WHY I READ: BETTYVILLE BY GEORGE HODGMAN

Once in awhile you read a book that touches you so deeply it changes your perspective. Bettyville by George Hodgman is one of those books.

George and I are Facebook friends. I can’t remember if he found me or I found him. This past Wednesday I spent the better part of the afternoon on the back porch reading his touching story which is both heartbreakingly personal yet universal in its portrayal of the challenges of growing old and the role reversal relationship between aging parents and their adult children. It is also about a lot more than this; about growing up gay in a time and place that didn’t accept anyone who was “different”. But for me, it was the relationship between mother and son that opened my eyes.

As the sun began to set, the towels and sheets piled up in the laundry room. The dishwasher was full of clean dishes and the dirty coffee cups were stacked high in the sink. I was still on the back porch lost in Bettyville.

The next day Bettyville came to visit my Inn in rural Connecticut in the form of my parents who stopped by for lunch. After serving our guests breakfast, I managed to keep myself from returning to the book to make a tossed salad with chicken, a large bowl of fruit salad, and a ham sandwich for my mother because that is one of the only things she will eat nowadays. She claims she is never hungry. She makes scenes in restaurants, complaining there is nothing on the menu she likes.

There was a time, about a year ago, when she wasn’t quite so lost and confused but would ask, “What do I like here?”

“You like their hot dogs,” I told her.

She shook her head. She didn’t believe me. As George writes of Betty, “Her will remains at blast force.”

“Do you have that red meat?” No longer trusting me she asked the waitress, who thought she was requesting a rare roast beef sandwich, but I explained it was ham she wanted.

“And make sure you give me the yellow stuff. I don’t like the other kind.”

She was asking for yellow mustard. Her words and memories are disappearing, lost to Alzheimer’s, the thief who stole her yesterdays.

Today she shows up all smiles. “I remember you,” she says. She doesn’t really remember me. She doesn’t know I am her oldest daughter but she lets me hug her and says again, “Yeah, I know you.”

“I can only imagine how scary it is to know that the person one is losing is oneself.” ~ Bettyville

She walks like Russian nesting dolls with rounded bottoms, her arthritic left knee bent at a right angle, her gait rolling and rocking as my Dad and my daughter help her up the stairs to the front door.

“My friends are helping me,” she tells me.

“He is a very good man,” she tells my daughter, nodding towards my Dad. “He takes good care of me.” She turns to my Dad and says, “Did you hear what I said about you?”

He laughs. “Yeah, you were telling her how bad I am.” She smiles mischievously.

“By the time she goes to bed, when things get bad, she will have fewer pieces left in place.” ~ Bettyville

It is my mother who is bad, late in the evenings, bad in the way of a small rebellious child who can’t get her pajamas on, doesn’t want to take a bath, and refuses to eat dinner. Mornings are difficult too. She wears the same clothes day after day, insisting they are clean and nothing else is comfortable. She is always cold and wears sweaters on hot summer days, sitting by the pool while my father swims a few laps.

“She is wearing the jeans she will take off and a blouse with wrinkles she cannot see. For many days this pairing has been her choice. I have given up trying to control her clothes. God grant me the serenity to accept the clothes I cannot change.” ~ Bettyville

It saddens and frightens me to think of my father dealing with the craziness that now rules his days and nights but Hodgman’s sense of humor could make the most weary of caregivers smile.

A battle of wills is taking place between the generations in my family. My siblings and I insist my Dad needs help. At the very least a home caregiver a few days a week to help with bathing my mother, washing her hair, routine personal hygiene she rebels against, preparing meals, and giving my Dad some much needed time off. As my mother’s condition continues to decline, he continues to dig in his heels and insists no one knows how to take care of her like he does.

“‘Too damn long’: That is what my mother thinks about her life. She seems to believe she is taking someone else’s time.” ~ Bettyville

Hiding behind my Dad’s protests is a fear they will take her away when they hear the things she says. “I just want to die,” she shouts when sundowning. Or the swearing, which she never did until now. The cursing embarrasses him. He doesn’t understand where it comes from or where she learned these words.

