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Friday, September 2, 2011
Veeka's new school began the third week of August, although one might not have known it as she missed two days of school the first week due to our earthquake and one day the following week because of Hurricane Irene. Not that her school sustained damage either day; the problems were all in the eastern part of the county but the school system automatically shuts down all the schools, making the problem-free ones pay dearly. And thus we've run through 3 of our snow days - in August! Not only that, but Veeka's school has 91 kids squeezed into three kindergarten classes but, due to a technicality, the school system is refusing to free up a fourth teacher. The photo is of Veeka at her desk the first day of school.
Thus it was with little reluctance that I took Veeka out of school yesterday and today (Sept. 2) for a lengthy assignment I have in far, faraway West Virginia covering .... snake handlers! Yes, it's an annual homecoming gathering of pentecostals who practice not only snake handling but they also have a Mason jar up front of strychnine for people - who have enough faith - to drink. All this is based on a passage in Mark 16 about snakes nor poison hurting believers. Now how did I get this assignment?
Well....two months ago, I was with Lauren Pond, the young photographer who shot the PAPA festival for my story which, by the way, is out here this weekend. (This is my fifth story for WaPo's Sunday magazine and I have three more on deck). Lauren had been traveling to Jolo, W.V., which is the southernmost tip of the most out-of-the-way county in West Virginia; you can't get any further south than there. To get there, I had to drive 400 miles way into western Virginia to Grundy (near the Tennessee state line) and then drive north 22 miles up Rt. 83. Which was OK except for the 5-mile backup we got stuck on near Roanoke on I-81.
We stayed in Bluefield, then spent part of the day (on the way to Grundy) at an old volcanic caldera-turned-pretty/scenic valley called Burke's Garden. One has to charge up a steep slope to get there but we had fun wandering about. It was named after one James Burke discovered it in 1748. Not wishing for the local Indians to know his whereabouts, he buried some potatoes he'd been eating. Apparently they sprouted the following year, hence Burke's "garden." The Appalachian Trail goes right by there and we had fun looking at the alpacas (the other photo) and driving past all the farms.
Then it was onto Grundy, where we met Lauren at the Comfort Inn, then drove 22 miles to to Jolo, where we met up with some pastors at the Church of the Lord Jesus which is on a tiny country road. And yes, in the middle of the service, out came the rattle snake, which was apparently in a good mood, as it didn't bite anyone and instead curled itself about peoples' arms as various pastors gingerly passed it around. One of the pastors told me that his dad died of a snake bite -took him 10 hours to die. Photos on the left wall of the church show various homecomings and people handling - you guessed it - serpents.
Stay tuned for more.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Not that I really felt it. I was walking to Veeka's school to pick her up and had just crossed the street. It was about 1:55 p.m. A bunch of parents were leaning against a brick wall adjoining the school playground. Suddenly I saw all of them dash about 20 feet onto the blacktop of the playground, then turn around to look at the school. (They told me later that the wall started swaying above them). Then they began grabbing for their cell phones.
As for our 5.9 magnitude visitor, I didn't feel the earth shake; heard nothing. Maybe if I'd been inside a building, I'd have felt it more but I was on a sidewalk. I reached the ramp to Veeka's classroom and I saw a group of teachers and kids pouring out of the building, all of them looking perturbed for some reason. A few were crying. The door to Veeka's classroom had opened by this time (all of 2 minutes had passed since the shaking) and kids were gingerly walking out the door there. Again, some looked quite unhappy. As for Veeka - no - all she wanted was to get home and have chocolate chip cookies. By this time I was asking about and one of the parents told me there'd been an earthquake. Really? Couldn't believe I'd missed it.However, several picture frames were hanging from the walls of my home at weird angles and a few things on high shelves cascaded to the floor.
I called up Twitter and found the funniest posts, a few of which I've included here:
eorlins Eliza Orlins
To all those in CA making fun of our reaction to the quake, let's see you handle rationally 2 feet of snow, then we can talk. #earthquake
5 minutes ago Favorite Retweet Reply
bronk Benjy Bronk
F!, its only been like a half hour & I've already finished my 15 day supply of emergency food :( #earthquake
6 minutes ago
DARN IT!!!! I was this close to finishing my Etch-a-Sketch masterpiece. #earthquake
mikebarish Mike Barish
#NYC hospitals reporting dramatic spike in dart game-related injuries. #earthquake
KarlFrisch Karl Frisch
Confirmed: #dcquake was in fact an #earthquake. Was hoping it was the rapture so Congress could actually do its job.
oh summer 2011 , just when i thought yu was washed up & over #POW , an #earthquake . && we're back in !!
markos Markos Moulitsas
RT @lizzwinstead: Wall street Looters have taken to the streets. #Earthquake
JazzShaw Jazz Shaw
Breaking: Perry blames Obama for #earthquake. Huntsman blames the rest of the GOP field.
mikebarish Mike Barish
So, where's the good looting happening?
rob_sheridan Rob Sheridan
The collective eye-rolling of everyone in California is probably moving the earth more than the east coast #earthquake.
fbihop Matthew Reichbach
Clearly, Obama could have prevented this #earthquake if he wasn't on vacation.
