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

Category: Whidbey Island Page 1 of 3

WHAT I DIDN’T DO THIS YEAR AND WHAT I PROBABLY WON’T DO NEXT YEAR

Here is my guide to helpful, productive, and realistic New Year’s Resolutions from someone who has a list second to none and has learned more from her recently incorporated organization, Procrastinate Now, than all the uplifting motivational TED Talks of 2020.

I have kept notes from 1945 to the present and often browse, nostalgically, through my admonitions to be more respectful to my parents and stop teasing my baby sister, who is now 89 years old. I also have jettisoned the ones that encourage me to practice my violin four hours a day in the hopes of replacing Heifetz in the event that he dies. That goes hand-in-hand with my vow to save the world by lining up with Clifton Fadiman’s World Federalism Now, and getting a doctorate in political theory from Harvard.

But that was long ago and none of my setbacks (getting married, having children, knocking myself out to earn a living in music education) have deterred me from resolving that next year will be better. And, truth be told, there have been many wonderful “next years” filled with travel, love, journaling, writing a travel memoir but not the great American novel, and trekking in the Himalayas. Still, there is this feeling that no matter the nobility of my resolutions, I experience a lack of accomplishment, spending too much time on frivolous, unproductive, superficial, everyday activities (cooking, cleaning, organizing the front porch, retrieving lost emails, and fighting with Microsoft Word) that will never change the world in any profound way or get Trump to give me the Medal of Honor, one of my biggest disappointments, and, now and forever, a lost opportunity. I will have to be satisfied with the Autoharp Hall of Fame.

But the past is the past and ever shall be, world without end, Amen (you never get over being a preacher’s kid).

Obviously, I’ve managed to survive the pandemic so far, for which I’m grateful, and also survive the many phone calls from long lost friends who, when they hear my voice say, “Oh, is that you? Uh, how are you? Is everything alright?” Translation: “Are you still alive?”

I started out the year with a bang, removing from my large storage locker my plethora of boxes, old furniture, miscellaneous detritus and old college papers attesting to the fact that I once studied Russian and Constitutional Law, using my youthful brain.

All of this was moved to daughter Cary’s extra cabin, not far from my house, which had heretofore been used as a Buddhist meditation room and library. This was her gracious contribution to her mother’s sanity, and, very definitely, to hers.

Here are my resolutions and what I hope will be helpful suggestions for living in this most unusual time in our history.

Goals I set for 2020 that were not entirely attained:

Resolution 1: Clean up that mess! Sort the old letters, put the pictures in albums, make a Shutterfly album for each child, decide what to do with the art work of five elementary school children, the youngest of whom is now 60, and cull those ancient papers.

  • Did I do it? I leave that up to you….

 
Resolution 2: Walk up and down hill and dale and into the woods for at least 5 miles a day. Use your iPhone to check number of steps and heartbeat. If heartbeat gets too high, come back later in the day—if it doesn’t rain, which it probably will.

  • I cannot tell a lie. I was lucky to get two miles in, because I was still recovering from the unintended broken back in 2019 that inspired Resolution 3.

 
Resolution 3: Try to stay upright when running, to avoid crashing into the fender of a parked car, and breaking your hand and your 5th lumbar vertebra, which you did last year. Lower the possibility of further dramatic episodes that ruin your life and impact negatively on your children.

  • I was doing fine until July 21st when I fell backwards into the garden shed and fractured my left arm at the shoulder. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do for an encore.

 
Resolution 4: Finish the family memoir which you started when you were 80 or so and forgot about when you moved from the lights of Broadway to the fog of Whidbey. Pray once a week for the muse to return.

  • I did make headway. This should be off the list by 2022.

 
Resolution 5: Take all your Master Classes, which were the generous gift of your second daughter, Martha, even the ones about Jamaican cooking, hoping to expand your world and become the Renaissance Woman you have always wanted to be.

  • I’m still not a Renaissance Woman, but that doesn’t deter me. I’m making strides.

 
Now to start over on a more optimistic note with the thought of an exciting New Year and a new America on the horizon, and a new president in the White House, but, unfortunately, a very old and unwelcome virus terrifying the world. I, like so many of you, have been doing a lot of soul-searching, which, if not regulated, can turn into wheel-spinning, with its layers of fear and anxiety. As I see it, this is the challenge: to keep our eyes on what’s really important at this very moment, do our part to make things better no matter how small the deed may seem, and trust that in the long run we, as a nation, will have learned some difficult, but essential lessons.

Goals I set for 2021….Hope springs eternal:

Resolution 1: Study more about poetry, and experiment with various forms, expanding your expertise in doggerel to rap, stream-of-consciousness, and something that will be bad enough to be accepted by The New Yorker.

