All posts by Mara Gordon

Born with wanderlust. Fulfilling my destiny. I am living my best life. Love of travel and adventure has led me on a journey of no set destination and no set schedule. My best friend is also my husband - I know, sounds cliche' - but in this case, it's really true. We live and travel in 14' teardrop with Jeffrey and Emma, our two soft coated wheaten terriers. Hope to get to know you better. Want to know anything, just ask.

Same Dilemmas, Bigger Price Tags

When I first made the decision to move back to California, into the house that I had left behind five long years ago, there were so many emotions to face. How long until the walls closed in on me? Would I be able to stick it out long enough to get my book written? Who was I when I wasn’t a Peregrine – wandering from place to place collecting stories and life experiences? Would I be ordinary?

After a mad dash from Colorado, where all of our belongings were stored for two years, to California in record time to meet the over-caffeinated driver of the moving truck,  Stewart and I arrived in Walnut Creek, exhausted on a Thursday night.  We realized that our garage, which was built in the early 1970’s, was too low for us to park 7’3″ Peregrine inside. The homeowners association doesn’t allow any campers or trailer to be parked on the street – and makes no exceptions for celebrities – we had nowhere to sleep, and nowhere to park. Fortunately, Stewart was thinking faster than me, and dragged the cushions and memory foam into the empty house. A quick call to the local police department, and we found a street where we could park Peregrine for three days undisturbed.

When the guys were unloading the truck, all I kept thinking was, “What is in all those boxes?”, and “Where is all my furniture?”. When we made the decision to hit the open road, I gave away or sold most of my furniture. The only things that I kept were things with sentimental and collectible value. Beds, gone. Kitchen table and chairs, gone. Living room sofa, gone. Desk and book shelves, gone. The main problem with my method was with no furniture, there is nowhere to actually put anything. Those several dozen books that I just couldn’t let go of, are now stuck in their boxes until I once again accumulate a piece of furniture to house them. It’s a vicious circle.  This was not my first time doing this, so I write from experience. In the ’90s  I did the same thing with all of my belongings when I moved to Ireland. This purging of personal belongings is cathartic, but can also be quite expensive.

While I was unpacking a box marked “Mara’s Bathroom”, I came across a lovely green and black alabaster round canister.  I love interesting boxes, so in the past, whenever a loved one was faced with that inevitable question, “What should I get Mara for her birthday?” it was easily answered by searching for a unique box. When I removed the lid and looked inside, there were a pile of cotton balls squeezed together. Cotton balls. My first reaction was, “Do I have any polish remover?”. While living in Peregrine, space was at such a high premium that I had to decide early on which it was going to be – cotton swabs or cotton balls. Cotton swabs have more practical applications, and take up less space, so it was au revoir little puffy clouds of softness.

Now I have been back in my house for two months. Stewart and I welcomed a horde of darling trick o’ treaters. We have entertained two sets of out of town guests (I hope more will come soon). We celebrated Thanksgiving dinner complete with all the accompanying fanfare. The house is looking more like a home each day thanks to the hard work that both of us have put into it nonstop since we have been back. Much of my time each day has been spent replacing items previously given away or sold at bargain-basement prices.

With each chair, each rug I add to my home, it feels as though the tether tightens. How did this happen when I worked so hard to free myself from this just two short years ago? My favorite purchase of all is an old farmhouse table that looks like it has so many stories of its own to tell. This will be my desk while I write. As long as I keep focused on why I am here, I can breathe. Please pass the cotton balls.

My Father, My Mentor

My Grandfather and Father

There’s a saying that I’ve heard repeated numerous times in my life, and I’ve even used it myself. It goes like this, “If he knew better, he would have done better”. If I were asked to sum up my father in one sentence, this would be the one. Though I look like the spitting image of my mother, I am my father’s daughter.

The stories I’ve heard of his upbringing range from romantic to horrifying. He was born Franklyn Theodore Gordon on October 29, 1928. His first birthday was marked by the stock market crash and the biggest Depression to ever hit the world. My mother used to joke that his parents must have been frightened by a Roosevelt when they named him. I think instead it was the joy of the immigrant, no matter their socio-economic level to have fled whatever hardships confronted them, to find opportunity in America. Both of my parents were children of immigrants, but my paternal grandparents earned a living, shall we say, the more traditional route, than my maternal grandparents. They owned the general store on the town square in Morristown, New Jersey. My grandfather bought it from my grandmother’s father. It was instilled into my father at an early age that hard work was the only way to succeed in life. If there was no business, pick up the broom and sweep the floor. When you were finished, begin again. The owner doesn’t need to stand around watching you standing around watching him.

His relationship with his parents was complicated. I heard tales of his lunch being wrapped in a roadmap when he went to school. If he wasn’t home on time, he was told to keep on going because his room would be rented out. Perhaps this was true, perhaps it’s merely family lore. Either way, it is a harsh way to teach a child punctuality, and certainly didn’t add a sense of security to the mix. As a teen he came home drunk one Saturday night, and woke up hanging from a hook in the closet. My grandparents didn’t mess around.

When I was very young, about six years old, my father became very religious. It was only when I was a mother myself, that I learned my father had been searching for a spiritual path his entire life. He had tried out numerous religions. While serving in the military back in the late 1940’s, he came home on leave once counting the rosary. My grandmother almost disowned him. Fortunately, that phase passed quickly, and he lived. As he became more and more religious, the way our family lived our lives changed. We were expected to keep kosher, keep the Sabbath, obey all the rules in the Torah – and in case you are curious, there are 613. My mother loved my father very much, and was willing to go along with a lot of the requirements to make him happy. My two older sisters were already in school, so it was not as easy to get them to change their lives. I, on the other hand, was his last chance kid. So, off to Yeshiva day school I went.

