Travels w/Fiona #somepeopleneverlearn

On March 7th my husband Mike and I picked up a brand new fifth wheel, conveniently located in Muskegon, MI. Today, a mere three weeks later, we are camping (stuck) in windy Amarillo in a trailer that has suffered exterior renovation, three visits from mobile auto/RV repair professionals, and what I like to call “hitch hostage.” But I’m getting way ahead of myself.

A couple of months ago Mike casually mentioned that Cougar had come out with a really nice, light weight fifth wheel with a double slide. I said “Uh, huh” and apparently that was enough. You would think that after more than 20 years of marriage I would have developed a radar or at least an inkling about Mike’s casual remarks. The next thing I knew Mike had called every Cougar dealer in the country and found a great deal in MI (2200 miles away from our home). Initially I was unenthused but then I surrendered to the unstoppable force that is my husband. And why not? Unlike my situation during the last two trailer purchases, I am retired and might actually enjoy this relaxed mode of travel. Uh, huh.

We left March 1st and were in Michigan by March 6th. Let me be clear: we drove our truck an average of 500 miles a day. On the way east we stayed in pet friendly motels; some more friendly than others. Usually we arrived late in the afternoon, tired and hungry. Since the princess was with us, we were limited to carry out or delivery food and we had some great and some horrible meals.

It’s time to re-introduce the eponymous star of this blog, which originally detailed travels without her. For the first time, we embarked on a lengthy trip with Fiona. Luckily for us, Fiona loves riding in the truck, usually perched on the console between us. Along the way she has learned, or rather taught us, how to meet her needs. When she wants water, she pokes whatever drinks we have in the cup holders and I quickly pour water in a small bowl I keep in the door pocket. (She isn’t patient.) When she’s hungry she paws the console, licks her lips and stares at me meaningfully. So she’s a little high maintenance. On the plus side, she has learned to pee quickly and on any surface. When she’s had enough of our company, she lounges in her car seat. On the not plus side, every time we stop for gas she barks hysterically, her special ear-splitting yaps.

It would’ve been a good idea to approach this travelogue chronologically and to take pictures of RV parks along the way. I’m afraid that an organized approach isn’t in my wheelhouse. So on Day 21 of our trip, here is the first blog. I could’ve started three weeks ago but I didn’t feel like it. Besides three weeks ago we hadn’t remodeled the Cougar’s exterior with the help of a friendly post.

Back with a Blog

Has FB and social media in general become a platform for our worst selves? Back in the day, when mean girls wrote in “slam books,” there was always the scary or thrilling possibility of confrontation. With FB even the meanest comments have a protective distance that was never afforded to the average 6th grader on a school playground. If, for example, you feel moved to react to a comment that a stranger (to you) has made about a post, you can safely attack a person you know nothing about, using all the eloquent invective at your command. Or you can be nice and understand that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, however stupid or uninformed. The old aphorism about not saying anything if you can’t say something nice seems to have gone by the wayside along with other archaic courtesies.

If you felt defensive or insulted when you read the previous paragraph, I’d like to point out that it is just my opinion, which is all anything is on FB, Twitter, or so-called mainstream news. There hasn’t been real news since Watergate when the media figured out they could market outrage and turn it into ratings. Think about it. Is anything on cable or networks really news? No, it isn’t–it’s opinion. And we tune into the bias we embrace so it feels like news because it supports our bias. My husband, the news junkie, is an historian by training. So he has a broader perspective which does not, however, stop him from talking back to the commentators he disagrees with. To his credit, he watches all the big media ….. — cnn, fox, msnbc, you get the idea. I don’t know if that’s because he’s broad minded or if it’s the 21st century equivalent of “mortification of the flesh.” If you went to St. Bernadette’s, you know what I mean. Looking back on it, it seems the nuns had a little too much delight in scaring the hell out of us with tales of saints beating themselves and then donning hair shirts. Basically the hair shirts constantly irritated the self inflicted wounds. Maybe that’s how Sister Frances Mary felt about teaching 45 terrified third graders.

Anyway back to FB, which is what I think this blog is about, sort of. I haven’t looked at my FB page since since September when bile overwhelmed curiosity. So I’ve missed seeing vacation/ travel photos and pictures of family; I haven’t kept up with the adventures of former students or cried over trending pictures of abused cats and dogs. Mike forces me to watch cute animal videos (not at gunpoint) so I’ve seen those. I haven’t missed political commentary as access to that was ubiquitous. No conscious American was spared the appalling spectacle of the presidential election.

If you’re on FB 24/7, thrilling to every pinged notification, taking every quiz, religiously following the activities of your 403 friends, good for you. I mean that. My curiosity doesn’t rise to that level and I’m sure I miss a lot because of that. But I’ve always been that person who doesn’t know what happened at the party, who hears about things way after everyone else, who is surprised that so and so did such and such. Not saying that’s a good thing but it does shed light on my lack of commitment to the trivial nature of some FB posts. It’s not that I have a negative opinion about someone’s constant posts (coffee with friends, picking up my mail, etc.). It’s just that I’m exhausted by so much information. Do I wish that people would limit their posts to pictures, incredible insights, truly hilarious or inspirational videos, and rare instances of pithy commentary? Sure–don’t you?

