Categories
costumes goodness kids past summers travel

Happiness Is a Red Negligee

 
 
 
 
 






Two summers ago, we entered a merciful holding pattern…

metaphorically.

For nobody got on an airplane.

And nobody died.

Nobody sprang a mutated version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” evening on us.

Instead, we took a quick trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, meeting my sister there for a few days before she left for two years in Guatemala. We ate some bagels; we visited the Children’s Museum; we played Go Fish.

It was good. It was easy.

And the rest of the summer? Unfettered by huge life moments, we simply enjoyed Life’s Rich Pageant.

Rare photographic evidence of the Tooth Fairy.

Need. Just. One. More. Juice. Box. To. Push. Past. Stage. Fright.

Luigi’s been tossing pies for sixty years.
He makes homemade tortillas.
He scrapes paint off woodwork.
He fixes the dehumidifier.
He cheers like a big ole white boy (check out the overbite).
That’s the spoon we whack her with.
Er…: with which we whack her.
‘Cause we’re all about the corporal punishment.
And you can tell she’s a real handful.

 

Yes, he ate that donut with using the hook.

Then he put on his Buzz Lightyear helmut and went to infinity.
And beyond.

 


Is it possible for the father to be a chip off the son’s block?
A 4 for technique.

But a 10 for artistry and expression.

 

He’s painting the words “Die, Evil Spawn” on the

back of her neck with the ends of her wet ponytail.

 

Once he starts school, Wee Niblet and the principal will be on a first-name basis, ja?

Dear Glamourpuss, my boy wants to make the cut for your Well-Dressed Wednesday posts. It’s about attitude, confidence, and panache more than anything, right?

You think that’s paint?
It’s a puddle of pastel vomit.

Sultry.

One time she cleans her room.

One time.

Buzz and Niblet plot Mrs. Potato Head’s early demise.

Run, MPH! Run as fast as your spindley tater legs can tote your bulk! Run ’til you feel fried!

Under the guise of “working in the garden,” Groom and Girl shoot craps.

He wins away her allowance with nary a qualm. Then he spends it on booze.

Michael Kors makes hats out of paper plates, too.

Remember his Strawberry Shortcake line of 1999?

And that’s the bat we whack her with when she doesn’t clean her room.

Er, with which we whack her. Damn prepositions. They sure are something that’s difficult to put up with.

Crap. I mean, of course, up with which to put.

You know you sleep nekkid.

But have you tried Nekkid Wid Diaper?

Once you have, you’ll never go back.

After this, he put new brake pads on the min-van.

If he wants to stay, he needs to make himself useful and earn his keep. What? Does he think Little Debbie Zebra Cakes grow on trees?

Even if they’re in front of the tv, so long as they’re touching, it counts as a family dinner, right?

The thing about Lake Superior is that it needs more rocks in it.

Just as soon as he finds his glass slipper, he fully intends to suck your blood.

She’s got his glass slipper right there, in that purse.

Behind that impish grin lurks the smile of a diobolical genius.

It’s been two years now, and she STILL hasn’t told him she’s got it.

He looks and looks, every day, calling out, “Oh, glass slipper? Where are you?”

She never says a word.

And if he does ever find out, like he could catch her up there?

And in that bag on the front of the scooter?

She has Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

Not on the tail of the international shoe thief,

it’s Detective Dragon Dude.

The slipper thief serves out her jail time mid-air.

After her release, she intimates that true reform may still be a speck on the horizon.

Meanwhile, back at the clubhouse, Dr. Hypo gives shots of his legendary truth serum.

Then we took off the costumes and went to the creek.

We live by Seven Bridges Road.

This is the 7th bridge.

I know.

I know.

The whole notion makes me “ooooh” too at the very luck and magic of it all. I mean, if they’d stopped with the sixth bridge, that would have just been dumb. Who builds SIX bridges?

Oh, and we resided our 1930’s garage, too.

———————-

Thus, the dog days of the summer of 2005 passed in blessed normalcy. The kids’ personalities took shape even more; we rested; we ate a lot of beets from our garden; we made some pesto.

All was infinitely right with the world.

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Categories
french fries past summers settling the West toddlers travel

Supersized Settling, With a Side of Fries

“Supersized Settling, With a Side of Fries”

In the car culture of middle America, the first months of a baby’s life see the infant toted everywhere, from grocery store to doctor’s office to library, all whilst strapped into a car seat with a handle; during this time, the most gratifying interaction a parent has with that infant is ahhing over a gassy smile or grinning at a gentle belch. And occasionally the baby does these things, too. Outside of the gratifying moments, the rest is just routine preservation—trying to make sure the baby hangs on to all ten fingers, continues to breathe, and sees daylight occasionally. During this phase of the child’s life, Baby is, frankly, just high-maintenance luggage.

