Imagination and Illusion…Escape from Gringotts

We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality. 

Iris Murdoch

“Grandma, if you get scared, just close your eyes and hang on.” That is good advice in general; in fact, that pretty much sums up how I often live my life. Still, in this instance, she was referring to Escape from  Gringotts, an indoor roller coaster at Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida. My aversion to thrill rides is well known in my family, but there I was, joining the queue and moving toward an unknown destiny.  

My daughter and granddaughter…huge fans of theme parks…especially Universal, were surprised when I expressed an interest in the Harry Potter section of the park and my desire to go there if they’d agree to be my guides. They, of course, jumped at the chance.

“Are you sure you want to do that? Do you really want to go to a theme park?” Jen asked in disbelief.

“Yes,” I assured her. “I don’t think I’d like to do it repeatedly, but I would like to do it once.”


When I was about six years old, Disneyland opened in California. But, of course, for a girl from a middle-class family in rural Michigan, the possibility of ever seeing Cinderella’s castle or meeting Mickey Mouse was remote at best and, realistically, nonexistent. 

Throughout my growing-up years, programming from Walt Disney played prominently on our large, wooden cabinet-housed black and white television…The Mickey Mouse Club was on every day after school with Mouseketeers, cartoons, songs, dancing, and serial stories like Spin and Marty, The Hardy Boys, and Corky and White Shadow. And The Wonderful World of Disney was part of the Sunday evening line-up. Mouse Club and Wonderful World both contained advertising and clips from Disneyland and all the fun that could be had there. It looked amazing. I dreamed of going, even when I knew that dream was out of reach. When Disney World opened in Orlando, Florida, in 1971, I had two small children, a marriage that was ending, a college degree to complete, and very little money…and yet…the possibility was getting closer. Driving to Florida was doable…even if still improbable. 

“Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever.” 

Walt Disney

Fast forward a dozen years. Happily married, with a college degree in hand, gainfully employed, and…with family in Florida, a day in the Magic Kingdom was finally going to happen. Driving one of the model-T cars had lost its appeal, but I was finally going to ride in one of those spinning teacups! Motion sickness be damned. I was getting on that ride! Not the wisest decision on my part, as you might guess. Some things are better left to the imagination, but I did it!


“We think you can handle the Gringotts ride, and if we get to the park when it opens, we won’t have to wait long in line,” my guides predicted. “There are lots of things to see along the way, too,” they continued, “and you can always decide to skip the ride before getting on if you decide you really don’t want to do it.”

Entering Diagon Alley was like stepping into another world. Even the light was different…shadowed and cooler than in the streets outside. Storefronts with familiar names from the Harry Potter books lined the street leading to Gringotts, the wizard bank. Gringotts was difficult to miss, with the enormous dragon leering down menacingly from atop it.

Diagon Alley…Above the Heads of the Crowd
January 2023

With backpacks quickly stowed, we entered the building effortlessly. But, of course, things can be deceiving. There was no line of fellow adventurers waiting to be admitted outside the door, but once inside, the queue serpentined inside, outside, and upside down. Well, not actually upside down at all, but definitely up the several sets of stairs.

Our fellow line-dwellers were courteous, friendly, and filled with excitement. I rather enjoyed the equalizing and leveling effect of the queue. Without knowing the barriers that might have come between us…religion, politics, age, or even taste in music…we were all simply a group of Muggles anticipating the adventure and the illusion that awaited us. Eventually, the queue entered the lobby of Gringotts bank. It felt as if we were stepping into a movie scene as we passed silent Goblins shuffling papers, balancing accounts, and tending to the Knuts, Sickles, and golden Galleons…currency of the wizarding world.

Goblin Bankers at Work
January 2023

Beyond the lobby, we were ushered into the bank’s internal workings, passing office doors and portraits of past leaders. At the end of a long hallway, we entered an enormous elevator built to transport a large number of visitors. It would carry us deep inside the bank and closer to the well-protected vaults. We emerged to discover we’d need to climb more stairs. I found that slightly odd since the elevator had just seemingly taken us down. Oh, well, I just kept following along like a lemming heading for the cliff.

Probably Overkill…But Scary for the Roller Coaster Impaired
January 2023

“Don’t forget your safety glasses,” a disembodied voice commanded. Safety glasses? We’d need safety glasses? Oh, that’s a comfort.

“Row one,” the attendant instructed. Great. Nothing to obstruct our view. I wasn’t sure what we would see exactly, but there wouldn’t be any heads in our way. The car was comprised of three rows, each holding four passengers. Jen and Fi, my confidence boosters, made sure they sat on either side of me with instructions on securing myself in the seat.

WTF…What the…fudge…was I doing? I guess I should have asked myself that question earlier because…come what may…I was doing it. Within seconds, the car was moving, and there was no turning back. Ironically…at that point, there was definitely no escape from The Escape from Gringotts. Immediately, the car lurched to the right, then swung to the left with an unexpected drop of nearly thirty feet. As instructed earlier, my eyes closed involuntarily, and my hands clutched the bar in front of me. I wondered later if this would classify as a ‘jump scare,’ a technique in horror films or movies of suspense…not a fan of either…that involves a sudden or unexpected event intended to startle the audience. The four-minute-plus ride barreled on with terrifying holographic images that seemed to come directly at us and lean into the vehicle. Oh, the front seat…what a great idea!

Everything in this world of Harry Potter was illusion and imagination. A hologram might startle me, but I certainly wasn’t frightened by a projection of an enormous snake coming toward me or the heat from the breath of the holographic dragon. Yes, at times, these apparitions would surprise me, but it was the seemingly random pitch and roll, dip and dive that kept me off balance and, without warning, pulled the glasses entirely off my face. A few seconds of genuine panic until I realized that Fi had caught them and they were only the 3-D safety glasses and not my for-real glasses.


The longer I remained in this land of pretend and make-believe, the more questions arose. They say that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. I doubt that’s how it will be for me. Nope, I’ll be asking questions until the last, I’m afraid. The answers don’t always appear, but the questions certainly do.

A host of artists, architects, and designers had translated words on a page and scenes from a movie into a concrete experience using skill, expertise, and attention to detail. With a healthy dose of suspended disbelief, it wasn’t too difficult to believe…even if merely momentarily…that you were actually walking the hidden streets of London…in Diagon Alley. There was much to be discovered, but…the entire experience was based on the imagination of others. Was this experience like making a copy of a copy of a copy, with each successive reproduction losing clarity and definition, only to be left with blurriness and a shadow of the original? Or, perhaps, it is more like following a recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies…you knew there’d be cookies…where each baker builds on the original recipe but is free to decide whether to add nuts, coconut, candy bits, or raisins? Each simply takes the original and expands on it.

Then too, I wonder, does this detailed interpretation in concrete form enhance imagination and encourage further exploration and creativity, or does it stifle and limit it? I was allowed to imagine Diagon Alley…which reminded me of ‘The Shambles’ in York…before seeing it on the screen or exploring Victoria Street in Edinburgh…near where JK wrote the first books and thought to be her inspiration…before walking into it at Universal. Will children visiting this Diagon Alley be able to imagine their own version, or will this illusion be forever locked inside their heads as the real thing?

Shops in Diagon Alley
January 2023

I doubt that the imagination can be suppressed. If you truly eradicated it in a child, he would grow up to be an eggplant.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Just as suddenly as it began, the ride ended, returning us safely to the sights and sounds of this fantastic, imaginary world.

