Friday, July 31, 2015

Canada, O Canada - Part III

12:15 pm

Didn't sleep all that badly, and woke up slowly to rain and a chilly wind.  Knowing that the library didn't open until 10:00 am, i wasn't rushing anywhere.  After living in hot, sunny Florida year 'round, i reveled in the cool. When i did finally rise, I made my way to the public restrooms, which were extremely clean.

This town has a much happier vibe than Port Elgin.  With a population under 6,000, the main employers are the hospital, Mt. Allison University, and a call center. The town is neatly manicured and easy going.

Once again, no check.  This happened last month, and I thought it was because of my address change and the July 4th holiday.  But i don't know what's happening this month.  I had my daily melt down, and then remembered that this is exactly the rest I have been looking for.  Rough life. All i can do is hydrate, read, do crossword puzzles, plot my next route, pluck my eyebrows, floss my teeth, smooth lotion on my skin, do my nails, watch happy children splash in the fountain, and listen to music from Sappyfest.

It's my own spa and writer's retreat all in one, and since i have the time, i am saving big bucks doing it myself.

In the past fifteen years, so many traumatic things have happened to me.  So for the past few days, to get through this, I've been playing a little game with myself called, "It isn't as bad as ..."

Here's how it goes:

This situation isn't as bad as ...

- breaking my leg catastrophically;

- burying my parents;

- putting my sweet dog down;

- teaching under principals who disliked me;

-having kidney cancer;

-having a stroke;

-food poisoning;

-being deeply depressed;

-having neck surgery;

-having gall bladder surgery;

Things are sorting out now that my brain is resting and relaxed.  When i was teaching, I never thought i would have a creative thought again.  But slowly, they are returning, along with hope and happiness, like croci in the spring.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Canada, O Canada - Part II

I thought of my mom yesterday while driving in Port Elgin, where the countryside is gorgeous but sparsely populate.  She always wanted to be in a situation where she could ask, "Excuse me, but which way to town?"  If she had been with me, it would have been the perfect question to ask.  She also liked to say, "there's no "there" there," and, again, in this place, she would have been absolutely correct.

I'm feeling a little stressed.  My friend in Vero told me the check did not arrive again today.  I am down to 2.00, and no gas.  So I let myself have a melt down in the privacy of my car.  I wondered why i ever took this on, and i felt lonely and desperate.  I realized i haven't really cried since i had to put mimi down, so i'm due.  I've got a lot of 'processing' to do, after the last fifteen years.

And then i remember the adventure.

So i calmed myself down, and took the most beautiful ride along the northeastern coastal Canadian countryside, complete with a covered bridge, and a white house with green gables, which is why i was going to Prince Edward Island in the first place - to see the house of Anne of Green Gables.

I arrived in Sackville late this afternoon, and found a shady spot by the Bill Johnstone Memorial Park, in downtown Sackville. It has a splash pad and a fountain with bright colored metal birds, and loads of children happily splashing away, as their smiling parents look on.

My head is aching because there are several infected stress boils that are making me feel physically awful.  But i am in a friendly town where I can walk around and get a sense of the local color.

6:30 pm

The public library is a stone's throw from my parking spot, so i went in and used their internet, and listened to a group of children who were on a scavenger hunt in the library.  the male librarian was so sweet with them, letting them come behind the desk and paw through stuff behind the counter for clues.  I am so grateful that it is open tomorrow, too, because i have racked up too many roaming charges.

I took a long walk through the Sackville Waterfowl Preserve, even stopping to rest on the grass and stretch my cramped body, surrounded by chirping birds. I checked out the town, which is undergoing huge road work.  Sappyfest, an annual three-day music festival, begins tonight, so the town is filled with young people, which is both strange and refreshing to see. People make eye contact and say hello on the street.

There is a concert in the park tonight, on the bandstand.  The quintet, a guitar, drum, fiddle, and harmonica is  playing jimmy buffet songs, along with old folk favorites.  People are singing along and enjoying a glorious, clear summer evening.