My father was a scholar. He began school at age three not because my grandmother wanted him out of the house, but because he was already reading and writing. He had a near encyclopedic mind. At age 58, he had a brain stem stroke that left him without use of his body for the remainder of his life. His mind was still sharp, and he spent the rest of his life reading a book a day. He had the stroke while visiting his mother in Arizona. The doctors told us there would be no miracles, and he would either die or be a vegetable (what idiot came up with that term?!) He drew a picture of a dolphin on the chalkboard in the family room, and explained about the brain stem, and how once it was compromised as severely as my father’s had been, there was no coming back. We thanked him, and told him he didn’t know Fabulous Frank! My sister, Nancy and I were keeping ourselves sane during our long hospital vigil by doing crossword puzzles. I asked her across the room one day, “What’s the name of a river in Russia that begins with an S and is seven letters?” In a quiet, but recognizable voice we hear, “The Sakmara River”. Fabulous Frank was back.

He was an inventor. When I was about nine or ten years old, my father sat all of us down at the dining room table to show us his idea for this vast store that would carry nothing but different size containers and shelving. We thought he was so weird. The Container Store is one of my favorite stops whenever I move or am reorganizing. I wish I’d encouraged him instead of rolling my eyes. He invented the planters made from stones that are so beautiful. Also, how I would love a piece of his cheesecake on a stick. He would always make me my favorite flavors, even though no one else ever bought the rest of them.

If my father was a young man today, chances are he would be a scanner. Barbara Sher helped me figure out that I am a scanner, and that is not a bad thing, just different. He would also likely be an** INFP INFP**, like me. He liked being around people, but it was clear that they drained him, and he was happiest being on his own, like me. He used to tell people he was glad he had all girls because he wasn’t expected to do anything with us. I understand what he meant, though I didn’t at the time.

My father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and died four months later. I had moved from Dallas to San Diego less than a year earlier, and my sisters had been gone for some time. He and my mother had divorced in 1979, but remained the best of friends, and are buried under one headstone. Sadly, mom died on dad’s 61st birthday, October 29, 1989, so by the time of his death, he was alone with his books. Pretty much the way he liked it. I’ve thought about this a lot, and even discussed it with my sister. Though my mother was the one that I spent the most time with – shopping, cooking, watching movies, my father was the one who guided my life. He was the one who gave me the tools that I pick up each day to work my way through the world. Thank you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

Low Dose Aspirin

When one of my sisters brought home whatever was going around the school, my mother had a theory that it was best to get it over with, and have us all get it at once. This included chicken pox, mumps, measles, and so many bouts of the flu that I’d be hard pressed to recall exactly how many. As the youngest, I had most of these childhood diseases before reaching school age, so though I suffered the misery of swollen glands and head-to-toe rashes, I rarely got to miss a day of school.

The treatments in those days were very different, too. The doctor offered the choice between your left or right butt cheek before he injected you with the miracle drug, penicillin. And, if you required a prescription, the pills came in tablet form. Period. No liquid version in grape or sour apple flavor. No chewables. Instead, moms and dads everywhere were faced with the task of getting their sick children to swollow bitter tablets, or crush them (the tablets, not the children), and hide the powdery lumps in whatever mixture their children were least likely to refuse. In my case, applesauce. At age 12, it was still applesauce. Yes, twelve.

I had already begun the right of passage and summer ritual of every preteen in my circle of friends – babysitting for neighbors’ kids.  I  spent as much of my spare time that wasn’t committed to sleepovers and pure heat induced comas squirreling away the money I earned for a one way ticket to Miami. My parents promised to pay for the return fare. As much as I pestered them that summer, counting and recounting my money, my father often threatened to forget to buy it.  Even at the ripe old age of twelve, I was filled with wanderlust. But, that’s another story.

One of the families I sat for that summer had an only child, and 8 year old girl who was being treated for brain cancer. Her head appeared as a minefield to me, filled with freshly scarred over holes. She didn’t want to play very much, but was happy to just hang out together in her living room. I was a bit frightened by her, and the responsibility I had while her mother was gone. This was the only time I would admit to myself I was glad I was only babysitting in the next building.  What if she got sick? There were so many bottle of pills. How would I know which ones to give her? Should I give her two chewable baby aspirin if she got a headache?

Chewable baby aspirin. There they were right in front of me. A bottle of St. Joseph’s chewable baby aspirin. The little girl was frail, and needed to take a nap. Her mother wasn’t scheduled to be home for at least another two hours. There was plenty of time. If ever I was going to overcome my fear, and learn how to swallow a pill, it was then.

After making sure my charge was fast asleep, I took a full glass of water into the bathroom along with the bottle of baby aspirin. I locked the door just in case. Out came the little orange tablets onto the counter lined up in a row. First, I tried doing it like I had watched the people on TV – put the pill in my mouth, then take a sip of water. All that happened was the pill began to melt on my tongue. I used a tissue to wipe that one off, and began again. This time, I put the pill further back on my tongue, but gagged, so that didn’t work. Finally after numerous combinations, I took a sip of water, held it, slipped the baby aspirin in, and swallowed. Success! I had managed to complete the process. I had swallowed my first whole tablet. If my blood had been drawn at that point, it likely would have been as thin as someone on Coumadin.  I didn’t care. No more crushed tablets in apple sauce for me. I had found the winning combination.

Those baby aspirin turned out to be invaluable for many people, including me. Since the ripe old age of twelve, I have ingested far too many pills to recall, however last November I had blood clots in both lungs. the treatment was Coumadin for six months after I was released from the hospital. Initially, the doctor wanted me to take an aspirin a day, but it turned out full dose was too strong for me, so she now has me on a baby aspirin a day. This miracle drug is now used by millions of middle aged and elderly people to prevent cardiovascular disease. In fact, the demand from the aging population has increased so greatly, that the drug manufacturers have astutely repackaged the 81 mg dose baby aspirin as “low dose aspirin”. At 51, I prefer the nostalgia of baby aspirin. Each night when I take my now handful of pills, I resist the temptation to lock myself in the bathroom.

