Category Archives: travel

Memories From the Closet

My husband and I have traveled quite a bit and everywhere we go, we collect souvenirs – primarily t-shirts, mugs, and shot glasses. The mugs and shot glasses are displayed on shelves and in curio cabinets in our home and occasionally used for their intended purposes. The t-shirts we actually wear.

Not that we can wear all of them. Many were destroyed in the tornado that also destroyed our house, and of the ones that remain, almost all are too small (or actually, we are too large).

I used to have a “beers of the world” t-shirt collection. I had Harp Lager and Guinness from Ireland, Red Stripe from Jamaica, Corona from Mexico, and so on. (Unfortunately, Harp Lager beer is no longer sold in Ireland, so there were no t-shirts available on our most recent visit. I did get a very nice Tullamore Dew t-shirt on our most recent visit, but that’s whiskey, not beer. But I digress.)

While in Ireland, we picked up shirts from the Cliffs of Moher and Sean’s Bar too. We’ve also bought t-shirts commemorating our visits to other cities and scenic locations. We recently resurrected one from Dubrovnik, too tattered by the tornado to wear, plus one from the Gauley River and one from Kartchner Caverns near Benson, AZ.

We also have t-shirts from many of the science fiction conventions we attended, plus ones with images of cats or armadillos, our favorite performers and bands (Pink Floyd, Bela Fleck, Kris Kristofferson, Jimi Hendrix, the Black Book Band), and more than a few with in-jokes or snarky or geeky sayings on them. I even have one with Hemingway’s sound advice: Write Drunk. Edit Sober. And of course one from my alma mater, Cornell.

(I also had a bunch of Banana Republic t-shirts back in the day, which really aren’t travel t-shirts, but along the same lines. My wardrobe used to consist almost exclusively of clothes in khaki, olive drab, sand, and camo, plus assorted other colors that BR featured in their line. I once hyperventilated in a BR store in La Jolla, and once a friend gave me some of their tissue paper, which I used as a backdrop for my bulletin board. I used to drive to the next state over to their outlet store. I pored over their travelogue-catalogs. I never forgave Gap for buying them out. It’s never been the same since. But I digress. At length.)

Why do I need all these t-shirts? Despite my age (and the advice everyone seems to want to give to someone my age), my everyday outfit is a t-shirt and jeans – and I’d rather wear an entertaining shirt than something boring. I wear this “uniform” to go shopping and to my therapist appointments (I have one t-shirt that says “The Light at the End of the Tunnel Is an Oncoming Freight Train.” I used to have one that said “Leave Me Alone. I’m Having a Crisis.”) I’d wear them to work, except that I work at home and wear my even-more-casual pajamas.

T-shirts today aren’t cheap. You can easily pay $30 with shipping. I have two on order now. One is a shirt from the Philadelphia Folk Festival, where my husband and I met. The other one, which Dan doesn’t know about (and he never reads my blog, so he still won’t know until it arrives), commemorates our trip to Montenegro. He had suggested that we replace some of our old shirts with ones featuring all the places we’ve traveled together, and I thought that would be a good place to start. After all, he recently surprised me with a t-shirt featuring Croatia.

Now all we have to do is find ones from Maine, the Leeward Islands, Benson AZ, Laurel Cavern, Carter Caves, Venice, Slovenia, and wherever we go next!

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Adventures in Ireland, Part Two: The Good Parts

Last week I wrote about our trials and tribulations getting to and from Ireland. This week, I’m going into the more enjoyable parts of the vacation. And there were many.

Newgrange. We saw the outside, but not the inside.

In the Boyne Valley, we wanted to see Newgrange and Knowth, two ancient stone tombs. We had booked a tour in advance. Unfortunately, we got lost on the way there and missed our appointed time. Dan was able to get a picture of the Newgrange monument from the road. When we go back to Ireland (whenever that may be), we want to spend several days just in the Boyne Valley so we can see everything at our leisure. We could also take a bus into Dublin to see the Book of Kells and other historic sights and sites.

Here’s a picture of the Giant’s Causeway, which we didn’t actually get to see. This is a stock photo.

(We also never made it to the Giant’s Causeway for the same reason. We had a drive into Northern Ireland, though, where they take pounds and pence instead of euros. Someone told us it wasn’t all that great or interesting anyway. I would have liked to see for myself. The pictures of it are pretty spectacular. But I digress.)

After the Boyne Valley, we stayed at Brook Lodge in Donegal, probably my favorite of the hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that we were booked into by our travel company. It was a very homey place, where we could sit at the dining table and watch the host make us an Irish breakfast while she and Dan discussed gardening.

Off to Arranmore Island.

