I’ll Have What She’s Having

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Pine Grove Furnace State Park proved to be an interesting stop along the way for us on many levels. Winding up a steep incline and around sharp bends the approach to the park penetrates a dense pine forest. The Appalachian Trail runs right through the park and thru hikers are everywhere this time of year, getting an early start on their goal of reaching Mt Katahdin in Maine before the fall/winter weather sets in. The road was narrow and the visibility is limited, keeping Arnie tightly focused behind the wheel and me clutching the hand grip.

Keeping a quiet calm state of mind when we are on roadways like this is a challenge for me. Intrusive thoughts involving loud metal crashing noises keep popping into my mind. Instead of breathing, I alternate between gasping for air and holding my breath. All that mindfulness practice flies right out the window exactly as I imagine we all will do upon impact. In my mind, there is a speeding vehicle approaching around every blind corner. I visualize feathers flying about the cab of the truck as Cracker the bird bounces about in my imaginary crash scene. My little dog jostles around the confines of her travel cage. An active imagination is a gift for a writer unless she’s on a road like this and on this drive, my imagination was playing havoc with my nerves. And my nervous system is directly connected to my mouth. Odd incomprehensible noises escape when I am this tense on a ridiculously dangerous back road. Ohhhhhh, gaaaadd, sheeeeet, ohno ohno ohno, umumumum”, I moan in horror! I have Passenger Induced Tourette’s Syndrome, a not so imaginary condition that causes me to utter obscenities that I don’t use on a normal daily basis when I am the riding on a road such as this. Today, I am sure I am simply going to die in anonymity on this awful back road.

The route approaching this park should have been a forewarning. From the time we left the highway, the width of the pavement gradually narrowed down while the ditches along the sides deepened. At the actual entrance to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, the road narrowed to a ribbon that was barely passable for two vehicles and I now had a growing sense of unease. Our camper is pretty long, especially when you add the length of the truck. And they don’t turn together on a dime, but rather need time and space to react. The truck and trailer are like an old married couple communicating in their own way. The truck says, “We need to turn here and now.” and the trailer simply ignores it for a few minutes and when it’s good and ready to respond, it begins to make the turn.

As we made the tight turn into the campground area itself, it became clear that the designer of this place was a serious tree lover. While it is woodsy and beautiful to look at, not one tree was cleared unnecessarily, making for a very tight entry into each and every individual campsite. Just to add to the challenge, boulders had been placed at the entry corner of each campsite by that perverse tree hugging campground designer who wanted to be sure that no Pine tree was injured by vehicles. There were no pull through sites, something that we always request when making reservations as opposed to back in sites which are much more difficult even under ideal circumstances. Every site at Pine Grove Furnace required backing in with little room for error. The pit of my stomach began to tighten.

Winding carefully through the campground towards our site, we counted up from site #1 to site # 24 and thus far, I had not seen anything I thought that we could navigate into. And then, there it was, the magic # 25; a narrow gap between two enormous trees, flanked by boulders on either side of the entrance. I closed my eyes trying to get a mental picture of the angles and adjustments that would be necessary to cram us into this impossible space moving in reverse. I was the fat lady looking down at the airplane seat knowing that there was going to be a massive squeeze factor involved if this was going to have any chance of working. Yes, I should have bought two seats for this flight!

At this point, I need to remind everyone that, as a traveling couple, Arnie and I have a distinct division of skills and talents. Arnie drives forward and I do all of the backing up. Being big believers in playing to our individual strengths, we divide our labor according to what we are best at. My nerves get the better of me driving on the highways with the big rigs, making me a menace on the road. And Arnie is challenged when it comes to the intricacies of moving a vehicle with a hitch in reverse. While he struggles with left vs right, for some inexplicable reason, it comes natural to me, probably because I can wipe my mind clean for a short time and operate on pure fear and intuition. I think it comes from raising four kids, which also involves a large share of pure fear and intuition. But between us, we have a full skill set, so that’s all that counts.

When we pull up to a campsite with Arnie at the wheel, we stop the truck and switch. I get behind the wheel while he gives directions for backing into the site and aligning us with the water, sewer and electric hook ups. Most of his directions I ignore. Because as I indicated he’s not strong with the left/right thing. We apologize after the fact for anything we said while backing up the camper. Sometimes we back right in with no issues and other times we are a spectacle. Today, I was pretty sure there was no way to avoid being a spectacle. So I felt little confidence when I said to Arnie, “I will try this, but there’s pretty much no way we are getting into that spot.”

I climbed into my big black stallion of a truck and placed my hands firmly on the wheel. Just like a rodeo rider in those few seconds before the gate opens, I said a quiet prayer, took a deep breath and said to Arnie, “Okay, let’s go.” “Okay, said the parrot from the backseat.” “Shut up you feathered idiot.”, I replied in a thoughtless attempt to relieve a little tension by verbally abusing a helpless animal.

Back and forth, back and forth with small adjustments I eased the camper in reverse through the obstacle course. “Zen mind”, I chanted trying not to notice how close the trees were. When the anxiety arose, I tried to notice and name it without succumbing to it. “It’s only a thought.”, I reminded myself several times. But was more than a thought, it was a really large boulder. Arnie gave me patient encouragement. Finally, after holding up traffic for twenty minutes and itching backwards at a painfully slow pace, I was surprised to find that we were in. I could feel the relief wash over me as I leaned out the window to look at Arnie with gratitude that once again we had prevailed over a challenge by working together. “Am I close enough to the hook-ups?”, I asked. It seemed like slow motion as he turned around to check and then back to me with a bit of a sheepish look on his face. “ Oh-oh, there’s no hook ups on this site.”, he said quietly.