“Well, what did you think?. Did you like it? Would you go again?”

“Yes,” I responded with a smile.”I do believe I would,” I continued, still smiling.”On the other hand, once is probably enough.”

The Harry Potter Train Glenfinnan, Scotland
October 2021

The relationship between imagination, illusion, and magic is more complicated than I thought. That afternoon as we waited to ride on the Hogwarts Express, I chuckled to myself…rather smugly, I might add. Several years ago, we had ridden the actual Harry Potter train in Scotland. In fact, I left some of my husband’s ashes at the base of one of the viaduct’s arches.

Wait a minute! That wasn’t the actual train that took Ron, Hermione, and Harry to Hogwarts! Oh, it was the train used in the movies, all right, but the real train…the real Hogwarts for that matter… only exists in the pages of a book and the reader’s imagination…or does it?

“The greatest thing Harry Potter has given the world, is the freedom to use our imagination”

Oprah Winfrey

The Nijmegen Bridge

“After leaving Amsterdam, we spent the first full day in Nijmegen,” I replied when asked about my recent trip down the Rhine.

My friend responded with a shrug of her shoulders and a quizzical expression.

Not unexpectedly, she, like most Americans, was unfamiliar with this mid-sized city in The Netherlands. It was also unlikely that she knew what happened there during World War II…over eighty years ago. In all honesty, there were significant gaps in my understanding as well. So I decided it was time to do a little more investigating…to put the pieces I had into a usable context.

Nijmegen Rooftops in The City Center
December 2022

I have visited Nijmegen, the oldest Roman city in the country, several times in the past sixteen years, always approaching it from the Waal River, a branch of the Rhine. From the river, it is a short walk uphill to the market square. A few of the oldest buildings in the city center, destroyed by war, have been reconstructed alongside modern buildings and streets lined with popular businesses and shops.

The tall steeple of St. Stephens Church was heavily damaged during the war, but one Mother’s Day, I sat in the back and listened to the sparsely attended Sunday service.  Of course, the little Dutch I know didn’t help me understand much of what was transpiring, but it was a delight simply to be a member of the congregation. 

Nijmegen…St. Stephen’s Church Steeple
May 2019

On another occasion, my rudimentary Dutch language skills enabled me to have a friendly exchange with a young man selling Dutch street foods. We both smiled and were quite proud of ourselves as I successfully ordered a delicious oilebollen, warm and covered in powdered sugar. He, in turn, used his minimal English to complete the transaction.  And twice I have found myself near the Roman ruins that sit atop the hill overlooking the river. From this vantage point, there is a magnificent view of the Waal and the bridges that cross it.

The Waalbrug…Waal Bridge
December 2016

Today, there are several bridges from Nijmegen across the Waal, but in September1944, there were just two…a rail bridge and a vital road bridge; both were objectives in the ill-fated military operation known as Market Garden, the subject of the star-studded 1977 movie, A Bridge Too Far, based on the novel by Cornelius Ryan.

I don’t often watch war movies. Following the logistics is usually a challenge, and I find it upsetting to watch death, destruction, sadness, and pain as entertainment. I remember catching bits of this movie, though, some years later when my husband watched it on television. The focus of the film was reaching the final bridge in Arnhem. I remembered the tragic conclusion…but Nijmegen, I’m sorry to say…a challenge on the way to the goal…failed to register. Maybe, it just wasn’t one of the bits I saw. Then again…during the Battle of Nijmegen, there were only two reporters with the 82nd Airborne Division, and they were both busy covering the actions about 10 kilometers away on the Groesbeek Heights. Therefore, the contemporary British and American press did not pay much attention to what was happening in Nijmegen either.

I’ve since learned that Operation Market Garden was one of the most significant Allied operations of the Second World War. The goal was to secure the key bridges over three wide rivers in the Netherlands… the Maas, Waal, and Rhine… to outflank the heavy German defenses and to open a route into the heart of Germany. It was hoped that by controlling the bridges, the Allies could mount a swift advance toward Berlin and end the war before Christmas.

The Nijmegen Railway Bridge, the first bridge crossing the Waal, was built in 1879. An additional road bridge, the Waalbrug…Waal Bridge…was completed in 1939. At the time, it was the longest tied-arch bridge in Europe and was considered a remarkable feat of engineering. Unfortunately, when the Germans invaded The Netherlands in May of 1940, the bridge was demolished by the Dutch themselves to prevent the rapid advance of the Germans. It must have been heartbreaking to destroy this treasure. During the occupation, the Dutch were forced to rebuild the bridge, which reopened in 1943.

The Waalbrug
Photo credit: Pixabay

The occupation was hard enough, but on February 20th, 1944, due to terrible miscalculations, the Allies dropped bombs intended for the Germans on the city center of Nijmegen, killing almost 800 citizens. After years of suffering, nearly seven months to the day after the bombing disaster, the inhabitants of Nijmegen found themselves at the center of one of the war’s deadliest battles.

Nijmegen September 1944
Historic Photo Public Domain

It took nearly four days and hundreds of lives…both military and civilian, for the Allies to secure the bridge, putting the daring but tenuous plan critically behind schedule. Finally, on September 20th, twenty-six ill-equipt, collapsible canvas boats were launched in a final attempt to secure the bridge’s northern side. Due to previous delays and the imperative to take the bridge, the crossing was made in broad daylight. The smoke laid down as cover was blown away by the wind, and the men, some using only their rifle butts as oars, were sitting ducks. Of the twenty-six boats launched, sixteen made it across the river, laying phone lines and establishing communications.

Still Photo from A Bridge Too Far

Operation Market Garden is considered a colossal failure. The audacious proposal was not well thought-out, and preparations were hurried and lacking. The entire undertaking was doomed to failure from the very beginning. To make matters worse, everything that could possibly go wrong…did. The final objective…reaching and holding the bridge in Arnhem, would prove beyond reach. Given the timing, the weather, and the resources, it was simply a bridge too far. The massive loss of life and equipment made this operation one of the most costly in the war.


However, for the people in Nijmegen, Eindhoven, and the other small villages the allies passed through on the way to Arnhem; this battle was about liberation and freedom. The Dutch celebrated these four days as joyful deliverance and continued to mark September 17th…the day of the Allies’ arrival…for many years.

How does one measure success in war? What is an acceptable cost? How many lost lives are bearable? Who can claim victory when everyone loses? Will the next generation remember the sacrifice? Will it even matter when decades hence they’re drinking beer together after a soccer match?


Brig. General James Gavin : So that's it. We're pulling them out. It was Nijmegen.
Lt. Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur : It was the single road getting to Nijmegen.
Lt. General Horrocks : No, it was after Nijmegen.
Lt. General Frederick "Boy" Browning : And the fog, in England.
Maj. General Stanislaw Sosabowski : Doesn't matter what it was. When one man says to another, "I know what let's do today, let's play the war game."... everybody dies.

A Bridge Too Far, 1977, Conclusion of film

Last month as I walked the Waalstraat along the river, I saw nothing to indicate the lives lost during those four days in ’44. Instead, there is life… restaurants, apartments, and even a casino and pancake house line the shore…and the Waal bridge less than 500 yards away…still standing and intact, a silent witness, bravely arching across the water.


