Pennsylvania summer

Blueberries

The fireflies were out last night. I had that moment of blinking disbelief — what was that light? was I really seeing what I was seeing? — and then I realized what they were. Tiny yellow sparks in shadowy darkness, flickering in and out, in a warm summer breeze. Such a magical element of a Pennsylvania summer.

Some of the blueberries are ripe. So are the blackberries. So are the red raspberries. So are the yellow raspberries. The gooseberries and the grapes are not. It’s really interesting to watch the berries ripen — the blueberries, in particular, grow in a cluster, all of which get ripe at different times, so the cluster has berries ranging from deep blue to green. We can go back to the same bush, day after day, and pick more berries from it. And the blackberries — they get ripe so fast! Seriously, I could pick berries from a vine in the morning and then go back a few hours later and pick more. I can’t quite see them changing color, but I bet if I set up a time-lapse camera, I could.

Unfortunately, it’s also hot and sticky. I really love camping here, but I keep looking at the house and contemplating how much work it would take to make it livable. Do you suppose it’s possible to put central air-conditioning into a stone farmhouse? I guess anything’s possible if you have enough money, which means I should definitely not be wasting my time imagining renovating the house, and instead should be writing, writing, writing.

The writing… yeah. Not going well. I have discovered two characterization issues that I need to solve. I have partially figured out how to solve one of them, but the other… sigh. I guess I can be happy that I have at least figured out why I’m stuck again and what needs to change to get me unstuck, but I wish I could just write until I was done and stop caring about things like agency and motivation. And consistency. I guess that’s the one I care about the most. But I will solve these problems, and meanwhile, I will eat blueberries and blackberries and appreciate summer.

Robin

I received the most delightful voice mail message today. It contained the words, “basically I’m just calling to say you were right and I was wrong.” I’m not sure why that amuses me so much — it’s mean of me to be amused, in fact — but it was expressed so… so… so precisely. It’s exactly the right vocabulary for a good mea culpa.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to find out exactly what I was right about so I’m sitting around on tenterhooks waiting to find out the details. The call was from R, of course, and while I’m appreciating the concession to my rightness, I’m also a little worried. I really would prefer not to be right about altitude sickness being a problem for him. As it goes, amused triumph mingled with worry is translating into a lot of snacking, a lot of internet browsing, and not nearly enough writing.

I’m tempted to start reorganizing Serenity yet again: I still haven’t managed to get everything into proper places after cleaning out my storage unit, so there’s work to be done. But I also know that work is just a distraction from writing. And if I’m going to go the route of distraction, I could also go pull up some weeds from the blueberry patch — distracting and helpful, a much better bet.

Or I could blog. And look through photos. And maybe post an entirely random robin?

robin

A random robin. I think he’s telling me to get to work.

And then get back to work.

NYC Weekend and Blueberries

I picked my first blueberries this morning, yay! Ate some, too, of course, and they were delicious. I’m currently not parked at the garden, because it is seriously hot, so I’m actually staying in the guest bedroom at my brother’s real house. Poor Serenity is just baking in the sun. But I’m hoping for cooler weather later this week and mornings that include walking the dog to the blueberry patch, picking some blueberries, and then eating fresh blueberries for breakfast. When that happens, which it will, I will post pictures. Today’s pictures, though, have to be of my NYC weekend.

Unsurprisingly, my college cohort are all having big birthdays this year. A friend that I’ve stayed in touch with was headed to NY to attend the party of a friend that I’d completely lost touch with, and invited me along. We decided to turn it into a real NYC adventure, not just a long drive to a nice dinner. So on Friday, I took a bus into New York.

Five minutes after disembarking, I was sure I’d made a huge mistake. The Port Authority Bus Terminal followed by 42nd Street on a Friday afternoon in June could have been a universe away from my quiet green garden house mood — stimulating, chaotic, colorful, and completely overwhelming. Fortunately, I kept walking, got to a quieter area of Chelsea, took an ibuprofen, drank some water, and found our hotel, which had a nice peaceful patio. I say fortunately because after that initial shock of entry, I had a really great time being a tourist in the big city.

We walked along the Highline, went to the Whitney Museum, saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway, took a Circle Line landmarks cruise around Manhattan, sat on the grass in Central Park, ate fancy breakfasts and low-key other meals, and eventually went to our friend’s party, followed by drinks at a rooftop bar in Chelsea.

Empire State building at night

The view from the roof.

