Thursday, July 18, 2019

Managing My Berkshire Expectations

When my kids were swimming competitively, there was a tshirt that read: "If I have but one day to live, please take me to a swim meet because they last forever."
That has kind of become my motto this summer. If I were facing the end of my life, these days in the Berkshires stretch interminably in front of me.
How many are left?

But who's counting?
What did I think it would be like spending the summer in the Berkshires? Well, I knew it would be cool (as in the weather), and it has been. 
I guess I pictured the Berkshires like the Catskills or the Poconos. The kind of places you see on television from Dirty Dancing or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
A scene from the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in the Catskills
Perhaps there'd be dinners out and boating and games. 
I didn't plan for no cell service and the closest neighbors being not close at all. 
Don't get me wrong. I know some people would adore being isolated in the woods, maybe people with high-stress jobs who just want to get back to nature. 
And it is beautiful here in places, not unlike where my parents grew up in Kentucky.
The tiger lilies bloom later up here 
We have had some ventures into towns. I would say nearby, but truthfully, the closest towns are 45 minutes to an hour drive.
Last week we drove to Northampton, having no preconceived notions about it. Why did we go there? To work in a Starbucks. (I know, Theresa, but we all make compromises sometimes) My writing has stalled and I hoped that by returning to a coffee shop, I might jump start it. 
Instead, a man sat down at the communal table with me and Earl and began telling us his life story. 
Still, Northampton is an interesting town. The most liberal town in Massachusetts, where Smith College is located. 
Luckily, I wore an Indian designed top so felt right at home amidst the tie-dyed shirts and bright colors.
A shop window in Northampton
There were lots of people asking for money on the street and several musicians busking, even on a weekday afternoon.
Best of all, there was a candy shop called Sweeties. I took a picture and sent it to my friend Derrick. Sweeties is what the Brits call candy and I'm trying to make his niece and nephew learn American English so they have to ask me for candy instead of Sweeties. 
Jelly beans, fudge, chocolate, runts...
We also found a book shop, so the trip was definitely worth it.
On Sunday, we traveled two hours to Saratoga Springs, New York. Earl has a friend there that he went to Ohio State with in the journalism department. I had never met Barb and her husband Jim, but now I regret all those years we didn't know each other. We had a delightful time. 
A beautiful copper roof on the new building. The original building was built is 165 years old. 

The horses sweaty after a race. 
We went to the racetrack and spent about $20 betting on horses. Earl won $10 and my horses sometimes were limping so I was very bad at choosing.
Afterward we walked downtown. It's a very civilized town and even had an Aveda shop, which I've been searching for. I bought some new moisturizer and felt like I might be able to survive the remaining days in the Berkshires.
So, it's a lot of driving to get to anywhere, and most days, we don't leave our big, but cluttered house with the old dog and two mischievous cats. I've been walking every morning after I teach. I've managed to run down hill some, but I'm still having pain in my ribs from my fall so can't push it uphill because of that thing.. oh, yeah, breathing. It hurts to breath too deeply. 
We plan to go tubing, maybe Friday or Saturday. Apparently, there's a reservoir that lets water into the river on Wednesday, so the river is not high enough for tubing early in the week. Some things are still a mystery to me here. 
There's also kayaking for another day. And we even spotted a zipline. 
We're spacing out our fun activities so we always have something to look forward to. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

It's Official

Today, after four years of dating, our daughter Grace and her boyfriend Jack made it official. They're engaged.

It's not official til you share it on Facebook.
We're very happy for them. Their love for each other is an inspiration. Neither of them is perfect, but it looks like they found their perfect imperfect partner. And they've weathered some tough times together.
They did a photo shoot with a wolf
They met four years ago in May when they both were in a production of Hamlet. Grace was dating another guy on and off and I was kind of rooting for him. I jokingly called Jack by the wrong name -- Josh -- for awhile, before it became obvious that they were serious.
After a year of dating and some frustration about finding time to see each other, I suggested they just move in together. They are both always involved in acting, usually in different shows, so after work, they'd rehearsal, and they rarely had time to see each other most evenings. At least if you lived together you'd know you would see each other eventually, I said.
After one of Jack's shows
They spent two summers apart while Jack was in a show that required him to live on premises about 90 minutes away from Columbus.