No hook-ups? Boondocking, camping without access to water, sewer or electric hook-ups, is a perfectly acceptable practice for most folks but we travel with a tropical bird who is somewhat fragile and susceptible to cold. We cannot be without electricity to keep him warm enough. We looked at each other, sharing this very special Oh Crap moment. Perhaps we should have looked to check on that before we went to all this trouble, but we were tired, hungry and road weary after days of rain along this trip and we missed an important detail. We won’t blame Arnie who made the reservation and walked the site while I backed up. What would be the point of placing blame? Nothing, so we won’t blame Arnie. No point in blaming Arnie. Nope, none. None at all.

Just then, along comes a Fairy Godfather by the name of Ron the Campground Host. Ron has a big grin and a helpful heart. He spied us standing at the site pondering our options and walked up, saying those magic words, “Wouldn’t you folks rather have a site with electricity?”. Turns out that he had one site for one night. One night was all we needed and we were so grateful! But now, I would have to park this rig, all of over again in yet another tricky space. Oh why not? It went pretty well the first time. I can do it again, especially for electricity to keep us warm and make coffee!

So, in forward gear again, Arnie pulled the truck out and headed gingerly down the road to the new campsite with me muttering from the passenger seat something about the next one will surely be easier after the practice run I just executed. But the universe does not operate with fairness and the new site appeared to have all of the unique challenges of the first one with one significant addition. Now I had an audience. In the adjoining campsite, there sat three men in lawn chairs under the canopy of a huge toy hauler camper. They had obviously had no problem backing in and were all settled in with a roaring campfire already blazing to ward off the chill. Turkey season in Pennsylvania started the next day and these guys were in full regalia, camo jackets, hats, etc. Add to the camouflage trio, in the site across from us was an older lady overseeing a small tyke on a tricycle. With a booming Grandma voice she cautioned him, “Watch out. Stay right here. It’s a lady backing that up.” The stage had been set for some serious performance anxiety. I was on stage and the audience was expecting a performance to critique.

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Now I truly believe that this moment was karmic payback for all of the times we have pulled up chairs and spied on the dynamics of couples putting up tents for the first time or attempting to park a brand spanking new camper. It’s high entertainment. Now I know what you are thinking: that’s not very nice. But we’ve all done it. You know you have, at some time in your life, been guilty of rubbernecking at some spectacle. Watching people set up camp under trying circumstances is great rubbernecking. All campers can relate and it’s hysterical to watch and listen in. I knew exactly what these three guys were thinking; this is going to be good. They unapologetically stood up to rearrange and position their chairs for a full view.

Let’s just say backing in the second site was an encore experience, an excruciating instant replay of the first time, this time with an evolving pinched nerve in my neck from cranking around to note how crazy close the camper was to the pine tree on the left. I was acutely aware of the peanut gallery while struggling to squeeze into the second too small site of the day. Time seemed suspended while I maneuvered the truck and camper carefully back and forth between the bushes, boulders and trees.

After several attempts and another twenty minutes of adjusting the coupled vehicles by inches at a time, the camper finally slipped backwards into the site at an acceptable angle and it was even close enough to hook up the electric! I leaned out the open window and yelled back to Arnie, “ Is it over? Are we okay now?” “Okay” came the response from Cracker in the back seat. I looked over at the mighty hunters and grinned. Hopping out of the truck, I stood tall facing them and said, “Show’s over boys! Back to the beer!” They laughed and gave me the thumbs up.

Later one of them came over to chat and shared with me that he thought I did just fine and that if I had needed help, he knew I would have asked. That was nice, but I probably would have only asked for help if I had backed over my husband. Backing up that camper gives me a feeling of empowerment and competence. I earned the nickname of Large Marge for a reason and I claim it with pride. In the big scheme of things, there are skills that are far more important and valuable than backing up a camper. This is a small thing compared to the life changing skills that some people perform on a daily basis. Like brain surgery or peace negotiations. But when I hoist myself up into the truck and prepare to shift into reverse I do feel like I am representing all of the sisters who thought they couldn’t do something because it’s a man thing. Each time, no matter how long it takes me, I feel as if I accomplished something solid and validating. Everyone needs something that makes them claim their worth and backing up a camper seems to be mine! I am woman, hear that engine roar. Or, something like that.

Later that day, Arnie and I took a ride into one of our very favorite little towns along the trip North. Milford, Pennsylvania is quaint and dear. The streets are lined with nice shops run by local artisans, trendy cafes and great restaurants. It is a throwback kind of town with a laid back feel. One shopkeeper told us that it is a day or weekend trip escape for folks who need a break from the city. They come and stay at one of the inns and sit out on the porch for dinner, watching the world pass by at a quieter pace. We especially love the serenity of the porch at 203 Broad where we are establishing a tradition of stopping off for a bite to eat, a drink and porch time as we near the end of our grueling Northern trip each year. The fare is vegetarian, the service warm and friendly and on this particular day, it was a perfect way to wind down from our parking experience at Pine Grove Furnace park just a couple of hours prior.

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So imagine our surprise when we heard the unmistakable roar of Harley Davidson coming up Main Street disturbing the peace. Right in front of the peaceful porch where we were unwinding with an afternoon drink, three huge bikes carrying four black leather encased people pulled in to one parking spot. One couple pulled in smoothly, performed that bone rumbling exercise of gunning the motor a couple of times, parked and dismounted. A second fellow did the same thing, gracefully angling his mount into the space, shutting down the rumbling engine and athletically swinging a leg over his bike. The third rider pulled in but had to do some maneuvering to fit into the space left. She pulled in and then eased it back and forth several times. Unsatisfied, she moved it to the next space shifting the bike back and forth to find her perfect sweet spot. She sat with the motor running for a moment and then shut it down.