I don’t think I could pick a highlight. I had a bagel — a gluten-free bagel with smoked salmon cream cheese — that actually tasted like a real bagel. We ate fantastic gelato our first night (favorite flavor: lime-basil) and really good ice cream on Sunday. Walking through the Highline was beautiful but getting to look at art and think about art in the Whitney was somehow deeply gratifying. It felt like using a part of my brain that has been sleeping for a while. My favorite piece was Pittsburgh by an artist I’d never heard of from a school of art I’d never heard of, but there were other things that inspired fun story ideas for a story that I can’t write until after I finish the dozen other things lined up before it. The Book of Mormon was great, but so was the incredibly rushed walk to get to it, through NYC on a Saturday evening.

And it was good to see old friends again. Strange, but good. This particular friend group belonged to my best friend, not me, so I was peripheral in their world, but watching them felt so familiar. I was particularly delighted to finally ask one of them about a memory I have of a time when we did a 360 in a truck on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago — probably my clearest near-death experience ever. I’ve remembered that moment forever, but lost all the details around it — how did we wind up in a truck together on a highway in the midwest? Alas, she had no answers for me, although she remembered the moment, too.

It was a great weekend. Still, I took a deep breath when I got off the bus in PA yesterday and was happy, happy to be here. Time to get back to Grace and eat some blueberries!

A view from a hotel window, with the Empire State Building on the right.

More photos from the BVI

My SIL and niece were the first people forced to sit through my slideshow of my 100 favorite photos. Well, forced is a strong word. But I didn’t really give them a choice. They were very tolerant, however!

These are the images (not previously posted) that made them say “Ooh,” or “Ahh,” or “Wow.”

Seagulls

The haunted chicken coop

old chicken coop

It’s not actually haunted. At least, I don’t think it is. I certainly haven’t heard any sepulchral clucking coming from its direction. But it definitely looks like it should be, doesn’t it? Especially on a gray day.

the chicken coop next to the van

Slightly less spooky when you put Serenity right next to it. Those are raspberry vines in front of it. I’m more interested in the blueberries, because I like blueberries better than raspberries, but there are three rows of raspberries — red, yellow, and purple. All green now, of course, but I expect to be nibbling within a couple of weeks.

blueberry bushes

And there are the blueberries. I’m feeling too lazy to walk across the lawn and count — also, it is gray and wet and sort of chilly and I don’t want to put my shoes on — but I think there are 24 bushes. Four rows of six bushes each? Or maybe 32. Plenty of blueberries, which is good because the competition for them will get fierce. It’s partly the season, but the birds here are almost as noisy as they were in Alabama.

Grace hasn’t been going very well — I feel like the gears of story are starting to grind again, but they’re grinding very, very slowly. But I am thoroughly appreciating the cozy peacefulness of my surroundings.

June in Pennsylvania

The Best. Vacation. Ever. ended a week ago: we got back to the States around 10PM Saturday night and by 10AM Sunday morning, I was on the road, headed north.

It was the same drive that I made on July 25th of last year, with my house closing behind me, driving to PA with Serenity overflowing with stuff. This time the stuff was everything left from my storage unit: a cedar chest, a chair, plastic crates holding my mom’s china and R’s childhood. And overflowing was no exaggeration. A leg on the cedar chest broke when we were moving it into the van, so its contents were in another plastic crate and the bed was piled high with stuff. I had a sliver of bed on which to sleep, small enough that rolling over meant bumping into a crate.

But my attitude was not at all the same. Last year, I was still running down checklists in my head, still tight with tension and uncertainty about what I was doing. I was excited, but even finding a campground for the night felt like a challenge. I vividly remember stopping at a rest stop and having that, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” feeling because the air smelled different. Ten(-ish) months later, it felt familiar. And I didn’t bother with a campground: I drove until it was almost dark, then found myself a quiet corner of a Flying J parking lot and settled in for the night.

It was actually only my second night in a real parking lot, and my first night on a highway parking lot, but I’ve spent enough time camped in driveways and on streets now that it didn’t faze me. My first parking lot night, sometime last August, was almost sleepless, jolting awake at every flickering light, but this time, I just crawled into bed, apologized to B, who had to sleep on the floor, and crashed. At 5AM Monday, I woke up and started driving again.

My destination:

Fields and trees

The view from Serenity’s door.

Several years ago, the Best Brother Ever bought an old stone farmhouse for the sake of the land around it. It’s in a strange location, not exactly rural, not exactly suburban. Costco and Whole Foods are a mile away, across a highway, and it’s on a road simultaneously too busy and too narrow to feel safe for walking. The house is not really livable, although it could be lovely with a lot of work and probably a ton of money. But the gardens… well, expect to see a lot of pictures of them over the next few weeks. I intend to stay here until I finish writing Grace. Probably with some interruptions — I’ve got some fun weekends planned, spending time with friends and relatives — but mostly, I am going to sit here and write.