That’s why Baby’s first steps are such a revelation and relief. Other milestones in the first year are lauded, of course, but rolling over is less monumental than walking because it doesn’t clearly mark a move towards self-sufficiency. Baby may master rolling over, but Mommy, with a deep, long-suffering sigh, still has to get the toy in the other room or retrieve a misplaced sippy cup. However, walking changes all that and introduces the most-used and helpful phrase in the household lexicon: “Get it yourself!”

Six summers ago, our Girl made the leap from infancy to toddlerhood. In many ways during June, July and August of 2001, we reveled in the summer of movement.

Virtually the same week Girl learned to walk, I drove five hours up Interstate 35, from southern to northern Minnesota, for a job interview. That day, I wore the same shirt I had five years previously, during the nearly-disastrous-but-pulled-it-out-in-the-clinch job interview I’d had in Spamtown, when I first entered Minnesota’s community college system. You might think I wore that shirt again because it had taken on some mythical status as my “Lucky Shirt.” Nae. I wore it again because it had loitered in the closet for five years, lolling about, hanging on to its crispness–leaving me free of the need to iron. Through such a complex process of wardrobe analysis, I decided how best to dress to impress.

The interview went well, and even though the committee had way too rollicking of a time as a mock “class” during my teaching presentation, I was ultimately offered the job. On a professional level, the move was a lateral one, but my new campus seemed vigorous enough to keep me engaged for decades to come. On a personal level, however, the move was huge.

Groom and I had been eager to move out of a humid, over-groomed, smallish down based around pig-slaughter and up to a city of water and natural green spaces. Duluth was the dream, and, thanks to my crisp blouse and formidable eye contact, we had achieved it.

In short order, we put our Austin house on the market; then, before searching out a place to live on Lake Superior’s North Shore, we embarked on a road trip to California, for a friend’s wedding.

California by way of Montana makes sense for those driving from Minnesota–and it affords an opportunity to stop for the 113th time at the money-trap that is Wall Drug, where the weary traveler can eat buffalo burgers, enjoy free water, and perch angrily upon the attractions.

With the Girl having proven her rodeo mettle, we hopped back into the air-conditioned car and zipped to Billings see my folks and brother, who had gone AWOL from his military life long enough to whiz home for a taste of my mom’s homemade chicken noodle soup.


(the bathtub at my parents’ house had been broken for years, so, with Girl afraid of the shower, we had to rig up a different way to soften and peel The Crusties off of her peaches and cream)
During this leg of the trip, we left Girl for the first time for a night without us. While Groom and I chugged up into the Beartooth Mountains for a getaway, Girl stayed home with my brother and parents.

And, hence, I learned that it takes no time at all to corrupt. In the 22 short hours of our absence, my family managed to introduce Girl to her first fast food, and I believe the sound of her brain shifting permanently within her skull at that seminal taste of French fries and ketchup was audible. Fair enough, though. Really, outside of driving home the meaning of “thinly-veiled dysfunction,” what better is family suited for than introducing unhealthy eating habits to one’s repertoire?

While Girl sucked the sugary red stuff sprinkled with salt off of her fingers, Groom and I participated in a true boondoggle up in the mountains: with no altitude acclimatization to speak of, we registered for a race that took place entirely uphill on the switchbacks of one of the mountains in the Beartooth chain. Groom, made of sterner stuff than I, ran the 8-miler straight up, while I settled for the more realistic 4.4-miler, telling myself all I could do was run as much as I could and then walk the rest (thinking I just might, at a leisurely, deliberate slog, manage to plod my way through the race).

I made it 98 yards, give or take an inch, before my lungs exploded in my chest. As the popping sound echoed away down into the canyon, my plod slowed to a pouting trudge, which then lasted for the ensuing 4.35 miles. At least my schlepping was broken up by the friendly chat of a college student who was working away the summer in the local touristy community. Having decided the night before to run the race, Student realized she’d neglected to train at all for the previous, em, 19 years, so she packed in one fierce and extended session of sprints alternated with endurance miles the evening before the race. If you need any further explanation of why she was huffing at the back of the pack with me, I can also tell you she was a smoker who stoically managed to refrain from lighting up until the finish line.

My finish line reward was a beer followed by a quick trip back to Billings, just long enough to snatch up our Happy Meal-addicted Girl.