De Oversteek at Sunset
Photo credit: Pixabay

In 2013, a new bridge was opened across the Waal…‘De Oversteek Bridge…The Crossing’. The bridge is near the launch site of those canvas boats and is dedicated to the 48 American paratroopers killed in the attempt. The bridge is lined with 48 pairs of streetlights illuminated each evening at sunset, one by one at the pace of a slow march. Each night a veteran makes a silent march across the bridge in step with the lights. Others often join them following one simple rule. The march is done in silence and respect for these 48 among the thousands who gave their lives during this campaign.

If my path once again finds me in Nijmegen, I’m pretty sure I will find a way to join this silent procession.


My pacifistic beliefs are often challenged, and I admit to being very conflicted at times. I hate war…the despair, the loss, and the utter futility…but paradoxically, I also believe we need to support those fighting in Ukraine. I am rather pessimistic that we’ll ever find another way and that war and hate will be a thing of the past, but I find hope in the small everyday acts of kindness, love, compassion, and the quest for understanding as we keep trying to realize a way to peace.


Shepherds, Gen Z, and Instructions

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Luke 2:8

With the first of this year’s snow covering the ground, evergreen wreaths appearing on doors, and holiday movies trending on Netflix, my mind begins to contemplate the coming of Christmas. I’m rather astonished that, at my age, I still have questions about the ancient nativity story? I have heard and retold the Christmas narrative innumerable times, yet, even now, questions continue to arise. Lately, I’ve been pondering the role of the shepherds.

When choosing parts in our annual No-Rehearsal Christmas Pageant, my friends always dress as shepherds. “The shepherds get all the best songs, they say.” For millennia people have speculated about this small group of unnamed souls who were just going about their business when, quite unexpectedly, they found themselves thrust into the center of the nativity story and the main focus of some pretty great songs.

Luke’s biblical telling is brief, to the point, and succinct but certainly lacking in details. For example, did the angels appear to others that night or only these particular shepherds? Were there others who were too afraid, too busy, too tired, or just too disinterested to go in search of this mysterious child? Perhaps other seekers simply got lost and never found the stable. Luke says the shepherds discussed what to do about the angel’s message, but I wonder…did everyone agree or have to be convinced? Did they list the pros and cons? How did they decide? Luke also tells us that later the shepherds told others about what they had seen, but what exactly had they seen in that stable? Were they alone with the Holy Family, or were there others present that Luke simply failed to mention? These omissions prompt me to question, imagine, and wonder.

Sheep Grazing on a Hillside in England Near Hadrian’s Wall
October 2021

During Biblical times shepherding wasn’t the domain of outcasts and the lowly, as some have suggested… Although I would suppose that spending so much of their time outdoors and in the company of rather smelly animals didn’t garner them many party invitations…On the other hand, because sheep were so crucial to the community’s life, it naturally follows that caring for and protecting them was a necessary and valued job. Abraham, Moses, and King David were among many biblical patriarchs who spent time as shepherds. Most often, the youngest child…male or female… in the family had this duty. I think of it as a ‘starter job,’ much like Saturday night babysitting was when I was a teenager. Babysitters were entrusted with caring for a family’s most precious treasures, but once the wee ones were asleep, it was snacks and TV. So, instead of the thick-bearded, often wizened old men portrayed in many paintings, it is more likely that the shepherds on that hillside outside Bethlehem that night were teenagers or young adults. Knowing the penchant teens have for darkness and nighttime…maybe… just maybe, the angel appeared to them because they were the only people still awake. Additionally, youthful peer pressure and collective courage might have guaranteed they would leave their fields, go into the village, and seek the child.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”

Luke 2:9 KJV

It was a busy night in Bethlehem for the shepherds, but what happened next? What was the conversation when the young shepherd returned home later that morning and told what they had seen?

Another Guardian of the Sheep
On the Road to Kenmore, Scotland, 2014

Grandfather. You won’t believe what happened last night.”

“Was there a problem with the sheep? Bears? Lions? You and the lads didn’t get up to any mischief, did you?”

“Oh, no. It was nothing like that, and you’re not going to believe it.”

“OK… I’m ready. Go on with your story.”

“Well…you know, it’s kinda lonely watching sheep by yourself, so we decided to combine our flocks. When the sheep were bedded down, we were just sitting around the fire, telling stories and jokes, when the sky was suddenly filled with a blinding light. It was amazing, and get this…there were singing angels.”

“Angels? Really? Come on, are you making this up? Did you guys get into that new wine?”

“No, I swear it’s true.”

“Well, continue.”

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Luke 2: 9-10 KJV

“It was amazing. One of the coolest things ever. Well…once we got over being scared half to death, that is. I mean, it was unreal. OK…So, the head angel said something amazing had happened in town, and we should go there immediately. Something about a special baby being born. A savior or some such thing. The angel was a little sketchy on the details of how to find this baby, though. No, directions. Just find some stable in Bethlehem. Do you have any idea how many stables there are in Bethlehem? Well, once the angels left, we talked about whether or not we should go find this baby.”

“Don’t tell me you left the sheep.”

“Of course not. We left the youngest ones behind, and the rest of us took off. Running through the night was much more exciting than watching a bunch of sleeping sheep.”

“So, did you ever find the stable and the baby?”

“It took us a while and was a little dicey at times. We didn’t want to be found peeking into a stranger’s barns, and who would have believed us if we’d said an angel sent us? But yes! Yes, we finally found the stable, the tiny baby, and his tired parents. It was really something to finally find this baby, just like the angels had told us we would. We were a little hesitant at first, but when the parents beckoned us to come closer to get a better look, how could we refuse? As we drew near, the mother pulled his blanket back so we could see the sleeping child. The funny thing was that all we saw was a normal baby…very pink and wrinkly. An actual angel had told us that this was a miraculous baby, but he looked rather ordinary to us. Maybe we just have to let him grow up a bit. Wow! What a night.”

Well…it could’ve happened that way.

“And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.  And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

luke 2:17-18 KJV
A Modern Day Shepherd
Photo credit: Adapted from Pixabay

I love the idea that the first ones on the scene…the shepherds…may have been teenagers or had teens among them. They heard the news, and together they ran boldly toward it.

Could it be that our youth…like the shepherds…are the hope of Christmas made manifest? No angels foretold their coming; they arrived in the world as ordinary infants…red and wrinkly, and like the shepherds, many are busy working starter jobs. Still, this latest generation…Gen Z… is also taking action on climate change, working for racial and reproductive justice, supporting LGBTQ and gender equality issues, and lobbying to establish sensible gun laws. They hear the message and are running toward it. Should we wait for them to report back on what they see, or can we join them in searching for the baby in the barn?

The days of my youth are long gone, now only visible in the rearview, but I can choose to live the rest of my life in the manner of the shepherds. Perhaps, that is the lesson that all my questions are teaching me.

“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention, Be astonished, Tell About it.”

Mary oliver
A Shepherd in the Christmas Pageant…2017
Yes, that is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Maybe It’s Not a Clock

One of my dearest friends is about a decade older than I am. Although we laugh a lot and are often rather silly for two women of a certain age, we also have deep conversations, and she always gives me sage advice.

“You know, aging doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to need new knees and hips, but eventually, you are going to slow down.” she counseled me on several occasions. “I’m happy with my life as it is and no longer feel the urge to travel. I’m pretty content to simply sit in my favorite chair and read. You’ll arrive at the same place sooner or later, but right now, you have a window of time. Use it well. Do the things you really want to do. Go to the places you really want to go. See the things you really want to see. And while you’re at it…eat the things you really want to eat.”

