Travels Without Charley

April 2, 2011

A recent conversation with a friend caused me to reflect on my traveling experiences. I love to visit new places, and have been fortunate enough to have done a fair amount of traveling over the years.

The place I most want to visit is Italy. I still hope to get there someday. Back in the late seventies, I was drawn to England, most likely because of the “British Invasion.” Along with a few friends, I scraped up enough money to spend 10 days in London. I remember getting off the plane at Heathrow and marveling to myself, “I’m standing on another continent!” It was a dream come true. While we spent most of our time in London, we did get to a few other places, like Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-Upon-Avon.  Besides the usual attractions, we went to three plays in London, which was a great experience, as was exploring Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London.

I’ve always hoped for opportunities to do more overseas traveling, but, unfortunately, the only other country I’ve been to since then is Canada (not counting a very brief foray into Juarez, Mexico), and I didn’t have to cross any seas to get there. Canada is not without it’s appeal, though. I really like Toronto and Montreal, and Old Quebec City is quite charming. Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen. I have a vivid memory of standing at the edge of a red cliff on P.E.I.,  gazing at the sea below, lost in my thoughts and in the majesty of my surroundings.

I’ve been to 43 of the 50 states. That is due in large part to a month long cross-country trip during the summer of 1996. One unforgettable experience was when we ventured across the El Paso pedestrian bridge that spans a sliver of the Rio Grande, and strolled into Juarez, Mexico.  The squalor we stepped into was an affront to the senses. On every block, we were assaulted by beggars (most of whom were women holding a baby in one hand and a cup in the other), shopkeepers promising to give us a “deal,” and taxi drivers volunteering their services rather aggressively. The girls were getting frightened, and that, combined with the oppressive poverty and the ugly manifestations of its resultant behaviors, persuaded us to bring our brief Mexican adventure to an end.

On to more pleasant experiences… Bourbon Street and the French Quarter in New Orleans. El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico.  In Arizona, The Painted Desert/Petrified Forest (ancient pueblo ruins and petroglyphs), Sunset Crater Volcano, Grand Canyon, and Wupatki Pueblo. Bryce Canyon in Utah (spectacular!). In California, the beach at Morro Rock, a peregrine falcon ecological preserve, where we collected sand dollars and admired the pelicans. (My favorite bird. I am also fascinated by cormorants and loons.) Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, Santa Barbara, San Francisco

I fell in love with the rocky coast of Oregon – Port Orford and Bandon by the-Sea, in particular. During a long, solitary walk along the shoreline, I discovered that two of the enormous rocks I encountered had natural arches. I passed through the first one and entered a tiny cove-like section of beach where I stood for quite a while, entranced, watching and listening as waves crashed against the rocks, admiring the indescribable beauty and wonder of it all.

Pike’s Market in Seattle. Lovely Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. Glacier National Park in Montana. Yellowstone National Park and Devil’s Tower (where we did our only night of camping, and had the unexpected experience of witnessing one of nature’s most terrifying yet magnificent lightning shows) in Wyoming. Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

I’ve also been to Hawaii. Besides Oahu, we visited the black sand beaches and volcanoes of the Big Island and the paradise that is Kauai, where we had a pretty thrilling ride in a helicopter (under a rainbow).

Another thing that speaks to my sense of adventure is sailing – something my ex introduced me to. One time, when we were sailing in Maine, we were lucky enough to witness a meteor shower.  Another unforgettable experience was gliding by the highlands of the Hudson River in the stillness of the night. That was truly awe-inspiring. Then there was the time we sailed from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas, where I sampled turtle, and rode in a seaplane.  Yes, I’ve had adventures…

I’ve hiked and biked, swam and explored. I rolled down huge sand dunes in North Carolina with my daughters. I toured the Everglades in an airboat, and crossed paths with an alligator on the boardwalk of a marsh trail in Louisiana. I poked around cave dwellings at Mesa Verde in Colorado. In South Dakota, I had a wild donkey thrust its head into my car window (giving me quite a start, I must admit). I watched the “pony swim” in Chincoteague, Virginia and pet wild ponies in a beach parking lot on Assateague Island in Maryland.

