputation for her exciting retelling of age-old Bible stories. She not only delights listeners with her tale-telling, she also teaches workshops and classes to students of all ages, and hosts CULTURAL TAPESTRY, an award-winning show for COX 3 celebrating the diverse cultures around usö.

 

JUDITH BLACK. Judith’s stories include explorations into the mythic and dissections of the minuscule, with traditional and original material available for all age groupings. Well known for stories sculpted from her own observed life, subjects such as patient (or the attempt at it) parenting, disasters in dating land, and even helping elders through their last journey, are no strangers to her repertoire. Her source of comedy and her template for human growth and development have come from being a post feminist, vegetarian, and pacifist. She also gained much story material via her son’s path through the ranks of football playing and into the US Marines. One of her tales appears in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and many of them are on her recordings. These all can be found both in her adult repertoire and stories for children and families.

Books and Reviews — Retirement Avocation

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I am luxuriating in the broad margins of my retired life, in awe of the me that could teach six classes a day and complete six errands on the way home.  I recall warning students with a notice on the board to “Be considerate.  Your tired teachers were at parent conferences until 9 p.m. last night,” and with their help making it through the day’s classes.  One wag snuck up and added, “Teachers be nice to students.  We have been dealing with tired, cranky teachers all day.”  I have fond memories of those students, but love my status as human be-ing rather than do-ing.  My last week, I raised a fist to declare, “as God is my witness, I’ll never set my alarm for 5 a.m. again,” and my first period students applauded . . . 7:25 a.m. is too early to start school. 

I do give a storytelling workshop every spring for MOAEYC Early Childhood educators, and get some exercise and crafting in at the Y, but my main avocation now is what delighted me during all those summer vacations — reading!  I have also been writing reviews for those I love, on Goodreads, Bookbub, NetGalley, and (until recently) Amazon.  (Their policy now is to only allow reviews from those who spend $50/year on “non-promotional” items, whatever that is.  Their sandbox, their rules. Bah, humbug!)

I will be posting some of my reviews here, beginning with a few of the more recent ones, and I encourage others to write reviews also.  It’s a way to let authors know they are appreciated and help ensure there will be more of the books we love.  

 

Bruce Coville’s Unicorn Chronicles

I thoroughly enjoyed the Full Cast Audio performance of Bruce Coville’s Unicorn Chronicles.  It’s a splendid tale, complex, with compelling characters, and the drama is so well done! Even the credits at the end are presented in an interesting way. ❤  There are three additional short stories, “After the Third Kiss,” “The Guardian of Memory,” and “The Boy With Silver Eyes,” which helped ease the pain of separation at the end of the saga. I loved the world of Luster. 

 

Victoria Thompson’s CITY OF SCOUNDRELS 

captured my full attention and wouldn’t let go.  Cheating a widow of her livelihood is low, as is selling shoddy goods to the army, and that’s just the beginning of why “they had it coming.”  Justice comes in many guises, and it’s fascinating to follow the workings of a successful con done for a good cause.  There are nerve-wracking moments also, at the mercy of evil, greedy persons or facing the less personal but deadly flu virus and war.  Love, honor, concern for others are the antidotes . . . of which we are in need.  Elizabeth might be a “counterfeit lady” but she’s a genuine good person, as are her co-conspirators.  I’d join in, if I thought I had the talent.  Meanwhile, I hope to read more wonderful books in this series.  Thought to ponder:  “When she became a wife, a woman gave up all rights . . .” Scary!    Book 3 of a series . . .and they just keep getting better!

 

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s HID FROM OUR EYES 

The tri-part plot reminds me of a three-ring circus, or perhaps Flora Joy’s Trispective: the 3-n-1 Quilt, in which the picture changes with a change in viewer’s position.  I did have to remind myself which plot was which, but dates and clear writing helped.  At the end, I slapped my forehead with an “I should have seen that” reaction, clues there but not obvious, just as I like them.  

