Category Archives: daily life

Getting the Shaft in Shaftsbury

Shaftsbury, England.  I awoke before dawn to the sound of a car driving slowly into the gravel parking lot.  The driver got out and walked to the entrance, crunch, crunch, crunch.  I was just falling back to sleep when he or she must have gone back out to get luggage.  More crunch, crunch, crunch on top of rolling crunchiness.  Another car pulled in, more heavy rolling crunchiness.

Lynn exclaimed from the darkness on her side of the room, “Whoever thought it was a good idea to have a gravel driveway in a hotel?!”

“I know!  Well at least no invading armies are going to sneak up on us.”

“Right.” she replied drily.

There was no going back to sleep now so we went down to breakfast. I ordered kippers, which I’d had never had, and Lynn had a Full English minus the blood sausage.

Blood sausage is just what it sounds like, sausage made of blood.  I think it’s a food that’s traditional and no one really likes it but they keep it on the menu for tradition’s sake.  Most Brits I’ve mentioned it to made a horrid face.  Is it like lutefisk or gefilte fish?  No one likes either one, but people put it out once a year because it’s “tradition.”  Blood sausage is on the menu everywhere, so I don’t know, maybe lots of people love it.  What do you think?

Me, I love fish, so I was happy with the kippers.

The Daily Mail had this cover in regard to the Grenfell Tower fire:

I think the Queen learned some lessons in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, when she was accused of being cold.  Maybe she can give Theresa May some pointers about getting down with the people.

We walked into town to Shaftsbury Abbey, or what was left of it.

The abbey had been a regional center of power until Henry VIII had it destroyed along with all the other monasteries in the 16th Century. The piles of stones on either side are where the pillars of the nave were.

A small display inside the visitors’ centre featured a few shattered carvings, remnants of painted sculptures, and a diorama of what the abbey had looked like.  It must have been enormous and fantastically beautiful.  Henry VIII was known to appreciate beautiful things, so why destroy the abbey, down to the ground?  Why not just seize the gold candlesticks and leave the building with its gilded arches and ornate carvings?  It was a display of power, of course.  He had half a dozen of his own palaces, so a couple hundred monasteries out in the sticks were no loss.  He was a red-headed megalomaniac who loved his palaces and couldn’t stand for anyone else to … wait, why does that sound familiar?

Here are the names of some of the abbesses.

It was lunchtime  and we picked our way carefully down Gold Hill to find a pub someone had recommended.

I had one of the most memorable meals of the summer at this pub, a fish pie with turmeric.

I tried to replicate it once since I’ve been home but didn’t get it right.

Of course what goes down must come up—no, I didn’t vomit up the fish pie—we had to walk back up the hill.

We walked a few paces, stopped to take photos, then walked some more.

It’s not that we couldn’t have hiked straight up the hill without a break—really.  But it is true that a summer of fish pies and pints means I really need to get back to the gym.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe next week.

Next we visited the historical museum.  Shaftsbury was once a center for cottage industries, which just means people sat in their cottages and made things, like buttons. These are the forms and the finished buttons.

In the 17th and 18th Centuries thousands of women and children were employed making “Dorset Buttons.” The button-making machine caused these cottage industries to collapse after 1750, and the gentry “helped the unemployed workers to emigrate to Canada and Australia.” That’s one way to solve your unemployment problem.

FYI, I’m going to DC for work and won’t be blogging for a week or so.

Rolling Along

The days rolled along.  Lynn and I visited scenic places in the morning, worked in the afternoon, and watched movies or TV at night.  We went to Padstow, which has become a tourist draw due to the presence of celebrity chef Rick Stein.  He’s got at least three restaurants in this small town, ranging from a fish and chips shop to a white linen place.  Lynn and I had the fish and chips and agreed it wasn’t any better or different from fish and chips anywhere else.  But Padstein, as it has been nicknamed, was a lovely town.

