Back to the Divide BLOG #1

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July 22, 2016

My husband, Todd busily chomps on salt & vinegar chips while sipping a Pepsi and driving at high speed on I-80. We’re heading west across America towards the Rockies. He can’t do multiple things well so his speed suffers as he slows to 10-15 miles UNDER the speed limit. “You’re becoming a hazard,” I tell him, but he is hungry and happy.

We’ve made this crossing five separate times before, all 20-25 years ago but many things have changed since then. For one, we were busy in the truck cab, tending to kids needs. That Ford truck had a king cab with a full back seat, where our young children sat for the crossing. We fed them snacks, passed back sippee cups of drink, climbed back to help them sleep and let them lay their heads on our shoulder. Todd spent much of those crossings smashed in the seat between young Sierra and Bryce as I get car sick, so I drove the truck.

We were pulling a stock trailer of llamas in those days, as we headed west to hike another 500-mile stretch of the 3,100- mile National Scenic Continental Divide Trail. There are no llamas and no children in the truck today, but we do have Surly mountain bikes strapped in the truck bed. We’re gonna ride the Divide this time instead of hiking it , 20-25 years later, and we are unsure how it will be.

Walkin’ Jim Stoltz is playing on the CD, songs about the long trails, even one on the Continental Divide, where we are headed. Years ago, the kids wanted to hear Jim’s “A Kid for the Wild” tape. They knew every word to every song. They felt like those words were meant for them and they indeed had more than one private concert as Jim sang to them in their high chair with his guitar when he visited our home. Walkin’ Jim is dead now, taken from us prematurely from throat cancer. That man sang his heart out for all us wandering wilderness lovers.

I’m sitting in our quiet truck cab (except for the munching potato chip) and while I listen to his lyrics, I’m wondering why I am not more excited. I think I should be. Fifteen hundred miles is an epic adventure on this longest mountain bike trail in the world. But we are concerned about the grizzlies. They will be thick the whole time we travel through Jasper, Banff NP, then Glacier, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Yellowstone, the Wind River Range, and the Tetons. Years ago, we had bubbly, babbling children with us, other adults and two strings of llamas to keep the bears at arm’s length.

A New Challenge

Todd and I are also hoping the trail will not be too hard, that we can physically do the miles AND have fun at the same time. I glance over at the eastbound lane of the interstate and know that when we will be on our return drive home, we will have a whole slew of memories to think about. Some of them may include encounters with this top of the food chain critter.

I look at my husband who in place of his thick dark curly hair has thinning white hair now. But he is still beastly as his muscular arm dives into the chip bag. I think we have many more wilderness adventures remaining in life. I’m hoping this long journey will set the bar high again and I want to stay fit like that for the rest of my life.

Before we left on this trip, I contacted some of our old friends who helped us on our family’s 5 -year llama pack trip. (The subject of my 6th book, Scraping Heaven, just now out in soft cover). They were friends associated with the llama industry who helped us be successful 20-25 years ago. They met us at road crossings, trailered our llamas to their home, fed us, did our wash, helped us re-supply.

“Of course they remember us,” they said when I called and want to help us again when we cycle through. We wonder if they still have llamas. All of ours are dead, filling the pet cemetery in the orchard back home. I packed photos of my adult children to show them. It will be great to reconnect with these Trail Angels, these people who helped make our dream come true.

It suddenly occurred to me what this mountain bike trip is mostly about. Cycling back and reconnecting. To our old friends AND to my husband over there across the cab. Reconnecting to him after our kids have grown and moved on to their own lives. This is our first wilderness expedition without them and I hope we will have fun and enjoy each other’s company.

Our marriage has not been without its bumps in the road. Any couple that stays together this long (33 yrs) is not being honest if they say otherwise. But we are still here, liking each other most of the time, besides loving each other, and that is a big deal. And it is an even a bigger leap of faith to be heading into this wilderness adventure together with no kids along to occupy us and distract us. He smiles at me between swigs of his Pepsi. “What?” he asks as I look at him. My husband, Trail Boss Todd, would follow me anywhere, whether I was leading llamas loaded with children or on a fat-tire mountain bike. Here’s to a great second half of our lives together. What better way to kick it off than an epic ride down the Great Divide.

“I Will Not Let You Fail”

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Before I left on a big adventure when I was young, like hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, my mother would make me a send-off dinner of pork and sauerkraut to wish me good luck. The local Germans in our area adopted this long-standing tradition, eating it every New Years. They believe that eating this meal will bring blessings and wealth for the new year. Before the meal, those seated at the table wish each other as much goodness and money as the number of shreds of cabbage in the pot of sauerkraut. My mom thought, why not the evening before a great journey. One needs good luck for that too.

This Thursday, Todd and I will leave for our first big wilderness adventure in nearly twenty years, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail (GDMBT). This trail is the longest mountain bike trail in the world- 2,768 miles. We’re also tacking on The Icefields Parkway, from Jasper NP to Banff NP, an added distance of 144 miles. It is considered to be “The Most Beautiful Bike Ride in the World,” so why not experience it too while we are in Alberta, Canada. We’re shooting for half the GDMBT this year and the remainder next year. This summer we plan to cycle about 1500 miles.

We haven’t been out for this long since we finished the National Scenic Continental Divide Trail (CDT) with our children back in 1997. We’ve traveled a lot in these twenty years, to many foreign countries, but nothing quite of this magnitude. I turned 60 this year and I expressed a desire to want to bring in the next decade extremely fit. It was Todd’s idea to cycle the trail and I jumped on the offer.

Trail Boss,” as Todd was lovingly called those five years we spent llama packing the CDT, had taken a back seat to travel these last twenty years. He went from a “leader” to a “sheep” as we toured the world and not the wilderness. It is time to resurrect the title, I suppose he thought, and I am all for it.

Both children have moved out of the house. And although we are there to parent and advise from afar, we have more time and energy to focus on our own dreams and activities. It feels like a good time to do this. My 6th book, Scraping Heaven- A Family’s Journey Along the Continental Divide Trail” has just come back into print and into softcover after not being available for many years. Why not revisit the Rockies twenty-years later, on bikes this time instead of leading llamas. Perhaps a new book will come out of it.

BIKES

When we first decided to tackle this long ride, we knew our beater bikes would not be a good choice. We have never been about gear and rode what we had (often second-hand bikes) on many 3-500 mile trails around the US and the world. (The Natchez Trace, Camino de Santiago, Erie Canal, the KATY Trail, etc.). These old bikes were “good enough.”

But we needed serious mountain bikes for the GDMBT, probably for serious money. I went to my friend, Tim Brick, who owns Brick Wheels Bike Shop in Traverse City, Michigan, who helped us in the past, and asked his advice. Tim lent us bikes in exchange for writing about him four years ago when I landed a contract with Adventure Cyclist Magazine. I wrote a feature story on cycling the Lelanau Peninsula and as a result, Tim and I became very close friends. See Tim’s story…..