And watch the blueberries get ripe.

unripe blueberries

1500 Photos

I took over 1500 photos. Seriously. For a person who didn’t use to like taking photos, I may have gone a little overboard. (Ha. Yes, pun intended.) After some reasonable amount of sorting, these are my favorite ten, not including the ones I already posted. In no particular order!

Uh, eleven. Apparently I can’t count this morning!

Best. Vacation. Ever.

a catamaran

The catamaran, Sealandia

When the Best Brother Ever gave me the Best Vacation Ever, he said he and my SIL weren’t so sure it would be fun, so I was on my own. My dad and stepmom were equally doubtful. In all fairness, a week on a sailboat involves a lot of wind, water, motion, salt, sweat, and sun, so it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But it was more than my tea, it was my champagne. I spent the whole week pretty much giddy with joy.

Sometime around the last day, I was sitting in one of the bow seats in the front of the catamaran. They’re not the most comfortable of seats — small, wooden, with a metal brace for a back and wires on either side. Plus you’re in the very front of the boat, which means you’re getting the spray and the motion and the wind as strongly as possible. And they’re totally exposed, so the sun beats down on them. Matthew, the captain, came up to get the lines ready for mooring, and said to me, “Not tired of the sun and the wind yet?” I laughed as I shook my head no. Later, Suzanne (the friend who came with me) said that she and Nikki (the chef) had been up on the bridge questioning how I could stand it in front. As S said, when the one Jamaican on the boat thinks the sun is too strong, it probably is. But I was filled with happy. Also coated in sunscreen, reapplied liberally at every possible opportunity. 🙂

Suzanne, in the bow seat, on our last morning. I was in the bow seat on the other side.

On the first evening, when I asked if I could climb down through the hatch into the bedroom, Matthew said, “Consider this your personal jungle gym for the next week.” Maybe that set the tone, but on the way home, it occurred to me that the whole week had been remarkably like being a kid again. At least for me. Other people — namely, Matthew and Nikki — were in charge of everything, from where we were going to what we would eat and drink. All we had to do was play with the toys they set out: snorkeling equipment, a kayak, a paddle board. Also explore the places they took us to: caves and rocks, beaches and hills, coves for snorkeling and deserted islands.

Suzanne and I did ALL the things. At one point, we were strolling up a dirt trail together (hiking would be far too generous a name for our pace and the slope) and I told her that if we were characters in a children’s book series, her catchphrase would be “Heck, yeah,” because that was her response to every suggested adventure.

I would be hard-pressed to pick my favorite of our adventures. I was up for every sunrise, appreciating the stillness and the solitude, the feel of the air, the smell of the ocean, the sounds of birds starting to wake up. One morning, when I was up particularly early, having given up on ever going back to sleep at the somewhat egregious hour of 4:45 AM, I watched a garbage truck rolling down a hill, its lights the only movement in the darkness. I could hear roosters crowing, each an isolated sound — one after another, but each one alone, like a horn blowing. But then doves started cooing and they were clearly a flock or flocks, a chorus of murmuring. And then birds started chirping, on top of the harmony of the doves, like a piano weaving threads of sound into a choir. I realized that all of those sounds probably started playing in exactly that order every day and had for hundreds of years. Well, except for the garbage truck. But I had never heard them that way before, and it was beautiful.

Sunrise, with a sliver of a moon

Sunrise, with a sliver of a moon

Back to favorite adventures, as listening to the birds is not exactly adventurous… we went to the baths at Virgin Gorda early, early, getting there by 7:30 or so. People who come by boat can swim in and beat the crowds. On our first sedate walk along the path, we admired lizards and birds and flowers and the views from the top of the hill, but after we’d seen the whole thing, we went back and played.

flowering cacti

The cacti were flowering on Virgin Gorda, but just barely

We crawled through the low tunnels and into dark corners, splashed through the pools of water, clambered onto the big rocks. At one point, we were on the boulders and we’d jumped down into one of those corners that seemed maybe tough to get out of. We were wearing bathing suits, of course, and I was carrying my sandals. Going back the way we came was a climb, going forward along the rocks involved a challenging jump. I looked at Suzanne and said, “I think I’m too old for this shit.” She laughed at me. Then we both jumped into the water and swam through our stuck point. I made her go first, though, because she was wearing shoes. We came to a fantastic beach, a stereotype of white sand and shallow blue-green water, and even though we knew the others were probably waiting for us back at the boat, we still spent twenty minutes or so playing in the water. By the time we were on our way back to the boat, the crowds had arrived and we followed a trail of people making their way along the precarious stair steps of the path through the rocks. It felt just like Tom Sawyer’s caves at Disneyworld, but even that was fun.