We visited The Eden Project, an educational and scientific environmental enterprise.  The exhibits are housed in enormous geodesic domes.  Each dome features a different region of the world, from South American rain forest to Australian outback.  They had a great gift shop where, believe it or not, I bought some environmentally-friendly underwear so I would have at least one pair that wasn’t blue.

Once I was past the shock of having to shout over disco karaoke to make myself heard in a work Skype meeting, the remote work wasn’t so bad.  I would do things that required concentration, like editing, at the cottage.  With no internet, I was not tempted to check my email or distracted by pop ups.  Then I would walk over to the lodge and send emails or have Skype calls.

We ate breakfast and dinner at the lodge and became friendly with the cook and waitress.  We learned the resort had been struggling financially and had been sold to a new owner.  All the employees were holding their breath to find out if they would have jobs in a month, or scrambling to find new jobs.  The waitress told us that her passion was theater; she had just handed in her notice and would be gone soon to run her own theater nearby.

The cook reminded me of Vince, my son.  He had creative cooking aspirations in a place where people only wanted fish and chips.  Every morning he would offer us something new—the crayfish omelets were memorable.  We would enthusiastically accept and show appreciation for whatever he made, which seemed to make him happy.  He told us he was waiting to see which way the wind blew with the new owner.  He had a new menu up his sleeve with imaginative dishes and he was prepared to roll it out here or take it somewhere else.  Both he and the waitress had other jobs on the side.  It was a typical rural employment situation, where people were hustling to cobble together a living and also striving to do creative things to stave off boredom and keep from going crazy.

At the end of a week, we pulled out of the killer driveway for the last time and headed to Charmouth, which is near Lyme Regis, another town you’ve probably never heard of.  Both are in Dorset, the next county east of Cornwall.  Specifically, they are in west Dorset.  This became apparent when we moved on to Devon a few days later, because the local maps we’d acquired only included the western half of the county.  So we drove to the edge of the map and then had to switch to our atlas.

Anyway, we stayed at the Fern Hill Hotel for a few nights and this was our favorite place.  It was smallish (think Fawlty Towers) and family-run.  There was a sign on the desk stating that Robert Plant, front man for Led Zeppelin and rock god, had stayed there.  If it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.   I couldn’t resist sending Vince a message that I might be sleeping in the same bed as Robert Plant.  I know, inappropriate, but he liked it.

The lovely woman at the front desk gave us minutely detailed instructions and maps for walking into town.  As per our usual routine, we found ourselves on a golf course and then a muddy cow pasture before winding up in Charmouth.  After we had a wander, Lynn figured out how to take a bus back to the hotel.  We celebrated this navigation victory with drinks on the patio.

Beaches and Beers, Pancakes and Paying

The day after our biking and museum-going expedition, Ingrid took me to the beach.  The beach, you ask?  I know, it’s something I associate with Florida, not Holland.  Still, I had read in a guide book that the beach is a thing in the Netherlands in the summer, so off we went.  We walked a couple blocks to the bus stop, took a bus into central Utrecht, then took a train to the seaside town of Zandvoort (“zand” meaning “sand”, a Dutch word even I can memorize).  If I were in Minnesota, I would have driven the distance – about 45 minutes – to Zandvoort, but I don’t think it ever occurred to Ingrid not to take public transport.

It was a cloudy, blustery day.  We sat on a restaurant patio that had clear plexiglas walls to break the wind.  We ordered some food; in Minnesota such a restaurant would hardly be worthy of the name restaurant, you would only be able to get a frozen burger and fries and ice cream.  But here, we had smoked salmon and pate and incredibly lightly fried battered cod and good bread, plus my favorite mid-day traveling beverage, cappuccino.

We went down to the beach and strolled.  Like kids everywhere, the Dutch kids were having fun in the waves and sand while their parents watched, bundled up in sweaters and wincing at the wind.  Ingrid and I were deep into some profound subject so we didn’t notice the cold.

