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View of mountain peaks from Curtis and Peggy’s back deck in the Applegate River Valley.

As I mentioned yesterday, I traveled to Southern Oregon to see Shakespeare in Ashland, but also to visit blogger Curtis Mekemson and his wife Peggy. Curtis writes a fabulous blog (and he’s a book author, too!) at Wandering Through Time and Place, and in the past years, Peggy has been a contributor. They’re clearly a team and we get to read all about their adventures in life on the blog.

Have you ever listened to someone complain about how people are all on their computers these days and losing touch with other human beings? And then did you compare it to your own experience of blogging and feel sorry for the complaining person because they haven’t met so many friendly, supportive, interesting, honest people that you have, ever since you started blogging? Well, that has been my experience.

The Mekemsons graciously welcomed me to their beautiful home in a beautiful part of the country. The moment Peggy spotted me she came over with arms open wide for a hug. I am touched and honored by their hospitality and friendship. Then I got to know them a little better and found out they are really cool people!! They have a thousand great stories to tell about their past lives and their great kids and grandkids, and what they’re involved in locally, and planned future blog posts, and planned future adventures. I can’t tell you how much fun I had.

After meeting in Medford for breakfast the first day, Curt joined me in the Jeep (Peggy had to run an errand in the Big City) and showed me how to get to their place. We got distracted by a covered bridge.

McKee Covered Bridge in the Upper Applegate Valley of southern Oregon.

Curt explained that the McKee Bridge was recently restored and is a landmark regarded with some pride in the community. We parked and walked through it. The bridge no longer covers an active road, and is only open for foot traffic. Built in 1917 (as you may have guessed) this bridge was closed in 1956 to vehicle traffic. It is one of the approximately 50 covered bridges remaining in the state of Oregon from a peak of about 450 bridges. The McKee Bridge is currently the 4th oldest in Oregon and the highest, at 45 feet above the water.

Boards mounted on the inside to help people control their graffiti tendencies.

Applegate River, 45 feet below us!

I’m always glad to explore covered bridges and happy that Oregon has so many of them.

They showed me where to put my things and I was happy to see that I got to share the room with my old friend Bone, who has been a world-traveler and companion to Curt for many years. Bone and I got to spend some time together a couple years ago, and he spent a week in Cherokee country with me, seeing the traditional sights, joining me to meet the Cherokee Chief, and then meeting Miss Cherokee and Miss Cherokee Junior. It was good to see him again.

Bone has a glamorous spot in the home. The box beneath him holds all his clothing and gear.

After a somewhat quick tour of their home, which is filled with art they have collected from all over the world (it’s SO beautiful), I had to go right back to the city to catch my first play. Ashland is south of Medford on I-5, and about an hour away from the Mekemson’s place. On the way I got distracted again and had to pull over to take photos.

Fields of hemp spread across the valley. These plants are taller than I am.

Hemp adds another shade of green; a great crop for this climate because it does not require a lot of water.

On the way in, Curt had explained to me how the hemp farms were booming. Hemp is a different plant than marijuana, but over the years, growers had failed to get permission to grow hemp as much as they had failed to legalize marijuana. Finally, with the legalization of marijuana, the hemp growers succeeded as well! There is so much anticipation that this is going to be a crop to make farmers wealthy, they are planting it everywhere. Curt said some growers ripped out their marijuana and planted hemp instead. In this section of the road, the scent of the plants rose up around me on all sides. I saw a guy digging a ditch and asked if I could take photographs. He said “Sure!” and told me that people stop at this farm all the time for photos.

The next morning was luxurious because our play wouldn’t start till the afternoon. We had a lazy morning filled with conversation and coffee and scones. I got a serious tour of their place, and I got to hear their concerns about the loss of many trees on their property. Years of drought has weakened the trees in the forest around them, so when the pine beetles come in and feed on them, the trees have a difficult time recovering. Some have died, and Curt and Peggy hired a crew to come in and remove the dead trees. It is sad to lose the trees, particularly the one up close to the deck that Peggy looked at all the time. Each time I arrived in their driveway, I had to move carefully to avoid the massive piles of brush and the growing stack of logs waiting to be hauled out on a log truck. Curt talks about it in detail in his blog.

Morning sun dries the wet deck and lifts the stratus fractus from the hills.

Looking the other direction at their peaceful patio.

Bloggers do what we do, and before long Curt and I were out in the living room, computers on our laps, preparing the next posts. He was working on a post about the remarkable Mono Lake, and I was working on a post about visiting Tara in Bend.

Curtis Mekemson in his “office” creating more bloggy goodness for us.

The next day began much the same, with luxurious relaxation and conversation. The logging and clearing continued on the property, and we could hear the chainsaws. Peggy contemplated the new view with a missing tree up by the deck. I got to meet some of their deer neighbors.

View from the house.

Fawn follows its momma. See her peeking through the railing?

Hi baby!

With no plays to see on my last day, we had a chance for a different kind of play. We decided to go for a hike to see a Bigfoot Trap! I had never heard of such a thing, and that’s because this is the only known Bigfoot trap in the world. Bigfoot is the common name for the Sasquatch, a tall, hairy, man-like beast that lives in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. It’s closest cousin is the Yeti. While we hiked, I told them my best Bigfoot story about when I was a kid and playing in the woods with the neighbor kids. Trying to show off and get attention like I always did, I lied and told them I saw a big hairy hand around a tree trunk. They believed me and marched us all directly back to their house and reported it to their parents, whom I did not know were avid Bigfoot enthusiasts. Parents got excited, grabbed their gear and insisted that I take them back to the precise spot and tell them exactly what I saw. Rather than confess, I continued the charade, feeling more embarrassed and miserable the whole time, building a deeper web of lies to cover my tracks. They didn’t find evidence of Bigfoot in the forest that day, and let us go back to playing. I never talked about Bigfoot again to those kids!

Bone came along with us on the hike. This is Curt and Bone at the trailhead.

A closeup of the trailhead shows that Bigfoot hunters are still excited about their quest.

It was a hot day but the trail is shady and cooled by a creek.

This banana slug on the trail appreciated the cool shade.

A group called North American Wildlife Research built the trap in 1974 as part of their goal of proving that Bigfoot exists. It was actively operated for six years, but sadly, they never caught Bigfoot. The trap was built strong and is still intact, though it has been repaired. Today is it not operational, and the moving gate is fixed in place to protect the many humans who come here to see it.

Curt takes a photo of the 10-foot square trap. I like the graffiti that says “Bigfoot was here.”

Despite our obvious fear of imprisonment, Peggy and I were brave enough to step inside.

We got back to the truck and decided to keep exploring the area around Applegate Lake. This country is breathtakingly beautiful and I was in no doubt about why, when this couple had explored the world, this was the place they chose to put down roots. For fun they took me to the California border. Out in the country, border crossings are a bit less formal than on the highways. The dirt and gravel road on the other side of Applegate Lake crosses the California border three times in a mile! There are campsites and swimming holes and no one pays attention to which state they’re in. Except maybe at the first crossing, where a little college rivalry showed up:

The paved road stops at the border. On the right side of the tree, the state of Oregon is celebrated, in the orange and black colors of Oregon State University. On the left side of the tree, yellow and gold is used to celebrate California, the same colors as University of California.

At this point we were famished and headed back home for a real meal. I was eager to make my yummy baking powder biscuits and we started planning our meal as we returned home. There were fresh tomatoes from the garden, eggs, some honey from my bees that I brought them. This was going to be good. First we stood back while delivery men showed up to install their new dishwasher.

Curt wears a Bigfoot T-shirt and Peggy checks out the new bells and whistles.

A table filled with delectables. We were all drooling by the time it was ready and we could sit and eat.

Before I left my friends, we took photos together. I posed with Curt in front of a gift of fabric given to him by another blogger. He was pleased to blend his online blogger community in the real life. Then he asked Peggy and me to pose together and I leaned my forehead against hers in affection at the same time that she reached for my hand. I felt loved.

Peggy rocks the purple!

What a perfect portrait to capture a sweet moment. These two are now so close to my heart. ❤

Set and audience for Hairspray, at the Oregon Shakespeare Theatre.

