My Year Away. And Back.

Five Years Later, My Sabbatical Continues to Teach Me Things.


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Change, Change, Change.

It’s Saturday morning. The sun peaks above the horizon. The egrets leave their nighttime perches and line up for a trip to who knows where. It’s dead calm outside. A perfect morning for a row on Battery Creek, near downtown Beaufort, SC. This is a course I have rowed for about a decade. Meandering and beautiful—especially during a calm morning at slack tide. Exactly like this morning. Most likely a couple of 8+s will launch with varying skill levels, but filled with a highly enthusiastic gaggle of rowers. These are my people.

Who wouldn’t want to row in these waters?

Except this morning, I’m not there. Looks like I won’t be there next weekend, either. It’s hard to type these words, let alone say them out loud, but here goes. I’m not rowing now. I have to add the word “now,” because I want to leave a crack in the rowing door open. You know, just in case something changes.

But I guess I have finally owned up to the reality. Life is going in a different direction for me now and it’s time I acknowledge that.

It was a slow realization. Multiple hurricanes and a horrendous flood disrupted my rowing opportunities for a while. Then came the fateful morning row when I felt something not-quite-right in my left hamstring, resulting in a ginormous hematoma around my sitz bones, which made sitting in a rowing shell beyond painful. (And, thus, contributed to my decision to sell my racing shell.)  The achalasia diagnosis upended all sorts of parts of my life as well, not the least of which, was rowing.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad things that pushed rowing toward the bottom of the priority pile. Discovering an obsession with travelling to Italy meant limited rowing time in the summer. Buying a Big Brick House in Paducah, KY, for the restoration project of a lifetime grabbed the rest of the summer (and, perhaps, all the summers to come!). Discovering other fun things to do during spring break, like traversing Caribbean islands on a cruise ship, took away another prime week. And, so it continued, until I realized I wasn’t rowing very much. And, turns out, I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I would.

Even if I’m not rowing, I am drawn to water. The Tiber River in Rome is no exception.

So. I guess I’m a former rower now. After about 20 years, it’s hard to say good-bye. But it’s time. So, goodbye, and thanks to my four rowing clubs.

Beaufort Rowing Club. These rowers are the best. Some of their technique might drive me nuts, but I so appreciate how accepting this club has been to me—and to anyone who wants to row here. Other clubs should emulate BRC. Thanks for letting me be a part of this club for 10 years, Ken, Paul, Judy, Bill and the rest.

Columbia Rowing Club. The hubster and I wouldn’t have moved to SC for my job if there hadn’t been a rowing club in Columbia. I fondly remember the evening rows in my single with my rowing buddy, Laura. And, I loved rowing the quad with John, Marty and Brenda. We had some serious moments of run.

Nashville Rowing Club. Helping to start this club was hard work. But when you want to row and there is no one to row with, you do what you have to do. The club is now huge and doing incredibly well, but back in 2005, all there was, was me, and an old 4+ that I purchased sight unseen from Georgia Tech. How I found Erika, Joy, and Stephanie to row in that 4+ with me remains a mystery, but it was a time of magical rowing in a less-than-desirable situation. Erika was an emergency room orthopedic surgeon who would come to an early morning practice after operating all night. She was the most competitive rower I have ever had the privilege of knowing. As the stroke, Erika took us to places I didn’t even know were possible. Sitting at #3, Joy was a surgical resident at Vanderbilt and former varsity Virginia rower who was over 6 feet tall. Her schedule left no time for rowing, but somehow, she showed up enough times that we were able to practice for the Head of the Hooch head race. This is the only time I have rowed behind a woman taller than me. Rowing behind Joy was, well, a Joy. And then there was the bow, Stephanie, a recent Vandy grad, who barely pushed 5 feet. I still can’t figure out how she rowed like a tall person, but that girl rowed long. No question that at #2, I was the weak link in the boat, but these women didn’t complain. Maybe it was because I owned the boat. Or, maybe it was because, for whatever reason, when we rowed together, we flew.

Carolina Masters. And, this leads me to the Carolina Masters, my club in Chapel Hill, NC, where my rowing career began. I am thankful to a former student (and university rower) who encouraged me to go to a Learn-to-Row clinic because she thought I “looked like a rower.” I’m thankful to Julie, our volunteer coach, who was patient and encouraging, and helped me realize that I could be a decent rower. And, Ruth, who rowed in the pair with me in the dead of winter when no one was all that excited to row with me.  And the other Julie who also rowed in the pair with me when she didn’t have to. And all the rowers who were a part of those exciting years of racing—especially that second place nail-biter of a race at the Hooch.

You can see in our faces how seriously we took racing. In this boat, I had the privilege to row behind Julie, the best coach I ever had.
We were just a few seconds behind the #1 boat, but it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had racing. Standing on the podum for the medal ceremony was fun too!