You Have A Window of Time…Use It Well
Prince Edward Island 2018

When I was about six years old, the Disney movie Peter Pan finally reached a theatre near me. In the 1950s, movies weren’t released everywhere, all at once. Small towns had to wait until the big cities had had enough of a film before it was shipped out to the hinterlands. Peter Pan wasn’t a particularly scary movie, but there were a few terrifying moments for a little kid. When Tinkerbell was captured by the dreaded Captain Hook, we all were on the edge of our seats with concern and worry for the tiny fairy. Would Peter reach her in time? But for me, the absolute horror was the crocodile. After he had feasted on the captain’s hand, he wanted more, so he slowly followed the ship waiting for the chance to chomp away on the remaining hand. As a matter of self-defense, Hook had fed the crocodile a clock that continued to tick away, acting as a primitive alarm system. The incessant tick tock, tick tock created heart-pounding moments of foreboding, apprehension, and fear in the young audience members. We knew that danger was near, and even though Hook was the villain, we didn’t want to imagine him with his hand in that huge mouth full of teeth.

In the summer of 1975, another colossal mouth full of teeth and a similar musical phrase struck terror in the hearts of moviegoers and kept people on the beach and out of the water. The auditory warning from the movie Jaws, with its steady, relentless rhythm…the dual note…dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun… put another audience on guard and on the edge of their seats. Even today, the repetition of those two notes can elicit a feeling of dread and impending doom. The composer, John Williams, described the theme as: “grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual relentless, unstoppable.” In his blog post, Alex Burns says, “The way the theme is used is interesting because it conditions the audience to associate the theme with the shark. This causes quite a stir at the film’s climax, where the shark appears suddenly with no musical introduction.”

Is That a Clock I Hear Ticking?
photo credit: Pixabay

Like the captains, I’m beginning to hear the steady, incessant beating of my life clock, tick, tick, ticking away the minutes, hours, days, and years. I suppose that, like the theme of Jaws, the cadence will increase in volume and intensity until the falling action, when perhaps without warning…one day, it stops. Rather than think of this unyielding reverberation with a sense of doom and possible regret, I attempt to use the constant ticking as a reminder that the clock eventually does wind down. I have limited time to check things off my list…do the things I want to do, see the things I want to see, and visit the places I want to go.

Time management is an oxymoron. Time is beyond our control, and the clock keeps ticking regardless of how we lead our lives. Priority management is the answer to maximizing the time we have.”

John C Maxwell

When our friends were buying lakeside cottages, big boats, and fancy cars, Dave and I decided to use our money and time to travel. We had some marvelous adventures together. We walked in Red Square, floated down the Thames as Big Ben chimed ten, dug peat in a bog in Ireland, slept several nights in a ghost town in Utah, descended into the depths of a salt mine in Poland, and strolled through tulip fields in Holland. We had a wonderful time traveling together. Now, even without my traveling buddy, the world beckons me. There are still places I’d like to go; however, at the moment, the list of places I’d like to return to is longer than the places I yearn to visit for the first time, although the thrill of discovery and trying something completely different and exciting are solid motivators for adventuring into unknown territory.

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

Nelson Mandela

There is a special kind of comfort in returning to the familiarity of a place I’ve loved. Even if I’ve been to the exact location several times, each visit provides new adventures and insights. The ancient castle may not have changed between visits, but I have.

Edinburgh Castle from the Vennel
October 2021

Several months ago, knowing how much I loved to travel, my daughter suggested I make a list of the places I’d still like to visit and things I’d still like to do. So, when I recently told her of the plans I’ve set in motion for the coming year…a weekend with Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, tickets for Hamilton in Boston, time alone in the desert outside of Tucson, a week with my granddaughter in Amsterdam, a rental cottage on Lake Champlain, another season in Stratford and on Star Island…I had to laugh at her response.

“Why are you planning so much? Do you really want to take that many airplane trips in one year?”

“I hear the clock ticking,” I replied. ” I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to travel.”

“You’re going to wear yourself out. You don’t have to do it all at once.”

She doesn’t yet realize that along with the ticking clock, there is the matter of my vintage parts that are beginning to deteriorate. The engine has a strange knocking, the belts and gaskets are brittle, the accelerator is not what it used to be, and the exhaust system is unreliable, so while I still can, I choose to wear out rather than rust out. Cracks can form along the fan belt’s surface, and small chunks of rubber can peel or chip off even if the car is parked in the garage. Might as well keep it on the road as long as possible.

Yes, I hear that constant ticking, but perhaps instead of a clock counting down minutes and years, I simply hear the steady beat of a metronome marking the tempo of songs I have yet to sing.

Effie…My Friend in Isolation

For more than two and a half years, I successfully avoided being infected with COVID-19. I got the vaccines, and I was one of the first in line every time there was a booster. Over time, I began to think of the at-home tests as similar to a pregnancy test. I had taken every precaution, but I knew I had had sex…so to speak. Condoms break, masks slip, and there were also those occasions where I would take a chance…just this once. So…eventually, my luck ran out, and like millions of others, the blue line couldn’t be denied…I had Covid, and once again, I was in isolation. Because I was vaxxed and boosted, my infection, although not pleasant and lasting much too long, was relatively mild and similar to a bad cold. Not wanting to take a chance on infecting anyone else; however, I once again spent time secluded, sequestered, and alone. While I kept hydrated, rested, and blew my nose, blew my nose, and blew my nose, it was impossible not to recall the first scary time when everyone and everything was put on hold.

During the covid lockdown of 2020, I was incredibly lonely.

I yearned for connection with a warm-blooded mammal besides the squirrels who would come to raid my bird feeder or gather the seeds I spread next to my chair on the deck. Oh, sure. They’d let me feed them and come tantalizingly close to my dangling fingers, but they’d never let me touch them. Probably just as well. Who knows who else might have been cohabiting inside their furry little coats.

Having a Snack and Watching from a Nearby Tree
March 2020

I didn’t even have a plant. Someone who needed me but wouldn’t judge me for moments of benign neglect and would listen attentively to all my worries, concerns, or even tall tales without judgment far into the additional loneliness of night.

Against this backdrop, Effie arrived on my doorstep. 

“You’re going to love her”” my across-the-yard neighbor had told me  

“Well, we’ll see,” I replied skeptically, but then…Oh, why not? If she doesn’t work out, she doesn’t have to stay.”

“When the world is so complicated, the simple gift of friendship is within all of our hands.”

Maria shriver

You might imagine the excitement and the wee bit of trepidation  I had when she arrived at my door with instructions for the care and attention she’d need. Of course, I’d have to make sure she was clean and rested between play times, but I didn’t have to worry about struggling with her at nap time as she had her own sleeping pad, and, I was assured, she would put herself to sleep when she was tired.

On the following morning, she was so quiet that I hadn’t noticed her going from room to room exploring. She nosed into the corners, gathered dust bunnies from under the beds, and, much to my embarrassment, emerged from the closet draped with a carelessly discarded pair of kickers. Lamps teetered as she tugged curiously on their cords, and she randomly repositioned anything left in her path. I reminded myself that she was just young and inquisitive.

