Going home to the Berkshires

May 7th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

It’s time not only to get back to writing this blog, but also to move beyond Route 66 — at least for now. Perhaps I should go home. Yes, I think it’s time. But first a few moments to reflect. What an experience this RV journey has been, not only for myself but for my children. It really does ground you and put you in your place, while at the same time open the door to endless possibilities of magnitude and depth and knowing without seeing. Feel the energy and let go. It’s OK.

A parting view of the Canyon.

Sometimes I get caught up in the moment, in the minutiae of the day-to-day dilemmas and issues, that I lose sight of the grandness of it all. And the insignificance. Now all I need to think about the Southwest, and other places where I’ve traveled that were larger than life, such as the view of the Himalayas overlooking Pokhara from just outside Kathmandu, Nepal, or erupting Mount Merapi in  Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (Merapi became the middle name of our youngest child.)

My next leg of the journey: Back to the Berkshires. Where there’s plenty going on, and a lot to keep me thinking. I have a few new endeavors that I’m about to embark upon. One is as editor of Berkshire Magazine, an exciting new publication that will hit the stands and the mailboxes by June’s end. Another is I’m finally going back to visit Bali, where we lived for several years. And where we haven’t returned since moving to the Berkshires. And, in the fall, I will start holding occasional youth writing workshops in the loft of our barn. (Thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.)

I am invigorated by the challenges and the prospects. Yes, it’s time to go home, to move on to the next chapter.

I can’t wait.

Music for the Road and Grand Canyon for the Soul

December 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The Grand Canyon and Richard.

Selecting music for a road trip is, at first, an exhilarating proposition. What a pleasurable diversion from the uninspiring task of packing for myself and three children. It’s such a process for me: doing all the wash, taking out every potential clothing that each of us might wear, then whittling it down to what we really need. Throw in the toiletries, the reading material, the toys, the coloring books, sketch pads, crayons, pencils, the iPods, the sunscreen, hats, flip-flops, fishing poles, tackle box, some extra rolls of toilet paper, first-aid kit, nail clipper.

Time to add another suitcase. I can’t help but overpack. My husband has it down to a science. Granted, he usually only packs for himself. Not himself and three children. And he oftentimes does it an hour or two before departure, even if it’s for a monthlong assignment to several countries. His priority is to make sure he has enough underwear and socks to change daily. Everything else can be worn several times before needing fumigation.

Back to something a bit more enlightening than dirty underwear and smelly socks. I turn to music. My perspective of this task quickly shifts, though. The reality, the pressure, seep in. It was almost a bigger job than packing for four people in two suitcases. Make that three suitcases. Selecting music was an awesome responsibility, a decision that could greatly affect the mood of our monumental road trip. A choice that could leave the driver — me or my husband — frustrated or, worse yet, challenged to stay awake during those long hauls. Not to mention that there’s nothing more irritating than having to flick through radio channels every 15 minutes as you go in and out of range while driving hundred-mile stretches.

I look at the time. 2:30 a.m. Our flight to Arizona leaves in 12 hours, and somewhere between now and then, I need to get some sleep. Time to take a deep breath and just pick out the music. I hadn’t gone through our CD collection in ages, and here I was fingering along hundreds of discs, waiting for some sign from God to lead me to the chosen 20. Which is how many would fit in the portable case.  I was led, I can’t definitively say by the hand of God, to Don Henley, the Cranberries, Natalie Merchant, Rolling Stones, some Dave Matthews, some Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ravi Shankar’s Morning Raga, to name a handful of my final selection. What turned out to be the best road trip series by far was the three-CD collection of The Beatles Anthology. Wow. My two boys were drawn into it, especially the obscure recordings. Mind you, they’re only 11 and 8. Age doesn’t matter, though. I even found my 3 year old dancing around the RV to tunes like the Taxman. It was such raw, inspiring ageless music to roll along the highway miles as we sought new countryside.

I’m sure many of you have a Beatles CD or two somewhere in the house, or downloaded in your iTunes collection. Take it out now, listen to it. I can wait….Because this will bring you back to life again.

So the second morning of our trip, somewhere in Arizona, with the Beatles’ Lady Madonna cranked, we hit the road again. Now this is what I call a road trip. Driving through rugged, rock-jutting landscape suddenly gave way to utter expansiveness of rolling hills adorned with nondescript shrubs that seem to go on and on into the horizon. It was hard to imagine that we were so close to something so awesome. But the GPS said we were, and I’ve come to trust that little instrument more than my own instincts. Have I mentioned that my sense of direction is about as good as my little Francesca, the 3 year old, reading a road map? Let’s say the map is a bunch of scribble to her, and instead of trying to make any sense out of it, she adds to the scribble with her own line drawings. I am right there beside her with my crayon.

The first telltale road sign emerged from the barren landscape. A large billboard flanked by McDonald’s and Dr. Pepper symbols. In the middle, yellow lettering read “Grand Canyon, 46 Miles.” You’ve got to love America. Or despise it. One of our greatest natural wonders is standing side-by-side some of the worst creations for our bodies and individuality. This is a land of opportunity and free choice. Yet the rundown mobile homes that pepper the barren landscape along the highway house native Americans who seem to have been forgotten in the American Dream. This is truly the land of opposites, of haves and have nots, of hope and despair, of health food and junk. I suddenly have a hankering for a burger, side of fries and a soda. Which one to visit first? It was a toss-up. I quell my hunger for something bigger.