One of our excursions while we were staying in Donegal was to Arranmore Island. We drove to Burtonport and took the ferry over. Once we were on the island, I wanted to find a pub and get lunch, but Dan insisted that he wanted to see something, such as the lighthouse on the island. We got thoroughly lost again. What we saw were sheep, one of which ran ahead of our car down a one-lane, rocky road. (In addition to sheep and lambs, many of them apparently newborn, we saw cows and some horses in fields throughout the country. We also saw a lot of wind farms, which makes sense because Ireland is usually windy and rainy, though we had excellent weather for the first six days or so of our trip. Even the locals remarked on it. But I digress again.)

In a welcoming pub on Arranmore Island.

We never did find the lighthouse that allegedly existed on Arranmore Island, but we did find our way back to the landing in time to have a drink and a snack in a pub and catch the last ferry back to the mainland. I considered the jaunt a success for those reasons, lighthouse or no.

Our next stop, on the way to Galway, was in the small town of Cong. You may never have heard of it, but it was the place where the John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara movie The Quiet Man was filmed. That’s one of my husband’s favorite movies, so I made sure we would have time to see the place, and on his birthday too. Dan tramped around the town and took pictures of the commemorative statue. While I checked out a local inn, he went shopping. He had sworn that while in Ireland he was going to buy a walking stick and a clock.

Scene from The Quiet Man, immortalized.

(Dan has a history of buying clocks while abroad and managing to pack them well enough in dirty clothes to get them safely back to the States. He brought a clock back from England once. But I digress some more.) He found his walking stick in Cong, and a nice tweed Irish cap. (Getting the walking stick out of the country was another matter. It had to be inspected for insect life at the airport and stowed in the overhead compartments on the planes, which was a challenge. But I digress yet again.)

Dan busking at the Cliffs of Moher. (The real busker is observing him.)

The Cliffs of Moher, about an hour from our b-n-b in Galway, was one of the scenic locations we didn’t get too lost to see. It’s a spectacular set of cliffs with a great view of the Atlantic Ocean. (It was a foggy day, so we didn’t get good pics. We bought t-shirts and mugs instead.) Being somewhat mobility-challenged, we were able to get a ride to the viewing area in a golf cart type of vehicle, cunningly called “The Lift of Moher.” Our guide told us that scenes from one of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies were filmed at a cave at the base of the Cliffs and that the Cliffs themselves were featured as the “Cliffs of Insanity” in The Princess Bride.

Next we stopped in Shannon, about half a mile from Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. We had booked the Medieval Banquet at the castle and saw part of the park while on our way to that. It featured replicas of thatched-roof cottages and other relics of Irish ways of life in the olden days.

At Bunratty.

I knew the banquet was sort of hokey and definitely touristy, but I had been to it on a previous trip to Ireland and also knew that it was a lot of fun. They welcome you with a cup of mead (honey wine) and present you with a lavish dinner that you have to eat with only a knife and your fingers. And one of the dishes was ribs. (They did let us have actual utensils for the dessert, but it was apple cobbler, so they kind of had to.)

Dingle’s harbor.

Our visit to Ireland wouldn’t have been complete without a stay in Dingle, thought by many to be the most beautiful place in Ireland, or maybe in the world, according to National Geographic Traveler. Dingle is another seaside town and had some of the best seafood we had in Ireland. There was a little hole-in-the-wall looking place across from the plaza in this photo, but I had an enormous bowl of amazing mussels there. Actually, the seafood was terrific all through Ireland, which makes sense given that it’s an island. Fish and chips were served at nearly every restaurant and you could have smoked salmon every morning for breakfast if you wanted to (which we sometimes did).

Uragh Stone Circle on a misty day.

We also went to see the Uragh Stone Circle, which we had high hopes for. But it turned out to be not nearly as impressive as Stonehenge, which we saw on our trip to England a number of years back. The stone circle was only eight feet in diameter and the standing stone only ten feet tall. Still, we had an enjoyable day tooling around the countryside and chatting with a couple who were collecting stones and shells in Dingle. We didn’t do the entire Ring of Kerry because it takes five hours, plus stops for photos, and by that time we weren’t enthusiastic about driving for five more hours, no matter how scenic the trip.

The view from the window of our last swanky hotel room in Athlone.

Then it was on to Athlone, not a well-known city, but one I remembered from a previous trip. We were put up there in another swanky hotel. The view out our window of Lough Ree was spectacular. There was a small island that contained a stone said to mark the exact center of Ireland. Athlone gave us access to some of the most beautiful ruins, one of my must-see stops, and one of the most historic establishments in all Ireland. It was a perfect way to round out our trip.

Graveyard at Clonmacnoise.