And, then there’s Patti, my rowing soulmate. Patti and I were starting to become friends when I asked her if she might be interested in taking a road trip with me to Maine to pick up a single—an old restored wooden racing shell from the ‘70s. I didn’t even know how to row a single yet, but somehow, we both thought this was an excellent idea. We drove from Chapel Hill to Thomaston, Maine, and back again in four days with a stop in Philadelphia to pick up a former Olympian’s rowing shell that needed restoring. Having never transported a boat before, starting in Philly, and driving through cities like New York and Boston was challenging to say the least, but Patti never doubted for a minute that I could do it. We talked about everything over those four days (and, I mean EVERYTHING).  From that trip on, we drove together to racing venues, rowed side by side in our singles during our weekly “chat and rows,” talked about rowing until there was nothing left to say about rowing—and then talked about it some more. For me, rowing means Patti. And it always will.

Patti and I were frezzing in between our races, but that didn’t keep us from have a blast.

I guess you can tell that rowing has had an impact on my life. But, as I’ve been learning recently, just because you love something doesn’t mean that it must stay the same. Living at the beach part of each week, I see the ocean, the beach, and the tidal creeks. They are ever changing whether by erosion, storms, king tides, or anything else that nature throws. We have a lot of birds on Harbor Island, but they change, too.  Sometimes, it’s the ospreys who capture our attention. Sometimes it’s the pelicans perched at the Harbor Bridge. Now, it’s the migrating birds who join us for winter.

We change, too. I love rowing. But I guess I love other things more now. And, that’s okay. I used to think Aretha Franklin’s classic song was called “Change, Change, Change.” Okay, so I understand now that “Change of Fools” makes no sense whatsoever, but still, “change, change, change” could—and perhaps, should—be our anthem.  Bob Dylan once said that there is “nothing so stable as change.” And with that, I say The Beat Goes On.


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I Left My Heart (Not in San Francisco).

As many of you know, I am an academic. As a professor in a school of journalism and mass communications, one of the rights of passage at the end of the summer is to attend our annual conference, hosted by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).  I started going to this conference in 1993. Over the decades, I have presented refereed papers, sat on panels, gone to untold business meetings, and served in just about every leadership role available, including president of the organization a decade ago. I never missed.  One year, I even requested my daughter move her wedding by a week so it wouldn’t conflict. Rumor has it I phrased the dilemma as “Oh, Grace, I’d hate to miss your wedding because I was at the conference!” One of the best parts of the week-long event is reconnecting with colleagues around the country.  This year, even my new book was on display! Exciting times.

Except, I wasn’t there. And I probably won’t be there next year. In fact, most likely I’ll never go to the AEJMC annual conference again. While this news won’t cause any seismic ripples around the world, it’s rather earth-shattering (or at least earth-quivering) to me. I think it means my heart is focused on other endeavors.

It’s just a few more days before the new semester begins. Um, sure, I’m looking forward to the new academic year. It’s just that I really, really, really liked my summer and I’m not quite ready to give it up. The (not so) lazy days of summer started off, of course, in Italy.  Then we came home for 10 days (split between the beach and the city), then one month in Paducah, KY, working on the Carriage House and Big Brick House. A week of visiting relatives in Minnesota and Wisconsin followed. Then the loooonng two-day drive back to South Carolina.

And, now, here I sit at the beach for my last week of summer vacation, thinking about, well, the things I’m thinking about.

My heart is back in Italy. How could it not be? Six weeks split between Rome and Meta di Sorrento. Eating pasta, drinking wine, walking everywhere, daily trips to the grocery, staring at the sea, toasting the sunset (with more wine of course!), and just general soaking up every little ounce of every little tidbit of belissima l’italia! (I’m already checking flight schedules for next year.)

I will never get tired of watching the sun set on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

My heart is also in Paducah. For the entire month of July, the hubster and I poured concrete, wielded jack hammers, pried nails out of lumber with crowbars (which I redubbed “cry bars” and with good reason), took down, put up, measured, sawed, and did just about everything else a person can do in the summer heat while working on renovations of a 100-year old house. By the end of the month, more than one waitperson recognized us at our favorite restaurants (amazingly, little Paducah has a bunch of great eateries!) and people around town knew about “that couple from South Carolina who bought the big brick house.” As we labored, we talked about the possibilities of using the Big Brick House as a seasonal small bed and breakfast establishment. Certainly, something to contemplate as we consider life beyond our current careers.

So this might not look scary, but I am up high, doing carpentry things
that are way out of my wheelhouse.

My heart is also in Minneapolis where our adult kids and happy grandchildren live. Seeing our daughter and son-in-law’s thriving pottery business, Studio2Ceramics (why, yes, they are on social media and they send pottery nation-wide), makes this entrepreneur-minded mom happy. And spending time with my son and daughter-in-law’s kids is always delightful (albeit, exhausting!).