I’ve done all those things and much more, yet it’s not enough, never enough. I crave changes of scenery. And for much of my life, I’ve been able to satisfy that craving. Sadly, that has not been the case more recently.  The thing that has been holding me back is lack of money. I haven’t been able to afford to take a vacation for the past few years, and that has definitely affected my spirit. A change of scenery is rejuvenating – it really does recharge my batteries. I was so hoping that I’d be able to get away this summer, but the tax situation (we owe over a thousand dollars) blasted that hope to smithereens.

Being stuck in this rut for yet another year is going to be an even more bitter pill to swallow now that my wanderlust has been aroused.

Song of the Day:  Wanderlust by Bjork

“Wanderlust, relentlessly craving
Wanderlust, peel off the layers
Until you get to the core.”

Hurray!  I finally made it to the seashore!  Leigh, her boyfriend, Eric, and I spent Tuesday night and most of Wednesday afternoon in Seaside Heights, NJ.  Wednesday morning, I went for a walk around 7:00 a.m. in search of coffee.  I found a deli about a block from our motel.  Speaking of the motel, which was only a few steps from the boardwalk, this was the view from my window.  Sweet.

Anyway, while I was waiting at the counter, a woman walked over to pay for her breakfast sandwich.  I looked up and was stunned and overjoyed to see that it was LA!   After much squealing and hugging, LA channeled Humphrey Bogart and said, “Of all the delis in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

Heh!  We ended up spending the day together on the beach with our combined clans, and had an absolutely wonderful time.  I knew that LA was in Seaside Heights this week with Mick and Wolf, and did hope that we would be able to get together.  Before LA left for the Jersey shore, she made the comment that it would be funny if the first time we managed to see each other in so long would be when we were both 100 miles from home.  Well, that’s exactly what happened, but I never expected to bump into her at a deli first thing in the morning.  Talk about a serendipitous experience! When LA told Mick about our chance encounter, he remarked that he would have been more surprised if it had happened to any other people.  But, with the two of us, he’s come to expect wild and wonderful things.

One of those wonderful things happened when LA and I were standing at the edge of the water.  Mick came down and wrapped his arms around LA.  Seconds later, Wolf walked over and put his arms around me.  My heart melted into a puddle that mingled with the surf foam and was drawn out to sea by the receding waves.

I am reminded of the John Lennon song, “Beautiful Boy” every time I see Wolf.  He really is remarkable in a lot of ways, just like his mother.  Thanks for a perfectly delightful day, LA & Co!

Today marks yet another birthday…  I am now FIFTY-FREAKING-FIVE YEARS OLD.  I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it is for me to believe that.  Lucky for me, it seems to be difficult for others to believe, as well.

During the last week of summer school, a student was talking to two of her friends about “cougars.”  She turned to me and asked if I was familiar with the term.  I replied, “Well, yes, I guess I am, considering that I’m married to a much younger man.”  They asked how old I am, and the look on their faces when I told them was priceless.  One exclaimed, “No you’re not!”  Another demanded that I produce my birth certificate.  The third further endeared herself to me by remarking that I look like I’m in my thirties.  Now I know that’s not true (see entry title), but it felt good to hear it, nonetheless.

Here’s this year’s birthday photo.   (My hair is a lot shorter than I’m accustomed to wearing it, but, believe it or not, this is three month’s growth after a particularly devastating haircut.)

My blog (I still have a hard time using that word) had a birthday recently, too.  I started an online journal (that’s what we called it back then) on August 21, 2001.   On September 23, 2001, I posted this entry about my reasons for creating an online journal:

Anatomy of a Diarist

Since my initiation into the Online Journal Club, I’ve been giving the genre a fair amount of thought.  Non-journalers tend to perceive the phenomenon as a “Dear Diary” sort of thing.  For all I know, some journalers approach it that way themselves.  But, that’s not how I see it. I feel more like a reporter whose subject just happens to be (for the most part) my life.  Of course, I don’t “report” in a New York Times fashion.  I don’t have that kind of training, and I don’t take myself that seriously.  I try to inject a little humor into my entries, and maybe even the occasional stab at pathos.  To me, this process is more akin to journalism or writing essays than it is to keeping a diary.  While I will discuss personal matters, it is not necessarily my intention to bare my soul.  Some things are just too private.