Leaving California

Driving along in the car, we spend a lot of time listening to NPR. There are exceptions in some desolate areas, but I can almost always count on it being available somewhere between 88.1 and 92.5 on my FM dial. As we steer along unfamiliar roads, there is something very reassuring about hearing the familiar voices of Scott Simon, Renee Montagne, Terry Gross, and of course, my favorite, Daniel Schorr. As Stewart and I finally (finally!) made our way out of Lodi, and began our journey that will eventually take us across Canada, I heard a story that saddened me a bit.  Actually, I heard part of a story as I was also navigating and looking for a place to get something to eat – but more about that in a bit. What I thought I heard was that about 3000 people are leaving California each week, and that a one way truck rental is as much as ten times more expensive leaving the state. I’ve done a bit of checking, and the truck rental report between the states is all over the place. For example, between San Diego and Ft. Collins a truck is $1340, and between San Diego and Dallas, the same truck is $2098. The distance is very close, but who knows, maybe less people are bringing the trucks back. None of my searches returned anywhere near ten times the cost. As for the number of people leaving each week, I suppose I’ll just have to wait for those new signs that welcome visitors to town that will go up after all the 2010 Census numbers are counted. Regardless of the doomsday, whoa is me, we’ll never get out of this mess attitude that is often heard over the airways and seen splashed across headlines, California still has IT! Yes, that indescribable “it” that makes a person feel like anything is possible. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Peregrine has a toilet and copper plumbing. It only took 20 months on the road, but I finally figured out how to transport our clothes sensibly (some process engineer!), and we can set up and spend the night almost anywhere. The closet we lost to the porta potty was replaced by a Yakima Rocketbox on top of the car. So, when we left Lodi, CA on 17 May (a month late) , our load was lighter, and I was excited to try out all the new found freedom and my new trunk organization system.  I have a feeling the neighbors weren’t too terribly sad to see us leave either. Stewart has always subscribed to the school that one cleans up once at the end of a project, so you can just imagine the mess he made while modifying Peregrine. Lodi Creedence Clearwater Revival

We headed out Hwy 12 straight west for the coast, where it turns into Hwy 1, bringing us right to beautiful Bodega Bay. As we were making the final few winding turns, we realized we’d better hurry if we were going to catch the sunset on the water. The first place we came to was Doran Beach, and we turned in.  The road switches back, and on one side is the Bay, and the other, the ocean, but there was no clear view of the sunset. It was still beautiful. We decided to spend a couple of nights right there. It was a bit more rustic than I’m usually up for, but that’s also part of what makes life interesting. Not having any food with us, not so much. After trying several options, we finally found a store in Guerneville (23 winding round miles) that would sell us a loaf of bread. They were actually already closed, but took pity on us standing in the cold rain, and let us in. When we got back to Peregrine, we made peanut butter and fruit sandwiches that went down like gourmet fare.

There are a couple of places in Bodega Bay that were noteworthy this time through. The first one is Patrick’s. Stewart and I never pass through here without stopping. It’s hard to miss with it’s pink and white striped facade. And, from the images on Flickr, apparently quite a few people feel the same way. For 50 years, Patrick’s has brought the best salt water taffy flavors together under one roof, making it difficult to decide between the caramel cheesecake, watermelon and my favorite, the licorice. Or, you could just buy the varietybags, and take whatever you get each time you stick your hand in and grab one.

We had also passed by the Boat House on a number of occasions, and decided this time we would make a point of stopping in before leaving town. Stewart wanted to try their BBQoysters, one of his favorites, but I’m not a big fan, so I went with the more traditional fish and chips. Both dishes were excellent, but Stewart’s only came with a few oyster crackers, so I gave him my fries. My hips thanked him all the way to the car. For a tiny place, they carried about 30 varieties of bottled beers, and many types of sodas from all over the world.  The walls are covered covered in fish stories that would make any angler itchy to cast his line into the water. Stewart was no exception. The rest of the night was filled with plans for catching crabs and mussels along the Pacific beaches.

One more thing, before I move on from here. The scariest film of all time was filmed in Bodega Bay, “The Birds”, by Alfred Hitchcock.  Since seeing this 1963 classic starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, and Jessica Tandy, I have had an extraordinary fear of birds on a wire. For those of you who have seen The Birds, you know what I’m talking about because you do, too. For those of you who are snickering at me right now, add it to your Netflix queue. Then let’s see how you feel about all those sparrows in your backyard next Fall!

After leaving Bodega Bay we headed toward Mendocino, another one of our favorite spots. We realized that at this rate we wouldn’t make Canada very quickly, but since we tty to live in the now, 97 miles seemed like enough for that particular day. We had found a little Indian restaurant right on the edge of the Russian River in Jenner, called Sizzling Tandoor.  It was a few minutes after 2PM, and the view was gorgeous, so we decided to stop. There was only one other table occupied when we got there, but the place smelled great. When I saw the prices on the menu, I realized the owner had given us the dinner menus. We got up to leave. When she asked why, I told her it was too expensive for what it was. She quickly offered to substitute the lunch menu, and we stayed. My curry was delicious, as was Stewart’s tandoori.

On our way south down Hwy 1 in September, we discovered the Seafoam Inn in Little River, just outside of Mendocino. The views are sweeping, and as far as I can tell, each room has at least one dog in it. Each morning, a basket appears outside your door complete with fresh muffins and orange juice. After two nights in the rain with no amenities, a hot shower and a chance to see the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy live sounded really good (all I can say is, “WOW!”). Also, the office has hundreds of movies guests can sign out. Coincidentally, the last time we were there, we had been discussing a particular film on the way down that Stewart had never seen, and they had it there. But this time there was no time for DVD’s. The guy in the next room, Daniel, also had his guitar with him, and was more than happy to jam with Stewart on our deck as the sunset. Little River, CA outside Mendocino

The next day, we stopped in Ft. Bragg, about 12 miles away, for a dohickey thingamajiggy. You know, one of those parts that make a sane person’s eyes glaze over in a hardware store. We stopped at the local Ace, which happens to be part of Mendo Mill & Lumber, and there we met Steve Channel. While I was off scoping out things like containers for under the sink, Stewart and Steve had struck up a conversation about Peregrine. It turns out Steve had recently built an 18″ trailer completely from native woods, and was in need of a heater. We just so happen to have had a heater that was wanting to be freed from under our seat, giving me oodles of more storage space. While Steve made himself look busy in order to keep his job, and Stewart took all sorts of measurements, I researched the value of the heater. Times are tough, but people aren’t, and a deal was made. Steve rang his wife, Blondie, and she started marinating the chicken for a BBQ that night. While Steve finished up his work day, we headed over to Catch A Canoe: And Bicycle Too for help attaching a tube to the roofrack for our fishing poles. The owner, Rick, was very helpful. When I rang to find out if he could help me, he told me what supplies to pick up at Mendo Mill before heading over to his shop. When I asked him where he was, he replied, “Behind the counter”. Yeah, that’s how he is in person, too.