Just helping to clean the bottom of one batch of pre-fired mugs was intense. The least you all could do is buy a mug from Studio2Ceramics!

But my heart is also at the beach.  And, given that we have our beloved beach house on the market, my heart feels particularly vulnerable right now. We need to sell this house so we can move forward with some of the big expenses of the Paducah house. But I also hate to think about not taking a walk on the beach whenever I want. Or even just sitting on the front porch drinking coffee while watching the egrets fly hither and yon. I love my beach, rowing, and church friends in Beaufort, I love singing in the choir, I love having Sunday lunch on the river front. I even love our Publix here.

This selfie of me with our former choir director and organ maestro captures what I think about singing in the choir.

And, now, I have to get up the gumption and search for a piece of my heart that can still find joy in university life.  I’m not going to lie. It may be an extra challenge this year. Our beloved university president has retired. The Board of Trustees then made some zany decisions over the summer while faculty and students were conveniently away that may make all our jobs a little less joyful. I hope I’m proved wrong. But, in the meantime, I muse about the summer as I contemplate the future. There’s a lot to think about. But, as that great philosopher Dr. Seuss said, “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” Okay. I’ll try. Right after I grab my coffee and settle into the rocking chair, listening for the waves to tell me the tide is coming in.


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Things I Simply Don’t Understand About Italy

This is my fourth time to visit Italy. I have now spent well over 100 days in this country and I look forward to the next 100 days over the next couple of years. After teaching a study abroad class in Rome, the hubster and I are tucked in at Meta, a small town just two train stops from Sorrento. To say I am obsessed with Italy might be a bit of an understatement. In many ways (and I’m not sure why), it feels like home.

Still. From an American’s perspective, anyway, Italy has some odd quirks that I simply don’t understand. Here is my list (in no particular order).

Coffee. I love coffee. Italy is known for its coffee so this seems like a no-brainer. But, non e’ vero! To me, coffee should both satisfy the caffeine fix—and serve as a beverage. Is that too much to ask? In Italy, yes. First, understand that you pay for your coffee by the cup. And by cup, I mean a teeny, weeny hint of a cup. One swig and you’re done. If you want something a bit larger, try a cappuccino, but Heaven help the American who tries to order one in the afternoon. Cappuccinos in Italy are works of art, but still, they are made with a touch of coffee and a whole lot of foam. So, again, a swig or two and you’re done.

I might have conquered the Italian espresso maker but I don’t understand it.

The apartment we’re living in this summer is huge. It sleeps five, but it contains one espresso maker. As in one coffee maker to make one itsy bitsy espresso for one person. I’ve at least figured out a way I can get two (small) cups of regular coffee out of this Lilliputian contraption. While it’s perking, I boil a pot of water so I can pour half of the (okay, yes, quite delicious) espresso into a cup and fill the rest with water. Caffe Americano! It’s a labor of love, but at least I can get a morning beverage. (Now, if I repeat this three times, I will have had my morning coffee.)

Bathrooms. C’mon, Italy. You can do better. I’ll let you have the bidet, although I simply do not understand this contraption other than it takes up too much space in small Italian bathrooms. But, why do the showers have to be so small? Our shower in our apartment doesn’t even have doors that close, which means that after you shower, you have to use towels to dry the floor. Public bathrooms are even more confusing. Why do so many Italian public bathrooms include missing toilet lids? The design of the toilet shows that it calls for a lid, so did someone, somewhere, decide that Italians can’t trust tourists with toilet lids? Of things to swipe to take home as souvenirs, I wouldn’t think toilet lids would top the list.

Street Noise. In every Italian town we have visited over the years, the noise on the street is LOUD. Even the quaint towns with only local traffic have way-too loud noises. Italian towns are built in stone, so noise reverberates off the postcard-worthy buildings. Add to that the barking dogs, the Italian mamas yelling at their Italian bambini, the teammates of the local Italian soccer club yelling at each other just because they can I suppose (we hear this every night), the motorcycles weaving through the narrow streets all day (and night) long, and the street sweeper cleaning the streets every morning, it’s hard to get away from the noise. From pictures, Italian towns look quiet. Rest assured, they are not.

This is the lock to our front door in Meta.

Obsession with Security. All the Italians I’ve met have assured me how safe Italy is. And I feel safe in Italy. Back home, I never walk alone around my town at night. But, while in Italy, nessun problema. Given how late the morning starts, the three to four-hour riposa in the afternoon, and the evening, which begins around 6, if you don’t walk around at night, you are basically stuck at home the whole day. However, as safe as Italy feels, locked gates barricade every home. Each front door has a deadbolt system that would rival any New York City walk-up. Every first-floor window has steel bars on them. I’ll tell you. No one is getting into your home.