Clonmacnoise is one of those sites where churches, monasteries, and other sacred buildings were erected, attacked, destroyed, rebuilt, raided, destroyed again (and again). Because of that, there are a number of impressive ruins. There is also a great museum with examples of imposing Celtic crosses and stone carvings, and the history of Clonmacnoise. I waited there while Dan tramped around the site because the day was very cold and windy and I hadn’t worn enough warm or waterproof clothes. We also toured Athlone Castle, another historic site.

Near Athlone was one of the destinations I most wanted to visit – the town of Tullamore. It has historic connections with a canal that linked the town to the rest of Ireland in the 1700s. It was also the site of perhaps the first aviation disaster, when a hot air balloon crashed and started a fire that resulted in 130 houses burning down.

The distillery where my favorite whiskey is made. We took the tasting tour. (Of course we did!)

But what really made me want to go to Tullamore was the fact that it’s the location of the distillery of my favorite whiskey – Tullamore Dew. (Sorry, Jack Daniels. For some reason, Tully is the preferred spirit of many attendees at science fiction conventions, which is where I learned to appreciate it. Yet another digression.)

Of course we took the tasting tour. They welcomed us with an Irish coffee made with the local tipple, and then it was on to view the fermentation tanks and the aging barrels. Along the way, there were more tasting sessions, including one of the various styles of the whiskey that I never even knew existed. The gift shop was also impressive. I now have a Tullamore Dew t-shirt and a Tully shot glass. Dan bought a ceramic crock of Tully, which he also managed to pack and transport safely to the US, and which we’re saving for a special occasion, or maybe another science fiction convention.

Sean’s Bar and the antiques shop. You can tell which one impressed Dan the most.

Also in Athlone is Sean’s Bar, which bears the title of the oldest continuously operating pub in all of Ireland. I had a pint of lager while Dan went to the antiques shop next door. There he purchased his clock for the trip, a really lovely Art Deco piece which also made it home safely. (I was dragged over to the shop to see it and to help Dan bargain down the price.)

That was our last real stop in Ireland if you don’t count the Dublin airport and a Dublin airport hotel, which I don’t.

We’re already talking about saving up to go back.

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Still More Travel Tales, or Why I’m Somewhere Else

I hope when you see this post, I’ll be out of the country, in Ireland. (I say I hope because I’m not altogether convinced that the WordPress schedule-your-post-for-later function will work the way I want it to.)

I’ve traveled to Ireland twice before, once with my mother and once with a group of Catholic writers and editors. (Why? The company that sponsored our tour wanted us to round up our readers for a tour of our own.) They were both epic tours in different ways.

Now I am going back to Ireland with my husband, who has never been there. It’s kind of a second honeymoon for us. Our first one was when we were rather poor. (We paid for our wedding cake with food stamps and our reception was a potluck. But I digress.) Our honeymoon was spent camping and whitewater rafting and sleeping in a treehouse, which is another story.

Since then we have traveled a lot together, including to England, Croatia, and Benson, AZ. (That last trip was inspired by a song of the same name which was the theme song (about special relativity) for a low-budget science fiction movie, Dark Star, that practically no one has ever seen. But I digress. Again.)

We scheduled our Ireland trip last fall when we could lock in plane fares. My husband’s nephew is a travel agent and he made all the arrangements for us, up to and including getting the airlines to send one of those beepy cart things to our gate so we could make our connection without having to run while carrying luggage. He also took care of renting us a car in Ireland and making B-n-B reservations in places we wanted to stay. We’re going to be driving around and visiting lots of scenic and historical places, which his nephew was also kind enough to send us notes on and how far each is from where we’re staying. The nephew’s name is Michael Reily and he’s on Facebook, if any of this inspires you to book a trip.

Since then I have been planning like a madwoman. I’ve written about this before in my post “Preparing for the Normandy Invasion.” And that was about a three-day trip. This time I looked up directions for getting to every town, castle, or spot we want to see, plus a scenic tour by boat. I even emailed a pub to ask if we needed to reserve a table. (No.) I booked reservations for eight different sites and events and printed out confirmations. I even paid for them beforehand, never knowing how much I paid because I can’t (yet) convert dollars to Euros in my head. And I got compression stockings for the overseas flights, as they give me cankles.

One of the things I made sure to tell Dan’s nephew about was that we wanted to go to the town where the movie The Quiet Man, one of Dan’s all-time favorite movies, was filmed. His nephew even arranged it so we could visit the town on Dan’s birthday. I may stake out a seat in a pub while he explores, since that isn’t one of my favorite movies. (I wonder if I can get a map of the area so he doesn’t miss anything.) We’ve even booked a very touristy but entertaining Medieval Banquet that I enjoyed on one of my earlier trips. For culture’s sake, we’ve also booked the local Folk Park as well, which has replicas of thatched-roof cottages as well as gardens. It sounds like a great place to take pictures.