For some of us, FB is a diary, for others it’s a confessional. For me, it’s reading and there’s so many other things I would rather read. So I didn’t really miss my FB hiatus beyond the occasional twinge of social guilt (” Didn’t you see the pictures of the wedding, hear about a new job, move or baby?). And I’m back to skim, read, select,  and ignore, and hopefully get a few more readers of my own. 😏

The Desert Trip: Intermission

“And I Love Him”

If you are one of my 8 faithful readers, you may recall that I’ve mentioned Paul McCartney in a previous blog (“The Rock(y) Road to Country Music”) and alluded to my devotion to the Beatles, especially Paul. Let me say right now that I know this was (is) a shallow crush, based on physical attributes. In my defense, I offer this argument: What baby boomer woman of a certain age doesn’t have the Beatles in the soundtrack of her life?

It started when I was eleven watching the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show”—standing in front of a black and white television in the basement of my parents’ home. The rest of the family was upstairs watching on the newer TV. I was alone because I was in trouble (nothing new) and because I didn’t want those people spoiling it for me. I was still in my St. Bernadette’s uniform—blue jumper and white short sleeved blouse with a Peter Pan collar. (It wasn’t a good look for anyone.) The first time the camera zoomed in on the regular features of the cutest Beatle, I was a goner. Throughout my life (so far) I have been drawn to the Irish-Anglo look, brown hair, and a face that shows warmth and self-deprecating humor. Not having dated Paul, I can’t attest to his sense of humor, but my first real boyfriend had a great sense of humor and his first name was James, which is Paul’s first name. Bet you didn’t know that. Anyway, my Jimi (yes, that’s how he spelled it) was also a brown-haired charmer, who thoroughly broke my heart when I was 15.

In 1965 I saw Paul, and the other three, in person when the Beatles performed at D.C. Stadium. In those days, I could name (and sing) every Beatles’ song in three chords. I had the order of the songs on the albums memorized because I had played them so often on my pink and white record player. Seeing the Beatles, even from a distance as was inevitable in a stadium, was so thrilling that I can’t remember it. I mean that the experience was so huge I was just in the middle of it and had no room for storing memories. So while I can’t recall specific moments, I’ll never forget the feeling. I was twelve then and no other concert has ever surpassed the sheer thrill of that one. I wonder sometimes if our iPhones have pushed us back from experiences. I mean it takes you away from the moment to take a picture, tweet a comment, or post your status. You lose the connection and immediacy or at least I do. Over 50 years ago I watched those tiny gods of music on an unadorned wooden stage without big screens or pyrotechnics and listened to probably marginal amplification. But I was there, present, completely overtaken by the sound, the sight, and the wonder.  I’ll never forget it.

For a few years, I flirted with devoting my personal Beatlemania to John, the smart and tortured (but not as tortured as George) Beatle. My cousin Sandy and I would cut out and save pictures of our favorite Beatles from teen magazines. She would give me the Johns and I would give her the Ringos. But at home, I had a secret stash of every adorable expression that crossed Paul’s face. Before this gets sickening let me mention that I had a real life, too. I went to college, got married, had a career, got married, had a son, got married. But I always kept my eye on Paul. I liked his post-Beatle music, his nearly 30 year marriage to Linda, his devotion to his children, and his obvious grief at Linda’s passing. He and I lost our spouses in the 90’s—that was a bond. I like that Paul was and is the marrying kind. I especially like that Paul usually marries women who are friends and in an acceptable age group (no twenty year olds, thank you very much).

Flash forward to 2005, when my husband and I saw Paul perform in Sacramento. It was an amazing concert, just as the concert on October 8th was amazing (more on that in the next blog). At one point I took my eyes off the stage and looked at Mike, my self-deprecating and generous husband, with his Irish-Scottish DNA, brown hair (no mullet, thank God), and sometimes brown and sometimes hazel eyes. Yes, the resemblance is definitely there. I’ve come full circle.





The Desert Trip: Part Two

Reflections on the Desert Trip: October 7, 2016

(This adventure is not for the weak….)

There’s a big difference between being 18 and being 60-something. And that difference became abundantly clear the first day of the concerts. The friends who traveled with us in their motor home (let’s call them Randy and Sue) had the campsite next to us in the lovely Emerald Desert RV Park. Sue and I decided to walk a couple of miles in the morning and then exercise in the pool for about 40 minutes. Big mistake. Our husbands hung around the sites and arranged to have the vehicles washed and waxed. All of this was before we knew what lay ahead.

Turns out that the shuttle (a full size bus that played the same music during every trip) let us off at the edge of the polo fields—a mile and a half from our seats. (The concerts were held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, CA—the second largest in the country.) This amble across a long field, down a dirt road and next to endless parking happened in blazing heat (over 95 every day) We could have gone later as the concerts didn’t start before 6:30. However, Sue wanted to get there before 4:00 and managed, using a variety of techniques such as horror stories from other campers who left on a later bus, to beat us into submission. So we arrived every day in the apex of the heat to find that all the couches and most of the shade had been grabbed up by people even crazier than we are.

Still there were many amenities designed to please everyone but especially the baby boomers. These included air-conditioned restrooms with private cubicles and flush toilets, many, many food choices including a culinary experience complete with servers, gourmet food and a big price tag (a mere $179 per day and a bargain at $499 for all 3 days), an air-conditioned craft beer lounge and a shaded dome tent complete with wine for the connoisseur (or snob)—Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon, a mere $29 a glass. The first day the volunteers were a little lax and you could wander around the whole venue; that gave us an opportunity to see just how far our seats were from the stage. I hate to admit how much we paid for this once-in-a-lifetime experience in Section F-2, but it was a lot and it was worth it, even if the performers could only be seen through binoculars. There were huge jumbotrons so we had a good view of what was happening on stage…most of the time.