Sitting on the glassed-in sun porch, my mother tells me, “I’m ninety, you know. Ninety years old.”

My father playfully nudges her. “You’re eighty one.”

She smiles at him indulgently, as if he is the one who is forgetful. “He thinks I’m eighty one, but I’m really ninety.”

She tells my daughter, her granddaughter as my father keeps reminding her, a long story about a man who doesn’t have a home and no food so he comes to their house once a week and “we feed him” she says. “We help him out.” I think this may be my brother she is talking about, her son who visits every Sunday.

She invites me to her house numerous times. ”It’s a nice place. Nothing to be ashamed of.” My mother has always been house proud. Money and appearances have always been important to her. I realize she doesn’t understand that I work here, that I am the innkeeper and this is not my mansion.

Betty goes through old postcards from a cruise she took through Europe. “She wants us to have fun, to share the experience, but she can’t remember it,” George says.

My mother tells me she has been all over the world. I ask her what is her favorite place.

“Everywhere.”

My father answers for her. “She loved Morocco.”

I have never heard this before. “Morocco?” I didn’t even know they had been there. “I remember you liked Provence,” I remind her.

“I like everywhere,” she says.

My father tells us the doctor asks her questions, checking her memory loss. On her last visit he asked her what time of year it was, helping her along, naming the seasons in case she’s forgotten. “Winter? “Summer? Spring? Fall?”

“They’re all good.”

“But what season is it now?” he asks again.

“All of them are good.”

My father smiles as he tells this story. He likes her answer. He thinks it is an optimistic answer. When my mother was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s my Dad, the former history teacher, would prepare her for the doctor’s questions as if she were studying for final exams and if he tutored her she would pass the test.

“People mean well. They just aren’t here enough to get what we are dealing with or what it means to my mother. Everyone thinks they know what should be done.” ~ Bettyville

Everyone in our case is me and my sisters and brother. We worry when my Dad takes my mother on vacations. We imagine him losing her at a rest stop or in an airport. We are concerned about his health. He has two stents, a pacemaker, and another stent in his carotid artery. He is tired, exhausted at times, requiring two naps a day. We imagine the struggles in the bathroom getting my mother ready for bed. The wet, slippery surfaces, the tile floor, the porcelain tub. Someone could fall and crack their head.

“I get what makes sense, I just can’t bear to do it. I cannot imagine the sorrow of dragging her out of the house.” ~ Bettyville

Like George, this is my Dad. He understands what home means to my mother. Some of the last memories she hangs on to are the houses she has lived in and the real estate deals she made. My father has vowed to keep my mother at home. He prays that he will outlive her so he can keep his promise to her, the promise to not put her in a nursing home.

As my day with my parents unfolds, George Hodgman’s memoir provides comfort. There is so much wisdom in this beautiful story.

Things are not going to get better with my mother, and my father grows old by her side. There will come a time when he will have to bring in help, or a time when he needs to move my mother to a place where people can provide her with the advanced care she will need.

But for now he remains steadfast and refuses to listen to his grown children who think they know what is best. We fear something terrible will happen. My mother will wander off one day when he is napping. Or the inevitable accident will happen on these road trips he insists on not giving up.

There are no easy answers, but for now he says he is fine. He believes he can do this.

“On Betty’s journey, I have learned something I had not known….., at least once, everyone should see someone through. All the way home.” ~ Bettyville

Thank you, George Hodgman, for sharing your story of love and loyalty, and reminding us that we are all only human and kindness matters most.

IT’S MY JOB

There are days and even weeks when it is easy to understand why Americans are some of the most stressed out people in the world.

My Old Silver Lady has finally passed away. On a dark night three weeks ago, at 200,800 miles, her rear axle gave out. It didn’t fall off completely but she suddenly started whining and veered to the left. I felt the back tire begin to wobble. Miles from anywhere, my white knuckles gripped the steering wheel and my heart pounded as I coaxed the Old Silver Lady along.

“Come on, you can do it, babe. I know you can. We’ve traveled so many miles together, just a few more to go. I promise. Hang in there.”

