Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Category: Family

WHAT’S NEXT?

I seem to be full of questions these days. My kids say it drives them crazy, but what about me? I’m the perplexed one, the one who doesn’t know what’s around the next corner and wakes up every morning wondering what new catastrophe or maybe even great pleasure is in store for our civilization…what war will be waged, who will be the next population group to face starvation, or who may face justice, finally, for perpetrating a heinous crime. Then there are those who keep chipping away, making things better, getting married, having babies, remaining optimistic about climate change solutions. Just look around. They may be your neighbors. I’m all for them. Get thee behind me, anguish, and go about making a difference, however small it might be. Just look at the amazing things Dr. Paul Farmer did in his short life, if you’re looking for hope. I read Tracey Kidder’s book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, about his work in Haiti twenty years ago and have been following him ever since. So, I guess I know in my heart What’s Next. Gratitude, compassion, acceptance, and, above all, participation. That’s a tall order for the best of us! It’ll sure keep us busy and it beats complaining.

Can you imagine coming home from peaceful, very warm and hospitable Palm Springs, after visiting your youngest son, Robert, and his lovely wife, Gwen, to wake up two days later to this? And just three weeks after you’d gone through the ritual of bringing in the New Year by burning your Christmas tree?

Click on the photos to enlarge.

 

I spent a relaxed and WARM week in Palm Springs, writing, reading, and relaxing during the day and enjoying the hot tub and pool in the evening. It doesn’t get much better than that! Rob and Gwen are going strong with plans for expanding their business in golf range automation, using Rob’s targets, which he installs for night golf throughout the country. Learn more about them HERE. This adds a new, exciting dimension to the sport.

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Sunday was a day of exploration in the mountains and a visit to the famous Integratron in Landers, CA. It has an interesting and somewhat controversial story behind it, but I can vouch for the efficacy of the hour-long meditation and Sound Bath that I experienced. Daughter Martha corroborated the restorative quality of sound and music in her work in somatics and how various tonalities can, indeed, affect your body in a healing way. I am grateful for the experience.

Next time, Joshua Tree and a return to the rotating aerial tramway.

Back on Whidbey, I’m taking my usual walk in the woods each day, but have been trying other trails as the weather permits. Here is a relatively new area for me, Deer Lagoon, not far from the beach on Double Bluff. I was there in January as the sun was just setting.

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Many of you have had the privilege of seeing the extensive immersive Van Gogh exhibition that is being shown throughout the country. I had the privilege of experiencing it in the warehouse area of Seattle. It is an enormous, very imaginative display. You are not just viewing the paintings, but you are walking among large digital images, interspersed with stories of the artist’s life, accompanied by exceptional music. It cannot replace the intimacy of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, Holland, which I visited shortly after it opened, where you get a close view of the original paintings, but you do get a feeling for the depth and breadth of his work and his troubled life, cut short so tragically.

 

 

Wonder of wonders. I am hoping to make a short trip to NYC to check on Broadway as well as relatives and Jersey friends, and enjoy the usual late March or early April snowstorm. But don’t hold your breath. Ask Covid. After that, Martha, her partner, Doug, and I plan to go to Portugal in late spring. Stay tuned and stay safe!

It’s always wonderful to be welcomed back to Washington by Mt. Rainier!

 

THOSE WERE THE DAYS, MY FRIENDS….

With all the talk about the commercialization of the Christmas holidays and the laments about being inundated with tinsel and lights from Thanksgiving on, I began to reflect on my own experience over the years, and wondered whether the magic and meaning of Christmas no longer spoke to me. Was the stress of coming up with the perfect gift worth the time and effort, or could I persuade my beloved family members to put a moratorium on this obligation and let me enjoy bringing gifts to them from my travels, whenever the spirit moved me? And give them freely at whatever time of year? Of course, the moratorium did not apply to the great grandchildren. After all, I’m not Ebenezer Scrooge!