Resolution 2: Spoiler alert! Publish your family memoir, now in its third iteration, on your website, and hope that your friends on Facebook will give it the accolades that will put it on the NYTimes Best Seller list, even though you are not selling it, but giving it away.

Resolution 3: Return to Nepal with your daughter, Cary, and hope that she is still game for trekking and singing you up the trail with her Buddhist mantras. God bless Tara! And Cary.

Resolution 4: Do not look for another dramatic “break.” One more shattered humerus is unacceptable. Try going in a more productive and enlightened direction. Slowly and carefully and mindfully!

Resolution 5: Make this the year that you jettison some of your major faults, but not all of them, because your children have to have something to talk about. The one that strikes me as an ongoing cross to bear is vanity. And the longer I live on Whidbey Island the more I realize that I stand out as the only prehistoric Valentine without white hair. It’s almost embarrassing, especially since both my daughters are silver-haired. So, to get with the program, I have decided to dispense with the color and see what turns up. Or rather, what shows up. To help me transition, I went online and ordered the cheapest white wig I could find and decided that I would try it for awhile to see if I could adjust. I imagine I will look a little like Dolly Parton with wrinkles, which wouldn’t be half bad. Yes, it’s that kind of wig. Keep tuned and send me your words of encouragement. I’m sure there are more difficult decisions I will be called upon to make before the Grim Reaper comes for me, but giving up a favorite cornerstone of one’s vanity is not to be underestimated.

Resolution 6: Accept the fact that you’re not perfect and neither are your children. Become more non-judgmental and give criticism a rest. And it would help to add a little equanimity into the mix.

I’m looking forward to next December. Not only will I have some answers to my hopeful resolutions, but I may be in the kind of shape where I can add a few push-ups and sit-ups to my list of healthy habits that I believe are so necessary for coping with this crazy, frantic, exciting, and interesting world.

I wish you success with your resolutions and a marvelous 2021 in every way!

$100 FOR A CHRISTMAS TREE? YOU’RE OUT OF YOUR MIND!

“$100 for a Christmas tree? You’re out of your mind!” These were the gentle words I used when my daughter, Martha, told me what she paid for a tree in Manitou Springs, Colorado. And she was so excited about her “bargain.”

“When did you last buy a tree, Mother?” Hmmm.

“Well…not since before I moved here. Say, seven, maybe ten years ago. I’ve been using the small artificial one we bought for Chris when he was in the hospital in 2001.” Oops, I could see where this was going. Not hard to realize that I was way behind the times.

The next day my son, Tom, Nature Boy, presented me with a humongous poinsettia that dwarfed the dining room table, along with a huge fir tree for the bargain price of only $52.00, tax included. “Don’t worry, Mom. You only have to pay half.” He’s always been a stickler for fairness.

Where have I been? What planet am I living on? When will this insane inflation stop? Cool it, Meg, it ain’t gonna.

Tom bought a stand at the thrift store for $3.00 and secured the tree, which reached to the ceiling. It was gorgeous…dense, dark green, fragrant. I sat down in the living room to read my New Yorker, but after a few pages I stopped. The tree held me. It took over. There seemed to be nothing else in the room. And it was completely bare, as if it were still in the woods. Just the tree.

I had retrieved my decorations from storage, but they sat on the deep window sills, unopened. There was no hurry. No children coming, no stockings, no family gathering, no presents under the tree, and not even a white sheet for snow. But I was too taken by the serenity and aloneness of this natural wonder to care.

The next day Tom bought two strings of lights and wrapped them around the lower part of the tree. We needed more, but this would do for today. The lights shone through the needles while outside the fog of Whidbey Island rolled in, and I sat and meditated, letting my whole body relax into the silence.

It is now my fourth day with what has become the unspoken symbol of Christmas, solstice, new beginnings, change, hope. I can see growth and promise emerging from what has, over the past year, been a dreadful disconnection for most of us and a painful loss for many more. This singular meditation for these few days has opened me up and calmed me down.

And filled me with gratitude and love, which I share with you, my dear friends.

May each of you find your own special tree to carry you into the New Year.

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL WAS NOT AN ONCOMING TRAIN!

After four years of chaos, conflict, and confusion, (and I would add contumely for all you lovers of Shakespeare…it’s a perfect fit), it’s wonderful to face what we all hope is a calmer future, despite the spectre of rising cases of Covid-19. We have a chance to repair a shattered government, work together to mend a divided populace, and once more take our place in the family of nations to promote desperately needed climate control and the peaceful solution of major conflicts. Yes, this is a tall order. But we’ve hit bottom, and now it’s time to come together and rebuild.

During these past months I’ve had the same ups and downs experienced by most of you—the lack of socializing, the shutdown of the Arts, the curtailing of many activities, the dependence on Zoom, the deep concern for those who are suffering, and the intermittent feeling of isolation and ennui. It’s during these times that our imagination can be our strongest ally. And it’s a challenge to keep it on the light side, exercising our sense of humor rather than giving in to scenarios of darkness and despair.