THE MAGIC OF BRICK WHEELS Bike Shop | cindyrosstraveler

https://cindyrosstraveler.com/2015/01/16/the-magic-of-brick-wheels-bike-shop/

I told Tim that twenty years ago, Santana Bikes sponsored our 650 mile cycle trip across New Mexico by gifting us two tandems. I wrote about Santana for years in magazine articles as we rode their great bikes all over America and abroad, both very happy in the win/win relationship. Tim was sorry to inform me, however, that those days are over. Tight budgets and so many people asking for assistance, made the donation pool dry up.

But then we tried SURLY BIKES, a bike designer out of Minnesota who specializes in steel bicycle frames. Christina Julian, SURLY’S Global Marketing Manager/Promotions took a chance with us and offered us a great deal through Brick Wheels.

We read accounts of other GDMBT cyclists rode and what they recommend and forwarded that to Tim to decipher. We had so many questions about tire size, type of tread, specific breaks and gears, and on and on. Todd and I had to learn a new language and trust that Tim could help us figure it out. When I let out my concerns and doubts, Tim assured me, “I will not let you fail.” When Tim uttered those words over the phone to me, they took my breath away and tightened up my throat. For a person who is verbally demonstrative naturally, I did not know what to say. It gave me a clue as to what kind of friend this bike shop owner has become in these last four years.

Tim and his mechanics built these state of the art SURLY mountain bikes for us and helped us select all the gear and accessories that we would need: comfortable seats for touring, pannier racks, handlebar grips, pedals with cages etc. and gave it to us at deep savings. Tim knew that I have been having some issues with my inner ear and balance and vertigo and so he recommended I get a fat tire bike. It would help keep me safe and upright.

When I drove the 12 hours to Traverse City, Michigan to fetch the assembled SURLY bikes at Brick Wheels, I was speechless when I first saw them. They looked like sleek machines. I had never owned anything like this bike and I was not sure that I deserved it. Tim assured me that I did. While some 60-year-olds contemplate what type of Easy Boy recliner they will select to chill out with their favorite shows and flicks, I pick a SURLY mountain bike to take me to far away places and high adventure. What a good choice to ring in the second stage of my life. I am forever grateful for this ticket to health and big living.

MUIR RAMBLE ROUTE

It was only this past spring when another friend did a similar good deed for us, that too related to acquiring bikes. I once again had another contracted job with Adventure Cyclist Magazine to write a feature story on The Muir Ramble Route. This ride went from San Francisco to Yosemite, in the footsteps of John Muir, celebrating the 150 anniversary of the national parks.

We used to be able to fly with our beater bikes by putting them into a large cardboard box that went as oversized luggage. We stuffed our panniers and clothing and gear around the bike frame and never paid a cent for luggage fees. Today, shipping my, Todd and Bryce’s three bikes round trip to California would have cost us a grand total of $1200. Ridiculous. The flights were free with miles, the bike shipping would have cost a fortune. We toyed with the idea of starting to ride a day late and perusing second-hand shops for bikes, buying them and after completing the 300 mile ride, donating them to a homeless shelter.

Friends and philanthropists, Teri Graf-Pulvino and Ken Pulvino knew of a non-profit in San Francisco called New Door Ventures, a community service organization that prepares youth for success in work and life through paid internships, case management, and skill building workshops. One of their businesses is Pedal Revolution which trains at-risk youths how to assemble new bikes and repair used bikes for sale. The Pulvinos generously purchased bikes for Todd, Bryce and I and then donated them back to the store for resale as a contribution. We could have never done the ride without their help.

It is very clear to me that I could not accomplish the tasks I set out to do in my life, the adventures, the stories that I write to share and communicate, without the help of my friends. Their support and belief in me pushes me along my life like a tailwind from behind. I need their strength, especially on a journey like the GDMBT, where there are serious hazards like grizzlies.

GRIZ

A few weeks ago, a park service employee and mountain bike racer, collided with a grizzly bear on a gravel road two miles from the entrance to Glacier National Park. Yep, he was going fast, but so do vehicles on a gravel road. He surprised the bear and he got mauled to death. It was a fluke, but it gave Todd and I pause.

The last time we hiked through Glacier National Park, we had a 3 and a 5 year old with us, but also the company of another adult and about seven llamas. The back country superintendent said that there had never been an incident in the park involving stock- horses or llamas. We used the llamas as a shield and a warning system. Campgrounds were closing around us because of bear activity and our llamas sensed bears and were at high alert. We felt safe.

When we cycled in Alaska, we had to yell as we rode through thick vegetation so we did not scare the grizzlies. The distance between two mountain bike riders was far enough apart to surprise a wandering bear. A bike racer around Anchorage got mauled and killed by a bear during a race and that was within the city limit.

That year we hiked through Glacier NP with the kids and llamas, a few of my friends bought silver bracelets for me to add to my collection and be represented on my wrist. The idea was to be there with me through the danger and jingle like a prayer.

This year, I really do not FEEL as though this mountain bike journey will result in a fatality. But we are thinking about Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “We should go forth on the shortest walk (ride), perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return.”

So the night before we leave for Alberta, I will take off some of my silver bracelets (as dirt collects under them and they give me a rash when I can’t wash them in the tub every night), but I WILL keep on those bracelets that my friends bought me, (about half of the 20) including the beautiful one from Tim Brick, to keep their spirit and their strength with me. “I will not let you fail.” Powerful words, spoken by a powerful person. The power of love and support. It can move mountains and it can push me up and over mountains on my bike, safely past grizzlies.

And just for good measure, we’ll roast up some pork in a bed of sauerkraut for good luck. Can’t hurt.

Returning to the Days of Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn- it takes a village to heal a veteran

Veteran Jason hiked the whole mile with a stick in his hand, whacking things and playing with it. I couldn’t help but smile. He was behaving like a free boy in the woods. I raised my son, Bryce outdoors, along with his sister Sierra, and so recognized the behavior immediately. Jason was one of twenty Veterans from the Lebanon VA Medical Center, enrolled in a rehab program and out for the day in the woods with River House PA.

Jason would disappear over the steep side of the bank as we walked and we’d say, “Where’s Jason?” He was just wanting a better look at the river below, allowing his natural inquisitiveness dictate his actions and movement.

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The group looked like a motley one, walking the dirt road through the thick rhododendron with their bags in hand. It held a change of clothing or a swimsuit. A few of the younger vets went out ahead. They were free to walk their own pace.

The Lebanon Medical Center vans were parked by the river bridge on the Little Schuylkill River and my Board Member, Mike Schnur, drove the tubes the mile down to the swimming hole. There the river makes a turn where a creek enters the flow and it slows to nearly a stand still, so you can just hang out in the tube and not have to ferociously paddle back upstream. I planned to just stay in that area and switch off using the tubes. I only had 8 inner-tubes for 20 Veterans.

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Recreational Therapist, Amy Cook, who is responsible for creating these events with River House, felt along with me, that a nice two-mile walk down and back would be good for them- some exercise and some fun. By the time we arrived at the spot, however, there were already a handful of young Vets in the water, on their way down the river, feeling like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Unfortunately, we had to rein them in and tell them to stay in the area. “Put in around the corner and get out only a few tenths of a mile below and walk back, so we could switch off. TAKE TURNS- PLAY TOGETHER!”