They have traveled together, exploring Scotland, Ireland and England. They visited Jack's family castle in Scotland -- the MacRae Clan and discovered that the castle wall says as long as a MacRae is within, a Fraser will not be without. Our family clan? The Fraser Clan. Perhaps this love story was written in history.
That look.
People always ask if a guy is someone you approve of for your daughter. My standards have always been high. There is one requirement. That he love her with unbounded love. And I think she has found that in Jack.
In fairy tales, a wedding is the end of the story, but we all know that a wedding is really the beginning of a whole new life for the two of them.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

How We Define Ourselves

The Irish blessing begins: "May the road rise up to meet you."
And that's exactly what happened to me yesterday during a run as I tripped and fell, landing on my hands, one knee and then thudding onto my side. I lay on the hard-packed dirt and gravel road for a few minutes assessing the damage.

At least I didn't land on my nose and break it. I've done that before. 
And it's been 12 years, so maybe I should count my blessings that I had a nearly 7-year streak of not falling.
But the fall injured more than my outside.
I had just determined that I was going to conquer these hills we are living on for 45 more days. 
  I'd been sluggish, walking a lot as I climbed the two miles up, then increasing my speed as I went down.
So yesterday morning, I forced myself to run farther before I stopped. I took a flatish detour past a flock of sheep then headed back toward the uphill. I felt confident, unstoppable even, before a rock jutting out of the road caught the toe of my shoe.
In slow motion, I stumbled, my hands outreached. I could stay upright, I could keep going, but a few steps in I fell.
And it's hard to fail at something you consider yourself good at.
I've been running seriously for about 18 years now.

 I trained for a marathon and tore my ACL. Nevertheless, I trained the following year and actually ran the marathon. I tout the benefits of running and often claim I use it as an antidepressant.
Yet, a submerged rock reached out to tweak me.
In the past, I have bemoaned that my two hobbies -- writing and running are best done first thing in the morning and I couldn't decide which to devote myself to. Now I haven't written seriously for 18 months, since we moved to France, and suddenly my running is off too.
Who am I if I'm not a writer or a runner?
I told my friend Janine that I felt like the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz with the straw being stuffed back into me, trying to restore me to what I was before.
If a runner falls in the woods and no one hears, did she make a sound?
I had the luxury of sitting on the road a few minutes, gravel embedded in my palms and a little blood on my knee, because the road is seldom used. A fall is different when you're middle aged than when you're young.
The distance isn't farther, but the thud feels harder.
And as I stood in the shower later, trying to take in deep breaths but feeling a pain under my ribs, I played with the idea of a collapsed lung or broken ribs. But by this morning, I decided the ribs were just bruised and I would be okay.
I didn't run this morning. Instead, after I taught for four hours, Earl and I went on a hike in a nearby state park. A few times, I placed my hands across my right ribs, feeling for that tender place where I had landed.
Maybe the fear is what makes the fall worse as we age.
But I can't let fear or inertia keep me down.
Tomorrow, I'll be back on those hills, forcing myself to run a little farther before I stop and walk to catch my breath. And maybe I'll even schedule some time to sit in front of my computer to put down words that tell a story, a story about two women on a trail in France.
I'm a runner.
I'm a writer.
So I'll end with another song, this one by Frank Sinatra who sang:
Now nothing's impossible, I've found for when my chin is on the ground,
"I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again."

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

The "Bear" Necessities Require Closing the Door

I blame my husband who just yesterday was lamenting that he never saw any wildlife when he was hiking.
That day as we were walking home from the mailbox at our rural Berkshires (Massachusetts) housesit, we saw a fox in the middle of the road, and he got nervous because the cats were out and about. We had left the back door open during the 20 minute walk so the dog could go out if she needed it. But I shrugged off Earl's worry about the fox. I had seen two foxes the week before on an early morning run in Florida. They were young and they both stopped in the middle of their playful games to stare at the lights on my shoes. 
A fox that stopped to check me out during a predawn run in Florida
So last night, we gathered the animals in around 8 p.m., as we usually do. Jenny the arthritic dog, and the two young cats, Kepler, black, sleek and obviously a hunter, Tanna, a bit chunky mottled color and satisfied to lie around and be petted.
The dog and two cats followed me on an attempted run up the mountain yesterday. 
We closed off the cat door and pushed the back door closed  without latching it. 
The owners had already told us that the dog could push inside the back door since it doesn't close well.
Earl and I were sitting at the kitchen table when I saw a black and brown head appear in the window of the kitchen door.
A bear!
Just checking things out. Not really afraid. 
I jumped up and ran to the door, wondering what I would do if the bear pushed the door open before I got there. Could I get away from it? Why wasn't my husband running to protect us from the bear?
That's when I heard him.
"Wait! You'll scare it! I want to get a picture."
Are you kidding me? I wanted to scare it.
He had hesitated to grab his camera so he could record the event.
He was right that, thankfully, I did scare the bear. It went lumbering across the yard, but not at a fast pace.
And the picture of the bear slowly peeking into the glass of the back door will remain etched in my mind -- like a scene from Goldilocks, but opposite. The bear was just checking to see if we were home.
The backdoor view from the kitchen table. I will forever picture a bear's face in the bottom right. 
When we took over this housesit, the owners told us they left the doors open all the time (not unlocked, but open) and they weren't even sure if there was a key to the house.
That same day, we had driven an hour away to a grocery store and simply left the back door open for the dog to go in and out. I wondered if the bear had been by earlier casing the joint.
So we locked the door last night, the only way to latch the back door.
This morning though, the door is open again to let the fresh 80 degree air in, and the front door is wide open too.
An open door leading to peaceful woods for all mosquitoes and wild animals to enter. 
Hopefully, the bear won't return, but if it does, I'm afraid it might find an open-door policy. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