With that in mind I have been experimenting with verse and fantasy. I usually write a type of humorous Ogden Nashian verse, but have recently branched out into Rap…a result of enjoying a magnificent performance of the musical, Hamilton, on Disney Plus (well worth joining for a month!)…and blank verse, which is my attempt to turn stream of consciousness into poetry. I have to admit it’s fun, and I urge all of you to try it.

One of my favorite indoor locations for work and contemplation looks out at a deep forest of cedar and pine. Cedar is a tree with very expressive leaves and branches, feathery and light, easily captured by the slightest wind. To my eyes they can quickly morph into any number of animals or people: a nodding sea captain clutching a pipe in his teeth, a dolphin jumping out of the water, two whales facing off with open mouths, a yapping dog with wagging tale and floppy ears. It’s all there in your imagination, ready to be your friend and provide a story. Sounds a bit willy-nilly? So what! Welcome to life in 2020.

Now you’ve gone over the edge, Meg, you say. Ah, but what fun! Here is my latest buddy, who has been with me most of the summer, and is getting ready to hibernate for the winter. Squint your eyes and see what I see…a protective bear watching over me and telling me to get on with my life.

And here is what he means to me….

My protective bear stands between two fir trees,
One robust, the other rail thin
He leans to the right, gently brushing the bark’s deep ridges with one giant paw
While the left arm hangs lightly so as not to disturb the woody stem of the tender one.
Fifteen, twenty feet he looms, sometimes swaying, his cloak of leaves shimmering,
Opening up a small patch of bare chest

Eyes that never stop watching, sometimes laughing at my intensity
Sometimes disapproving and moving his head slightly to the left
Putting an end to further communication
But he is there for me, assuaging loneliness, encouraging tranquility,
Allowing me to believe

A sturdy truncated cedar bole some say, with tangled branches forming
Animal features. No nerves, no arteries, no voice, only the anatomical structure
Of a dying tree.
But they do not see what I see.
It is a fool who sees only what is directly in front of him
He is not fanciful, he does not squint his eyes, he does not imagine,
He does not let in the unknown

My bear is always changing, sometimes deep green with highlights, sometimes pale and forlorn,
Flattened by the wind,
Sometimes pushed back into the forest by unforeseen forces
In an attempt to loosen his grip. But that unshakeable glance gives me courage
He stands composed, peaceful, almost placid.
His message is clear…I am always here, whether you see me or not.
But I will check him in the morning, fearful that he has gone away, left me
For his winter home, discarded his fading green mantle, revealed his cedar trunk
To those who don’t believe in his existence

One night an imperceptible lowering of the eyes occurs as light fades.
They no longer seem bright and piercing.
I feel relaxed. Breathing is easier. No pressure from my vigilant
Companion. I will miss the twinkle, the secrets that connect us,
The promise of fresh ideas,
The endless possibility…
The narrow head remains immobile
I stand up to watch it recede into the darkness

Until I am ready to resume travel, I do my exploring in the woods around Upper Langley and the myriad trails on Whidbey Island. I’m outside, the air is fresh, and I hardly ever meet anyone, so a mask is not necessary. Since rain is too often my companion, I have found myself taking a closer look at the intricate underbrush, the ubiquitous mushrooms, the tangled vines, the ancient trees. And, of course, in this kind of unpredictable weather, there are always beautiful skies and inspiring sunsets. Maxwelton Beach is my favorite evening spot. Here are a few pictures of my wanderings.

Forest walks…

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Maxwelton Beach…

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Ebey’s Landing…

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Sky…

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One very positive side of these past nine months has been some of the excellent poetry readings and inspirational programs in Langley that are available on Zoom. They help me move out of the “poor me” rut into all the creative possibilities at hand. PBS, YouTube, Prime, and Netflix have probably never been so busy. There have also been numerous plays from TDF and other NYC venues and many operas available from the Met repertory. A play that I especially liked, On Becoming Shakespeare, starring the terrific English actor, Simon Callow, comes all the way from London and is free. What could be better?

I leave you some photos of the morning view from my upstairs window. I keep them handy to cheer me up when the rains come.

 

 

CRASH AND BURN IN THE TIME OF COVID….

You wonder, perhaps, if you will ever read the ending to Cary and my Khopra Ridge adventure in Nepal two years ago. I wonder, too. Life has been topsy-turvy for all of us since February, with appalling results, chaotic news coverage, mixed messages, and a country in shock. Books have been written and conventions have been held about the psychological damage to every segment of the population. We’ve heard it all. We need change and we know it. Drastic change.