This is the view from our terrace in Meta.
This is also the view from our terrace.

Juxtaposition of Squalor and Splendor. Like any tourist, I want my pictures on Facebook to look pretty. So, I post the sea view. The lemon groves. The bucolic vistas. But for every lemon grove in Sorrento, you can see an empty lot strewn with trash. For every winding street, you can find another right next to it packed with garbage, junk, and all sorts of gross things. (Speaking of garbage, every day is a different recycling day, which means basically, that refuse sits out on the street, waiting for pick up, every single day.) For every great masterpiece, you can find 10 times the amount of graffiti. The graffiti is so bad that most of the village names at each stop on the Circumvesuviana local train from Napoli to Sorrento are grafitti-covered and unreadable. Which is challenging giving the train stops for about 30 seconds before moving on to the next village.

Pizza. Pizza in Italy is ridiculously delicious (especially near Naples). It is also ridiculously cheap. Last night, I chose the Marinara pizza (tomatoes and basil). It was huge. It cost 3.50 euros. The hubster splurged and ordered a Margherita (tomatoes, mozzarella and basil) and added olives and eggplant. His totalled 4.50.  The dichotomy of pizza prices compared to the cost of one cup of coffee, water, bread, or just about anything else on the menu does not make the least bit of sense to me. Seems to me that Italy could erase its economic woes just by charging tourists double for their pizzas. I don’t think we’d even notice. 

But I’m not going to complain about cheap pizza. In fact, I’m not really going to complain about anything in Italy. Just because I don’t understand much of it, doesn’t mean I’m dissatisfied. I like the confusion of Italy. I like that my wash takes hours and that I have to wait additional multiple hours for it to air dry (this also explains why laundry is always hanging outside in Italian homes). I like that I need to ask the grocery guy to select my vegetables because, apparently, you do not touch the produce. I like that I can basically mix anything together in a pan, cook it for a long while, mix in pasta, and have a rather delicious meal. I like that we buy our wine from the wine guy down the street and pay 4 euros for 3 liters of wine. I like that we relax in Italy.

Resting. Eating the best food in the universe. Drinking excellent wine. Walking everywhere. Repeat. So maybe I do understand a bit. Amo l’Italia!


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Far from the Maddening (Tourist) Crowd

As of today, I have been in Italy for four weeks with three more weeks to go. After spending time in the crowded, tourist-teeming cities of Bologna, Florence and Rome, the hubster and I are now tucked in at a little Italian town near the Adriatic Sea.

A common thread I heard throughout my early weeks in Italy was about finding the “non-tourist” restaurants, the coffee shops where the “locals hang out,” the places where “real Italians” shop, walk, eat, you name it.

American tourists are an interesting bunch. Florence, in particular, is overrun with American college students on their first study abroad experience, which means they tend to move in a pack with their fellow American students. I watched them eat American French fries, share a pizza (c’mon, order your own pizza!), ask for more ice for their Diet Cokes.

I, too, found myself searching for the “non-tourist” parts of the city.

But, here’s the thing. Tourism provides the mechanism for the  interesting non-tourist places to visit in these towns. Tourism is what makes these cities flourish. For example, during our last day in Rome, we took a tour of the Vatican. It was a tourist-crushing experience to say the least. Sure, I saw the Sistine Chapel, but it was difficult to truly appreciate Michelangelo’s talent when we were packed in like sardines (and we were on a “skip the crowds” tour) while we were just trying not to suffocate. Craning our collective necks to gaze at the ceiling provided work for the tour guides, the guards periodically yelling “Silenzio!,” the refreshment hawkers at the museum entrance, the gelato sellers near the fountains, the Airbnb apartment owners near the Vatican, the ristorante owner around the corner, the taxi drivers waiting at Borgo Santo Spiritus, and on and on.

Even the small “authentic” villages of “old” Italy depend on tourism. Cortona, for example, is a fantastic village to visit with lots of lovely shops and restaurants. The town thrives because tourists have read the book or seen the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, and they want to experience the authenticity for themselves.  (When I was there last year, I was ready to buy a house on the spot.)

You can stay at a quaint agritourismo (and we have!) to experience the authentic Italian country way of life. Except most likely the other guests at the agritourismo will be Americans or Canadians (and an occasional Australian). Tourism has allowed those with these lovely farmhouses to eke out a living.

Rick Steves has been both celebrated and criticized for bringing tourism to previously little visited areas like the Cinque Terre, which now is nearly impossible to visit without stifling crowds.

But what about the towns untouched by tourism?