I remember spending most of the last ten years in Nepal during this time of year, and there were some charming children’s Christmas pageants in Boudhanath, near Kathmandu, and a few decorated trees at the guest houses, but it was subtle and not overwhelming. One year, at the Shechen Guest House next to the temple, where we were staying, a guest put up a line across the main lawn and hung stockings for all the children of the employees. It caused a great deal of excitement as well as some hearty laughs when one of the monks mistook it for a clothesline and started hanging up his wet socks.

Santa, Buddha and the angels

Christmas took its place along with other religious celebrations and there was a warm feeling of fellowship that filled me with nostalgia. Now, after two years of relative isolation, and a move to a co-housing community here in Langley, I can see that Christmas has no obligations. If you feel like wrapping up a piece of cake or a silly hat, and giving it to your neighbor, you do it. If not, you enjoy the voluntary brand of each individual’s generosity. It is charming and it is spontaneous. I’ve finally been able to weed out and laugh at the commercialism without becoming a part of it, and to retrieve the old-fashioned spirit that brought me joy for so many years. I wish this for all of you.

There are not many photos on this posting, but how many pictures of rain can you take? Instead, I want to share with you a chapter from my new book, I Love You To Death, But…. yet to be published. It seems especially relevant to our society at this time.

GIVE ‘EM WHAT THEY WANT

I’m ashamed to say that I always gave my children too much for Christmas. My rationalization: as a child I got almost nothing. Well, one, maybe two presents at most. Christmas was a religious celebration at our home. It was wonderful, heartwarming, and somewhat dull…except for all the wonderful cakes, cookies, and fruit baskets the parishioners showered on my father, a Methodist minister. And the traditional midnight candle service. I finally got to stay up past nine!

One year our big present was the LP (that’s old-speak for long playing record) version of Peter and the Wolf. My mother was sure the surprise would be revealed, since my father whistled Peter’s theme interminably. Not a problem. We were none the wiser and it was, indeed, a splendid gift. But we were three girls, and one record and a wood burning set just didn’t do it, especially when we compared our gifts to those of our friends. Oh, yes, Aunt Bea relieved the monotony by sending a pair of frilly panties to each of us, but that, too, became all too predictable. Still, I never complained. And we did have fun planning an afternoon Christmas concert for the family. I played the violin while my two sisters took turns accompanying me on the piano. And then we wowed everyone by sitting together on the bench and playing a three-part piano arrangement of the E Flat Minuet from Mozart’s Symphony #39. The scene was right out of a middle-European salon a la Haydn. At the end we all sang, “Oh, Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel,” while Grandpa slept and Grandma sang lustily in her calliope voice.

I wanted my children to have a little more excitement, but I overdid it. Every single thing they’d needed all year long arrived under the tree. Clothes, toys, educational games, school supplies, you-name-it-I-bought-it. I spent hours in the old wine cellar in the basement every evening for weeks, wrapping and labeling and looking for places to hide the gifts. I tried to make things equal. If one child seemed to have more, I raced out and bought something else to even things out. It was ridiculous and it was exhausting.

But that was just the beginning! Imagine the difficulty of transporting this raft of presents from the basement to the center hall, where the tree stood in all its glory…and doing this quietly so eager children, supposedly sleeping, would not discover the largesse until morning. Once again, the eldest child, who never really bought into the Santa Claus story, took it upon herself to arise very early and stand guard at the upstairs landing to keep the younger ones at bay until the parents, bug-eyed with fatigue, came lumbering down in search of coffee. Then the fun began, if you can call chaos fun. In less than an hour the work of months lay at my feet.

All this changed in 1970 when I read that all you ever need to give to a child for Christmas is the one thing he or she has been asking for, silly as you might think it is. A Barbie doll? No way. I hated everything Barbie stood for! But if that’s what Martha wanted, and probably all she wanted, give it to her.

NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T….

TO MASK OR NOT TO MASK….
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW….
EASY COME, EASY GO….