Of course we were watching it all. So was everyone on the porch. It’s that rubbernecking thing. The turkey hunters watched us backing the camper in and now here we are watching the bikers backing their Harley’s in. It’s voyeuristic entertainment and we cannot help ourselves. Every head on the porch was turned and all eyes were on the beautiful girl with the long legs and the black biker boots. From under her black reflective helmet, kinky blonde hair protruded in wind-blown wisps.

The single male rider took off his leather jacket revealing a crisp long-sleeved white shirt. I imagine these folks were some of those escapees from the city, riding their expensive bikes out into the country on a beautiful warm day. The single guy rider walked over to the girl and took either side of her helmet in his hands. He seductively unbuckled it, slid it gently off and set it on the ground. Everyone on the porch took a collective breath as he tilted her head back and planted a long romance novel kiss on her. Among the many other things going through my mind was the thought, “Doesn’t her neck hurt?” When the amorous couple finally came up for air, the porch audience breathed a collective sigh. We continued to stare spell-bound while he helped her dismount her bike and then strode up the stairs onto the porch, big black boots making a thudding statement. They chose a table and sat down. Of course, they were speaking French. They ordered coffee and pastries and every other diner on the porch was thinking, “I’ll have what she’s having please.”

This was just surreal. And the irony is not lost on me. I back up a thirty-four foot camper attached to a giant pick up truck fifty yards into an unbelievably small space in the woods and I get a token, “Good job Babe”, from my husband who is hooking up the sewer.” This stunning young woman with the chic raised-with-wolves look backed a motorcycle two feet into a spacious large parking space and she gets practically consummated on Main Street. I mentioned this to Arnie. He looked confused or perhaps he was yet to fully recover his senses from what he had just witnessed.

But despite some discrepancies in the degree of reward that this beautiful young woman and I got for our similar performances that day, here’s what I know. As women, we really need to celebrate our accomplishments at each and every season of our lives. So Biker Chick, I celebrate your bravado, your raw love of life, your confidence in your sensuality because I was once you and one day, you will be me in the wonderful and natural evolution of life and love. Flaunt it, toss it and swag it girl so that you remember this time well as you move through all the seasons of your life. Meanwhile, here’s to all the women who know how to run their own motors! And to the men who appreciate them in their own unique ways too!

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J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake at Clarks Hill

Arnie and I were excited to visit another Army Corps of Engineers project on the Georgia/South Carolina line near Augusta. We stayed at Big Hart Campground, one of the 13 campgrounds associated with J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake at Clarks Hill. We absolutely loved this park! The campsites are spacious and private and nestled in a pine and hardwood forest. It was a real treat as this is real camping, none of the crowding associated with most of the private campgrounds where campers are lined up close together.

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This dam and lake is the largest of the ACOE projects east of the Mississippi River, encompassing 151,000 acres of land and water.  It is no wonder that this lake is one of the 10 most visited Corps lakes in the nation. The scenery around the project is breath-taking. We never knew the Savannah River Basin was so vast! The lake held in by this dam stretches as far as the eye can see, with dense forests along the shore. Thurmond Dam impounds a lake that stretches 40 miles up the beautiful Savannah River and 26 mile up the little River. It has nearly 1,200 miles of shoreline and is one of the largest inland bodies of water in the South. The basin is home to many species of large prey birds including Bald Eagles.

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There is a very nice Visitors Center manned on the day we visited by warm and welcoming Ranger Rhonda to greet visitors and help educate them. We learned so much about the dam,; the lake and the area.

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The dam, which was built between 1946 and 1954 is named after J. Strom Thurmond who was the longest-serving and the oldest Senator in U.S. history with 48 years of service at age 100 ! Originally, the project was to be named Clarks Hill Dam but the “s” on the end of Clarks was omitted due to a clerical error in the original Congressional Authorization and the project became Clark Hill Dam. Later, the dam was renamed Clarks Hill Dam. In 1988 Congress renamed the project to J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake at Clarks Hill.

The dam is an impressive sight. It is 5,680 feet long, more than 200 feet high. As you look at it, you see a concrete causeway flanked by massive earthen embankments. Along with the dam is a hydropower production facility which, one of the educational markers states, more than paid for itself in 25 years of operations. The project performs flood risk management, recreation, fish and wildlife protection, water quality, water supply and downstream navigation. Along with Rangers, staff on-site include power plant operators, electricians and mechanics who operate and maintain the facility day and night. Add biologists and volunteers who work to protect the habitat and you have a very large staff of people cooperating to provide us with electricity, flood control and recreation on public land.

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While we were camping in the area, we got an up close look at one of the major purposes of J. Strom Thurmond. During times of heavy rainfall (and we had some!) runoff waters are stored in the lake to protect thousands of downstream homes, businesses and farmlands from flooding. Thurmond Dam is the primary flood control structure along the Savannah River. From our elevated campsite, we watched the lake rise on one side of us and the contoured road dump water down a gully and into the lake. It would have been unnerving if we didn’t know that the levels are carefully monitored and adjusted as needed by ACOE personnel.

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All of that water produces electricity made by the Thurmond generators. It is pollution free energy for residential and commercial use. The generators are an awesome sight. When they are in use, each one of them produces between 52,000 and 57,000 kilowatts of electricity. One generator operating one hour produces enough electricity to power 216 average homes for an entire year!  We learned that because alternating current (AC) electricity cannot be stored, Thurmond Lake stores water to produce power when it is needed most. The Corps is the nations leading producer of hydroelectric power, providing five percent of the nation’s electricity.