Against this bizarre background we have all tried to see an upside to our collective suffering and hope that good will come out of it. With all of this in mind I headed for our Upper Langley community garden a month ago to pick some arugula for salad. Things were looking up, people were wearing masks and distancing, and maybe, just maybe, we would ramp up tests and start a program of contact tracing throughout the country. I picked up a knife in readiness to cut the arugula, and, suddenly, I stepped in a rabbit hole on the hill leading up from the garden shed. I shot backward with the ferocity I had shot forward last summer when I sustained a broken hand and compression fractures in the thoracic area of my back. This time I landed on the shed floor and broke my humerus where it connected to the shoulder. Don’t do it. Ever. It is the worst pain in the world, and there is nothing that can be done except let the arm hang, inert, in a sling, and heal. For an active person this is a huge slice of HELL. Add to this the necessity to sit in a cramped reclining chair to sleep…crunched up like a bag of sausages.

The hospital stay was a nightmare, especially since I was in a bed next to a woman with pneumonia…the kind where you cough all night, making sleep impossible. A well-meaning young doctor informed me right off the bat that I would be deformed, whereupon I asked if that meant that I could play The Elephant Man on Broadway. His sense of humor was right up there with his bedside manner.

My two children who live on Whidbey Island, Cary and Tom, fearing for my sanity, got me home after four days, and with patience and a great deal of love and encouragement, brought me to the present, where I can now sleep in a bed and where optimism is once more possible thanks to determination and physical therapy. Whidbey Health’s home services deserve endless kudos. So I am grateful and I plan to live another day. And I promise you, next summer there will no encore. Enough is enough…for sure!

Next time: Our final day in Kathmandu. Obviously, the trip in November has been canceled, and who knows how long our whole country will be on lockdown. But I have been through the worst. I am ready for anything!

In an impulsive moment I composed a simple poem describing my thoughts after my fall. A sense of humor is absolutely essential, combined with the realism that such events are no longer viable.

FALLING. AGAIN

The garden spreads in front of me. I reach for the knife, the pesky arugula in view;
The rabbit hole grabs my foot and I am flying,
Flying, flying backward, the clouds a blur, the shed all weathered as I pass by,
The floor receiving me like a giant rock to be repelled;
In one instant my life has changed, enveloped in pain
Indescribable

The ambulance screams

I talk to my body, this body that has no problems:
My heart beats, my lungs draw air, my legs go to high altitude, no pills line my shelves.
The stomach, the liver, the bowels, the kidneys…they are agreeable,
Then is it my feet that are the problem? Or their connection to the ragged sidewalks, the woodland holes, the forest’s rugged tentacles.
How to lift the brain fog that leads to these disasters,
Such adventures. You say, find another way to be different.
Eschew the hematomas, they are out of style, the broken ribs, the compression fractures,
The arms cracked at the shoulder. They get you nowhere. They cause one thing, family distress at the gloomy prospect of old age.
It is a costly way to learn compassion, patience, and gratitude for lesser injuries than those that could lead to oblivion
Or the desire for oblivion.

Do not crunch over, do not shuffle, do not be dispirited or depressed or angry at a careless self.
Start again, do the heavy lifting of repair, believing a fuller, more aware life is waiting to be plucked. To be enjoyed.
To be shared.

CHANGE IS ON THE HORIZON…

For the last several blogs I have been writing about my trip to Nepal back in 2018 and the trek to Khopra Ridge in the Himalayas, ending with my final days in Boudha, a part of Kathmandu. Little did I know how fortuitous those words would be. Who could have written a fantasy novel with a plot describing our present scenario and think anyone would take it seriously? And who could imagine that there would come a day when I’d long for the crowded streets of Boudha, the insane motorcyclists, the noisy bustle encircling the Boudhanath Stupa, the close brushes with eternity around every corner, and the universal, spontaneous closeness with my fellow human beings? All things we take for granted, good and bad. And now drastically changed.

What will I do without hugs, without comforting pats on the back, without theater, without opera, without ensemble music, without a gathering of close friends around a table for a meal, a cup of coffee, a glass of wine? Get used to it, Meg. Treasure those fond memories, but keep yourself open for new, different ones….

Yes, ingenuity seems to be the go-to word today. Imaginations are working overtime in every phase of life, and, in many instances, humor is on the rise. What else can we do? And in the end, I am optimistic that needed changes in our world, top to bottom, are on the horizon.

I wrote these words before the events of the past week and the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman. I see this as a seminal event that I hope has awakened all of America, and especially its representatives in Washington, to the need for drastic changes in its treatment of people of color, in its unfair economic establishment, in its inadequate system of medical care, and in its increasing dependence on force to solve its problems. America is for all people. It needs to unite, eschew its recent tribal and political divisions and treat each other with kindness and respect, love and understanding. This takes more than hope. This requires action. This is essential if we are to survive as a viable nation.