The purpose of this trip was to find my lost humanity.  Staying in Canada would make that easier.  Even the traffic is more mellow than in the US.  People are polite and don't weave in and out, drive aggressively, or exceed the speed limit. I heard on the CBC morning news that Canadians are about to endure the longest election season in history - 11 weeks.  I would give anything if the American election season was that short.

People who know me laughed when i said was going to do some camping on this trip.  But I am doing it.  It is not preferable, and i would definitely feel better with cash, fuel, a long, hot bath, and a comfortable bed made with crisp sheets.

But I wanted to write an interesting story.  So this is part of it.  A few hours east of anywhere i have ever been before.

I am sitting here in grateful amazement at the spectacle laid out before me.  Once i put aside the fact that i am flat broke, I actually see just how much of a show-off God can be.  I found a package of cashews in the console, so that is dinner. I've got water, a nearby restroom, good weather, good music, loads to read, and a comfortable car.

Despite the obvious, today has been a really good day.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Canada, O Canada

Canada is a beautiful adventure.

Late yesterday afternoon, I entered Canada via Calais, Maine (pronounced "callous" by the locals).  I drove northeast along the coast until early evening, when the fog became so thick that I had to pull over for the night.

The owner of the Clipper Shipp Motel told me that my room had a gorgeous view of the bay, but I couldn't see anything through the soup, so i had to take his work for it.

For the first time in nearly a month, I was alone, and in a place I had never been.  I stretched out on the bed and fell asleep.

In the morning, when I woke up, it looked like i was on top of the world, all shimmery water, cotton puff clouds, and ethereal fog. The sun comes up early in this part of the world, and i realized that i was now on Atlantic Time, an hour earlier than I was used to.

I've been going like a mad woman for the past couple of months and the effects are starting to show on my body, which is screaming for rest, water, and nourishing food. Although i keep feeling like i am coming down with something, I just remember that my Aunt Marge, another one of my role models, actually willed away at least one heart attack, and she's living a full, energetic life at 88.

My hope was to get to Prince Edward Island by early evening, but i underestimated the distance and my financial situation.  I was running low on gas, so I decided to stop for the night in Port Elgin, the last stop before the massive bridge leading out to PEI.

Port Elgin is rural.  There is one store that sells gas, alcohol, and convenience food.  There is a restaurant.  And there is a lot of natural beauty.  I saw very few people, and i rode around the area, finally settling for the night at Fort Gaspereaux (Fort Gaspereaux).  I had a bottle of water, lots of reading material, pillows and blankets.  I took a long walk out to the point, before coming back to the car.  The wind blew through the pine trees, making the purple and white flowers dance.

No internet. no people. no nothing.
My friend, Andy Goddard, is the one who introduced me to the concept of "the wall," when traveling with other people.  It usually is encountered half way through a trip, and you know have hit it when you cannot stand the people who you are with. If you could, you would murder them in their sleep just because their breathing is so obnoxious, no matter how much you love them.

I have hit the wall, and since i am traveling with only me, it is difficult.  I am exhausted physically, emotionally, and financially.  This is where i really am on my own. I am slowing down and getting my act together, so i can really do this trip right.

So car camping it is and it iss actually really nice.  My car is comfortable, and the view when i woke up this morning was amazing. I watched the sun rise, and listened to the chirping birds.  A few men from the Canadian government came by, checking on mussel samples.  One of them assured me that these were the cleanest mussels in the world.

I cannot believe how thrown off by the time change I am.

This afternoon, I decided to set out to find a town with more going on, so i went back a few exits to a small town called Sackville. I found a shady spot near the Bill Johnstone Memorial Park, and settled in, which was good, because i ran out of gas.