And electricity is only one component of the water management of the upper Savannah River Basin. During times of drought and low water, this system provides an adequate water supply to all users through a plan called the Drought Contingency Plan. Looking at all this water, it is ee06hard to even imagine drought conditions.

Nearest and dearest to our hearts is the fact that the Corps serves to ensure the protection and enhancement of fish and wildlife at Thurmond Lake. They concentrate on habitat diversity and they improve habitat for rare, threatened or endangered species. Rangers and biologists place special emphasis on maintaining lake conditions favorable for fish spawning and survival. Especially in the spring when it rains like it has since we arrived, lake level fluctuation must be minimized to assist spawning for largemouth bass and crappie.

In the particular camping area where we stayed, we found a blend of pine forest and hardwood bottom environments. This is perfect habitat for native wildflowers which are just now greeting Spring. We were able to view white-tailed deer, wild turkey and Canada geese along with some migratory waterfowl and tons of songbirds. It was a treat to sit outside in the morning with a cup of coffee trying to identify which songbird we were hearing. We use the Cornell University’s bird identifier App called Merlin on our iphone. We had loads of fun this morning playing the call of a Carolina Wren. It attracted a nice little male who hung around calling back to our smart phone and it also got Cracker the African Grey going inside the camper.  This is a bird watchers nirvana!

We are continually amazed at the work done by the Army Corp and the quality of their facilities. Thanks to all of our Ranger friends for taking such good care of these wild and beautiful places that inspire our souls!

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US Route 1

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Today is April 22, 2018 and the drive was extraordinary. It was a classic Sunday drive along US Route 1 in Georgia. We left camp at Laura Walker State Park early, before the other campers arose and headed out to our destination of Big Hart Campground in Thomson, Ga. Big Hart is an Army Corps facility, so we were excited to visit this park. Traveling friends have highly recommended it as a beautiful well-maintained campground on a nice lake.

Driving up US Route 1, we had the road to ourselves for hours. We passed very few cars and fewer big trucks, so it was a relaxing scenic Sunday ride. We actually had to stop and check our eyes because we thought we saw grass growing up out of the cracks in the road along one section of the highway. It seems that this smooth and straight highway doesn’t get a lot of the really hard traffic because there was indeed opportunistic clumps of grass peeking through the crack right down the middle of the road!

I imagined my Grandparents driving along this very same route nearly 60 years ago. They traveled from New Hampshire to St. Petersburg Florida each winter for many years to be with my Aunt Lorena. I wondered if their eyes rested on the same Georgia landscape as mine did today. I wondered which of the motels or cottages they might have stopped at. They sent postcards from motels along the way and I eargerly awaited word from them about where they were. Some of these old motels and cabins are still standing, although barely today.

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Along with the remains of motels and cabins, we saw many relics of old farmsteads  along the side of the road, suggesting that there are stories to be told about the families who raised cotton and corn in this area. Right now it is cabbage season and thousands of rows were all planted and ripening up. Last year’s cotton fields are yet to be planted and stand brown, dry and ready to be tilled for this years crop. We passed through Lyons, Vidalia and a really small town called Santa Claus, Ga. I had to send a Facebook shout out to our friend, Ernie Tedrow who is a member of the Florida Real Bearded Santas. I got an authentic, “Ho Ho Ho” back in return. If you are curious to know more about real bearded Santas (and you know you are) , follow this link. Ernie is featured in the story:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/off-season-santas-photos-mary-beth-koeth_us_578693e4e4b08608d332b350

Siri is a wonderful driving companion and we frequently use the Apple phone to ask questions about what we are seeing. One stretch of road was called the L.C. Shot Strange Highway. We just had to goggle that one and see what the back story was. It seems that L.C., commonly know as Shot,  was a farmer who went into local law enforcement and then later corrections. I couldn’t find out why he was nicknamed Shot, but one can only speculate. It seems he was a huge advocate for improvements to the highway we were traveling today. There may have been a bit of self-interest involved, but for today, we will just appreciate this nice road we have to travel.

We also asked Siri to explain what all of the white gourds hanging from poles and wires are in this area. She informed us that these are bird houses for Purple Martins and are placed strategically to attract this species of bird so that they can devour insects. Evidently, Purple Martins enjoy eating huge quantities of winged insects. They love to eat mosquitoes, beetles, flies, dragonflies and moths making them a farmers friend.

There are thousands of these gourd shaped houses along the way in people’s yards and also in the fields. It makes perfect sense to use a natural solution and we wouldn’t have know this tidbit. Thanks, Siri!


Heading back North with the temperature dropping with each mile we drive, I am getting into that New England frame of mind. We look forward to seeing the Ranger team at West Hill Dam again as well as getting caught up with all of our regular visitors to the park both human and canine. We’ve missed family and friends from the area and it will be so good to see them again. We miss the openness and the friendliness of our small town New England roots where four-way stops mean someone will kindly wave you on if you have Florida plates. Maybe they are just practicing caution and self-defense based on our Florida plates, but we chose to think they are being nice.

We have kept a New Hampshire 603 area code on our phone out of sheer convenience or some might say laziness. This means we occasionally get wrong numbers from people who live in New Hampshire. These are seldom short conversations. I don’t have it in me to just say, “Wrong number.” and then hang up. That’s just not New England friendly. Besides, it’s a small state and I probably know them or their neighbor or brother or aunt or someone close. Recently I spoke with a wrong number lady from Lisbon whose ride for her dialysis appointment was running late. She called to tell her sister-in-law that she was all plowed out and ready to be picked up, but evidently telling me was just as good. After chatting for a while, we parted by agreeing that it had been a hard winter in New Hampshire and Spring would be wicked welcome. Not that I would know, living in Florida, but I didn’t have breathing room in the conversation to share that. She’s clearly been cooped up for some time and was looking forward to getting out of the house for a few hours of dialysis.

