Tag Archives: Mara Gordon

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.

Chasing Good Weather

Last time I did an actual travel blog was way back at the end of May. It seems like forever. Since then, Stewart and I have slept in so many states I have to look at my credit card bill to recall them all. Instead of listing a bunch of places, I will do a few quick travelogues with an explanation of how this quick exodus came to pass, and publish it in a few separate posts. Sorry Uncle Rex.

We were HOT! That’s right. It was HOT in Texas in June. Who knew? As we were packing up to leave for Austin then San Antonio, Stewart took a look at the Weather Channel, and it showed temperatures over 100 degrees for the week. We looked at each other, and immediately reached the same conclusion. We don’t have to endure oppressive weather EVER AGAIN. We sat down at Nancy McClellan’s kitchen table and figured out where the weather was cool and rainy. Cape Cod beckoned, but first a few stops along the way. The next day we turned our wheels towards Hot Springs, AR.

An important note that I need to mention is that I have lost almost a years worth of notes, and will be recreating the summer from above mentioned credit card records, the pictures that I was able to retrieve, and Stewart’s and my middle-aged memories. The big lesson here for me is not to let so much time go between posts so that I’m called upon for such super-human feats.

Ever since Stewart and I met, I’ve been telling him stories about my many huge crystals of varying shapes that were scattered throughout our homes, teasing him with the possibilities, the hidden treasures buried in the red clay earth. For days after we arrived in Hot Springs, Stewart scoured the local brochures and Internet sites looking for information and tips as to the best place to go for the primo crystal specimen. When he finally decided upon the perfect place to go, stocked up on the right equipment, was rubbed down with SPF 70, and on the road, he couldn’t find it. By the time we got there, they were closing in an hour, so we made plans to return the following day. At least we knew where it was. That night it rained. For those of you who are not familiar with the particular quality of Arkansas summer humidity, I’ll try my best to describe it. It’s somewhere between a swamp and well, a swamp. Having experienced a crystal dig in an Arkansas summer during my 20’s and 30’s, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy the day after a downpour at 50, but off I went to support Stewart on his quest. The heavily tie-dyed couple with the matching waist-length ponytails who showed us where to dig explained to us that the clay-like dirt had the consistency of peanut butter. What they failed to add was peanut butter that had been left out in the blazing sun after a thunderstorm. Oh, what fun! Within minutes, no, seconds we were filthy. I hung in there about an hour, and went and interviewed hippie couple, while Stewart lasted about six.

After all the cuts were washed and tended, the crystals soaked, and clothes disposed of properly, we had a handful of decent crystals. None are museum quality, but a lot has changed in the years since I dug the hills around Jessieville.  Mine owners have gotten greedy, fewer mines are still active, and it’s important that customers read the fine print before handing over their money. You may dig all day just to find out at days end that you have to hand it all over to the mine! Fortunately, we knew what to avoid.

After leaving Hot Springs, we headed over to Nashville, TN for a few days in Music City. There is so much to do in this beautiful place. We spent one entire afternoon until they kicked us out at closing at the Country Music Hall of Fame. There was so much history, so many facts we didn’t know.  For example neither of us knew that country music came out of the immigrant populations from Europe as a way of keeping story telling alive. Also the slaves made enormous contributions to country music. The term hillbilly was used favorably for a long time, and was only replaced with folk after being seen as derogatory. So, does that make Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell hillbilly singers?

One evening, we ventured over to B.B. Kings for some live blues. Bart Walker and the Blues Revival were awesome! They played “Why”, and it was clear they are going to be huge. Listen for yourself. Bart Walker and the Blues Revival \”Why\”

After closing down B.B. Kings, we headed over to Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar for some late night blues. It was open mike night for some up and coming talent. We got there on the tail end, but still caught some promising acts before heading back to our hotel for a few hours of sleep.

There are a few places that are must stops in Nashville for good old fashioned eats. We were determined to do our best to hit as many of these while there, as always. This time, we had the added challenge of Nashville’s infamous cupcake locations (I don’t know why I even bother to buy clothes anymore. I may as well just say the hell with it and buy muu muu’s!) to fit into our adventure. One place we made a point of hitting was Loveless Cafe’ (Fran Dean @TravelTweetie and Darren Reeves @SuperDad_08). Loveless started out as a stop for travelers on Hwy 100 back in the early 1950’s serving fried chicken and biscuits off picnic tables next to the small motel. Not a lot has changed, except they have added mail order, catering, and a store. I should also add they sell bacon soaked popcorn. Don’t ask! The menu is also quite a bit more extensive. The caramel sweet potatoes should have a warning sign, “EAT AT YOUR OWN RISK”, as they are addictive. Stewart and I started out sharing the veggies, and ended up with a fork fight over who really ordered which ones. I got the sweet potatoes; he got the fried okra!

