Travel Friends

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We walked into the front room of Musee Carnavalat, the Paris history museum, the Gallery of Signs, where old wrought iron signs advertising shop wares for a partially illiterate population by depicting what was for sale, hung from the ceiling and walls.  The museum is free, and no tickets are needed, which isn’t true of all the free museums in Paris.  At the Musee de la Vie Romantique, we’d walked in the front door and were met by a ticket taker, who sent us back to the office to get our free tickets.  Which were then torn along the narrow perforated edge and handed back to us.  The tickets to the Museums of the City of Paris all have images on the back — a pot of tea by a stack of books with writing papers, a view of a columned building, a photograph of a woman from what looks like the 40’s, sitting facing backwards in a chair, her elbow leaning on the chair back with her chin on her hand, flouncy blouse sleeves billowing around her shoulders.  Perhaps the point of the tickets is the images.

At the Musee Carnavalet, we were told no tickets were needed, but there was a long line of people at the front of the gallery.  I heard a couple talking in the line, clearly from the U.S., and asked them, “Do you know what this line is for?”  We started talking and figured out it was a line for the audio guide.  As we were getting ready to start into the museum, the woman asked, “Where are you from?”, we answered, and ended up in a 20 minute conversation that concluded with an invitation to have dinner, their treat, with the couple.  “We’re staying at the Crillon,” the man said.  “Meet us at 8:00.”   David had been looking the Hotel Crillon online a few nights before, researching the names of people he’d seen on stones by the Place de Concorde, and we’d been laughing at what it would be like to stay at a hotel where room prices start at 450 Euros and a suite can cost up to 1,000.

The couple was friendly, generous, and clearly delighted to have us join them.  “Thank you so much for inviting us,” we said as we all sat down to dinner in the elegant dining room, wait staff buzzing around us.  “It’s our pleasure,” they said.  “We have no social life.”  They laughed.  They live in the U.S., have apartments in London (he works a good bit in the UK), Bermuda and Florida (“but they’re all very small,” she said), and were in Paris for the weekend.  We believed them, that it was a treat to have another couple to talk with at dinner, and though there was a pretty vast difference in economic situations, and some clear political differences between us, we had a lively conversation, along with excellent food and two bottles of a 1988 red wine, which neither David or I came remember the name of, but recognized as outstanding.

On the list of things to do in Paris that I’d made earlier in the week was having a drink at the Hotel Meurice, a suggestion from a friend for a way to experience the opulence of a top end hotel in Paris. So after our unexpected dinner at the Crillon, we stopped at the Meurice,  just up the street from the Crillon, on our way back to the apartment.  We ordered drinks and soaked up the extravagantly decorative surroundings, as the soft tones of the piano and bass jazz being played filled the room.  David drank his Abelour and I drank my mint tea, and we thought about how lucky we are.


Holiday Hiking

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What a quirky collection of beings we were, 10 humans and 5 dogs, coming down from the summit of the south mountain in Pawtuckaway State Park.  We had started with 7 dogs, but 2 immediately ran into the woods at the beginning of the hike and “won’t be back until tonight,” Mark said.

David, Sam and I had planned to hike Pawtuckaway with Will and his family the Friday before Christmas, but the boys ended up playing basketball all morning, followed by lunch at Johnson’s where Sam and Mike (also home in Northwood visiting for the holidays) worked for years, then decided to forego the hike and play disc golf instead.  But yesterday we did get the hike in.  Marianna had arrived from Knoxville the night before, and Will lives with Sam and Marianna in Knoxville, so it was also a chance for all of us to see the house where Will grew up.

We drove a long dirt road in from Rte. 107, past various trail heads in the State Park, all the way to the end, in front of Will’s family’s garage.  Hordes of dogs bounced around our car.  Will’s mother was just back from a ride on one of the 10 horses (4 hers, the others boarders) and needed to change to come with us.  Will’s sister was wearing her new boots, and was ready to hike.  Her recent move home, awaiting the next step in her veterinary career, increased the already large number of dogs living there to 9.  Mark, Will’s mother’s boyfriend, accounted for the cleared acres bounded by stone walls, a serious excavation playground for a serious machine man.  Sam says the land looks nothing like it did when he and Will were in high school together.