A June Whirlwind

I can't believe it's July already.
June was a blur of activity.
We hiked in Spain,
Me with Earl and Maurice as we crossed the Pyrenees
 bought a house in France,
It needs a little love, but it has a garden
 said goodbye to all of our friends in France before we left for the summer and spent a night in Paris,
Always love the dramatic sky in Paris
flew home to the States,
Always love spending time with Mom and Dad.
At the Gulf of Mexico with Earl
drove from Florida to Ohio
Dinner with two of our three kids
 then Ohio to Massachusetts.

This is actually a view in Vermont, I think. Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire are all very close together here.
And here we are for most of the summer.
It's rural and I am sure to have lots of time to write, but less to write about.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

El Camino de Santiago in the Sunshine

Some of our days hiking, I have wondered why I'm walking this dusty, rocky trail.
But yesterday morning, after a couple of days not hiking, spending time in clinics and emergency rooms (everyone is fine), I felt the joy of the sun on my face and my feet steady on the path.

I saw things I would never see from a car and interacted with people from all over the world as we walked along the path.
Cypress trees and a bell tower
So hiking through a country gives you a different viewpoint. And I highly recommend it. But maybe some shorter hikes. I think 10-12 miles a day would be plenty for me. Instead, we've hiked about 15 miles every day. Those last few miles are killers on my feet.
I try to keep my gaze upward so I don't think about my feet.
The poppies are still in bloom here, though I think they're finished in our part of France
Some highlights from yesterday's 15-mile hike from Estella to Los Arcos. A wine fountain.
Earl had a taste. 
A man at his forge making Santiago crosses and shells. I bought a small metal shell on a leather rope.
Seems like hot work in the Spanish sun
The views continued to be amazing throughout the hike.
Earl soldiered on once the doctor confirmed his leg wasn't broken. I'll never understand men.
We arrived in Los Arcos
The church in Los Arcos
to find out there was a "Running of the bulls." I thought it would be like in Pamplona with the bulls chasing people through the streets.
Instead, they let out one or two bulls at a time in the square and guys tried to get them to run at them. It felt mean to the cows. And, of course, as an American, I was routing for the cows.
They just wanted to go back to their corral at either end of the street.
We got to experience it then climbed over the closing at the Medieval gate to go to our hotel.
So we spent a couple of hours after our hike waiting to see the bulls, and a lot of it was standing.
I began to feel like my calves were sunburnt. When we got to the hotel, I learned that it wasn't sunburn but hikers' rash. It was the worst on my lower legs, but also on my thighs, my back and my stomach, so obviously not sun poisoning, although that's what it looks like.
It has something to do with circulation and heat and walking. I didn't think yesterday was particularly hot. I didn't get sunburned on my arms or neck and I didn't even sweat very much because there was a nice breeze throughout.
But today, with an angry rash, I'm not walking. Instead, I'm searching for a pharmacy that's open to try some antihistamines or whatever the pharmacist suggests.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Trip-ups Along the Trail

When I decided not to walk on the third day of our trip, I envisioned a morning grading papers followed by a drive to Pamplona and an afternoon of enjoying the city.