My reasons for writing are varied.  For one thing, I find that I don’t express myself as well vocally, having a tendency to get tongue-tied.  I like to consider what I’m going to say before blurting it out, and verbal conversations don’t afford me enough time to do that.  Writing gives me the opportunity to make more in-depth observations.  Often, writing will lead me to a better understanding of myself, and even an occasional revelation.  (R-E-F-L-E-C-T, find out what it means to me!)

Before taking the online journal plunge, I indulged the frustrated writer lurking within on a fairly regular basis in the form of letter writing.  Email is a vehicle I use on a daily basis.  I also used to exchange lengthy “snail mail” missives (25 pages and upward) with a friend in Pennsylvania. (Hi, Karen!)  Our correspondences were written in installments, and mailed at intervals of approximately every six months.  We included lots of photos, and found this a very satisfying way to stay in touch.

My writing method varies.  Sometimes my mood is light and casual; at others, it is bruised and introspective.   My entries are typically full of whining, joking, and boasting (usually about my kids).  During my darker moments, I find that writing about my feelings (and what causes them) really can be therapeutic.  This catharsis doesn’t exactly purge me of all negativity, but it does help to lessen my load considerably.  Sharing my triumphs and/or failures with an audience through an online journal lightens my burden even more.  Also, I recently read that writing lowers stress-related chemicals in the body, which is another good reason to allow myself this indulgence!

In closing, I’d like to share something Daniel told me quite some time ago, in reference to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovitch, and the staggering Gulag Archipelago.

“When Solzhenitsyn was writing in secret in Russia, paper was such a luxury to him.  Where we in the West have the freedom to scrawl haphazardly across a seemingly endless supply of paper, Solzhenitsyn literally could not waste a square inch of paper.  Every blank space had to be filled with his brilliance before he dared move on to another piece lest he run out of pages, and not transmit his profound thoughts to a world in desperate need of them.”

How humbling. Certainly, the world is not in desperate need of MY thoughts, so I am especially appreciative of those taking the time to read this.

Re-reading that entry makes me realize how much I used to depend on this form of release to manage stress.  It also makes me realize how much lighter my stress load is these days.  Oh sure, I still have chronic pain and financial burdens to deal with.  But there’s not nearly as much angst in my life as there was before.  After years of turbulence and heartache, I now have wonderful relationships with my daughters.   I am married to a kind, loving, supportive man who compliments me daily.  In short, I don’t have as much to get off my chest as I did in the past, which I suppose is why I don’t post here very often any more.

Still, it’s good to know that this place is here if I need it as a dumping ground, or even if I just want to drop in to say hello or show you some pictures.  Thanks for sticking around.  My world wouldn’t be the same without you.

Reading:  Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Song of the Day:  Celebration by Kool and the Gang

Rhode Island Hates Me

August 26, 2008

I had a wonderful time in Rhode Island – until Friday, that is, but I’ll get to that later.  First, the good stuff.  The weather was perfect (Thanks, Jim!), and the rental place was really nice.  This spiral staircase was a bit much for me to navigate, so I chose a bedroom on the ground flour.

This is the view (of a salt pond) from the lower deck.

And this is the view from the upper deck.

One of my favorite activities was watching shore birds, like Great Blue Herons and egrets.

On the Sunday when we first arrived, the beach was packed.  Honestly, I’ve never seen so many people on a beach.   Fortunately, the crowds thinned out quite a bit during the week.  To further ensure a good spot, my mother and I made it a habit to get to the beach when the gates opened at 8:30 a.m.  At that hour, the beach looked like this.