There were cabins aligned along the beach—for rent?  I suppose it would be fun for kids and dads and dogs to have the family vacation at the seaside, but it would be miserable for moms.  The tent-like things in the background are pop-up wind breaks.

We moseyed back up from the beach and sat at a table on another patio.  I had a beer that was really, really good.  I wonder if I’ll be able to find it again.  I wonder if it just tasted so good because of the atmosphere.

Ingrid went to the toilet and the sun came out for the first time that day.  I leaned my head back against the cushions and half fell asleep.  It was one of those rare moments when I was completely content and at ease and I could have stayed there for hours.

When we got back, we rode our bikes by Ingrid’s son’s baseball game.  Baseball, you ask?  Yes, I was surprised too.  Baseball is catching on in the Netherlands, and Ingrid’s son Simon is an ace pitcher.

That night we went out for pancakes. Pancakes for dinner, you ask?  Yes.  But not just any pancakes, and not just at any old pancake house.  This place, Theehuis Rhijnauwen, was in the countryside with tables on the lawn leading down to a stream.  We had to move inside because it was chilly, but then the pancakes came.  As you can see, they’re the size of pizzas.  Mine was savory, with red peppers, onions, and cheese.  Here is the menu in English.

Now I faced a dilemma.  Chris and Ingrid had sprung for Indonesian take out the night I arrived.  We had gone to a nice restaurant the second night, and Chris had insisted on paying.  Tonight he did the same.  I didn’t know how hard I should push to pay—at least for my own.  The Dutch have a reputation for being very frugal, and of course there is the phrase “Dutch treat” which means splitting the bill.  I was also drinking their coffee and eating their cheese, their most valuable possession, in the mornings.

I never know if this is all about my insecurities growing up in a hard scrabble household, or if everyone else is thinking, “Wow, what a leech Anne is, not paying for anything.”

The next day Ingrid and I were leaving for Salzburg, so being a little anxious, I awoke even earlier than usual.  The house was silent.  Needing coffee, I crept down to the kitchen and turned on the fancy machine that makes coffee, tea, cappuccino, and espresso.  It went “BRRRRRRRRRR!!!” like an alarm clock and woke up the whole household.  And that was the start of our day.

 

Boeren Bonenstoofschotel on Schoenlappervinlinder

Greetings from Eton, England.  Tonight I will sleep in my 11th bed in a month.  I’ve spent the last 10 days in the southwest of England—in Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset—where the internet connections were not much better than in Ethiopia.  So I’m going back to write about some of the places I visited almost a month ago, and now that I’ve got a good connection I’ll write forward and eventually join up with the present, in Eton.

After three whirlwind days in Copenhagen and being forced to buy a second plane ticket thanks to Expedia, I arrived in the land of long words, the Netherlands.  I was so happy to see my old friend Ingrid waiting in the arrivals hall.

Ingrid and I met in 1986 at a Volunteers for Peace “work camp” in London.  I’ve written before about how she visited me in the US twice and I visited her in the Netherlands twice, including being a bridesmaid in her wedding.  The last time I saw Ingrid in person was after her son was born, about 11 years ago.  Of course we are friends on Facebook but it’s not the same.

By the time we got out of the airport parking ramp and onto the highway headed to Utrecht, where she lives, we were talking about whether god exists, the meaning of suffering, and how humanists can be as inhumane as anyone. Our conversations continued like this for the next six days.  Don’t get me wrong; we also talked about hairstyles, houses, families, health, and jobs, but I can talk to most people about those things.  It is so good to have a friend you can talk to about the big questions.

Plus, she fed me Boeren Bonenstoofschotel, a Dutch folk food, from what I understand.

The street Ingrid and her family live on is called Schoenlappervinlinder, which is named for a butterfly.  By the time you’ve pronounced the word, the butterfly would be long gone.