This is the first Spanish city I've really felt drawn to. But I couldn't have predicted how complicated things would get.
The hotel where we had reservations was overbooked so they sent us to apartments in the old city. That in itself was fine as our car bumped along the cobblestones of what looked like a pedestrian walkway. We guilty shrugged as walkers moved out of our way. A man with a cane for the blind clung to a nearby apartment. Another guy with two crutches hobbles to the side. Yikes. Were we actually allowed to drive here?
We passed a Burger King and Linda knew where we were. Apparently, all of her directions throughout Pamplona were based on the location of the Burger King, but it worked.
Near the Burger King was this mural with the Running of the Bulls. Maybe that's what Linda remembered
Even as we drove seemingly aimless circles, we knew we were better off than our husbands who were wet and cold somewhere out on the trail. We found the apartments, unloaded our bags and set off to find the parking garage that was prepaid. We drove and drove, around Plaza del Castillo, the main square in the old town, around the outside of the city and back in, always keeping the cathedral in mind since that was near our apartment. 
What a charming street leading to the cathedral
As we went for another pass toward the parking garage, we got a call to pick up Maurice who had blazed his own trail and taken a loop, ending up far from Pamplona.
Like a James Bond movie, we could hear the clock ticking in our heads as we raced toward the pin he dropped us, knowing his phone was dying and if it did, then we couldn't contact him or find him.
Meanwhile, Earl had arrived in Pamplona, wet, muddy boots tracking along the cobblestones, and he found our apartment but didn't have the codes to get in the building. We'd sent the codes but they arrived in an unreadable email since his phone had gotten damp on the trail.
Both of our hikers texted and called as we tracked them down.
We finally returned to Pamplona, searching for the parking garage, and after a couple of hours we parked and walked across the old city.
We decided to do laundry, and luckily, a bar just outside the laundromat gave us the entertainment we needed. Sangria and clean clothes.
Rain clouds still threatened as we did laundry

But no clouds behind me and my sangria

My attempt at an artsy photo after Linda showed me how. 
After laundry, and a walk across town to complain at the hotel, we returned to a tapas bar. I have never been to a "real" tapas bar, which this apparently was. People crowded around the bar and scrunched into tables. The tapas choices were under glass all around the bar. But being on the short side, I couldn't see most of the offerings. Plus, I had no idea what any of them were. One was a sausage in a very puffy blanket of pastry. Another looked like a cup of au gratin potatoes but was actually crab and shrimp.
I asked for one and the bartender put it in the microwave, as he did all of the tapas when someone asked for it.
It just felt wrong to microwave tapas and carry it to the table. The entire place felt frenetic. People eating quickly, ordering quickly. I pictured a Spanish meal being laid back. I'd choose several tapas dishes and someone would bring it to my table. But that didn't happen.
Everyone else at our table was pleased with their choices. I didn't like the crab and shrimp dish because it tasted fishy, but Earl ate it and gave me something that looked like cornbread with potatoes and onions in it. I also ate a garlic mushroom that Linda ordered.
Overall, I was underwhelmed. And I didn't expect that the Frenchman in our group would consider that an adequate meal, but he did.
Afterward, Earl and I stopped for dessert, hot chocolate and churros. The chocolate is super thick - easier to eat with a spoon than drink. But it had a taste that reminded me of Atkins protein shakes back in the 80s, so I didn't finish the hot chocolate either.
Thick, thick hot chocolate
After a good night's sleep for me, I read about the upcoming trail today and decided not to hike it. It has a very steep, rocky descent that a number of hikers get hurt on. I would pass. Earl did not have a good night's sleep. He had a lot of tossing, turning and moaning and decided he needed to go to a clinic. He had a blister appear and pop on our very first long day of hiking. He's been treating it ever since.
Don't worry -- it's covered
He also took a hard blow to the shin yesterday. Apparently the trees were all hanging low, loaded down with the rain. A hiker in front of him shoved a branch out of the way with his pole and let it slam back into Earl's shin, which is now red and swollen.
So after breakfast at a Belle Epoque-style restaurant, 
Cafe Irina -- Linda posted a picture from inside
we went in search of a clinic. We stopped at a pharmacy first and they directed us. We asked two more people before we found it.
We stood in line while two women helped everyone waiting in line. Finally it was our turn. We speak no Spanish, remember, other than gracias. She filled out Earl's information then explained, on a phone translator, that we had to pay 36,58 euros for our appointment. No big deal. I pulled out our credit card while Earl dug out the cash. We were prepared.
No, we had to walk to a bank to pay then come back with the receipt from the bank.
I was baffled.
Since Earl was in pain, he sat in the waiting room and I would do the walking to the bank. When I came back, I would need to get in line again with the receipt.
And apparently, it didn't need to be any particular bank. Any bank would do. She drew a map for me that sent me in totally the wrong direction, but I eventually made my way to Plaza del Castillo again. She had said there were banks at either end of the plaza so I went to a big building with a name like Salamander that had lots of signs, but none of them looked like banco or banko. When I saw an ATM, I went inside anyway.
The security guard was also the keeper of the appointments. He gave me a number and I sat down on a couch, staring at a huge television screen and waiting for my number to be called. After about 15 minutes, my number appeared on the screen and I was allowed to pay cash for my doctor visit.
Like most doctor visits, it was delayed. To make a long story probably longer, Earl ended up with a 2nd degree friction burn on his foot where the blister was. She didn't xray his shin, but we're still keeping an eye on it. He's asleep beside me as I write this with his foot elevated.
Meanwhile, Linda and I went to get the car from the parking garage and again seemed to break many driving rules as we careened through the pedestrian streets. We parked in front of the apartment building and when we got inside, the codes for the apartments didn't work anymore. Check out time was 11 and it was after 11. Of course, we didn't know because there was no information in the apartments.
Anyway, our things were in the apartment and we were not.
Spanish, English, Spanish, English, phone calls, wrong turns.
Finally, we left Pamplona and drove to our next stop. Puente la Reina where the weather is beautiful and I'd better get some work done.

