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friendship tour

A Friendship Tour, Thanks to a Book

Promoting a book is almost as hard as writing one. Especially the first time, especially for an indie author without access to the big marketing machines behind books published by the big five.

In anticipation of my May 2 pub date, sometime last winter, I began scheduling a book tour that would stretch throughout the summer months and touch a variety of New England summer communities. EDEN has universal themes and a storyline that stretches well beyond the typical “summer read” genre, but because it is set in a New England summer enclave and the meat of the drama occurs over the Fourth of July weekend, my promotion strategy was to hit the New England coastline during the summer months.

Now, this might have seemed logical and obvious during the dreary months of March and April, but now that I am in the midst of summer, and my tour, I have had many personal realizations. Never before would I have imagined being happy about not being in Watch Hill 100% of the time. Like some of the characters in EDEN, I’ve been loathe in summers past to ever leave my bubble. My children came home and filled the house with activity and I nurtured and nested and enjoyed our routine, our “special place.”  In summers past, in fact, I have declined many invitations to visit friends because of all the engagements at home.

I’m reminded of the years I spent converting to Judaism. One of the steps in the process that my rabbi prescribed was making a trip to Israel. I was fine with the other dozen requirements, but how could he expect me to go to Israel?  It’s far, it would be expensive, and in reality I thought it seemed a little bit scary. Fast forward to the weekend of my final conversion step – on Friday afternoon I immersed at the mikvah, and on Saturday morning I made my first aliyah. Then on Sunday evening I received a call from the captain of the US Maccabiah squash team asking if I would represent the US at the games in Tel Aviv that summer. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance, brought my family and enjoyed my time in Israel immensely.

Similarly,  the unintended benefit of promoting EDEN is that it’s gotten me out of town. I’m visiting  beautiful places and friends in their beautiful places, their “Edens.” Between 2009 and 2012 our family lived in Switzerland where we traveled extensively. Not only to other countries, but we’d often get in the car and just drive to small towns in Germany or France. We would wander, maybe following a map, maybe inspired by an article or suggestion, but we’d usually get lost or totally miss the place suggested in the guide book and end up finding our own destination. I loved it. And I vowed to continue that spirit of wanderlust when I returned to the states. There were, I reasoned, so many beautiful places in my own country, even in New England, that I’d never seen. Well, easier said than done.

For example, I have skied a lot in Maine, but had never visited its beautiful coastline during the summer. I had spent the early summers of my marriage on the Cape, but in recent years had written it off as too crowded. There was always something, some reason I couldn’t leave Watch Hill in the summer – Martha’s Vineyard? Nantucket? The Hamptons?  New Jersey? Good for you, but not for me….

So this summer, I’m leaving my comfort zone and seeing more of our beautiful coastline, and islands! But more importantly,  I’m seeing friends and making new friends, sharing stories and laughing. I’m receiving the wonderful generosity and support of the people in my life. They are attending my readings and hosting events for me in their homes. It’s beyond anything I could have imagined during the planning stages. People have been asking me if  it’s exhausting, and the answer is “no”: this trip is just the charge I needed.

greenhouse

That Man in the Greenhouse, Iceland

Iceland is a pretty popular travel destination these days – primarily due to a trend toward adventure and outdoor recreation, but also thanks to great airline promotions sponsored by Icelandair.

I was in Iceland for ten days in early April to attend the Iceland Writer’s Retreat. The conference, which was held in Reykjavik and co-chaired by the First Lady, was fabulous. But April is better suited for writing than all those outdoor activities. It was rainy and cold in that way that seeps into your bones. During the four days that John and I went sightseeing before the conference began, we saw rain and snow blowing in every direction as well as waterfalls defying gravity and blowing up into the sky – more like fountains than waterfalls. (Iceland is notoriously windy.)

Nonetheless, Iceland inspired wonder and awe. First off, the geological activity is incredible. From the Mid-Atlantic ridge, the rift between the American and European tectonic plates which is basically a volcanic seam between the continents and moves about an inch per year, to the geyser (the one after which all others were named) which spews its hot water like a whale exuding water through its blow-hole like clockwork,  to all the geothermal activity creating hot soaking lagoons as well as the country’s primary energy source, to its many active volcanoes, the earth in Iceland is definitively unstable, a sense of mayhem lurking just beneath the surface.

