Sunday Morning~ My Daughter's House

Sunday Morning~  My Daughter’s House

August 27, 2017

Hi Everyone,

I had five kids by the time I was twenty-nine. When I think of that now, it seems ridiculous. I felt much older than twenty-nine then, and now at sixty, I sort of, don’t. Until I start in the daily routine of taking care of little ones and simultaneously get home improvement projects done. Then I feel every bit of sixty and my back is screaming, “What the hell?” Ready to pitch in with a little renovation for a play room, I was all gung ho yesterday, and started clearing away the construction debris to start shingling the new wall. A minute into that I dropped a piece of plywood, perfectly scraping the skin off my right shin. No problem! I covered it all with bandaids and as Amelia examined the blood dripping from underneath, she said in a horrified tone, “ I can’t believe that!” A slight setback, I got back to work and, with James throwing sticks into the pile, we got the space cleared and ready to shingle. Opps, wrong nails. A trip to the hardware store, distractions, snacks and finally got the first few rows on. By that time, Kyle was home and took over. The scene was so cute, Amelia handing her dad nails as he put the shingles up, I thought I needed to document this lovely moment of family working together so sweetly. One photo, then stepped back to get a better angle and fell over a big aloe plant in a heavy planter that hit my ankle as it toppled, and I landed on the wing of a cast epoxy garden fairy I bought Rachael for her birthday years ago. Well. Aside from the fact that I broke the thing in half (I thought those were indestructible) I am nearly crippled from the bruise on my right butt. It’s hard to sit and write. With two little kids demanding attention, I have no idea how I worked and raised five kids. None. I do remember that naps were not optional in our house. Just like seat belts, they were required without question. I could write a paper for grad school in those two hours, knowing after nap time I was a dead woman. Last night, I was in bed before the kids, grateful their parents were here. Next weekend I’ll be on my own with them as Rachael and Kyle head to a four day wedding extravaganza, so I anticipate a short blog next Sunday.

George returned to Malawi Monday morning at dawn. Early morning flights always seem like a good idea until the night before when you get about two hours of sleep before leaving for the airport at three am. No traffic though, there’s that, and he arrived there to abandoned guards needing salary advances and dry dusty days. I got a few early messages asking where things are but he seems to be settling in for two months of bachelorhood. It’ll go fast. I can’t believe it’s already been a month since I left there.

This being homeless thing is giving me time to think about personal space and sense of stability. I am staying in comfort and relative prosperity, drifting around from friend to family and enjoying it, though I am conscious of not wearing out my welcome. It’s hard to have someone else in your space for long periods, I get that. I try to leave a small footprint, but it’s different from when I’m just visiting someone for a few days. I’m trying to write a grant proposal, arrange speaking engagements, pay bills, and scan a zillion old slides onto a hard drive. I feel like I’m carting around a lot of STUFF.

When flying, my personal rule is not to bring anything I can’t carry for five miles and even that is usually too much. I find myself wearing the same thing every day anyway and I don’t wear makeup or use hair products. A suitcase with wheels always seemed unnecessary. I only use one when traveling with books to sell or bringing home wood carvings and fabric from Africa. Roaming around with my car the past week, it’s easy to toss in lots of STUFF, just in case. I have way more than I need and moving it around makes that glaringly evident.

During my orientation for MSF we did an exercise where we were split into groups of five and had to decide how we would transport things by foot to the destination we were assigned. We were given two wooden chairs, two big gerry cans filled with water, six cans of tomatoes, and ten books to carry.  At first it was fun, choosing a leader, distributing the weight among us, and showing off that we were capable. The destination was a mile away. When we arrived, tired but proud, we were told to continue on to another place, another mile away, then another, then another. Each time we thought it was the end of the exercise, thinking they can’t make us do this all night, we’d be given another mile to walk. We’d started at six pm, and by midnight with blistered feet and soaked with rain, on our fifth destination, arguing about how we’d continue, competitive enough to not give up, we were walking in sand on a beach in northern Holland, with a few of us in tears. It felt like torture. We reached our final destination at 2 am. We discovered that one group had dumped out their water miles before. We hadn’t thought of that. It was an exercise created to help us understand what it is like to be a displaced person, not knowing where you’ll find shelter, carrying all you salvaged with you. The next day we examined what the experience did over the evening to our relationships. We started out working well together, but as the night wore on, we disagreed more and more about how to continue. If we were capable of carrying our own stuff without help, the whole thing would have been different.