It's ok, though, because i'm expecting a check to be deposited in my bank account tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Portland, Maine

Portland is a city I could see myself in.  It is filled with arty,friendly, and interesting people, including my dear friend from high school, Beth Crowley Lewis, and her husband, Barry.  They live in a gorgeous old yellow house filled with good spirit, round rooms, a lovely garden, and an incredibly cook balcony overlooking an elementary school across the street.

Beth came running out just as i pulled up in front of the house, and my heart swelled.  We've all changed physically, of course, but Beth's happy nature was still the same as it was in 1975, when she and Sandra Andersen Northrop were my close friends.

We met when we were all in an obscure summer theater musical called "Via Galactica," and the songs still are stuck in my head. It ran for seven performances on Broadway and lost one million dollars, the first time a show had done that.

It was a blast being a theater kid with Sandy and Beth.  Rehearsals were in Tarrytown, about a half an hour away from where we lived, and Sandy had her own car, a yellow pinto, and drove us to and from.  After the play was over, we stayed friends and appeared in other shows together, including "Cabaret," which was performed in a really seedy bar in Pleasantville, New York.

Via Galactica - The Musical

During the weekend, the three of us laughed at how unsupervised we all were, driving around in Pintos (!), smoking cigarettes, and being in a bar.  But that's the way it was at that time with many families in Chappaqua, where we grew up.  My parents were pretty strict, but they loved Sandy and Beth, so anything i wanted to do with them was just fine.

Both Sandy and Beth taught me so much about so many things.  Sandy taught me about the delights of serendipity and synchronicity, and Beth reinforced those lessons. After Beth's first year of college, she came home and told me all kinds of things that weren't taught where i went to school.

Barry gave us a wide berth as Beth and I started talking and barely stopped for the rest of the weekend.  Drinking wine, we told stories that never ended because something else would pop into our brains, and anyone who has made it to our age is entitled to a little ADD.

Barry made the most delicious dinner - juicy, magically seasoned pork loin and purple cabbage slaw that was the perfect accompaniment to the pork.

After dinner, we watched a movie upstairs in her space - a round room painted the coolest green color, and then an office snug in a place that used to be part of the entrance out to the balcony.  She has a star machine and the effect was magical.

Before going to bed, we sat on the balcony, under the stars, above the quiet street, and talked more about life since high school.  A lot has happened, but there's no doubt in my mind that I am so blessed to have friends as loyal and accepting as Beth and Sandy.

Saturday morning, after a cup of Barry's delicious coffee, Beth took me for a drive around Portland and out to the Portland Head Light (, and I got to have my first lobster roll of the trip.

Sandy arrived early Saturday evening, just in time for dinner with Beth, Barry, and me, at a terrific Asian place called Bao Bao.

After more catching up, we went home and the three of us went up to Beth's lair to watch another movie, "Mortified Nation," on Netflix.  It was the perfect movie for the three of us this weekend, and, after another gabfest on the balcony, we all went to bed, because Beth had to work the next morning, early.

Since Beth had to work on Sunday, Sandy and I took the ferry to Peaks Island and had more lobstah, served from a happy green truck, on a hill overlooking the water.

By the time we got home, Beth was home, and we had supper, the most delicious celery soup and salad, with Barry and her dad.

Monday, Barry sent Sandy and I off with an index card full of suggestions as far as breweries to visit and his phone number, in case we got lost.  Portland is an easy city in which to get around, and we had no trouble finding a place for lunch called the Thirsty Pig.  The bartender was friendly, and the place was famous for its sausages.  Sandy had a blueberry sausage and I had a pork quesadilla.  We ended up wiling away the afternoon, reminiscing and talking about life in general.  Beth met us after work, and we had dinner at Susan's, a really good seafood place near their house.

Seeing my two friends was like coming home.  We knew each others' parents and we knew each other when we were really innocent, although we thought we weren't.  For all the bad things said about social media, Facebook made it possible for us to meet up again, and feel like no time had passed.

Tuesday morning, we went our separate ways - me to the north; Beth and Sandy south to Fire Island.