Stay healthy.

RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY….

I am writing on our first blindingly sunny day in more weeks than I care to count. Cold, to be sure, but sunny! And to us Langley-ites, that’s what counts.

 Looking deep into the woods surrounding my new house, seeing the sun and shadows dance off the cedars and play on the huge blanket of ferns, green, luxuriant…and highlight the stately firs, reaching high above the rest of the forest…I am filled with pure joy and peace. These are rare winter moments in the Northwest, but, perhaps, all the more meaningful because they are so infrequent.

Today I am thankful, and vow to put my complaints to bed, knowing that out of the fog comes a new day. All it takes is patience….

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Here is a quick recap of my recent travels within the U.S. I’ve given Asia a year-long pass, but will be back! Speaking of sun, I must say that I couldn’t even find sunglasses strong enough to deal with the brightness of Denver, Palm Springs, and New Orleans.

First, I spent a joyous week in Denver at Christmas with my daughter, Martha, and granddaughter and family. Grandson, Thomas Bixler, was also present. And, happily, I had a chance to catch up with Lucille Reilly, an autoharp buddy who is deep into the history and playing techniques of the instrument, which will be included in her upcoming book. I also was fortunate to spend time with my nephew, David Magill. I didn’t take many photos, but did enjoy the snow that is a constant in that lovely town nestled at the foothills of the great Rocky Mountains, and thoroughly enjoyed interacting with my two great grandsons.

 

From Denver I headed to Palm Springs where son, Robert, and his wife, Gwen, live in a lovely area rife with low-hanging fruit trees (that’s because there’s so much heavy fruit pulling them down!), palm trees, and lush landscape. And to add to the beauty, the impressive San Jacinto Mountains are close at hand.

If you want fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juice, Palm Springs is your place. I never thought I could O.D. on citrus!

Robert has the insane job of being a golf driving range target designer whose website is nightgolftargets.com. You will definitely find it interesting. There’s no limit to the size or design of these new additions to the age-old game of golf!

As you can see, the landscape is dotted with a myriad of windmills, a great source of clean energy. Here is a peek.

We spent some lovely hours hiking in the nearby mountains and parks.

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My most recent trip occurred at the end of January and took me to beautiful New Orleans for the wedding of Cheryl Galante and Steve Gorelick.

What a celebration that was and what a massive combined family they now have! Before the festivities began, I had a few days to check out the city I had visited back in the ‘70’s, and little seems to have changed on Bourbon St. or the French Quarter, except, perhaps, it’s even busier. The jazz is still superb, the architecture quaint, and the crowds delighted as they go down the street sipping margaritas from large containers. Small groups of musicians gather in little open-air cafes and some individuals, like one Scottish bagpipe player, hold forth on the sidewalk. The place is awash with music, with Preservation Hall at the top of the list. How I remember hearing many of the greats jam in that hallowed hall those many years ago with a group of fellow musicians. Of course, improv was the style of the day and always will be. “Grab your coat, and don’t forget your hat, and leave your worries, leave them on the doorstep….yeah, right, just direct your feet to the Sunny Side of the Street!”

Here are two of the many statues of great jazz musicians.

And the new World War II memorial is also a special place for visitors to downtown New Orleans.

The memorial to Anne Frank was very moving to me.

My Airbnb at 1450 Josephine Street

I really grooved on walking the narrow streets with their multi-cultural architecture—everything from Creole cottages to mansions on St. Charles Ave. I stayed at one of those mansions (way in the back, I might add) on Josephine St. in the Garden area, not far from the trolley that runs on St. Charles to the middle of town. A great location and close to some of the most famous restaurants and cafes.

New Orleans is a place you will never tire of visiting in any season. Sprawling, easy to navigate, but, best of all, packed with the most welcoming and friendly people on the face of the earth! Don’t miss it…or them.

Next blog: the completion of our Nepal trip. I know you won’t believe me, but please give me another chance. Have faith….

CARDINAL RULE #1: NEVER LET YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE EXPIRE!

If you’ve wondered whether I dropped off the face of the earth for three months, you would be right on. It all started when I hopped on a plane for Newark Airport on June 24, excited about the upcoming ten days of intense activity I had planned in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, starting with a visit to my youngest grandson, Adam, and his fiancé, Allie, and followed by a whirlwind trip to the Mt. Laurel Autoharp Gathering, a fancy wedding in the Catskills, and ending in New England for a visit with the Wyman Kelly family. Except that I stepped into the car rental agency in Hoboken on June 25 only to be told that my Washington State license had expired. How is a Jersey girl supposed to know that nobody gets reminders in the great Northwest?

