In Which a Book Tour Masquerades as a Hudson Valley Retreat, with a Surprise Finish

The last (and only) time I came remotely close to the Hudson Valley in New York was while racing from Vermont toward Pennsylvania, trying to stay a step ahead of Hurricane Irene. Danger tends to sprinkle itself through our travel.

We had wanted to return to this beautiful area ever since. As the last book event in New Jersey wound up, Christopher found a Bed & Breakfast in Rhinebeck, New York, that would be our home base for the next two nights.

The late sunlight of mid-July guided us to Whistlewood Farm Bed & Breakfast just as twilight descended. Oh me oh my. Consider this my hearty recommendation of this place, three miles outside of the town of Rhinebeck. Whistlewood Farm B&B not only offers creature comforts (comfy beds, lots of living space to stretch out, and homegrown, homemade breakfasts) but also creatures. We watched the horses have pedicures, fed the chickens, and unwound into the pace of life away from it all.

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In the morning, our host Maggy asked how many just-laid eggs we wanted, then pointed to the fresh baked blueberry muffins, sausage, and dollar pancakes. Thinking of what my Dad calls “preventative eating” — eat now so you won’t be hungry later — we said yes to everything, and figured that would last all day.

It worked. We drove all over, visiting small town bookstores, meeting booksellers and signing copies of Shelter Us. We visited Oblong Books in Rhinebeck (and could not pass by the Rhinebeck Aerodrome, to ogle biplanes and triplanes.) IMG_2505
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We visited the small town of Millbrook, which boasts the lovely Merritt Bookstore.

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We stopped at the Vanderbilt MansionIMG_7070 and gawked at its immensity, wondering what impulse compels some people (and peoples) to construct castles, while other peoples (say, Native Americans) would never deign to claim the land as theirs at all?

In keeping with that theme, we meandered the grounds of FDR’s home and Presidential Library in Hyde Park.

Just a thought.

The next day brought more small towns and more bookstores, including the charming town of Hudson’s Spotty Dog (books and ale).

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(Hudson, it is worth mentioning, rocks the eclectic, hip, artsy and funny, as in this store, Flower Kraut — selling flowers, sauerkraut, and “gifts” — and this sign outside of a motel.)

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We would not rest until reaching Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, and sampled some of the famous waters.IMG_7099

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Our last day, we visited The Golden Notebook in Woodstock, woodstock

and Inquiring Minds in New Paltz.

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Before heading home for the long drive, we wanted to get some exercise.

In Woodstock, we hiked Overlook Mountain Trail, and were rewarded with beautiful views and a fine adrenaline rush — not from climbing the six-level tower at the top, and not from watching a rattlesnake slither across the path. It was from the bear.

The bear, whom I saw face to face when I peeked into the woods, curious about the little sounds I had heard, expecting perhaps to see a fawn, or a chipmunk. “Bear!” my brain said. “Bear,” my mouth said to Christopher. The syllable was not fully formed before I was scooting at twice my previous speed up the hill.

Yes, the Hudson Valley trip proved to be memorable for many reasons. Each bookstore had friendly, enthusiastic booksellers who welcomed this California author’s first novel. Each town had a distinct personality, even if they didn’t all have a stoplight. And everywhere we looked, wild nature in all its manifestations came out to greet us. Heading back to urban Philadelphia never sounded so good.

Dare to Dream, and Do

I turned on the computer with every good intention to go straight to my Word file and work on revising the book I mentioned yesterday.

Except, somehow, I ended up on Facebook.

It worked out, because a friend posted this.

Mary Oliver quote graphic

It reminded me of my post last week on perspective, and the words I attributed to Gloria Steinem, that she loves not knowing what comes next, because it might be wonderful.

And that’s what I wanted to say today. Yesterday, in the midst of my self-doubt-y mood that we all have from time to time, I carelessly referred to my book as being about “Recession and Moving and other good stuff.” That’s not quite right. That sounds so “ugh.” And I owe it to the book, and to you, to let you know that the book is very NOT ugh. It’s about choosing joy, taking risks, having fun, traveling with family, discovering new favorite places, rope swinging, and eating a hell of a lot of ice cream.

That’s what “other good stuff” means.

Writing the book has been so much fun because it lets me travel back to those places and feelings. Yesterday I was in the thick of an adrenaline rush from innertubing in the Delaware River in a rainstorm.

Delware River Tubing

Today I may be in New York’s Chinatown.

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Tomorrow, who knows? It will probably involve ice cream.

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I’m getting started right now. Today’s mantra? Close Facebook. Disconnect Firefox. Hunker down. Make this day one of dreaming and doing.

“It Might Be Wonderful”

I was searching for the source of a quote I read years ago, whose essence has stuck with me, if not it’s precise language. It was attributed to Gloria Steinem.

She said, “The great thing about not knowing what comes next…” (and I thought, Yes? Yes? What is it? Please tell me what’s great about all this not knowing business!!) “…is that it might be wonderful.”

“That’s all? It might be wonderful?” Insufficient payoff for the terrible heaviness of not knowing.