Currently, the hubster and I are in Nereto, a small town about 10 miles from the Adriatic Sea. It’s in the province of Abruzzo, a strikingly beautiful area of mountains, hills, blue skies. While it is hot and humid back in South Carolina, here in Nereto, it is in the mid-70s with low humidity. We have all the windows of our apartment open and I am wearing a sweater.

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This is the view of the hills outside Nereto.

There is not a single tourist in this town except for us. When we walk the streets, people look at us strangely. Surely, they know we don’t belong here, but they don’t seem overly curious about us. No one speaks English, but we know enough Italian now that we can order in restaurants (there only appears to be three here), can tell the grocery check-out person that we don’t need a bag, and can ask directions if we need to. Then again, we don’t need to because this town is so small, you can’t get lost.

But, I wouldn’t call Nereto quaint. Actually, I don’t know what I’d call it. It seems to be a town that had an idea for improvement and innovation, but somewhere along the way, it forgot about the master plan (if ever there was one). There are some beautifully renovated homes (where we’re staying is one of them), but lots of abandoned buildings, stores that are closed, others that we can’t really tell if they are open or closed.

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The old blends with the new in Nereto. It’s hard to tell what is in the process of being renovated.

The Jumbo Super Mercato is quite modern with lots of choices at excellent prices. Cars fly through the town to go who knows where. As I write, there is a week-long “beer fest” in the town square that includes a couple of hours of not great music in the evening (which we can hear even with all the windows closed), a bizarre bouncy house contraption, and some horribly cheap toys and other junk to purchase. A beer fest doesn’t sound very Italian to me, but who’s to say?

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Here is a half-built apartment building in Nereto that seems to be abandoned.

When you get right down to it, what does the average American know about Italy, anyway? Ask 100 Americans who have been to Italy where they went, and I’ll bet they’ll answer some combination of Florence, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. But what about all the other places without the amazing art, or spectacular duomos, or tantalizing beaches?

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There might not be any amazing art or duomos in Nereto, but it still has some beauty.

This is my third time to visit Italy. I have been working hard every day for the past 18 months to learn Italian. I suppose I am getting better at it, but the more I talk, the more I realize how basic my language skills actually are. Come to think of it, that’s a lot like spending time in another country. The longer I’m here, the more I realize I don’t know Italy at all.   I’ve heard plenty of tourists say things like “I did Italy last year.” Well, I’ve got news for them. They didn’t.

Meanwhile, as I try to get my head around what I’m doing here, I’m settling in, figuring out the rhythm, drinking wine. Writing. And cooking pasta. Non che male!

 

 


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Grab a Book and Count Down to New Years!

It’s just a couple of days until the hubster and I leave for our two-week cruise.  We’re finishing our chores here at our beach house where it is ridiculously cold.  (Truth be told, I’m relieved that the weather is so bad. It makes “Hey, let’s leave the beach and go to the Caribbean” a lot more logical.)

As we take down our Christmas decorations (which so far has taken a total of about 10 minutes—I definitely went “minimalist” this year), I’ve been putting things in our cruise suitcase to make sure we remember everything we need for the next two weeks. At the top of the list are appropriate books to read. While Holland America ships typically have decent libraries on them, I don’t want to leave our reading to chance on this trip.  Considering we aren’t interested in many of the official ship activities (seriously, who plays Bingo, anyway?!), having the right books to read is critical.

I picked two: An Odyssey, a memoir by English professor Daniel Mendelsohn who takes his dad on a cruise through the locations of–wait for it–The Odyssey.  I heard the author on NPR and I was intrigued.  For my second book, I chose Return to Glow, a memoir by Chandi Wyant about her pilgrimage on the Via Francigenia in Italy. I’ll read just about anything if it mentions Italy so this was a no brainer.

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Can’t wait to read this book on our cruise!

Selecting these books made me think about books that left indelible imprints on my heart—and also the books that got away from me.  During my sabbatical, when I was first dabbling with blogging, I had a “practice blog” called The Professor & Her Garden that I used during my WordPress Blogging 101 online class. For one of the daily assignments, I wrote about 10 books that influenced me.  Packing my new books for my cruise reminded me of that post.  So, first, here is the list of 10 books I mentioned at The Professor & Her Garden.