I enjoyed my time at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival so much last year that when I received an email this Spring offering discount early bird tickets, I pounced and bought five. It took me all summer to arrange a visit south, but I finally devised a quick trip with the assistance of a fellow blogger. I only had to drop a couple hints and Curtis extended the invitation as though I had not manipulated him at all! The end of August I made the 5 1/2 hour drive south to see some plays and to finally meet Curtis and Peggy Mekemson from Wandering Through Time and Place.

I met them at a Medford cafe for breakfast and they immediately put me at ease and made me feel welcomed. Curt is the third blogger I have met, and I must admit I have great luck and good taste. My blogger friends turn out to be truly wonderful people in real life. (Take note if you’re reading this, and pat yourself on the back for being so awesome.) We got through introductions and current events in no time, and then I followed them from the cafe to their rural home in some of the most beautiful country in Oregon. They live even farther out in the boonies than I do, so I wanted their help getting out there in case my GPS didn’t work. I got a tour of their beautiful home on their gorgeous property, which I will highlight in my next post.

Then I changed into play clothes, and zoomed back to Ashland.

The set rotated, so the audience was able to see multiple sides of the building.

Prior to my trip Curt and Peggy had raved about Hairspray, which they had already seen, so I saw that one first. They said to keep an eye out for something and that I might realize the truth about a character sooner than they did. I saw right away that the character of Tracy’s mom is played as a transgender woman (though I believe in real life the actor is not transgender), and I love that the relationship of Tracy’s parents was healthy and loving and supportive, and no one ever mentioned it was non-traditional, which helped me to invest more in it as a real relationship and not a gimmick. And then I realized it is the most inclusive cast I’ve ever seen. Jenna Bainbridge, for example, who was partially paralyzed as an infant, has an impressive acting career and plays Tracy’s best friend Penny. There are multiple characters with different abilities, such as Luke Hogan Laurenson who lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, and Zahra Detweiler who lives with Down Syndrome. These actors played parts in direct support of the story and their inclusion helped enforce Hairspray’s main message of tolerance. It’s not enough to say we welcome everyone, but we also have to act on it. There is a confrontation of body-shaming, of racism, of classism. And somehow, despite all those painful topics, the show is a riot of laughs from beginning to end (in between tears), with dancing to knock your socks off (Katy Geraghty as Tracy dances like nobody’s business), songs that rip your heart out, genuine characters, real love, and so much joy.

After the show I had hours to kill and decided to spend it in town. While inside the theatre it had begun to rain and although warm, the world was soaked. I wandered around gaining my bearings and found a sign on the Thomas Theatre that warmed my heart, and continued the message I had just heard at Hairspray.

Sign says: “We Welcome all races and ethnicities, all religions and creeds, all gender identities, all countries of origin, all sexual orientations, all immigrants and refugees, all abilities and disabilities, all spoken and signed languages, everyone.”

I wandered into town without an umbrella, while others were better prepared.

I found this mural along the main street.

I had a fabulous lunch with live music.

The rain stopped and I marveled at the landscapes outside of town.

I spent some time in the park with my feet in the water beneath the Atkinson Memorial Bridge 1912.

In that soggy grey day, I was startled to see this notice on the Elizabethan Theatre as I prepared to go to that evening’s play: change of venue due to wildfire.

Though I had noticed no evidence of wildfire and though it was raining, the venue for the play was not at the magnificent Elizabethan Theatre that I am dying to attend. I have not yet seen a play in that outdoor theatre. For air quality safety, during fire season they moved the play to the high school – that part I understand. But when there were no fires and no detectable smoke, why was it still at the high school? My guess is that the fire situation was unstable, and it’s probably a lot of work to move a whole production between venues. Until they know for sure the air is clear, I’ll bet it’s smarter not to move it back. I should have guessed that the high school in Ashland would have a phenomenal theatre.

The set was appealing but not comfortable. Kind of like the story.

All’s Well That Ends Well was well-acted, as I have come to expect at Ashland. It’s a tough story and grapples with the human conditions we all recognize: unrequited love, children that aren’t what we expect, missteps of youth, aging, missteps of mentoring – that kind of fun stuff. But with the Bard telling the story and the massive talent drawn to Ashland every year, it’s a story I was intrigued with. I was consistently irritated with Helen for clearly being better than Bertram and yet not having the self-assurance to rid him from her heart. (Reminds me a little of my own failed attempts at finding a man. I hope I have all Helen’s wit, strategy, and ability, but I hope I spend it on a man who deserves me.)

I drove back through the dark night to my very comfortable bed at the Mekemson’s home.

The next morning I enjoyed much great conversation and coffee and scones until it was time for us all to get ready to go. Curt and Peggy had agreed to attend the next show with me. We had decided on seeing Alice in Wonderland.

Pure melee ensued in the first half of Alice In Wonderland, and this is what the stage looked like at intermission. The debris is made up of feathers, broken pieces of teacup, balloons, and playing cards. Do you recognize the set? Yes, Alice was also held in the High School.

Alice In Wonderland took me back in time, actually, to what this show must have felt like many decades ago when it first astounded audiences in the 1930s. Turns out, that’s exactly what director Sara Bruner had in mind. I noticed how well the story followed the books: Alice in the first half, and Through the Looking Glass in the second. The program noted that every single line was in Lewis Carroll’s own words. My brain somersaulted through scenes, trying to make sense of it all, trying to use the white rabbit as a common theme, trying to find some greater message. But I was bewildered.

At intermission, Curt and Peggy and I gazed back and forth at each other in dumb astonishment for a few moments, finally saying something like, “Well, that was something!” Curt suggested that maybe it would be best viewed on LSD – none of us knowing anyone on LSD we could ask about that. We chatted until the second half began, all telling ourselves good advice on how best to approach the second half. I was unable to follow the advice (just like the story’s heroine), and found myself mouth-open in dumbfounded perplexity. It is a dazzling show! The adventure is undeniable, and I truly wish I could try again to watch it properly. I think one should watch this performance with the mind of a 8 year old child: open, curious, willing and wanting to believe – without cynicism or criticism or vetting. Nothing at all seemed to match, or tell a story, or relate to any other events. Sometimes characters showed up again, and it was not relevant. There was no message, no lesson, no caution, no celebration – just pure entertainment for entertainment’s sake, and it is wonderful. It is really the stuff of fantastical dreams from the mind of a child. The creativity, artistry, performance, and spectacle are worth every moment of sitting there. Just don’t waste your time trying to figure it out; you’ll only get a headache and probably miss something.

After the show we found a great Mexican restaurant and joked around with the proprietor when we weren’t rehashing Alice some more – reminding each other of all the incredible things we had just seen. Peggy and Curt went home and I stayed in town because I had one more show to see.

I walked around Ashland some more. Spent an hour in a bookstore, browsed shops, then tried a yummy sake (Tentaka Kuni Junmai) before running back up the theatre hill to catch my last show at the Thomas Theatre.

The set of Between Two Knees points you right away to an outdated idea of Indians. It’s in your face, and so is the show. Suck it up, buttercup.

This is the one I drove to Ashland for. Between Two Knees is a production by Indian playwrights and about Indian topics, and also I had been waiting all year for a chance to see a new favourite actor, Rachel Crowl (who I talked about in my blog about Henry V last year). This production comes from The 1491s, a group of storytellers who challenge the history we’ve been taught, and provide an additional perspective: that of the indigenous, who have been actively erased from the story of our country. Oh, and it’s a comedy, as you may have guessed from the title that is easily a double entendre. One of my favourite things to discover in fellow human beings is when they poke irreverent fun and laugh. Bringing up the absolute worst and making a joke that is irresistible is such a great way to talk about trauma and pain. Laugh laugh laugh, people! Why not laugh? Crying won’t change what happened; laughing won’t change it either, but it’s so much more fun and laughing is transformative and releases pressure when stress has built up.