The top of Pawtuckaway has a fire tower, and from the top I was able to easily pick out the other small mountains we hike in this area — Nottingham, Parker, Fort, Saddleback.  The humans took turns going up the fire tower, so there would be a group at the bottom to keep the dogs from trying to climb the steep, open steps.  On our way down from the ledgy summit, we ran into Frank and his girlfriend, who had arrived late for the hike.  They’d driven part way up one of the roads, Frank got out to get his boots out of the trunk, realized they weren’t there, and hiked in his slippers.

Ten people, 5 dogs, one pair of slippers.  It was a lovely afternoon outing.

Another Turn of the Wheel

Eric’s sister called me yesterday evening, to let me know she’d heard Jim Borson died.  Eric, Jim and Jeff were best friends in high school, all members of a Jewish youth group.  They didn’t go to the same high schools, but found a bond of love and friendship that endured through decades that included pretty tough times for Jim and Jeff — substance abuse, career missteps, failed relationships.  But Jeff eventually married, got a bit more sober and was loved fiercely by his wife.  Jim had two wonderful daughters before divorcing, and in spite of continued difficulties with making any of his dreams come true, was always ready with a smile.

Jeff died first, his over-worked liver finally giving out.  In the year before he died, during a visit, he called Eric upstairs to talk with him alone.  “Jeff wants me to have his Grateful Dead poster collection when he dies,” Eric told me later as we were driving.  “He knows he doesn’t have that long left.”  He always always called Eric on his birthday.  The year after he died, Eric turned 53 and the silent phone was as much a reminder of his long friendship as a call would have been.

Eric died at 54.  Jim came to the funeral, stunned that his two oldest friends were now gone.  Wednesday night, just hours before the solstice, Jim’s car broke down in the middle lane of I-95 in Connecticut.  According to the article I found online, he got across the right lane, and was crossing an exit lane when he was struck by a car and killed.  He was 60.

Three close friends, all dead by 60.  I hope they’re having some fun tonight.


I’ve surrendered to the holiday season.  Finding it almost impossible to keep up any kind of regular writing schedule, a week ago I finally admitted there is just too much to do over the next few weeks to be trying to stay on track with all the writing projects both on paper and in my head — finishing the first draft of the NaNoWriMo novel, continuing edits on my memoir, An Island Journal, to be sharing with my prose writing group for feedback, or returning to some focus on poetry.

Instead I’ve been shopping for holiday gifts, making gifts, polishing the poem for my annual holiday card, visiting with family and friends in small and large gatherings, and enjoying having Sam at home, including a rousing game of Rummy 500 with Sam and Will yesterday evening.  And then David and I went dancing!

Last night a friend celebrated his 60th birthday with a big party and fundraiser for a local soup kitchen.  He formed a band to play at the party, and another good friend was also playing in the band.  When David and I arrived, shortly after the band started playing, the dance floor was empty, so David and I got out there and started to fill it up.  By the time the band got to their last song, the dance floor was full.  The band was great and obviously having a great time playing together, the crowd was lively, and the fundraising successful.  Fun times on a dark December night.

Moon Camp Fire

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It started in September.  A group of us went for a full moon kayak on Pleasant Lake.  Then in November Anne, Alison and I hiked up Neville Peak in Epsom during the full moon.  While we sat at the top, the moon in and out of racing clouds, Anne had the idea of planning an outdoor adventure for every full moon.

Yesterday eight of us gathered in the late afternoon and hiked up Parker Mt. in Strafford.  Last weekend David and I had done the short hike to the summit, then across the ledgy ridge to the cliffs that overlook Bow Lake.  On our way back, we saw two young men starting a fire in a stone fire ring right off the trail.  “Perfect full moon hike gathering spot,” I said.

