Saturday, October 31, 2009

Day One

I am devoting an entire post to the first day of our trip. Because it was so exciting? No, because it seemed to last as long as the entire rest of the vacation!

Traveling is not for the faint-hearted. The friends who went with us, Jim and Nancy, own Quail Ridge Books and are seasoned travelers. My husband and I are not. Even with an engrossing book, I get restless after about one hour crammed into an airplane seat.

Our flights went to London, then to Toulouse, where we were to board the train to Trebes. Unfortunately, we found out with about five seconds to spare that the words "auto car" by our train's departure time meant run your tail off over to the bus terminal where you will be crammed into another very small space for two hours. With an urgent need to urinate. And frankly, the only way we figured this out was that some kind Frenchman saw us looking like the Clampetts at Dollywood and escorted us to the bus.

With no room to spare, a young Japanese man boarded, cheerily begging in broken French/English/Japanese to please make room for him. Three of us were seated at the very rear of the bus, and squeezed over to give him a place to sit. He had very prominent teeth and nervously blinked his eyes a mile a minute as he tried to explain to me that he was late getting to his teacher's house. He glanced at his watch every five seconds. Finally I asked if he would like to use my phone to call his teacher, and after a very loud conversation peppered with lots of hais he settled down. As he exited the bus a few stops before ours, he turned with his toothy grin, waved, and shouted to us, "GOOD RUCK!"

This is how the bus looked from my bleary eyes:

The ride seemed worth it when we boarded a taxi and arrived at the castle where we were staying. It was dark, and all we knew was that we were weaving through very small streets with very tall walls to somewhere. It didn't matter where at this point as long as there was a toilet there. The next day, I took this picture of the castle. Very picturesque.

One of the most memorable moments of the trip occurred that night. Beyond exhaustion after twenty-four hours of travel and no sleep, we walked into a restaurant that was on the premises of the hotel. It was closing but the staff took one look at us, sat us down with wine and San Pelligrino, hot bread and spiced olives, and directed the chef to heat up four bowls of cassoulet.

The observant monsieur who helped us to the bus and the staff of the restaurant were the first of many people who showed us kindness.

Tomorrow: Le Boat

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I'm sincerely hoping that at least a few of you noticed that I haven't been posting for the past two weeks. I've been on vacation.

It was a celebration of my thirtieth wedding anniversary and it was an extravagance at a time when it doesn't really feel okay to be extravagant. But we wanted to honor our steadfastness, so off we went.

The trip was to France, and we availed ourselves of almost every form of transportation available: plane, boat, bus, train, bicycle, subway, and of course our own feet. All of this moving around gave me ample opportunity to read. Here's what I read:

Girl Trouble by Holly Goddard Jones. I thoroughly enjoyed these short stories. Jones has a way with characters, and two of the stories were especially strong. One, early in the book, was told from the viewpoint of a mother whose son has committed a rape and murder. The last story was told from the viewpoint of the son.

Chemistry and Other Stories by Ron Rash. Short stories set in Appalachia. The most memorable of them is the award-winning story, "Speckled Trout".

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker. Full of humor, this novel is about a poet trying to write an introduction for an anthology he has put together. I learned a lot about poetry and linquistics. I also learned that "Carpe diem" does not mean, "Seize the day" but "Pluck the day".

White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Set in India, this was an easy read, a funny and quirky story of a taxi driver. I am surprised that it won the Man Booker Award though.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. This is four hundred plus pages of addictive reading. Told in the form of letters written to a woman's husband, it is the fictional story of the life of a boy who was troubled from the day he was born, and committed mass murder at his high school when he was months shy of his fifteenth birthday. A magnificant book club pick.

Tomorrow I will give a few highlights of the trip, but I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow travelogue. The photograph is from the second leg of the trip.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Green High School

The principal at my daughter's school is interviewed as part of this program.

I've been out of town for a couple of weeks. I'll be posting more later.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Today is my niece's husband's birthday. Unfortunately, we won't be celebrating because he died a few months ago of cystic fibrosis. Oddly enough, when I went by the bank today, there were three candy bars with a sign that said, "$2 - for cystic fibrosis."

If you're at your bank and you see those candy bars for two dollars, won't you donate? With a cure, others will live to celebrate a lot of birthdays, not just a handful.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Anyone who knows me well knows that I want George Winston's version of Pachelbel's Canon in D played at my funeral. I love the way the song begins quietly, builds to a crescendo, and ends quietly. Like most lives do.

This might seem morbid to some, but several years ago my girlfriends and I wrote our obituaries. It was interesting to think about what I wanted to accomplish in the years I have left, who will survive me, how old I want to be when I die, and how and where I want to be when it happens. It almost felt like goal-setting for the rest of my life.