Then we continued on road tripping over to Idaho before dropping south and cutting a shoulder into Nevada, ultimately ending up at pre-wedding festivities in the Yosemite region of California: hikes, swims, renting a house with a group of buddies. Then, en masse, we traveled to the Palo Alto area, where we witnessed, in a vineyard, the exchange of vows. To pass the time during some of the readings and songs, I pretended to be a character in the long-deceased television show, FALCON CREST. In front of me, they broke a glass under the huppah, but in my head, I was Jane Wyman’s evil sidekick, one with feathered hair and waist-narrowing shoulder pads.

On our way back to Minnesota, we spent a delicious couple of days zipping along “The Loneliest Road in America,” a 284-mile stretch of parched road through Nevada. We camped in Great Basin National Park, at a site I remember best for having a pitch just steep enough that newly-toddling Girl discovered running by surprise. She was just trying to walk downhill, but suddenly her elfin feet were flying out of control, and then she whirred out onto the asphalt campground road, gaining momentum, cackling and giggling wildy the whole time. I missed a lot of her careening, however, as I too busy bending over, holding my stomach out of fear for her, trying not to shriek like a harridan, “STOP, CHILD, for nothing must ever harm you.” Crouching and cowering, I managed to subdue my maternal fears, and then we all ate noodles.

The next morning, trying to fit in his daily run while making time on the road, Groom ran from the campsite, seven miles straight down the side of the mountain (karmically balancing out his mountain running efforts). When he reached us where we awaited him in the car, I knew it had been bad, as he broke the stoicism that typifies his Northern European heritage and bit out: “I. Don’t. Ever. Need. To. Run. Seven. Miles. All. Downhill. Ever. Again.” From him, that was a veritable wail of pain. His quads actively hated him for at leat three days afterward, even in the midst of lovely Utah.

Eventually, we felt a pressure, a need to make time back to Minnesota, in case our Austin house was on the very verge of selling. As well, we needed to seek out a new place to live in Duluth.

Quickly, we discovered that rents in Duluth are higher than mortgages, so we switched our search to buying a second home—and don’t all good Americans own at least two homes, whether or not they can afford it? We found a sweet little place, under 1,000 square feet, but couldn’t move in for six weeks. Thus, midsummer found us in interim housing, waiting for the keys and for the comfort that would come with what was surely the imminent sale of our Austin house. Because, although we really wanted to be good, over-consuming Americans? The truth is that we just wanted the one house; paying two mortgages would eat up 55% of our monthly income, after all, and now that she was walking, Baby would, periodically, need a new pair of shoes.

As the weeks passed, we eased into our Duluth life, and eventually I started my new job. The Austin house sat on the market. Our diet began to consist of a lot of rice.

A few more house showings, and the Austin house remained offer-free. Starting to notice muscle deterioration, we added beans to the rice.

Summer ended. Months ticked by. We continued to pay two mortgages. Realizing either rickets or scurvy was setting in, we scraped some pennies out of the couch cushions and bought a bag of dried apricots.

During the continued months of double-mortgage stress, there was, simultaneously, a glorious feeling of having truly come home in Duluth, in that small house. Whereas in Austin, our outings with Girl strapped into the jogging stroller had been greeted with bemused comments like, “Well, would you look at that chariot, Marv! Have you ever sent the like?” we were relieved to have found our own–to have spotted our tribe, our clan (one possessing both fire AND the wheel) on our first walk to the playground, when no fewer than three other baby joggers were parked along the edge. We approached the hurricane slide joyously, giving the other parents there the secret handshake of a shouted “trailmix-gorp!” followed by a clanking together of canoe paddles and a revving of Subaru motors.

Indeed, the lovely thing about this period of getting to know our new city was that it felt so completely like a place where we could spend decades. And for the first time since I had headed off to college, the idea of settling somewhere didn’t feel like a diminishment of possibility or a letting go of dreams. In this case, it felt like an augmentation, an actualization of dreams. Even though “settling” and “down” so often have negative implications, taken together and attached to “Duluth,” these words felt more like “whooping” and “up.”

Of course, whooping it up over a bowl of rice and beans gets old, even when dried apricots have been stirred into the mix. Eventually, as our gorgeous Austin house went unsold, Groom, then thirty years old, nobly took on a paper route (he was up at 3:30 a.m.–riding off on his banana-seat bike, wearing his chest banner of scouting badges, toting ball of string, a stick shaped like a gun, and a frog in his pocket– getting home a few hours later, in time for me to head off to work and for him to watch Girl. In no time at all, his ability to answer the telephone or complete a sentence was gone, but at least he had already completed a successful tour in Girl’s Lack of Sleep Bootcamp, so he knew how to function in a daze). With the addition of his paper route money, we even had chicken one time.