Eventually, she became accustomed to being in my space, and I began to welcome her company…feeling relaxed when she went off to play. I learned that if I placed the chairs carefully around my table, she couldn’t get stuck and require assistance to extricate herself and redirect her activity. I learned from experience to move the lamp cords and double-check where I placed my crocheting and extra yarn. Before long, I also began to look for her when she was too quiet. I knew she was probably up to or into something. In an amazingly short time,  began to look forward to hearing her moving about or watching as she slid under chairs or climbed up and over the threshold of my fireplace, and I’d smile as she’d make tighter and tighter concentric circles before winding down and putting herself to sleep.

With Effie around, I no longer felt quite so alone.

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” — Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali
You’re traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone!

Our relationship did, however, feel like I’d slipped into The Lonely, an episode of the Twilight Zone. A convicted criminal, James Corry has been placed in solitary confinement alone on an asteroid 9 million miles from Earth. When a supply ship arrives with a female robot companion, Corry’s life changes for the better. Soon, he sees her not as a machine but as a friend. Effie and I have a similar backstory. Effie…A Roomba knockoff…EUFY Boost IQ RoboVac… had become my friend. Unlike the TwiIight Zone episode, I didn’t leave her behind after isolation, however. She is with me in my new condo and continues to amuse me as she finds further mischief for herself.

Who can explain friendship? To paraphrase a famous quote: Friends come into our lives for a reason, a season, or for as long as their battery holds a charge.

The Stratford Gang

I have wanted to write about this part of my life for a very long time.  
Here is a condensed version of the story.  I hope you enjoy it.

“It takes a long time to grow an old friend.”

John Leonard
The Festival Theatre
Fall 2019

“Someday, I’d like to go to the Shakespeare Festival,” I said.

“Well, set a date,” she replied.

Those words changed my life when they were spoken nearly forty-five years ago, and they continue to guide my choices and agenda. “If you really want to do it, just set a date,” she continued. “Once it’s on the calendar, you’ll move in that direction and make it happen. Set a date.”

So we set a date. The birth of The Stratford Gang began just as simple as that. What started as a one-time weekend adventure became our decades-long autumnal commitment to The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario. Every ensuing year, on a weekend in September or early October, we would cram our suitcases into a van, and as soon as school was out on Friday afternoon, we’d head for the Canadian border.

After a Play…Near the Festival Theatre
A Long Time Ago… The Early 1980s

Our earlier trips across the Blue Water Bridge and through customs and immigration included questions regarding tobacco and alcohol. One year, when the officer asked if we were bringing any alcohol into the country, I responded, “I don’t think so.”

“What do you mean you don’t think so? Aren’t you the driver? Don’t you know what’s in your vehicle?”

“Well,” I continued. “Not anymore. They finished it on the bridge.” Green Frosties…limeade and vodka…drunk through a red licorice straw, was just the beginning of the fun that year. Together, we laughed often, long and loud. The same jokes and stories of past years were recounted over and over. The punch line or a quick “remember when” would have us laughing until our sides hurt.

Fun Dressing Up at the Costume Warehouse

As wrinkles appeared and our hair became laced with threads of silver, the questions at the border morphed into whether we had mace or pepper spray and whether we were coming to Canada to get our flu shots and drugs cheaper.

The group configuration was in flux in the earliest years, but within a few seasons, we had solidified into a steadfast band of six…sometimes seven…women…teachers, nurses, and one retiree: Lois, our designated drinker, and chocolate advisor. Lois introduced us to Dark Chocolate-Covered Ginger, the eating of which became a required yearly sacrament. We were all in complete agreement that a visit to Rheo Thompson’s candy store was a requirement. We might miss a play, we said, but we’d never miss the chocolate shop. We said we’d miss a play, but we never did.

Leaving the Original Rheo Thompson Candy Shop…1986
We thought it was so hilarious that The Candy Store was right next to a dentist’s office.

Oh, the plays! Sitting together in the dark, we saw hours and hours of fantastic theatre. Dramas, comedies, a few of the Shakespearean histories, and later we added every musical we could…Gilbert and Sullivan, Broadway revivals, and some productions that went on to Broadway.

In 1980, we saw Maggie Smith in Much Ado About Nothing. She had joined the festival to earn her chops as a stage actress. My friend and I met her by happenstance outside the theater after the performance. What a thrill. I have her autograph…and amazingly…I know where it is.

We witnessed the Canadian actress Seana McKenna in one of her first roles in a production of “All’s Well That Ends Well” set in the 1920s, where she sang most memorably…With a Hey Nonny, Nonny and a Ha Cha Cha.”

Over the years, we watched the career of the amazing Colm Feore, who my granddaughter now knows from The Umbrella Academy, a television show based on the comic book series of the same name. I was sitting in the front row of the Festival Theatre in 1988 as they filmed the production of Taming of the Shrew, in which Colm played Petruchio, and I almost became part of the show. During the dressmaker scene, a yardstick was slammed down on the table. It splintered and flew into the audience, impaling itself into my foot. They used footage…pun intended…from the second night of filming. Other than backstage tours, that’s as close as any of us came to being on stage.

Stratford has four theatres, but our favorite, The Festival Theatre, built to resemble the original tent used in 1953, became the holy shrine towards which we made our annual pilgrimage. Our call to worship was the fanfare played on heraldry trumpets and drums. The sound of the canon was the prelude reminding us to get settled, for the magic was about to begin.

Listening to the Fanfare
Summer 2019
Photo Credit: Kelly Daab Green

Theatre is such a uniquely symbiotic experience. The cast and crew have the power to bring a room of 1,800 strangers to tears or cause them to laugh out loud in unison. The audience then offers the gift of their response in the form of applause. Sharing this exchange with friends heightens the experience making it almost spiritual in nature. Our original bond was the plays, but gradually, almost imperceptibly, our relationship and our connection became stronger and deeper and went far beyond the activity on the stage.

Over decades, we watched each other age, mature, and mellow. We listened and prayed with those who went through illness and divorce. We cried with our friends who suffered the death of a spouse. We bragged about the accomplishments of our children, shared the delight of grandchildren, and rejoiced at the discovery of new love and second marriages. We didn’t always agree on matters of religion and were never able to sway each other from one political party to another, but that did not stop us from having rousing discussions. We always knew that we could safely discuss our beliefs and feelings openly without risk or judgment. Well…maybe a little judgment…but we also allowed, encouraged, and recognized growth and change.

Everyone has a friend during each stage of lifeBut only lucky ones have the same friend in all stages of life.”

unknown

Lois was with us the fall she was eighty-nine, but that Christmas Eve, she entered the hospital. She died on Epiphany…the 12th Day of Christmas…January 6th, 2002. We were heartbroken. Although she was much older than the rest of us, she was never a mother figure. She was our contemporary, and we adored her. She was who we all wanted to be when we grew up. We gathered after her funeral to discuss what we would do going forward. We each thought she had been the glue that held us together. What would happen to The Gang without her? What we discovered in that short meeting was that though we loved Lois immensely, we loved each other just as much. None of us wanted to let go of this wonderful thing that we had created. None of us wanted to spend an autumn without our time in Canada.

We All Adored Lois
This Was Her Final Season with Us
Fall 2001

That was twenty years ago.