Speaking of pictures, I found out that my iPod and my phone will post them directly to Facebook, so you may have already seen some of them by now. (I wasn’t afraid to give away this little bit of information about us being away from my home, since none of my Facebook friends are burglars, and most live in some other state. But I digress. Again.) The photo included here is not one I took. It’s of the Giant’s Causeway, which I hope we will have seen by now.

So far, the most difficult part of the trip was getting both our cats to the vet for boarding. We have one that escaped from his carrier when tried to take them for their shots. So it’s buy another, sturdier carrier or ferry the cats in two trips.

The only thing I wasn’t able to overthink was how to practice driving on the left side of the road. I hope I’m doing it right – I mean left.

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Adventures in Finding Stuff

Back in the day, I used satellites to find Tupperware in the woods. It was called geocaching.

Basically, you get a GPS unit and go to the Geocaching website. (No, you don’t need the GPS to get to the website. Just a browser. And a computer or mobile device.) Satellites in orbit around the Earth send signals that help you pinpoint a location and an approximate route to it. (They’re not dedicated geocaching satellites, of course. They perform some other function like mapping or spying.)

When you go to geocaching.com, you enter the zipcode of where you live or are traveling to, and it will tell you whether there are geocaches in that area and where they are. The trick is, you only get latitude and longitude coordinates.

You make your way to the site, which usually involves car travel and some walking, through city streets or neighborhoods or woods or swamps or off overpasses or in parking lots. When you reach the destination, you find…something.

And what is the cache? Well, it can be a Tupperware container or an ammo box or a film canister or a pickle jar or anything waterproof. Depending on the size of the container, there may be trinkets inside. The rule is take one, leave one. There is also a sheet of paper where you list your name and the date you found the cache. Then you return to the website and log that you found the cache – or how many times you tried and failed.

What makes any of this fun? You get to feel clever if you find the cache. You get out in the fresh air and walk around, while still avoiding other people. And you get to rack up points on the website boasting of the number of caches you’ve found. You can geocache alone, with a partner, or even a group.

What types of geocaches have I found?

First, there are the regular caches – the ones I mentioned that come in Tupperware and ammo boxes. These are usually relatively easy to find, located in hollow trees, dense brush, and once under an overpass. That one I missed at first, but a moment later realized where it had to be. I used the excuse of accidentally dropping my keys over the railing as an excuse to go back for it, so that no one would question why I was rooting around down there.

Another popular cache is the mini-cache. These are the ones that come in small containers. The smallest mini-cache I ever saw was a mouthwash-strips container that held only a log for leaving your name. That one was in a shrubbery in the median of a residential street.

Then there’s the micro-cache. These are so small that no trinkets can possibly fit within – just the log. I once found one of these logs wrapped around a 10-penny nail loosely stuck in a fence post.

Hide-in-plain-sight caches are often attached with magnets to some metal thing at the destination, such as an industrial station near a street or highway, or a lighting fixture in a parking lot. The back of the magnet or a strip of paper hidden behind it is where you leave your name.

Photo caches. For these caches, you take a picture of the location that corresponds to the coordinates – usually a scenic or historic building. You don’t post the picture on the GPS website, just the fact that you found it and the date.

Foreign caches. When my husband and I vacationed in Eastern Europe, we took along the coordinates of some caches there and we brought some trinkets to leave. One cache we absolutely knew the location of, but were unable to get to because a pile of snow intervened.

Puzzle caches. These may involve solving a code to get the coordinates or knowing (or looking up) the answer to a clue. Some are even more elaborate. One I remember was an acrostic made from the names of a series of books.

Wheelchair-accessible caches. There aren’t a lot of these, but they do remind us that the pastime isn’t just for the able-bodied.

Dan and I haven’t geocached lately, but our days of indulging may not be over. We intend to place a geocache in a nearby park. Will we use Tupperware? Maybe, but more likely a film canister with a scroll log and a pencil stub.

Too bad our GPS unit is as ancient as we are. We could also relive our glory days of hunting and finding.

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The World of Cats

Once I was reading Julie and Julia (or maybe it was Julia Child’s memoirs) when I came across the statement that because she was living in France, she needed a pousiquette. I had studied French since junior high through college, and though my French is so rusty it has holes in it, I couldn’t place the word. Was it some piece of French cooking equipment? An herbaceous plant?

I began to sound out the word: poo-see-kett. Then it hit me: Julia needed a pussycat! Despite the fact that the French word for cat is chat and for pussycat is minou (I looked it up), Julia, with her inimitable flair, had made up her own word. I’ve been using it ever since and the cats don’t seem to mind (or notice).