Later that evening we arrived at Steve and Blondie Channel’s home in Ft. Bragg, and set up Peregrine next door. Steve was born in this house, and has known many of his neighbors his entire life. They lit a wood fire outside, and throughout the evening people drifted in and out, many conveniently arriving just as the food was ready. As scrumptious as it was, if I lived nearby, I may do the same. Eduardo, a native of Chihuahua, Mexico thrills us with pictures and samples from the Copper Canyons, the largest Quartz deposits in the world. It’s fascinating, and looks like a worthwhile trip to take. He said to be sure to take the trains while down there. Apparently, there are quite a few different ones to chose from.

When the heater was removed from Peregrine, it left a hole in his side. Stewart tried to convince me that it didn’t matter, but I wasn’t budging until it was covered. The guys started scrambling for something aesthetically pleasing that would also fill the hole. After about 15 minutes, Eduardo came back across the street with an expired New Mexico license plate. At first I was skeptical, but after seeing how well it complemented the orange and silver on Peregrine, it got my approval.

Eventually, we made our way further up the beautiful California coast to Eureka, about 130 miles. As you may have noticed by now, had we been walking, we could have left California quicker. Anyway, we decided since our next stop was Grants Pass, OR, which was about three hours further, this was a good place to stop. We booked a hotel in an anonymous chain that doesn’t charge for dogs, and set out to get some dinner. Whenever possible, we eat at local restaurants. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to travel the country and eat at chains. Plus, it does more to help the local economies by spending money at locally owned stores and restaurants. We saw quite a few people through the window at Lost Coast Brewery, so we decided to have dinner there. When I asked about the seasonal and special beers, the server offered me a sample of a Belgium beer. It was very good, sweet. Everything we ate was good. Four people sat down at the table butted up next to ours, and immediately started chatting with us. They ordered a pitcher of a wheat beer, and LCB World Famous Buffalo Wings, and passed them over to us to taste. Then, they insisted I taste their beer as well. As our meals progressed, I asked them  about themselves. The couple sitting closest to us, Joan and Paul Gallegos, are both attorneys, and the LA life they were living didn’t work for the family they wanted to build. They moved to Eureka, and started a life there, with Paul eventually running for District Attorney in 2002, and winning. He was re-elected in 2006, and is running again now for his third term. Sonia and John Ford also are transplants to Eureka. John is the morning drive time DJ on 95.5 FM, and Sonia is with Humboldt University. The architecture is beautiful, and there are fantastic murals throughout the downtown area. There is a strong emphasis on the arts in the community, which would certainly make it more attractive to people moving from more urban areas.

It’s clear that times are difficult throughout the United States, and in California, in particular in a way that is especially unfamiliar to many of us. After all, how can the promised land require us to tighten our belts? I’ve often heard people say that in tough times we clearly see people’s strengths and weaknesses. What I have seen is that the people of this State are incredibly generous and kind-spirited, There may be more trucks moving out of California THIS week, but there will be always be more people filled with hope and dreams for their futures with stardust in their eyes, who will come to California for all it has to offer. I’m leaving it now. But as the Guvernator said so well, “Ill be back”.

My Dollar Hoop Earrings


A couple of weeks ago, I went to Santa Cruz and Capitola for a “Girls’ Getaway”. While there, I splurged on a pair of $1 hoop earrings. Usually, I wear small, practical earrings; more placeholders than jewelry, but with my sassy new ‘do, I figured, what the heck?!

Since I’ve been wearing my new hoops, I’ve added my old bottom eyeliner, too. This has given me that edgier look that I had “back in the day”, whenever that was. As I leaned into the mirror to apply a flawless line, then quickly backed up to bring my face back into focus, I wondered how I was supposed to do this without a 10x power magnification.

I returned back to the salon where I’d gotten my hair cut, and said, “Jessica, take it shorter”. She was resistent at first, but when she saw my new hoops, she gave me a super pixie.

Now, when I go places, the young men who previously ignored me, flirt and fawn. At Pep Boys earlier today, two cuties were both on the ground competing to be the one to explain the difference between a shock and a strut, and why I didn’t need any. I saw another straining to see if I was married. On one stop today, I was asked if I was 35, when I said 51, he said, “Wow, you must work out a lot”. I just smiled and replied that it was good genetics.

I’m the same 35 lbs overweight I was two weeks ago, and just as cellulite-ridden. It’s how I’m carrying myself. Somehow I’ve got my mojo working.  All because of my $1 hoop earrings.

\”Got My Mojo Working\” Muddy Waters and Friends

When a Mother Stops Being Mom

When I was a little girl, my mother and I used to stay up very late most Friday nights to watch what were then referred to as horror films. Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi would come out from behind the curtain dripping with chocolate syrup. By today’s standards they were pretty tame, with the exception of the Hitchock films that were sure to frighten me with their realism. Even now, when I see birds gathered on a wire, I shudder.

Our other shared passion was musicals. Songs from South Pacific were sung to my own daughter during bath time. Maria, as a modern day Juliet, was so beautiful and tragic in West Side Story. And, the ultimate for me, Fiddler on the Roof. I knew every word to every song, complete with dialogue spoken mid-song. In retrospect, I’m not sure if, as the youngest child, I developed my love for this American artform because it gave me a chance to spend time with my mother, Regardless, it continues until this day. I’ve been known to break out into song on more than one occasion if the appropriate song pops into my head. However, this I get from my father. Unfortunately, I don’t sing nearly as well as those around me wish I did.

I bring all of this up because during these formative movie-watching years there was one song in one film that made a particularly strong impression on me. The first time I remember seeing White Christmas, I was about eight years old. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Irving Berlin, were a trinity for great entertainment. The song that the plot is really built around, is “What Can You Do With A General” Two army buddies end up in Vermont to see two young ladies, only to find that their former commander, who is the innkeeper, is about to go bankrupt.