We continued to make the yearly trip…until we couldn’t. Cancer, Parkinsons, bad knees and hips, and life changes eventually meant that we were no longer able to continue as The Stratford Gang. Our love for each other and the place that brought us together remained, but after more than thirty-five seasons, our trips together eventually came to an end. A couple of us continued to make solo trips. My husband joined me once, and my friend Bettie joined me on another occasion too. Then one fall…I went alone. It’s funny, I expected to feel a great sense of loneliness, loss, and grief, but it was quite the opposite. My friends were everywhere. I could see them hurrying through the park, shuffling leaves with their feet, hoping to arrive in time for the trumpets; I could hear them laughing in the washroom during the short intermission, and I felt them beside me as I got comfortable in my seat. Life goes on, and so does love.

“A strong friendship doesn’t need daily conversation or being together. As long as the relationship lives in the heart, true friends never part.”

Unknown

In the summer of 2019, a new Stratford group was created when my two dear sisters and my darling granddaughter agreed to join me for a weekend of theatre. Just as the leaves change every autumn, my Stratford group changed as well. I will always miss that time with The Gang and those young green lives that once were, but the beautiful autumn foliage reminds me that change can be wonderfully glorious.

Summer at the Festival is Also Wonderful with People You Love

I’ll buy our ticket for next year in November, just as soon as we set a date.

Finding 92 Year-Old Men on the Thirty-Ninth Floor

“We require from buildings two kinds of goodness: first, the doing their practical duty well: then that they be graceful and pleasing in doing it.”

John Rusking

“Go around the block again.  The entrance has to be here somewhere,” she said. “This is definitely the address.”  

“I just wish there weren’t so many one-way streets,” I added.

Last August, my granddaughter Fiona and I made a rather quick trip to Toronto. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had been condensed from two plays… a six-hour-two-ticket commitment to a big more manageable single, 3-hour production. The new version could only be seen in New York, San Francisco, Melbourne, Tokyo, Hamburg, and Toronto. Broadway might have been closer, but we are more comfortable and familiar with Toronto, so our plan was hatched. As soon as tickets went on sale, we’d be ready to pounce. The box office opened, and I was ready with my credit card. I chose our theatre seats carefully, but in my haste to secure lodging, I inadvertently booked us into the wrong hotel.

“There must be a front door somewhere. Let’s go around again.”

Night was falling, and we were deep in the heart of the city. Fiona, the patient navigator, and I, the frustrated and very tired driver, were anxious to get out of the car and settled into our room.  We were in an area with which I had limited prior experience and was not at all acquainted with our hotel on the corner of Yonge and King.

“This looks like an alley.  Do you think it’s the entrance?” we wondered aloud as I pulled onto the narrow side street.

Finding our hotel amid the forest of concrete and glass, eventually, parking and checking in was the welcome culmination of a very long day of driving.  Fiona and I both enjoy the benefits that cities provide, but we’re basically small-town girls, even though we live in the capital city of Vermont. We are more accustomed to structures left from the Victorian era than the tall, imposing structures of the 20th century.  We dragged our small suitcases into the empty elevator, pushed the button, and rode in silence to the thirty-ninth floor. The doors opened onto a bank of elevators next to an enormous window that looked out onto the adjacent buildings. Our view was filled with a quartet of huge Art Deco faces smiling directly at us! What an unexpected surprise. They were magnificent!

View From the Elevator Bank on the Thirty-ninth Floor.
August 2022

I was mesmerized.  As luck would have it, our room was also opposite these smiling gentlemen. My first instinct was to grab my camera. These new friends were willing subjects.  Smiling patiently as I took shot after shot.  Upon closer inspection, I realized that in addition to the quartet I had originally seen, there was an entire men’s chorus of twelve visible concrete heads and an additional four on the far side of the building for a total of sixteen.

I had so many questions.  What was the significance of these enormous faces, and even more puzzling to me…why were they constructed so far above any passersby on the ground? 

The Canadian Bank of Commerce Building about 1930
“Hey! Let’s add sixteen massive heads that will be almost impossible to see.”

The Canadian Bank of Commerce Building was built between 1929-1931.  At the time, it was the tallest building in the entire British Commonwealth. It retained that distinction until the early 1960s.  Although towering and impressive,  it is now somewhat dwarfed by the slender concrete, steel, and glass structures that surround it. As Toronto’s first skyscraper, it must have been an imposing presence.  Until it was replaced by the CN Tower, it was from here that curious Torontonians would arrive to see the city spread before them like a patchwork quilt.  The arched openings at the 32-floor observation deck…no longer open…also gave tourists an up close and personal look at the massive bearded heads, albeit from an unusual angle.

From the top of their heads to the bottom of their flowing beards,
each of the gigantic sculptures measures 24 feet high.
August 2022

I was drawn to these steadfast gentlemen and their perpetual smiles.  From my vantage point at nearly eye level, I could see that the 16 men shared two distinct and alternating faces with subtle differences indistinguishable at street level. With a little Google sleuthing, I discovered that they shared four names as well: Courage, Observation, Foresight, and Enterprise, and were said to symbolize the forever watchfulness of the bank. 

Great buildings that move the spirit have always been rare. In every case they are unique, poetic, products of the heart

Arthur Erickson

I appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the natural world, but I am also drawn to the stories told and the mysteries not yet unfolded of great works that humans have built and sustain.  I imagine the council fires where ancient visionaries first pitched the idea of building Mesa Verde, Stonehenge, or Donottar Castle.  Knowing my cautious nature, I’d probably have been among the skeptics.  “You want to build what? Where? With what?”  And yet our forebears built cathedrals, castles, bridges, and towers that many thought impossible.

I watched as the light of the early morning golden hour transitioned to the velvety richness of the night sky and the glow of countless city illuminations played across each face. 
August 2022

So, why did they place these heads so high above the city traffic below? Google couldn’t help me with that, but perhaps it’s like lacy underwear. Few, if any, other people see it, but you know it’s there. After all, does beauty need a reason? Maybe beauty is the reason.

It was the magic of Harry Potter that drew us to Toronto on this trip, but if we are observant, pay attention, and are open, we can find magic and beauty all around us without the use of a magic wand or whispered incantation. How much I am missing, I wonder, by keeping a steady forward gaze? I must remind myself to anticipate, be aware, and expect to find gifts of wonder, beauty, and delight that others have created for me to discover and appreciate.

Sometimes, booking the wrong hotel can be the right thing to do.

One Man’s Trash

“After 40 it’s patch, patch, patch.”

Seen on a T-shirt

“After 60, it’s pitch, pitch, pitch.”

Sally Daab Armstrong

Downsizing! It seems that I’m at it again!

My recent return to Vermont found me in a condo one-third smaller than the one I left in Michigan. Sorting, tossing, and recycling have been a necessity. It’s impossible to retain everything I brought with me, but another round of jettisoning the treasures and minutiae of my life has not been easy.

I was raised on the 1950s black and white Westerns…movies, and television shows…Gun Smoke, Ponderosa, and every Sunday night…Wagon Train. I was both distressed and curiously intrigued when inevitably, it became necessary to lighten the load and leave something along the trail. I’m not sure why but I found the jarring clang of a piano tossed from the back of a Conestoga or the crash of a crate of heirloom china being unceremoniously flung over the side especially heartbreaking. How did those people decide what to toss and what to keep? It’s hard to let go of things that connect us to other times and places, but in the end, they are just things. The memories and connections remain; it’s just “the stuff” that we lose.

Then again, couldn’t they keep just one of Grandma’s teacups? Maybe tucked into a flour sack? I suppose that’s what makes this task so challenging for me. I can only do it in stages. I keep the “just one thing” for now, but in a few months…as the purge continues…I might decide that it is indeed just a cup, not the memory, and I can set it free.