Then recently, I learned through Facebook that the French equivalent for “purr” is ronron, which seemed a lovely approximation of the sound of a purr. I began looking up other languages’ words for “purr.” I was somewhat disappointed to learn that many other languages simply use the word “purr.” Spanish, being a Romance language like French, used ronroneo.

Other countries were more inventive. “Purr” in Vietnamese is gugu. In Croatian, it’s presti. In Japan, a cat expresses contentment by going gorogoro. German and Dutch pretty much agree on schneurren and snorren (which bring to mind “snore” rather than “purr.” This is okay with me, as we have a cat that snores. Daintily, but she snores.)

I even looked up Italian (fusa, for some reason, despite its being another Romance language), Korean (puleuleu), Hindi (myaoon), Romanian (tors), Hungarian (dorombolas), Swedish (spinna), Polish (mruczec), and Russian (murlykat).

While I was at it, I also looked up the word for “pussycat.” Spanish: minino. Dutch: poesje. Polish: kisia. Korean: goyang-i. Japanese: neko neko. Italian: micia. Hungarian: punci. Swedish: kisse (which I think is adorbz).

I restrained myself (ran out of time, really) before I could look up different versions of “meow.” Another time, I will. (But Julia’s pousiquette would have said “miaou.” With a French accent, no doubt.)

My husband and I have traveled a bit, and we love meeting cats around the world, no matter how they purr. I was in Mexico, staying at a small resort, where cats had the run of the place. The cats’ main duties seemed to be to take up lounge chairs and hope guests would drop ice cream. Each resort cat that had been neutered had a slight clip on the ear to indicate its nonreproductive status. (I understand this is also a practice in the US, a procedure known as TNR, for Trap-Neuter-Release. The clipped ear indicates the cat does not need to be trapped again. But I digress.)

In the Slovenian Alps, we met another cat with a much more strenuous job. As tourists went single file exploring the Plitvice Lakes, at the head of the column trotted a black-and-white cat who seemed to have appointed itself the tour guide. It was easy to follow even in the falling snow.

In Dubrovnik, we met a small black kitten, who proved that cat games are universal. We had dropped a brown paper bag on the ground and the kitten immediately crawled into it. We thought it was playing the bag-mice game, in which a cat makes a rattling sound in a bag and then tries to catch the imaginary mouse. But when we tried to extract the cat, we quickly learned that it would not leave the bag and wanted to go home with us. We were tempted.

Soon, we hope to go to Ireland, where, disappointingly, the pussycats will purr, just as they do in the US. Maybe we’ll find out whether Irish pussycats play the bag-mice game too. I’m betting yes.

My Worst Birthday Ever

Over the years I’ve had some pretty terrible birthdays. Ones with surprise parties that flopped. Ones with unwanted presents. One when I woke up in excruciating pain from a back injury.

Usually, however, I have small, quiet birthdays, with my husband giving me thoughtful gifts that he has sometimes hidden away for almost a year. (If he can remember where he hid them, of course.)

But the absolute worst birthday I ever had was one when my husband wasn’t even there. He had gone to Pennsylvania to visit his mother. He had also sworn that he would be home by my birthday. One would think he meant that he would leave the day before and would be home for my whole birthday. One would be mistaken.

My husband likes to drive at night when the highways are less crowded. By this theory, he should have been home early on my birthday and been able to spend virtually the whole day with me (after, perhaps, a nap). That theory, also, would be incorrect.

Instead, what he proposed to do was leave Pennsylvania early on my birthday morning and be home in time for a nice birthday dinner. This theory was incorrect as well.

By this time, I was getting agitated. My birthday rendezvous with Hubby seemed to be slipping away.

It slipped even more when on the morning of my birthday, it turned out that he had to stay longer and do a few more handyman chores for his mother (in my opinion, the main reason he goes to visit her). That would have him leaving Pennsylvania at lunchtime (or after) and arriving before I went to bed. Technically still my birthday, but I tend not to do much celebrating after I’m in bed.

Eventually, he got on the road. The snowy, slippery road. (It was December.) He called me from along the way – though he knows I hate when he talks while driving – to report his progress. Passed through the tunnel. Over the mountain. How many miles closer to me.

Then I got the phone call that meant he wouldn’t be home on my birthday at all – and that immediately became the least of my worries. He had crashed his car on a bridge covered with black ice, going through a guardrail somewhere near a tiny town in PA, and was at the hospital.

In other words, I had to bundle up on my snowy birthday night and drive to Pennsylvania to meet him at the hospital. He couldn’t remember the name of the town, but he was able to tell me what exit it was just after.

Now, I’m not the best at driving in a raging snowstorm at night in the first place. Add the stress of knowing that my husband was in a hospital – somewhere – made me forget all about my birthday. Instead, I had to drive about 300 miles just to find out what had happened.