That was some ferociously-good chicken.
————-

Twenty-six months after first listing our Austin house, each of us suffering from only mild hair loss due to poor diet, it sold.

To celebrate, we tossed a symbolic bag of beans into Lake Superior, bought a haunch of beef, and settled, even more deeply, into our deck chairs, napkins tucked under chins.

Naturally, next to her slab of cow, Girl had a heap of French fries slathered in ketchup.

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Categories
colic early motherhood past summers travel

Norris Geyser Basin

Eight years ago, Groom asked, “So, will you marry me?”

The answer, of course, was “Yee-haw, Moondoggie!”

And later that night, I got pregnant.

…which means that seven years ago this summer, I was the hormonal, exhausted, dazed caregiver of a three-month-old baby. I spent that summer not in Eastern Europe or Iceland, but on the couch.

The phrase “three-month-old baby” is perhaps too spartan for something so profoundly, infinitely complicated. I mean, I knew babies. I’d been a champion babysitter from the age of ten; I’d worked the church nursery with my sister (14 howling babies left me unphased; getting peed on by a newborn boy with a wild and independent penis was merely cause for laughter and a quick mopping up; having a child barf in my face was easily filed into my pantheon of New Experiences); I’d been a live-in nanny in Boston during college; after that, I’d been a live-out nanny in Minneapolis and Billings.

In short, the babies could wail, the toddlers could tantrum, the preschoolers could manipulate, the school-agers could negotiate—all while I sat lolling in the corner, picking at a hangnail, losing at Clue, Jr. while dusting off a pacifier. No biggie, them kids.

So it was shocking when my own child whupped my sense of easy competency and healthy detachment. Who knew having my own child would jettison me into panic and anxiety and an irrationality like I’d never known? Who knew having my own child would alter me organically, at a cellular level? Who knew a damn kid could make every single day feel the length of an Ice Age, each minute on the clock frozen into an icicle that was then embedded into a slow-moving glacier?

And these were the good days.

In terms of personal revelations, I learned very quickly that I don’t excel at consistency in intense situations. I don’t excel at patience when every single one of my bodily orifices is dripping. I don’t excel at kindness or small talk or driving or dressing myself when I’ve not strung together two straight hours of sleep in months. To put it simply: if the world is ever attacked by a vengeful race of robots, and everyone is killed off except about 46,000 human beings, and we’re all relegated to traveling in space for months and months, constantly chased by the ‘bots, running low on food and water, assaulted with every kind of stress–DON’T ELECT ME PRESIDENT. I’ll have us all dead in a day.

In my defense, though, Girl was not an easy baby those first months. Sure, I knew babies don’t sleep much. I got that.

But, both anecdotally and in the literature, the nightmare stories of non-sleepers would go something like, “He’s still up three times a night!” or “She only sleeps two-hour stretches, and I’m desperate!”

Lily-livered wusses.

If it meant I would get a solid hour of sleep, I would have willingly had all my teeth extracted with a needle-nose pliers and then, using little more than my bloody gums, gnawed off my left arm (a true hit, since I’m left-handed); then, with my left arm strapped in next to me on the passenger seat, I would have gladly driven–one-armed–the 2,056.1 miles to San Francisco, where I would have, at a pre-set time and date with The Sandman, dropped my offering of flesh off the Golden Gate Bridge, into his waiting hands. And if I’d run out of gas during the 2,056.1 mile drive to San Francisco, be assured that I would have ditched my car on the side of the highway and started hitching, one-thumbed, my other arm tucked into my duffle bag, just to get there on time…if, if, if it meant The Sandman would honor his promise to hand over the gift of sleep to me and my Girl.

She really, really wouldn’t sleep. She didn’t sleep like nuthin’ I’d ever seen before. Her longest stretch of unconsciousness in the first months of her life was 45 minutes, and that occurred only if she was being held by an adult who was sitting upright on the couch. Oh, and before you try to bring any suggestions or superior experience to the table here, fair warning: I might have to rip your head off and spin it in a Cuisinart if you do (just a little lingering after-effect of the lack of sleep). Honest to Rip Van Winkle, we did try everyfreakingthing. Front, back, up, down, over, under, swaddled, hanging from gravity boots, with salsa, never on Sundays, toasted, and on roller skates–no matter what, she wouldn’t sleep. Occasionally, a cd of a waterfall fuzzing and burbling along, all placental-like, would make her eyelids droop. Momentarily.

Eventually, we hit upon a solution that would at least guarantee us our 45-minute stretches at night: I’d get her to sleep by holding, rocking, nursing her, and then Groom would, with all the gentle fluidity of Shields and Yarnell trying to pry their way out of an invisible box, ease her into her car seat. After that, strangely, out of some weird sense of propriety, we’d pick up her car seat and set it into her crib. And thusly, we would get our 45 minutes.