Driving along today, Arnie and I were thinking about some of the quirks that we love about being back up north for the summer and how we’ve grown fond of living in Massachusetts for part of the year. I have some deep family history in the Milford area and running through my mind is the connection between some of the people we’ve met up there and some of my own quirky family. My Father was an outgoing guy and helpful to all in need. I couldn’t help but think of him in my pondering today. He was the kind of guy who always would stop what he was doing and lend a hand to whoever needed it. He had a big personality and was known by many of his friends as Big Ed.

Dad would have loved the local hardware store we go to near our summer campsite. It reminds me of the old Grossman’s in Plymouth NH. Last summer, during my visits to this store in Uxbridge, I noticed that the local residents who shopped at Koopmans for their hardware needs were very outgoing and helpful too. Unlike Florida where you couldn’t get help in Home Depot if you fainted, Koopmans is almost a social club in comparison. In fact, it was seldom that I stopped in there but what somebody spoke up and offered me assistance whether they worked there or not. I think that’s a northern thing that is very endearing. When folks see a perplexed look on your face in the hardware store they are compelled to stop and help. Sometimes I was just trying to decide between Elmers and Gorilla glue, but inevitably someone would stop and weigh in on my decision with a story about their Uncle who glued his fingers to the handle of the wood axe by mistake with Gorilla glue. I like to benefit from the wisdom of others and I sure don’t want to glue my fingers to a wood axe. Being forewarned is a good thing.

Grossman’s Hardware Sign | Wellesley, MA

Above is Grossmans in Plymouth NH and below is Koopmans in Uxbridge, Ma

 

Koopman Lumber & Hardware Uxbridge, Massachusetts Store
My Yankee ponderings on our beautiful Southern drive this morning made me think of my Mother too. I don’t look forward to being on high alert lookout for deer while driving in Massachusetts this summer. It’s something I give no thought to in Florida and my well honed antler instinct has faded away over the years. My eyes no longer flit back and forth when driving a back road at dusk. I have to remind myself that I know many folks who have acquired the title of Deerslayer unexpectedly on those windy back roads in New England. My own Mother has bragging rights for a bear that she hit last summer while out for groceries. I would have been in hysterics, but she called Arnie to tell him she had “a little excitement”. New Englanders are stoic and my Mother took the prize on that one!

Arnie and I have lived all over the place and our inherent New England accents have sort of worn off over the years, homogenized by listening to many languages and accents and living multiculturally. But it is a strange fact that as soon as we cross the Mass line, the New England accent kicks right back in and we settle into the vernacular. So it’s back to potholes, chilly nights, campfires, flannel shirts, chowda, an evening dip in the swimming hole and those loveable funny accents. We will pack away the letter r for the summer and it will all be wicked fun. Massachusetts here we come!

 

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And Off We Go Again

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Here we are headed back North in a few short weeks and I am getting into that New England frame of mind. We look forward to seeing the Ranger team at West Hill Dam again as well as getting caught up with all of our regular visitors to the park both human and canine.. We’ve missed family and friends from the area and it will be so good to see them again. We miss the openness and the friendliness of our small town New England roots where four way stops mean someone will kindly wave you on if you have Florida plates. Maybe they are just practicing caution and self defense based on our Florida plates, but we chose to think they are being nice.

We have kept a New Hampshire 603 area code on our phone out of sheer convenience or some might say laziness. This means we occasionally get wrong numbers from people who live in New Hampshire. These are seldom short conversations. I don’t have it in me to just say, “Wrong number.” and then hang up. That’s just not New England friendly. Besides, it’s a small state and I probably know them or their neighbor or brother or aunt or someone close. Recently I spoke with a wrong number lady from Lisbon whose ride for her dialysis appointment was running late. She called to tell her sister in law that she was all plowed out and ready to be picked up, but evidently telling me was just as good. After chatting for awhile, we parted by agreeing that it had been a hard winter in New Hampshire and Spring would be mighty welcome. Not that I would know, living in Florida, but I didn’t have breathing room in the conversation to share that. She’s clearly been cooped up for some time and was looking forward to getting out of the house for a few hours of dialysis.

Today I was thinking about some of the quirks that I love about being back up north for the summer and how I’ve grown fond of living in Massachusetts for part of the year. I have some deep family history in the Milford area and running through my mind is the connection between some of the people we’ve met up there and some of my own quirky family. My Father was an outgoing guy and helpful to all in need. I couldn’t help but think of him in my pondering today. He was the kind of guy who always would stop what he was doing and lend a hand to whoever needed it. He had a big personality and was known by many of his friends as Big Ed.

Dad would have loved the local hardware store in Uxbridge. It reminds me of the old Grossman’s in Plymouth NH. Last summer, during my visits to this store in Uxbridge, I noticed that the local residents who shopped at Koopmans for their hardware needs were very outgoing and helpful too. Unlike Florida where you couldn’t get help in Home Depot if you fainted, Koopmans is a social club in comparison. In fact, it was seldom that I stopped in there but what somebody spoke up and offered me assistance whether they worked there or not. I think that’s a northern thing that is very endearing. When folks see a perplexed look on your face in the hardware store they are compelled to stop and help. Sometimes I was just trying to decide between Elmers and Gorilla glue, but inevitably someone would stop and weigh in on my decision with a story about their Uncle who glued his fingers to the handle of the wood axe by mistake with Gorilla glue. I like to benefit from the wisdom of others and I sure don’t want to glue my fingers to a wood axe. Being forewarned is a good thing.