  1. That Hideous Strength (C.S. Lewis).  This book has it all.  Space travel; marriage advice; university politics; wizardry.  I first read THS at Oxford during my study abroad.  It’s my all-time favorite book and I’ve read it at least 20 times.  I own the paperback edition (that I loan to friends), a hard-cover American edition (that I read myself), and a British hard copy edition that I keep on the shelf with all my other C.S. Lewis books.
  2. This Perfect Day (Ira Levin).  I read this book in 9th grade and it rocked my world.  It’s creepy, other worldly, surprising, weird, thought-provoking, iconoclastic.  Everything in this book is topsy turvy, which, for a 9th grader, made for perfect reading.  Move over Holden Caufield.
  3. My Losing Season (Pat Conroy).  There is no question that I am crazy about Pat Conroy.  A bit of a stalker, really.  I live in the same town as Conroy did and I used to see him periodically at the grocery store.  (I made note of his grocery cart contents.)  I have a photo of his dad’s (The Great Santini) gravestone on my IPhone. And, sadly, I now have a picture of his grave as well.  I love, love, love his books.  But his book about playing basketball at the Citadel really resonated with me. I am still sad over his death, though—and maybe even a little angry—so I haven’t been able to read any of his books since he passed.
  4. The Trouble with Jenny’s Ear (Oliver Butterworth).  I read this book in grade school and it impressed me to no end.  It’s about a girl who “hears things” and ultimately ends up on a quiz show where she hears all the answers.  Freaky, ethics, and a strong female leading character.  What more could an independent little girl want? I loved this book so much as a kid, I decided to order it on Amazon and read it as an adult. Yikes. It’s really a terribly written book.  Henceforth, I think I’ll forgo re-reading “my childhood favs.”
  5. Drawn to the Rhythm:  A Passionate Life Reclaimed (Sara Hall).  This book is really about how rowing saved Sara’s life.  It’s heart-wrenching but inspirational.  I think of this book every time I don’t feel like going out on the water because I don’t want to row by myself, or it’s too cold, or too windy, or any other million reasons. Hmmm. Now that I think about it, I might replace Drawn with Boys in the Boat as my all-time favorite.
  6. Straight Down a Crooked Lane (Francena Arnold).  I can’t tell you how many times I read this book when I was a little kid, but it was a bunch.  It had romance, tennis, and race relations–all rather mind-blowing to me as a child.  Whenever I would read this book, I would think about what a great movie it would make.  I decided that Jimmy Stewart should play the father.  I felt really sad when Stewart died, in part, because he wouldn’t have the chance to play the role of, what I was sure, would be Oscar worthy. Based on my experience with rereading The Trouble with Jenny’s Ear, however, I now have second thoughts about its movie possibilities.
  7. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand).  Reading this book in 12th grade made me feel super grown up.  I wanted to be an architect and I admired Howard Rourk’s independent spirit.  I was a polar opposite to Rand’s philosophy, but I plowed through all her books in high school—and loved them all.  I even wrote a children’s book based on objectivism for an English creative writing class.  It was called Fritzi of Frumple Forest (or something like that).  My teacher wanted me to try to get it published.  I was horrified.
  8. Areopagitica (John Milton).  I was a mediocre (at best!) English Literature undergraduate student (more about that below), but I sure did love Milton.  No matter what college class I teach now, I always find a way to quote Areopagitica.  “Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”  Seriously. Can’t you feel your heart racing?
  9. A Girl Named Zippy (Haven Kimmel).  This book is laugh-out-loud hilarious.  Kimmel manages to get to the heart of what growing up in the ’50s was like.  I’m not kidding.  The writing is brilliant.  My daughter read Zippy right after me and guffawed at least as much as I did.  Years later, it has remained a book that makes the two of us laugh just thinking about it.
  10. The Time Bridge (Carol Pardun).  I wrote this young adult novel as my creative thesis project for my master’s degree in communications.  It’s a science fiction, young adult book in the spirit of Madeline L’Engle (or that was my hope, anyway).  It is about time travel and tennis.   I didn’t publish the book (I’m sure it needs lots of work), but it showed me that I could write something long from start to finish.  It let me successfully finish my master’s degree, which spurred me on to seek the PhD.  While my dissertation was nothing remotely similar to The Time Bridge, I like to think that my first attempt at a book-length manuscript provided the framework for successfully completing my degree.

So, those are the books I read.  But what about the books I didn’t read? I’ll say it again.  I was an English Literature major in undergraduate school.  What you do in that major is read books. A lot of them. So how in the world did I miss these?

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird. I know, I know. It’s embarrassing. I’ve tried the excuse that I was an English lit major, which means I studied mostly English stuff.  And, yes, I know that everyone read this in high school. But when I was in high school, I took English electives.  That’s where I was introduced to Ayn Ran and Ira Levin (see above).  I also took a class called “Hell.” (I’m sure it was actually called something else.)  We read The Inferno, No Exit, and Damn Yankees to name a few.  Going to high school in the early ‘70s offered some interesting experiences. I don’t know why I haven’t read Mockingbird (I haven’t even seen the movie), but at this point, I sort of feel like I’m committed to this short coming.  Like the people who have never seen a Star Wars movie. They are out there.
  2. War and Peace. I like books about war. And books about peace.  And long books. So this doesn’t make any sense.  But, for whatever reason, I have decided it’s just too late for me to read this book. Or any other Tolstoy for that matter.
  3. The Great Gatsby. So, I have seen the movie (the one with Robert Redford) and I didn’t like it all that much. (I did see The Way We Were about a zillion times, however.) I started feeling guilty about this recently after reading an essay about Tender Is the Night, written by a newly retired English professor friend of mine. I realized anew just how lacking my American Literature background is.  I think my demise started when I read Flannery O’Connor.  I pretty much have been running from American literature ever since.