The 12th century church has real bells

The doorway is very elaborate

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Another Day Walking

Tuesday was another day of walking, although mostly down rather than up. The village of Roncevaux (or Roncesvalles as the Spanish call it) was barely a city, just a few hotels for "pilgrims" walking the trail.
A church in Roncevaux where they hold daily masses for the pilgrims
We had a 14-mile walk on Tuesday, following the 15-mile walk on Monday. My feet were not happy.
I plodded alone for most of the day, taking in the beautiful scenery, trying to figure out whether I should say bonjour or buenos dias when I passed people or people passed me.
This is in kilometers, but I'm still glad I'm not going all the way to Santiago

The trees made a tunnel at the beginning

This cross was to ward off the witches in the "Oakwood of witches" the main route in the 16th century
I met a lot of interesting people on the trail. Some of them I'd seen several times, others were new. Everyone is convivial, sharing life stories and reasons for the trail.
This trail passed along several villages and people were eager to stop for refreshments, even within the first hour of hiking.
A welcome for everyone
The cows outside the fence always make me a little nervous, but these didn't plan to get up

The scenery continued to be beautiful
I continued plodding, only stopping to use the bathroom at one bar, putting me feet in the cold water at a stream that ran over the trail and warning people not to walk on the moss covered concrete. Some bloody footprints nearby showed where an earlier hiker had tried to walk across and fallen, slicing her foot.
Don't let the painted toenails fool you, there's a blister on one foot and something called hikers' rash on both feet.
Finally, an hour from our destination, I sat for some limonada at a trailer that served drinks.  The limonada was super sour, but I drank it and moved on.
The last hour was very difficult as it headed down and was all rocks.
I tried to walk in ruts to avoid the tumbling rocks
I had to choose each placement of my foot. Also, although I didn't get a picture, the rock striations ran vertical or diagonal to the trail, so that made it even harder to walk.
Wildflowers and mountains

This looks more like a witches wood. I love the sunlight in the trees

I was so happy to reach Zubiri.
Linda reached here first and said the bridge is called rabies bridge. People were said to walk their animals under the bridge to heal or prevent rabies. Hopefully, they have updated methods now. 
 I sat and had a glass of sangria while waiting for Maurice and Earl to arrive -- they stopped several times for beers or coffee.
I know that I need to get through the walk and off my feet. Every time I stop, the odds of me getting up again diminish.
The Hosteria de Zubiri is lovely and we ate dinner and breakfast here as well, which limits the amount we have to walk. We walk like very old people, slowly, creakily, holding onto walls and rails.
My knee is shot from the downhill yesterday. Sometimes it feels like it is out of place, catching on something. It's better this morning so hopefully will continue to heal as I take a day off hiking.
Rain is predicted all day, so I am grading papers and then driving with Linda to Pampelona for our next stop.

Managing My Berkshire Expectations

When my kids were swimming competitively, there was a tshirt that read: "If I have but one day to live, please take me to a swim meet b...