My Yankee ponderings this morning made me think of my Mother too. I don’t look forward to being on high alert lookout for deer while driving in Massachusetts this summer. It’s something I give no thought to in Florida and my well honed antler instinct has faded away over the years. My eyes no longer flit back and forth when driving a back road at dusk. I have to remind myself that I know many folks who have had acquired the titled of Deerslayer unexpectedly on those windy back roads in New England. My own Mother has bragging rights for a bear that she hit last summer while out for groceries. I would have been in hysterics, but she called Arnie to tell him she had “a little excitement”. New Englanders are stoic and my Mother took the prize on that one!

Arnie and I have lived all over the place and our accents have sort of worn off over the years, homogenized by listening to many languages and accents and living multiculturally. But it a strange fact that as soon as we cross the Mass line, the New England accent kicks right back in and we settle into the vernacular. So it’s back to potholes, chilly nights, campfires, flannel shirts and, coffee from Dunkin Donuts and those loveable funny accents. We pack away the letter r for the summer and it
will all be wicked fun. Massachusetts here we come!

I Need a Ride; A Last Minute Chance Encounter

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It was about a week prior to leaving for our fulltime RV life and I was still far from imagining what wonderful Chance Encounters might lay waiting for us on the journey ahead. Usually by this time I am getting exicited about leaving and eagerly anticipating the trip before us. But this year, I was engrossed in the details of packing up our home for the impending closing sale date and getting the camper outfitted and arranged for maximum efficiency. This year has involved a more hectic preparation since we were selling our home, putting household goods in storage and heading out to live fulltime in the RV for the foreseeable future. In this last week, the closets were emptied, the furniture sold and the refridgerator shut off. We were rotating a couple of changes of outfits, one set of sheets and eating out of a cooler to use everything up. Meals were what I picked up at Publix on a daily basis.

Now this is a switch for us because I seldom if ever take food shortcuts, not even when we are on the road. We eat as locally and as vegetarian as possible, but I have to admit that we just jumped right off that wagon to anything that was quick and easy during the latter days of this move. So healthy eating committments went into  the wind and daily trips to Publix have been the norm now for a couple of weeks. The last minute details and demands of such a major life transition pre-empted my usual careful planning.

I should have know from past experience that Chance Encounters do not care how busy you are or what obligations call out for your time. They just pop up and demand that you pay attention to them. Chance Encounters see you rushing about and plot to stop you in your tracks and remind you of what is really important. Chance Encounters lie in wait in the most unlikely of places ready to pounce at the most unlikely of times.

And so it was on a sunny afternoon a week or so ago, when I jumped into the truck and took a speeding trip to Publix to grab a quick dinner of Whatever. We had been working all day shuffling loads of “stuff” to the storage unit. Arnie stayed back to tidy up the garage and I went to pick up dinner fixings. I scored rock star parking in the front of the usually clogged lot at Publix on Sand Mine Road, my least favorite Publix but the one nearest home. I grabbed my purse, jumped out and headed in, secretly hoping I didn’t run into anyone I knew from my community. I had no time to explain one more time to an about-to-be former neighbor that we were not leaving out of disatisfaction, but rather to pursue dreams. I didn’t have any more time to patiently commiserate about rising lot fees or the fact that the spa is down again. This close to leaving, I didn’t really give a care if there was loud music again at the pool on Sunday. I only wanted to pick up dinner, get home fast and crawl into bed, the air mattress.  

The best strategy for not running into neighbors in the grocery store is to walk fast and look down. A baseball cap pulled down low helps too.  I jumped swiftly out of the truck and headed into the store with intention. I was on a mission and had a plan. And then a Chance Encounter popped up and stopped me dead in my tracks.  I heard a feeble voice call out, “I need ride. You give me ride.”

Looking up, right in front of me was a tiny little Asian lady who had clearly graced this earth the better part of ninety years. She was clutching a cart with two shopping bags in it to steady herself. She was standing in the middle of the lane of traffic and looking very confused. I saw my Mother in her. All thoughts of dinner gone in an instant, I approached her and asked her if she was alright. “No”, she said quietly, “ I need ride. You give me ride.” It was more of a command than a question. I looked around thinking that this must be some kind of set up. Could it be a parking lot robbery and she’s the bait? Could it be a reality show and some host is going to pop out to see if I do the right thing? I didn’t think so. She looked too helpless to be stickup bait and too real to be an actress. No, I thought, she really needs help. She’s frail, shaky and overheated on a sunny Florida late afternoon in the middle of the hot bustling asphalt parking lot.

Here is where I admit that every selfish impulse crossed my mind. My mind raced with ways to avoid this situation that I had no time for right now. I thought, I could just simply say no  and walk away? Or, I could tell her to stay right there and I’ll call Uber? Or, I could go complain to management that little old ladies are soliciting rides in their parking lot and leave it to them to solve the problem? The truth was, I really didn’t have time for this inconvenient interuption of my flow. I was also concerned about the liability of assisting her. But ultimately, she was still standing there blocking traffic and repeating, “I need ride.” And ultimately, I am the one hearing it. On some level, that makes me responsible like or not. On some level, I cannot walk away, convenient or not.

I directed her to the bench outside of the store, asked her to sit down and told her that I would be right back out to get her and drive her home. I flew through the store gathering a few necessities and then came back out glancing over to the bench to locate her. Praise the lord, she wasn’t there! Probably someone else had fallen prey to her pleas and already scooped her up and taken her home taking me off the hook. I turned the cart towards my truck and started down the lane in relief. Then I spotted her. She was still standing in the same spot near my truck where I had initially seen her, I was now even more concerned that she would be overtaken by heat or exhaustion or both. That’s if someone doesn’t just run her down first. Evidently, despite nodding her head up and down, she had not understood a word about sitting down and waiting on the bench. She had stayed planted where I left her in order to not miss her ride home.