I could go on and on about all the books I have not read.  But, I’ve decided to think about the books that I have read—and the impact that they have had on me. And to also think about the books that await me.  I have a quote on my office wall by (of course!) C.S. Lewis: “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.” For the next two weeks, I’m planning on curling up in a comfortable chair out on the deck of a gargantuan ship, reading my new books, periodically lifting my head high enough to soak in the sun and contemplate the ocean—and other vast things. Not a bad way to start 2018 even if it is devoid of some classics that I know I should have read. I’ve got two weeks of nothing to do but read, think, and hang out with the hubs. Reality will start knocking soon enough.  But for now, grab a book and an afghan (unless you happen to be in the Caribbean) and celebrate! Happy New Year!

 


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Can you have a mid-life crisis when you’re 61?

Okay, okay.  I know I’m past middle age (At least I know that when I’m thinking straight).  That being said, ever since returning from Italy on June 6, I’ve been contemplating the next phase of life.  Usually, I phrase it something like this:  “ARGHHHH!  There’s not much time left!  I’m 2/3 of the way through life. IF. I’M. LUCKY. What happened?  So much to do! So much to do!”

Since learning to live with achalasia, I’ve spent a lot more time contemplating “What’s next?” than I would normally be inclined to do. Clearly, I’ve had some sort of massive wake-up call.  For example, I’ve always planned to work until I’m 70. And why not? Being a tenured full professor is a fantastic profession. Job security. Good pay. Flexible hours. Extremely liberal vacation time.   Who would walk away from that?

Except, I just had the vacation of a lifetime. And I want more. I loved being in a different culture. And I want more of that. I loved crossing the ocean at 15-20 knots (i.e., slowly) with time to stare out into the horizon wondering about everything or nothing.  I want more of that, too.

Seventy as a retirement age is starting to sound too far into the future. I’m not getting any younger. Clearly. I used to look younger than my age. But, people no longer stare with their mouths agape when they find out I have grandchildren. Sometimes I’m given the Senior Citizen Discount. Without asking.  And, more than once recently, I’ve had acquaintances assume I’m retired—and look a bit of a confused when I tell them I’m still working.  Heck, I’m not even Social Security eligible yet.

In my “I’m getting old!” full freak-out mode, I’ve noticed more creaks and moans coming from my body. Recently while rowing, I damaged my “sits bone” (the ischial tuberosity for anyone who is interested in keeping up with my continued bizarre medical escapades) and for the first time, I’ve wondered if it might be time to sell my racing scull.

We own two houses (one at the beach and one in the city), which take a modicum of effort to keep in good shape.  Lately, I’ve walked around both houses thinking about things we should start getting rid of.  (Including at least one of the houses.)

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Here’s a view of our island at high tide.

I met with the retirement guy to get his opinion on whether we have enough money to retire sooner than later.  And, I’ve read just about every online publication Social Security offers trying to figure out if I know enough to make the decision to retire.

As for the hubster, he’s taking my whirling dervish “let’s do something” activity in stride. Occasionally, he’ll listen in when I say I’ve found the perfect cruise that leaves Amsterdam and travels through Iceland and Greenland on its way back to the States. Apparently, I have just developed a NEED to see the Arctic Circle. I think I’ve convinced the hubster that we need to get our next adventure to Italy set right now.  We’ve booked an apartment in Nereto, Italy, next July.  I’ve never heard of Nereto. either, but apparently I need to go there as well.

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I can’t wait to go back to Italy to see more views like this!

I’m studying Italian every day—determined to be at least 50% fluent before I return. I’ve read that studying another language helps delay brain deterioration.  So, now I’m worried that my brain is deteriorating. (Drat! I broke my 29-day streak on Duolingo.)

Big breath. Sigh. Here’s the thing. Yeah, I’m getting older. But my life has been pretty awesome—and it looks like it might be pretty awesome in the future as well. (I’ve got my next trip to Italy planned so it can’t be all bad, right?) I’m normally not a freak-out kind of person. Maybe a wake-up call once in a while is good. And maybe visiting the Arctic Circle really is a good idea.  Who knows? But, what I do know is that I’ve had an amazing summer—and now it’s time to get back to work. The fall semester starts in just a few days.  Looks like I’m not retiring this year no matter what the retirement guy says.  And that’s okay. I’ve got time. I hope.