Here are some photos of a typical Dutch side-by-side house in what Ingrid referred to as a “suburb” of Utrecht, which felt pretty urban by American standards.

The house was similar to many American homes with the exception of exceptionally steep stairs leading from one floor to another.  They all shrugged when I exclaimed over how steep they were.  There was a bike shed in the back yard to accommodate the four family bikes that they use to go to work, school, and most everywhere else except to the grocery for a big shopping load.  The attic which served as my room had home-painted Mondrian thanks to Ingrid’s husband Chris, and more English language books on the bookshelves than most American homes.

Speaking of grocery shopping, I got to go with Chris and Ingrid to a Jumbo, which is a mid level grocery chain.  The Dutch love sweets.  Stroop koeken/waffle are typically Dutch cookie or waffle “sandwiches” filled with sugar syrup.  There is every other imaginable form of cookie, cake, and candy, plus lots of breakfast sweets stuff, like sprinkles for toast and an entire Nutella section.

Eggs and milk were not refrigerated.  I guess in the US we refrigerate both because it makes them seem fresher, but it’s not necessary.  If that’s true, what a waste of energy!  If it’s not true, then there should be lot of people retching their guts out every day in the Netherlands.

We have an image in the US of how everyone in Europe eats artisanal, organic, free range food.  There is plenty of it, but they also eat junk, just like us:

This item in the deli case, “FiletAmericain Naturel,” turned out to be Steak Tartare.  Ironically, I believe you can’t buy it in the US.

Then there were the cheeses.  The Dutch love cheese at least as much as sweets, and there must have been 500 different kinds on offer. I could have taken photos of cheese all day.

Finally, this was in the magazine section.  It’s a mag for gay men, and in an American grocery—if it was even allowed—it would have a colored plastic sleeve to hide the content, a la Penthouse and Playboy.

In New Orleans

This continues a series of posts about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

And so we spent five days in New Orleans, and it was pretty much as fun and relaxing as I had expected.  Different places have different vibes.  You can’t explain why, they just do.  New Orleans and Los Angeles feel similar to me—like “anything goes, no judging.”  Within limits, of course.  There’s plenty of crime in New Orleans, and my friend who lives there has a bar near his house that’s a noisy nuisance.

Did it feel relaxed because I was on vacation?  No, that’s not it.  I’ve vacationed in Berlin and Dubai, in Edinburgh, Scotland and Scottsdale, Arizona.  I had some relaxed moments in those places, but they didn’t feel inherently relaxed.

Was it because the car had been towed and was now in a shop?  Maybe. The most memorable part of that was that the tow driver’s name was Earl, and Lynn and Christine thought that was hilarious.  I guess if you think about it, coming from England, no one there would name their kid Earl—you either are an Earl or you’re not—but you wouldn’t be named Earl.  It would be like if I had named Vince Vice President.

I had chosen the dates for New Orleans to coincide with French Quarter Festival.  FQF is smaller than Mardi Gras and more musically encompassing than Jazz Festival.  There were concerts featuring blues, rock, soul, and all sorts of jazz, all performed by Louisiana musicians.

My favorite afternoon was when we were lucky enough to get a table on one of the rickety-looking balconies overlooking Bourbon Street.  Here is Molly demonstrating that we’re on a balcony:

Miss Molly

When we ordered beers, the server asked if we wanted large, medium, or small.  That was an odd question; I’d never been asked that before.  I figured a medium would be the safe choice.

Now, I don’t allow my photo be taken in potentially-compromising situations.  But there are plenty of people who do, so here is a photo I found on the Internet of the “medium” beer, along with the “large,” which I think you’ll agree is an understatement.

Huge Ass Large

We had all afternoon to sip our beers semi-responsibly, and we were lucky enough to be perched above a Dixieland jazz band which had attracted some energetic dancers of the Charleston.  Here’s what the Charleston looks like.  It’s athletic, exuberant, and just makes you feel happy.