Friends are wonderful and the relay began. Phyllis Bitow drove me to NY City and James Wilson took me in for a night in the Village before putting me on a train for Harrisburg, PA. I got to see that historic town, which was like stepping onto a set from the American Revolution. Then I was picked up by Carole and Fisk Outwater, who hosted me in their RV for three days of the Mt. Laurel Autoharp Gathering , where I met old autoharp buddies, thrived on good music, and got very little sleep. On Saturday I was returned to Harrisburg and picked up by Phyllis, who took me to Bethlehem, PA, where we enjoyed a new production of Cirque du Soleil with friends. Ay, there’s the rub. In my somnambulistic condition late at night, I was running in a parking garage and tripped, flying headfirst into the fender of a parked car. I was flipped over onto the pavement, smashing my back and right hand. Never thinking to go to an emergency room at such an hour, I soldiered forth to the glorious wedding of Jen Vitello and Bob D’Agostino, where I celebrated their nuptials with close friends and relatives and two margaritas, which numbed my pain enough to make dancing exciting…until the next day.

Fast forward. Judy Wyman picked me up from the wedding and took me to West Hartford, Connecticut, where I was X-rayed for everything but my back. Go figure. Seeing the Wyman Kelly family was comforting and they graciously made it possible for me to visit my sister, Anne Magill, and her husband, Frank, in Peterborough, NH.

Upon my return, various medical tests ensued, including an MRI of the thoracic region of my back. Result: two compression fractures and three broken ribs. And, of course, the broken hand, which had already been diagnosed. Enough said. It was a disappointing summer. No swimming. No hiking. Drastically curtailed activity. And I, an avid critic of any kind of medication (I don’t do well with stimulants of any kind…one glass of wine and I’m dancing on the table, and one oxycodone…well, Katie, bar the door!) was given a regimen of Tylenol, ibuprofen, and oxycodone (at bedtime..for sweet dreams?).

I was supposed to time my pain meds to overlap during the day. That lasted less than a week, until I decided to tough it out and see how much pain I could endure before signing up for assisted suicide (one of the perks of living in Washington State). Is it better to suffer and be sure not to overdo, or mask the pain and overdo? Heady decisions, to be sure, especially when friends and relatives are ever ready with advice that scares the hell out of me.

In the back of my muddled mind was the thought that if I hadn’t gone East and if I hadn’t let my license expire, I would be scaling the Himalayas and swimming across Lake Winnipesaukee in a heartbeat. But now I was sure that my life as I knew it was over and I was not only a nobody, but a has-been in the bargain. Ever been there? Of course you have. And it never occurred to me that I could have been sailing down the Pennsylvania turnpike in my rental car and been broadsided in the middle of the night by an 18-wheeler. So you see, there is really no answer to why these crazy things happen to us, but, in my case, I am grateful that I didn’t break my neck or paralyze myself, or experience any number of much worse scenarios.

Adding to my feeling of panic and helplessness immediately after returning to Whidbey Island on July 6th, I was faced with moving to the Upper Langley affordable co-housing community by September 1st. The plans had been made before I left for the East Coast. Again, thank heaven for friends, who helped with packing, unpacking, and completing the move. And kudos to son Tom, who built a lovely two-story home—his first experience as a builder, and what a success it was—on the edge of a fir and cedar forest in this welcoming community, where I will live out my days as a modern woodswoman. Daughter Cary is just down the path, so I have absolutely no chance to misbehave.

There will be photos in the future as I settle in. Tom, whose first love is horticulture, has provided a glorious environment of plants, trees, and flowers surrounding the house. His expertise never ceases to amaze me. And I have only a short walk to town, past my old apartment and right into the middle of picturesque Langley. Things are looking up! And I promise you that I will be back in the saddle before long, and grateful for a relatively rapid recovery.

View of the Cascades from Langley

Sunset at Maxwelton Beach

I INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM FOR A BRIEF ANNOUNCEMENT…

…in the midst of my extensive report from Nepal and South Korea, so I can share with you my recent trip to New York City and New Jersey. For those of you who may think there is no connection, or that trekking in the Himalayas cannot be compared to life in midtown Manhattan, you have obviously never been to Times Square at rush hour!

Negotiating the ticketing process from Christopher Street in the Village (my subway stop) through the noisy labyrinth of the underground that belches forth its over-abundance of humanity into the many-faceted subterranean canyon with its myriad stairs leading to Midtown, is every bit as strenuous as negotiating a rocky terrain at 12,000 ft. Trust me! The noise is at peak decibel, the possible pathways to subways are legion, every musical instrument known to mankind is playing, alone or in ensemble, and bodies are propelling themselves at record speeds, defying normal gravity. I pasted myself against a wall to watch the scene unfold. Could I have forgotten such insanity? Are there more people or am I just getting old (heaven forbid!). Dare I try for a video or will my arm be swept off? Lest you think I am exaggerating, try it, yourself. There ain’t nothing like it on the face of the earth…not even in India. There are places I’ve been where more people fill the streets, or crazies wander haphazardly looking for shelter, or there is more variety in architecture, or more color, or a gorgeous view. But in this one microcosm, you have it all at the same time. There is an excess of everything. I love it…the intensity and the energy…and I can find it terrifying.