My daughter rolled her eyes and slumped in her seat with her feet on the dashboard. It went on like this for five miles as we made the uphill climb to the town where we live. The route home is no longer familiar, we are just learning the back roads through sleepy, dark towns in the night. Both our cell phones had died somewhere north of Hartford so Siri was no longer available to guide us. If we broke down we would be up shit’s creek without a paddle.

But the Old Silver Lady did not fail me. At 10:45 p.m. we limped into the driveway and there she sits, waiting for the graveyard where cars with no trade in value go, otherwise known as the junkyard.

Old Silver Lady

The Old Silver Lady

Thus began two weeks of hassles involving car insurance, the DMV, and other assorted problems that had nothing to do with purchasing a new car.

In the state of Connecticut you need a state license to register a car. This was not the case in Florida where I drove for a year and a half with a New Hampshire license until it expired. My new Florida license is good until 2022 but here I am, six months later, at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The first day my daughter came with me. She turned twenty one on July 1st and her Colorado license had expired so it was imperative that she obtain a valid I.D. She had her paperwork in order and sailed through the first of six lines that day. I on the other hand neglected to note that my passport had expired five days earlier. I did have my birth certificate as backup but that was in my maiden name. I was informed I would need my marriage license.

“My Florida license is in my married name.”

“Doesn’t matter. We need your marriage license. That’s the rules.”

“Lesson learned,” I told my daughter. “Don’t give up your identity.”

Because we were here and the DMV is in the middle of nowhere, not even a Dunkin’ Donuts within sight, I sat with my daughter for three hours, moving from line to line. Line Two where they copied and processed the paperwork the first line had already reviewed. Line Three to pay for the license. Line Four where you take the eye test. Line Five where they take your picture although after Line One they had sent my daughter to a photo booth where she took her own picture but they don’t use that picture.

“I think they do that just to give you something fun to do while you’re waiting,” she said.

That’s one way to look at it.

She was all smiles by the time she graduated to Line Six. After the three hour ordeal she was minutes away from holding in her hand the identification she needed to order a cold beer on tap in any bar in America.

The following day I braved the registry once again. I was worried about my marriage license but the woman at the first window didn’t bat an eye when she checked the document from Alberta, Canada where almost twenty five years ago my husband and I simply sat at a desk in a Triple A office in Calgary, where most people were picking up Trip-Tiks, raised our hands, and swore we were legally unencumbered and able to be married in Lake Louise where we were eloping along with eight friends and family who were joining us for the snowy nuptials.

On my second visit to the DMV the following day, it was at Line Two where I almost had a nervous breakdown. My proof of residency was now in question. The woman at the window was questioning one of two bills, a Verizon phone bill and a medical bill, mailed to my current address. I do not have a lease or a utility bill because that is included in the innkeeper’s employment package.

“This doctor bill says road not avenue,” she pointed out. I hadn’t noticed but it’s not surprising. It was from a walk-in clinic in Framingham, MA where they took the first X-ray of my broken ankles and found the reading inconclusive. Their diagnosis was a shadow on my right ankle and a possible torn fifth metatarsal on the left. They gave me a CD of the X-ray, an ace bandage for the left foot, and sent me on my merry way, suggesting I find an orthopedist when I got home.

Three days later in Torrington, the orthopedist I found online said he couldn’t read the X-ray and advised I just throw it away as it was a “piece of crap.” He took new X-rays and his office’s billing department won the race to my insurance company so they got paid and the clinic in Framingham was denied for a “service that had been previously adjudicated.” Adjudicated, in case you are unfamiliar with the word, is insurance speak for “we’re not paying for two X-rays in three days.”

Despite this potential problem, Window Lady Number Two took my debit card, and then told me my paperwork was going to the inspectors.