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Amy Cook is so successful at her role as a recreational therapist at the medical center because she personally believes that besides the therapy the Vets receive immersed in nature, they were also gleaning valuable group therapy time by being together in a group outing. Besides working together, they were sticking their necks out by coming to a stranger’s home, with an organization, like River House PA, many of whom are not military. Both in-patient and out-patient services join forces to bring Vets on River House outings.

I must say though, that half of the Veterans here by the river today were repeat adventurers from the last event River House held with the Lebanon VA, only three weeks ago. We went for a lovely hike along the same river, the wild & scenic Little Schuylkill River here in Schuylkill County by the Blue Mountain. On that outing, the Vets hiked about 3 miles RT and then returned to our log home to enjoy a cook out by the fire and hand crank homemade ice cream. The Vets who were still enrolled in their re-hab program three weeks later, reminded Amy multiple times, “Make sure I am on that list to return to River House!” One Vet, Alan, told me he personally asked to stay on in the re-hab program another week so he could join in on this event.

When Amy and I discussed future events together during our last outing, I said that a late June outing could be hot. If we were going to ask them to exercise on a hike in the middle of the day, it might be a nice reward to go for a swim and cool off. I have a few tubes and thought I could ask a few friends to borrow some for the Vets’ use. Amy and I were looking for experiences that didn’t just bring them outdoors in nature to help heal, but also experiences that might stretch them, put some adventure and joy of life back in their souls. The idea of swimming and even more, floating in a tube, created a list of interested Vets too long to fit in the vans.

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But we just experienced a heavy rain the night before the outing, causing the river to muddy up and get even cooler, as well as air temps dropping to a humidity-free, comfortable temperature. I thought they might reconsider swimming and want to skip. When I asked that morning how many wanted to swim, Amy said, “All of them!”

When the first van pulled up in our driveway, the Vets from the last outing, tumbled out with outstretched arms delivering a hug. The newbies followed suit. I am Sicilian and a big hugger and their unusual show of affection can also be contributed to the love and care of their leader, Amy. She is a marvelous combination of a caring mother figure and a firm disciplinarian. She takes no shit yet she is sure to let them know she deeply cares about each and every one. Amy reprimanded the Vet who dropped his candy wrapper as soon as he exited the vehicle, reminding them that they needed to be diligent about caring for other’s property. At the riverbank, I observed how Amy stood watch over some of her more cautious Vets to make sure they stayed safe and had a buddy to be there in the water for them. Another time she sat with her arm around two Vets and they both exchanged how much they loved one another.

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It was great to observe the laughter, silliness, and freedom that the Vets exhibited on the river as they PLAYED. There are not many opportunities for an adult to actually play unless they create them for themselves. We tend to grow serious and forget the joy that playing, specially outdoors brought us as a child, especially adults in re-hab where there are so many meetings and sessions and therapies etc.

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The most heart-hitting image I saw at the river however was when Amy gathered the Vets to get together for the mile walk back to the vans, there was Wayne, coming down the road from exploring, on his crutches. We just stopped and stared and marveled. He walked the full mile back to the swimming hole with the rest, his choice, up and down small hills, keeping pace with everyone else. He did not see the long walk as a hardship or his missing leg as a deterrent. The power of determination and the need to be out in nature was overwhelming.

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All the Vets displayed a healthy appetite for dinner and Chris, the other rec therapist along to help, got a few of the Vets to put on a few campfire skits like the Scouts do. It was all in good fun and it helped a few get even further out of their comfort zone and break down any barriers.

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Amy went around the circle by the fire and invited the Vets to share, if they wanted, on what being out here on the river today felt like and meant to them. This is what I heard:

I didn’t think about the daily stresses of life.

I am happy here.

This is truly God’s country.

It calms me, being here.

I loved sitting by the stream with my thoughts.

This brings out the best in you.

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Many said they had not swam nor inner-tubed in a river since they were kids, (one said it had been 60 years ago). It brought back fond memories of a happy childhood, sitting around a campfire, and they now have a vision of the life they’d like to return to and make nature play a major part of their lives again.

Vets who are fathers and grandfathers spoke of how they wanted to share these kinds of experiences with the youngsters in their lives. Everyone spoke as being hugely grateful to River House for the opportunity to be here today. And when we got to Wayne, in the circle, there was a big round of applause for his performance here today and his presence that inspired us all.

Gratitude is a huge part of the healing process and Amy is wise enough to know that teaching this virtue or at least reminding them of it, is a big part of them getting better, gaining control of their lives, and taking steps to creating a happy healthy way of living. We at River House, are grateful for the opportunity to share what we have and what we know to help our comrades. As Roberto Clemente said and is a River House motto,

“Any time you have the opportunity to make a difference in the world and you don’t, you are wasting your time on earth.”

What happened to Six Penny Lake? A “lost lake” teaches life lessons

When my daughter comes home, my normal life is put on hold the few rare, brief times she takes a break from her steady flow of travel, studies and work. One of the ideas Sierra had this time home, was to rent a yurt at a state park and have a small adventure. Her and Eben were celebrating their one year wedding anniversary and although we have a sweet little cabin on our property that Todd built for me that the kids sleep in when they are home, they wanted something a little more special and “away.” Since they had to rent for two nights minimum, they invited the rest of the family for night 2.

One of the places Sierra wanted to explore was French Creek State Park, where the yurt they rented was located. We all met there for a cook out and a hike. We chose a 3 mile loop called “Six Penny Loop.” As we walked through the mature hardwood forest, decorated with blooming mountain laurel, I remembered….forty five years ago, I frequented this park on a regular basis with my boyfriend, Chris. He borrowed his father’s Le Mans and we drove his inflatable orange vinyl kayak out to French Creek SP and spent long afternoons in the soft cushy boat, learning about love and sensuality and our bodies etc. The park had Hopewell Lake and Scots Run Lake to boat in and we also swam in the freezing cold Six Penny Lake. Sierra selected a three-mile loop called “Six Penny” for our hike but when I examined the park map, I saw no lake anywhere. How could a lake just disappear? I put it out of my mind and as I walked the loop, I became immersed in my own memories. I hadn’t visited them for most of the last 45 years.

My parents were not thrilled with my boyfriend choice of seven years, from the ages of 15-21. Chris wasn’t a bad kid- he came from “a good Catholic family,” was a bright student and a star on the football team, and he treated their daughter well enough. But my parents thought his personality was too different than mine, so different that I was not able to be myself. He was very quiet and private and I found myself suppressing my own outward personality to under shadow him. My parents knew that once I grew into my own person, a different type of man might better compliment me as a life partner. They didn’t MAKE me break up with him, but I knew for all those years, I did not have their approval and well wishes. They tried to limit our time together in the summer months by giving me a cut off of how many days we could see each other.

