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Friday, July 31, 2009

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Destiny and The Hand Dealt


On our last night in Newfoundland, my eldest son broke all our hearts by beginning to cry, hard. Tears running down my own face, I held him tight, told him what his blood already knows: it's a special place.

"It's always hard to leave," I told him. "It never gets easier."

I kissed his salty hair, unwashed in who knows how many days, cupped his face in my hands and looked deep into his eyes. Crying makes them greener, like my own.

I smiled.

"It's hard," I repeated. "But I can never be sorry I left this place, because when I left it, I met you."

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

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Bad Weather


In a roadtrip of one month and 5,000 miles, a little rain is bound to fall. After an enchanting morning in the walled city of old Quebec, we returned to our hotel to discover that our van, valet parked the night before, had been broken into, ransacked and robbed. Apart from the damages to the door handles and window, the thieves got away with little: our new dvd player and my shuffle ipod. After leaving our passports in the glove compartment for three weeks, I had recently moved them to my purse, which, with our computers and other valuables, was with us in the hotel.

So, it could have been worse. But it could also have been a lot better. I'm not going to take up my precious creative space with a personal grievance, but for the Courtyard Marriott hotel manager, staff and corporate customer service representatives who seemed to have only one script to read from yesterday, an alternative is suggested on my review blog. Feel free to tweet it along.

As for the thieves, may you be damned to a hell where the road is endless, the kids are bored, and you are forced to play I Spy for all eternity.


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Thursday, July 23, 2009

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Return to Me


If you are going to stay away from home for four years, you have to come back long enough to shed your own strangeness. A week is only sufficient to remind you how much you've grown away from your roots. A nice place to visit, you think. But it's true what they say, you can't go home again. By week two, the place begins to feel less like an artifact, and more like a living place that exists independently of your own history. People live here, you realize. Out of choice. You chose differently. You wonder why and what if.

Somewhere after the third week, you come home. Every morning, you laugh at the three pairs of high heel shoes in your suitcase. Whose are those? What was she thinking? You walk around the corner to your sister's house in your flats, across a lane that descends at a 60 degree angle to the bay. Your hair is as wild as seaweed in a churning sea. The styling products you brought languish in your luggage, rendered useless by the salt air and wind. Forgotten words and phrases drift into your speech, roll off your tongue smooth as beach glass.

Last night I came back to Innisfree, the land my grandparents lived on, and where my parents had a cottage during my growing up years. The sign gives it another name now, and rental chalets stand in the old orchard. The cottage is gone, as is the house my grandfather died in. But the tall grass still grows in the upper meadow, the birches still stand, the hedge of wild roses still blooms. The river goes on and on, the ashes of my grandmother and father mingled in the silt beneath.

I know every root, branch and hollow as well as I know the lines of my own palm. I pressed my bare soles to the soil. Dug my fingers into the clay. I've come come back to you, I whispered through the birches. Come back to me.


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Saturday, July 18, 2009

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They must think I made this place up. Cousins seem to appear from behind every bush and rock. They see my last name on street signs and store fronts. Ancient, crackled photos are produced at every stop. This was your great-great-great uncle's ship. This was the house your grandfather was born in. None of them exist anymore. We go to museums where there was something real before. This was once a fortress. This, a fishing station. The lobster pots are a prop now. Inside, a tool for mending nets is displayed with a laminated plaque explaining how it worked. My grandfather's hands explained it to me a lifetime ago.







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Sunday, July 12, 2009

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The Class of 87 Turns Forty


(delivered to my senior class, Corner Brook, Newfoundland, July 11, 2009.)

A high school reunion is a time of reckoning. At some point during this midlife rite of passage--say, as you step out on the dance floor for an interpretive heavy metal dance solo, or as you scheme with your classmates to t.p. the houses of local alumni who are no-shows, you have to ask yourself the existential question, what am I doing here?

When I was in high school, I couldn’t wait to get away from it. Let’s be honest, I didn’t wait. I skipped classes most of my senior year, got my diploma, went to prom, and split. Like everyone here tonight, I grew up, and had a life. As I got older, those three years kept getting smaller. Cynicism about them in my twenties faded to indifference by my thirties. High school was a vanishing point in my rearview mirror, just a place I passed through in a hurry a long time ago.