Cape Cod - Osterville

Yesterday, I left the warm embrace of my family, and went to see one of my oldest friends, Kathryn O'Leary Shilale, Her mom, Jackie O'Leary, and Kathryn's daughter, Elizabeth, her daughter who looks just like Kathryn did at that age, a little down the road in Osterville.  
Kathryn and I met at John's Island in the late seventies, and she has been a constant in my life, even though our in person visits are rare events.  Being the only girl after six boys, Kathryn has one of the quickest, funniest wits I know.   We always end up laughing, no matter what it is we are talking about, and Wednesday night was no exception.  

Pulling into the driveway of their yellow house, located in a shady neighborhood, is like coming home.  I love Cape Cod, but I am really challenged getting around and having any kind of sense of direction.  I am notorious for saying I will be at someone's house in an hour and showing up three hours later, because I took the route to Falmouth, in stead of to Harwich, on a summer Saturday night, and missing an entire anniversary party because i got so lost.  

When i arrived on the Cape earlier than I thought i would, and i didn't need to call one of my cousins to lead me in, I felt so proud of myself.  But it was too early for cockiness, because a few days later, I got horribly lost looking for the lake beach in my cousins' neighborhood, before finally calling it a day and going back to where i was staying.   

My cousin, Ed Blute, told me once when he was on the phone leading me in from the bridge, that the reason Cape Cod is so confounding to outsiders is on purpose.  Year 'rounders on the cape really don't want people to find them.  

Thanks to GPS, i made it Osterville, and the O'Learys' yellow colonial house with no problem, and just in time for happy hour.  

 Both Kathryn and her mom, Jackie, are very hospitable, and while Kathryn made delicious grilled chicken caesar salads for us, we drank wine and Jackie filled me on the family, and we talked about writing, my trip, and news from John's Island.  Four years ago, Jackie moved back to the Boston area, but people still ask about her at JI.  I was so happy sitting there, in the kitchen, with people who have known me since I was a teenager.  

Jackie O'Leary is one of my all-time favorite people and a true role model.  She has energy to burn and a great sense of humor.  She just celebrated her 88th birthday, and a few months before, when her son turned 60, she flew out to San Francisco for the party.  And she ended up having such a good time that she was out until after 2:00 am!  

She goes to mass every morning, plays golf and bridge regularly, plays the piano, and constantly keeps herself intellectually stimulated by taking courses on different subjects.  She is getting ready to write her memoir, and I will be the first to read it.  

I brought peppermint ice cream from the 4Cs, an extremely popular ice cream place, and for good reason.  After dessert, Elizabeth, who turns twelve on July 26, and Jackie left us, and we had a chance to to chat and catch up. 

Kathryn is one of those people I've adopted into my chosen family, and she graciously gave up her huge bed for me that night, even though she was playing in a golf tournament the next morning.  She and her partner ended up winning, even after a night on the sofa bed.  

I left around 11:00 am on Thursday, and headed to Norwell, to visit my cousin, Tom Flynn, and his wife, Joyce.  They have three girls, but I only got to see two of them briefly, because (of course) i wasted a lot of time getting lost in the suburbs of Boston.  

Cape Cod - Harwich



Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.                -- Robert Frost

My dad was the second of nine children, and my family on that side lives on Cape Cod, in Harwich.  As you can imagine, I have a ton of cousins.  Aunt Lulu, my dad's sister, figured out that between my mom's side of the family (she was seven of ten) and my dad's family, I have nearly 100 first cousins.  And i can probably name them all, if you give me time.

Lulu moved to the Cape with her new husband, Ed, in the late fifties, and raised her family there.  My cousins are respected members of the community, as their parents are.

Ed Blute passed away at the beginning of June, following a long illness. Lulu and Mary, his daughter, were with him when he died, and his sons had all seen him or talked to him before he died.

My uncle Ed was one of the nicest men i have ever known.  He brought light into every situation, a very useful skill since he was a funeral director.  Ed loved everyone.  Everyone.  When confronted by someone who was unlovable to most people, Ed would say kindly, "Aw, he needs prayers."