The opening scene is a game show, with actors tackily dressed as Indians, and obviously playing the parts that white people have had Natives play for a century. One Indian spins the colorful, blinking wheel of NAME THAT MASSACRE! And when the wheel lands on a massacre, the Emcee calls out to the audience: “We all know of the — massacre, of course!” The Emcee provides a brief summary of the deaths and destruction of Indians by white people. “Clap all of you who know this one!” No one claps. “No problem!” we are assured, “There are plenty more!” The wheel is spun, Wheel of Fortune style, and it lands on a new name. “The — massacre! Surely you’ve heard of this one!” Again, he describes a slaughter. No one claps, no one has heard of it. Again. Again. Sometimes a person somewhere in the audience claps.

And yes, this is how the story goes all the way through.

We are asked to laugh and cheer and clap as the play details horrendous abuse, murder, removals, rape, kidnap of Indian children and forcing them into religious schools to “Beat the Indian out of them!” Everything is ridiculed, no holds barred, no taboo left untouched, no shock left unexposed. I was dying with laughter. I could barely contain myself. It was ugly and raw and uncomfortable and hilarious. There was an evil priest who abused children. There was a hippie who pretended to know how to conduct an authentic Indian marriage ceremony, while sitting beneath Buddhist prayer flags. They talked about using Indians as sports mascots. They made fun of using white people to play Indians on TV when there were plenty of Indians to fill those roles, and an actor on stage pointed out that he is actually Chinese-Korean. The message being the 1491s were willing to  poke fun at themselves too. There was an Indian in white face. HAAAAAA!!! Come on, that’s funny.

The audience fascinated me, in that some gave themselves up to the artists and let themselves be involved…but some remained stone-faced and never even cracked a smile. The audience was not attacked, but these topics are just topics that we are told we should take seriously. I could tell people were afraid to laugh. There was a couple next to me that were silent and still the whole time. I noticed them especially because I was cackling loudly with glee, sometimes the only person in our part of the theatre who was rolling around on the floor in laughter, so there was quite a disparity. I started up a conversation with them at intermission and found out they both really liked the show – so that was good. Maybe among the silent people there were admirers of what was going on. It must have been easier for me to laugh because I am Indian, or maybe because I love this form of activism so much.

They passed around a donation can, asking people to give to support their group. The host made a call out to different demographic groups in the audience, asking each to give differently based on what they might be able to afford. But at the end he called to white people, “Give as much as you can spare! And don’t feel bad about it, you’ll still own everything.” The final scene was a musical where the whole cast sang about a future when they got rid of the settlers and oppressors forever, and the chorus repeated over and over: “Goodbye White People!”

It was great. I think my description here makes it seem troubling, or maybe confrontational for some people in the audience, and it is not. The creators did a brilliant job and I did not think any portion of this production was inappropriate. I would love to see it again and again. But instead I left the theatre and made my way home through the dark to a little piece of paradise in the Applegate River Valley.

 

Everybody gathered just before the crash car derby for a group photo.

My neighbor Richard Gaboury has an annual track day at his place, co-hosted by his buddy Tim Oyler. Track Day is the most redneck fun I have all year.

It might help to explain that I’m from redneck stock. The people who raised me (family+community) are good, country folk. I spent my childhood in tiny communities with people who worked hard all day long and came home filthy. I spent my weekends fishing in the crick, catching crawdads, or racing snowmobiles, and usually drinking beer. In the mornings before school in the Fall I went hunting. We built potato guns and used hairspray as an explosive. We said “Howdy!” and “Pert neer” and “Dang!” and we wrastled each other and lit bonfires for fun. Ever since I grew up and left home, I’ve tried to learn how to fit in with the city folk, the educated parts of society, the more genteel people with the power and money to make things happen in the world. My people back home would probably call me “high falutin'” now, but I can’t deny my redneck roots.

An example of one kind of perspective held by country folk. We are “Oregonians” so the sticker makes a play on words suggesting that people who live in Oregon use AR-15s? The other one suggests that if you are American, you do not support kneeling before the flag as a form of racial tolerance activism. I, for one, do not agree with either.

Richard is retired and has turned his great country property into a playground with a paved Go-kart track, a dirt race track, and a zip line. He and Tim spend the year acquiring cars that can race on his track, or hold together in the derby, and on race day they get a spray-painted number on the side and they’re up for grabs. Anyone who shows up can drive a car. Richard begs me to try it every year, but I have no interest in racing cars. I’m content to watch others goof around. The go-karts are a hit with the kids, but adults love them too.

I parked and headed up the hill to the party. Richard’s place is big enough that people just park on the grass.

I passed my other neighbors helping their kids gear up to drive go-karts.

Past the parked vehicles and through the trees, I could see a bunch of people gathered around the dirt track that Richard built in the forest.

As I get closer to the track, I see people waiting for their turn and watching the racing cars.

Kids have almost as much fun as the grown ups.

This is the car I helped paint for Richard when he participated in a derby in a nearby town. It didn’t win, but did well, despite the appearance here.

As I approached the dirt track, I could see where I wanted to go. Those bleachers are the best place from which to see all the action.

A couple of cars race around the corner.

Tim is on top of the safety measures, and guides this car off the track.

Another example of a redneck property: you can find a handy deer stand if you need a good vantage point for the race track.

Richard loves to make his friends happy. The more people that show up and have a good time, the more fun Richard has. I often tease him that he’s a 13-year-old boy in a man’s body, and he agrees. Below, Richard in the blue shirt with sleeves cut off is driving a giant green beast that has no purpose other than to drive over things for fun. The crowd loves it and gives a big cheer!

Richard delights the crowd by driving the big green machine over some parked cars.

Everyone brings food, so there is feasting all day long. Then people take turns racing the go-karts and junk cars and riding the zip line. Then at the end of the day, all activity ceases and people put their name into the bucket for the lottery to win a seat in a car in the crash car derby. This year there was also some raffling of gifts.

People with names in the bucket hold their helmets and wait to see if they win the lottery for a chance to be in the derby.

Tim in the yellow reflector vest and his girlfriend manage the raffle and lottery.

While Tim gathers all the drivers and officials together to go over safety rules….

…Richard has a chat with all the people who have filled the bleachers and stand on the sideline ready for the show.

And if you’re really into all this and want to see the MAIN EVENT, watch the 12 minute video below. The crash car derby is loads of fun and what everyone sticks around all day to see, even if they don’t get a chance to participate.

 

Tacoma Narrows Bridge gets us across a bit of Puget Sound on our way to Gig Harbor.

I don’t believe any musical ability came to me when I was formed. My vocal pitch is flat, I only mastered Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the French Horn in the 5th grade, I played guitar for years and years, but barely advanced beyond what I was taught as a child. I finally traded my guitar – a beautiful instrument, lovingly made in Canada – to a collector friend. The one musical thing I *am* good at, is listening to music!

The way to get more music into my life is to make friends with musicians. Luckily for me there is a lot of overlap.

In August I was excited to make the trip up north once again to gather with other expert listeners at Roy and Lucy’s house in Gig Harbor. I left later in the day because I was waiting for Tara to arrive from Corvallis. Tara had to work that morning, then make the 2 1/2 hour drive to my house. Then I drove us the 2 1/2 remaining hours. While I waited, I made my jalapeno poppers. For the first time, I remembered to wear gloves!! You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Now my skin wouldn’t burn for the next three days.

To make poppers, carefully clean all the seeds and pulp from inside the jalapeno before stuffing it with creamed cheese and baking it.

To keep the poppers warm, I plugged the crock pot in and heated it up. When Tara arrived, I pulled the poppers out of the oven and packed them into the ceramic pot, and brought the whole pot with us. This worked great!

People relax in the yard while the stage is prepared for the next performance.

A view through the trees to protect the identities of the innocent! 😉

Walking into the house I saw Lucy right away, and she greeted me with a generous smile and hug and convinced me that she really was as happy to see us both as she said she was. Roy came in from outside right at that moment and did the same thing. “You’ve come to the party so often that now you’re a regular!” he said to me, and I beamed with pleasure. I am so honored to be invited, but even more honored when they show me that the invite is not merely out of politeness, but because they want me to come. Roy even included a link to my blog review of last year’s party in his Facebook event invite this year.