We started each day slowly, which is how it should be when you’re on vacation.  I was always the first up; I can’t help myself.  Still, the freshly-made breakfast would already be waiting for me in dining room.  It was different every day, and a labor of love.  There would be a frittata, muffins or some sort of fruit bread, veggie or meat sausage, homemade marmalade, and of course, coffee.  You could make toast or bagels, or instant grits or oatmeal.  The fridge was stocked with milk and orange juice and yogurt.

I sat on the front porch and savored the morning quiet with my breakfast and a couple cups of coffee.  There were the usual morning sights, like the trash men collecting the trash, parents walking their kids to school, cats skulking by the fence, and people commuting to work on bikes.

Back inside, my crew and the other guests slowly filtered out of their rooms.  There were two women there from Vancouver, one of whom got up early to run despite how late they stayed out every night.  She and I stretched together on the living room carpet a couple times and chatted.  There are six guest rooms at the Ould Sweet Olive, so counting our suite which slept four, its capacity was 14.  The rest of the guests were couples from England, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Molly, Lynn, Christine, and I would sit in the front room for hours, chatting and drinking coffee, before we got our day underway.  We talked about places we’d been, places we wanted to go, kids, pets, and—in hushed tones, politics—because our hostess had numerous photos of herself with Donald Trump on the walls.

The Slog

This is the third of three posts, the first and second are here. If you started reading this blog for the prison theme you may be wondering, what does any of this have to do with Vince going to prison? I don’t know if it does—you tell me.

And so I informed people of my decision, which I had known from the moment I’d found out I was pregnant again: I would give the baby up for adoption.

I told Judy, the Catholic Charities social worker, and her eyes lighted up. “I do have a few reservations,” I told her about what I had learned about adopted people in my Abnormal Psychology class. Judy laughed lightly and handed me a clipboard with forms. While I was signing them she said, “We have to trust that God knows what’s best for us. Even if it’s painful—especially if it’s painful, we just have to put ourselves in God’s loving hands.” I thought this was muddled but made a mental note to try to pray in my spare time.

I told my college advisor. “My due date is right before finals but I promise there won’t be any interruptions in my attendance.” She looked a little stunned and said, “We’ll understand if you need to take some time off.”

“No, no—that won’t be necessary,” I cut her off. I didn’t want them to cut me any slack. I would graduate on time. The whole point of this plan was to do what was best for all three of us, so I needed to graduate and get a job.

The other point of the plan was to keep it all hush-hush. I would stay away from the family, my friends, and the whole neighborhood where they all lived. If my grandma called and asked if she could visit me, I would make an excuse to keep her away. It would only be for six months, right? It wasn’t as extreme as the case of Margie, a girl I knew in high school, who went through her whole pregnancy and adoption while living in her family’s house. None of them ever talked about it. Now that was weird.

So there Vince and I sat, alone, on his first birthday. I had called The Creep and invited him but he had “some really important business” to take care of. In other words, a drug deal. I only saw him once again in the ensuing 36 years.

V 1st Bday

I did what you’re supposed to do for a baby’s first birthday. I made a cake with one candle and let him eat it with his fingers and smear it all over the place. And I cried…and cried.

Then I stiffened myself and plunged my feelings way down into the deep freeze and didn’t feel anything again for a year. That’s the thing about avoiding negative feelings—it makes you unable to experience positive ones, either.

Life went on as before. I trudged through the snow to the daycare, studied furiously, and cleaned the house as though I was in boot camp. As happened during my first pregnancy, perverts tried to pick me up at the bus stop, in stores, in the elevator of my building.

The student who had pressured me to have an abortion was disappointed when I told him I was going the adoption route. “That’s…I’m sorry, but that’s just selfish,” he said. “That poor kid,” he said, staring at my belly.

Sometimes students I didn’t know would try to strike up a conversation.