Do you ever feel as if you’re not right here when you’re here…or maybe it’s because you’re actually not here, but there? Are you up one minute and before you know it, down the next? Do you ever think that you’d better change your vitamin supplements because they may be causing confusion within your body politic? Or stop drinking that cheap wine, because with global warming going all-out, a good vintage might calm the soul, or at least the nerves? And what are you saving your money for, anyway? Profound questions bombard us with every passing day, which helps us in our cultivation of the art of procrastination and ennui. One cannot survive without the other. Why bother?

What a summer! We went into it thinking that we’d licked Covid. We danced in the streets, went to restaurants, enjoyed plays at WICA (Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) and the Outcast Theater, shopped like the “good old days,” and went just about anywhere so long as we were vaccinated. Then, almost before we’d gotten used to our newfound freedom, the Lockdown Monster returned. Covid cases rose as tourists flooded onto Whidbey Island, the Delta Variant started rolling in at the same time, and we are now experiencing the “Return of the Mask” in spades. But we’re getting wiser. Many more people are seeing the results of anti-vaxxing propaganda and are realizing the need to be vaccinated. Yes, there is hope…tenuous, but on the horizon.

I might add that my friends in Asia, especially India and Nepal, are scratching their heads wondering what is wrong with “you Americans,” who have the vaccine and refuse to be vaccinated, while they would give anything to get it. Does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

If it weren’t for the few redemptive and optimistic segments at the end of the PBS News Hour, and my compulsive need to know what’s happening in the world, I might decide, as so many of my friends have, to eschew the news entirely. International as well as what’s happening right here in the USA. It’s anything but uplifting, and the extent of suffering worldwide is appalling. So, we buckle down, pick how and where we want to make a difference, and do the best we can. We don’t know whether praying for the well-being of all sentient beings is helping, but we do it, anyway, and we make sure not to neglect the needs in our own backyard. And we try to stay positive. Any suggestions?

Way back in July I took off for my first trip to the East Coast in two years. Now what would possess me to do that? You guessed it…a wedding. My grandson, Adam Bixler, and his fiancé, Allie Francis, were getting married after having postponed the nuptials for a year. That’s a century when you’re young. Although they live in a lovely, recently purchased, home in Boonton, NJ, they decided to celebrate in the woods of Pennsylvania, and housed the family by a peaceful lake in two exquisite homes belonging to friends.

What a glorious setting! It was worth the trip, ‘though I wasn’t so sure as we were winding around country roads in Pennsylvania at 1:30 AM. (Hey, anything counts as an adventure these days!) But once we recovered from the trip, it was heartwarming to see the entire family gathered for a splendid celebration! And guess what? After more than a year I got to go swimming in a lake. What a treat!

 

 

We had two big dinners, one before and the other after the wedding. That’s when we cut loose and danced like crazy. But some of us had to retire to the outdoor balcony to avoid losing our hearing. The higher the decibels the better the dancing…they say. Even the great grandkids joined in.

Just before the celebration began, the guests of honor and close family walked into the main hall two-by-two, and after being announced, did a short dance they had contrived together as a greeting. I found this fun and quite charming. I was also glad I didn’t fall over while attempting to project my idea of a pirouette.

 

The day after the wedding we had a relaxing family dinner.

 

Then on Monday, we traveled to Allie and Adam’s house and hung out around the pool, and walked around the leafy NJ suburb. What fun!

In September, Adam and Allie went to Greece on their honeymoon and what a beautiful trip it was!

 

 

After the wedding, I spent two days in Maplewood, NJ, visiting my forever friend, Cheryl Galante, and her husband, Steve Gorelick (see their wedding in New Orleans HERE). She has a glorious garden. Here I am taking advantage of the peace and quiet. The next day my friend, James Wilson, with whom I’ve traveled in Asia, came in from New York City, as did Barry Hamilton, a friend since his high school days in Summit, who now runs a children’s theater in NYC. How great was that? Shame on me for getting no pictures. We were too busy talking and testing out some very good Maplewood restaurants.