Lucy and Roy McAlister call the gathering McAlapalooza! It’s an annual music party and barbecue. Roy McAlister is a luthier, and through this work and also by teaching and mentoring, Roy knows many musicians. He has invited them to his annual gatherings. The couple also invites their neighbors and friends – and if you are a neighbor or friend and want to take the stage, you’ll find total support. Roy has in mind the bigger names he wants to highlight at the end of the evening, but prior to that we in the audience are treated with an honest-to-goodness music festival, all in the McAlister back yard.

I found this short video by Joseph McAlister that highlights his shop that I always want to show in my blog posts, but can never capture it just right. Turn up your volume and listen to how Roy talks about his art. He explains that each guitar is crafted with the musician and their purpose in mind. Meaning, he creates a guitar specifically for what the musician wants to do with it. I’ve actually witnessed musician reactions to handling a McAlister guitar for the first time, and can tell you that in this video, Roy is not exaggerating about the response he gets.

Roy also finds joy in using gorgeous materials, like you see here.

My friends Andre and Diana were there again. Andre and I have known each other for years. He had just sprung a surprise on me the day before: our mutual friend, Marcus Eaton, would be there too! That is why Tara made such an effort to come. I haven’t seen Andre for a long time, not since he invited me to see the Milk Carton Kids and The Barr Brothers in November. Tara and I haven’t seen Marcus since December. It’s hard to pin those boys down when they both live so far away and lead full lives. We did some catching up and it felt good.

We arrived the same time as Jerry and Terry Holder, a duo and couple with great music but even greater personalities. These two are funny and fun, and always reach out to Tara and me when we show up, asking for the latest news and offering to let us crash at their house if we don’t want to make the long drive home.

Annual favourite Rick Ruskin, who has been playing for audiences since the 1960s and the talent to prove it. Look him up on YouTube.

Tara and I arrived late and missed the earliest performers, but got there in time for Rick Ruskin, a crowd-pleaser. We were then treated to artists we did not know: Butch Boles followed by Steve Hurley and Mary Kay Henley.

Butch Boles talks with us before a song.

Roy McAlister helps Butch set up.

Steve Hurley croons.

Jerry Holder and Terry Holder are more annual favourites that win me over every time.

Terry plays her new McAlister ukulele.

Behind the audience, a bunch of guitars rest together and swap stories about what they’re good at and where their owner took them last.

Andre was brave enough to leave his own McAlister guitar with me for a few minutes. It’ll probably be the only time in my life I touch one of those.

Then Andre needed his guitar back so that he could play for us.

Andre’s lead guitar backs up Diana’s great voice.

Tara and I were thrilled to get a chance to catch up with our favourite musician, Marcus Eaton. Apparently there was a memo about wearing black.

Marcus finally took the stage after dark.

Eaton is so good that the members of the Alec Shaw Band, warming up in the shop in the back, actually poked their heads out to listen.

Marcus Eaton played stuff we know and love, and was kind enough to drop some new songs on us (Mark I’m so sorry I didn’t get a playlist for you!!). The ones we’ve heard, we sang along with. The ones we hadn’t heard froze us in place, like usual. Marcus is my favourite musician for a reason. I know of no one who plays with such innovation and precision while seeming not to put any effort at all into it. If you are one of the few people who has not heard me rave about this guy, please please please hit that link or YouTube, and listen to a couple of songs so you know what I’m talking about. (and check out those photos – yes, that’s him on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon & Crosby, and that’s him playing beside Tim Reynolds) His guitar playing is beyond brilliant and his lyrics are connected and genuine. I can’t wait to the hear the new album when it’s ready. Marcus has been playing a lot in Italy, and the influences keep showing up in his music. It’s been a good year for Marcus, and also for his brother, A.J. Eaton. The documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name (2019) is produced by Cameron Crowe, directed by A.J. Eaton, and scored by Marcus Eaton and Bill Laurance. It did very well at Sundance and has done well since it’s release.

Typically at McAlapalooza we see individual artists or duos, singer-songwriter folks. Roy invited an actual band this year! The Alec Shaw Band with Zan Fiskum. Good call. They were GREAT!  Alex Shaw has a great voice and together the band has a polished, confident sound that matched the mood of the night and all the music we had previously heard. I got a kick out of seeing a trombone on stage – there’s a new one for the McAlister back yard.

Zan Fiskum on the left, with the Alec Shaw Band. Sorry for the blurry photos. I didn’t have a tripod and neither my camera nor my iPhone could really deal with the dark.

More Zan Fiskum and Alec Shaw Band. Love that trombone!

Tara and I went all the way back to Rainier that night. T had work the next day and wanted a head start and a good night’s sleep before heading back to Corvallis.

It was a beautiful day as I waited for Jim at the Portland International Airport. So beautiful that I waited outside under the covered approach lanes, instead of inside PDX.

In July I got to meet a friend in person that I have known for years online. Just over two years ago, I spotted a profile photo that I loved, on a dating website. It was of a man with red hair and beard, holding the outstretched paw of a statue of a red dancing bear. The man appeared to be dancing with the bear. Jim, who lives in Minnesota, agreed that we are not a good match for dating, but I couldn’t resist writing to him to tell him how much I loved that photo.

We’ve been writing to each other ever since. We’ve shared our dating woes and successes, our complaints about work, photos from our travels, stupid jokes we found online. We do not see eye to eye on everything, but we do recognize in each other that there is a person somewhere in the world with the same drive to be good to others, to have adventures, to poke irreverent fun at sacred things, and challenge the status quo.

Jim was about to take an Alaskan cruise with his family and they would be leaving from Seattle, two hours north of me. So he flew in to Portland early, and I hosted him until it was time to drive him to Seattle. On one day we explored Portland and on the other we went on a road trip.

One of the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from Highway 101.

We stopped at Tillamook Country Smoker to buy jerky snacks and pepperoni sticks. Then we stopped at the Tillamook Creamery for ice cream.

For the road trip we went directly to the coast, because – duh, he’s from Minnesota. We left my house for Astoria, then turned south along the coast highway. We stopped for overlooks and we stopped for a train! An honest to goodness steam train parked in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. We snapped photos and asked questions and found out it’s the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, a tourist train that runs a 5-mile route between there and Garibaldi, the next town south.

A restored steam train in Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

The conductor takes a break.

The grate is real wood.

The other side. (You know you wanted to see the other side.)

Our goal that day was tidepooling, and I got so many photos that I’ll include them in a separate post, but at at the tidepooling location was the eye-catching Yaquina Head lighthouse that we explored when we were done pestering sea creatures in the tide pools. The lighthouse has a white 1000 watt bulb in its first order Fresnel lens, and the light pattern is 2 seconds on, 2 seconds off, 2 seconds on, 14 seconds off.

I thought I was being very clever: catching the sunlight through the Fresnel lens.

The evening weather was clearly more lovely than it was in the morning, making the tower glow.

View of Yaquina Head Lighthouse as we walked from the parking lot.

Look how happy I get when I see a lighthouse!

Upon leaving Yaquina Head we drove due East, inland, until we reached Interstate 5 and turned north, which took us home for the night.

Our day in Portland was mostly occupied with a tour of the Pittock Mansion. I’ve talked about it before. This is a beautiful old mansion on a hill overlooking the city of Portland that has been turned into a museum. I love this place so much that I go there about once a year.

The outside of the Pittock Mansion.

View from the second floor balcony.

Furnishings in the curved hallway.

Henry Pittock was born in 1834 in England but raised in the United States. He and his wife Georgiana came to Portland at a time when many news publications had been started and it was a competitive business. He worked as a typesetter for The Oregonian but the business was not thriving, and he eventually was offered ownership of the paper in lieu of back pay. Pittock kept the paper alive, and then some. Today, The Oregonian is the largest newspaper in Oregon and the oldest newspaper on the West Coast.

The success of the paper allowed Henry and Georgiana to build a remarkable home when they had reached their later years. The couple was able to occupy the residence in 1914, and sadly died four years later. Family lived there until 1958, when it was put up for sale. It sat empty, got damaged in a storm, and then slowly fell into disrepair until the community rallied and brought it back to life in 1965 as part of the Portland Parks and Recreation system.

Great efforts have been made to fill the house with original furnishings when possible, such as this photo of a Mansion party.

When people in the community discover they are in possession of a piece of Pittock furniture, they will sometimes donate it to the museum.