This deficit of REM sleep meant that neither of Girl’s parents actually knew his/her name anymore (I took to calling Groom “Bilko,” and he called me “Swansea”), but at least she was still alive, and that was saying something.

Then the colic set in. We just about didn’t come out alive.

My strongest memory from that period in the year of our Lord 2-ought-ought-ought is of a white Ikea chair. I sat in that chair, sobbing uncontrollably, holding a screaming Girl. She’d only been howling for about a kabajillion hours straight, and we’d been passing her off to each other every ten minutes, so as to avoid the tension and frustration that might spiral into something ugly, like putting her in the deep freeze, and we hadn’t actually talked to each other for weeks, outside of hollering in the other’s general direction (“YOUR TURN! NOW!”), and we hadn’t eaten or slept, so, although I tend to manufacture a little drama in daily life, this wasn’t one of those times.

Next to me, my sobs overshadowed by Girl’s ceaseless wailing, Groom stood, despairing: “Tell me what I can do. Just tell me what I can do to help.” All my brain could squeeze out was some second grade math: “Colic lasts, usually, the first 12 weeks of life, and she’s six weeks now. I, *gasp,* don’t, *sob*, think, *choke,* that I, *squeak,* can make it, *snot,* ONE, *hiccup,* MORE, *hack,* WEEK…muchlesssixmore *collapse.*”

Fortunately, the fog of fatigue kept me hazy enough through those intolerable six weeks, and they passed. And as the summer ripened, she stopped screaming ‘round the clock–although she continued NOT sleeping ‘round the clock–and we got through.

It is a marvel to me, as I look back on that summer, that we took a trip to a family reunion in Red Lodge, Montana. There, altitude aided the fog of fatigue in numbing me to the point that I didn’t know better than to enjoy myself. Save for when my dear, legally-blind father took a tumble down the stairs in the middle of the night, trying to find the bathroom in the rented condo, it was lovely to have a baby and a love and to be in the mountains.


After the reunion, some of us extended the trip by heading to Chico Hot Springs (host to one of the best dining rooms in Montana; just a little FYI for the steak lovers in the crowd) and then Yellowstone Park. In Yellowstone, we tip-toed through a wee hike (a pale imitation of any hiking I’d done pre-motherhood, but passably fine)


and then tried camping.


“Tried” is a very important verb in that previous sentence. Think about it: camping, whether in a tent, in an RV, or under a tarp, entails sleep of some sort. And we weren’t so much sleeping at all, anywhere, much less in a crowded campground, on a cold night, when Girl still slept in her plastic carseat. Plastic gets cold in the mountains at night, and the magical alchemy of plastic + cold = return of colicky behaviors. At 4 a.m., having slept not at all, feeling bruised and woozy from going 6 rounds with an infant caught in a state of rigor resisto when placed anywhere near her “bed” in the carseat, I was relieved by Groom, who saved the night (and the Girl)–for not the first or the last time in our relationship. He grabbed the little body of diapered, howling pudge, told me “Now get some sleep,” and proceeded to drive Girl around the roads of Yellowstone for a few dark hours; ultimately, when she nodded off, exhausted in a way she’d never been before, Groom pulled over and parked in the Norris Geyser Basin, where he sat until sunrise, snoring and drooling in the driver’s seat.

To this day, there is no greater proclamation of my love for the Groom than to lisp those golden, backlit words: “Norris Geyser Basin.”

By spelling each other and just letting the clock tick on, we got through those intense first month’s of Girl’s life, the summer of 2000. Once she got a few months older, we tried the Ferber method of sleep training; after a week, Girl capitulated and started alternating 1.5 hour periods of screaming with 1.5 hour periods of sleep.

Did you read me? An hour and a half of uninterrupted sleep at a time. An hour and a half. It was sweet, candied bliss on a stick.

Relieved and excited that the daily pressure towards infanticide had abated, we exchanged the marital high five known as a kiss and, looking deeply into each other’s eyes, assured each other that the worst was behind us.

Three years later, we had Wee Niblet.

He slept–I swear to you on my down pillow–twenty minutes at a time.

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Categories
Ireland past summers solo travel

Chicken for One


“Chicken for One”

Eleven summers ago, I got a job that paid a liveable wage.
Ten summers ago, I got over a broken heart.

And nine summers ago, I got confident.

That summer, I was back in love–with a new feller, someone intriguing and exciting yet damnably inscrutable and taciturn–ready to embark on the extended dance re-mix tour of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man.