What Can You Do With a General?

This song has played over and over in my head through the years, and I’ve often applied its principle to other roles and situations. Just as the General found he was no longer of value once his role in the war was through, what do we do with mothers when they are no longer moms?

There are many reasons why a mother may lose her children. We’re fighting two wars at the moment, and young men and women die on the battlefield leaving behind grieving mothers. The streets of many US cities may as well be behind enemy lines with gang warfare taking the lives of approximately 15,000 people each year. There are young people playing Russian Roulette with drugs and alcohol, and their luck simply runs out.Then there are the horrible accidents and diseases that take children and young adults, leaving behind mothers devastated by their loss. These mothers experience a grief that only another who has gone through it can fully understand, yet they are still mothers, respected by the world as moms.

And, then there is the loss that hurts in a way that few can understand. There is no Hallmark card for it. There is no date to mark on a calendar, or grave to set flowers. There is the grief of estrangement. For these mothers, whose children have turned away from them, it is an entirely different sort of pain because there is no societal role for them. Much as the General was unemployable after the war, what do you do with a mother whose child doesn’t want her to be a mom? Who has fired her?

When I was twenty years old, my husband died, leaving me and our ten week old baby. People assumed I was either an unwed mother or divorced. It was a natural mistake considering my young age. However, it was very important to me that people understood that I had done it right. I had gotten married, then pregnant. That my husband had not chosen to leave me, but that circumstances beyond his control – death – had separated him from me and our daughter. Over the years, friends who were going through difficult divorces would tell me that I had it easier than them because my husband hadn’t rejected me, nor had our marriage been a failure, but simply fate had interfered with our happily ever after.

This is very much how I view the mothers of estranged children. They are in the throes of messy divorces, with all the baggage that’s carried along with them. But, they are still mothers, and this is where the similarity ends. From the research I have done, most have agreed that nothing would make them happier than to once again be engaged in their children’s lives. Maybe the roles would be slightly different, and the rules would change, but they long to hear in a familiar voice “Mom”.

For those of you who are struggling with this, there are resources out there. Mark Hundley, a therapist who specializes in grief and loss, has recently released the second edition to his book, Awaken to Good Mourning, which deals with the loss of a loved one, that can be applied in this situation very well. Also, here are a few online support groups that may be helpful. If you know of others, I ask that you please add them to the comments below.

http://www.eons.com/groups/group/parents-of-estranged-children

http://www.experienceproject.com/groups/Group-For-Parents-Of-Estranged-Children/195536

http://www.dailystrength.org/groups/parents-of-estranged-adult-children

http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/

You Can Quote Me

One of the goals of education is to train future Masters of the Universe how to think outside of the box. This is a skill that any second rate debater will tell you is mandatory if she is to have even the slightest chance of winning. For how can she overcome an objection if she doesn’t understand the other side’s point of view?

When I was attending University North Texas, my political science professors would frequently assign a topic knowing full well that it was diabolically opposed to the beliefs of a particular student. Imagine a pro-life student arguing the merits of choice [this is a fictitious example added for illustration purposes only].

I was attending undergraduate school during the Reagan and Bush years, so when I was asked to write a semester long paper as a member of Reagan’s Security Council, I decided that I needed to find a way to slip a bit of myself into this artifice. My solution was to insert a sheet of paper in front of each chapter with a carefully researched quote that spoke to my true beliefs on the contents without being so obvious that I undermined the assignment. Alas, I was desperate to hang on to my GPA. This worked for me when I had to convince the class that Robert Bork should be confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1987, and again when I was asked to deny aid to Ortega in Nicaragua.

Over and over I did this. A geology professor gave me an assignment about a rock once. A quote appeared on the cover page. Economics? The biggest problem there was which quote to choose.

This went on through my years as an academic, and continued through my years as a political consultant, and after I entered the corporate world. When email became the standard communication tool, I added an automated quote to my signature line. There was, of course, a different one for my private account. For those who were my friends and colleagues during my working years, they would often chuckle, as one one was a bit of a laugh at the other.

Fortunately for me,  my relationship with one of my favorite professors, Dr. Frank Feigert has continued through the years as well. He, too has brilliant quotes on his signature lines, and we (likely it’s more me) have a bit of a mutual admiration as to whose quote can more effectively take the complexities of the day and sum them up in a single sentence. For, after all, isn’t that really what we want a quote to do? Take our hopes our dreams, our frustrations, our faith, and reduce them to a bumper sticker?

I am no longer an academic, no longer a political strategist, no longer a corporate mover and shaker. No, I’m none of those things. Yet, the events that are occurring  in this country by groups calling themselves Teabaggers, that are loosely aligned with the GOP, have me reaching for my book of quotes to wrap a clean crisp piece of typing paper around them with the following words:

“Zeal is fit only for the wise but is found mostly in fools”

– Proverbs

Oh, and Dr. Feigert’s quote, which I couldn’t come close to topping:

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
– Robert Heinlein


This Is It! Reviewed

When We Saw It! asked me if I would like to write a review of the film, This is It! I was thrilled, but not for the reasons you may expect. Not because I think of myself, in anyway qualified to critique a documentary film for it’s cinematography, editing, directorial skill, or sound engineering. Nor am I in any position to decide whether you should or shouldn’t go to see this film. Instead, it had everything to do with the 46 years I have spent as a die hard Michael Jackson fan.

While watching This is It! I found myself experiencing the same sensation I have when seeing a film for the second time, knowing the ending, but somehow hoping that this time the villain will be caught early enough that the good guy lives. Unfortunately, no matter how many times I see it, the ending never changes. That’s just not the way life works. At the end of This is It! Michael Jackson is still gone.

As a small girl, I watched the Jackson 5, and wished I could sing and dance like Michael. He was so cool, so smooth. The way he would spin around and dip his hat like a grown-up in a little boy’s body was incredible. MJ, as Michael was later often known, was only six months older than me, yet he was light years ahead of me in cool. He was my first crush. Sitting on the floor watching him perform “ABC” and “I’ll Be There” while his older brothers backed him upwas amazing. This is it! captured some of that magic.