OK, I’m starting to see why writers go to isolated cabins away from civilization. This isn’t going anywhere further with the beehive-like activity around here, so, I’ll think of where I was going with this and write the post-script next week…

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~ On The Road

Sunday Morning~ On the Road

August 20, 2017

Hi Everyone,

Really, I’m embarrassed. After posting last week’s blog I learned about the events in Charlottesville. I wrote from my lovely little perch on an island where the sunrises and sunsets frame a day pretty much filled with peace and natural beauty. My head was filled with the beautiful scene in front of me against the turmoil that goes along with a familiar sadness of a family splitting apart. I wrote while looking at the ocean a few steps away. I thought about my relationship with the ocean and how it evolved. I was trying to get my head around what forms our sense of place and what makes us feel peaceful and happy.

Eventually, I connected to the internet and got it posted. I thought I’d quickly go to Facebook, knowing I’d spent way too much time already, and didn’t want to leave George alone with the kids any longer, but wanted a quick look while the internet was connected. I saw some posts about Charlottesville. The whole story just didn’t fit with my setting. Again, I am blindsided by how far this has gone. Every time I say it can’t get worse. Every time I want to believe in humanity and good over evil, something worse happens. I felt guilty about my comfort and privilege. I didn’t know what to do. Everything I’d just written seemed so trivial. I shut everything off and went to join George and the kids. We walked down to the rocky beach where James worked on his task of throwing every single stone into the ocean. George and Amelia looked for periwinkles. They were making a necklace of the shells. Each day, she chose one and George drilled a little hole in it and they strung and knotted it. It was all so simple.

So consciously grateful for this man, these grandchildren, the experiences, I sat and watched. I concentrated on James’s pitch, complete with follow through and splash, then his chubby little arms struggling to pick up a stone too slippery and heavy for him. Each time one slipped out of his hands he’d concentrate on regaining a grip. He’d employ the other hand then launch, nearly toppling over in the process. He’d watch, disappointed, as it didn’t land where he wanted. Undeterred, he’d pick up the next stone and throw. He’s 18 months old and refused to give up.

I watched Amelia scampering around searching for signs of life in the rocks. I thought of her mother at the same age being equally fascinated by the tide pools. It doesn’t seem that long ago.  I loved watching her show George every little treasure. She called them treasures. She’d yell, “Hey George! Look! I found another treasure!” Then she’d hand them to him (her personal servant) to carry.

Something made me refrain from talking about the news. I didn’t mention it to George. I knew he hadn’t heard about it. I just watched this pleasant summer scene. Every time it crept into my consciousness, I piled rocks on it. A nazi rally? A KKK rally? How could this be happening? Nope. Not in my world. This is not to be the future for my grandchildren. We were supposed to be reveling in the light of our first female president. This was all a bad dream. I thought of the Neil Young song, Four Dead In Ohio. What we should do? Then George said, “ Hey! I have an idea! Let’s collect some periwinkles and cook them and eat them with butter and garlic!” Without looking up, and with the utmost aplomb, Amelia said, “No. They have families.”  and that idea was immediately abandoned. I laughed. They give me hope for the future. I want to love and nurture these souls. When I feel like I’m spitting into the ocean to change the tide, these kids give me some perspective.

Today we are heading back to Boston. I’m writing from a Travelodge on the way to Boston. George leaves tomorrow to go back to Malawi. We will stop in Portland for the ACLU Rally Against White Supremacy, the first rally we have been able to participate in. Pangono pangono, little by little, as they say in Chichewa. Pangono pangono.  Hitting the road.