I really love this kitchen made to look as though it’s in use. I would recommend a remodel to open it up though. Talk about a galley kitchen.

I get a kick out of the bathrooms here. They are truly wonderful.

What the heck do you suppose this was for? Sitting in, I guess. My feet would get cold. I think in this curved tower room I would prefer a tub.

The medicine cabinet is stocked with period items.

Look at the crazy old pipes for this tub and shower.

Array of pipes in the shower.

A direct line to every room.

This is the dumbwaiter, and buttons for each of the four levels of the home.

After we were done wandering all over the house into every room we were allowed to enter, and that includes the basement, we then walked around the grounds. The old coach house is now the admission and gift shop, and the groundskeepers home has been restored and is open for touring as well. From this magnificent estate on a hill, we gazed out across the city of Portland at the peak of Mt. Hood rising as she does.

View of the valley from the Pittock Mansion.

I then turned the tables on Jim and enlisted his help with my own project. I needed to rent a car because my Jeep was scheduled for some repairs. I don’t often have a second driver in my home, but Jim’s visit was perfect timing. Before we went to the rental office, however, we had time for one more important stop: VooDoo Doughnuts.

The logo for VooDoo Doughnuts, a Portland original that has now spread across the country. A friend of mine posted this summer from VooDoo Doughnuts at Disneyworld in Florida!

The inside of the shop is so wild that you can stay entertained while you wait in line. There is always a line.

We then picked up a rental car, and each drove one of the vehicles to the repair shop. I dropped off the Jeep and Jim drove us both up to Seattle as it got dark. We found his hotel and said goodbye after two super fun days together.

Kids in the new kitchen. That’s Tara in the middle.

I did not expect that when I spent this summer jobless I would be busier than ever, but it’s true! I thought that those hours when I used to be glued to the computer I would now spend more time in the garden, or just relax on the deck with my kitty. What happened is that I just filled up all the rest of the spaces. Looking back, I realize my 10-hour work days might have been the closest thing to physical rest I got, other than when I was sleeping.

One of the most fun things I did this summer was to finally show off my new kitchen. You remember my whining about the remodel woes earlier this year. It took 10 months instead of the projected 2-4 months. The Project Manager TRIED to charge me double the estimated price, but he didn’t realize that the person he assumed was a dumb girl, that he had been ignoring and disrespecting the whole year is actually a wildcat. I got advice from a lawyer and submitted a letter to the PM with a corrected invoice, and a check for what – in my opinion – was the correct balance. …and then I sent a copy to his boss at the parent company. A month later I received a response accepting all my corrections except one. No apology. But whatever. It saved me over $10,000!! Gold star for Crystal.

Now it was time to have people over. First let me show you a before and after:

This photo is from last spring. I’m standing in the front room, facing a wall that holds a utility closet and a pantry. Behind all that (you can see the stove and microwave) is the tiny galley kitchen.

A photo of what it looks like now, while standing in the same place.

Tara wanted to have a big 22nd birthday party at my place in July, and said it was ok if I invited a bunch of my friends (since most of them know Tara anyway) and had a kitchen-warming party at the same time. Tara’s partner, Brynnen (orange hair), came over, and Tara’s best friend also came over the night before, and they insisted on making dinner. I unhesitatingly agreed.

We had the party on a Friday, and I told people it would go from 3pm to 8pm. That way, people could come and go all day long. A few of my friends stayed the night too, and so obviously the party really went till 1am or so. We had a fire in the fire pit and talked and laughed till we were finally spent.

While the photos of the perfectly clean kitchen are lovely, I like the following pictures better because this is the whole point of a kitchen: to gather and eat and drink and laugh.

The kids filling their plates after they finished making dinner.

Friends in the kitchen. My front room is still dark, but believe me it is so much lighter now after the remodel.

Three of my best friends and former co-workers.

Hosting parties is not typically my thing, and this part where people just break off and talk to each other without my help is magical to me.

Tara’s friends rigged up the TV to play video games and spent their time in that room.

Tara and a couple of my friends.

Here are the same two friends, who are also newly married, and took the opportunity to go for a long walk.

Speaking of friends… earlier in July I had the chance to spend a day with a blogger friend, Marlene, and help with her yard sale. I am fortunate to call several of you friends, and I lucked out when one of you bloggers turned out to be a neighbor (she’s an hour and a half away, but that’s pretty close). Anyway, I spent one of the best days of my whole summer with Marlene and a few of her beautiful family members. If any of you follow her at insearchofitall, please let me assure you that she is even more sincere, generous, and wise in person than she seems on her blog. Marlene wrote a great post about the yard sale. She also handed over some bowl cozies that she made specifically for Tara and Brynnen. These are bowl-shaped hot pads that you set your bowl into before you put it into the microwave. When your soup is hot, you can just wrap your hands around the cozy and pull it directly from the microwave without burning your hands. Brilliant! Tara and Brynnen are huge fans of soup, and use the cozies constantly.

Marlene wears a great apron that of course she made for herself.

Customers survey the treasures for sale when two homes get merged into one.

Blue and green leaf pattern chosen specifically for Tara’s cozies.

Another thing I did with Tara and Brynnen in honor of Tara’s birthday, is take them to see the Broadway show Wicked, a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman. Tara is a huge fan of Broadway. They listen to the Broadway Pandora channel and know most of the songs for most Broadway shows by heart, despite only having seen a few of them. Tara has been dying to see Wicked for years, but it took a very (very) long time to come to Portland, then it sold out the first two years before I could get tickets, then we were busy, but finally it all came together. I read the original book by Gregory Maguire (based on the original original by L. Frank Baum) and couldn’t imagine a Broadway show of that book. However, the performance takes only some of the key ideas of the book, and to my delight, keeps a lot of the creepiness of the uncomfortably strange world, while also showing a way to connect with that world.

The Keller Auditorium in Portland, with crowds of people who want to see Wicked.

Merchandise for sale in the lobby. I’ve always liked the artwork and design for this show.

Though not allowed to photograph performances, I always try to get a shot of the stage before shows that I see. This one is one of my favourites ever because…. Yes! the DRAGON! (It’s eyes lit up and its head moved, too)

If you don’t know, Wicked is about the days when Glinda (The Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz) and Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) were college students together. How they started out as friends, but how politics and society told them that in order to pursue their dreams they had to present as enemies. In a way, one ended up on the right, and one on the left, and society didn’t allow them space to respect each other (sound familiar anyone?). Though they always cared about each other, publicly they were forced to denounce each other, and privately they didn’t really understand each other. There was also a very strong story line about discrimination of a group of citizens that the people of Oz felt were too different to be welcomed into society. And a third strong story line about how Elphaba didn’t fit stereotype of a pretty and desirable woman (her skin was green after all), and how handsome party boy Prince Fiyero not only falls in love with who she is, but is also motivated to become a better man after watching her example. The show makes us reconsider everything that the beloved television special The Wizard of Oz taught us, and makes us realize that the “truth” of history is a function of who gets to tell the story.

A whole string of good advice, wise warnings, biting criticism, intentful introspection, and positivity with tolerance. Great songs, great actors, and all of us went home very happy to have seen it.

We were, however, curious about the strange sights in the parking garage as we entered and left.

This sight on the wall near where we parked inside the parking garage. So creepy we actually laughed out loud!

On the way down the stairs to street level, we laughed again. It’s a play on a famous line from the 1977 film Star Wars.

As I mentioned before, I spent two weeks of May in New England with my friend Will. So far in my blog story I’m halfway through the trip, and right in the middle we scheduled two days for us to do solo stuff. So he went home to Rhode Island and I began looking up old friends from when I used to live in Massachusetts.

For this trip I forgot to bring my camera!! Argghh. So I used my phone when I could. But when I’m meeting friends for lunch or dinner, I tend to pay attention to them and forget to pull out my phone. This is as it should be. Thus, for two whole days, the only photos I took are the ones you see here. I managed to forget to get photos of nearly all of them. Ah well.

I spent a lazy morning at the hotel in which I downloaded all my photos from my phone to my laptop and answered emails and made phone calls and all those things that had been neglected for a week. Had a long chat with Tara, which is always nice. They were getting ready for finals, but also planning for a summer geology field class out in the desert of eastern Oregon. Tara wanted to borrow camping gear. No problem.