When This is It! came out in theaters I was unable to see it for reasons that are irrelevant, but I was determined to watch it when I had access to a quality sound system coupled with a good screen, and not on my laptop. That opportunity finally came, and I brought the DVD to a friend’s home who has 5.1 surround sound and a 48” screen. After dimming the room lights, and adjusting the volume, I was ready for the performance of a lifetime. MJ had never let me down.

First, the dancers who were selected for the tour were highlighted. They choked up as they described their reactions to getting news of their selection. They understood that not only was this a huge career opportunity. It was also the chance to work with a legend, and a great artist. Once again, I was left with a sadness, knowing the inevitable outcome to the story. What had each of these young people risked to come to this tour? To get so close to something, and then a phone call ended it all. Were they able to use this as a platform to find other work? I also wondered if they had known that this was going to be Michael Jackson’s final rehearsal, would they have dressed better that day? Would they have put on lipstick?

Michael was a teacher. His ear for music; his instinct for what would move his audience; his sense of rhythm were his gifts to his students – and he gave them freely. He respectfully encouraged and pushed his dancers and musicians. There was one young woman in particular, a lead guitar soloist, who was not hamming it up enough. MJ kept telling her that this was her time to shine. When she eventually got what he was telling her, she was remarkable. That gift will stay with her forever.

In one scene, Michael pauses right before the big crescendo at the end, and says to someone off camera in explanation of why he is singing the way he is, “I’m saving my voice”, and I almost started to cry. He then sang the ending beautifully, but not in the way I know he would have if he had known he was doing it for his fans. And, that is really what I would have to say about much of the music in the film. I loved every second of it, but I wanted him to belt out every song as if he were doing it for the last time – and he knew it!

Are All Friends Alike?

ENB Dallas 2009

My father always said that if, at the end of our lives we could honestly say that we had one friend, we would die rich.  That the word friend was not one to be used lightly. When I came home from school, and said my new friend this or my new friend that, he’d correct me, telling me that until our relationship had grown into something significant, we were simply acquaintances.  Like the bumper sticker reads, “A friends will help you move, a real friend will help you move a body”, we were never to take friendship for granted.

In this age of short tenure employment, neighborhood turnover, and Social Media, does friendship really mean the same thing today as it did in my father’s day? Let’s face it, the days of the gold watch and living next door to the same family for 30 years are the exception in 2010. Families are geographically dispersed, dependent more and more upon the Internet to communicate. Friendships from our youth are being rekindled through Social Media. Some of these so-called friendships fit more closely into the category my father referred to as acquaintance, and would have been better served remaining in the past. But, that’s another story.  Facebook has become the new calling card; Skype brings you right into people’s living rooms – and bedrooms; and Twitter has made everyone a cross between Tom Brokaw and Dr. Phil, with a little Joan Rivers thrown in.

At one point, I would have written that Social Media friends are the same as real life ones. The people who have come into my life as a result of social media are fascinating, enriching, and from a wide range of socio-economic levels and geographic regions. I have laughed, learned and commiserated with men and women whose faces I have no way of knowing are really accurately portrayed in their avatars. We’ve debated health care, marriage equality, global warming, you name it. I’ve learned of their illnesses, and felt real emotional distress as I worried waiting for test results. Waited for that tweet with news. Social media has made the world very small.

On more than one occasion people have disappeared. As suddenly as they appeared in my life, they were gone.  Once, the Twitter account was suspended without explanation, and since I really had no solid way of knowing if the person I was friends with was who she said she was, there was no way to track her down. When someone’s avatar is a an ethereal image or a cartoon, or even a face, how do we REALLY know it is them?  In the case of another friend, the updates just stopped. Nothing.  After months of nightly discussions on the most challenging of topics, sharing our love of Pearl Jam, music trivia, all I heard was crickets.

Today, I went to contact a friend, and noticed that she had unfriended me. That I was no longer her ‘friend’ on Facebook. This saddened me a bit because I never wish to be on the outs with anyone. However, at this stage of life I’m not really concerned about popularity either. The big difference here is if we were really friends, by my father’s definition, I would have picked up the phone and called her. In fact, if we were real life friends, she would have called me if there were a problem. That’s what friends do.

Because I travel full time, I’ve had the opportunity to meet dozens of people in real life (IRL) who I had first encountered through social media. There is no question that the ante is raised once we meet, shake hands, hug each other, share a meal, really laugh out loud (LOL) together. The same way I met my husband through Social Media, in this case, Match.com, the guy he was in his profile was great, but the warm, loving man he was (is) in person was so much more.

Yes, social media is a great door opener for meeting people, learning, sharing, rallying causes. But, just as Internet sex doesn’t replace lovemaking, and Zhuzhu’s don’t replace man’s best friend, Internet friends won’t be the ones you call when your car breaks down, they’ll be the ones you tweet about it.  And, the picture? This was taken in November 2009 in Dallas, TX when a group of us who had met on Twitter got together for the premier of Men Who Stare at Goats. I had met Mark Hundley @MarkHundley, Jamie Inman @ibeatcancrtwice, Jessica Moore @inspiremedaisy, Scott Whitelaw @lifecruise,  and Karen Brown @Toadjumps on Twitter, and the friendship Stewart and I have with these people after meeting in person is much richer than before. There’s just no getting around what happens when two dimensions become three.

Welcome to the Cape, Where Upper Is Lower

You’re wondering why there is a picture of Rosy the Riveter here. Seems like every time you turn around, someone is using Rosy’s image for one cause or another. I will get to why the old gal’s here shortly.  In the meantime, let’s get caught up from where we left off. Last time I updated this blog, Stewart and I were breaking bread in our Nation’s capital with our friend Ali Holden.  As much as we would have enjoyed lingering for a few days, taking in the sights and sounds of Washington, D.C., we were still on our quest for cool weather.  With Peregrine in tow, we were on a mission. Sweater weather or bust!