The first act was Bob Dylan. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of Dylan’s voice and I was subjected to it frequently in my early years by my older brother who thought Dylan was a genius. I guess the Nobel Prize Committee agreed since they awarded him the prize for literature a few days after this concert. During his first five songs, Dylan was projected onto one of the three screens behind the stage. The other screens showed powerful and mainly depressing black and white photography. After those songs, all the screens showed photos—the same photos we had already seen. Several times. Dylan didn’t greet the audience, comment on the venue or say good-bye. Basically he acted like he was alone and playing for himself, which I understand from his more rabid fans is his modus operandi and anybody who expects something different is naïve, uninformed, and basically unworthy. The three Californians I was traveling with could not get over Dylan’s disinterest in his audience. “I can’t believe he didn’t even say hello.” I heard this several times. Maybe it’s because I grew up on the East Coast but I didn’t care about that or that we didn’t get to see him after 5 songs. What I objected to was his singing. While he is a brilliant lyricist/poet who has vividly chronicled the American experience for more than 50 years, his voice is shot. And I have to admit I felt vindicated when music reviewers basically said the same thing. I could tell he was winding down (e.g., hitting even fewer notes) so I took myself off to the bathroom and the closest bar and when I returned it was time for the next act.

The opening chords of “Start Me Up” signaled the frenetic pace that carried the Rolling Stones through 2 hours of serious rock up to midnight. Mick Jagger was indefatigable; he’s as thin as ever (think Twiggy but skinnier) and his face belongs on Mt. Rushmore. I’m talking craggy. Mick went through at least 7 changes of clothing (mostly jackets) that I think happened during guitar and drum solos. In my untutored opinion, these guys are still making great music. And they know how to talk to a crowd. The end came with fireworks and “Satisfaction” lighting up the audience and the sky (literally). The energy surging through us kept us high (on music) and rocking all the way back to the shuttle bus. It also kept me awake for quite a while after our return to camp at 1:30. All of this would’ve been irrelevant had not the waxing and buffing of our fifth wheel started at 7:15. In the morning. After 3-4 hours of sleep. At my age. Also Sue’s Fitbit indicated we had walked 6 miles, not counting our insane exercising in the morning. Still the next day would bring my favorite musicians Neil Young and Sir Paul.


The shuttle schedule


— Mandatory wrist bands


F-2 is behind the pink section







The Desert Trip: Part One

IMG_7040 (Edited)

Reflections on the Desert Trip: October 6, 2016

Most, if not all, of the articles I’ve read about the first weekend of the Desert Trip share a preoccupation with nostalgia and a snarky need to mention everyone’s age.  I think the 70,000 people who showed up for three nights know how old they are and whether they were around 50+ years ago when Mick and Paul started redefining music.  And some of us actually got to see them way back when.  I saw the Beatles during their second and last American tour (1965) and the Rolling Stones when I was in college (sometime in 1975 or 1976–it’s a blur). One article made the point that the music of the 1960’s and 70’s is really current music because young people are listening to it today.  Uh, no.  It’s our music and by that I mean the music of the people known as the baby boomers.  And the reason our music is still around is because it’s better than anything that followed.  And we have the hearing loss to prove it.

I read today that media is calling the Desert Trip “Oldchella.” Well here’s a message for you, young media know-it-all: you’re going to be older one day, with physical and maybe mental challenges, and that’s if you’re lucky. BTW, ICYMI, we’re the generation that made “F” an all-purpose word. One could say that your f’ing attitude shows how f’ed you are; you’re kind of an f”er. (adjective, adverb, noun). So verb you, Buddy. LOL.


Next blog–the first night, the heat, the merchandise, the food, glamping….

Breaking up is hard to do

I would like to end it with FB.

I can tell I lack the requisite skills and motivation to sustain our relationship. I’m a fair weather friend posting primarily when traveling because a) I have time and b) I might actually have a picture or comment that’s marginally interesting to you. But probably not.

I’ve thought about this a lot– not just what my participation in canned communication means but what a phenomenon like FB says about culture and society.  And I’ve concluded that I don’t have a theory, nothing that sounds plausible or even opinionated.  Technology based communication is … fill in your favorite dire prediction. After all it wasn’t the telephone that caused the fall of the Roman Empire.

There are so many things I like and loathe about Facebook.

List 1: the joys

Heartwarming:  the children and grandchildren of my siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends dance down the news feed, growing up before my eyes.  Lovely to enjoy old family photos that poke the embers of long forgotten memories.  And, of course, the rare but hilarious video that makes you actually laugh out loud and force other people to watch it by immediately sharing it or hunting down your husband in the family room and making him mute the tv, watch the video, and assure you that it is truly hysterical.

Sometimes FB is magical.  Someone posts a picture of your mother that you’ve never seen.  A person you loved and lost along the way finds you.  A piece of history moves you to tears. You follow a link and discover a wonderful writer.