I’ve spent much of the past few years trying to live into her radically optimistic world view. For me, not knowing what came next was painful, almost unbearable. In the cosmic sense, of course, none of us knows what’s next (earthquake, or flood, or call from the Nobel committee, etc.). But much of the time we think we do. We have enough information at least to predict what next month or next year brings. For me, the decision to sell our house a few years ago launched us on a journey of major not knowing. I wanted the quote as a lead-in to the book I’m working on about that journey.

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Because the journey has moved me toward understanding that quote. It has taught me that not knowing becomes easier.

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Not easy, but easier. I try to live more in the second half of Gloria’s statement than in the first. It might be wonderful.

Cannonball into Merry Meeting Lake, New Hampshire

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Laura on Rope Swing, Lake Todd (Newbury, NH)

Yeah, that’s right. And it’s up to us to make it wonderful.

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I didn’t find that quote today, but I did find a rich and deep interview of a curious and brilliant mind. I give you Maria Shriver interviewing Gloria Steinem, and two of my favorite passages from their conversation:

The most hopeful.

SHRIVER: Do you think that you ran a revolution? Do you think it was successful?

STEINEM: Well, first of all, I think we’ve just begun. If you think about the Suffrage Movement as a precedent, it took more than 100 years to get the vote and for that movement itself to run a certain course. We’re only about 40 years into this movement, so this particular wave of change certainly has a long way to go. It’s not in the past.

The most daunting.

SHRIVER: Is there some part of your life that you think represents a cautionary tale?

STEINEM: I think the biggest thing is probably that I wasted time.

SHRIVER: You feel like you wasted time? In what way?

STEINEM: I continued for too long to do things that I already knew how to do, or to write stories that I was assigned instead of fighting for stories that I couldn’t get, or doing ones that I thought were important on my own. The wasting of time is the thing I worry about the most. Because time is all there is.

You heard her. Back to work.

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http://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/gloria-steinem/

Philadelphia, American History, and Mini-Golf

“California is the most beautiful state, but Pennsylvania is the most historic.” Thus spoke my 10-year-old California boy at the end of a day that had him reading the Constitution aloud at the National Constitution Center, strolling past Independence Hall … Continue reading

Splashing into Spain – July 24

July 24, 2009.

Day One. Well, Day Two if you count our arrival yesterday morning after a day and night flying from Los Angeles through Atlanta to Barcelona. Three of us half-slept through the arrival day. Emmett, on the other hand, enjoyed it thoroughly, begging Christopher to “test drive” our home exchangers’ Mercedes Benz and swimming in the neighborhood pool—an astonishing Energizer Bunny.

The heat that first morning terrified us; what grand mistake had we made, we wondered, coming to Sitges and Barcelona in summer? Separately Christopher and I started making alternate plans and calculating the financial blow of having to transfer to an air-conditioned hotel for 3 ½ weeks.

But even a fitful, hot night’s sleep made a difference, and our first complete day here was much better. We walked through the narrow cobblestone mazes of Sitges’ historic streets, passing bakeries, butchers and boutiques, past the old church at the promontory, and down the grand stairway to the beach, stopping midway down to be splashed by ocean spray. The fine white sand was crowded with European vacationers and Spanish locals wearing not much more than their tans. Aaron and Emmett didn’t seem to notice. Their eyes widened at the sight of pedal boats with water slides waiting at the shore to be rented. My heart leaped at the sight of blue and white striped umbrellas and lounge chairs lining the sand as far as the eye could see. Christopher didn’t say what he was looking at most. At least all the sights took our minds off the heat. We trudged our way up the  wide pedestrian promenade, changed into our suits, and, our priorities in order, sought out the boat man.

My Spanish kicked into gear and I felt a part of my brain working that hadn’t been put to use for a while. “Queremos alquilar un barco. Cuanto cuesta?” He answered, “Twelve euros.” I guess my Spanish wouldn’t be entirely necessary in a popular tourist town. He warned us that the water might be too choppy for the kids. Chalk it up to jet-lag-induced lack of judgment, he could not deter us from our mission. We wrapped up the kids in life jackets that would not have made the grade in California, and set out to the Mediterranean Sea. The waves crashing into our boat refreshed us as we headed straight out past the breaking waves. It was our first signal that the ocean temperature here would be a gift, much warmer than our own Pacific.

Christopher, Aaron and Emmett all tried the slide, displaying great bravery in my view. It was a great sign for how our kids would embrace this family adventure. Now, I’m a relatively adventurous person. I’ve traveled alone through Thailand where I didn’t speak a word of the local language. I’ve gone head-to-head with Morrocan big rigs driving two-lane highways from Rabat to Fez. I’ve climbed to the tops of Mayan temples that left other travelers grounded by vertigo, and ziplined over deep valleys and waterfalls in Mexico. Yet here I was in Spain, a country I’ve lived in, whose language I speak, at a beach resort, and I knew I was in trouble. I sat in the boat wondering how much longer until we could go back to shore, increasingly nauseous, my landlubber ways getting the best of me on the rocking plastic boat. Before our hour was up, I ordered our ship to shore. We rode the waves back to shore, avoiding a capsize, and stumbled greatfully up to those beckoning lounge chairs. Where my intrepid family proceeded to collapse into a deep sleep for the next three hours. We woke up at 7pm, the sun still shining, the beach still peopled with vacationers. We swam in the warm water once more that day, then headed back to our home for the next three weeks. Rested, refreshed, relaxed. What a difference a day makes.