Amish Farm

The drive through the Northeast is beautiful. We decided to take a roundabout route to Cape Cod in order to avoid driving through New York City.  The interstate highway system is great when you’re in a hurry to get from A to Z. However, we wanted to see as much as we could on our way to the coast.  Plus, our only real deadline was fireworks in Provincetown, MA by Fourth of July.  So, once we drove through Baltimore, MD, we detoured towards Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and Amish country. How beautiful everything looked in late June! The fields were burgeoning with corn, hay and other vegetables.  Families worked together as horse drawn buggies rolled by with their reflective  triangles attached to the back – the one concession to modern road hazards.  I’m not going to get into whether I agree or disagree with the Amish lifestyle here, as I grew up among the Lubavitch, a branch of Chasidic Jews, which is also beautiful and full of old ways that seem quite foreign to the casual observer. The Amish have simply chosen to follow their faith, and the do’s and don’ts of the Anabaptist tradition. One of those traditions among the Old Order Amish is not having their pictures taken. Do you think this stopped Stewart from trying to capture their graven images on his iPhone? Not for a second.  You should have heard him. “Quick, get a picture of that family in the buggy!” And, “Hurry, the kids are facing you, get ’em!”.  I thought I’d have to lock him in Peregrine until we got out of Pennsylvania. You can only imagine his reaction as we passed through Intercourse!

Tourists by, Chaim Gross

Cape Cod had been our destination for Fourth of July since we started our adventure on the road. Over and over (to Stewart’s chagrin) I had made my desires known that no matter where we were on the 3rd and the 5th of July, I was spending the 4th in Provincetown, MA.  There is an energy there that is hard to match anywhere else. It is the busiest time of year to travel to, and be in Ptown, as others seem to have figured this out as well, but I didn’t care.  I wanted the excitement of fireworks over the water. For those of you who regularly follow our adventures, you know there’s a hiccup in here somewhere. This time is no exception. I let Stewart make the reservations. Yes, you would think I would have learned after “Bug Island” (See Tale of Four Cities), but between the countryside of Pennsylvania and the sea grasses of the Cape, I was flat on my back in Connecticut. With July rapidly approaching, and me unable to sit up, I asked Stewart to see if he could find us a great campsite for a month on the Cape. In fairness to him, the deer in the headlights look that this request was met with was borderline pitiful. My back trumped his discomfort, and off to explore the internet he went. Two days later (!) he returned to the topic of our accommodations, all excited because he had found us a place at a campground that was so friendly that they didn’t even require a credit card in advance to reserve a spot. Normally, I would have been extremely suspicious, but this time I was so relieved to know we had a place to stay that I convinced myself that these folks were just trusting, and that Stewart had developed sufficient rapport with them over the phone that they didn’t want to insult him by asking for money. Travel day arrived, and off we went.  Pulling Peregrine behind us, with Jeffrey and Emma painting the rear windows with their noses, we navigated our way down Hwy 6 over the bridge that connects The Cape with the rest of Massachusetts. Traffic was fairly heavy, but we had a spot booked, so we were good to go. We made our way to  Bass River Trailer Park in South Yarmouth, MA. As we turned onto Willow Street, my heart sank, and panic began to set in.  We looked like the first arrivals since the 1970’s.  The place was a dump. There was no way I was staying there. Needless to say, it became perfectly clear why no deposit was required. “Don’t let them see us!” I exclaimed, “Quickly, drive to the corner and turn right!”

The Placemat

Immediately, I got on Twitter and, in 140 characters, explained our predicament. For months, I had been tweeting with people about coming here. Within minutes, the tweets came in with suggestions of places to go for the night, and for alternative campsites. This was the beginning of the busiest weekend of the year, and we had no reservations.  We found a hotel nearby where we stayed for the night to regroup. I plugged in my laptop, and within 15 minutes had us booked for three weeks at Shady Knoll in Brewster, MA.

Once that was all settled, we went exploring, and found a fabulous restaurant, The Riverway Lobster House, that had just opened its Bass River location that night.  Dinner had the expected opening night hiccups, but the friendliness of the staff, and the quality of the food more than made up for it. Any seafood restaurant that has cioppino on its menu gets a gold star in my book. Shady Knoll was beautiful. Our first three nights there, we were nestled in the trees, hidden away from everyone. Unfortunately, the site was promised to someone else for the holiday weekend, so we were forced to move. It worked out fine, because our next spot was bigger, and somewhat closer to the rest rooms. We were still rustic, as Shady Knolls has beautiful trees, and dirt paths with varied levels so no one is actually right next to anyone else. The flipside to this, is nightly I found myself wandering into someone else’s campsite – even with the aid of a headlamp. My suggestion at the camp office of the occasional reflector on  the odd tree or two was met with a knowing smile and a “no”. One of the best parts of our stay here in Brewster was the weather. We had finally found the sweater weather we’d been chasing. It was heaven – sweatshirts and flipflops.  It was very important that we made the most of our time here, so quickly, we fell into a bit of a routine – a vagabond’s version.

Jeffrey and Emma Looking for the Kennedys

Most of the beaches are off-limits to dogs (Cape Cod Friendly Beaches) , but after 5:00 pm, they are welcome in most places. In fact, the Cape is a very dog-friendly place, period. Each day, we would go about our business separately, then as the clock crept towards 6:00, we’d gather food, and head towards a different beach – preferably on the west side – to play with Jeffrey and Emma, eat, read, and see the sunset on the water.  Though it was high season on the Cape, the beaches were remarkably deserted. The homes that face these beaches are lovely, and over and over I found my favorite.  For those of you who have read or watched John Irving’s, The World According to Garp , I want Jenny Field’s house. After the sunset, the wind really picked up, and it got quite chilly on the beach. Off we’d head back to Peregrine for a campfire and some music, courtesy of Stewart.  I found some really nice roasting skewers at the camp store, and after much practice, mastered the perfectly browned marshmallow specimen. Stewart has informed me it is un-American, but personally, I feel eating a s’more is like eating cardboard with a hot mess trying to pour out of its center.

Waiting for Godot

One of the highlights of Cape Cod for me was the chance to eat fresh clam chowder on a daily basis. Each place claims the best on the Cape, and I made it my mission to see who was right. It will take another season for me to tell for sure, but so far the rule of thumb is the simpler the food stand, the better the chowder. That goes for the fresh crab as well. There’s something about sitting on wooden benches roadside eating out of plastic baskets that just feels right. If I was anywhere else, it would never happen. One place we liked in Brewster, Kate’s Seafood, serves really good lobster rolls. It’s not the place for fine dining, but then that’s not what this paragraph is about anyway.