List 2: the not so much joy

Sad pictures of animals bum me out, but I think it’s good for me to be reminded.  (I offer it up for the poor souls.  If you’re Catholic you’ll know what that means.  If you’re not, it’s just another obnoxious inside joke like all the ones I don’t get on FB.) That’s the price I pay for having compassionate friends involved in animal rescue.  Serves me right for not friending jerks.

Oversharing.  I do like to know what friends and acquaintances are up to, but maybe not everything.  Still I can’t tell you where that line is.  Is detailed information about your latest project, obsession, resolution too much?  Sometimes.  Is pontificating okay?  Hardly ever.  During presidential election years I’m tempted to unfollow most everyone.  This year is an exception because in the wind-up before the 2016 election, most of my friends, or at least the ones who comment, are in agreement about the Donald. And my friends span the political spectrum.  So that shows …what?  Either Mr. Trump is universally deplorable or I have discerning friends. Or I already unfollowed you and forgot.

Sidebar: I suspect that my sudden, periodic flurry of posts and photos are pretty tiresome.  If I do decide to comment, share, post, change pictures, etc. I do about 5 things in 10 minutes so you are inundated with information about moi. (And since I went to France in 2013 you also have to put up with the occasional bon mot.) C’est la vie.

List 3: Keeping score, sort of

It’s not nice but I can’t help noticing the people who selectively “like” (BTW, Mr. Zuckerberg, you’ve basically ruined the word “like” for eternity).  So are the occasional likers people who rarely go on FB or are they sending a message?  I mean how hard is it to touch that damn thumb?

Have you ever suddenly realized that someone has disappeared from your news feed?  Deep thinkers such as myself have to wonder if this friend has eschewed the seductive addiction of social media and signed off FB forever … or just unfriended me?  Of course a quick trip to your friends list will tell you if you’re being paranoid or you’ve been dumped.  Being inexplicably (to you at least) unfriended leads the thoughtful to question their worth and may damage their precious self-esteem.  Hardly.  At least I hope no one cares that much.  Still, what do you do when you come face to face with an unfriending friend?  Would you demand a public unfriending?  My imagination goes this way:

The unfriender greets you cordially and there you are on the proverbial horns of a dilemma. You could snidely murmur. “Oh, I didn’t know you spoke to your un-friends.” More likely you would respond politely as if graciously ignoring a fart.  (Time for another shout out to Mark Z for giving us so many ways to abuse the word friend.)

List 3: Coping

There are ways to deal with your FB obligations, even for the sporadic participant.  I probably miss a lot on the newsfeed because days go by and my page has to soldier on without me.  So when I do indulge, I do a lot of liking.  Because I sincerely like my friends and am interested in their lives.  I also skip a lot of videos because they load slowly or I don’t have time or it’s another cat video. Also my husband Mike shares EVERY animal video with me.  Every single one.  Who knew he was such a softy? And when did lions get so cuddly?

Back in the early days of my ambivalent relationship with FB I read all the notifications.  Now I skim and ignore the posts by people I don’t know.  For example I found myself reading comments by Mike’s former students about the good old days that were somehow attached to a picture of my friend and I making biscotti that his wife posted and then tagged Mike for reasons best known to her.

Sometimes I write comments that I don’t  post.  After checking for spelling errors I ask myself if anyone would want to read my comment.  The answer is frequently no.

I blow by pictures of food pretty quickly.  As well as anything that’s out of focus, overtly preachy, or patently offensive.  We all have our own ideas about what is offensive; for me it comes down to meanness, which can be in the message or the motivation beneath the message.  People, especially portraits, those darned puppies and kittens, beautiful scenery, and pithy sayings get my attention and, naturally, a like.

So why would I even consider breaking up with FB?  Mainly because sometimes, not always and not even that often, it feels like a colossal waste of time–mine, yours, and even the sneaky advertisers.

Still FB is a seductive, addictive fantasy; every newsfeed holding promise and possibility. Once in awhile I read or see something on FB that takes me back, way back.  And when that happens I remember how real the fantasy could be.  Maybe it was Paul McCartney and you were 11 and watching him on the black and white tv in the basement.  Maybe.  And maybe you bought every teen magazine and cut out his pictures and pasted them in a spiral notebook even though you knew you would never meet him much less marry him and make him spaghetti.

Here’s the deal: in life, we all hang on for possibilities.  The chance to feel something we’ve lost or forgotten, the need to connect meaningfully, or surrender to a  joy or sorrow. FB, usually mundane, sometimes inconsequential, is just people expressing themselves and who’s to say what’s shallow and what’s deep.

The somewhat friendly skies

The only place in the world where you sit 4 inches from people and never acknowledge their presence is on an airplane. I am in the middle seat because I often travel with my husband (must have window) or son (needs aisle for long legs). When I fly alone (bliss) and have an assigned seat, I check my bag through and stroll onto the plane, carrying only my purse with iPad tucked inside, after everyone else is seated. I’m in no hurry to sit for 5-7 hours as I’m usually flying across country. Of course this method inevitably inspires the disappointed grimaces of the people who thought there was going to be an empty seat in their aisle. Uh huh. When was the last time that happened to you?

“Ladies and gentlemen, this will be a full flight today.” Everyday as far as I can tell.

When I travel alone, I immediately assess the social preferences of my aisle mates. The long forward stare is a good indication that this person and I will be invisible to each other. As is the slouched, earplugs in, device on, posture of the 15-40 year old. For me–person with a novel to read or listen to–these are ideal companions. Not ideal are the bright-eyed women or avuncular men who brought nothing to do.