Chris and I both loved to hike and paddle and cycle and be in the woods and I saw little harm in sharing more time together. I got good at lying and sneaking around. I spent a few summers driving around crouched on the floor of his dad’s Le Mans, looking to all those who passed, as if Chris was driving solo. He actually saw my dad go by a few times in our comings and going. Chris would wave, then say, “You can come up now, your dad just passed.” When I returned home, I would make up some story about where I spent my afternoon, but it truly was at places like French Creek State Park or some other outdoor natural setting.

Of course, at the time, I completely disagreed with my parents’ opinion. I loved Chris and thought that was all that was necessary to mate selection. As the years went by in our relationship, fortunately for us, we had some separation and I had some distance for my head. Chris went to grad school in Arizona, I went to art school in Philadelphia. I began meeting other young men and realized how many different personalities were out there and lo and behold, I learned THAT YOU COULD LOVE MORE THAN ONE MAN in your life. And just because you loved someone, love was not all you needed to make a life long relationship work. Chris and I grew to be too different. I began to feel confined in the relationship. I wanted to feel free to be myself. I finally accepted the fact that I had to move on separately and went though the extremely painful process of breaking up. He thought we would be together forever and for many of our seven years, we held that “truth” in both our minds.

I was thinking about all these memories and thoughts as we hiked the Six Penny trail. This loop was a possibility for another hike in the very near future, where I would lead, along with my Board Members of my non-profit, River House PA, a group of Veteran patients from the Coatsville VA on a short hike. The idea was to get them out on a beautiful walk in nature but not challenge them so much that they tired and did not ever want to hike again. I was looking for an alternative on the Six Penny trail to shorten their hike. When we came to a short side trail that looked, on the map, as though it led to a locked gate by the hard surface road, I asked my family if we could take a quick detour to check it out.

In just a few minutes, our trail turned into a set of stone steps and a stone walkway. What’s this? It looked like the remains of something man built place from long ago, but the forest was taking it over. In a few tenths of a mile, we began to hear a chorus of croaking frogs and came to a swamp where cat tails and water grasses shot twelve feet into the air. Oh my God, was this the missing Six Penny Lake?

The trail encircled the wetland and in a few minutes, we came to a beautiful old stone dam. The water drained the swamp and flowed freely through the outlet. Part of the lake still remained open water. I stood there and marveled. I remembered swimming in this spring fed, mind-numbing water on hot summer days in my teen years. What had happened?

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We hiked further and explored black top roads that were grown in by the trees and vegetation, narrow and winding with a hint of a white line still painted on the blacktop. On these same roads, forty-five years ago, we drove Chris’s dad’s Le Mans. You could follow the road to old parking areas. There were remains of the stone bath house, water fountains, even metal baskets for storing your belongings while you swam in the tall grass and weeds. It was eerie. There were no indications on the park map that this place ever existed. Did the officials think, “Erase the evidence from the map and maybe the place will disappear off the earth.?” But here it still remained. Why was it removed or attempted to be removed?

That night in my bunk in the yurt, I had a difficult time falling sleep. I relived memories of growing up. I revisited my difficult decision to break up with my childhood boyfriend and find a better suited life partner. Forty five years ago, I was heading down a course that would not be the best choice for a life partner for me, but one who taught me about love. My own husband of thirty-three years snored quietly above me on the top bunk. I have been very happy with my decision to choose THIS man to be my life long partner. My daughter, a bride for a year, slept with her new husband in the double bed across the yurt. As a parent, I am very happy with her decision too, a man who brings out the best in her and supports who she is so she can shine and freely be who she is.

When I returned home from our yurt wedding anniversary celebration, I Googled “Six Penny Lake/French Creek State Park” and found that back in 1999, the lake was part of an attempt by the Department of Environmental Resources to remove dams that were impeding the natural flow of a wild stream. The lake behind the old stone dam at Six Penny had accumulated silt and was filling in. It had served well as a recreational lake in its time but its time was over. Once the dam was opened back in 1999, and Six Penny Creek was allowed to run free, native brook trout returned and within a few short years, the quality of the stream reached the highest rating of health. Removing old dams was controversial back in the 90’s, but it is now a common practice seen as a greater good for the health of our streams, wildlife, and the forest.

With a little exploring, I was privileged to revisit this place of my youth, with my daughter and new son-in-law, and happy husband of 33 years. Chris, wherever you are, I wish you well. I thank you for sharing part of my youth with me, teaching me about life and love and allowing me the painful but wise decision to move past you and flow freely into the world and adulthood and the rest of my life. And thank you Six Penny and French Creek SP for making me feel gratitude one more way in my life.

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS as we grow older…as in learning the Epley Maneuver and refraining from housework

My daughter asked me to help her clean her Boulder apartment before moving out of her grad school abode. She knows I have a problem with cleaning and she also knows I have a hard time saying no to her. I vowed to do my best, however piss poor that might be.

First task I tackled was cleaning out the fridge. Not much was left, just a half-dozen items for the cooler for our drive across the country back to PA. I moved them out and then proceeded to wipe down the insides with a rag and a basin of hot soapy water. I pulled out the vegetable crisper drawers and scraped out the dried spilled muck. I scrubbed the door channels where the orange juice dripped. It was surprisingly rewarding to see the white plastic become clean and shiny. Wow. I might consider doing this at home. It feels pretty good.

As I wiped, I startled myself with the realization that I had never cleaned out a fridge before (except for a hotel’s mini fridge or a cabin’s fridge we rented short-term). How did I live through six decades and never perform this task? Oh, my husband! He cleans out the fridge! I contemplated feeling guilty, or feeling like I was a bad wife. But decided, not a bad wife, a very bad housekeeper.

My children accuse me of only making others look bad in my blogs, never myself, (often their father, who never reads them) but I disagree. I would not be admitting to this fact if that were so. We all have our gifts and cleaning a house is not mine.

My next job at cleaning the apartment was cleaning the ceiling above the stove. Since my daughter and son-in-law lived in a basement apartment in Boulder, the ceiling was low. I bent my head way back and scraped the grease spots off with a scrubbie. More success and feeling confident and rewarded with a white spotless ceiling. Next was the baseboards, where I had to drop my head and hang it down while I wiped. More feelings of accomplishment. I was beginning to like this cleaning practice and pondered taking a room one at a time at home and overhauling it, giving it a face lift like never before. I just might surprise myself and enjoy the results.

But that night, I climbed into bed and felt weird in the head. Dizzy. Uh oh.

The next morning, something was very wrong with my head. Without even lifting it off the pillow, the room spun. It was 8 am. The carpet cleaner was coming at 9 and my bed had to be stripped and the mattress moved to the kitchen so the bedroom rug could be cleaned. But I could not move.

This happened once before. Last November, six months ago. My doctor told me it was called Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and probably occurred from flying home from Kenya, a change in altitude.

BPV is the result of a disturbance inside your inner ear. Fluid inside tubes in your ear, called semicircular canals, moves when your position changes. The semicircular canals are extremely sensitive. BPV develops when small pieces of calcium crystals that are normally in another area of the ear break free and find their way to the semicircular canal in your inner ear. This causes your brain to receive confusing messages about your body’s position.