Ed was a really good sport his entire life.  When Ed came to his future in-laws' house for his first Thanksgiving dinner, Lulu's brothers and brothers-in-law introduced him to a Balint family turkey day tradition, hot goose grease and whiskey.  I gag when i think of it, but Ed was intrepid.  The brothers kept plying him with the concoction and he kept drinking it.  Everyone got smashed and probably felt like dirt the next morning, but Ed had been initiated into the family.

Think about what kind of job it is to bury people's dead.  Many people would become very dour doing this day after day.  Not Ed.  Ed was exactly the kind of man you wanted sitting next to you as you described your father or husband or son. He was, as his son John said, "a gentle giant."  He wasn't afraid of tears or emotion. On many occasions during my life i have had to really into him and sob, and i felt as secure as if i were crying into a massive redwood, except i felt much more loved.  He knew how to take care of people, including his family, and that is one of the many legacies he passed to his progeny.

Not to take anything away from my dad, but in many ways, he and Ed were exact opposites. Ed was careful and conservative, especially when it came to money and real estate.  My dad was impulsive and reckless.  In the end, my dad lived the way he wanted to, in luxury, but alone.

Driving around the Harwich this past week was a revelation for me.  Ed's children, and even some nieces and nephews, are financially secure because of Ed's cautious fiscal approach.  When one of Ed's nephews was having difficulty finding a place for his wedding reception, Ed quietly joined a local yacht club so the party could be held there.  When the kids were young, the family took road trips far away from Cape Cod, and even after retirement, he and Lulu took amazing road trips, even one to Alaska, in their RV.

One of the nice things about this past week in Harwich was spending time with Ed's sons and grandchildren, who all share his sweet nature.  Tommy, his third son, and John, his fourth, are both in the funeral business, and have Ed's caring disposition.  They're married to terrific women, both named Jodie, and my heart was warmed watching their children.  Ed's children are all incredibly hard workers who learned by example that good luck takes diligence.

Zachary is Tommy's oldest son and is, himself, a gentle, genial giant like his grandfather.  When he laughs, it's as though his grandfather is sitting there.  We all laughed a lot this past week, thinking about Ed, because that is the kind of guy he was.  John told a funny story about how Ed would call on the morning of a golf tournament to find out what he was wearing.  "I'm wearing my navy blue shirt, such and such a belt, and cranberry shorts," John said.

"Ok ok," Ed responded. "I'm going to wear my navy blue shirt, such and such a belt, and cranberry shorts."

He loved a crisp uniform and that's why there are so many photos of the Blute men dressed alike.

Ed had so much integrity and grace that we came up with a life guiding question this past week. WWUED? What would Uncle Ed do? Do what he did the way that he did and life is beautiful.

It was a great week with my family.  They nourished me and took care of me.  I was not allowed to pick up a check.  Since i missed the reunion that was held in November, due to depression and malaise, it felt so good to reconnect with everyone.

My cousin John, and his wife, Jodie, took me out on their boat with their daughters, Maura and Charlotte, who are both intelligent, strong, and beautiful. My cousin Ed came down from Plymouth twice.  Tommy's youngest son, Nick, made us delicious lemonade made with his own simple syrup, and served it to us by the pool.

I got to see my cousin Billy's daughter, Catie, sing with her band in Dennis on Sunday night.  Bill's wife, Leslie, and I went to a yoga class taught by Tommy's daughter, Jessica, on Tuesday. I stopped in Norwell and got to see my cousin, Tom Flynn, and his wife, Joyce.   Lulu had my aunts over to her new condo on Monday night for dinner.  Aunt Marge asked if I was going to blog about it, and i said, "Of course. This dinner is its own post."

Lulu wanted to make sure there was no cursing on my blog, so there won't be.  I was thrilled to see that all of my aunts have I-Phones and I-Pads.  They text.  Mind blown.