 

 

 


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When Achalasia Takes Vacation

As you all know, the hubster and I recently travelled through France and Italy to celebrate our 40th anniversary.  You all also know that I had put so much planning, hope, and expectations on this trip that some people (okay, my husband) was concerned I might be disappointed.  I mean what trip could possibly live up to a vacation I had spent untold hours thinking about, rethinking about, and then thinking about again?  Those of you who know me well, know that I have a vivid imagination.  Believe me, there was not one inch of this trip that I didn’t think about (multiple times) before we left.

So, how was it?  In a word, Epic.  I mean utterly, truly, unbelievably epic.  It was what I had hoped it would be.  And then some.

I could point to any number of reasons it was so magical.  Spending a month with the best guy ever would be one reason.  Being out in the middle of the ocean for two weeks would be another.  Breath-taking scenery everywhere we turned would be yet another.

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The ship hadn’t even left port and I was already relaxed!

But, eating the food was a highlight that was so delightful, it’s difficult to describe.  Simply put, I ate with gusto on this trip. And, I ate a lot.  In fact, I am positive that I ate more in one month than I have eaten over the entire past year.  One night, for example, we decided to take a break from our normal four-course meal at our agritourismo.  We walked into town for a “light” dinner.  This breezy dinner consisted of a pizza for each of us (Do the math.  That’s two pizzas.), a scoop of gelato (I think on that night I had Nutella and Cream, if you can imagine) and a carafe of wine.  And, just for the record, that entire meal cost about 25 euro.

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This is the restaurant where we had a “light” dinner of pizza, gelato, and wine.

In Italy, if a pasta dish were available (and in Italy, pasta is always available!), I ate it.  Formaggio?  Oh, si, grazie!  Coupled with a delightful (and crazy cheap) local wine, I was happy.

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My lunch in Cortona. And, yes, I ate every bite.

It didn’t stop there.  We ate dessert with just about every meal, which, if you knew my husband (since he doesn’t like sugar), is amazing. At one restaurant, we even shared three desserts, each one yummier than the one before.

My achalasia was clearly on vacation.

I first started noticing that I was eating easily during our transatlantic cruise. While you hear stories of people piling their plates at the buffet with bacon (yes, I did see people eat way too much bacon in one sitting), waffles, and everything else they could grab, there were wonderful healthy choices that were truly mouthwatering.  Oatmeal for breakfast, exotic soup for lunch (and usually ice cream afterwards), salmon and vegetables for dinner.  I loved the food on the ship and ate it with joy.  I was relaxed and breathed deeply while sitting on our balcony.  Over the two-week cruise, I only had to pause and consider whether I could continue to eat (usually the answer was yes!) just a few times.

In Italy, I only had one semi-major constriction of my esophagus and I wasn’t even eating then.  It was while driving on a mountainous, supposedly two-lane road with 180-degree hairpin turns about every two minutes. I think anyone fearing a heart attack would be justified at that moment.

Before our trip, I considered whether I needed to worry about gaining weight over the month. After all, the only good thing about achalasia was that I was able to shed my excess weight.  What if it came back? I even brought a pair of my old-size pants just in case I wouldn’t be able to fit into my new-size clothes by the end of vacation.  I finally concluded that if I found I could eat, I wasn’t going to worry (much!) and that gaining up to 10 pounds would be acceptable and well worth the price for eating fabulous food.

But I didn’t gain weight.  Not even a pound.

I have no explanation for this.  Perhaps I ate less than I thought.  (Even if true, I’ve got pictures of the entire pizzas I devoured so I know I ate a lot.)  Perhaps exercise kept the extra weight away (Yes, we walked a lot, but I don’t think it would be possible to walk enough to keep the “calories in/calories out” equation even partially balanced.). Perhaps I only ate good-for-you food.  That was mostly true, but a big bowl of pasta has some serious calories, no matter which way you count them.  And, as for the 5 oz. of wine per day is good for you medical recommendation, yes, well…

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Just taking a rest before gearing up for a four-course dinner.

I think it was a miracle. A full-blown “hey, I’m going to give the girl a break just because I can” kind of miracle.  A challenging year of barely eating ended with a flat-out celebration of the goodness of food.  Ecclesiastes 7:14 begins “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” I’ve had a bit of adversity—not much compared to others, but I’ve shed a few tears—and from May 6 to June 6, I had joy.  Complete freedom to eat without worry.

Since we’ve been back, I continue to do well, but I certainly can’t eat the way I ate on vacation.  I’m back to thinking carefully about my food, paying attention to the pains, drinking plenty of hot water when I get into trouble.  In short, I have nearly daily reminders that I still have achalasia and I always will.

But, that’s okay.  I got a glimpse of joy.  My favorite author, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least.”  I might be stretching here, but I think I got a glimpse of a sliver of heaven on this trip. And it looks a lot like Tuscany.