It is a condition and seems to happen repeatedly once it starts.

Epley’s maneuver is the most effective BPV treatment. It involves moving the piece of calcium to a different part of your inner ear where it will no longer cause problems. I called in my son Bryce to help me. We got my laptop, logged on, found the website where a U tube video describes the maneuver step by step, and proceeded to do it.

We didn’t get very far. As soon as Bryce caught my head as I dropped backwards, and turned it, I felt extremely sick and in a matter of seconds, ran through the carpeted apartment with my hand clamped over my mouth as the vomit rose and dropped all through the carpeted apartment.

I pleaded with Bryce to go to the drug store and get me Dramamine to cope. Now the carpet cleaners were coming in 15 minutes. I was still in my underwear, propped in a seated position against the wall of the empty living room floor while Sierra moved out the bed. She was feeling stressed. We had to drive two cars across the country and I would be good for nothing. I couldn’t even tilt the seat back in the car because so much stuff was behind it. It would be a long drive home.

When this happened the first time in November, my doctor gave me two pages of balance therapy exercises to do twice a day- exercises designed to allow the patient to become accustomed to the position which causes vertigo symptoms. They involved spinning and moving your head in all sorts of horribly nauseating positions. I think the idea is to become desensitized to the movement. They took over an hour to do. Needless to say, I only did them twice. They were no fun. My kids yelled at me and told me I REALLY needed to do them now. In two months, their father and I would be heading out onto a mountain bike trip for 1500 miles and it would be a good idea if I felt balanced and secure. We just completed a 300 mile ride from San Francisco to Yosemite and when we had to do single track, I did NOT feel 100% balanced.

Things have been deteriorating over the last few years with my motion sickness. I have always been very sensitive to motion sickness even as a child, as was my mother, and can never sit in the back seat w/o becoming ill. But in the last two years, swimming laps began to make me feel sick. If another swimmer was in the pool, it was worse. The more I swam, the sicker I felt. I wondered if it was the fact that my GF’s pool was switched over from chlorine to salt treatments and I ingested too much. But I did notice that square or contra dancing made me sick too. I could not take the spinning anymore. As I sat out a dance two years ago, a physical therapist happened to sit next to me and told me about inner ear crystal displacements and advised me to go to a specialist and perhaps it was as easy of a fix as moving my head. I believed him but it sounded far-fetched. Now it is all making sense.

Then I read this…”BPPV may be made worse by any number of modifiers which may vary between individuals. Although BPPV can occur at any age, it is most often seen in people over the age of 60. Besides aging, there are no major risk factors known for developing BPPV, although previous episodes of trauma to the head, or inner ear infections.

About ten years ago, me the kids and I were in a very bad accident in my Geo METRO. It was demolished but we were ok, except that I hit my head. I went to a brain specialist and was put on Ibuprofen for a while to reduce the swelling. I had headaches for over a year. They also found that I have a brain malformation, Chiari Malformation, a congenital defect. It is a condition in which the bony space enclosing the lower part of the brain is smaller than normal and can cause complications. I always knew I had a very small head like a child’s when trying on bike and horseback riding helmets.

I read that “Symptoms of Chiari malformation may not appear until adulthood, causing severe headache, neck pain, dizziness, vertigo, numbness in the hands, and sleep problems. In some cases, a head or neck injury from a car accident or sports injury triggers the onset of symptoms.

So between having a malformed brain, a previous head injury, displaced crystals, recently flying, AND hiking up to 10,000 feet in altitude, no wonder this happened.

Why are we even talking about this? It sounds like some older person’s complaint about body deterioration but it is not. I do not feel old but changes keep happening to all our bodies, at all ages, whether it is in pregnancy, sports related injuries, trauma from war, all kinds of things. It is helpful to learn about our bodies and how to keep them healthy and moving and fit so that we can keep living our active lives regardless of our age. It is very important to know ourselves.

So now I understand a little clearer what is happening inside my head, my ears, my brain. I will do my balance exercises, even though I hate them, so I don’t fall off my mountain bike. I will also learn the Epley Maneuver better so I can dictate to whoever is with me, how to move those damn misplaced crystals back where they belong. I’m not going to stop flying and I’m not going to stop climbing mountains or hiking at higher elevations. But now I know how to better manage this condition. It is also probably for the best that I refrain from cleaning, (ha ha, now I have a viable excuse!) and not aggravate those crystals, as good as it was beginning to sound.

Death by Choice

I was riding my stationary bike and since our old boombox is broken and I have no music, I was looking around the sunroom for something to think about, for I was bored with going nowhere. My eyes landed on a metal comb on the windowsill with black hair still in it. It used to be our old cat, Socks’s comb. We had to work it through her fur once she got older and could not keep herself groomed. Her thick black hair once reminded us of a seal, but in her old age, it got grossly matted and looked painful, but perhaps not as painful as it felt to have it combed out.

Socks is no longer with us. She disappeared one day when we were on a trip. When she grew older, she would disappear for days. Every time it happened, we wondered if it was the last time and she had wandered off to die somewhere in peace, from starvation, hypothermia, or both?

Todd and I saved two people in our lives two separate times on Mount Whitney in the High Sierra. We found them sitting sleeping in the snow without gear or protection from the elements. We hauled their butts up to the summit stone shelter, cooked them hot food, fed them liquids, got into sleeping bag with them and saved their lives. They say you get sleepy when you begin to die of hypothermia, after the uncontrollable shivering subsides. It is said to be a very peaceful way to die. “I just think I’ll sit here and take a nap for a bit,” but then you wake up to pearly gates or the hot flames. It seems like a simple and seemingly painless way to go, if you are making plans.

Todd and I saw a Japanese art film years ago, called the Ballad of Narayama, 1983. It is set in a poor 19th century rural Japanese village, where food is scarce, life is harsh and people are desperate and cruel. Anyone who lives for 70 years is hauled to the mountaintop by their children and left to die in the dead of winter.

The son carries his 69-year-old mother, who was still strong, on his back, to the mountaintop. It was difficult for her son, for the climb was arduous, especially carrying live weight on his back. Also, psychologically difficult, carrying your mother to her death-bed, knowing it was the last time you would be with her. Then having the strength to leave her there, by her choice, and returning without her. This scene was startling, as he put her down amongst other skeletons that were sitting in the snow that had gone before her. It was a very powerful scene and one that I has haunted me for decades.

My girlfriend is experiencing a situation where her step mother is clearly ready to die but her birth children are not granting her permission to. They want her to eat, improve, get better, continue living. This 90+-year-old woman is tired. She wants the opportunity to decide for herself when she has had enough living. It is the ultimate personal decision.

Ninety seems like a reasonable age to call it quits. But what about 67? When Guy Waterman, a noted outdoor writer, hiker and wilderness protector, turned 67, he decided he had enough. Famous for his books, “Backwoods Ethics” and “Forest & Crag,” he was no stranger to wilderness, particularly the White Mountains of New Hampshire and knew what happened when you went for a walk in cold weather with inappropriate clothing. Atop Mount Lafayette, on the open, treeless Franconia Ridge, he sat down and froze to death. It was on the same stretch of trail where he and his wife, Laura, had voluntarily maintained for years.