On another day, we rented a motor scooter and drove around Anegada. It was ridiculously hot, so much so that even I sat in the shade and drank pineapple juice instead of walking along the beach.

Pineapple juice

But we went to the Faulkner House Museum — not the author, but Anegada’s political hero. In 1949, Theodolph Faulkner was a fisherman, so mad at the government that he went and stood in the square in Tortola, telling stories every night about things the government had done. People would come and tell him their stories during the day and he’d share them with others at night. Eventually, 1,500 islanders marched on the Commissioner’s office and petitioned for self-rule. For perspective, I googled, of course, and it’s estimated that the population was 7,000 in 1949. So that’s the equivalent of getting 68 million people to march on DC. Go, Theodolph! We also stopped by the flamingo ponds, and did not see any flamingos, and the iguana rescue center, ditto no iguanas. Wrong time of year for the iguanas, but the flamingos might have just been hiding. Mostly, though, we had fun scootering. We hit one spot where Suzanne thought we could keep going and I said I wouldn’t take Serenity up that trail, so we got off and reconnoitered and decided against; another spot where I said, yeah, I’d take Serenity, but oof, it was bumpy. That night for dinner, we ate the world’s biggest lobsters.

It’s funny the bits and pieces that are coming back to me as I write. I want to write about everything I remember, but it would take me forever. Well, or maybe seven days, that being how long I was there.

sail

I’m not sure how long it would take for me to get tired of sailing, but a lot longer than we had, that’s for sure.

The morning we were leaving Anegada, Matthew asked if I wanted the kayak. As Suzanne would say, “Heck, yeah.” Suzanne and I had kayaked a couple of times together, but that morning I went out alone. It was around 6AM, I think, well before breakfast, and I paddled with the wind going out, against the wind coming back. I passed some fellow kayakers who let me know that there were sea turtles in the water, so I was looking for them, but didn’t see any. But I felt so alive, so awake, so present. There’s a moment I get when kayaking, not always and never for very long, that is perfectly, I think, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow state — a time when all of me is engaged in the process of moving in rhythm, through nature. I love it enormously. That morning the moment lasted for longer than usual.

Another day, we were at the caves, a really nice snorkeling spot. One of our fellow sailors wasn’t much of a snorkeling fan, so I convinced her to come out kayaking with me. I didn’t let her paddle, because really, I like kayaking much better when I’m in control and not trying to work with someone else. But we paddled out to the caves and admired the rocks and she got to be the first person among us to go into the caves. We did a lot of snorkeling, so the trip overall was maybe not the best adventure for someone who didn’t like snorkeling. I’m going to guess that it was not her champagne.

Wow, and I haven’t even written about snorkeling yet. Yes, lots of snorkeling. Sometimes snorkeling makes me sad, because I first did a lot of snorkeling in 1990. Back then, being underwater was like being in a jungle. I felt absolutely surrounded by life, to an extent that it was almost nerve-wracking. Schools of fish were everywhere. In the past decade, my snorkeling experiences have been a lot like being in a desert. Oh, look, a cactus (coral). Wow, a lizard (a cool fish). Snorkeling in the BVI was a little of both. But at one spot, we were swimming through enormous schools of minnows. When the sun shone down on them, they were flickers of light, flowing around me like blades of grass in the wind. They were magical. In another spot, I followed a manta ray for a while, and in a third, I saw the biggest parrotfish I had ever seen.

At one spot — I’m going to say that it might have been called the Indians — I knew it was time for lunch, because I kept appraising the fish based on whether I would eat them or not. Blue tang, no. Tiny little yellow and purple damselfish, no. Grey something, definitely yes. Yellowtail, yes, and I was licking my lips. When the parrotfish crossed over into, “Well, I wouldn’t kill it, but if someone else caught it…,” I knew it was time to quit snorkeling and go have some lunch.

And now it is time to quit writing — not because I need lunch, but because I’ve been writing this post for three days and my life is moving on faster than I can keep up. I’m already in PA, parked for the first time at my brother’s garden house and taking pictures of berries, not quite ready for eating.

But it’s the last day of May, which means that it’s also time for a best-of-the-month post and while I would be impossibly hard-pressed to pick an exact spot or moment — did I even mention how much fun we had exploring a deserted island? Nope. And I didn’t write about paddle boarding, either! (Pro tip: trying to do yoga on a paddle board is fun if you like splashing into the water.) Or playing with the noodles, or all of the fruity slushy drinks, or even the food, so delicious and beautiful! But the best of May was definitely the Best Vacation Ever.

sunset on Norman Island

Sunset on Norman Island

The Zuni Cafe Cookbook on sale

The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant is on sale today for $1.99.