Love to all,



Sunday Morning~ Beach Island

Sunday Morning~ Beach Island

August 13, 2017

Hi Everyone,

I was married to someone who loved the ocean and loved to sail. I loved the mountains and lakes but wanted to love the ocean for his sake. Joe (my ex) had a dream of sailing around the world. I had a dream of living in Africa. When we were planning our life together we breathlessly agreed to do both. Not in any position to own a boat, we started with Africa. We were young and Peace Corps offered everything we wanted. And they paid our way!  We had eternity to sail around the world when we grew up. Our first son was born in Malawi and was ten months old when we left. We spent two months traveling through Sudan, Egypt, Greece, Rome, England, Scotland, and Ireland, arriving home for his first birthday. (This is the child who doesn’t like to travel ironically.) We saw incredible sights, but aside from the forbidding cliffs in Ireland, there was no ocean involved.

Joe’s parents loved the beach. When he was growing up he’d go to Cape Cod for summer vacation. They didn’t “summer” at the cape––– they weren’t in that class, but they’d get a cottage for a week or two and go to the beach every day. His mother’s dream was to have her grandchildren there and for several summers she’d take our kids while we either traveled or worked. I wanted to love it for their sake. I wanted to have that sense of ecstasy when landing on the sandy shore. But my memories of the beach were of sand in my eyes, gritty peaches, hot car rides home, carrying in wet towels, and later, cranky kids. I could not figure out why anyone liked this. I never experienced living in that carefree summer place where either the help or some other responsible adult swept the sand out of the kitchen and did the laundry.  The utopia–– where rainy days were spent playing board games (something else I dislike) with healthy, well educated, tanned cousins–– eluded me.

I really wanted to love the ocean, because well, everyone did. In 1990, in pursuit of that quest, Joe and I moved the five kids to Samoa to work for two years. There we thought we’d get involved in the yachting community and get a sense of this sail-around-the-world thing. It was a place where people who did that spent hurricane season. We got an education, for sure, but it did nothing to convince me that it would be a fun experience. Still, I was committed to doing it for Joe’s sake and started reading yachting magazines to psyche myself up. There were great stories of family cruises that sounded romantic. I thought I could get into it. I could home school the kids. I told myself this. Then we’d meet people actually doing it and I found very few who seemed to be enjoying it. To me it looked like all they ever did was fix their boat. And worry about their boat. And wait for parts for their boat. Those were the ones with really nice boats. The ones with just plain old we-can-afford-this boats were in the bar looking like they’d been washed up on shore. So living in Samoa did not make me love boats, but it did give me a healthy respect for the power and beauty of the ocean and the people who consider it a continuation of their land (I learned this little fun fact from watching Moana a few times this week with the grands).

I am staying in the house of someone with a long history of summering on an idyllic island. Summering makes all the difference in the magic. Growing up year round on an island in Maine, there is another sense of the land. It’s a working place where winters are hard and dark and summer is spent making enough money to get through it. I feel like an outsider in a lifestyle to which I don’t belong; a bit like an intruder. I’m not an imposter; I’m not trying to pretend, and I am invited, but it’s someone else’s sphere and that is painfully obvious. I don’t know the drill. I never played pounce. I have no need of seven cheese graters and don’t even like boats. Having to rely on them makes me uncomfortable and a little nervous. But I want to love it for his sake. The house is inhabited by many ghosts and I imagine they’ll continue to haunt George for awhile. At first I found them merely annoying but after a week here I find them sad. There’s so much attachment to Stuff. Capital S. I’m more comfortable outside picking raspberries with the kids or at the beach throwing stones. Amelia and James make it a happy place for me and I hope their little spirits linger after they leave tomorrow. I love watching Amelia run down the path with her hair flying behind her. I love watching how she relates to George and feels safe with him. I love that she wants to visit his brother. I love watching James throw stones in the water. I love when they excitedly point to a boat going by or the moon coming up. I love that they sleep so soundly here. I’m grateful to have the chance to experience this knowing it’s transient and I am a visitor.

We went off the island overnight so I could give a talk in Bar Harbor. We got back yesterday afternoon and Amelia told me she likes this house and was happy to be back. I asked her why? She said, “It’s not scary here.”