Besides the triple murders, decades apart, there are other issues to complicate life.  Caring for baby makes it hard to schedule work obligations, and the doctor suggests that the erratic routine and stress might be upsetting baby Ethan.  Perhaps the new intern, who brings her own problems, can help lighten Clare’s schedule?  In addition, the town is dealing with a proposal to eliminate the local police department, and there is pressure from wealthy, powerful persons to replace Russ as Chief, (just another example of the way the rich and powerful treat others as less important, disposable). Kevin’s back, bringing a new set of problems and a lawsuit from Hadley’s vicious ex. Most delightful, we get to see Margy as more than just Russ’s firebrand mother.

I love the twisty plot, the interactions of caring characters, the descriptions (I almost felt summer’s heat despite the cold and snow here in the “real” world).  I do not love cliffhanger endings.  If you don’t either, save the Epilogue to read when the next book comes out . . . already anticipating that happy event. 

 

Homicidal Holidays

Holiday . . . Cheer?  From Groundhog’s Day to Christmas, there are multiple ways to go astray, make trouble, get in trouble, and face justice.  I enjoyed reading favorite authors’ work and meeting new ones.  I confess to a special liking for the four-legged accomplices, cat, groundhog, tamandua, even the occasional toad.

 

BEATING ABOUT THE BUSH  by M. C. Beaton

I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure with Agatha Raisin and associates.  Agatha may have been upstaged by Wizz-Wazz the brave, loyal, cranky, smelly donkey, but in true Agatha fashion, she makes the best of every opportunity.  There are mysteries to solve, and mistreated people (and donkey) to stand up for, and an environment to protect.  Electric cars are only as good as their batteries, and a longer-lasting one would increase range of car, but something is amiss. Agatha is called in to project the factory from industrial espionage and sabotage, but all is not as it seems. Agatha, AKA the donkey lady puts all her skills to work in the “Wizz-Wazz is innocent!” campaign.  How could she not?  The adorable, cranky donkey clearly loves and trusts Agatha — kindred spirits?  This is one of my favorites in this series, #30, but you don’t have to read in order.

 

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JacKaLs GHosted

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“Aunt Mary, you’ve been blocked,” my niece explained. “There’s nothing wrong with your computer.” 

“What?  How? Why?” 

 Jill had told me when she was very young, “I don’t know it all, but I know some things,” and she did.

 “Hard to know the why, but how to block is easy, even though it’s the highest level of “distancing” on social media.  If you need just a little distance, you can “unfollow” someone and go to their page to read posts only when you want to.”

I nodded. “Glass of wine in hand to prepare for my nephew’s angst-filled posts.”

“Right, and they won’t know you’ve done this, especially if you check in now and then.  Next is ‘unfriend.’ This might be noticed, as you will disappear from their list of friends.  They can still see comments and posts as “friends of friends” and you can see theirs. Blocking is the most extreme, usually reserved for scammers and trolls. If you can’t see anything at all, it means they’ve blocked you.”

At first I hadn’t realized what was happening when a “friend” disappeared on Facebook. Sometimes I’d see four comments in a row with none in between, like a person talking to herself.  Some people do set comments to “friends only” so if we don’t know that person, we won’t see her comments. Technical difficulties, glitches in the system?  Then I read about “ghosting,” blocking friends as one would the scammers who “like your pretty smile.”  It’s the electronic version of “cutting them dead” in old books on manners.  

My niece explained the process and offered consolation. She reminded me of my mother’s warning that “two girls can play nicely together, three or more will fight.”  She called it the JacKaL Effect, but never explained the odd capitals, initials perhaps?

“Really, if they are mean, you are better off without them. You’d never have done that to anyone, and you’ll never really trust them again. Move on,” and I did. Cyber-friendships were ephemeral anyway. It’s not as if it was happening in real life, until it was. 

Real-life blocking began, reasonably enough, with law enforcement enforcing  restraining orders and witness protection.  Then someone hacked the technology, and soon there were seemingly empty desks at work with work getting done, empty seats in theaters and restaurants that one couldn’t manage to sit on, involuntary weaving on sidewalks to avoid invisible obstacles.

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It all came to a head for us one Thanksgiving when the youngest niece started crying, “Grandma, make them stop! Make them stop being mean and talk to each other.  It’s rude to ignore people.”

Jill, always practical, asked, “How can we fix it? I know, let’s take roll. Raise your hands if you can see Beth.” Everyone could.