Unequivocally, I heart Ireland, so hopping a plane across the pond for six weeks was a pleasure. Moreover, when I hit 31, my crow’s feet and I had a talk (Crow’s Feet: “Caw, Caw. You’se a crinkled hag. Caw!” Me: “Listen, Ass-hat, I can easily put duct tape over you and claim it’s some new mid-face fashion trend, so tread lightly”). Ultimately, after some squabbles and a few lost rounds with a bottle of Oil of Olay, Crow’s Feet and I decided to start a skin-maintenance program…and where better to do that than in the misty, pore-drenching climes of Guinnessland? Plus, I had a good friend who was hankering to see the place, who was willing to pay, as well, for a mutual Polish friend to accompany us; too, I had a cousin who was keen to join the fray. The four of us women agreed to do the deed, spending various stretches of time together–on again, off again, depending on the locale and personal desires.

Whereas my trip to the UK the previous summer had been tinged with melancholy and the need for some self-esteem recovery, this holiday was, simply, purely, about joy. I felt strong, healthy and as though my life held at least seventeen kinds of possibility. Let the wind tousle my hair! I shouted. (…metaphorically, of course. Who would I have literally shouted that at? A flight attendant? Would he then have stopped the beverage cart long enough to run a manicured hand through my tresses? As if. Those attendants are way too self-absorbed to do me such a favor. It just wouldn’t happen, so I must be metaphoricalizing. Catch up with me here, Mortimer.)

But lookie: the wind did blow my hair, even though I never actually said it out loud. The Wind Goddess, Mariah, must have read my wishes. Mariah also hosts an infomercial on late-night tv, in which she hawks her tarot-reading powers. Having financial trouble? Call her 1-800 line.

A rough cross-section of that vacation reveals

…tumbled castles

…a whiff of King Arthur (not the scent of decay you’d expect)

…hospitality from strangers whose walls dripped with history (but not, to my dismay, lager)

…and a terrific snog

Overall, there was much beauty on that journey: the sights, sharing a beloved place with friends, seeing a best girlfriend get married on the Isle of Man. And there was much that was stressful on that trip (suffice it to say, not all personalities mesh well, and it became necessary for some of us to part ways and recover a bit in separate corners before reuniting).

Due to the clashes, however, I stumbled into something I mightn’t have chosen deliberately: traveling alone. Much is made of “women who travel alone”–I’ve seen whole tomes on the subject–but, in this case, gender wasn’t the issue at all. Mostly, my solo week was remarkable because it was comprised of the minute acts of courage that any traveler has to muster when not buffered by the words, presence, and security of a partner or group. These acts aren’t visible to any outside onlooker, not palpable to anyone save the lone individual. But what I learned that week is that once the protective layers of companions are shed, the lone traveler experiences a kind of vulnerability–and welcome exposure–that is a privilege.

Thus, even though I spent six weeks seeing and eating and moving from place to place that summer, the lasting impression I have of that time is actually of one rare week, when I hopped a bus all by my Big Brave Self, bidding my cousin adieu for that piece of time, and stayed by myself at a B & B in Killybegs, Co. Donegal.

Almost immediately, I discovered that being alone meant I was more approachable. When I’d been with friends, no native would approach me or strike up a conversation, but by myself, I was making friends in the line at the cash-point machine, having lingering cups of tea with my B & B hostess, chatting with farmers driving their tractors down the road. As well, I became very conscious of how much time I spent in my room (could have laid on the bed all day, finishing A Prayer for Owen Meanie, even as I cursed its saccharine hero), making sure I had a destination each day that would counter my natural inclination towards the horizontal. Perhaps most gratifying about that week were my forays into hitching; since Donegal is sparsely populated and bus service is irregular, sticking out the old thumb was the prime way to get around. Of course, I’d seen Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher some years before, so every time I emerged from a stranger’s car, all my limbs intact, breath still in my lungs, the air struck me as redolent with four-leaf clovers, and my steps were positive boing-a-sproings of relief.


Heady with the sense of adventure, I explored the county, hiking the glorious Slieve League, buying hand-knit sweaters, popping in to witness a religious Blessing of the Fleet ceremony in a warehouse at the dock, fending off the advances of a gormless but lusty fisherman.

Occasionally, my stomach growled, a noise that intimated I might, at some point, need to eat.

Alone.

And you know? That was ultimately the hardest part of the entire deal. I dodged the issue a few times by purchasing my lunch from a grocery, but eventually, as is my wont, I craved hot, cooked food. So I paced outside a family-friendly pub for some minutes before entering. Once inside, I eyed the bar and then eyed the tables. It was too dark to pull out my book for occupation. I would have to sit, alone, and eat, alone, staring at nothing, talking to no one.

