Seamless Travel

My husband and I recently travelled from our home in Williamsburg to Ballinasloe, County Galway Ireland. We could have gotten on the early morning Amtrak and travelled directly to Newark—Liberty International Airport. We actually drove to Baltimore to spend a few days with our daughter and family and took the same train from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Newark airport. There a tram carried us to the international terminal and our Aer Lingus flight.

Upon arriving in Dublin, we planned to stay in an airport hotel to recover from jet lag before boarding our bus to the west of Ireland. A hotel shuttle took us to the hotel and back to the airport the next day to board our cross- country bus. The buses run often and are very reasonable. Our round- trip ticket for two was $56 for a two-and-a-half-hour journey with few stops.

When we returned, we took the bus directly to the airport terminal. Upon landing in Newark, we boarded the tram to the hotel shuttle stop and took the shuttle to our hotel—we could have boarded a train from the airport but again decided on some recovery time. The next morning our shuttle deposited us back at the airport and one tram stop later we were at the train station where both commuter and Amtrak trains are available.

Hampton Roads brands itself as a tourist destination. And, Williamsburg and Newport News as well as Norfolk have Amtrak service with some bus connections to Virginia Beach. But as far as I know, there are no train or bus connections from Williamsburg to Richmond or Newport News or Norfolk airports. Virginia Beach has declined to extend the Tides commuter rail from Norfolk to the beach.

Tourist dollars could best be spent connecting airports to train stations and buses, allowing visitors to arrive without cars. Increased subsidies to public transportation could ease traffic congestion throughout the country. Carless visitors would not add to traffic or air pollution and would attract additional classes of tourists.

Hats off to BWI and Norfolk for making travel easier!

Graceless In New York

It’s a good thing my parents didn’t name me Grace. My latest example of being “not
grace” occurred in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, certainly a place for grace. Since our visit occurred during Covid restrictions, I was careful to have my vaccination record and ID in hand. Once that passed muster, we were herded to the purse/bag checking station.

I will first tell you that it was a cold, half rain-half snow day. So, I had my all-weather
hooded coat on, with the hood up. Because we were in the big city, I had the shoulder strap of my purse over my head and resting on my left shoulder while the purse was secured on my right side. Then I had wrapped my thick wooly scarf around my neck, over the coat and tied it.

I reached to pull my purse off my shoulder and managed to pull my scarf over my face,
the purse strap now entangled in the scarf and coat hood. Fortunately, the purse checkers had a sense of humor. “Do we need 911?” One asked. The second replied, “Maybe the jaws of life.” And, “It’s okay, we’ve got you.”

In an earlier year, I might have died of embarrassment, but having lived my graceless life
so long, I only began to laugh. Eventually I was untangled and lived to see the glory of the Met.

Making Meals—Out of Little at All

I never went hungry. A blessing that many Americans take for granted, but others cannot. I grew up on a farm and we had some lean years with my mother making a few desperation dinners, but mostly we had beef or pork and/or lamb from the farm in the freezer as well as frozen green beans, tomatoes, green peppers, Swiss chard, squash and corn from our garden as well as applesauce from our apple tree. We also had what we called winter pear trees—the pears were not good to eat, but she made pearsauce out of them. I suspect they might have been tasty canned—I have canned similar pears, but she was not much into canning.

My father contracted with a commercial bakery to pick up their old bread. He took our converted Dodge moving van which could carry four horses, or several cattle or hogs to market, and filled it with day-old bread. We first went through the packages choosing sweet rolls, variety breads and whatever else appealed for the home freezer. The rest we emptied into an old chicken plucking tank which warmed the water to brew pig slop. The pigs loved it and the barn smelled like chicken soup.

For several years we had a milk cow and my mother, although growing up as a city girl, learned to make soft cheese and butter. We had chickens for fresh eggs. A neighbor grew corn, oats, wheat and barley on our farm on the shares. My mother would take some of the wheat and cook it as a hot cereal.