Yet the people are the epitome of stability in a land that bubbles, steams, and foments… A guide who took us up to a glacier in his red monster truck for a day of hiking (named Thorer) was telling us about the farming his family did, describing facts in detail that went back a few generations. He even drove us past the well that marked the original family farmland (they had to move because of volcanic activity). I asked him when his family came to Iceland (such a north American concept) and he looked at me confused. Like when was his family not in Iceland..? Just look at him, tall and strong and broad chested, Thorer was basically a direct descendant of the Vikings – I mean he can literally trace his genealogy back hundreds and hundred of years. And that is not uncommon in Iceland – the government set up a database that all Icelandic people can log into to see how closely they are related to each other (helpful when deciding whom to date). Because the national population of 330,000 has been the stability in the country – never really leaving or interbreeding. And in that way the people are much like the sheep – touted for being as pure as they come, never having interbred, producing some of the silkiest, fine wool in the world.

What will this new industry of tourism bring (now almost outranking fishing as Iceland’s economic engine) besides people in awe over the glaciers and waterfalls and bubbling hot springs? Tourists visiting from other parts of the world, from places that more resemble melting pots, might unfortunately look at  Icelandic people as a curiosity… The sense of permanence in their dna even extends to the fact that Icelandic people have been valuable in medical studies because of the dependability of a control population.  I just found the mindset that must go along with these deep roots fascinating.

The other thing that was of great interest was the desolation of much of the country. Once you leave greater Reykjavik, where at least two thirds of the population resides, the landscape is expansive and unfettered. Homes and small towns (really small) are spread very far apart. That’s why I’ve been fascinated by the proprietor of Fridheimar, seemingly a modern European businessman. We spotted him dining with colleagues in the restaurant inside one of his greenhouses.

He was an attractive, middle-aged man (no doubt a descendant of the Vikings) and fashionably dressed (thanks to the Internet? Or possibly his ability to travel abroad). He operates greenhouses in Reykholt (a 2 hour drive from Reykjavik). Because there is no sunlight in Iceland for a good deal of the winter, and because of the cold climate, vegetables are grown in greenhouses, where, thanks to all the geothermal activity, the interior lights burn brightly all year long. (BTW Iceland burns minimal fossil fuels) We visited Fridheimar where 20% of Iceland’s tomato consumption is produced.

Turns out that nice looking guy was an agronomist married to a beautiful horticulturist. The poster in the restaurant said they move to Reykholt (I would call it the middle of nowhere), had five kids and have been growing tomatoes and their business for fifteen years or so (they’ve even latched onto tourism opportunities). I can’t stop thinking about that family in the greenhouse. Maybe there’s a story in there wanting to be written, or maybe it’s the vision of five kids running around the long rows of tomatoes in the dead of winter that’s got my mind working, the glow from the greenhouses the only light for miles and miles and miles.

The restaurant inside serves –you got it – a short menu of tomato related dishes including tomato soup, pasta with tomato sauce, and a flatbread pizza covered with tomatoes. They also have about half a dozen variations of the classic Bloody Mary on the menu. All delicious, delicate, refined, and sophisticated. The food in Iceland surprised me most of all – I was sort of expecting something rugged like the landscape, similar to Ireland or England where they batter and fry the fish and eat a lot of potatoes. But the food in Iceland was one of the greatest surprises of all. Delicious, pure and healthy. John and I had one of the best meals of our lives at the seaside restaurant called Fjorubordid where their simple menu revolves around langoustine (Iceland’s tiny, incredibly sweet lobsters.) Worth a trip to Iceland for that meal alone.

So despite the rain, sleet, and snow, the rainbows were spectacular, and the people and the food were terrific. But note to self: if  it weren’t for the incredible congregation of writers in April, I might prefer visiting in June…

spreading her love

Spreading Her Love: The Ritual of Letting Go

My Mother’s Yarzheit…. Sedona, AZ March 21, 2017

Some people can barely suppress their shock when I tell them I am still spreading my mother’s ashes, 13 years after her passing. Most people don’t have such authority when it comes to these types of things… there are typically other opinionated relatives to contend with. And there is typically one favorite place or a family homestead, an obvious choice for a person’s eternal resting place. Parceling out my mother’s ashes might seem sacrilegious. But we didn’t share much religion. I don’t have siblings, my parents divorced, and at the time of her death, she had no real home. When special delivery rang my bell in Boston with a box from the crematorium in Florida, my insides ached all over again with the stabbing pain I felt upon first learning of her death. Only a couple of weeks had passed, but this box, so heavy and tangible, its ordinary card board covered with packing labels and stickers, offended whatever equilibrium I’d gained.