Besides reading, knitting and wading, I also enjoyed watching people fish from the jetty.

The carousel at Watch Hill is always a highlight of the trip for me. Dating from about 1876, this is the oldest carousel of its type, and may be the oldest carousel in existence in the United States.  The carousel is unique in that its horses are not attached to the floor, but hang by suspended chains.  The faster the ride goes, the farther out the horses swing, which is why it was given the name “Flying Horse Carousel.”  Each horse is hand-carved from a single piece of wood, the tails and manes are made of real horsehair, the saddles are genuine leather, and the horses have their original agate eyes.   Whichever child gets the brass ring is treated to a free ride.

Friday was our last full day in Rhode Island, and our plan was to go to Newport to do part of the Cliff Walk.  At 8:00 am, my foot got twisted in the corner of a too long bedspread.

I went down hard.   The pain was so intense, I couldn’t move at first.  When I finally managed to get up, I realized that I had done a fair amount of damage.

Still, even though every breath I took caused pain in my chest on the ride side, and my left foot was quite swollen (I had to walk on the side of it because of extreme pain in the toe area), I went along on the trip to Newport.  We drove along the shore route, where we saw many beautiful sights.  This is a shot of cormorants sunning themselves on a rock.

I had to sit in the car while the others went on the Cliff Walk, but I did manage to limp far enough to take these photos.

Around 4:30 that afternoon, I figured I’d better go to the Emergency Room.  X-rays showed that nothing was broken, thank goodness.  My left foot is badly sprained, and my chest wall is deeply bruised.  What a great way to end summer vacation.  And it’s always fun to start work with a new pain.

It still hurts every time I take a breath or bend forward, and I still can’t step down on my left foot. I can’t wear a shoe on that side, either, which should add to the fun of going back to work next week.

I had an unrelated doctor appointment yesterday morning, and she noted that the trauma of the fall has caused my other problems to flare up.  My trigger points are swollen and very tender to the touch.  Consequently, a steroid was prescribed.  I know all about the dangers of steroids, but, frankly, I don’t care.  They’ve worked wonders for me in the past, and I’m hoping for similar results this time.  Anything is better than this god-awful pain.

As luck would have it, Daniel left for Canada the day after I returned from Rhode Island.  He offered to stay home because of my injury, but I insisted that he go.  Work has been stressful, and he’s been putting in a lot of overtime.  He really needed a vacation.  Still, the timing is unfortunate.  I’m having difficulty dealing with the dogs, not to mention everything else.  To top things off nicely, tomorrow is my birthday.  I’m not much in the mood for celebrating.

I don’t know what Rhode Island has against me.  Last year, I ended up in the hospital right after I got home from vacationing there.  Back in 1989, I was hit by a moped and suffered a tibial plateau fracture.  Perhaps it’s time for a different vacation destination…

Song of the Day  Love/Hate by Liz Phair

I had a fabulous time at Crane’s Lochaven Lodge in Canada. The road trip, however, was brutal.  We left at midnight and drove straight through the night.  I tried, but failed, to sleep in the car.  My father and brother, on the other hand, did fall asleep, but it was while they were driving. That was pretty scary.

Sue and Ed, the owners of the lodge, are wonderful hosts.  My father and brothers have been going for several years now, so our family is pretty well known there.  I was very moved to see this tribute to Mark hanging on a wall in the dining hall.

I was also moved by the beauty of the French River.

The weather could have been better (it was cold and wet), but we weren’t there to sunbathe.  We were there to catch fish.  And catch fish we did – small mouth bass, large mouth bass, rock bass, perch, catfish (which we gave to the owners for the Friday fish fry), sunnies, walleye and pike.  I was ecstatic when I caught this pike, even though it was too small to keep.

Then I caught this one – the “Trophy fish” of the season – an astounding 41 and 1/4 inch, 16 pound Northern pike.

Ed’s son demonstrated the proper way to hold a large fish for photographs.  You get a better idea of the pike’s size this way.