“Where are you headed, little lady?” Uh oh.

I have two problems with chatty seat mates. For one thing I really want to read the new Elizabeth George or listen to “Girl on the Train.” I’ve been saving it specifically to engage me during a flight. Also–and I mean this sincerely–I cannot keep turning my head to politely converse without getting motion sick. My son, also a victim of heredity, understands this and we conduct terse, face forward conversations when we fly together. The face forward thing became a grisly reality when I puked noisily into the air sickness bag after a lively conversation with the young pilot sitting next to me. He flew for another airline and looked all of 17.

Remember my husband: must have window? He likes to engage the aisle person in conversation across my uninterested lap. Luckily he also likes to look out the window and/or nap so these conversations, once destination, occupation, and education have been established, are blessedly brief. Right now he is sleeping during our Sacramento-L.A. flight. I have nothing but admiration for this talent. It hasn’t been a quiet flight but he has snoozed through multiple announcements (weather in L.A., cruising altitude, cruising speed, distance to L.A., benefits of the tailwind, injunctions to keep seat belts on and not stand in line for the bathroom, and loud offers of beverages). I, on the other hand, have been recording this adventure while simultaneously remembering many previous flights.

People such as myself, who dislike air travel, have different reasons for their phobia. In my family motion sickness has been passed down through the ages. My mother famously lost 15 lbs sailing across the Atlantic to Britain and earned the sobriquet “Bones” from my Dad. My son actually vomited under water while snorkeling near the Chanel Islands. None of us can handle waves; in fact my sister can get queasy from jumping in the waves. Barring turbulence, Dramamine is effective but puts me in a 24 hour trance.

Beyond motion illness lie the other unpleasant aspects of air travel. Claustrophobia rears its ugly head when you’re hurtling through space in a narrow, confining, flimsy, metal tube. An air-van of a sort. And then there’s basic fear of flying. Man or woman wasn’t meant to fly; we don’t have wings, etc. All of that sounds ridiculous unless you’re the one with the tight, dry throat clutching the armrests and ignoring the idiot next to you who keeps pointing out landmarks.
“Oh look, there’s the Grand Canyon, Lake Michigan, Atlantic Ocean….” Shut up.

My friend Mary Jane likes to confide her fears to her seat mate prior to lift off. She once told a man that she’s always afraid she’s on the plane “that they forgot to put the oil in.” He was pretty shook up by that idea and later declined to hold Mary Jane’s hand during landing. I have to stop now because we’re encountering turbulence (I know this because the pilot announced it) on our descent into L.A.. Descent is an ugly word.

Here’s a new thing: our plane, engines off, is being pulled into the gate. Not sure what that’s about but I’m thrilled to be out of the turbulence and on terra firma. Also the landing itself was a resounding thump but the pilot, after apparently slamming on the brakes, coasted for awhile which tells me we’re not going to crash into the gate, hit another plane, or spontaneously combust.

I would like to mention here that people who have no fear of flying are amazingly unsympathetic to the rest of us poor sufferers who board every plane reluctantly. My husband enjoys flying and I can tell this because he likes to get to the airport early and then stand in the line of people waiting to hear the announcement to form a line. In others words stand in the line for the line. Incomprehensible. However this doesn’t make him immune to the irritations that have increased over the years. It’s only in first class that you’re not subjected to people reclining a seat back into your lap so that you can’t even lower your tray. My brother recommends faking a sneeze or cough while simultaneously spraying a mister over the head of the inconsiderate person in front if you. I don’t know if he’s ever actually done this. I once kept my knees against the back of the seat in front of me (not difficult with 6 inches of so-called leg room) for most of an entire flight to prevent the inevitable recline. The second I dropped my knees the seat back came down. I would have used the spray technique then had I been appropriately equipped.

The notion that flying with a crying baby is a nightmare is overblown in my opinion. Rarely have I had to listen to a baby cry and when I have heard the brief sobs I’ve felt nothing but sympathy for the child’s ear pressure pain and the parents’ discomfiture. There are plenty of other, adult, behaviors I have no patience for. The person who blocks the aisle, oblivious of the line of people behind her or him, adjusting a carry on, casually removing a jacket, pulling out the carry on again for a computer, putting a small bag into the upper bin….this person drives me crazy. And there are no mitigating circumstances: extreme age, physical disability, or traveling with multiple children under the age of 5. These people are really in their own little world, aren’t they? Either spaced out or incredibly self-centered. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s give the guy with the ear plugs who keeps asking me to repeat the announcements a pass as well. But let’s hold accountable the folks who give the flight attendants a hard time. After all, they are basically servers who don’t get tipped, trapped on this plane with the rude, the fearful and the clueless.

So now I’m seated on the second flight, going into Houston and it looks to be a pretty good ride. The pilot has some gray in his hair and he made only one announcement. Mike is on the aisle and the kid at the window, after a semi-surly phone call with his mother, put on aggressively huge earphones and is wearing out his thumbs playing a game. Also he has left the armrest for me. Yeah! It’s 2 1/2 hours in the air, hopefully outrunning a storm, and… I have the new Elizabeth George to read.