We brought wood and paper and matches with us, as well as snacks and tea and wine.  Soon a camp fire was crackling and we watched the moon coming up behind the trees.  When the moon rose high enough to clear the trees, standing out on the open ledges was like standing in a shower of silver.  We stood around the fire and welcomed the light, marking the coming solstice with talk of change, wishes, intentions and the fun of being in just that place, with a group of other like-minded people, the moon bathing us in luminescence.

We needed our headlamps to follow the twisty trail back, when our cold feet started to take over our delight in being outdoors.  At the open summit of Parker we paused, turned off our headlamps, and looked at the lights of Portsmouth on the horizon, the sprinkling of street lamps in the small village below the ridge, and the big circle of open moon now high above us.

Rainy Morning

The warm November is sliding into a warm December.  It’s raining this morning, but it’s still plenty warm enough for writing on the porch.  Now it’s time for a run, and I’m waiting for the band of showers I can see on the radar loop to pass over.  Slowly, I’m beginning to figure out how to manage my days without the overwhelmingly intense central focus of a big job.  What is my job now?  Is it okay to not have a “job?” How much consulting work do I want?  When will David and I have an actual vacation, a real step-out-of-our-lives break of a week or two?  What matters beyond being with my family and friends?  How often can I manage to be with Emilio?  What do I want to do?  What am I doing?

Noticing how the beads of rain are hanging from every horizontal surface this morning, the twiggy branches of bushes, the red winterberries, the prickly foliage of the barberry, the wire fence of the pasture across the street.  Be. Here. Now.

Yes and No

David and I hiked to Flat Mountain Pond on Sunday, with Betsy and Cathy.  It was a lovely hike, to a long, remote pond in the White Mountains, made more delightful by the chance to spend time with our friends — they enjoy being active and outdoors, like we do, and they are also among the most intentional people we know.  They pay close attention to how they spend their time, where they’re putting their energy, how they’re living their lives, and make sure all of that is lining up with what they really want.  As a couple who “dropped out” for a year and traveled across the country, they were among my most enthusiastically supportive friends when I told them, over a year ago, that I was going to be leaving my job at the Coalition.  They thoroughly supported my willingness to try a new life.

Given how hectic our summer and fall has been, this was the first chance we’ve had to hike with Cathy and Betsy for over a year.  I was eager to talk with them about my ever-shifting ideas about how to best use my time, how to balance acceptance of consulting jobs I’m being offered with my desire to write, how to structure my days, how to figure out what exactly I’m doing.   It’s not that I expected them to have answers, but I knew they would understand the questions.

And coincidentally, I had just gotten an offer from Cathy’s sister Anne, who I know well from her work on violence against women at the national level, to represent her organization at a U.S. – Russia Civil Society Partnership Program meeting in Moscow in three weeks, taking part in the gender equity workgroup.  I’ve been to Russia twice to do training on domestic violence, and have planned programs for two delegations of Russians visiting New Hampshire, so I was an easy choice for Anne to approach, knowing she wouldn’t be able to get away and accept the invitation to participate herself.

But do I want to go to Russia in three weeks?  Do I want to get involved in what might be an ongoing project?  How much exactly do I want to work, and stay engaged in the movement to end violence against women?  Do I have the energy to spare that a quick trip to Russia will use up?  Do I really want to do this, or do I just not know how to say no?

“Work begets work,” was one piece of advice Betsy gave me.  And she also said she always asks herself, when considering whether to take on work for her own consulting business, “Is this going to help me get where I want to go?”  This was all bouncing around in my head on Sunday night when I went to hear Kay Ryan read her poetry in Concord.  In talking about coming to know that she wanted to be a poet, she said it came down to asking herself, “Do I like it?”