As if on queue, out of the vast nondescript terrain, the most amazing natural wonder overshadowed anything — ANYTHING — created by man. I just could not prepare myself, I could not anticipate what I saw. Immense. Overpowering. Otherworldly and godlike. We were expecting hoards of people, but the hundreds, thousands, were dwarfed by the immenseness. We stepped out of our RV and into this strange new world of the Grand Canyon. There were moments when I felt the pull of energy, wanting me to go closer and closer, yet even as I did stand at the edge of the precipice, it seemed just as unreal, just as unfathomable. I had to hold myself back.

At the edge of the Canyon.

We lingered until dusk then stayed overnight in a state park nearby. The next morning, we drove along the canyon’s rim to our next destination, again stopping to take in the glory and awesomeness of this wonderment. It was just as unfathomable as when we came upon it the day before.

Then, still numb, we climbed back into the RV and back into reality. Driving and living in this vehicle is liberating in a way, at least for someone traveling with three children and a husband. For a two-week journey, it is so much easier to load up everything we need and take off, not to be concerned about where to eat our meals or where to sleep, unpacking and packing again, getting up and leaving at a moment’s thought, or lingering longer to savor the beauty of a new discovery. Even things like doing laundry in a laundromat instead of a hotel where the cost of such a service can be more than the room rental itself.

What could top something like the Grand Canyon, our first touristy stop on our Southwest adventure? We were inexplicably drawn to a rundown RV park off the side of a busy four-lane road. We couldn’t resist the welcoming face and waving hand of a two-dimensional, larger-than-life Fred Flintstone standing by a sign that said it all: Yabba Dabba Doo! It was our evening’s destiny.

DUM ditty DUM ditty DUM DUM DUM…

December 1st, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Hand in hand MORE people come.

Daughter and Mother, Grand Canyon.

So go the wise words in a Dr. Seuss book that I have read over and over again, until it became a mantra. Granted, it was my first child, Richard, who was taken by the rhythm and language. My third, Francesca, just can’t get enough of Go Dog, Go! I sometimes have to hide it under my mattress or else she’ll have me read it three times in a row. And it’s a long one. I just can’t do it again! I silently scream to myself. The little guy in the middle, my second child, well, I can’t seem to remember which book was his favorite. The breaks of the middle child. I can relate because I am the monkey in the middle, too.

So this is what I’ve been doing for the last 11-plus years. Reading to my children. Rearing my children. And writing here and there, time and energy and focus permitting. The focus is the biggest challenge. You know what I mean, if you have any children. Or if you know me at all. I’ve been known to be a bit scattered. No doubt, I love my children. They are amazing, awesome, inspiring, mind-opening, endless love creatures. But as my 4-year-old gets ready for school, I’m relieved and happy to have some time to myself. And I’m also thinking thoughts of getting older. Being old. I’m the ripe age of 47.  Where did it all go? How come only a few years ago, I didn’t give a shit about my age, about aging, about being aged. Now, sometimes, I can’t stop thinking about it. I credit that to moving back to the States from Bali. I don’t really know why exactly. Or maybe I do. People are just too caught up in looks, in perception, in being something besides themselves. An image of what they want to be, yet can’t quite grasp what it is they want beyond the illusion of it all.

There’s no escaping it. I can’t stop time, can I. What a cliche. My thoughts veer inescapably toward something I would NEVER consider just a few years ago: a tummy tuck, liposuction, a boob job. My eyelids are starting to sag, gray hair is emerging only 3 weeks after a color job. An old friend was surprised at my age. She said she thought I was 43. REALLY. I found that insulting. She thought I was THAT old? When I think about it, I don’t really care. I care that others care, which makes me more aware and then feel compelled to give a shit.

Stop right there!

Meatloaf comes to mind at this moment. Not for dinner, which is what you’d expect from a mom of three like me with dinnertime looming. Instead, an image emerges of the bombastic lead vocalist whose classic song has lingered in my mind way beyond the age of reason. The song Paradise by the Dashboard Light remains clear in my head as if it has stood still in time, yet when I think of who I was when it was so popular, at age 13, it seems like a different life. That’s when I sort of got it for the first time, the whole concept of a guy wanting to make it to home base with a girl, the girl holding him off at the final stretch, the promise of forever love, succumbing, and then everything falling apart. Love gone sour, before I even began dating, became utterly clear from this nine-minute song I watched on TV at my cousin Andy’s home in West Palm Beach.

I stray again. What to do, what to do. What is the purpose of this monologue? Where is this all going? I can’t drone on about my age. Or an old rock song that gets resurrected periodically. Enough already. So let’s move on to another subject. Home life.  Here on the farm in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, I once again have a somewhat detached existence from the mainstream, replicating a life lived in other parts of the earth, in the rice fields of Bali, or in a fishing village in Hong Kong. It’s all different, yet really not different at all.  So I am compelled to write about daily life, and try to understand the utter uniqueness in it. This blog is about me, about you, about the irony of life and how everything ordinary is so, well, odd.

On the road, Mars.

Let’s start with our family trip. How trite, you say? Actually, I cannot remember the last time we took a family holiday, a highly unusual event, in fact. Yet a few months back, we made a lunar landing and spent some time on what appeared to be the surface of the moon. Maybe it was Mars. OK, I was in Arizona and Utah, traveling by RV. But it really did seem otherworldly. I loved the freedom of mobility, while cursing the need to still have to cook and clean and do the laundry. I was blown away by the landscape that unravelled before me. So here we go, hold on to your plasticware and paper plates as you join me in this timeless adventure on the mothership CruiseAmerica, a three-bed moveable domicile that mercilessly lumbers along Route 66, or I-15, or some unnamed dirt road. Screw getting old. I’m just going to enjoy the ride and find a rhythm in the tires that hit the bumps on the road monotonously. DUM ditty DUM ditty DUM DUM DUM….

Hand in my hand, time moves on.