But I digress. My two weeks in New York and New Jersey were full of joyous moments with old friends, a perusal of inimitable restaurants (yes, affordable), and an update on some of the gems that Broadway has to offer. This is no surprise to anyone who has followed my theater addiction over the years. There were times (when I lived in NJ) that I was able to taste dozens of shows a year, whether opera, symphony, musical theater, or plays, and all for reasonable prices (I belonged to a lot of cheap ticket venues, so $3.50 was a standard cost for shows in preview). Ah, but those days are gone forever! Today, even TDF barely dips below $32 for Off Broadway productions. That said, I leapt right in with a performance of a new play, Gary, the sequel to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, starring Nathan Lane. This was in celebration of my friend, James Wilson’s, birthday. Here he is in front of his colorful Village apartment on 10th Street, where he generously invited me to stay for a week.

 

James’s apartment was not far from the historic Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, site of the 1969 riots that launched the gay rights movement.

 

 

During the week, when not at the theater, I roamed the streets of the Village, eating at various restaurants and meeting a plethora of people from all corners of the world. I returned to a favorite noodle restaurant several times and became acquainted with a charming Hungarian waiter, a Mexican busboy, and an Indian bartender, all recent immigrants. Hey, who needs to travel abroad when they have New York City?

 

The noodle shop is located near the clock tower and library, a rather peaceful area of small shops and eateries.

Here are several views of the neighborhood, including my favorite Deli.

Click on photos to see slideshow.

On Sunday afternoon, my old friend, Barry Hamilton, the General Manager of the New York City Children’s Theater, treated me to their new production, This is Sadie. I’ve never seen more energetic dancing! It was a charming show. I wish I had had such theater available at my fingertips when my children were growing up.

I think the most outstanding play of the year for me was The Ferryman, Jez Butterworth’s intricate drama of a family in Ireland during the IRA conflict. Brian D’Arcy James led an amazing cast of twenty-two superb actors, keeping me on tenterhooks for three fast-paced hours.

After a visit with my younger sister, Cary, in Harrison, NY, I began a week of intense theater of all kinds starting with the insightful one-woman show by Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me, then adding two musicals, Merrily We Roll Along, vintage Sondheim, which I enjoyed with Paul Sharar, my long-time theater buddy, and The Prom, an hilarous new musical shared with Barry Hamilton, and Cheryl Galante, whose house I will enjoy for the next week when in Maplewood.

Cheryl, Barry, MP

A visit would not be complete without a rendezvous with Phyllis Bitow and Terri Pedone for dinner and a show at the Irish Repertory Theater. This year it was Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock. At this point my understanding of Irish dialect is nearing perfection! Our usual pick is the Metropolitan Opera, but no tickets were available at the last minute.

Together with Terri and Phyllis

 

In between shows I was able to renew ties with old friends Gary Shippy, Grace Polk, Luba Schnable & Skip Ungar, and Madison Scott, whom I had met last summer when she was acting in the Whidbey Island Shakespeare Festival. What fun to meet at a coffee shop in the Village.

 

The night before I left to visit my grandson, Adam Bixler, and his girlfriend, Allie Francis, in North Bergen, NJ, a close friend of James’s, Jim Guedry, treated me to a farewell party at his inviting home on Charles Street in the area of the Village known for its picturesque brownstone buildings. It was like walking into an art museum, only with more mirrors and better food! ’Twas a lovely evening of good conversation and fellowship with a stimulating group of friends.

I spent the weekend with Adam and Allie in their new apartment across the river from NYC.

The climax came on Sunday evening when we went to the ever-popular musical, Jersey Boys, in Manhattan. Ben Vitello, another close friend, shared the evening with us and returned me to Maplewood, where I stayed until take-off on Wednesday morning.

Ben, Allie & Adam after the show

Spring was just getting started in the old home town. The magnolias were magnificent at Martha’s former homestead but the buds were just peeking through the branches at Cheryl and Steve’s house.

Cheryl’s home was, as always, warm and inviting. And, despite all the companies and projects she manages, she always takes time to serve me a splendid breakfast!

You may remember that for the last two years my sojourn “back home” was met with a violent snowstorm. So this year I pushed the trip back a week and missed the white stuff, but managed to hit rain and fierce winds in Manhattan…enough to turn two strong umbrellas inside out while walking in Midtown. Them’s fierce winds, my friend. Make no mistake about it. Maybe next year I’ll go in May. But with climate change you never know.