Every window at the DMV has a sign that reminds the weary citizens waiting in the various lines of the zero tolerance policy for workplace violence and harassment. It occurred to me during those two days sitting at the DMV, trying to read despite the automated voice that kept interrupting my train of thought with “A263 at Window Number Ten. D492 at Window Number Two”, that I was in the United States of America, in a government building, in a nation where many people are packing heat, patience is in short supply, and tempers are flaring. This would be a prime spot for a nutcase with a semiautomatic to take out his frustrations on the government, the state, or the multi-racial people I sit beside. There is no security checkpoint here, like so many other government buildings, but there is a sign with a picture of twenty or so terrorists who obtained false ID’s.

My sister sends me a text. A microburst has torn through the city of Warwick, Rhode Island. Trees are down, power is out, and her neighborhood looks like a war zone. I ask if everyone is okay. They are, but “It is hot and humid and tempers are flaring because only one Dunkin’ Donuts in all of Warwick is open.”

Having her on the line was a pleasant distraction. It may be difficult to read with the automated voice shouting “B62 at window 15” every minute or so, but I can text in any situation. A grocery store line, an office at a temp job, a noisy bar. We start sharing stress, releasing anxiety, bitching about life in the 21st century.

“When I get home I have to call Michelle’s college. They have her account on hold despite the fact they cashed the tuition check.”

“I just got a call from the bank. We’re co-signing Doug’s car loan and they want my two most recent pay stubs. I’ve been using direct deposit with the same bank for years. School is closed for the summer, they don’t mail the pay stubs, and why does the bank need them if they’ve been cashing my checks for years. The banker just told me my last debit purchase was at CVS an hour ago, so how the hell does she not have my pay stub info?”

“I bet this tuition problem is due to the fact the government thought Michelle dropped out of school. They sent her a bill for her college loan payment. It took me five phone calls and hours of my life to straighten it out. At least, I thought I had it straightened out, but who knows what other shit is going on.”

This went on until my phone died, but it helped pass the time and the inspectors must have been in a lenient mood that day. They let the Road pass for an Avenue. I left the DMV with a newly minted driver’s license and although I never get carded these days, I desperately longed for an ice cold beer on tap but it was only one in the afternoon.

It is Sunday afternoon after another busy weekend at the Inn. I am sitting on the porch where the Wi-Fi doesn’t work, trying to stop the world because I want to get off, but I can hear the phone ringing. I get up to answer it because it could be another reservation and the bonus we will earn for increasing business over last year’s numbers is always on my mind. It is an essential part of my meager retirement plan.

It is Steve from BJ’s. Two weeks ago we needed to stock up on the pre-measured bags of coffee we use at the Inn for the pots and pots coffee we make every day but for the second time in a row, this essential product was not on the shelf. Our supply was getting dangerously low so I roamed the aisles of the huge box store, looking for someone who worked there.

BJ's Coffee

BJ’s pre-measured coffee packets

I found Steve, a handsome, friendly young man who told me he would look into it and get back to me.

A week later, I hadn’t heard from Steve so after we left the DMV we tried the BJ’s in Waterbury. No luck. They must have discontinued the item. How could they possibly do this? Don’t they sell to lots of restaurants and vendors and hotels? How could I manage having to measure twelve tablespoons of coffee for the eight to nine pots we average on a busy day? Mornings would never be the same.

But Steve was calling me to tell me he had gotten through to the manager of purchasing and told him the pre-measured bags of coffee were an item a lot of people needed and just today, on a Sunday, the delivery had arrived and the box of bags was back on the shelf.

“Now I don’t know if it was really my phone call that did it….”

“It absolutely was. Thank you so much. You are awesome.”

“No problem, it’s my job.”

Most of our day to day transactions are fraught with frustration, anxiety, bureaucracy, inane rules, and redundancy. Tomorrow I have to call the clinic in Framingham because they have been looking for me. They probably didn’t like the letter I sent informing them I was disputing the bill for the crappy X-ray. I also have to deal with insurance for the new car.

But this afternoon I am sitting on the porch looking out at the garden and repeating those five words. “No problem, it’s my job.” What a beautiful sentence.

Zen cat

A neighborhood cat who is teaching me the Art of Zen

LAY DOWN AND LOOK STRAIGHT UP

It has been a busy few weeks at the Inn, or has it been a month? I often forget what day it is. Monday and Tuesday are my weekends but even then things are busy. It is summer in the Berkshires.