So against my better judgement, we somehow managed to heft all ninety pounds of her up and into the front seat of the truck. That was no small feat because it is a very high step and she is a very short lady. We sat for a minute while she drank a bottle of water I had picked up in the store. In very broken English, she shared that she lived nearby in a golf course community, her husband had recently died and she did not drive. A friend had dropped her off hours ago but she could not reach her friend by phone now. Her name was Linda. She had walked all over the parking lot, gone into the bank and the Applebee’s, but no one would give her a ride. She was shaken and embarrassed to have to rely on strangers for such a necessity. She said simply, “People should help people.” But it is not really that simple.

On the way to her home, I talked to her about how unsafe it is to ask for rides and suggested that she could always call 911 if she ever has a problem in the future. I talked to her about how unsafe it is to get into a car with a someone she does not know. She pointed me right and left in the direction of her home and when we arrived, she wanted me to come in. I declined, hoping to reinforce the point I was trying to make about strangers.  I talked with her about how inviting anyone into her home is asking for trouble. “Not safe!”, I repeated over and over. She smiled and nodded and thanked me with a big hug. I went home and called Elderly protective services knowint that little I had said was understood. A nice young social worker called back and said she would be going out the next day to assess the situation, but I still do not know the outcome.

Four days, later I made another hurried run to Publix for a loaf of bread, eggs and milk. In the bakery aisle, I froze when  I heard a familiar voice from behind me call, “ I need ride! You give me ride!” This could not possibly be happening again. But it was. LInda, stood there beaming from ear to ear, threw her arms in the air and grabbed me in an embrace that clearly indicated that I was her favorite cab driver. Obviously she had not heeded a word I said about safety. She instructed me to wait up front for her which, of course, I did for the next twenty minutes. That’s twenty minutes after I went to the car to tell Arnie that he might as well take a short nap because he would be driving Miss Daisy home. As you can imagine, he thought I must be kidding.

I went back into the store to wait. When Linda finally finished her shopping and went to pay for her groceries, I could see from a distance that there seemed to be some confusion. A supervisor approached the register and was trying to help, but LInda’s English is not good and she does not seem to hear very well either. Apparently, her EBT debit card had only three dollars left on it and she only had $18.00 in cash in a crumpled envelope. That left her $6.00 short of the total she needed. She turned to me and commanded, “ You help me. You pay. I pay you back.”

A line behind her was beginning to form. Next in line behind Linda was a large British woman who was making no secret of her annoyance, turning to her husband and exclaiming loudly,

“Can you believe this? She then spun around to me and boomed, “Is she with you?” In my best impression of Judas, I quickly denied it by saying an unequivicable, “Not exactly. It’s a bit of a long story.”  I would have gladly bought my way out of this situation but I had just left my purse with Arnie in the car when I came back in to wait for Linda, so I had no money with me at the moment and stated that. Exasperated, the annoyed Queen Mother blared out for all to hear, “Nevermind, I will pay for your Grandmother!”  My Grandmother? Did I tie my ponytail too tight this morning pulling my eyes back into an Asian countenance? Does she seriously think we look alike?

Restraining my sarcasm, I thanked the nice lady who has enough money for a second vacation home in the states near Disney for helping out the struggling elderly woman who couldn’t pay for her groceries. My Grandmother? Really?

As a result of that first Chance Encounter in the parking lot, I now had a tearful embarrassed Asian Grandmother, an angry impatient British woman and a befuddled Publix supervisor trying to move the line along on my hands. Not to mention hungry Arnie in the car. Sort out those priorities!

We drove Linda home that day, got her groceries in and gave her the safety talk one more time, knowing that we would never experience another Chance Encounter with her again. We were leaving very soon and would have to trust that there would be a safe person to take her home the next time from Publix. It’s hard to take comfort in the fact that we did what we could in the moment we had and it is hard not to worry about her fate.

Meanwhile, we go forward with compassion for those we will Encounter by Chance during our travels. We hope in small ways to do some good in this funny hurting world. Namaste and if you are shopping at the Publix at Sand Mine Road in Davenport, Florida, watch out for Linda!

 

Naming the New Dog

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Afer losing our sweet Hana just a year ago, we are finally ready for a new puppy. She’s currently still with her Mommy waiting for us to go North and pick her up. We are very excited to meet her and have decided that her name will be Journey. I think it’s a pretty word, full of hope and promise and adventure. It signifies a passage or progress from one stage to another and surely Arnie and I are between life stages right now as we sell our home and prepare to RV full-time. Journey will join us in May when we travel to Maine to meet the little girl puppy who will join us along with Wicca and Cracker on our own journey.

At first, Cracker and Wicca may be less than thrilled to make room for her, but they are generous souls at heart and will make space. Eventually, Cracker, the African Grey will call her name and direct her through her day. He will ask her as he does our other dog, “You wanna go out?” He’ll praise her by telling her she’s a “Good Girl!” , and correct her with a sharp, “NO!” when she barks. He will boss her little four-legged self all the way to Sunday like he has all of our dogs. I wonder if Cracker wonders where they went after their relatively short lives came to conclusion? The lifespan of an African Grey far outpaces a dog’s and over the years he has said good-bye to Chance, Levi , Leo and Hana since he came to live with us. When Hana passed away a year ago, Cracker never said her name for months despite having talked with her daily. for 14 years. “Hana, come here. Hana, Hana. You’re a good girl.”, he would coo to her. When we arrived at camp last Spring where he associated Hana running about the yard, he whistled for her and called her name loudly,  bringing me to tears.