I spent my last afternoon enjoying a festive reunion with two of my symphony buddies, Mike Schneider, his wife, Tami, and Andy Nagy. For years Mike, Andy, and I held up the second violin section of the Plainfield Symphony. Hah hah. Now they are on their own! We met at an Israeli pizzeria, Pita on Essex, in Millburn. Go figure…But it was terrific!

 

I was overjoyed when another friend, Jackie Herships, whom I met when she was running the organization, Professionals in Media, offered to take me to the airport. She, like Cheryl, go above and beyond the call of duty!

 

Returning to Whidbey Island was like entering Nepal in November, although spring was still ahead of the East Coast. It’s all that rain we entertain every winter. The forsythia had come and gone, but flowering trees, rhododendron, and daffodils abounded. Thank heaven for the return of the sun! But isn’t it about time to move above 60?

I took long walks by the Sound and meandered on the beach at low tide. It was heavenly….

For a week, daughter, Cary, has entertained a cycling friend of hers from Holland, Ian Borwell, whom she met in 1982 through their common interest in the WindCheetah, a human-powered vehicle made in Norwich, England. Cary was living in Holland at the time. This resulted in her buying a WindCheetah and traversing the United States for 10,000 miles in 1985. Another bicycling friend and artist, Stephen McMillan, joined them before returning home to Bellingham.

But the highlight of my return was a sunset dinner at Maxwelton Beach with my friends Don and Anne Zontine, Jerene, and Zangmo, welcoming me back. Naturally, we came equipped with down jackets and heavy blankets!

 

 

I’M KEEPING HUMMINGBIRDS ALIVE IN THE SNOW!


A little shout of glee from this North Easterner who has missed old man winter for five years. I don’t know whether it’s climate change or the desire to get in step with the crazy weather visiting the Midwest this month, but for the past week Langley has been all but paralyzed by several snowstorms in a row. And it’s still coming down! Schools had two full snow days and two half days last week, and even our trusty movie theater closed its doors.

Like many of my friends, my neighbor was tired of Whidbey’s cold, wet winters and took a few days in Hawaii to recover. Good timing! In her absence I have been putting out her hummingbird feeders during the day and bringing them in at night so the sugar water doesn’t freeze. Can you believe that the hummingbirds are here in this snow? Check out the video that I took of my new little friend.

I am carried back to my childhood in Syracuse, New York, where walking to school on the high drifts that lined the roads went on for weeks. And I loved it! Since snowplows do not abound in our community, I enjoyed the same feeling as I shuffled through six to eight inches of the fluffy stuff with nary a car nor person in sight. And guess what? It looks as if this coming week will be the same.

My dear friend, Anne Ferry-Brennan, and her friend take a daily swim in Puget Sound. Nothing can deter them!

Here are a few more shots of what I call our winter wonderland. Click on photos to enlarge.

My friend Heidi’s home at the Maxwelton Creek Cohousing- can you believe she was born in Switzerland?

 

GUESS WHAT? IT’S BACK TO NEPAL WE GO!

I’m sure this comes as no surprise that Cary and I are resuming our yearly sojourn to Nepal, adding a week in South Korea at the end of December. There we will visit Shawo, a Tibetan student we first met ten years ago at the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) school in Suja, India, and have been in touch with ever since. He is studying at Dongguk University in Gyeongju, and has planned an exciting few days to acquaint us with this country, its culture, and terrain.

Our time in Nepal is more unstructured than usual, by choice. We may visit Lumbini, where the Buddha was born, and we certainly will visit Dhulikhel and our old friend, B.P. Shresta. We have a ten-day trek in the Annapurna region, but it will be much shorter than the full circuit I took in 1999 when I met my friend, Jon Pollack. We decided not to go the usual route by Poon Hill, but head over the Khopra Ridge. Our guide tells us that it’s not so crowded and more laid back. We’ll fly to Pokhara, drive to Kimche and hike to Ghandruk. From there we go by way of Isharu, Bayeli, and Christibung up to the ridge. I have a new Sony camera, so I expect to dazzle you with my creations. That is, once I learn how to use it! Cameras are better and better these days, as well as more and more complicated. But I’m told it’s good for the brain, so I soldier on!

As we reach the end of the growing season and wrap up the farm activities until early spring, I’d like to share with you the end of the year festivities at the fabulous school farm that Cary started here on the island. For me the ending is always a bit poignant, since I will have to forego fresh produce for these upcoming winter months. But, selfishness aside, the season went out with a bang—the school Harvest Feast. Friends and family enjoyed a sumptuous repast of kale salad, mashed potatoes, carrot sticks, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, all made by the students from veggies grown at the farm. You can read the school farm blog HERE, with new end-of-the-year and Harvest Feast posts coming soon.

And now it’s off to Asia, wishing you a wonderful holiday season and glorious New Year.

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© 2021 Meg Noble Peterson