The short story in all this is that I said yes, and will be going to Russia in a few weeks. The longer story is that David and I are both deeply involved in helping each other sort out what exactly we want to be doing with our lives, now that the huge structure of demanding jobs isn’t dictating the basic work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, laundry, grocery shop, sleep, work, eat, sleep over and over again schedule.  What we’ve come to affirm is that we’re in a mode of figuring it out.  Saying yes to something for this year doesn’t mean I would say yes to the same thing next year.  Or I may be out there looking for more opportunities like this, rather than waiting for them to come my way. Is this taking me where I want to go.  Do I like this?

There is no Grace and David Four Months Into Having Left Their Jobs Rule Book.  We’re making it up as we go along, paying attention, keeping track, staying present, asking the right questions.  And having fun, like in the photo above.  That was part of Sunday too.

The Northeast Kingdom

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We just spent two days in the Northeast Kingdom, and while I bristle at male gender references to almost anything, it is beautiful country.  The term is used to describe the northeastern corner of Vermont, and is reported to have first been used by George Aiken, a former Governor of Vermont and a U.S. Senator, during a 1949 speech.  Not surprising, that the term “kingdom” came from a man, but it is a gloriously scenic area, and I was there visiting one of my most brilliantly feminist friends — by that I mean her gender analysis is spot on and constant, underlying her fundamental views of how the world operates, which is probably why I was thinking about the “kingdom” thing in the first place.  But what do you call the land a queen owns and governs?  A queendom?

Beyond all that, we had a grand time.  We arrived on a sunny and warm October afternoon and enjoyed the view of Lake Willoughby from the camp porch, Jay Peak in the distance.  We ended up spending much of the afternoon sitting on the dock, late season sun warming our faces and backs, snacking, talking, listening to the water slap the rocks. David and I even went for a swim, though the water was so cold I could hardly breathe.

Yesterday morning, while Carol and Steve did camp close-up errands, David and I went to hike Wheeler Mt.  Within a few minutes of starting the hike, we were climbing slabs of granite that form the western cliff face of the mountain.  The foliage was stunning, with hillsides of yellow and orange rolling off into the folds of mountains around us.  It was so glorious and exhilarating, I knew I needed to hike more.  So after going back to the camp and helping Steve and Carol with more closing-down-camp chores, including completing the item on the list “Finish drinking all beverages and eating all the food,” we left to hike Mt. Pisgah.

Pisgah forms the eastern wall of the notch that Lake Willoughby slices through.  From its ridge the views of the lake, a long rectangle of wind streaked water directly below, and the Green Mountains in the distance, were remarkable.  We’d timed the hike so we’d get out of the woods right at dark, not having to worry about being any where by any time in particular.  Afternoons like yesterday are when the reality of having left our jobs is most striking.  Want to hike more?  Okay, let’s do it.

As we walked back to the car, the low sun lit the yellow leaves of the hardwoods at the base of the ridge into a canopy of autumn glow.  Just before the road, we crossed a boardwalk over a beaver bog, and the nearly full moon was rising in the east.  A beaver swam back and forth across the small pond, and twice came to watch us watch him.   We looked out over the silvered tree stumps standing in the still water once more, then got in the car and drove home, the big moon riding with us, feathering the dark ridges with a ghost haze, easing us back into a week that isn’t full of work.  Yes, we are blessed.

Yom Kippur, Again

I just reread my Yom Kippur post from last year, which told a story from two years past on Yom Kippur.   And I recently reread Adrienne’s blog post from last Yom Kippur.  Looking back is in the spirit of this solemn day, when we think about our transgressions, contemplate atonement and forgiveness, and resolve to be as good as we can be, while loving ourselves even in our imperfection, in the year to come.

Today at services, I could feel Eric sitting beside me.  He is so present to me still, and no more so than on days that are rich with all he brought into my life — a spiritual practice that has stayed deeply meaningful for me, with rituals and traditions that keep me connected to friends and family and him.