The famous Japanese lifestyle coach Marie Kondo says we should eliminate excess clutter and put away all the things from the past that no longer contribute to our lives. Thank each item in the Goodwill box for the joy it brought us or the comfort it provided, and then…as they sing in the Disney movie…let it go. I still have much more than I need in this tiny condo, but I’m getting better at bidding adieu to things that, at one time or another, I thought I couldn’t live without.

“Have gratitude for the things you’re discarding. By giving gratitude, you’re giving closure to the relationship with that object, and by doing so, it becomes a lot easier to let go.”

Marie kondo

I’ve made many trips to Goodwill and The Restore and joined a local Buy-Nothing group. Everything offered in the group is free to whoever can use it. The next owner will continue to breathe life into my rejects, creating new histories instead of sending them to the landfill.

Free Pile #1

Knowing how difficult it is to reduce the inventory, I find it very curious…puzzling even…that I involuntarily slow down for anything along the road with a Free Sign. Who knows what sidewalk gold awaits me? Within split seconds, I’ve designed a new seat for the chair with the broken caning, and I’ve chosen a paint color that would add charm and delight, making it a lovely addition to my front porch. Then I remember…I don’t have a front porch, and I don’t need more stuff…especially broken, discarded stuff.

That doesn’t seem to stop me. I keep looking. I keep imaging.

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.” 

Gloria Steinem

Maybe I could repair the sagging shelves of the bookcase, repurpose the metal plantstand, or mend the flannel shirt. I wasn’t looking for another book to add to those next to my bed waiting to be read, but the cover is so shiny, and the title is intriguing. Could I successfully incorporate these finds into my life? This entire reaction generally lasts but a few seconds at best. Thankfully, my better angels take over, and I don’t come home with something new which would be destined for my giveaway box.

Free Pile #2

Buying second-hand, frequenting flea markets, looking for bargains, and hunting for treasure is nothing new and not certainly not unique to me. Perhaps this practice is one of the remaining vestiges of our days as Hunter-Gatherers. We don’t search for bargains and treasures out of greed, although there is an element of saving money and making the most advantageous transaction. It is more a matter of imagining our world just a wee bit differently. What would it be like to possess something new and unexpected? Could our world be different? Improved?

Maybe that’s true of ideas and thoughts as well. We keep what works, what gives us clarity and meaning. We’re open to new thoughts and imagine incorporating them into our lives but then, often as not, we drive on…leaving them in the grass at the edge of the road…without employing them or making them our own.

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” 

Thomas merton

When I was a teenager, we often passed a rather ramshackle building on our way to the city. It always appeared ready to collapse. Held together with spit and a promise, it was filled to overflowing with all kinds of fascinating and enticing bits of wood and metal…Sleazeman’s Junk Emporium. It was a dilapidated, rundown collection of…well…junk, but the name was so clever and inviting. This memory reminds me to be careful what I bring into my house or into my thinking, for that matter. Sometimes what appears to be gratis is a costly problem with a jazzy name…the couch with fleas, the appliance with the wrong cord, or conclusions without basis in facts.

Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing.

Albert einstein

And so…I slow down, look, and imagine even as the purging, shuffling, and reducing continues.

Special Delivery

WARNING: Be very careful accepting any parcel post from me in the next few weeks. You may be an unsuspecting participant in my downsizing adventure. I imagine how any number of my cast-offs…I mean treasures…could change your life.

Finding The Kelpies

“It seemed like the world is moving too fast and I wanted it to stop or at least slow down, so that I could keep up. I wanted the time to wait for me. Then I realized, life goes on, and I have to live with it.”

Kcat Yarza

Our quest to see The Kelpies began in Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. The main hall is stunningly beautiful and rather imposing for three small-town women. Buying a ticket, finding the correct platform…among the twenty available…, and boarding on time was a challenge, but we did it…with a wee bit of help from a local. With the first phase of our mission accomplished, we settled back in our seats, pleased with ourselves and full of anticipation for what lay ahead.

The Waiting Hall at Waverly Station
Edinburgh 2022

The Kelpies, located about 30 miles northwest of Edinburgh, are the largest equine statutes in the world at nearly 100 ft high. These horse head sculptures depict mythical shape-shifting water spirits and were created to honor the horse-powered heritage of Scotland. The magical power of these enormous beasts seemed to pull us toward The Helix Park in Falkirk, where they were awaiting our arrival.

I had seen these impressive statues before from the M9 motorway with my late husband, Dave. He didn’t stop…of course not… but as we approached the position of best visibility, he’d lean back so I could take a photo. Of course, it goes without saying that shooting past Dave out the window of a moving vehicle was not optimal for getting the best picture.

Best Shot Out the Window on The M9

On a sunny day in October, during my first return trip to Scotland after COVID travel restrictions, I saw them from within the park with my sister, Kelly…our intrepid driver…and her husband, Bill. What a treat. Now, in April, I was looking forward to sharing them up close and personal with my sister, Penny, and my granddaughter, Fiona.

The train stopped several times as we made our way out of the city and into the countryside, with additional brief connections in towns on the route. Beyond the city and villages, we sped by fields of brilliant green spring crops dotted with sheep and edged with the ever-present, vibrant yellow Gorse, but my memory has reduced this all to a modern art smear of yellow, green, and sky blue. We were moving too fast for clear memories to form.

“Life is ephemeral; each moment passes quickly a blur of color on a fast moving subway car. There and gone and all we have left is the imprint of what once was.”

jacqueline Simon Gunn

My life has been moving at breakneck speed for the past few months. At times, I watch it pass before me as though I’m watching from the window of a train. I hardly have time to savor one event before it has morphed into the next. Perhaps that’s why I am seldom without my phone and its built-in camera. Maybe the pace of our lives is why so many of us carry this memory grabber in our pockets, ready in an instant to freeze the moments of our lives into bite-sized glimpses to appreciate and enjoy later; tangible confirmation and future memory joggers of our adventures.

As we trundled on toward our destination…not giving too much thought to how we would get from the station to the park…another adventure in itself…we had time to relax and simply be. The world was rolling past our windows, and it would spin just fine without us for a while. I rather like the cadence of an event-filled vacation…life…but it is also sweet to simply sit back and enjoy the ride from time to time too.

Rest is not idle, is not wasteful. Sometimes rest is the most productive thing you can do for body and soul.

Erica Layne

A few days earlier, through the magic of modern technology, I’d sold my house in Michigan from our flat in Edinburgh, just off the Royal Mile. Still, as we continued our quest for The Kelpies, I had no way of knowing that within a month, I would have stored my worldly goods, spent quality time sharing hugs, laughter, and goodbyes with friends and family, and returned to Vermont. I hadn’t yet been invited to live with my children until I found a place. Nor did I have an inkling of how in Montpelier’s tight housing market, I’d miraculously find a small condo in the perfect location on the North Branch of the Winooski River by the beginning of July.

North Branch of the Winooski River
Summer 2022

Now, in late August, the slightest hint of autumn is in the air, reminding me that shortly the leaves will turn, and this long hot summer will only be a memory. Sweaters will replace t-shirts, wool socks will be added to my Birkenstocks, and it won’t be long until mittens and boots emerge from their summer lodging. The seasons provide a natural rhythm to our lives. There is imperative to gather the harvest and busily prepare for a time of quieting and slowing down.