Names are important. When we name our children we intuitively understand that a name can influence self-esteem and identity. For children, it can influence how they are seen and treated. When I added children to my own growing family many years ago I felt strongly that choosing their names was a great responsibility. There was such permanence to the decision. And my adopted children came with names that fit neither their new family or community situation. I searched for names that would give them the dignity of integration into a whole new world and lineage while still honoring who and where they had come from. Naming a beloved child is no easy task. In our spiritual practice, naming is a ritual that is not taken lightly whether the being that is being bestowed with a name is a child or any other sentient being. Thought must be given to the meaning and spirit of the name. Each time it is said out loud, a given name should be a whispered prayer that speaks to the heart of the relationship with that being. It can be a reminder that by naming, we are accepting responsibility for another’s well-being. When we speak a beloved’s name out loud with kindness and compassion, we affirm the bond between us. It matters not that we are speaking to a person or any other sentient being.

In the case of naming a pet, the name that we choose can be a constant reminder of what we value. In my case, I value the spiritual journey and those who are on it with me. A working definition to use could be that a spiritual journey is a process of reconciliation and education through and towards enlightenment. Each person’s journey is as unique and individual as that person. We make our journeys in our own unique way and time. By naming our new dog Journey, we hope to remind ourselves on a daily basis that this short life is just that. It is a journey towards enlightenment. Each time we speak her name we will enter into sacred relationship with her and she with us. We will affirm that we travel the road together holding on tight over the bumps and leaning on one another into the corners to stay steady and upright.

It’s good to have a friend for the journey and it will be good to have Journey for a friend.

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A Puppy is Born and the Fairies Smile

 

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It is an old Irish tradition to think that the fairies observe all that transpires in our mundane lives. They are erratic in their oversight of our existence, of course, because, by their very nature, they are easily distracted little beings and often off in the forest cavorting with fireflies and butterflies and such. But there is one thing tha causes them to pause and take notice. Fairies know each and every time when a new puppy is born.

Fairies are great lovers of dogs, probably because in addition to being easy to distract, fairies are often a bit lazy too. They are known to hitch a ride on the backs of dogs whenever their wings need a rest. You can’t always see them, but you know they are along for the ride when the dog sits down and lifts a hind leg to scratch. you might think he has picked up a flea, but that’s not it at all. He really  has a fairy rider on his neck and it tickles where she is holding on.

When a new puppy is born and takes  its first breath of air, a fairy breathes deeply too and smiles a smile of welcome at the new life. And this is how it begins. The fairies will watch this puppy grow. In fact, each dog has his own special fairy rider who acts as his companion all through his  life. The fairy riders choose a puppy that they like and with some reverence climb up on his neck to ride along with him through whatever life may bring. It is a relationship of deep affection and great respect.

The fairy rider will be there when the puppy is ten days old and its eyes open on the world for the first time. Fairies sigh and get all tearful when a puppy looses its first tooth. Like tooth fairies, fairy riders know this means that someone they love is growing up.

At about a month old, puppies begin to stand up and play with their brothers and sisters. They wobble about with one another and sometimes fall right down and roll over on their backs. Fairies giggle when puppies learn to play. It is like riding a clumsy elephant that keeps falling down and getting up again. At this stage, fairies spend a good deal of time hovering above their puppy waiting for him to get upright again.

When puppies are two months old, the fairies watch over them very carefully. It is the time when a new family comes to take the puppy home. The fairy riders wonder what is in store for the mas they leave  their mother and venture off  to become pets and protectors for their humans. When the puppy finds just the right human and goes home to a happy home, the fairies clap their hands and laugh right out loud with glee for they know that it will be a long and adventuresome ride.

The fairy riders go along on all sorts of activities with their dogs. Riding along with dogs and holding on tight, the fairies search for lost people, they guide the blind, they pull sleds, and protect  homes. They go for walks with us, accompany us to work, ride in the cars and sit in our laps; all riding on the neck of our dogs. They are there, even when we cannot see the, sleeping nestled in the ruff of your Collie, the hair of your Poodle and the fur of your Shepherd. Have you ever seen your dog’s coat glisten with good healthy in the sun? That sparkle is really a glimpse of his fairy rider that you are seeing. Through all of the adventures a dog can have, his fairy is right there with him holding  on for dear life during romps in the fields or swims in the creek.

One day, the fairy waits for her dog to lie down for a nap. Just as he is falling asleep, she climbs up close to his soft ear and whispers something. If you get very quiet  yourself, you can hear the fairy rider give her dog a very special and final gift of friendship. You can hear her say:

“Good and gentle creature, you and I have spent many an adventures together. You have been my companion through many a rising sun and a falling moon. You have kept me warm with your presence and your companionship. Your loyalty and devotion has been   a treasured enrichment to my days. It has been an honor to be your rider and guardian, but I sense now that you are tired and can carry me no more in this life. I sense that  you must go. I bid you  quiet passage and thank  you for allowing me to ride along for all this time and especially at the time of your leavetaking. Now do not stay for me, but go as you must.”

The old dog’s ear flicks ever so slightly as his fairy rider  breaths gently  whispers her final blessing to him “Go now in peace.” And he does.

She wipes a brief tear, turns and flits away following the sound of a new puppy’s cry in the distance. She is off to meet him and begin a new unison with this fresh new life. A puppy is born and the fairies smile.

Good-Bye little Buddy, this is for you and your Mamas who loved you very much.