This was an absolutely formative cookbook for me. I read it cover to cover, learned so much from it, made some of the recipes (the baked artichokes) repeatedly, and was so, so pained to give it up when I moved into the camper. I had to close my eyes to drop it into the library donation box. Actually, I think I rescued it the first time, then closed my eyes the second time. But it’s an absolute bargain for $1.99. I’ve been trying not to buy cookbooks, but I didn’t even pause before hitting click.

My next adventure

The dogs, patiently waiting with me.

I’m currently sitting at my RV dealer’s showroom, waiting for Serenity to get a few final fixes. Ah, old home week. By the time I make my next trip, Serenity will no longer be under warranty, which — given the number of times I’ve found myself sitting in this very spot — makes me nervous. But I’m hoping that so many issues in the past eleven months means she’ll be immune from more for at least a couple years.

It’s a nice thought, anyway. Don’t scoff.

On Monday, I drove from Sarasota up to Mount Dora for a couple days in my dad’s driveway. I did a presentation at his computer club on Monday on social media — not a subject on which I consider myself an expert, by any stretch of the imagination, but I knew more than I realized. At the end of the presentation, one of the guys asked how I ever managed to get outside, which made me laugh. I know more than I use, I suppose, although I really do like Instagram. I also like Goodreads, which I included in my list of social media apps mostly because it’s the one that I use most. Not for posting so much, but I like reading other people’s reviews. I also like giving presentations. I should figure out some sensible way of making that part of my life, with writer’s conferences or book groups or some such thing. But that is seriously not a thought for today, because I’m smack in the middle of my busy week.

Yesterday I took Zelda to the vet and discovered that I had my days wrong. ARGH! So I finished cleaning out the things that I’m not keeping from the storage unit, dropped them off at a thrift store and did a little thrift store shopping with my stepmom. We had much fun. She believes in getting all the pieces of an outfit together ahead of time — none of those belated “huh, none of my shoes are going to look good with this” issues in her wardrobe — and so I wound up with a dress, shoes, earrings and a necklace, for plans I have in three weeks or so that require dressing up. Well, not require. But warrant, anyway. All for under $20, which means that after said plans, I can drop it all off at a convenient thrift store. Serenity doesn’t have a lot of room for dress-up clothes. I like the dress a lot, though, so I might waver when the time comes.

Afterward, we went to a Beall’s outlet, where I more practically got myself a pair of black jeans to replace the pair that I have basically worn to death over the past six months; a pair of navy blue capris, to replace the khaki ones that I literally wore to death — they shredded the last time I tried to wear them and I had to throw them away; and a sundress. I love the sundress. I tried it on and thought, “If this is under $10, it’s a yes,” and it wasn’t, it was $11.99. Bah. But I didn’t agonize for long, under $15 was good enough.

Today is the RV dealer (obviously) and tonight, dinner with my writer’s group. Along the way I need to go to the grocery store so that I can make a double-batch of dog food, enough to feed the dogs all next week. Tomorrow is the real day for the dog’s vet appointment, so I’ll be doing that in the morning and then picking up my friend Suzanne at the airport in the evening.

And then Friday… oh, shivers of excitement. In the morning, I’m dragging Suzanne to the storage unit and loading up everything that’s left into Serenity, ready to drive north. And then Friday night, we’re getting on a plane together. First stop, Puerto Rico. Second stop, St. Thomas. Third stop, a ferry ride to Tortola and the British Virgin Islands.

Last summer, my brother asked me what my fantasy fiftieth birthday was. I thought for a little bit and then told him that it would be sailing in the Caribbean. Not a cruise, but on a sailboat. He didn’t say it had to be a realistic fantasy, so it wasn’t. But he made it real. As I’ve said before, Best Brother Ever.

So yeah, Suzanne and I are going sailing, with Festiva Sailing Vacations. I’ve been looking forward to it for months. Now that it’s almost here, I’m caught up in worrying about whether I’ve got my passport (yes, I do), whether the dogs are going to be okay (yes, they are), if I need more sunscreen (definitely, always), what I’m going to pack… all those good questions. But four days from now — or thereabouts — I will be wearing my new sundress over a bathing suit, looking out over an expanse of blue-green water and probably drinking some non-alcoholic, fruit-based beverage. I don’t know whether I’ll be blogging, but I will definitely try to post some pictures!