Guy had personal demons and bouts of depression. He lost his two sons, one to suicide, the other to a solo climb on Mount McKinley in Alaska. His wife knew of his suicide plans more than a year before he took his last hike, and said “I can’t agree with him, but I can respect and love him as an individual. He wanted out. And he chose the way he felt was appropriate for himself.” He was executing his personal choice of when he had enough of this life.

I remember when Todd and I stopped to visit our friend, Steve, in Minnesota, who was helping me edit my manuscript., “Journey on the Crest.” We were on your way home across the country and Todd was leaving me there to work for a few days and I would fly home later. Steve’s mom was walking around the home while we both visited, cooking meals, doing light cleaning, when she decided she was going to go check herself into the hospital. She had cancer but was not “dying.”

When I walked Todd to the truck to say good-bye, “I said, “She is going to die while I am here, I know it, so I can help her men through this. She has chosen this time to go.” And she most certainly did. We edited my manuscript in the hospital by her bed, keeping vigil, editing in-between death rattle episodes. I will never forget it. And I was there for days afterwards to help Steve and his dad through the process. They were not emotionally capable of dealing with her death, as well as make all the arrangements necessary for a funeral, without my help.

My own dad seemed to have control over when he died. His cancer had gone from his lungs to his heart when Todd and I were getting ready to head to remote log building school in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. There was no phone service there and we would be out of contact for 10 days. “Are you going to die while I am gone, Dad? If so, I won’t go.”

And he promised me, “I will not die while you are gone. Go to school and learn how to build your house and I will be here when you return,” and he was. I believed him. I believed he had some control over when he went and how long he stayed. He died weeks after my return.

My friend Lucy committed suicide when the pain became stronger and harder than she could deal with. As was my friend’s Veteran son, Zach, who struggled with PTSD. We who are left behind think it is way too early for them to go and we miss them terribly, but who are we to say that they must continue on, for us?

My mom checked herself into the hospital when she was 57. We found old love letters on the coffee table in her living room. My dad had died three years earlier from lung cancer, also at the age of 57, around this same time. None of us four kids knew why she was checking herself into the hospital. She had never experienced even a small heart attack. They were doing a battery of tests on her, but had found nothing. She looked fine to us. She must have felt heartsick over missing my dad. I thought, along with my siblings, that she should kick herself in the butt and get out of there. Live for us. We wanted a mom still. I visited her in the hospital and brought strawberries in for her to eat fo she was refusing to eat. She laid back in bed, her lips parted, pretending I was not there. I obnoxiously slipped a strawberry into her mouth and she angrily spat it across the room with force and energy and said, “Go home, Cindy,” which I did.

She died that night. When we came to see her dead in the hospital, after “the call,” there was a look of pure joy on her face, her eyes were open and she was smiling, as though she had just seen my dad. I guess she was where she wanted to be, with him. I still felt it was bullshit though, for quite some time, and that she was coping out. But that was my loss speaking.

I definitely think my mom and my dad had a hand in deciding when they would go. Just like Socks, our cat, and certainly Lucy, Zach and Guy Waterman. My girlfriend wishes that her step mother will be allowed that privilege, that gift of deciding when it is enough.

Years ago, when we were sitting by Steve’s mother’s dying bed, and the death rattle was going on for hours, a psychic friend came in to pay her last respects. The friend said to us, “She is concerned about leaving her men. She needs to hear that it is okay for her to go, that you both will be ok.”

We’ll be fine,” Steve and his dad both said loud, “you can go,” and within seconds, much to our utter amazement, her spirit had left her body and she had moved on.

Todd and I told the kids, “If me and dad tell you we are going out camping one day when it is winter and we are very old and we have scant clothing on, just let us go. We are planning on getting hypothermia and dying together.” They said, “That is so gross.” I was kidding, of course, but it is something to think about, when we are very old and are ready, why not? Up to North Lookout at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. They only have to haul our dead butts 3/4 of a mile down. That’s a hellava lot coser than Mt Lafayette on Franconia Ridge!

A Return to Ballet Class

I had to push my wide backpacking feet into the pale pink ballet slippers in order to make them fit. 10,000 miles have been added to my feet’s history since I danced ballet. That is a lot of muscle mass and spreading out. My toes felt so cramped, the shoe kept my foot in a permanent point. This is good. It will help me hold my foot in the correct position at least. How many of the other ballet positions I would remember was scary, but at least my toes would stay pointed. I was heading to an adult ballet class and it was an accomplishment just locating my slippers after 45 years of not dancing.

My new son-in-law Eben danced ballet from the ages of 4-15. I danced when I was in middle school. I loved it. I had always thought of going back to the local dance and art institute, just to limber up and bring this art form back into my life but you must commit to a semester of classes. That schedule gets in the way of a travel writer so I never pursued it. But here in Boulder, where my daughter and son-in-law attend grad school, there is a drop in class. Eben invited me to go one evening while I was visiting. I thought it would be something very special and unique that I could share with my new son-in-law.

Eben announced to the instructor as soon as we entered the hallway of Boulder Ballet that he had brought his mother-in-law to class this evening. The women leaning against the walls with their bags in hand, looked at me with a combination of welcome and sympathy.

There was a fine mix of ages- mostly women in their 40-60’s. They did not have perfect bodies and a few had a thicker menopausal waist, but all of them were working at being a ballerina for an hour and a half of their week. That was cool.

We helped one another take an end of the portable metal ballet bars and carried them out to the center of the floor, arranging them in rows. A full length mirror lined the one wall so we could watch our form. I did not recognize myself in the mirror. I did not look anything like a ballerina. I looked like an imposter. Although I wore black tights and a black tight t-shirt, it would have been a good idea had I lost 10 pounds. I planned to avert my eyes as much as possible.

I stood in first position, heels together, toes pointed outward, chest high and arm held as gracefully as I could, with a curved hand and open fingers. I stood next to my son-in-law at the bar for moral support and watched what he did, trying to copy. Eben and I accidentally kicked one another a few times and we laughed.

I was amazed at my son-in-law. He looked transformed. I have observed him of course, walking around the world, hiking, paddling, even salsa dancing, but here he looked like a ballet dancer and this side of him was new to me. He knew the moves and the positions. He got his leg up quite high. He did not waver or lose his balance. He did not watch others to see how to do it. He was in the zone of a ballet dancer and I was very proud of him. He was the only male here amongst two dozen women and it did not bother him in the least. That is what he is used to, he said.

My husband, Todd, had a bit of a hard time accepting Eben at first. One time in particular, the couple was living at our home in an interim period in their lives. Todd planned to work together with Eben on firewood this particular day. My tight-lipped PA German husband was outdoors working away, waiting for Eben to come out and join in. Eben was in the house waiting for Todd to tell him when he was ready for him. A lack of communication was clearly going on. My husband complained later on, “I came into the house and he was sitting on the sofa, knitting! Knitting! While I was outside doing all these manly things.”