Evidence we may not be campers

Fiona and St. Francis

Fiona and St. Francis

Typical mess

Typical mess

Fancy coffee maker we love (not appropriate for camping

Fancy coffee maker we love (not appropriate for camping)

6 months of jam, note Red Vines in background

6 months of jam, note Red Vines in background

No poisoned apples

Not poisoned apples


Lunch at the Wet Dog

Beautiful Columbia River

Beautiful Columbia River

Picture of Fiona not barking

Picture of Fiona not barking

She Who Must Be Obeyd

She Who Must Be Obeyed

My family never camped. Family vacations involved long car rides to see other family. There was an element of camping because we slept on the floors of our cousins’ rooms sometimes. At my Aunt Alma’s farm we didn’t camp but my sister and I slept with one or another girl cousin upstairs in the dormitory style room at the farmhouse. It was sort of like camping. Aunt Alma and Uncle Larry had 11 children—7 girls and 4 boys; the house had 2 bedrooms as well as the long dorm room and one bathroom. My brothers remember when there was an outhouse instead of a bathroom and I have vague memories of using that outhouse when the bathroom was occupado. We loved the farm—because of the cousins, the freedom…and the vehicles. There was always something to drive—years before legal driving age arrived: my cousin Danny’s motorized go-cart, a tractor, snowmobiles, even bicycles down long country roads. Years later I realized that going to the farm gave my parents a break from us (they didn’t’ stay there) and an opportunity to see other family and friends. My parents grew up near Detroit, briefly attended the same school, went to Guardian Angel Catholic Church, and knew each other for most of their lives. Since Dad was in the air force, my family lived all over the world and I wonder if the 20 moves during the first 10 years of their marriage is why camping had little appeal.

If I don’t count an unfortunate day camping episode that involved dropping all the hot dogs in the dirt and burning my fingers on a primitive stove that involved hot wax and a can , which led to an end of my brief career as a girl scout, I never camped until I was in college. At that time a friend of a friend had access to family land on the Mason-Dixon Line so we often headed north to “Beth’s land” to camp in loose groups of fairly clueless college chums. Luckily there was usually someone along with experience to guide us and keep us alive. Mainly I remember utilitarian tents, (very) basic food prep, and inebriated fun as we hiked and waded in the stream that flowed through the property. One time I went camping with some forgotten people somewhere in Virginia and we went canoeing. That time in my life is a genuine blur. I worked selling shoes and periodically waitressing, carried a heavy load of college classes, lived in a sub-standard (scary) apartment, and plotted my escape from East to West Coast.
Flash forward to life in California: I’m in my twenties with my first teaching job (thought I was rich when my first contract for nearly $10,000 was signed). Camping was the way I vacationed then and there is plenty of beautiful camping in NorCal. We (and who “we” was changed periodically) tent camped in state and national parks mainly, occasionally forced into a commercial camping area. In those days, people mostly camped in tents; the fancy ones had those extra pop up shades to put over the park-supplied tables. The really fancy ones had Coleman stoves and lamps and didn’t have to climb into their sleeping bags at dark. Somewhere in my late twenties I started seeing more trailers at campgrounds. How I loathed getting behind someone pulling a trailer up winding mountain roads. Even more I hated the loud generators that roared all night keeping wimpy would-be campers comfortable. Why I wondered didn’t these people, who needed all these electrically driven comforts, stay home? I still wonder but now I wonder it about myself.
Camping stated losing its appeal when I had a baby. Camping (or as I called it: doing housework and childcare in the dirt) was less relaxing with a toddler to chase over uneven ground, keep from the fire, and bathe in “3 minutes for 50 cents” showers. Still I persevered for a while and hope those pictures of my son fishing, playing with friends, listening to ranger talks, and eating s’mores provide Max with nice memories. I notice he doesn’t camp and has consistently ignored my efforts to foist a sleeping bag, pad and equipment on him.
So now, retired and in possession of a fifth wheel and the time to camp, I wonder what I have gotten myself into. We’ve had our truck and trailer for almost five years and have managed to use it for about 30 days total. Initially I was working and unenthused about spending my limited free time cooking and doing housework on wheels (sound familiar?). Also, people lie to you about how effortless camping with an RV is. It’s true. They rhapsodize about the ease and mobility, post gorgeous scenes on FB, and suddenly acquire a whole new group of camping friends. A case in point is my brother Mike. I have never known him to be an excessively social person but now, a mere year and half after acquiring a fifth wheel and truck, he has embraced camping with evangelical fervor. He and Peggy, his genuinely social wife, spent 100 days in their rig last year; this year they will again achieve that goal. They travel to rallies with other RV owners they’ve befriended and apparently have the times of their lives hiking and socializing. They camped last March, in Virginia, on purpose. It’s cold then and I know my brother well enough to know that he doesn’t run the heater all night. So Mike and Peggy woke and could see their breaths when they said “good morning.” However, and I want to be clear about this, I envy them. Mike and Peggy seemed to have rolled into RV life effortlessly: staying in beautiful places, making new friends, reconnecting with old friends and, and basically doing it right. My Mike and I, on the other hand, can’t seem to get our crap together.