Next came my first train ride in a century, or so it seemed, as I headed for New Haven on Amtrak, to spend a week with Judy Wyman Kelly, another forever friend dating back to her climbing days in the White Mountains as one if my honorary children. She drove me, first, to my sister, Anne Magill, in Peterborough, N.H., and her daughter, Margaret Magill.

In early evening we headed for the Berkshires to visit Carol Goodman, an old friend from Morristown, NJ, who is a well-known writer under the name of J. Carol Goodman and a painter par excellence specializing in oils and pastels. She now lives in Williamstown, MA. a place that brings back happy memories of childhood visits with my father, to see his alma mater, Williams College.

We decided to find a place to stay between our two stops, and what an adventure that was! Luckily, we stumbled upon West Marlboro, MA, the site of classical music’s most coveted retreat, and stayed at an authentic old-time inn at the edge of the festival. It has been years since I delighted in the steep stairs, communal breakfasts, and old-fashioned allure of one of these unique establishments.

 

After breakfast we wandered a bit to look at the adjacent lake and experience the hospitality of the New England woods. Unlike many summers I’ve spent in this area, the weather was delightfully sunny and cool.

We relaxed in West Hartford with the Wyman-Kelly family on Monday and drove to Joan McDonald’s home in Southbury, CT, the next day. Joan, my niece, and one of my sister, Cary’s, four daughters, took me to Valhalla, NY, for a visit with Cary. It was wonderful all around. I got to see my sister and her husband, Don, and catch up with Joanie as well.

On the wall of her home was a copy of the August 10, 1940, cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Cary had been the model for Douglass Crockwell, one of the famous artists who was known for his covers. It looked. Just like her!

I enjoyed relaxing in Joanie’s lovely garden before dinner. Like all gardens, it is a work in progress.

 

I also thoroughly enjoyed talking with Joanie’s partner, Roy, who drove me back to Hartford that evening. Again, I was remiss in not taking photos of my hosts.

Two days after our return to Whidbey Island, we hosted Scott Bennett, my Godson, and his lovely daughter, Sarah, for several days of exploring Seattle and Whidbey Island. It was the perfect ending of their western trip up the coast of Oregon and Washington. They loved the gorgeous vistas of the Cascade and Olympic mountains and, of course, grooved on Ebey’s Landing, our go-to hike for all first-time visitors to the island.

 

 

Scott is a well-known artist and can be viewed on scottbennettart.com.

We’ve come full circle and have already lived through glorious spring blooming with more of Tom’s spectacular succulents, orchids, and unusual plants and shrubs. I’ve stopped trying to remember what they are. I just enjoy them. So will you!

Tom and I also managed some interesting walks through the Whidbey woods and the cemetery across the road, and enjoyed the changing colors and trails covered with pine needles. You know I can’t resist a few forest shots in every blog!

 

I was amazed at the number of white pine trees we encountered. These are not native to the Northwest and have been dropping their needles in large quantities during this dry spell. When I approached my first pine, unexpectedly, I experienced the same feeling that I had in Marlboro, MA…a kind of peaceful, cozy intimacy, so different from the sturdy firs and cedars I’ve become so used to in recent years.

As I finish writing this, we have just experienced the first onslaught of rain and cold weather that marks the beginning of fall in the Northwest. We had a blissful September, but our thoughts were also with those hit by disastrous storms and fires, much of it due to unsettling climate change.

In conclusion, it’s hard to believe that I could forget my birthday…whether consciously or unconsciously. I’m beginning to believe some of my friends who swear that Covid causes memory loss, whether you get sick or not. But I remembered just in the nick of time! Here are a few pictures of the celebration.

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I’m looking forward to a post-COVID large gathering for my 95th birthday! Save the date — June 3, 2023!

© 2022 Meg Noble Peterson