No one really takes Robert Frost's words seriously anymore, but my relatives did, and so I left Harwich feeling loved and grounded, thanks to my Cape Cod family.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

McLean, Virginia; Long Island, New York: Naugatuck, Connecticut;Providence, Rhode Island

Claudia's 50th
Friday, July 10, 2015 (her real birthday is July 13th)

lunch with Claud, Clelia (age 8), and Bella (age 4). We met Clelia's art teacher, and Claudia told her about my trip and asked her if she had any advice for me.  She said, "Make sure you have good tires.  And you should probably get a case for your phone."

Then, much to the chagrin of Claudia, i said i was on my way north.

Instead, i headed to the westin tysons and met Claudia's old and  my new friends, John and Kris. After a glass of wine, we were picked up by Jennifer and her husband, Dave, for the ride to Wolf Trap, so we could all surprise Claudia, who just thought she was attending a Pink Martini concert with her husband, Mark.

The Birthday Girl
Claudia has known her since college

Co-organizer; long-time friend; former co-worker; current tap partner; aka "Uncle Zizi"
my new traveling companion

long time friend and former co-worker 
long time husband who sets the bar pretty high 
when it comes to showing how much he loves his wife and children

Friend, neighbor, kindred spirit


Spent the day having breakfast with John and finding a place to do laundry, before showing up to surprise Claudia at her house, where 50+ guests were going to also surprise her.


hung out with the Benedettis, Kris, and John before leaving for a quick visit to see French and Scott.

Drove to Long Island, NY to see Jennifer and Henry and Mackenzie and Madison, the jumping bean tennis champ.

On Tuesday, i traveled to Naugatuck, CT, where my godchild, Julianna, lives with her husband, Scott, and their children, Julie (age 6) and James (age 3).  Julianna is one of the most capable and mature women i know, and she's more than half my age.

Her house is spotless. Her children are well-behaved, and she is all kinds of creative.  Right now, she's making the cutest burlap wreaths.  I love her husband, Scott, and if i had children, i would hope they would be as hard working as these two.

Loved hanging out with the kids, and meeting Julianna's next door neighbor, Karin.  Julie made the most delicious crock pot barbeque chicken and insisted on taking care of me.  After the kids were in bed, we talked and drank wine outside on her deck, with their sweet pit bull puppy, sally mae.

James (age 2)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Drove an hour away to Providence to get my act together.

My body was seriously rebelling, breaking out in boils, and threatening an ear and strep infection.  Five years ago, I visited Cape Cod, and then went for a quiet, spiritual weekend at a monastery in Poughkeepsie, NY.  On the second night of my retreat, I developed the tell tale strep lump in my throat.  I had to get on a train to go to Youngstown, to see my cousin, Karres, and her husband, Tom.  It was the train trip from hell. I got off in Pittsburgh, running a fever, and Karres had to take me to the ER in Youngstown, where the doc gave me antibiotics.  Karres and Tom nursed me back to health, but it's really awful to show up on the door steps of family and friends kind enough to put me up and have to be nursed back to health.

So i did something incredibly revolutionary and counter-intuitive.  I actually listened to my body and got a room in Warwick so i could recalibrate and rest, before going to Cape Cod this weekend to be with my family.

I am used to spending a lot of time alone.  I don't want to spend that much time alone anymore, but i feel like i have to emerge from it slowly, like a scuba diver slowly surfacing.

Last night, I ate in the on-site restaurant and had the most delicious clear chowder that tasted only of clams and smoked bacon.  the bread was amazing, and the butter had a touch of honey in it.  Since i wasn't feeling terrific, i ordered the freshly squeezed lemonade and some seltzer, which they call soda water here.

This morning, i slept late and drove over to Brown University, where i composed a letter to my much younger self.  "Dear 12 year old self," it said. "Please live up to your potential so that you can go to brown or RISD."

I knew nothing of a place like Brown.  It was always assumed i would go to Catholic U. And i did...