And I looked at him and said, “Why does Eben have to be like you? He can be any way he wants. The important thing is that he makes your daughter happy. Does he make your daughter happy?”

He seems to.”

Well that is all we should be concerned with.”

So here I was with Eben sharing ballet class. How many mothers-in-law get to do that with their new son?

I was alright with the warming up exercises at the bar. They came back to me. I was grateful I had been doing yoga in these past years when it came to bending back and stretching sideways, but still felt clunky, chunky and stiff. What this session was telling me was how far I have come from being a ballerina and from the looks of the grey haired women surrounding me, it was possible to get it back. I am sure that 90% of these women, like me, danced as young girls too. A few of the younger ones looked as if they still danced professionally but most were here for the fun and exercise and the beauty that dance brings into your life.

Once we moved the bars back to the side and spread ourselves out on the floor, I thought, uh oh, now I have to look at myself. There are not a lot of places to hide in ballet class or pretend you are something different from who you are or what you have become. But I could easily avoid looking at myself in the mirror as I had to spend most of my time watching others so I could mimic them.

I exercise nearly every day and can ride a bike fairly fast and far. I can power up slopes hiking without hyperventilating and am poised to head out onto two long distance adventures this summer. This year of turning 60 is my year to notch my fitness level up to a new height. Ballet class is reminding me that I have slipped far from a 15-year-old ballerina, but by the looks of those around me, I could get most of it back. Looking in the mirror at these adult women, there is hope.

During the floor exercises, I spent half my time losing my balance and breaking the pose. Spinning in place, balancing on a single foot that is supporting your body only by your toes, was not easy. Grace was nowhere to be found. I failed half the time but the other half, I was having a good time.

Things got more uncomfortable when we were instructed to head to the corner of the room and section off into groups of three for crossing the floor. The instructor went through what felt like a rapid succession of moves which I could not grasp. I left Eben’s side and went to the back of the group, hoping by the time my turn came, I had watched enough woman to memorize the sequence.

I felt more like a wildebeest than a gazelle crossing the wooden dance floor. Eben said no one was looking at me. I said bullshit. I looked at every single woman as they crossed, observing their form, who looked better, who I wished I could emulate. Leaping into the air, I felt fairly ridiculous and know I looked that way too. I got an A for effort but realized the rough road ahead if I wanted to try to get it back. Getting back the grace, the lightness, the magical zone and the beautiful expression that dance provides you with was worth the effort and pushing through the uncomfortable time of being rusty and chubby and out of dance shape, I thought. Had I lived in Boulder, Eben and I would be coming here on a regular basis.

Eben told Sierra that he never saw me so self-conscious and lacking in confidence. He was surprised. But he never saw me at ballet class before. This was a fairly huge move to get out of my comfort zone. I remember when I enrolled Bryce in a hip hop class back when he was 12, since he loved to break dance so much. He was the only guy in the class and crossing the dance floor one at time doing shoulder shrugs put him over the edge, he said, never to return. He said he was emotionally scarred from that experience.

I get that. I was not so uncomfortable or poor at ballet that I would not return. I may enroll in a class back home. Perhaps committing to a full semester is something I would need to commit to. You have to give some things more of a chance. One run at it after 45 years isn’t enough to judge. The other women in the class were the real gift of the experience. All of them were pushing past their comfort zone and had arrived at a place where they felt comfortable and confident and able to dance ballet again. This has been a reminder of who I have been, who I am now, and who I could be again, with some work.

And of course, the best gift of all, dancing with my new son-in-law. How special and unique of an experience is that? It was worth feeling like a wildebeest and I may just decide to become a ballerina again in my near future.

“Do something every day that scares you”(revisited) …Eleanor Roosevelt

Science has proven that doing something that scares you will make you more productive, prepare you for new and unexpected changes, help you push your boundaries in the future, and make it easier to harness your creativity.”

When I rode motorcycle, it was easy to fulfill that command by Eleanor Roosevelt. Every time I switched off the ignition and unbuckled my helmet after a ride, I was grateful that I was still alive and whole. (My uncle died in a motorcycle crash.) I tried to be a good rider. I went to motorcycle safety class, even graduated from the advanced class. But I just didn’t ride enough. The summer that we went to Alaska for nearly two months sapped my confidence. When I hopped on after we returned home, I was nervous. I just wasn’t in the saddle enough to feel comfortable. Every time it was nice weather, my motorcycle friends wanted to ride and I wanted to hike, cycle, paddle, move. So I sold it and used the money to buy the family flights to Patagonia to backpack.

I was scared to landscape paint on the spot- plein air painting, it is called. It is fast and challenging to capture the ever changing light. It sounds much more tame compared to motorcycle riding but it can be very intimating in its own right.

All my life, I have only ever painted from photographs, which distills information down to two dimensions. Plein air is much much different than painting in a studio, with controlled light and having all the time in the world. But it is something that I always wanted to do. In my 45 years of being an artist, I probably only ever painted on the spot two times in total and both felt like utter failure.

So I landed a magazine job with Traverse Magazine in Traverse City, Michigan to take a three-day plein air painting course and write about it. I wanted to attend and be ahead of my learning curve, already feeling comfortable behind an easel and ready to absorb my teacher’s personal gifts and instruction. So I went to my friend Frank Fretz.

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Frank is a fabulous artist and has helped me and my children become better artists for decades. He helped with my books’ illustrations as well as helped 13-year old Bryce create his first book. Frank is now in his 80’s. Still young in my book but I am not sure how long he will be willing to landscape paint with me and so I have asked him for his company and his wisdom and we have begun weekly painting sessions.

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Since it was chilly this first week, we painted in their passive solar home, Frank looking one direction, me the other. I was not convinced I would like plein air painting but I truly wanted to and become good at it someday. My dream is to travel around the country when I’m finished with my next book, “Modeling a Life,” on a press trip. I plan to stop at my old friends’ homes (and a few new ones!) whom I have not seen for many years and reconnect. Have them arrange to have me speak in their local town at a library or an outdoor shop, go for a hike with them, sell a few books, and do a plein air painting where they live. By the time I return from my press trip, I ought to have a nice group of paintings for a show from the road and be half good at it.

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I was surprised to find that while I was painting at Frank’s, I really did enjoy it. I painted for 1 ½ hours and then got a bit frustrated with the changing light and the fact that my painting had gotten so wet I could not spot highlights. Time to quit.

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My husband was excited to see what I had done as soon as he came home from work and liked my painting but couldn’t understand why I kept referring to “the road.” He thought I had painted a stream, with the blue shadows in the road. I am not sure if that could be considered failure or not but I still felt good that he liked it, as did I. I will do some finish work on it after it dries and will post. But I think I am finally ready to take up this new activity of on-the-spot plein air landscape painting and I m excited.