“Who can see Grandma?”  Everyone.

“Who can see Uncle Joe?” Ben’s hand stayed down. 

“Ben, could you say something positive about Uncle Joe?  Anything? Anything at all?”
“Well, Uncle Joe taught me to fish.  He was very patient, even when my hook caught on his cap.”

“Uncle Joe, tell me something you like about Ben . . . please?  Just one thing?”
“Well, Ben is very bright . . . and helpful.  When my old car wouldn’t start, he helped me fix it.”

Grandma, the patient crocheter of lace and mender of boo-boos, continued Jill’s work with each person at the table, coaxing everyone to remember good things and acknowledge loving gestures, reminding all of what family was.  When there were no more shimmering gaps around the table, she had everyone join hands to say grace again.  Then she brought out the pumpkin pie and whipped cream, the cheesecake, and the cherry pie that was Beth’s favorite.  Gaps might still exist on (anti-)social media, but Grandma love can fix everything important.

I asked Jill if it would work online.  She winked and said, “Not worth the bother. Just mentally thank them and let them go.”

Smart girl!  

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We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another. Luciano De Crescenzo

 

 

Balloons, the “Not Welcome” Sign

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At Lou Fusz Subaru with Fran the Prius. Thanks, Matt
Balloons, the “Not Welcome” Sign
Fran’s the Prius’s New Adventure
My little Prius, Fran, is so confused. We headed out for oil change and inspection, but stopped much too soon, at an unfamiliar place.
“Wait, this isn’t right!”
Oh, oh, I should have explained. “Yes, it is. It’s where we’re going now.”
“Noooooo! We ALWAYS go to P’s Toyota. It’s where I started. It’s where I always go! Even the tow truck knows that.”
Actually, it goes back much further, more than thirty years of total customer loyalty to those who’ve helped me through rough patches. I remember winning deluxe tickets to a Cardinals game, which Donna took Mom to. Easy access even for Mom’s wheelchair, and she had a great time. Yeah, grateful for that, and a few months later, for their finding time to fix my Tercel so I could get to the hospital to see her. They had said there were no openings, but then found time. Did someone skip lunch? I had bonded with Fran for a year, every time I brought the Tercel for service, and was so happy when a new “floor model” meant I could buy her just when I needed to.
“Well, this is where we’re going today. You’re good at adapting. Remember going to Louisville on just one tank of gas? and Texas? and Jonesborough, TN? It’s just an oil change and inspection. Let’s see how it goes.”
“Why?”
“There are balloons at P.T. and I’m allergic to latex. The nice techs took me home last time, and I paid by phone, but it’s not the same, and when I called to ask for the safe environment I’d been promised, the mis-named customer service guy yelled and was insulting.”
“Oh, that’s not nice.”
“No. I’ve heard he has a reputation as a bully. Most oddly, he kept saying, ‘I know who you are.’ I wish I knew what he meant by that. He also compared a request for no balloons to the absurdity of cutting down all the trees in St. Peters because of pollen allergies.”
“Not nice at all. Okay I’ll try . . . wait, you aren’t trading me for a Subaru are you?”
“No, I hope you keep going for a long time. Oh, and you’ll like this: they have a car wash. Spa day!”
“Will we ever go back to P.T.?”
“Let’s see how this goes. It would take a sincere effort to change their ways, and probably, as one of the laid off teachers responded when asked if he’d come back from his new district, ‘Only if the new guys are really mean to me.’”
So far, Fran and I are happy at Lou Fusz Subaru, close to home, courteous staff, and competent and fair. I’ve remembered that my Corolla came from Lou Fusz in Kirkwood. My sis says Fusz is another branch of our Fussner family tree . . . so it might be a bit of a homecoming after all.
Thinking of a commercial with very cute kids and the punchline, “When you’re the best, you don’t need balloons.”
Thinking also of my first boss at Prudential saying, “The most expensive advertising is poor customer service” . . . and the best, value beyond measure, is being good to your customers, 35+ years of building a great relationship tossed in the trash by one ill-tempered bully.
When you decorate your business with latex balloons, you might mean to be festive and fun, but you are signaling “off limits/danger/not welcome here” to those of us with a latex allergy.
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