Once I found the town and once I found the hospital, I found Dan sitting up in an office, chatting pleasantly with a social worker. Not that he needed a social worker’s services, he was just wandering around the hospital, bored. There was not a scratch on him and his nerves were much steadier than mine.

We found a local hotel, since there was no way I was driving all that way back to Ohio in the snowstorm. We were hoping it would clear by the next day. And the hotel gave out chocolate chip cookies, so there’s a plus. Not a birthday cake, but at that point, I was satisfied.

When I finally did get a chance to see the car, I was amazed that the front of it was so smashed in, yet Dan was unharmed. I’ll say this for Jeep, they really know how to build in crumple zones and passenger capsules.

So, in a way, I can thank Jeep for the best birthday present I ever got, even if it was the worst birthday of my life.

Weird Travels: Jamaica

I’ve traveled to a lot of places in my life, some usual and some at least a little weird. For example, while in London I went to 221B Baker Street to take a tour of the Sherlock Holmes museum. (The top floor had an ornate porcelain toilet that looked like Wedgewood.) And I took Donald Rumbelow’s Jack the Ripper evening walk.

But that’s far from the weirdest, which was probably Jamaica. Actually, it was supposed to be Haiti. My boss was sending me there to report on the work of a charitable organization called “Food for the Poor” that, well, gave food to the poor in the Caribbean.

There was political unrest in Haiti at the time (as there frequently is). Someone (or ones) were shooting presidential candidates. I wasn’t too worried, as I can by no means be mistaken for a presidential candidate. Then they started shooting journalists. Yikes! It was time for me to bail.

Bailing became unnecessary when the destination was changed to Jamaica. This was not to be a tour of the beaches and villas, however. No, this was the poverty tour. (There’s plenty of hungry poor in Jamaica as much as in Haiti.)

When I (and the other journalists) arrived, we were treated to a swank dinner at the hotel we would all be staying at, and told when our wake-up call would be. (Too damn early. It was too damn early every morning.)

We toured a school. It was a little unnerving, but dozens of second-graders swarmed out to greet us with cheerful greetings and insistent hugs around our legs and waists. We went to a church mission, where we learned statistics on poverty in Jamaica. We went to projects where Jamaicans were making handicrafts to sell. I bought a handwoven set of placemats, though they didn’t match my kitchen’s color scheme.

In the evenings, we retired to our hotel, too tired to do anything but sit at the bar by the pool and have a Red Stripe beer. In fact, sometimes I got so tired from the day’s work that I couldn’t even write. I’d try to write an “f” and it would come out “t.” I got leg cramps from all the walking we did.

Still, there was no opportunity to feel sorry for myself. We went to a huge garbage dump, where many people lived. There were only a couple of pipes where you could get water amid the acres of trash. People lived on the things that were thrown away from swank dinners like we had been served – leftovers, cloth napkins, a fork. A knife was a particularly prized find. There was a small stand amid the garbage where local inhabitants sold a few scavenged goods to their fellows. I asked for a soft drink, which they did have a bottle of. The proprietors huddled for a minute, wondering what price they should put on it. They eventually settled on $2 American, which I paid gladly but sadly.

Another day, we went to a project where people went to develop marketable skills, such as sewing. There was a singing and dancing group. Then they served us lunch, which was, of course, impossible to refuse. It was a stew of curried goat. I can report that the taste and texture were like a heavily curried pot roast. Actually, not bad.

The most unusual place that we visited, however, was a leper colony. Yes, with actual lepers. We were reassured that they did not have active infections, though it was apparent that many of them had lost limbs to the affliction (now called Hansen’s Disease). There was singing of hymns, accompanied by a guitar played by a man with three fingers. I lingered a moment and asked if they could play a local tune. Suddenly, the people’s voices lifted in a rollicking song with more decibels and life than the hymns had. I asked if there was anything they wanted, what would it be. The workers wanted a new washing machine. The guitarist wanted new strings.

On our last night there, we journalists all drank our Red Stripes and discussed what we would take away from the experience, which was largely more awareness on how the desperately poor lived. A couple of the journalists stayed on for a few days to explore the beaches.

When I got home, I wrote my article, which was a major flop. Despite the fact that it appeared in a religious magazine, it solicited few funds for the charity, which had been the point of the tour in the first place. But I still have hope that the article opened a few eyes, as it had opened mine.

Planning the Normandy Invasion

Hubby and I are going to take a little three-day getaway this month to celebrate our anniversary. No problem, right? You forget that I have my obsessive moments, and when I don’t, Dan takes over.

Packing for a three-day trip to a b&b/working farm should be no problem, right?

Guess again.