Photo is of Veeka at a lovely beach in New Brunswick
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Today is Veeka's last day at St. Matthew's, the pre-K and kindergarten school that has been her home since we moved here three years ago this month. It has been one of the bright spots in our sojourn in Maryland, especially after Veeka left last fall to try another school that did not work out. She and I returned to St. Matthew's in late January to reculer pour mieux sauter, as the French would say. Which means to pull back so one can advance again. Today is the good-bye pizza party. What she's doing in the photo is painting a paper mache globe that's currently hanging from our porch. She will very much miss all her teachers, who have really stuck with her through lots of ups and downs. She will also miss the little brown bunny in the hallway cage who is always hungry to be petted.
The second farewell is to Rob Andrea, 27, an awfully nice guy I met while staying with his parents in Blacketts Lake at the eastern end of Nova Scotia. Rob had endured two bouts of cancer but he'd beaten it all. However, he'd found it necessary to adopt a super-organic diet so much of our conversation was about all the cool vegan recipes we were trying. When a mutual friend asked about us staying there, apparently it was Rob who urged his family to host us, as he wanted to meet a live author whose books he'd read. And we got some good conversations in while there although he was tired much of the time, from just having come off chemo, I thought.
Maybe it was something else. About a week after we left, his health took a dramatic turn for the worse when his heart gave out. He died Aug. 1. His dad wrote me to say 1,500 people attended his funeral at which six pastors presided. He left behind a wife and two small sons, one of which Veeka got to play with. The other was almost a newborn. They were so happy, after all that chemo, to even conceive a second child who unfortunately will never remember his dad. Man knows not his time. What a heartbreaker for the folks he left behind.
The third farewell (I am adding this a few days later) is to Mary Smith, a sweet woman living in St. Stephen's, New Brunswick. We stayed with her and her husband Bob the night of July 22. She was not well then. She died last night (Aug. 22), exactly one month later. I am sure glad we got to Canada when we did, for who would have dreamed....
Sunday, August 14, 2011
During the three-day drive back from Canada, I made a stop in Waterford, a suburb of New London, Connecticut where I spent ages 6-10. Connecticut, by the way, is a most unfriendly state to travelers. There was no welcome center at the state line; the rest areas were horrible and it was clear that tourist amenities must have been high on the state's list of budget cuts.
We arrived in late afternoon and first pulled up our old house (see Veeka in blue standing in front) at 10 Leary Drive where we accidentally met the current residents who invited us in to see the house. Since our stay there from 1962-1966, a new wing had been added to the back of the house and everything had been remodeled. It was amazing to see the old den, the old fireplace, my old room (where a little boy now lives) that had so many memories to it. The dining room, which is where my mother did all her homework for her master's thesis (we had no home office). The stone wall to one side of the property where I must have sat as a kid. The trees I climbed up so I could find a perch to read. Yes, I literally read up in trees.
I dropped by some old neighbors who, amazingly, still lived across the street and updated myself a bit on who still lived where as I had not seen the place since my family came back for a quick visit in 1970. The man who had owned the blueberry bushes and who had paid us a quarter for each basket of berries we picked on cool early summer mornings had long since died. But the bushes were still there. The house where the mentally ill boy had lived was there but abandoned. The house where a nasty girl had lived who tormented me from first grade through third grade was still there. A lot of the woods where I once wandered alone to watch for birds (remember the days when kids could wander about alone and no one thought anything of it?) had been built up partly but there was still quite a few patches of trees, some of which I swung on as a kid. Veeka and I were amazed to see tons of deer walking about and even a fox.
We drove past my old elementary school which had recently been totally rebuilt and down Nichols Lane to Pleasure Beach where we used to swim. Just for fun, Veeka and I put on our suits and jumped in the water, as we were both pretty sweaty and it was sheer fun sitting in the sand under a summer July sky and remembering back to when I was her age. We moved to Connecticut from Maryland when I was 6. We drove up and down Quarry Road and Great Neck Road, down Shore Road past old haunts like Magonk Point and finally to Harkness Memorial State Park where the trees I'd sat under as a 10-year-old were still there. Unfortunately the restrooms were putrid - more state budget cuts? - and the sun was setting, so we drove to Lisa's Landing on Niantic Bay for the last seafood dinner of the trip.