“When’s your baby due?” they would ask brightly.

“April,” I would respond flatly, giving them fair warning that proceeding with the conversation would be a mistake.

“Do you want a boy or a girl?”

“I don’t really care, since I’m giving it up for adoption.”

This would result in sputtering and something like, “You’re so brave—good luck!” as they backed their way out of the room as fast as possible. I hated that line—“You’re so brave.”

Now that I had set my course I didn’t second guess it, but if you had asked me I might have said I was just being practical.

To be continued ….

The Dilemma

Vince has mentioned in his blog that he would like to write about his brother, so I should probably get out ahead of that.

It was 1979.  Nine-month-old Vince and I lived on the 18th floor of Skyline Towers, a subsidized high rise overlooking Interstate 94:

Skyline

I don’t know why this photo has EMPORIS stamped all over it.  Anyway, I had just started my second year of college.  In the spring I would earn my two-year Occupational Therapy degree.  I would be able to get a job and get off welfare, maybe even move out of public housing into a quaint little brick four-plex with wood floors and a stained glass window.  That was my dream.

Here was my routine:

5:30 am: Get up, shower, feed baby Vince

6:00 am: Strap Vince into the collapsible stroller, put on the old beaver fur coat I had found at the Salvation Army and the moon boots I bought new after saving all summer.  Sling my backpack full of text books over my shoulders, and head down the hall to the elevators.

Moon Boots

6:15 am: Exit the front door into the winter morning darkness.  Cross the parking lot, then the pedestrian bridge over I94 where the wind was always biting.  Push the stroller across the athletic field on the other side of the freeway (extra hard if there was fresh snow on the ground), then walk two blocks to drop Vince off at daycare.

6:30 am: Pry Vince off me, ignoring his crying and screaming.  Ignore the guilt.  I had to do this to get ahead, to better our lives.  Walk two blocks to the bus stop.

6:45 am: Catch the 21A to Minneapolis.  This is a slow bus that stops at every corner.

7:30 am: Catch a second bus that drops me off a block from school.

8:00 am: First class.  Study and go to class all day.  Pathology, Anatomy and Physiology, Abnormal Psychology, Medical Terminology, and Fundamentals of Occupational Therapy.

4:00 pm: Repeat above, only backwards.  Sometimes necessary to stop at the grocery, which slowed things down considerably because I had to haul the stroller and one of those little-old-lady shopping carts.

Cart

6:00 pm: Arrive home, make dinner, feed Vince, clean, pay bills, make phone calls, etc.

7:30 pm: Put baby to bed.  Thank god he is such a good baby and loves to sleep.  But I still like our routine of reading books, singing songs, and rocking.

8:00 pm: Study for a couple hours, in bed by 10.

Then I found out I was pregnant again.  I had been using birth control and breast feeding.  Taken together, these were supposed to protect me against getting pregnant.  Lucky me, I was one of the one out of a hundred or whatever who did.

I’ve written about the guy Vince and I call The Creep.  Why had I let The Creep anywhere near me after Vince was born?  Because I felt obligated.  He was Vince’s father, after all, and my boyfriend.  Even though he was terrible at both, I was a doormat.  I can hardly believe this was me—it feels like it happened to another person.

I loved being a mother.  But how could I keep up my schooling with two babies?

I loved babies.  But how could I be a good mother to two of them?

I loved college—I was the star pupil in my class.  But how could I keep it up with two kids?

I told The Creep.  He looked like a badger caught in a snare.

“I spose we have ta get married then, huh?” was his response.

I don’t know what I had wanted from him, but it wasn’t that.

I told my mom.  She was furious.

“This will kill your grandma,” she said, and she wasn’t exaggerating.  My grandmother had run into the bathroom and thrown up when I’d told her I was pregnant the first time.

I told the head of my school program.  She looked so disappointed.

“What are you going to do?” she asked, not expecting that I’d have any answer.

To be continued ….