I ordered the chicken. It came with potatoes.

Then, the next day, as I strolled past a different pub, music wafted out–excellent fiddle music. On a whim, I dodged in and worked obviously and diligently on my travel journal (first day I’d kept one!) until I was certain my presence wouldn’t raise a hue and cry. Emerging several hours later, I felt as though I’d found my new home. Each night thereafter, I visited this pub, pulling on my pints as I listened to the most-lovely music played by the proprietor and his mates, easing into conversation with my fellow fortunates.

Within the space of seven days, I had A Local, knew some familiar faces around the village, and had gawped during an evening of dancing at my B & B hosts’ favorite club (Just me and a hundred 55-year-olds, circling the floor in a waltz, the native ladies in their pumps, me in my London Underground hiking boots). Being alone had given me an entree no passport ever could.

This congenial time of personal expansion ended rather too abruptly, in truth, when my cousin decided to rejoin me in the next leg of my plans: to stay a week in Connemara in a small town called Cleggan. Resolutely, we aimed towards fun, even achieving some (despite an afternoon on the back of an Irish pony).


In Cleggan, and then in Northern Ireland at the farm of distant relations, and then on the Isle of Man, we had moments of great togetherness as we whizzed down the “wrong” side of the road in our rental, taking refuge in that small car when a herd of hungry cows surrounded us, licking their, em, cuds (and chewing their chops); we descended into hilarity rolling around the Giant’s Causeway and mock-attacking at various ring forts; we simultaneously missed heartbeats when we realized we’d visited the town of Omagh in Northern Ireland three days before an IRA bomb in the main square created the higest body count of any during The Troubles. We found a common vibe, and I easily fell back into the comfort of companionship.

However.

As it turns out, learning to forge ahead while feeling nervous and uncertain and alone was a tremendous gift. Nearly the moment I landed back in The States, before I’d even laundered my unmentionables, I was informed abruptly and ignominiously that the new feller was quite over me–had been for some time but was too passive to make the cut earlier (You know, before my trip, during which I then could have rustled up a little comfort in the pub or on a beach. The fecknob).

In the ensuing weeks, as I lay sleepless and agitated and profoundly heartsore, lonelier than I’d known I could be,

at least I had Donegal.

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break-ups Ireland past summers travel

“Busted in Ballyvaughn”

Eleven years ago, I started to turn my life around economically. However, my romantic life was still facing the wrong direction. It took another year for the About Face of the Heart to take place, for me to realize that I’d spent the bulk of my twenties in a relationship that, while fine and good on many fronts, would never fully satisfy. It was too full of emotional landmines (whoops! Triggered another one!) and divergent goals. Even though Boyfriend Of My Twenties had moved to Minnesota with me, and I appreciated that act of solidarity, things had to change.

Thus, one decade ago this summer, I was mourning the demise of my six-year-relationship. And the break-up? It had been long and exhausting and had pretty much cut me off at the knees.

Metaphorically speaking. I mean, I still had calves and feet. C’mon. What’d you think? That I shuffle around on my patellas? Imagine the horrid scraping sound that would make.

At any rate, after wading through a fair amount of extended emotional upheaval, there I was. Thirty years old. Overweight. A mixture of really sad and strangely buoyant simultaneously–certain I’d never find genuine, healthy love at the same time I was glad that new, better, love was a possibility.

So I started exercising; lost a little weight; realized the beauty of feeling free.

And in response to all this? Deeply and profoundly, I knew it was time to start making my credit cards flex their personal-debt-inducing muscles. It was time to get my wounded soul a passport, mix it up with The Ladies, and take a trip.

And so I did, mixin’ it up, generationally, too. That summer, I spent three weeks scooting around Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man with my mom, her cousin, and one of my treasured girlfriends. Ranging in age from 30 to 61, we were dope, jiggy, and phat–ready to get down with the scones and the clotted cream. It wasn’t exactly dropping acid at Ozfest, but it would suffice as a heartmender.

We giddy four hit the 40 Shades of Green that make up the Irish landscape with all the enthusiasm and eagerness of, well, a leprechaun on acid at Ozfest. We saw castles. We listened to music. We got a puncture in our tyre, fixed by a lovely man named Michael (Honest to St. Patrick, his pre-adolescent daughter put on her saucy skirt and amused us with step-dancing while we waited).
We saw theatre. We ducked into Stone Age tombs.
We enjoyed an entire 15 minutes on the Isle of Skye (last ferry of the day arrived and soon after was departing). We stayed with my excellent Manx friend on the Isle of Man. We applauded a sheepherder and his border collies.
We spent some days in Edinburgh during the yearly Fringe Festival, marveling at the talent unleashed. We, my friends, had our scones.