Which brings me to the topic of ice cream. I’ve never seen anything like it. If you recall in my post on Nashville I mentioned the city’s affection for cupcakes. Well, Cape Cod and ice cream have something going on. Everywhere I turned was another stand enticing me to go over to the dark side of caloric, artery-clogging heaven.  I’ll mention one I visited on a couple (few!) occasions, Friendly Ice Cream in Falmouth. The “Create Your Own Sundae” feature is so much fun. Our server was very patient as I vacillated back and forth between the Heath, butter pecan, Butterfinger… you get the idea. The Mint Cookie Crunch is ridiculous! Here is a quasi-official tour map of the ice cream locales on the Cape.

Roger's old place

We made our way to Woods Hole at the recommendation of Roger Hjulstrom (@Booksbelow), who had previously worked and lived there. The village life ebbs and flows with the sea – the marine life, Oceanography Institute. Even the only road through town comes to a stop as boats pass under, and the bridge lifts the sidewalks into the air.  There weren’t many options for us to eat with Jeffrey and Emma, and Massachusetts has a law against sidewalk cafes without some sort of fencing or enclosure (no, I am not digging up the link for this), and we couldn’t find any that were dog-friendly. Fortunately, there was a very nice and tasty restaurant that was willing to sell us lunch to go, and then let us eat it outside on their tables. Fishmonger Cafe was reasonably priced and delicious. I took a break from my beloved clam chowder, and went with vegetarian black

Ocean ABC's

bean chili, which was one of the day’s specials. When I tweeted with Roger later that day, he informed me that I had managed to photograph Stewart and Jeffrey right in front of his previous home. Now, anywhere else this would have been amazing. In Woods Hole, Mass, population 925, the odds were fairly high we would pass by his house.

While at the Oceanography Institute gift shop, I took a picture of a t-shirt, and emailed it to a friend of mine, Elizabeth Williams Bushey, who happens to be an extremely talented children’s author and musician (among her many, many talents). In that email, I challenged her to come up with a musical accompaniment for the shirt. As anyone who knows Elizabeth will tell you, I was not surprised when within 24 hours I had a link to the Water ABC song.  Here is a link to Elizabeth’s award-winning site, Inkless Tales. If you have children or grandchildren, or if you just haven’t grown up, you’ll enjoy navigating this smorgasbord of fun delights.

Listen to the Water ABC song here.

My good friend, Karen Brown (@toadjumps) likes to think I’m a bit of a hippie, so to make her happy I went out and bought myself a tie-dyed dress that can be seen in this YouTube video if you have the patience to watch until the end INSIDE PEREGRINE. The other thing about this video is it was my first attempt with my 3GS, and it is a full tour of Peregrine.  I hope you enjoy it – and it doesn’t make you too dizzy. I’m still working on my videography skills, however, I have started using a Flip Ultra HD.

Cape Cod

One of the first people I met when new to Twitter was Diana E Jennings (@DianaEJ). Diana was a real life NASA scientist. Because Bush thought money was better spent on things like bombs and fences. many important science-related (not W’s best subject) jobs were cut, so now Diana has been forced to change fields. As any over-achieving,  brilliant woman would do, Diana has risen to the occasion, and is thriving in her new challenge as Director of Regional Outreach at Bridgewater State College But, that’s another article.  Like most of the

Diana, Alison and Zoe

people I have met through Social Media, I cannot for the life of me recall how we first crossed paths. Did I start following Diana one day, or was it the other way around? For the first months we interacted it was primarily in direct messages back and forth. Diana was quite private – back then – and rarely sent tweets out into the public stream. I, on the other hand, tweet about almost everything in public. The irony of this is in the real world, I’m the one who is more of a private person, and Diana is more extroverted. Anyway, back to the main point. Diana lives on the Cape, and we were finally going to meet IRL, or in real life. Her daughter, Alison was coming with her to see me, and to see Peregrine. Now, to a 15 year old, the idea of living in an aluminum teardrop rimmed in bright orange traveling the open road with no set destination or timetable, no rules or boundaries except those I impose upon myselves must seem just about as romantic as life can get. Jack Kerouac, a fellow Massachusetts native, had nothing on this gal – rambling around the country, blogging of her adventures as she pens her memoirs. Her husband, a musician, composes his music while her two dogs play blissfully. Oh Jeez, who could live up to that? Instead, Ali got a middle-aged woman (me), a bowl of nuts and an afternoon of great conversation thanks to HER fantastic tales of travels to the rain forest. We had such a wonderful time, and I’m really looking forward to spending more time with them when we’re back on the Cape this summer.

And, now this brings me around to the story of Rosy the Riveter, and how the iconic lady ended up at the top of my piece on Cape Cod.  While Sitting over a cup of my ‘special’ tea, I said something about going “up to Provincetown” at the weekend. Upon hearing my geographical faux pax, Diana, in her no nonsense New England way, pushed up her sleeve, pumped up her bicep, and proceeded to explain to me that just as her fist was higher at the moment, it was also a fact that her hand was lower than her shoulder. Cape Cod very much resembles a bicep curl – much like Rosy’s

Scott's treat

One final thing I would like to mention before closing. From time to time, people have asked me to keep an eye out for various hard to find items. Sometimes they are looking for a type of yarn that can only be found in a special area, or in one woman’s case she wanted me to head to Hartford, CT to flip her former employer’s world headquarter’s the bird (I did, and have pictures to prove it). When Scott Whitelaw @lifecruise read that I was on the Cape, he wrote to me asking that I keep an eye out for barley candy. So, as we passed through village after village, I kept my eyes open for a confectioner. Sure enough, on the way back from Wood’s Hole I saw one with lobster lolipops in the window.  Stewart drove around the block, while I ran in and bought Scott his childhood treat from a beloved auntie. He was so excited when he went to his mailbox in Houston, TX and found it there. A few months later, I got the chance to meet Scott when were in Dallas for the #ENB tweetup. But, that’s another story.