The must breakfast stop in Nashville is Pancake Pantry. Hop Hopkins raved so highly about this place, Stewart and I delayed our plans to leave town in order to try their pancakes. The only hitch was we were, well, hitched. Peregrine was all ready to go, and Jeffrey and Emma were in the back seat ready to hit the open road. Pancake Pantry is in the middle of the college area, which means in a heavily trafficked, no parking area. After driving around in the sweltering summer heat and humidity, we decided the only logical option was to eat in shifts. First, I went in and ordered both of our food along with a large cup of coffee to go for Stewart, while he stayed outside in the shade with the dogs. I quickly ate, while they made his food. Just about the time I finished eating, his food was ready. Only glitch was, I couldn’t find Stewart. He was nowhere to be found. Gone. Finally, just as they finished boxing up his food, in walks the Prodigal Husband. Since we already had the makings of a picnic, we decided to move out to the trees nearby, where he ate his pancakes alfresco.

The only cupcake place we were able to make was GiGi’s Cupcakes, and sadly (gratefully?) it was only mediocre. It turns out wasn’t even on the cupcake tour. The shop specialty, Apple Spice & Everything Nice, was delicious, but the other flavours were really nothing special – certainly not worth the added calories. As we headed northwest towards Cape Cod we meandered through Virginia, and I saw a sign for the Natural Bridge. It looked interesting, and since this adventure is all about being spontaneous, we took the exit off the interstate, and couldn’t for the life of us find the turnoff for the attraction. When we finally did find it, it was just in time to see it in the
rear view mirror. I saw the building leading into it, though. Does that count? Here’s a picture I found on the Internet of what we would have seen if we hadn’t missed it. Never ones to be bummed for more than split second, we decided to explore the surrounding countryside, and skip the interstate for the rest of the trip northeast. Why hurry through generic roads when there was so much of America to be seen on its back roads? Who knew that what we had in store for us was one of the most beautiful drives this country has to offer – the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), followed by the Skyline Drive. The BRP connects Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It actually stretches much further than we drove it, but can be entered at several spots en route. Skyline Drive took us through the remainder of Shenandoah National Park, and surprisingly we ended up in Virginia right outside of Washington, D.C. This was some of the most pristine park lands we had encountered on our journey to date. We stopped in the road as we watched a young bear cub walk leisurely across the road only to stop at the edge of the woods to observe us. We saw so many deer that day it would have been easy to have grown blase’ if they weren’t so magnificent. The four-legged creatures we encountered clearly outnumbered the two-legged variety. The Parks Service makes it inexpensive to camp overnight, but not easy, so it is not for the casual RV crowd. It is more suited to the hiker who carries his bedroll on his back. We stopped along the way shortly before reaching the end to watch the sunset over the valley below us. We met a hiker from the area who told us about a group of local musicians who met weekly at a little coffee shop. He said we were welcome to come. He’d be there with his banjo and there would be a mandolin, plus other assorted instruments making up the little bluegrass ensemble. As good as the offer sounded, we decided to keep moving.

Most people are not aware that the US capital was designed by a Frenchman named Pierre Charles L’Enfant.  The reason I mention this at this particular juncture is that we made the decision to briefly detour through Washington, DC so that we could see our friend, Ali Holden, who was recovering from a serious car accident.  We had already been traveling all day, pulling Peregrine, and now were faced with a rendezvous at an Irish pub in Arlington, VA. L’Enfant was a brilliant civil engineer, but the capital has grown around his design in a way that is not easily navigated by a wide-eyed rubber-necking country boy from Lodi, CA who’s never seen the Pentagon or the Washington Monument or the White House or the Capitol… you get my point. We drove those circles round and round and round until I safely talked him to a safe spot and took over the driving.  We drove into Arlington and met up for fish and chips, with Jeffrey and Emma the stars of the Capital Hill crowd for the night.

I promise to write more soon. Promise.