I had no idea what to do with it.  She hadn’t left instructions, there was no right answer. So I came up with something that felt right to me. My mother’s cremains have become the vehicle for my honoring her over and over again. Instead of performing one ritual, I’ve carried out many private rituals over the years. Her ashes have been judiciously spread all over the globe. My mother rests in places she would have liked to visit, from the southern tip of Chile to as far north as Iceland.  The weekend before she died she spoke of taking a trip around the world. My reaction back then, given her health, had been skeptical.  So now, it seems only right that I bring her along with me.  Her first journey with me was to the great barrier reef in Australia.  My mother loved to snorkel and talked about wanting to visit there for as long as I can remember.

The bulk of her ashes sit with me in Boston. She is in a beautiful green-glazed, ceramic, ginger jar from China, sitting on a shelf close to where I write. But whenever I pack for an exotic destination, I spoon a little bit of my mom into a Ziploc bag. Scooping up the white granules with a kitchen spoon is strange enough, and I imagine many wouldn’t have the stomach for it, but it’s allowed her to join me in Australia, Africa, Bhutan, Peru, Patagonia, the Alps, and the Rockies. She even summited Mt Kilimanjaro. She’s been sprinkled off the top of many spectacular mountains. Honoring my mother in this way has kept us closer than pure memories could have.  I carry my mom in my heart and mind, but there’s also a little bit of her tucked inside my luggage. I’ve recited a prayer of love to her as she scatters into the wind, often with friends by my side, or with my husband and children.  I sometimes take traveling companions by surprise when announcing, “this is the place.”  Then performing yet another letting-go ceremony.

On the thirteenth anniversary of my mom’s death, my daughter, who happens to be named after my mother, and I spent some time during her spring break hiking and having a healthy vacation in Sedona, AZ. The scenery was spectacular. We were getting up early, doing yoga, and eating well. We even had a spa day, something my mother would have had a hard time indulging in.  But she was definitely with us.

I sense her pride in our relationship, always nearby rooting us on. She is proud of the women we are, and that we have become those women partly to honor her. To honor all the things she was unable to do. After climbing a beautiful path up a red rock formation, we stopped to take a break and I knew it was the right place.  How I wish she was still with us in person. But she was with us in spirit, she always is.

Skiing: Powder Dreams

I’m just returning from seven days skiing in the Canadian Rockies, staying at the wonderful CMH Cariboo Lodge. If you like the majesty of pristine wilderness, the cleanest air imaginable, and mountains covered with blankets of virgin powder, this is the place for you.

Heli-skiing in British Columbia had been on my bucket list for a long time, so when the invitation came to join this trip I jumped. But as sometimes is the case with a couple, one person’s idea of nirvana is another’s anxiety. Even though John likes to ski, he is the king of the groomers and has two bad knees. And I wasn’t obvious candidate for this trip either. I’ve watched the ski movies and really liked the idea of heli-skiing, but we are primarily east coast skiers, raised carving on hard surfaces. But since we aren’t getting any younger (my reaction to a lot of things post 50th birthday), we set off for the land of light fluffy powder, alpine skiing over glaciers and plunging down steep chutes through the trees. John rose to the occasion, knowing I wanted to be here with him (we’d be celebrating our 27th wedding anniversary, after all).  So for the six months before departure, we trained religiously, primarily strengthening our legs.  If being able to keep up with our group wasn’t incentive enough, we soon learned of the need to avoid tree wells and getting swallowed up by the infrequent avalanche.

Just as the prospect of this trip made us stare down our own limitations, on every run our guides and pilots had to strike a balance between risk and reward.  They wanted us to experience the best snow and skiing possible while keeping the group safe. We were all (forty people total on the trip) putting ourselves outside our comfort zone and placing our trust in each other. Traveling to a remote, natural environment where at least eight inches of new snow fell every day, getting in and out of helicopters 10-15 times each day (rotors spinning), we were all pushing ourselves.

On day eight I am happy to report that John and I are each in one piece (just getting banged up by Air Canada at the moment) but stronger and better skiers for the experience. We faced our fears and held our own: strapping on the fat boys and pointing the tips downhill.  And then there is the glow that comes from doing something I’d dreamt about for thirty years with my best friend at my side.