And predictably, I saw lots of grandchildren, I died before I had to suffer the deaths of any of my children or my husband, and I just went to sleep and peacefully passed at the ripe old age of ninety-nine.

Last night, I was lying in bed, idly channel-flipping when I came across a new age musician playing the canon. I actually became teary, thinking about my family and friends sitting in a church listening to music and to people talk about my life. And as odd as it sounds, I suddenly thought that I wished that when the last song has been sung and the last word spoken, someone will stand up, raise their arms to the sky and shout, "YES!" And that when that brave soul stands, others will do the same until the whole room is full of people shouting yes to my life.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A New Idea

When I first set up this blog, "Can I Do It?" was an abstract theme. Since its inception, though, I have come back again and again to the ways that I have pushed myself beyond my comfort zone in the past few years.

And now, another opportunity has arisen. Like the music workshop, it involves doing something that I've never done before and that I don't feel that I have all the skills to do. And yet, I've talked with another person about the possibilities and felt her excitement, and realized that I know two people who are positions of power to help me.

I am remembering when my children were younger and I was afraid to let them do something they'd never done before: spend the night out, ride their bikes in the street (I know, girls, I never really got over this fear), walk to a friend's house or home from the bus stop, drive away in a car, go to college, move to a new city to live. And for every time that they attempted something and it was successful, I felt more willing to let go the next time. My oldest daughter made it easier for the middle daughter; the middle daughter even easier for the youngest.

Two recent "Can I Do It" successes are giving me courage to move forward with this new challenge. With the assurance that I have what it takes to see it through. Each courageous move, successful, gives me the nerve to try something else.

I think I can do it, and I'll keep you posted.

Monday, October 5, 2009


One of the finest collections of contemporary short stories I've read in a few years is Adam Haslett's You Are Not a Stranger Here. Oddly enough, the year I read it and carried on about it for weeks to my friend, Nancy Olson, she found it on a book exchange shelf in a hotel in Paris when we were staying there. She agreed that it was superb.

So it was with great excitement that she brought me a reading copy of his new book, Union Atlantic. I read it last week, and it in no way measured up to the beauty and poignancy of his stories.

Another of my favorite short story writers, who shall go unnamed for now, said that he loved writing stories, but had no desire to write a novel. At his publisher's urging, he is writing one. I wonder if this is what occurred with Haslett, that his skill lies in the short story form and he felt compelled, urged, coerced into writing a longer story. Just me wondering.

Maybe it is just that this book, the story and characters, were not to my liking. Others may read it and rave. I eagerly await the reviews.

I also read an oldie but greatie, Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston. I don't know how I've missed this short story collection but every story left me reeling. If that girl has done half the things she writes about in her stories (and how she could write so realistically if she hadn't?) she has lived an adventurous and dangerous life!

Here's my short stack for the next few weeks:

Read anything good lately?

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I hope you aren't expecting something juicy in the way of a confession. Oh, I have a lot of those - tidbits of embarrassment and humiliation and treachery - but that's not why I'm here tonight.

I'm here to confess that I have never seen where any of my daughters live. No, really. They've all moved in the past few months and I have no idea what their places look like.

Here is how I imagine them:

Daughter number one: She lives mostly in her bedroom. Her computer is on the bed; the bed is unmade. Her clothes? Some are put away and some draped over the furniture. If you were to walk in the kitchen of her apartment, the only evidence of her would be the garbage can full of take-out containers. She has lots of books and notebooks and school supplies, both for herself and from when she was a teacher. Probably a few pictures of friends and family around, but not many. She's gone alot; I can't see her sitting around in the living room with her roomies.

Daughter number two: Her place is a beehive of creativity. One whole room is devoted to art: bookmaking supplies (gorgeous papers, glue, fabric), leathers, buttons, maybe a canvas or two. Most of what you see in her place is useful, nothing extravagant or fluffy or prissy. There are books, and again, a few photographs around of friends and family. There is a lot of art in the space, hers and others. Her kitchen is stocked and one can tell she cooks for herself and her friends. She has lots of carefully chosen things around her place. Her place is a peaceful spot.

Daughter number three: Her apartment looks like the showroom of Anthropologie. Her kitchen is fully stocked with dishes and she uses them all. Her closet is organized but looks haphazard. There are lots of throws on the furniture. Her walls are covered in pictures and she has lots and lots of family photographs. And shoes. Lots of shoes. A large proportion of the toiletries in the bathroom are hers. She has carefully chosen books on a funky bookshelf. She and her friends sit in the living room and drink wine or tea or cocktails before they go out on the town.

I could be way off base, and they can correct me if I'm wrong. But this is how I imagine their living spaces. It helps when I miss them to think of them safe and happy in their homes.