In a couple of hours, David and I will go over to Mark and Andi’s to continue a tradition we’ve started since Eric died.  In the years before Eric’s death, we had started going back into Concord to attend the Memorial and Concluding Services for Yom Kippur.  In the midst of the thoughtful swoon that a day of fasting and reflection brings on, getting dressed again for services and driving back into Concord was a lot, but we’d come to count on the tradition.

The year after Eric died Adrienne and Sam and I planned to go back into Concord, after the break from the morning service, for the Memorial and Concluding Services.  Being part of the Memorial Service was particularly important to me.  But we didn’t make it.  I don’t remember exactly why but it was probably a combination of grief and exhaustion. We went to Mark and Andi’s and broke fast with them.  We didn’t make it back into Concord the following year either, and by the third Yom Kippur after Eric died, David was in my life and Laura had just died.

“I really want to go to Memorial Services, ” I said to Sam, who was home that year.  “But I really don’t want to go back into Concord to the Temple.”

“Do your own service,” Sam said, and we did.  I have a copy of the High Holy Days prayer book at home, because when I went to see the Rabbi after Eric died, and asked for his suggestions for helpful readings on the Jewish response to death and grief, he said he thought the Yom Kippur Memorial Service in the prayer book was as good as anything, and I took a copy home.  So three years ago I picked out readings and we created our own Memorial and Concluding Service with Mark and Andi.  And did it again last year.  And will do it again today.

The photo above is from the first Yom Kippur after Eric died, just about 5 months after.  The photo makes me think about all that’s changed in the five years, and six High Holy Day seasons since he’s been gone.  Mark and Andi and I visited his grave after this morning’s service, and told stories about our lives then and now that made us laugh.  Eric loves that — all of us laughing and loving and carrying on our rituals in whatever way keeps us connected to Judaism and to him.

“Retirement” Passages

When people ask me how retirement is going, I respond that I haven’t “retired.”  I left my job of 30 years, with every intention of continuing to work.  The difference is that my work is now going to be more self-directed — writing, editing what I’ve already written, doing consulting work.  That’s the plan anyway.

But three months into this new journey, I’m not at all sure what I should be doing with myself from day to day.  I’m getting my manuscript ready for the publisher, which includes formatting the book, putting together a mailing list for people to receive a promotional flyer, and getting blurbs from other poets.  I’m writing a lot of poems but mostly not working on them.  I’ve started a novel and am reading a lot of novels to see if I can figure out how to get more than six pages of the one in my head down on paper, or onto the computer’s screen and thus hard drive.  I’m training for a half marathon in November which means running more, I’m slowly putting my garden to bed, I’m visiting with lots of family and friends, and I’m working on three consulting jobs.

Is this the creative life I imagined?  The storage pod is finally out of the driveway and David’s studio is done and he’s mostly moved in.  Yesterday he created the first of his art to come out of the studio — beautiful cards for friends who came for a multi-birthday dinner last night.  His creative life seems to be cranking into action.

I had lunch two weeks ago with a friend who’s a few months in front of me on the retirement path, though her path is more truly retirement. In an email exchange after our lunch, when I talked again about the anxiety that dogs me some days, she wrote back, “the most important thing that I have learned in the last few months is that this thing called retirement is a process.  Be gentle with yourself.”

Last Saturday we hiked with a friend who’s several years ahead of David and me on the full-on professional life “retirement” exit into a creative life path.  He talked to both of us about finding a creative community to support us in our new life.  “You don’t get many kudos for pursuing your creative art,” he said.  “It’s not like being at a job every day when people tell you what a good job you’re doing.”

And it’s not like I have a calendar with appointments for writing poetry, or working on my novel, or editing The Island Journal, a memoir I finished over two years ago and have done nothing with but type into my computer since.

So what am I going to do right now, on this wet and still Saturday morning?  Go for a run, maybe then I’ll be able to sit at my computer for a while and catch a glimpse of my new path.