Frank’s wife Lila is very wise and she once told me when I was complaining that I was not painting and always wanted to do this kind of landscape painting, but was doing other important work instead, like writing, she said, “Save something for later on in your life.” I was thinking “old and decrepit” and unable to move and painting in a van with wrap-around windows as I traveled. But now is a very good time to learn to be a plein air landscape painter.

 

Training Husbands- A Life-long Job

Husbands need to be trained their entire life. We wives can’t ever slack off, ease up. That’s the reality of it. And Pennsylvania German husbands, however good-hearted and loyal people they may be, suck at manners.

My husband had a terrible teacher in this department. When we were first married, my new mother-in-law merely grunted, “Salt!” when she wanted someone to pass the salt shaker. I was speechless. I realized shortly after I was married, that my husband had a very difficult time with the words, “Please. Thank you. You’re welcome. I’m sorry.” I repeat them after I give him something like you do a very small child in training, preparing them to be a polite adult.

When my husband began work wth a Pennsylvania German man, I began to see the same behavior in him. If we took him out to lunch, or bought him a present, he would not say thank you, although I knew he was grateful, not just for the act but also our friendship, but these men certainly do not vocalize it. When I witnessed my husband leaving the job and not saying good bye to his boss, I questioned him. He told me that they do not even say “hello” or “good morning” at the start of the day.

I found this shocking and after over thirty years of witnessing it, I am continually shocked.

I came downstairs from my workplace last night and went down into the cool cellar for a grapefruit. I passed my husband reading in his chair and said, “Do you want a grapefruit or an orange?”

he said, “no, I just had one.”

I looked at him and said, “Are you a bachelor?”

No.”

Do you live alone?”

No.”

Tonight, just one night later, he came into the bathroom while I was taking a bath with a dish of ice cream.

I said, “How about me?”

Here, take it,” he said, pissy.

I don’t believe you. Why don’t you think of me?”

He said, “You get things for yourself all the time- coffee, tea.”

That was just lame. My husband NEVER drinks hot liquids unless he is in the wilderness fighting hypothermia.

I said, “I always ask Bryce if he is home if he wants a cup of coffee or tea if I am making one.”

My husband got angry and left the room with his bowl of ice cream. We had just gone out to hear music and held hands lovingly. He had just had sex the night before so he was not grumpy. He just has piss poor manners. How did we get to be married for thirty years, after thirty years of work trying to teach him manners and he has not learned them yet? Is it hopeless? It feels like it.

When the kids are home, he gets into bed and doesn’t says, “Good night.” I sometimes make him get up and kiss the kids good night, if they are home from college or visiting from a foreign country. We don’t get blessed with our children’s presence as much as we’d like, so we should celebrate them being home, make them feel as if we are glad they are here. Or they might not want to return as frequently.

I have a good man. He will do anything for me. He will do nearly anything for anybody. He puts himself last. Why can’t I teach him manners? Why isn’t this something a man can learn? Why does he refuse to learn? Is it really a cultural Pennsylvania German thing? I Googled German rudeness and found this behavior to be spot on.

They just seem to have this bizarre understanding between each other that there’s no need to apologize or say thanks, etc.”

Or good night. Or please. They are an efficient and thrifty people. No need to say more words than is necessary.

My husband’s ancestors came over from Germany in the 1600’s. That’s a long time ago. His family has been marrying other Germans for hundreds of years, until MY husband marries a warm and fuzzy, vocal Sicilian/Pole and he runs into trouble.

I know other wives have to train their husbands when it comes to other traits. Mine sucks at manners. I have my job laid out for me until one of us dies.

Please. Thank You. You’re Welcome. I’m Sorry. Good Night.” I will not quit.

PS Please read what Holger Heinz wrote in comments- a brilliant insightful look at the German male mind.

 

 

 

 

 

The Pleasure of Planting Peas

It is March. The snow has melted and the soil has dried out enough to til. Time to get the peas in. It is a rite of spring passage. Like witnessing the early morning take off of the migrating snow geese at Middlecreek Wildlife Management’s lake, and watching the wood frogs mate in our tiny back yard pond as they make the water boil with their girl humping activity and bullying each other to take their turn. The spring peepers go crazy in the shallow vernal pools and the towhee has returned- we hear its song in the morning as well as a dozen other new voices that I can’t identify but glean intense happiness from just knowing they are here or are passing through. They are all symbols of change and change for the better, and hope. No one is ever sad about spring returning.

I place the hard round pale yellow peas in the ground- two inches apart. I push them slightly down in with my index finger. The goats bleat in their nearby pen, the roosters crow, the wind blows my hair around and the sun shines warmly. It always makes me sing that American children’s folk song…

Inch by inch,

row by row,

gonna make my garden grow,

all it takes is a rake and a hoe

and a piece of fertile ground.

Inch by inch, row by row,

someone bless these seed I sow,

someone warm them from below

til the rain comes tumbling down.”

I want to plant peas every spring. I don’t want to miss it. I miss planting other seeds throughout the spring as my husband revolves planting around his schedule. But I never want to miss planting peas. Because it is one of the first signs and rituals of spring. I think the peas taste better too when I eat them in the summer because I helped them get their start in life.

My father had a garden in our residential neighborhood yard but I did not help with the planting or the weeding. I had no interest and my father did not make me. I do remember helping with the peach harvest however, as we had a few dwarf fruit trees in the yard. I was a child who did not always know boundaries or what moderation is and can remember eating delicious juicy peaches for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks inbetween meals because I loved them so. My whole body broke out in hives because of the excess but that did not dilute my intense love of peaches- they are still my favorite fruit.

While I waited for my husband to put up the fence and rake a trench for my peas, I walked the garden with my head down, holding dandelion leaves in my mind’s eye. I held a stainless steel colander to my chest with a kitchen shears inside for the wind was so strong and whipping, it wanted to pull my tender cut dandelion leaves right out of my container.

The Pennsylvania Germans have a delicious vinegar, egg and sugar hot dressing that they put on endive or dandelion. Dandelion picking is another spring rite of passage and it contains tremendous nutrients and tonics to keep your liver, kidneys and gaul bladder in fine working order. It is free extremely healthy food, growing like weeds.

My kids loved chickweed when they were small. They picked it and put it in salads and just for shits and giggles one time, Bryce dumped salad dressing right on a clump in the flower garden and got down on all fours and ate it like his pet goats. ..upping the fun factor when it comes to harvesting wild edibles and having lunch.

Both children live in the city right now- one in Boulder and the other in Philadelphia. They say it is not forever and I want to believe that. When the kids are home, they do help with the garden. We weed the same rows and chat as conversation flows easily as well as laughter. I never MADE them garden just as my dad did not make me so maybe they will have the desire to grow their own food someday when they have a plot of ground to live on. Maybe that is all it takes, planting a seed of good living. Even if you don’t see the result right away, it can lie dormant underground until conditions are right. I am hopeful my children will go back to their roots when they have the opportunity to find a place outside the city where they can monitor the changing seasons and find simple joy in honking geese overhead and birds building nests in the rafters and purple crocuses coming up in the grass and planting peas in the spring.