In sum, we rocked it–me and my companions, The Mothers, in their modest, knee-length skirts, with their sensible walking shoes, tittering at the hint of a brogue.

Sure, we had our moments of stress. One morning I hopped on a train easily, wearing my backpack, and then turned to watch my mother and friend try to board, only to see their big suitcases get hung up on a stack of bikes just inside the train’s doors. As they futzed with their cases, trying to get through, the doors slid closed, and the train took off, leaving them standing, with very big eyes, on the platform. Ah, well, I mused. I guessed they’d catch up to me at the next stop. If not, I’d get back on a train heading the other direction and find them still standing there, trying to get their rolling suitcases to budge over a 100-year-old crack in the pavement. And traveling with a diabetic (my mom’s cousin) who used denial instead of insulin was stressful, as well. Every night, after dithering about being unable to check her blood sugar levels, she would order a huge dessert and then start holding forth at the dinner table in fairly mendacious fashion, telling stories that, if not completely untrue, were unfair and mind-boggling. It was only after we put her on a plane home–and she had a stroke within the next week–that we realized she may have been having a series of mini-strokes as we traveled.

But overall, the trip rejuvenated my dented self. In particular, one night in a little village named Ballyvaughn did this girl some good. We checked in to the hotel there and then headed down to have dinner in the pub. Soon after we started eating, a charming lad–that evening’s entertainment, in more ways than one–started setting up his microphone and guitar, chatting us up a bit as he worked. Amazingly, my mother and her cousin lasted through his first set or two before complaining of the ringing in their ears. Shortly thereafter, when Pub Stud took a break, he came over and suddenly transformed me into the star of my very own one-hour-television-drama by whispering to me, “Don’t go anywhere, now.”

Rooted to my bench, I sipped my pints until the last note died away. And only then did I go somewhere, in his car, to the beach, where I was reminded that there was life outside of that newly-departed six-year relationship, that I could still glimmer and shine, even at 30.

Naturally, while I was on the beach, doing my best impression of Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity at four in the morning, the fire alarm went off back at the hotel. Everyone scurried outside in their nighties and waited for the all-clear. And when my mom couldn’t find me, she started to fret. Luckily, before she could rouse the garda to start a search for my corpse, even though there was no fire at all, my galpal jumped in with a suitably-vague excuse: “Oh, I think she left the pub with some young people. I think they were going somewhere together.”

With that, me mum relaxed.

And out on the beach, with the crashing of the waves around me,

so did I.

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Guatemala human sacrifices open sores travel volcanoes

More Centrally American

“More Centrally American”

This may be my last post for a couple of weeks, for Groom and I, some months back, bolstered by a few shots of whiskey slammed down during a State of the Union address (by the end, we were channeling David Byrne, chopping on our arms, and slurring, “This is not our beautiful country”), decided to take Wee Niblet and Girl to

well,

yea,

*Guatemala* for two weeks.

Really, what better place to let The Kiddles have their first international adventures (not counting Thunder Bay) than a country recovering from a civil war? If they’re going to make it in this world, they need to know early and young that good coffee comes from countries where indigenous people have been “disappeared” through guerilla warfare.

We haven’t even been teaching them any helpful Spanish or Mayan phrases but instead have been honing their pronunciation of a single French term: “coup d’etat.”

Last weekend, for further preparation, we took them to see Mel “I hate Jews, but only when I’m drunk” Gibson’s APOCOLYPTO. There’s nothing sweeter than hearing my three-year-old son’s voice, piping up in the darkness: “Mommy, what’s a human sacrifice? Is that like the time I lost my Martian Manhunter action figure?”

All right, so actually we’re planning a rather-benign family vacation to visit my sister, who teaches at an “American-style” Guatemalan school in Guat City (“So, as long as we’re reading Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, would anyone like fries with that?”). We’ll travel to a waterpark, a volcanic lake, and the town where my sister gets her eyelashes tinted. I predict, as well, that many a local market will benefit from our desire for gorgeous, colorful fabrics and folkart.

Along the way, I’m sure I’ll take a header into some lava or mangle my Spanish attempts and end up asking a waitress for “more green knuckles in my shoehorn”; in short, when I get back, you can be assured of a few new Jocelyn As Traveler Dork tales.

(Them ain’t puffs of smoke coming out of those volcanoes; them is word balloons in which Jocelyn is screeching “YEEEEOOOWWW, but lava stings my suppurating sores!”).

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