Our time back here has been more prosaic. Unfortunately I broke my toe the next day as I was unloading the car upon arriving home so it's been a painful few weeks since then while I've been limping about. My little fashion plate daughter in her new red sunglasses given by her cousin Christina is enjoying being back with her little friends. And we've had lots of rain this weekend, which gives some hope to my parched yard and half-dead plants.
Saturday, August 6, 2011
We're now into our second week of steaming hot weather and our times running about much cooler eastern Canada seem like a distant memory. It was the hottest July on record here and mercifully, we missed much of it. I drove 4,362 miles in 24 days. Although it was much more expensive than I thought it'd be, I am so glad we did this trip.
No huge news here although today another piece of mine appeared here in the Washington Post Sunday magazine.
Posted here is one of Cape Breton's bilingual English/Gaelic signs plus a few things - good and bad - that made our trip stand out:
1. $4.65/gallon gas
2. Magnetic Hill, a bizarre tourist attraction in Moncton, New Brunswick
3. Tons of peonies everywhere. Never seen so many. They obviously do well up there.
4. Tim Hortons, the omnipresent coffee/doughnut shop
5. St. Hubert's chicken sauce
6. the Canadian 'eh'?
7. how nearly everything in Atlantic Canada is named after a saint
8. rainbow roads: red asphalt in Nova Scotia and green in New Brunswick
9. red-winged blackbirds everywhere. They used to be down here years ago
10. Moose warning signs on the freeways
11. how the annual seal slaughter in the far north is referred to as 'Canada's cultural heritage'
12. 'dinner' there is 'lunch' down here.
13. bright, multi-colored rocking chairs on porches. That trend is making its way down here but the Canadians make theirs own of decent wood; ours are made of plastic or PVC-ugh
Saturday, July 30, 2011
As our Canada trip wound down, we spent the last few days at a Christian "ashram" in Berwick, one of the small towns in the Annapolis Valley (which is the northern half of Nova Scotia). It's also the apple-growing capital of Canada. The choice of lingering here for a few days was the suggestion of the Anglican priest friend who planned my itinerary and I am so glad I took his advice. After tons of driving, I needed a few days to just relax before the three-day drive home through New England. The second photo shows the camp, where people stayed in cabins much like this. And the first photo is of Miss Veeka in a presentation put on by the youth the last day of the camp. She danced like a pro. Her time at the camp was mainly spent with other kids - instead of me - which was a relief for both of us in that we were not constantly in each other's hair. During one of the afternoon breaks, she and I did repair to a local mountain spot - Aylesford Lake - for a swim, as the hot temps that were cooking the US east coast at the time were bringing weather in the upper 80s to Nova Scotia.
But we stayed 10 miles away in a neighboring town where the Alexas, our host and hostess cooked us lovely breakfasts and treated us like royalty. All too soon we had to push off to catch the ferry from Digby back to St. John, New Brunswick. On the way, we briefly stopped in some lovely gardens in Annapolis Royal (one of many small historic towns along the way), then had a very agreeable 3 hours on this ferry. It cost us a mint ($130) for the ride, but they had a movie, some structured time for kids and decent cafeteria food. Arriving at St. John, it was quite foggy and nasty. St. John is reputed to have the worse weather in the Maritimes - always cold and damp - so we took off for that night's stay in St. Stephen, right on the US border.
The next morning, our hosts, Bob and Mary Smith, took us out to breakfast with friends and then we zoomed back across the border at Calais with only a 15-minute wait; not bad for a Friday morning. It took us all morning to get to Bangor, then the better part of the afternoon to cut across Maine through the Sebago Lake region to get to our destination for the night; a ski area in New Hampshire. Why there? Because the hotel fees up and down the Maine coast were horrible. Nothing was under $175/night. The Best Western in Waterville Valley was only charging $109/night which was cheap, believe it or not. Which is how I got my first glimpse of the White Mountains.
The route we chose to get there was the Kancamagus Highway, a 34-mile route that led us past rivers with nice swimming spots (Veeka and I tried one at Rocky Gorge), lovely views and plenty of national forest. Waterville turned out to be a tiny community in a vale totally enclosed by mountains and we spent all the following morning exploring there before heading south to my childhood haunts in Connecticut.
More of that in another post, but, yes, we are home now and this past Thursday, I appeared with several other authors at a multi-author event at the new Busboys & Poets in Hyattsville, which is part cafe, part concert venue and part art gallery. All of us in Hyattsville are delighted to have something this sophisticated within walking distance. See the link here for a short clip of our readings.