In the afternoon I met my friend Fish from school. It was great to spend the day together, and except for some brisk wind, it was a pretty nice day. We bought ice cream and walked and talked all the way to Jamaica Pond.  I got to hear about Fish’s trip to South America, and their work volunteering to be a guinea pig for some fascinating brain research. Then we sat on the shore and watched wind blow over the water till it was time to leave for my next gathering of friends. The first time I remembered my phone was when we were almost back at my rental car and saying goodbye, and Fish pointed out the beautiful homes on the streets of Jamaica Plain.

A beautiful home in Jamaica Plain.

I made it on time to the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where Mads works. He came out to meet me, then took a break from work and we shared a cup of coffee and caught up. He finally got a chance to tell me in person about falling in love with his wife couple years before, and about getting married, and I really am dying to meet her. She is still in Sri Lanka and has not yet been able to come to the U.S., but it should be soon! I got to hear about his emotions and observations about being a new dad. He had actually reached a point in his life where he didn’t think he would ever get married, much less be a father, so it is an immense change in perspective he is going through. Mads is loving every minute of it (except for the pain of separation), and it filled my heart to see him so happy.

When it was time to leave for our 6pm dinner reservation in the North End, we left together and met Romain at an Italian restaurant they had heard good things of. I’m sure you remember me mentioning Mads & Romain before, because they are two of my best friends in the whole wide world. We met in school and clicked, and formed some kind of mutual admiration society, where each of us thinks the other two are amazing. I speak for myself, anyway. I never stop feeling blessed that these two so obviously value my friendship. We had a wonderful time at the restaurant. The wine was perfect, the food was out of this world. We laughed and told stories and hugged and pretty much entertained the wait staff. One of them remembered to pull out the phone – thank goodness!!

Father Romain has been an assistant pastor at his church for a decade, but had just accepted a new job with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Yes! The same VA that I just left in the Fall. Romain was prompted to make this choice because working as a Chaplain for the federal government will provide a steady income and benefits such as paid holidays, paid sick days, and discounted health insurance, maybe even a pension if he is able to work for the government long enough. These things were not available in his previous job.

Romain and me. I truly love this man. We adopted each other and call each other cousin. 🙂

We asked the waiter to take a photo of all 3 of us.

After dinner we said goodbye to Romain, and Mads decided the wine was so good he wanted to buy a bottle of it. We found a place called The Wine Bottega nearby, and I circled the block while Mads shopped. There is no parking in this part of Boston, forcing me to keep circling. In fact, while we were eating, I got parking ticket because the place I had earlier chosen for parking was actually resident parking. Drat! Soon he came out to meet me. He had tricked me by saying that the wine was for himself, and instead gifted both bottles to me. “Why two?” I asked, “You can keep one for yourself!” Mads answered, “But what if you really like the wine? Then you will certainly need another bottle!” ha ha ha

The Colonial Inn was built in 1716, but has been used as an inn since 1889.

The next morning I met Romain for brunch. We had discovered that my randomly selected cheap hotel was only one village over from where he lived in Carlisle. He insisted on meeting me the next morning, so we met and he took me to a wonderful place in Concord called the Colonial Inn. I received an impromptu tour by our server, who took me through, room by room, explaining how old the place is, what the rooms were used for originally, and even how one counter that was originally built to be a bar, has been restored and is now being used as a bar again. It’s cramped and dark, and tucked away inside, and I just love the idea of getting a pint at a place that was serving pints 100 years ago. Henry David Thoreau’s grandfather owned a part of the property for almost 40 years. I was shown the guest register, that Inn staff like to leave open to different pages, so that guests can see the signatures of famous historic visitors like Margaret Sidney Lothrop, J.P. Morgan, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. We finally settled down to eat and the food was outstanding.

Since we were in Concord, and I admitted that I had not seen the battlefield before, Romain insisted that we make a quick visit to the site of the battles of Lexington & Concord. This is another part of the story I was telling in my post about the Freedom Trail. Remember there was a secret council meeting in Concord about the resistence to British control? Paul Revere’s famous ride was an attempt to get from Boston to Concord, ahead of the British Regulars, and spread the word of their advance. He got captured before he completed the trip, but Revere and many other riders went through the countryside warning people, and they played a significant role that night.

Anyhow, so when the Regulars arrived in Concord in April 1775, the American Minute Men were ready for them and challenged them. Were they treasonists or freedom fighters? The age-old question. It was the beginning of the American Revolution, and it changed the path of history. The Minute Men faced the Regulars across the Old North Bridge, and the ensuing battle resulted in the first instance of Americans killing British Regulars. Ralph Waldo Emerson believed this was the critical turning point that began the revolution, and called it “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

Standing on the Old North Bridge over the Concord River.

The Old North Bridge leading to a monument to the battle, erected in 1836.

Burial site for two unnamed British soldiers who died at this site. The inscription reads, “They came three thousand miles and died, to keep the past upon its throne: Unheard, beyond the ocean tide, their English Mother made her moan. April 19, 1775”

Minute Man monument tells some of the legend of the characters in the battle, and then notes “Here began the separation of two kindred nations, now happily long united in peace.”

We did not have enough time to really explore the place, as I had committed to another friend. It’s a beautiful and important place to visit, and I will make a point of going there again some day.

I hopped in the car and sped off to find my friends Dave & Lois. Dave was my advisor when I was attending school at Brandeis. They are both retired now and living in a new place, so I was able to see it for the first time. The property they live on has an agreement with the college next door that they can use the dining facilities, and since it was so convenient, we agreed to meet and walk over to the cafeteria. The food was tasty and the company was lovely. We sat outside, but it was another warm sunny day and not Lois’ preference. After our meal, she went inside for protection from the UV rays, and Dave invited me to see one of his favourite places, also near their new home.

We went to Cutler Park and walked for a couple hours. It was a great talk and it was such a relief for me to be outdoors again finally, after so much time in a car, or in restaurants. The exercise felt good. Dave told me all about his new interests, how he liked the new place, how his kids were doing. He asked me a ton of questions about my future plans and what I hope for someday in a romantic partner. Dave is a great resource for encouragement and inspiration. I think I need to run all my future career prospects by this guy from now on because he has so many ideas.

When we eventually made our way back to the car, we followed the loop around the lake, and were passed by cyclists getting their exercise. One of them heading in the opposite direction zoomed past us and right away I heard the skidding of tires across dirt and rocks as the brakes came on sharply. I turned around to look, hoping the cyclist wasn’t about to crash.

“Crystal?” he asked. I was astonished. Who on earth would know me at Cutler Park? I live 3000 miles away. This guy was head to foot in cyclist gear, complete with helmet and sunglasses. In other words, totally unrecogniseable.

“Yes!” I said, delighted to be recognised in Massachusetts, even though I had no idea who it was. “Who are you?”

“Chris, from Brandeis!” he answered. Chris is a common name and I was at Brandeis 12 years ago, and…

“I need help. Chris who, from Brandeis?”

So he explained. He was a former co-worker in the Brandeis IT department. In a previous post I mentioned that I modeled for work, but that was only a couple hours a week, so I also helped the IT department create and manage websites for the school. With some context, I immediately knew who it was! Chris and I had a brief, pleasant exchange, and he zoomed off on the bike again, passing us three or four more times on the loop before we made it back to the car.

Amazing. I still can’t believe he recognised me after 12 years and outside of the Brandeis campus.

We watched a fly fisherman at the shore of Kendrick Pond.

A lovely view of swans and a brick steeple above the trees.

This is how happy I was to be walking at Cutler Park. {Photo by Dave Jacobson}

My last visit of the day would be all the way back to my old homeland, to see my dear friend Susie in Ashburnham. Those of you who have followed me for years may remember that I dyed my hair pink during the entire time that Susie had active cancer. She kicked cancer’s ass and I went back to a blonde streak. There is a brew pub close to her house, so we walked over there to get a pint before they closed. The weather had been warm and lovely all day and I was excited to do some more walking.