Clothing is not a problem. T-shirts and jeans (or shorts). Undergarments. Shoes. There, the list is done.

Not hardly.

We only signed up for one huge country breakfast, so the rest of the food planning is on us (unless we want to leave our cozy cabin and go searching for a restaurant or pay big bucks for elaborate but homey farmhouse fare – and we don’t have big bucks just now).

We decided on a picnic like the kind we used to have. Cheese. French bread. Summer sausage. Apples. Carrot sticks/celery/radishes/whatever. Crackers. Wine.

Thus began the debates. Do we really need a styrofoam cooler to transport these delicacies, or will a paper bag do for a three-hour drive? Should we bring dip for the vegetables, which would require a cooler, or just some peanut butter, which wouldn’t? Should we take the tabletop ice maker, even though the cabin has a complete refrigerator/freezer – indeed, a complete, if small, kitchen plus bowls, plates, utensils, and the like? (The ice maker was Dan’s idea.) Should we toss in a couple of cans of soup just in case we eat our way through the picnic and still have the munchies?

Now consider us planning for a trip abroad which we hope to take in the spring. Dan is much more casual about long-distance trips where any eating difficulties can be solved with money. But then there’s the rest of our kit, and my anxiety kicks into overdrive. I have already begun planning, purchasing, and, if not actually packing, deciding which things need to go in the carry-on and which in the regular suitcases. (And OMG, the weight limits! And we have two CPAP machines!)

First, there’s the issue of money. Will we change some US currency at the airport? At a bank for a better rate? Will anyone there accept US dollars? How much cash should we get for a ten-day trip? Will our credit and debit cards work overseas? Will they charge exorbitant fees, plus a rate for foreign exchange? (Our bank does. See, I’ve already begun checking these things out.)

What else will we need? Rain slickers? Check, and ordered. Power converters? Check, and ordered (the kind with USB ports so we can recharge our electronics, including my absolutely necessary e-reader so I can read myself to sleep). Road map of the entire country. Check, and ordered. Extra underwear. Check. (I have a dread of running out without a laundry handy.) Multi-compartment pill case that holds day/night and day-of-the-week drugs. Still looking for just the right-sized one. (I know that should be easy, but somehow it isn’t.)

And what other problems might we encounter? Need to make a phone call, either locally or to home? Should we buy a sim card? A burner phone? A phone card (once we get there)? Pay for an overseas plan with our regular carrier? Would it be cheaper to get the pay-as-you-go plan or sign up for unlimited service? (All that hinges on how many calls we’re likely to make, which I just don’t know. This requires much perusing of our carrier’s website, calls to them, and some tricky math on my part.) And dear God, we can’t forget to make reservations for boarding the cats! Plus, who knows what COVID restrictions will be in place then?

My hope is that I can get all these questions answered, purchases made, and Absolutely Everything Prepared For, so that, finally, we can just jump on a plane and be whisked off to the vacation of a lifetime.

I’m sure as soon as we do, I’ll realize that I’ve forgotten something. My friend Robbin always used to tell me that as long as I had underwear and my meds, I’d be okay.

Good thing we never traveled together.

The Fisher in Go-Go Boots

This is my maternal grandmother, Winnie Rose.

We visited her less often than my Kentucky relatives because she lived in Florida. In fact, my first airplane flight was a trip to see her. To give you an idea how long ago that was, DisneyWorld was not yet built, though there was a Visitor Center with a 3D model of how it might look someday. (I didn’t make it to DisneyWorld until I was an adult, when I went with some friends. But I digress.)

Grandma Rose loved fishing and handed down her love of it to my mother. In her old age, my mother took to fishing at local ponds with her church friends or at the city’s recreational center’s pond. She brought home her catch and fried it, unless the pond was labeled “catch and release.” These fresh fish meals disturbed my husband who, despite his occasional desire to be a mountain man, hated to eat any animal that he saw caught or killed.

Once when we visited Grandma, we all went deep-sea fishing. I don’t remember catching anything, but Grandma caught a red snapper, which of course we ate, my husband not being on the scene yet. I wasn’t seasick while I was on the boat, but after I got back to land I was definitely woozy and wobbly.

Grandma also fished from a rowboat, and this solved a family argument. When we kids were teens, we desperately wanted go-go boots. (Remember those?) Our parents wouldn’t get them for us, claiming that they didn’t give enough ankle support, which we thought was just a pretext. Then we learned that Grandma had go-go boots for fishing, as they were exactly the right height to keep water from sloshing inside. Needless to say, we got our go-go boots after all.