In EDEN, Sarah pushes herself and her family into uncomfortable territory by deciding to keep her baby, and planning to raise it herself. Life constantly challenges us to accept invitations into unnerving territory, but feeling discomfort is when growth happens.

possibilities

Patagonia: Stay Open to the Possibilities

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On a recent vacation to Patagonia, I took a day off from hiking with the friends I’d traveled with to go horseback riding. Who could resist the beauty of the animals, the gaucho culture, or the wide open, expansive landscape?  I’m not an experienced rider, but talked my way into a group that included a marvelous horsewoman from Seattle and a charming Brazilian couple.

This experience was a reminder that you never know when you are going to meet somebody who inspires you, and that role models are everywhere if you just stay open to new possibilities. Carol is in her late fifties and  traveled down to Chile in order to help her son (ex- Facebook) and his wife and their new baby move there.  After settling them in, she started traveling alone – first spending 7 days camping and hiking “The W” in Torres el Paine. Then she came to the lodge where I met her where she’d been on riding excursions for 6 days.  She told me stories of her and a friend riding her three horses 500 miles through the Cascades and into Canada. She told me about her future travel plans in Chile and Argentina.

She also talked about her other grandchildren back in Washington who she’d taught to ride and built tree houses for. After a morning of her wild stories and infectious laughter, I commented “You must have the coolest kids.” A big grin spread across her face and she said, “Well, my grandkids tell me I’m the coolest grandma ever.”

When the gauchos gave the signal, we’d go from a walk to a trot and then to a gallop. I stayed behind Carol and tried to do what she did. Her only words of advice as the horses picked up speed were, “Just don’t fall!!”  It was exhilarating, thrilling, and downright frightening. I loved every minute of that day.  I was grateful to meet Carol, whose sense of adventure and wanderlust inspired me, not to mention her moniker of “coolest grandma ever”.

I love meeting strong, independent women, especially strong women who travel to far off places alone.  Carol is the type of woman who says, “YES!” to life.  I’m smiling right now just thinking about her.  Sadie, a character in my novel, Edenwas an accomplished horsewoman as well.  Maybe if she lived in 2016, she would have been more like Carol….  instead of… well I don’t want to spoil it for you.

As Eden approaches its publication date and gallies are now in hand…  Jeannie is exhilarated, thrilled, and also a little bit frightened…  but she’s holding on tight!

who rules the roost

Gorillas: Who Rules the Roost?

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I recently returned from a trip to South Africa and Uganda where I had the privilege of spending time with some amazing Mountain Gorilla families in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.  Mountain Gorilla families vary in size, but average about 25 members.  It was explained to us that they are ruled by the one silverback male who reigns over an assortment of females (sometimes 8 – 10) and their offspring. A female’s primary role is to tend to her one baby (twins are very rare) of which she will have one every 4 years or so. She will not conceive while breast-feeding. When  young males grow to be black backs and then young silver backs themselves, they will either fight the existing leader for his position in the family, or make off with a few of the females (or sometimes pick off a few from another family) to start his own clan.  Nobody needs to go hunting as the gorillas are vegetarians, sitting for hours and hours feasting on their favorite leaves and stems.

BUT… what if the researchers have it upside down? What if a Mountain Gorilla family is basically a band of sisters, enjoying days of mothering their babies and hanging out together, using the males in the tribe for protection and mating?  What if we thought about it that way?  The mothers and babies I witnessed were living such loving, peaceful lives whereas the males had to worry about their place in the hierarchy.  If one silverback didn’t overthrow another for top role in the family, he would be wandering solo in the forest.  But for the females, days were relatively simple: eat, sleep, play, groom.  We would all be perfect mothers if the distractions of the world were kept at bay…..

Other primates that share title of “ape” with gorillas are chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and, well, humans.

Bonobos are similar looking to chimpanzees and their natural habitat are the forests of the Congo,  not many miles from the forest in which I spent time with my gorillas.  A pioneering primate researcher named Amy Parish from San Diego has studied them for decades and her work concludes that bonobos society is dominated by the females.  Female bonding works to control individual males despite the males’ larger size.  They choose their own mates and grab the best food for themselves.  huh….

It is also widely held that other matriarchal animal species are:  bees, elephants, killer whales, and lions.  I find it interesting to look at the types of societies animal species create and why… Now I am thinking about the assumptions that we have traditionally made about these societies.  Patriarchal ? Matriarchal? Maybe we shouldn’t assign human labels…