Susie confirmed that cancer has been undetectable for so long now that the frequency of her checkups can be reduced. She told me some of her perspective on the whole deal, how she never thought the power of love and prayer was what got her through, but instead the fact that she became a warrior woman and fought cancer with all the hatred and disgust she could muster. I love this woman. She is as real as it gets.

I was thrilled to hear about the latest from her oldest son, and how he completely has his shit together and is about to do a study abroad program. Her daughter who is similar to Susie: gorgeous on the outside, expressing kindness and empathy every day, which disguises a hardcore warrior woman on the inside. Her youngest is filled with a hunger for life. He is mischievous, polite, thoughtful, obnoxious, and funny all in one young man.

By the time it got dark it was time for all of us to get ready to end the day. I hugged everyone goodbye and hopped into the rental car for one last journey. I went to Pawtucket, Rhode Island to pick up Will, and off we went to the next chapter in the New England vacation.

Elisia’s exit reminded me of the old days when my group of friends rode the Fitchburg train together.

Boston is so close to my old life, when I lived in Fitchburg and rode the commuter train to school in Waltham. After exploring Boston for a day, the next day Will and I spent the whole day traveling old routes, walking old paths, gaining new perspectives on old vistas.

First we took Route 2 out to Fitchburg. I pointed out the spot where I was pulled over for speeding, and Massachusetts forgot to ask me to pay the ticket for FIVE YEARS. I became disproportionately excited to see the Exit 32 sign to Leominster. When I lived out here I rode the train to school every school day for three years. I got on the same train at the same time every morning, and rode into the city with all the same people. We got to know each other. I even did my Masters Thesis on how fear and feelings of safety are managed on the commuter rail train when packed in there with strangers. My very best friend at that time was Elisia, who lived in Leominster. She has a lovely English accent and we were all delighted the day she told us the highway exit to her home was number 32. We made her say it a dozen times. We giggled with glee and found opportunities to ask about Exit 32 (prounced in Lissy’s English accent) whenever we could, from then on.

A 2005 photo of the house when I lived there.

What it looks like now. Not much change. A new fence, solar panels, a bigger tree, and neglected garden and lawn.

Our first stop was my old house. The old neighborhood looked almost exactly the same except that the trees along the street were larger. The landscaping around my old house looked ratty and unkempt, and there was a For Sale sign out front. I was sad that none of the trees or lilac bushes I had planted had survived. There was a new fence in the back yard and solar panels. I recalled shoveling snow from that driveway so many times.

We drove around the town of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. It has tiny pockets of commerce scattered around the outskirts leaving the center almost desolate. No people walking, and many empty buildings. When pawn shops and consignment shops for children’s clothes are on main street, it’s a sign that people are shopping somewhere else. My two favourite sightings from my past were the library, and of course the train station. It’s a sad town and I felt validated for never liking it while I lived there.

Walden Pond, from the end where the train passes close by.

We returned to Route 2 toward Boston and stopped at Walden Pond, made famous in Henry David Thoreau’s book. While traveling to school I had looked out the train windows at the pond, twice a day, day in and day out for more than a year before I realized which pond it was. Then I read Walden again, despite not liking it the first time I read it, and realized that Thoreau even mentions the train.

Will in the pond. It was a hot day and the cool water felt good on our feet.

I splashed around, getting water on my head and back, and cooling off. {photo by Will Murray}

The pond today is a park, visited by nearly 500,000 people a year. It is open to swimming, fishing, and boating, and is surrounded by trails. Though Thoreau kept fit by jogging around the lake every day, visitors who want to emulate his experience are asked not to run on the trail that follows the shore, but to keep their running activity to the trails farther away.

Will and I explored the brand new beautiful visitor’s center, and then made our way to the pond. The pond is always more serenely beautiful than I expect, for so famous a tourist destination. Today it is protected land, and I get the sense that it is more forested and more lush than when Thoreau lived there. There are many easy trails to follow and we followed them. On the far side of the pond, Thoreau’s cabin no longer exists, but there are granite stones set to show where it used to be. Nearby is a large mound of rocks left by people in remembrance. He wasn’t living there at his death, but close friends the Alcotts (including the famous author Louisa May) laid the first stones at the site after his death. It began a tradition.

The site of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin. You can see the pile of rocks to the left.

A large pile of stones carried by admirers from around the world. Many contain messages from those who left them.

As we prepared to leave, I gave the all-day parking pass that we had purchased to the next car that pulled in to the lot. It was a small car packed with kids that looked around the age of 20, and they were so grateful for the pass. I try to do this whenever I can, handing over a parking pass when there is still time left on it. I think having to pay to park a car is annoying, so I cheat the system. I’m such a law-breaker rebel!!

Next we went to the campus of Brandeis University, where I received my BA and MA in 2007. It was 6pm and nearly empty of people. I was surprised to find every door unlocked. We wandered across the entire campus and you can bet I marched us right inside every building I wanted to explore.

First of all we went into the art building. My first two years at school I knew the Art building because of my job. I modeled for the painting classes. It was good money ($10 an hour – the highest pay available to a student on campus) for very little work. I am not shy about my body and found it interesting and challenging to find new creative poses and then to hold perfectly still. The students were amazingly kind and grateful, and always let me watch them work during breaks. Finally I had completed enough required courses that I had room for an elective, and I took a beginning oil class. The classroom was just as I remembered it, except for a new ugly ducting tube on the ceiling.

Art room Spring 2019.

Painting of art room. Fall 2006.

We walked through the Student Union building where I had talked with Anita Hill the year before she became a professor there, and where I had heard Thomas Friedman tell us why the World Is Flat. (At the University I also heard lectures by Howard Zinn, Azra Nomani, and President Jimmy Carter – it was a good place to hear people.) Up the hill we passed the library with floors that sink down instead of rise above ground level. We climbed the stairs at the Brown Social Science Center, up to the Anthropology Department. It’s still an old, outdated building, but filled with many happy memories. The halls smelled the same. Many of the professors I knew are still there, I could see, from bios posted on a bulletin board. I wrote a note on a paper towel from the bathroom and left it for Laurel, the woman in the office who keeps everything running. I said “Hi, I miss you all.”

We walked up all the steps of the Rabb Graduate Center and on up the hill to the Mandel Quad, where I took an Introduction to Judaism class once I realized I was attending a Jewish-centric school. Ha! Can you believe I had no idea until I arrived on campus? I’m so silly. Finally we went over to my other favourite building on campus: the Mandel Center where I took most of my classes for conflict resolution, mediation and peace building. It’s my favourite because that is where I met two of my best friends in all the world, Mads and Romain, who were also in the conflict resolution program.

This statue of Louis Brandeis is hard to resist. I wanted to show him more stuff, but he was focused on making the world a better place.

It began to rain as we walked back down the long hill. I told Will things like, “if you had a class at the Art building, then your next class was up here at Rabb, or the Mandel Center, you would just be late. That’s all there is to it.” I remembered having a law class at the top of the hill, then auditing a society & economy class with Robert Reich (well-known American economist and political commentator) down at the Slosberg Music Hall at the bottom of the hill. I was always late, and the packed theatre room never had seating available, so I sat on the floor with the other students who couldn’t arrive early.

Will and I were soaked through when we found our car at the bottom of the hill. I had spent a week with Will 24/7 and I am an introvert and used to living alone. Prior to the trip we had scheduled in two days away from each other. I drove him to the train station and he caught a train home to Providence. I drove to a random hotel that I had chosen because it was the cheapest in the whole Boston area, ha ha. I planned to visit with friends for two days and then go meet Will in Rhode Island for the final week.

Kimberly, me, Will, Romain

Paul Harvey (radio host from 1952-2008) used to have this radio bit titled “The Rest of the Story.” I am reminded of that title when I think of how some people and places in my life have a story for me that lasts decades, and I expect future decades of story to be added. There is an added richness to my experience when I consider not only today, but also the rest of the story.

My trip to Rhode Island was a great opportunity to meet up with old friends. States are tiny on the northeast coast, so visiting state to state is like driving to another town.