My father loved creamed corn, right out of the can. So, one desperation dinner I remember was creamed corn mixed into scrambled eggs—not bad at all.

One very cold winter night, we found a heifer which had been shot by a hunter. For reasons now unclear to me, in order to use the meat, we had to have the entire carcass made into smoked beef sausage. My father had the opportunity to go back to the city and work for my uncle. During the week, we stayed in an old sorority house he owned with gas stoves. My mother was afraid to light the ovens and we didn’t really move much to that house in the way of cooking equipment. I can remember eating the smoked sausage along with toast she made by holding bread over the gas flame. Not my favorite.

I no longer live on a farm and have only a small garden. None the less, we still have a few off the land meals—we use a small raised bed down the street from us. We grew tomatoes, green onions, peppers, zucchini, lettuce, basil and Swiss chard. At our house we have blueberry bushes, rosemary, thyme and oregano along with cherry tomatoes. My favorite is to sauté fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers and zucchini and serve over pasta with fresh cut basil and parmesan cheese. Swiss chard makes a great quiche, along with green onions.

This year, the news mentioned the higher cost of Thanksgiving dinner. Thanks to Food Lion we purchased an almost fifteen -pound turkey for less than five dollars. Throughout the year I freeze stale bread, heels and leftover cornbread to use for stuffing.  I had to buy peas, cranberries, and potatoes along with onions and celery. I now have turkey and dressing in the freezer along with a carcass and broth for soup making—an investment of ten dollars made us many meals. And I suspect as inflation increases, our “creative cooking” will continue.

Peaceful Poconos

My husband and I recently traded out time share for a week in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania at Shawnee on the Delaware. We were right on the Delaware River—a little worrying as the remnants of Hurricane Ida passed through—but we stayed dry. I can’t say as much for the golf course.

The resort is very spread out, intermixed with older homes and commercial enterprises, as well as a professional theater. One reason we chose this location was to be able to view water falls. Buttermilk Falls is adjacent to the property. Dingman’s Falls was about thirty minutes away, a beautiful drive in the Delaware Water Gap National Area. This falls and another, Silver Falls, were easily accessible along a boardwalk. We went to this area both before and after the storm—quite a difference!

We also drove north to the quaint town of Milford, Pennsylvania, full of older homes, lovingly landscaped. This town is within commuting distance of New York City.

In Shawnee, we ate twice at the Gem and Keystone on the property—great food and service and we were able to eat on the porch. There were many other choices nearby.

When I was growing up, the Poconos were known for cheesy honeymoon resorts with mirrored ceilings, heart shaped beds and so on. We only saw one hotel advertising “sedutive suites”. Rather the area’s appeal lay in natural beauty, lots of hiking trails and opportunities to kayak and canoe. There are ski resorts, golf courses and other amenities.

We played mini-golf and enjoyed the pools at the resort. The nearby towns of East Stroudsburg and Stroudsburg offered shopping and dining opportunities, although I didn’t see much in the way of antique or consignment  stores—my favorite haunts. There were, however, many places to buy cigarettes and beer. And we always enjoy driving through the countryside, observing farms and architecture.

Although a long way from my native Western Pennsylvania, I found the countryside similar, as well as the style of homes and barns. All in all a restful and enjoyable trip.

Out of Nothing at All

“Making Love Out of Nothing at All” by Air supply is one of my favorite songs. My husband’s cousin Elaine does this on a regular basis, although her mission could more directly be titled, “Making Beauty Out of Nothing at All.”

Her apartment is full of eclectic treasures, art work, tapestry, photos, pottery, vases—each attached to a memory. While other seniors (she will be 92 in August) may be downsizing, she says she couldn’t bear to part with one single thing attached to a memory. New memories and hence new objects appear on a regular basis. In her bedroom, a Japanese fan is splayed artfully on the pleated window shade—a new addition from our last visit.