What a thrill!  Never in my wildest imaginings did I think I would catch a fish like that – on a worm, no less.  My father and brother were casting with heavy poles and expensive lures, and, after I caught the big pike, the guide suggested that they might want to see if they could get their money back for the lures.  Heh.

I had no interest in having the fish mounted, and was told that pike aren’t good eating (apparently, they’re gamey tasting).  I wish I had released the pike, but I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time.  I was in shock.

Anyway, Ed wanted it for advertising purposes, and offered to give me other fish fillets to bring home in exchange, so I let him keep it.  However, he neglected to follow through with his part of the bargain.  When I questioned him about it as we were leaving the island, he said he forgot, and promised to  make it up to me.  My father and brother are going back next month, so they’re going to remind him of his promise.

We visited the place where Mark’s ashes were scattered.  It was his favorite fishing spot.  After shedding some tears, I dropped my line and silently asked Mark to help me out.  Believe it or not, that’s when I caught the monster pike.

We had a guide for three of the days we were out on the river, and, most of the time, Jerry called my brother, Mike (Mark’s identical twin brother), by his correct name, but every once in a while, he called him Mark.  It was weird, especially considering that he knew nothing about our family.

Speaking of Jerry, he makes a mean “shore lunch.” A fire is built and the freshly caught fish are cooked up along with potatoes, baked beans and coffee made in a can.  Everything was delicious.

After Friday’s fish fry on the deck of the lodge, it has become a tradition for whichever guests and staff members feel so inclined to jump off the railing into the river.  There was no way in hell I was going to do that, despite everyone urging me to do so since I had caught the biggest fish, so one of my nephews volunteered to do it for me. He enjoyed it so much he did it again, and got one of his cousins to take the plunge with him.  We had so much fun.

Tomorrow morning, I leave for Rhode Island. I sure have spent a lot of time on the road this summer.   It’s been great.

I have loads of stuff to do, so I’ll catch you on the flip side.

Song of the Day: Proud Mary by Tina Turner

Sasha’s comment in reference to the 15 hour drive to Canada’s French River really made me cringe.  She wrote:  “The last time I was on a ride (almost) that long was when we moved up here. For two nights after I had awful leg cramps overnight. It was pretty horrible.”

Coincidentally, I’ve been suffering from agonizing leg and foot cramps for the past few days. Even when I’m not experiencing a full blown cramp, it always feels like my muscles are on the verge of cramping.  Besides worrying about what this long ride will do to my back, I now have to be concerned about leg and foot cramps, as well.  I dread the thought of being in the grip of these excruciating paroxysms of pain while riding in a car.   Shudder.

We’re leaving tomorrow, and will return late next Tuesday night.  The following Saturday, believe it or not, I’m going away again.  This time, I’ll be headed for a week at the seashore in Rhode Island.  My suitcase sure is getting a lot of use this summer…

Bye for now!

Song of the Day:  So Long, Farewell from The Sound Of  Music Soundtrack

Wildwood Days

July 31, 2008

So, I survived the trip to Wildwood.  It was a mixed bag of negatives and positives.  The biggest negative was feeling very out of place among a group of kids with an age range of 19 to 21.  Even though I don’t mind being alone and believe that solitude can be a wonderful thing, there were times when I felt extremely lonely.  Oddly enough, those weren’t the times when I was physically alone; it was when we were all together.  On those occasions, I spent a lot of time in my room.  The kids were great, and went out of their way to include me, but, much of the time I felt awkward being around them.

On the other hand, there were plenty of good times.  The weather was very accommodating, and I went to the beach five days out of seven.  The only reason I stayed away the other two days was because I was getting too dark from all that sun.    Usually, I went to the beach alone, but the young people joined me on a couple of occasions.  Here’s a shot of bathing beauties, Leigh and Alana.  (Leigh is on the left.)  Imagine me sitting next to those bodies!

Traveling to and from the shore was another negative.  Because of heavy traffic, what should have been a four hour drive turned into seven hours.  We headed for the beach almost as soon as we arrived in Wildwood.  Leigh’s boyfriend, Pat, and I were most anxious to see the ocean.