There is ebb and flow. Leaving and coming. Flight and fall. Sing and silent. Reaching and reached.

Ally Condie

I find it such a delight to fill in the little squares of my planner with activities and plans. I often find myself creating the itinerary for my next adventure before I’ve finished the final glass of wine of the trip I’m on. The challenge isn’t to remove all the hustle and bustle of life. The real challenge is ensuring that our calendar is filled with activities that add joy and meaning to our lives and that we’re not merely on the hamster wheel going nowhere but actually enriching our lives. Leaving some empty squares in the planner and allowing time to rest, recover, and regroup is essential. Our short time on the train afforded us a brief respite before we would complete our pursuit for The Kelpies.

“No mortal ear could have heard the kelpie passing through the night, for the great black hooves of it were as soundless in their stride as feathers falling. –

Mollie Hunter

Standing before these massive sculptures, at last, with people I love, experiencing their expressions of wonder and awe, was a reminder that my life is full of blessings, simmering moments of amazement, and occasions that can only be described as grace. I don’t want to move so fast that I recognize them only as blurred images.

My Granddaughter and My Sister
An Adventure Together 2022

“Untether yourself from the engines of busyness…Instead, consider your life–who you love, and why, how blessed you are to be here, resting under a shower of birdsong, or what strange bright luck it is to be the owner, for a few years, of this beating heart, these wondering eyes, the ears into which the kingfisher spills her small chuckle as she dips across the water…”

Kathleen McTigue…An excerpt from “Summer Sabbath”

Two Lovers and a Glass of Wine

“Wine enters through the mouth, Love, the eyes. I raise the glass to my mouth, I look at you, I sigh.” 

― William Butler Yeats

As I arrived at my book club meeting, I was met by the evening’s hostess. “Welcome,” smiled Tina. “Would you like a glass of wine? I have Pino, Chardonnay, or a nice Cab.”

When it comes to wine, all the women in my group know much more about it than I do. I know I really enjoy Baco Noir, Malbec, and the occasional glass of chilled Riesling, but the rest are a mystery to me. They might be beautiful in the glass and pleasurable on the tongue, but I’ll admit…I really don’t know one from the other. Many years ago, on a trip to France, my husband, Dave, and I attended a delightfully instructional wine tasting in a local wine cellar. It was fun, but even that didn’t improve my understanding of wine. I remember that the aroma, color, and the way it swirls in the glass are all supposed to add to the enjoyment, but in all honesty, I’m not sure why or how. On the other hand, when the discussion led to the philosophy of terroir, I understood and could easily relate.

Terroir is a French word that translates as land. As I understand it, the soil and environment affect the grape’s development, taste, and quality which are ultimately reflected in the wine. The same grape grown on one hillside may taste entirely different from one produced on an adjacent field.

Grapes Grown for Williamsburg Winery
Virginia 2011

I realize that terroir in this context refers to grapes and perhaps other crops as well, but I think it also may apply to people. Where we are born, raised, and eventually settle affects what we believe and how we behave. It shapes who we are and who we come to be.

Last Fall, I heard an original poem read by a woman who lives part of the year in New England and the other in Florida. Through her writing, she acknowledged that her friends in either place really only know a part of who she really is. Without an understanding of the ethos of New England, those in Florida would only ever know one side of her. Conversely, those in New England could never comprehend the Florida part. Dave and I were born in the midwest…Michigan, to be precise…but we spent most of our married life together in Vermont, so unless our friends had similar backgrounds, they never truly knew us.

A man can be in two different places and he will be two different men. Maybe if you think of more places he will be more men, but two is enough for now. –

Elmore Leonard

As Dave’s mobility decreased, we discussed downsizing from our 1810, four-bedroom house to something more manageable. Once when I asked him what he would do if I died and he was alone…as we age, we think of such things… he responded, “I’d move back to Michigan.” So, when he died, and I was alone and unable to find a suitable place to relocate in Vermont, I sold our big house and moved to a small condo in Michigan near my sisters and within an hour’s drive of women with whom I’ve had decades-long friendships.

Within months of my move, we entered the time of Covid. In the blink of an eye, the world changed for everyone. The life I had anticipated was impossible. Most of my connections with family and friends were virtual. I was living…as were most people…through my computer screen. Church services, family gatherings, chats with my grandchildren, and monthly book club meetings were conducted on Zoom or Facetime. My groceries were delivered outside my door, and I relied on UPS and the US postal system more than I’d like to admit. I enjoyed my little condo with its cozy fireplace, and I spent a good deal of time alone on my deck with the birds and squirrels for company. I walked the city parks and binge-watched several British and Canadian television series. Weekly small group meetings with other solo women and our minister also kept me going. It was a comfortable…yet very lonely…way to weather the storm. When we could meet outside…at a distance of six feet or inside with masks and excellent ventilation…I was able to see my sisters and friends, but we were never close enough to hug…or even touch. It was a strange time but not unique to me. The entire world had been locked down.

My Little Deck and Container Garden
Summer 2021

Each of us has our own pandemic story. Being isolated and alone kept me safe from the virus, but my life was often framed by loneliness. However, my friend, Suzanne, says that adults are responsible for their own good time, and even amid the restrictions of the Covid time, I was able to make memories, share laughter, and enjoy the blessing of time with those I love. However, I slowly realized that I was becoming collateral damage to the pandemic. I have never been able to put down roots or make genuine relationships within the new community in which I found myself.

The plains of central Michigan have their own kind of beauty: the red barns, green fields, and expansive sky; nevertheless, I longed for Vermont’s mountains, streams, and cedar scented air. Although there are many people I love…deeply love…in Michigan, my heart and soul…not to mention my children and grandchildren…are in Vermont. I had to return.

I listed my beloved condo with a realtor in mid-April, and surprisingly…to me anyway… it sold within a week. So I am putting the accumulation of my life in storage and packing my clothes, sundries, computer, and the book I haven’t finished in Andy…my Mini Cooper…and trekking back to all I love in the Green Mountains of Vermont. I’m moving forward in the faith that I’ll be able to find a place to eventually unpack, settle, and successfully revive and nurture the roots that have lain dormant during my time away.

As I wrap my breakables carefully in newsprint, I often have two songs from decades ago playing alternately on a loop in my head. The chorus of the Mary Wells Motown hit…Two Lovers...is regularly on repeat. “Well, I’ve got two lovers, and I ain’t ashamed. I’ve got two lovers, and I love them both the same.” But, perhaps the 70s Pop/Soft Rock recording by Mary MacGregor, Torn Between Two Lovers, with its sensitive lyrics and haunting melody, is closer to expressing the ache of having two intense and conflicting loves. When I exchange the idea of place for the other person in the song, it comes close to articulating my feelings.

Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool
Loving you both is breaking all the rules
You mustn't think you failed me just because there's someone else
You were the first real love I ever had
And all the things I ever said
I swear they still are true
For no one else can have the part of me I gave to you

I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be completely happy, for I will always be drawn to one place while at the same time missing the other. The people of Vermont and Michigan each possess their own unique terroir, and I have drunk deeply from the rich, sweet wine of both. But, I suppose, in the end, all I can really do is linger over the exquisite glass before me…enjoying the aroma, the color, and the way it swirls in the glass…knowing that I’m not limited to one bottle and can always return and fill my goblet once again from the other.

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.’

Mirium Adeney