Her current volunteer project involves framing artwork for a charity which helps furnish apartments for men moving out of homeless shelters. She had an interesting weed tree in her yard which produces a number of different leaf shapes. She mats and frames these in beautiful frames she scours from thrift shops and yard sales. She might also frame a pretty notecard, or anything really which could become art. In the fall she finds colorful leaves to feature.

She hasn’t redecorated her apartment in terms of paint, wallpaper or carpet, for years. But art abounds—in all forms. Our table was set with plates covered with three different beautiful paper napkins, cut to fit and topped with a clear glass plate.

When she is not crafting art or spoiling her Maine Coon cat, she is at the computer, writing poetry, once again making beauty– out of nothing at all.

Making Hay

You can take the girl out of the country, but … As I drove to Tappahannock to deliver books to T-Town Tack and Western Wear, my eyes took in the fields of waving wheat, harvested wheat and newly raked hay. For much of my life, this time of May has meant time in the hayfield. Putting up good hay, suitable for horses, is a complex process. It must be cut before it is too stalky, it must have time to dry, it must be baled at the perfect moment. Too early and the moisture will cause it to mold and build heat, even enough to spontaneously combust. Too dry and it will be dusty and of less nutritional value.

On a good year in Western Pennsylvania, Memorial Day marked the first hay cutting. We spent the weekend mowing, raking and baling the fragrant timothy. I think the alfalfa and clover fields were a bit later. I cherished those times, working with my father to put up hay. It was also a time of picnics with our good friends who lived only a few miles away. We got together on every holiday, either at their place or ours, grilling out.

But I digress. Today is our daughter’s birthday. She was born on a Friday morning and my husband watched my c-section through a door. Back in my hospital room, we held our precious gift and then that night he drove the eighty miles back home to work in the hayfield the next day.

Our son and our daughter learned to work in the hayfield. Our son talks about his job by saying, “I’ve hauled hay, this job isn’t hard work.” Our daughter and her best friend out worked their football player classmates when helping a farmer who baled hay in South Carolina.

We no longer have hay fields to mow, rake or bale, but as a horse owner and lover, I appreciate the process. I grieve for every farmer who has his mowed and raked hay ruined by rain (not likely this spring). And I love the scent of freshly mown hay—perhaps someone could bottle and sell it?

Gypsy

Our daughter, Wynn, has a horse. Those of you who know us or our daughter will not be surprised at that statement. She has had a horse or horses for most of her life. But let me unpack the statement a bit.

About two years ago she lost her twenty-something wonderful pinto Saddlebred mare to colic. A mare we had raised and trained and sold and she was able to repurchase for a low price. They enjoyed trail riding alone and with friends and Di (registered name Frostpoint) was the perfect American Saddlebred ambassador, beautiful and talented but eminently sweet and sensible.

So, we kept asking our daughter if we could help to find her another horse. She said she wasn’t ready. Too little time between work and kids and then Covid and homeschooling kids and trying to work from home. Last summer she resigned from her job, planning to totally homeschool her children and their best friends in partnership with their friends’ mother.

Then came August. Our 40- year- old active, slender, healthy daughter had a heart attack. SCAD—spontaneous coronary artery dissection resulted in a hole in her heart and the resultant heart attack. She spent several days in cardiac intensive care. From the time she came home until December, either her in-laws or we were there, cooking meals, teaching the kids, doing laundry etc. Our wonderful son-in-law was thankfully working from home.

Our daughter was prescribed many meds to keep her quiet and miserable while her heart healed. And since most heart doctors aren’t used to treating pre-menopausal women, blood thinners led to anemia.

Our daughter researched her condition, joined a SCAD survivor’s group and advocated for herself. By December, she was ready to exist without our help and take over the teaching and household duties, although still tiring easily. Covid made normal cardiac rehab impossible, but she was told to walk.

She began to search for a horse. In February she found a seven-year-old Saddlebred mare who had only been used for trail riding. After numerous conversations with the broker, a video and a search of the broker’s excellent reputation, she bought Gypsy Rose, sight unseen. Since Wynn wasn’t yet ready to take on horse care, we had her shipped to the barn where I teach and everyone who rode her loved her.