Once while we were visiting Grandma Rose, I dipped into her library. There I found mystery books – I particularly remember Nero Wolfe and Agatha Christie. My fascination with these books turned into a lifelong love of mysteries, from Robert Parker to Aaron Elkins to Sue Grafton to Sara Paretsky and many, many others. If there’s a mystery gene, I got it, though it skipped a generation. I also got the crossword and Scrabble genes from Grandma.

One of Grandma’s other hobbies was knitting. She knit fabulous sweaters for the family, all with a little tag inside that said “Made especially for you by Grandma Rose.” There the gene bred true. My mother took up crochet and I did needlepoint and Bargello, plus those awful hooked rug kits.

And lest you think that she was sedentary, in her youth she rode horses. Her other love was bowling. On bowling days, she ate a hearty breakfast of Rice Krispies over vanilla ice cream. It must have worked, because she had dozens of bowling trophies, patches, and other memorabilia. In fact, she went bowling in her 90s, the week before she died.

As you can see from the picture, Grandma Rose had gorgeous, snow-white hair, which used to be naturally red, until her husband died, killed by a drunk driver. After he died, she no longer kept up the red color that he had loved. If I had been born with red hair, instead of acquiring it later, I would have been named Winnie.

Occasionally, Grandma would visit us in Ohio. There was a spare bedroom that we always referred to as Grandma’s room (though it would have made more sense to use it so my sister and I could sleep in separate rooms, at least when we got old enough to fight).

I wish we had lived closer together so that I could have spent more time with her, sharing our mutual hobbies. But I’m glad this picture survived so that I can remember her as I knew her – an active, creative woman who raised lovely flowers, plus three boys and one girl, my mother.

A Window, Biscuits, a Butter Churn, and a Mule

It was an ordinary farmhouse, located outside Beattyville, Kentucky. But there was a secret inside that we kids loved. The kitchen, of course, was the best room to be in. But getting there was even more fun. The kitchen was obviously an add-on to the house, and the entry points to it included not just a door but a window, leading from one of the bedrooms to the kitchen. Of course, we never used the door like the grownups did.

The house belonged to our Cousins Addie and Jim Mainous. They were old even when we used to visit them during the summers. But every day, Cousin Addie hand-made biscuits and sawmill gravy. (Sawmill gravy is different from redeye gravy. Sawmill gravy uses milk. Redeye gravy uses coffee. But I digress.) The kitchen was painted black, but there was lots of sunshine coming in the windows and the back door. It wasn’t at all gloomy. It was warm and cozy and smelled like the biscuits that were rolled out with a drinking glass and cut to size using the mouth of the same glass.

Addie was a thin woman with a big laugh, who almost never wore her dentures. All I remember ever seeing her wear were dark cotton dresses and white aprons. Cousin Jim always seemed to be sitting at the kitchen table, not talking but drinking coffee and eating biscuits and gravy. We kids used to make butter in the authentic churn, which would now be an expensive antique.

In the living room, we found old paper or cardboard fans that were printed with the names of churches and funeral homes. The beds we slept in were much taller than those we were used to, which made climbing into them a workout. Just beside the house was a kitchen garden, which was endlessly diverting. We pulled up carrots and potatoes (which were usually not full-grown yet).

A little ways from the house was a barn, and it was the site of many adventures. There was a hayloft that contained bales of straw (not hay), but we were too young and timid to jump from it, as kids always do in the movies. There was also a fascinating old iron machine that took the kernels off the cobs of dried corn. We loved using it, though it turned out later that the corn cobs were meant to be left whole. There was also a mule, which I once got to ride bareback. Here’s some advice: Never ride a mule bareback. Their spines are very bony.

Across the road from the farmhouse was a hill that led to an ancient family cemetery. It made a nice walk to swing on the gate across the path and trek up there. I don’t know for sure, but I like to think of Addie and Jim being buried there and not in some huge cemetery far from their home.

Just a ways down the road, there was a drive-in theater, which we could see from the screened-in back porch. It was fun to watch the movies, especially the cartoons, even with no sound. Another nearby attraction was Natural Bridge State Park. There was an impressive lodge that we never stayed in, but where we could buy that sugary white candy that seems mostly made of air and dissolves in your mouth. We took pictures of each other standing under the bridge, though I don’t have them anymore.

If Beattyville had a town center, we never saw it. Down the road from the farm was a small gas station owned by Ollie Dooley, a more distant relative, but you couldn’t really say it was in a populated area. The areas we got to see were in the hill country of Kentucky, which we called “the mountains,” though they were nothing like the mountains they have out west. These were sometimes steep, rolling mountains, grassy and rocky, full of minerals.

Fracking didn’t exist back then, and I am glad. I’m sure the old farmhouse and barn are gone now. They were old when we visited them, and they can’t have survived or been rebuilt. And no one today would want a house with a black kitchen that you could enter through a window from the bedroom.