Kim, Will, and I used to work together at the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vermont in 1995-1998. They knew me when I was pregnant with Tara, and got to meet baby Tara in the first weeks of their life. Tara and I went to Kimberly’s wedding. Kim still works for the National Weather Service in Massachusetts. Will still forecasts for Vermont, though he lives in Rhode Island. Romain is a Catholic priest, and was a classmate at Brandeis University and became one of my best friends at school in 2005-07. Tara and I last saw Romain when he gave us a tour of the Harvard College campus back when Tara was deciding what college to attend. These friends weave through my life.

Romain’s birthday gift.

The Superman Building

We met for lunch at a place in between all three of us, in Taunton, MA. We chatted for two and a half hours, but finally Kim had to go to work. It was so easy to get comfortable with them all despite not having seen any of them for years, and I was happy that Will and Kim and Romain easily enjoyed each others’ company though meeting for the first time. Before Romain left he gave me a stunning birthday gift of a glass dragon for the Dragon Lady.

The next morning I had to leave Rhode Island. It dawned that spectacular blue that only happens in New England winter skies, and I had Will hold the car while I finally got a great shot of the Superman Building, Providence’s tallest skyscraper. Will told me that locals call it that because it reminds them of the Daily Planet building in Superman comics. You know, the newspaper where Clark Kent worked.

Being a nerdy girl myself, the idea of a comic book connection was intriguing and I looked up images of the Daily Planet. I think the residents of Providence are generous in their memories, because the building really doesn’t look anything like what I found online. However!! I’m not a connoisseur of comics, particularly not DC, so there might have been a series or an artist that drew the building more like the Providence building. You be the judge.

Now THIS image of the Daily Star building (from an early version of the comic in 1938 before the name was changed to Daily Planet), looks a lot like the Providence building.

An image of the Daily Planet building from 1943.

There is no denying that it’s a stunning building. It’s gorgeous and I love it. The 26-story building opened in 1928. I was dismayed to find out that it has been empty for over 5 years and has such a low real estate value placed on it that there are calls for it to be demolished. There have been a couple of plans to put a new tenant in there, but a lot of rennovation work is required, and the maintenance on that place would be enormous, so the Mayor has not been able to find a new company to occupy the building. Thank goodness someone is trying to save Superman in the meantime.

Superman Building and the Biltmore – two historic and iconic Providence buildings.

Will and me inside the beautiful Biltmore Hotel, our winter weather gear heaped on a chair.

Elevator in Biltmore says “Built in 1978. It’s a Biltmore Classic. Use for Time Travel only.”

I’ve mentioned the Biltmore Hotel in earlier posts and haven’t talked much more about it because I managed to forget to take photos inside. We were usually on our way to do something fun and I didn’t want to stop for photos in the hotel, or on our way back from something fun and I was too tired. I managed to get two pictures that help you get a sense of how wonderful it is inside. At the top of the staircase is a neat old glass elevator that is no longer in use by guests, but Will recalls from his younger days that it was fun to try and sneak onto the elevator for a ride and a view of the city.

Providence downtown, the morning that I left.

Then we went to the airport and I remembered to thank the TSA personnel for working with no pay because of the government shut down. Providence has a small airport like Portland’s, and checking in was a breeze. Soon I was in my seat. I always want a window seat. I was in my first airplane at about age 8 and I’ve been flying commercial since age 16, and yet I still get a thrill when I’m in the air. With a background in meteorology, I marvel at the up-close look at clouds. With an unquenchable yearning for new sights, I spend all the time I can with my face pressed up against the safety plexiglass, peering through the frost patterns, in speechless awe at the planet below.

My flight at the beginning of the trip from Portland to Newark. We took off in darkness, then flew into the sunrise. It was so wonderful. See the star? Although, it’s so big and bright it might be a planet.

Bumping along the updrafts above the clouds.

Orange morning illuminates snowy peaks.

The day I left, our tiny plane flew low from Providence to Newark, so it was easier to watch life on the ground.

On approach, I realized Newark must be close to a larger city.

Yep. “THE” larger city. I had fun looking down onto New York City as my plane landed.

After a long layover in Newark, we left for home in the dark. Goobye New England. I’ll be back!

Two of my former co-workers notified me that our office instant message service has declared that it has been 100 days since I logged in. That means, I have not been to work in 100 days.

With my anthropology background, I find it interesting that the 100-day mark caught their attention and that they both contacted me about it. One friend suggested I look up the significance of 100 days; the other friend suggested I write a blog post to commemorate the event as a possibly therapeutic process. I’ll do both.

The passage of 100 days is significant to people around the world, but I did not find analysis of why it is significant. My guess: the number 100 is important mathematically and mathematicians were crunching numbers prior to the Babylonians and Egyptians. Mathematicians have likely been teaching the general population about the significance of the number 100 since before recorded history. Look around and it’s not 100 days that are significant, but 100 anything. 100 degrees Celsius is water’s boiling point, 100 kilometers above sea level is the end of Earth’s atmosphere, 100 years is a century, and the number 100 is an easy-to-remember emergency phone number in multiple countries, like 911 is used in the US.

Focusing only on the significance of 100 days, I see that my friends were dialed right in. I made a list of some of the ways in which 100 days are significant:

  • Buddhists have a prayer ceremony 100 days after a death, and this also may be a long-lost Catholic tradition.
  • Schools celebrate 100 days of learning.
  • 100 days following a bone marrow and stem cell transplant is a milestone.
  • Napoleon’s final military campaign in 1815 was called The 100 Days.
  • The 100-day moving average is a method of analyzing the health of a particular stock.
  • Chinese babies have a celebration when they are 100 days old.
  • American zoos wait 100 days when naming baby pandas.
  • Films called 100 Days include a 1991 Hindi murder mystery and a 2001 film about genocide in Rwanda.
  • There is a book called 100 Days in which a teenager has a rare disease and 100 days left to live.
  • People set goals of 100 days to bring awareness, to do art projects, to lose weight, to make money.
  • The first 100 days of an American Presidency is considered a landmark.

The question I ask myself today is “How are my first 100 days away from work significant to me?” Honestly, until my friends pointed it out, I wasn’t even paying attention to the timeline. So in that sense, not significant at all.

I miss my job. I love the job. I miss figuring out the puzzles every day. I miss both having a tight enough knowledge of the law that I can recall the regulations from memory, and I miss searching through the laws and court cases till I find exactly what I need. I love writing my decisions. I love finding new medical evidence and pointing it out to an overworked doctor, putting the pieces together for them, so all they have to do is recognize what I’m trying to do and either agree or disagree. I like volunteering for the totally confusing screwed up cases that have been ignored for two years because nobody can figure it out. I miss serving people.

I’m still mad at myself for failing at my job. I left for medical reasons that are not my fault, but I still feel like I failed. Because. I did.

Yes, people I used to work with still love me, and probably nobody blames me for forcing them to take over work I was supposed to do. The fact remains that I can’t do my job while other people can. Just because my decision was valid doesn’t make it comfortable. It sucks. It’s hard for me to tell myself “Well, I’m sick, I had to leave the job,” because that feels too much like blaming my problems on something else. Also it’s very hard for me to accept that I’m sick. I don’t want it to be true.

Either I’m sick and that prevented me from doing my job, or I’m not that sick and I simply failed. Both options bite.

I suspect that once I’ve found my new path/career/plan, I’ll be able to put my last job into the right context. In 2003 I left my job after 11 years as a weather forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to go to University for the first time. Once I embraced my role of student, I was glad I had left weather forecasting. In September, I left my job as a disability benefits decision-maker with the Department of Veteran Affairs after 11 years. Eleven years must be my auspicious number, rather than 100 days!

I have remained the same person during the past 100 days. I adore my same friends, I get excited over visits with Tara, I nerd out about all the same nerdy things, I still go for walks around my property, I can’t stand grocery shopping, I love my kitty, I whine about the cold, I drive into Portland to catch shows, I plan future travels. Without the job, I am the same woman.

So just maybe…maybe a word like “failure” is much too grand for my story, and the truth is merely that I used to work there, and now I don’t. After 100 days away from work, I’m marking that event by recognizing that who I am might inform how I do my job, but is not shaped by what that job is, or whether I even have one. I am grateful that my friends told me about this milestone and prompted me to think about it. It’s no great ceremony, but it does give me hope and confidence.

One of my many guises

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