Love to all,



Sunday Morning~Bar Harbor

Sunday Morning~ Bar Harbor

August 6, 2017

Hi Everyone!

Tuesday morning I started the trek back to Bar Harbor and I swear, it’s harder to travel by public transportation in Maine than it is in Malawi. Rachael and I settled into the seat on the commuter rail to North Station where I was getting the train to Portland. She said, “Uh, Mum. You can move over a little.” Crushing her against the window, I automatically expected an additional two people to fit onto the seat. I realize one year in Malawi has reset some of my default settings. The concept of personal space is one of them. The day before I wondered why a car would pull out of the intersection and drive on the wrong side of the road, before horrifyingly realizing that I had been driving on the left. I’ve looked for a three pronged adapter to plug in my phone charger, then think, “Oh! I can just plug this into the wall as it is!” I’m always pleasantly surprised to go into a public rest room and find toilet paper. In Malawi, we never go anywhere without toilet paper. It’s a routine check: got my wallet, got drinking water, got toilet paper. I am continually remarking about how clean everything is. The streets and sidewalks are cleaner than our kitchen floor in Blantyre. In fact, I walked all the way up our road last night barefoot. I had blisters from dancing at the wedding we’d been at and I realized the road was pretty darn smooth! It was much more comfortable to walk barefoot. It was about a mile to our car and my feet aren’t even dirty! Everything looks sparkling!

I went over to my house and picked up a year’s worth of mail. In the pile was a notice that my electricity was being shut off for failure to pay the $579 bill. I had been upset about how high the bill was, not understanding how it could be five times higher than a year ago. I’d set up automatic payments before I left and had no idea why that particular bill hadn’t been paid. I called customer service to be told that I had not, in fact, signed up for automatic payments. The service rep said, “You signed up for electronic invoices only.”  So, I actually didn’t have a six hundred dollar electric bill for one month; that was for the whole year! No wonder it had been going up every month. So that little mystery was solved. Thank God I picked up the mail when I did.

Also in that pile of mail was notice I’d been handed to a collection agency for overdue payment at the building supply store. No bill, just a notice from the collection agency. When I went to the store to investigate, certain I had paid all my bills before I left, I discovered the charge was for purchases made in September when I wasn’t here. They had mistakenly been put on the wrong account. That took about two minutes to resolve. It would have been days in Blantyre. The contrasts always leave me a little disoriented. Some of them are pleasant surprises like the toilet paper, others more disturbing. Excess is the hardest thing for me to absorb on return. On Monday morning I went into Market Basket near Rachael’s to get milk as soon as the store opened. As I was crossing the parking lot, I wondered if they would have the goat milk the kids drink. When I walked in the store and saw the milk section I just started laughing! The wall of milk was bigger than our house. The grocery store choices just seem obscene. Who needs seven hundred kinds of cereal?

There is some discussion about re-entry shock among volunteers. It’s the counterpart to culture shock but we don’t get as much guidance with how to deal with it. I’ve been through it before, but only when I was home to stay. It’s a little different knowing we will be going back there in a short time. It’s like I don’t want to adjust too much to life here fearing the readjustment going back will be harder. When I see familiar friendly faces and smiles of recognition, when I get warm “Welcome home!”’s and embraces, I worry I won’t want to leave. I don’t take for granted how beautiful this island is, how diverse the activities and viewpoints, and how much it has given me since moving here in 1992. But that worry is very un-zen. I want to relish the present.

I’m back from church where I felt like I put on an old comfortable slipper. Familiarity is such a balm. Today we will head out to Beach Island with the grandkids for a week.  I can’t wait for concentrated time with them in one of the most idyllic settings in the world. I’m living in the fantasy of One Morning in Maine, especially since we depart from Buck’s Harbor where that story took place. Now that I know my tenants won’t be out of power and I won’t be hauled off to debtors prison, I can be on vacation until I take George back to Boston in two weeks for his return to Malawi. Well, except for the talk I need to prepare for Friday evening at the library. We’ll have a little excursion for that, but it’s all good.

Off to catch the boat!

Love to all,