Currently we are camping in Oregon on the coast, which I have to characterize as our “safe place.” We’ve had fun camping in Oregon. Last summer we camped on the coast with our children and grandchildren—a different kind of fun but well worth it. We also camped on the coast and in the wine country with our good friends Randy and Sue. They are experienced campers and a lot of fun, which is great for us novice RV-ers. We were supposed to go on a month long, 7000 mile, camping trip to Canada and Alaska with Randy and Sue in July but I ended up back East instead. Mike and I were really looking forward to this trip but if our current camping experience is any indication, we weren’t ready for it. When I told people about the proposed trip to Alaska they reacted in one of two ways, both extreme. They either glowed and said it was their dream to go on a trip through western Canada and into Alaska or recoiled in horror and suggested we fly into Anchorage and rent a car. I think the second group may know us a little better.
Today is Day 10 of a two-week trip and we are in a campground/ golf course in Astoria, OR. This clean and lovely park provides golf carts, a pet area the size of a football field, water/sewer/Wi-Fi, and an activity room for us to meet with our imaginary RV friends. With an Airstream on either side of us and motor coaches dotting the sites along the golf course, we are clearly the poor relations here. It hasn’t been particularly warm (but that was the point, wasn’t it) so we haven’t fired up the grill. Perhaps that’s how campers meet each other. Our favorite camping food seems to be Red Vines. I’m not bothered by the sounds of the other campers running their heaters, watching television etc. because I can’t hear them over our own noise. Right now I’m using a laptop, the space heater is running, Mike is using hot water generated by the propane tank to shower, and the little dog is wearing a sweater and huddled in her special bed. Not exactly roughing it. The list of things we should’ve brought lengthens daily and features both the obvious (matches, playing cards) and the ridiculous (heated, therapeutic socks). The list of things we were going to do and didn’t, expands: write for 3 hours a day (me), work on genealogy (Mike), and walk at least 5 miles a day (both). So on Day 10 we are finally kicking in. Mike is walking the dog and I’m finally writing. What I have done is listen to 3 books on tape, read the new Jack Reacher novel, crocheted most of a scarf, think about writing, watch the little dog’s antics, serve several “snack” dinners, and figure out how to stream “Monarch of the Glen” through Netflix on Mike’s computer.

I’m including some pictures in this blog of our messy camper, the jams Mike buys in every town (apparently he harbors a morbid fear of a post-apocalyptic jam blight), and a few shots of the titular focus of this blog. For now this is “Travels — with Fiona.”  Traveling with Fiona is like traveling with a canine Scarlet O’Hara. She is self-centered but adorable, vociferous about getting her needs met while laying on the charm whenever necessary. We were concerned that she would bark constantly and disturb the other campers but Fiona barely barked the first 8 days of the trip. Now she apparently can’t stop barking. I don’t know if it’s the openness of these RV sites or if she is expressing her contempt. She seems to favor campgrounds with more trees and privacy and doesn’t care about amenities. In Newport she suffered to have her picture taken with a statue of St. Francis and took a nap in the car while we looked at pottery. In Astoria I’m pretty sure Fiona barked the entire time we were in the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Strolling along the River Walk she confined her remarks to a few short woofs at other dogs and sat smugly in the patio of the Wet Dog enjoying occasional bites of pretzel and cheese. After that, the party was over and it was an outraged dog who returned to the campground. Last night, for the first time, Fiona woke us with hysterical barking and a dash to the window. She did this 3 or 4 times (I lost count). Each time I stumbled after her, shushed her, and brought her back to bed where Mike told her she was a good girl. She isn’t. Today she has watched at the same window, alternately growling and whining. And I wonder what is going on over there in that Airstream. We kind of met the couple and their yellow lab Riley yesterday when we walking around the place. They weren’t particularly friendly and the woman pounded on Riley’s back when he jumped at me and called him stupid. Maybe there’s some dog torture going on over there that Fiona senses? Or maybe the dog torture is going on here and we’re the victims…. Just a few minutes ago Mike left in the truck to seek supplies. I muttered softly that it would be nice if he would take the dog and he hissed, equally quietly, that he didn’t want to. I pulled the trump card that I can’t write if I have to tend to the barking madam. He acquiesced and I know that he will return with tales of Fiona barking incessantly from behind him on the back seat. She goes there to avoid him pointing at her and telling her to stop. She hates that.

I have several hypotheses about why I’m not a natural at camping. It could be that I missed out on important formative camping skills in my youth. My Valko cousins (all 10 of them) and their parents camped all the time—in a station wagon with tents and children sitting on laps (this was pre-seat belts). I think the Krupitzer cousins must have camped too because at least 4 of them have bought some kind of camping vehicle in the last two years. My mother had an aversion to camping—probably realized it would be an opportunity to cook, clean and take care of children in the dirt—that I may have inherited. Or maybe it was the bizarre camping I did in college. I brought my cat along, which should tell you a lot about the group I camped with. Talk about an “anything goes” attitude. Sometimes we left with such short notice that people forgot sleeping bags and had to share (or maybe that was the point). One time the elegant grocery bag containing all of my clothing for a long beach weekend was left behind and I was forced to wear my bikini and borrowed t-shirts from the guys until one of the girls bought me a set of ugly sweats. Sweet. The best camping I ever did was pre-child and in places of breath-taking beauty (Big Sur, Morro Bay, the redwoods) with people who went off hiking and fishing and left me alone to “guard” the site and read away the day. When they returned I would listen to their fish tales and imply that my time had been spent bird watching or re-reading Walden. Lately, with a fifth wheel and friends along, camping has been fun. But it takes a few days to regain the rhythm as I fight the feeling that I should be doing something productive. Conversely I don’t want to be pushed into planned activities so I resist the hearty souls who want me to bike (“it’s only”) 50 miles or agree to tour the local antique firearms museum. No thanks.