Last week, Wynn came down from Maryland to take Gypsy home. The mare backed politely off the trailer, looked at the swings waving wildly in the wind without a second thought and put her head down to graze. Wynn hasn’t yet started cardiac rehab but on the first day of Gypsy, her smart watch recorded 15,000 steps. Scattering hay in the paddock, checking on the mare, grooming her and bonding with her is the best therapy plan ever.

RIP Larry McMurtry

I learned that Larry McMurtry died today. Although he was a popular and most talented writer, I found Terms of Endearment and some of his other work unbearably sad, and didn’t want to read or watch more. No Lonesome Dove for me I saw The Last Picture Show and I remember my brother hiding my younger sister’s eyes for certain scenes.

The news clip I heard on NPR referenced his Archer City, Texas bookstore, which he opened because there was no local bookstore. I visited Archer City several years ago and bookstore does not begin to describe it. I was visiting my brother who was attending to business interests in Ardmore, Oklahoma, one of which is also a local independent bookstore, The Bookseller—shout out to manager Lois Proctor.

But anyway, we took a day trip to Archer City. Like many small towns, Archer City’s downtown was in decline. However, McMurtry had taken over buildings all around the square for book sales. There was a new book store, but also used book stores arranged by type of book in buildings all around the square. Each building was full to the ceiling with book shelves full of biographies or mysteries or non-fiction or children’s books or whatever. Shoppers were free to roam at will and bring any purchases to the main store. I remember buying a first edition book on foxhunting as well as a beautifully illustrated book on minerals and gems for my husband. Had I not been flying home in a few days, I’m sure I would have purchased much more.

When we arrived at the main checkout location, we saw the author himself out on the curb unloading books. A shopper asked him to sign one of his novels. He said, “We don’t do that, but there are signed copies for sale in that shop.”

We drove by the Dairy Queen and the local movie theater and someone pointed out the roofline of McMurtry’s modest home. McMurtry used his small- town background in rural Texas to tell stories of the West and portray the culture and relationships of several eras. His works became cultural icons in themselves. So, RIP Larry McMurtry, author and bookseller.

Eclectic

As we endure the pandemic, Facebook is full of games and quizzes to pass the time. At various times in my life, I have seen requests to describe one’s self in one word. I have finally figured out my one- word description—eclectic.

I thought about this while we were eating dinner last night in our dining room, that room being an example. We sat at an oval table (Habitat for Humanity Restore find), its shiny dark surface at the moment covered by a faded cabbage rose tablecloth, purchased new from Home Goods. Across from me was a pine sideboard we bought when we first moved to North Carolina from Kentucky, since the massive antique oak table and buffet we had wouldn’t fit in our home. On the sideboardwas the silver chest given to us by my husband’s brother and wife for a wedding gift, a lovely lemon candle and a beautiful porcelain lamp I found at a thrift store. Above the sideboard is an antique mirror my mother bought in Kentucky.

Behind my husband was a tall china cabinet, a Salvation Army find, now painted a shiny deep gold. The original painting of a New Orleans plantation home dripping with Spanish moss sat on top of the china cabinet. We bought it as a souvenir of our honeymoon. The wall behind me held a watercolor hunt scene and a smaller such painting adorned the wall beside the china cabinet. We sat in French country light wood chairs, purchased from a friend who bought them from her mother’s retirement home for $10 each. We had them recovered in 2005 and have enjoyed them ever since, with two previous tables. Behind me, in the right corner is a reproduction grandfather clock willed to my husband by his aunt.

When we moved to this house, my husband mentioned wanting to buy a new, matching dining room set. But after pricing such things, he decided our eclectic collection might suffice.

And not only my décor fits that description. My wardrobe is equally varied. Classic sweaters and pearls, leggings and tunics, jeans and sweatshirts and one or two designer dresses have all caught my fancy. My various careers might also fit that description. How comforting to know what I am.