Turning forty is another time of reckoning. The number is an arbitrary mile marker. Supposedly it represents the halfway point in life, but none of us knows how long--or strange--a trip this is. We have friends who didn’t make it this far. But judging by the horrified expressions of the twentysomethings who watched our takeover of their night club on Broadway last night, it’s fair to say the Class of ’87 is officially middle-aged. Yeah, We Shook You. All Night Long.

My birthday is a few months away, but mile four-oh is in sight. And as I approach it, I begin to sense that the road is curved. My thoughts circle back more often to my youth. I google names I haven’t thought of in years. I find myself listening to Journey songs. Non-ironically. Just a small town girl.

And though I would have said you were out of your mind had you predicted it twenty two years ago, my response to the first suggestion that we hold this reunion was a mighty Hell Yeah. I drove 2,500 miles for seven days in a minivan with three kids and my husband. Not to compare resumes, bank balances or hip circumferences. Not just to see my bffs. And not to keep my house from being tp’d some day. But to honor the place and time I came from, to embrace the people who knew me when, and to connect with the part of myself that is forever seventeen, no matter what the birthday card says.

And to laugh my ass off.

Thank you for being here. Happy fortieth.
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Monday, July 06, 2009

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And on the seventh day...


We made it.


And there was much rejoicing.


Road tales to come. In the meantime, check our photos in the right hand sidebar link to my flickr set.


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Thursday, July 02, 2009

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Mile Marker: Day 5

We crossed the border into Canada today, after overnight stops in Maryland, New York, and Maine. We've come through eleven states, three time zones, and nearly 2,000 miles, and still have two provinces and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to cross.

Here's a quick update on what's been working, and what's not:

Routine is our friend. We drive 8 hour days max, getting on and off the road about the same time most days. The kids know what to expect. I've built in short horizon lines, like a movie after lunch, and an ice cream stop late afternoon. The ice cream idea came from the same road wizard who told me to "swim their hinies off," and in my opinion, this woman needs to be consulted on the situation in Iraq. She'll have it all sorted out in no time.

Another invaluable tip from Bridget was to be sure to book hotels with indoor pools. "Huh?" I said, at the time, from my house in sunny and dry Arkansas. "OH!" I said, as we drove into rain all the way up the Appalachians and into New England. Genius.

Those daily swims--sometimes, after dark-- have been our salvation, I am convinced.

Something I wish I'd brought is a travel clothsline. I've had to roll wet swimsuits into towels and pack them more than once.

Another thing I'd take next time is a bigger road atlas, one that shows every highway interchange clearly. We have the coil-bound, medium Rand Mcnally, and there have been times we've had to second guess my Blackberry gps app, TelNav (we call her Clarisse), or the satellite craps out at a delicate juncture (Clarisse can get passive-aggressive). GPS is fantastic, and I can't imagine making a trek like this without it, but it's not infallible. In fact, today we analysed the atlas and overrode Clarisse for the last 60 miles through Maine, which ended up being a wise decision, though she cussed us out for a while.

Which brings me to another lesson learned: scenic byways are highly overrated. We've taken two detours off the Interstate--Rte 30 through Pennsylvania, and Rte 1 through Maine, and those are years of my life I will never get back. Wet, dreary years. Yes, we passed through a few charming villages and chuckled over the odd kooky bit of roadside Americana, but I'd rather have had more time at our destinations. On the way back, we'll be sticking to the Interstate.

The kids continue to amaze me with their patience and good humor. Several people suggested stocking up on games and activities from the dollar bin, and rationing them out as needed. The fact that Mom's bag of tricks is still quite full is a testament to how well they've been travelling. And it's not like they are zombies in front of a video screen all day--we have one movie per day, and just an hour or so of DS. Up in the cockpit, my co-pilot and I are enjoying their conversations and observations so much.

Lots more to come.

Sent from my BlackBerry Smartphone provided by Alltel


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