Still. There are many things I like about camping especially the space that it creates for other things to happen. Lots of times the cell service is weak so no one can call me—same with emails and texts. I get to wear my favorite old, demoted clothes. These are the shirts that are worn into the comfort of a second skin and the jeans that fit perfectly (and by that I mean loosely) but have that bleached spot or rip that isn’t fashionable just grungy. Also no one cares what you look like and you can always put on your sunglasses if someone comes at you with a camera. Someone left us apples on the table at this site and I didn’t really think about poison or razor blades or asking around about the character of the people who left them (except as a possible detail in a mystery). I can produce a dinner of salmon spread on crackers with red vines for dessert without guilt or adverse response. When the temperature drops, the little dog gets cold and becomes affectionate and cuddly and sweet. Also it takes only half an hour to clean up everything and hit the road. And after a week or so I actually relax. Here’s the best part. Mike and Fiona just got back. Fiona barked incessantly as predicted but Mike found what he needed and brought back breakfast sandwiches and ice tea (my favorite). I think I’ll finish breakfast with an apple.


“Click here to change preferences or unsubscribe from emails”

I’ve been thinking about what it would mean if I could unsubscribe from my life, if we all could. A minor irritation–me getting tired of so many commercial emails–inspired an orgy of unsubscribing. CVS, Lucky Vitamin, Afloral, Overstock–gone. Classmates? Getouttahere! Bye bye Karen Kane, Lululemon, Fresh Produce, and all Facebook notifications (surprise me when I get there). Amazon? Let’s not get crazy. Amazon and I have a deep relationship that includes prime, audible, and me as a reviewer they’ve never published. I don’t know what it is but I always get rejected for inappropriate material. I swear that I don’t–swear in my reviews, that is. I think this repression of my First Amendment rights drove me to become a Trip Advisor reviewer. Imagine how thrilled, I (an aspiring writer) was to discover I’m in the top 10% of reviewers! In my town. I didn’t read the fine print until I had received a couple of congratulatory emails. I’m getting ready to unsubscribe from Trip Advisor/Big Brother because they bug me for reviews any time I search restaurants or hotels online…. Also I don’t like the way they show me a map of the earth with pins where I’ve written a review: I don’t seem to have gone many places.

Back to this notion of unsubscribing. I realized that we subscribe throughout our lives to different versions of ourselves. Always, when I read Stephen King ( a master of evoking eras), I am slammed back into vivid memories from my childhood or adolescence and then there I am, the person I was. So here’s my question. Can I unsubscribe from certain versions of myself? Can I reduce contact with my current self to–say–once a month and increase my preferences for some of those other selves? What would it look like if the hope and energy of my early 30’s informed my choices today? I don’t mean I would act like I’m younger; I don’t think I mean that. (Although I would have a hard time resisting the time machine that let me change a few past decisions.) What I think I mean is that layers of memories could be peeled away. Traumatic, sad, disturbing memories, regretted decisions, and uneasy reflections on past actions would be part of me, of course, but they would be controlled by my preferences. Just like I can control how often Classmates sends me blurry pictures of people I can’t remember ever seeing, I could set up mental preferences that would let me decide how often I need to feel the inchoate fear of nothingness (death) that increased with retirement but has made guest appearance throughout my life. I could prefer to weekly memories of the actor/director and set up daily visits from my 5 year old self. Maybe then I could re-learn the Spanish I knew fluently at that age.

Here’s the deal: life or time, if you will, moves at a snail’s pace when you’re waiting to be tall enough to reach the kitchen faucet so you can get your own drink of water. It drags through high school when you’re struggling to figure out your place and whirs through college when you realize that place is fluid and largely irrelevant. It freezes ugly moments, giving them an unshakable solemnity and rushes sweet moments past savoring.

I would subscribe to several selves: one would be the person who, at various times in my life, has connected profoundly with nature and the indisputable God. (I would like to hear from her every day.) I would keep the confident teacher close by and unsubscribe completely from Bleak Christmas Erin and Prozac Barbie. Actually that last one is a joke, sort of, but the depression I’ve periodically experienced could happily go to the unsubscribed nether world, never to return. I would love to access The Writer more often but I’m pretty sure that’s an issue of discipline. Maybe what I really want is a strong subscription to creativity. That sounds good–I’ll do that. The irony of the fact that I haven’t posted a blog in quite awhile does not escape me…
I wish I could say I’ve been working on my novel but it’s more like I’ve been rereading and over-writing the 90 pages I’ve already written. I would actually have to access my liar self (junior high) to say I’m making progress and no one wants to see her again.

Today I’m subscribing to the just-publish-it when-you-write-it self. She’s new.

Trying something different

Inspired by a former student who writes brief and pithy blogs, I’ve decided to write some short pieces. Of course this could be a response to my last (epic) blog. Anyway, this is like the haiku of writing–say it all in a few words. So here goes.

Can we PLEASE come up with a better word than blog? I don’t love it as a noun but I loathe it as a verb (I blogged last night. Sounds like a painful yoga move. Downward blog?) Anyway, I’m open to suggestions. Essay and article are out and reflection is pretentious.

Speaking of haiku, here is my favorite.

Follow the yellow brick road,
Follow the yellow brick road,
Follow it.