At one point, Pat bolted into the water and came back with this horseshoe crab.  (He released it right away.)

Another highlight of the trip was going out on a dolphin watch.  Leigh and Alana wore the matching t-shirts they bought on the boardwalk.

Here’s a short clip of some of the dolphins we saw.

This is an “extreme ride” Pat tried to convince me to go on with him.  Of course, I declined, and one of his friends went, instead.  They’re in the red seat.

The beach was about a mile from the rental unit, so that’s a two mile roundtrip walk.  In addition, the boardwalk is two miles long.  On average, I’d say that I walked four miles a day.  I wasn’t eating very much, and, in fact, felt hungry most of the time.  I knew I HAD to have lost some weight, and was looking forward to stepping on the scale when I got home.  You know what the scale showed me?  A one and a half pound gain.  I just don’t get it….

Friday was our last night in Wildwood, and we were treated to a fireworks display on the beach.

All in all, it was a pretty decent vacation.  I leave again next Thursday for the family fishing trip in Canada.  I don’t know how I’m going to handle being in the car for the fifteen hour drive.  My back has really been killing me lately.

I saw the pain management doctor yesterday and told him what the orthopedic guy said about sacroiliac joint injections.  The pain management specialist said that he had requested authorization for both Epidural Steroid Injections and SacroiliacJoint Injections, but, apparently, worker’s comp only authorized the ESI.  So, his office will now try to get authorization for the SJI.  The procedure has been scheduled for the end of August.  In the meantime, I am in terrible pain.

Song of the Day:  Wildwood Days by Bobby Rydell

Name Dropping Part II

April 27, 2008

Thank you to everyone who shared experiences in the comments section of my last entry (or via email). I really enjoyed reading about your celebrity sightings. LA mentioned seeing Armand Assante, and that reminded me that I did, too. He was at a Bob Dylan concert at our Civic Center several years ago. I spent almost as much time watching him as I did watching Dylan. He (Assante, not Dylan!) sure is easy to look at.

There are a few others I forgot to include. When I was 13 years old, my grandmother took me to California. During a tour of the 20th Century Fox studios, one of the men who played the Lost in Space robot (Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!) got on the tour bus and talked to us. For a kid who was a big fan of that show, this was pretty exciting.

That was my second “celebrity” experience. The first was when I was quite a bit younger, and got the autograph of a pro-football player during a family vacation in Florida. (This was at a training camp, so perhaps it was a Miami Dolphin?)

A few years ago, I had dinner with author Da Chen. He was the guest speaker at a library conference at a local restaurant. After he spoke, Mr. Chen sat at my table, and was a charming dinner companion.

I saw Todd Rundgren at our county fair. I ran into Ric Ocasek (lead singer of The Cars) and his wife, Paulina Porizkova, at a rest stop on the Taconic State Parkway. (They live in the area, as does Liam Neeson, who once waved to my mother as she drove by while he was on horseback. Robert DeNiro is another Hudson Valley resident. My brother has been in his house to service the fire extinguishers.)

Back to Ric Ocasek… My daughter, Leigh, was very young at the time, and we had stopped because of a bathroom emergency. Mr. Ocasek and his wife were exiting the building as we were trying to enter. He heard the rest stop employee turn us away because the place was closing. We stressed that it was an emergency, but the employee still wouldn’t let us in. Mr. Ocasek turned back and spoke to the guy. He urged him to “let the little girl use the facilities.” The employee relented, and Leigh was able to use the bathroom, thanks to Ric Ocasek. We expressed our gratitude, and he and Paulina gave us big smiles and waved as they left.


In other news, I took a personal day on Friday to visit a SUNY college campus with Leigh. It went very well (no bathroom emergencies!). I’m really hoping that Leigh will follow through and attend this college in the fall. It’s very difficult for her to move outside her comfort zone, but she knows this is a necessary step towards accomplishing her goals. Positive thoughts would be much appreciated.

Reading:  No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Song of the Day: Let’s Go by The Cars