The laundry is piled high. I gingerly navigate mountains of dirty sheets because my broken ankles are still healing. Folded towels teeter like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Dirty plates in the sink wait for the wine glasses, coffee cups, and last night’s dinner plates to finish the wash cycle in the already loaded dishwasher.

This summer we’ve met auto mechanics working on Porsches at Lime Rock, rock’n roll bus drivers and Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, classical music lovers who attend Chamber Music concerts and Tanglewood, and the fans of Hot Tuna, Marshall Tucker, Little River Band, Art Garfunkel, and other rockers crisscrossing the country to perform at music halls large and small.

There have been lots of couples celebrating anniversaries, guests attending weddings, and parents who come from surprising places to bring their kids to camp in the country. Madrid, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Beijing. They drop the kids off, stay for the week or travel, then pick the kids up and travel some more-to Niagara Falls, Saratoga, Boston, New York City. They have weeks of vacation time and I can’t help but ask, what are Americans doing wrong?

We have a fair share of gay couples visit and I can’t imagine not letting them stay or not making them breakfast or a wedding cake if we did weddings but thank goodness we do not. Hosting a wedding is way beyond my innkeeping skills although four months after I eloped I hosted my own wedding reception in the backyard of my New Hampshire home when I was two months pregnant.

People love it here. The peace and quiet. No TV. The Internet is spotty. They are far from the maddening world, surrounded by forests and hills and good music. They make friends in the sunroom and the lounge where we serve complimentary wine, exchanging email addresses and making plans to meet again.

We are making friends too, often joining them to share our stories and a glass of wine.

It is hard to find time to write but I do. Not as much as I would like but I know things will slow down and I have pages and pages of notes. I can’t believe I am saying this but I am looking forward to winter when the inn is quiet. I imagine being snowed in, the fireplace roaring with two foot logs my husband purchased from the Great Mountain Forest. I will be bundled up in wooly socks, sweaters (I imagine I will need multiples), and a blanket, writing all day long.

Today we hosted a corporate retreat. A group of people who work together and hired a motivational speaker. They discuss ways of being more productive, team building, information sharing, collaborative effort.

They are lovely people and thrilled to be staying at this mansion in the country. We rearranged the dining room tables so they could sit together and made room for the corporate white board that was quickly filled with flow charts and key words and lists.

Rich left early for the Blackberry River Baking Company owned by Sam and Audrey, a lovely young couple who look like they stepped out of the pages of my first novel, The Reverse Commute. They provided fresh out of the oven peach scones, chocolate croissants, cheese danish, apple strudel and raspberry bear claws, and a couple of gluten free blueberry muffins because it seems that a week doesn’t pass by without someone at the Inn specifying they are gluten free. I added my own blueberry banana bread and a fruit salad of cantaloupe, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, and grapes along with Greek yogurt and granola. We made pots and pots of coffee throughout the day.

In the early evening we set out hors ’d’oeuvres for a cocktail hour. Goat cheese from the Lost Ruby Farm along with hot pepper jelly that Adair and her husband Antonio make. Smoked cheddar and Swiss cheese from Nodine’s, the local smokehouse where we buy our apple smoked bacon and sausage. Grapes, strawberries, and crackers artfully scattered around the platters. Chianti and Pinot Griogio.

Although I have never been on a corporate retreat I was reminded of corporate meetings I was once required to attend. The accounting department never got further than the cafeteria or the conference room. We were the worker bees. I paid the credit cards for the guys who traveled the world selling our products, wining and dining our clients, sleeping in hotels and dining out. Often, when I was bored, I would Google the restaurants they ate at, checking out the menus and deciding what I’d order if I had an expense account.

I remember a meeting where the CEO boasted about a rather brutal corporate takeover he negotiated. Everyone thought he was brilliant. I was just left wondering why we were still subjected to a raise freeze, and why I couldn’t skip this meeting, go back to my desk and finish my work, and leave early to spend two more hours at home instead of here, listening to corporate war stories. But I was sitting for health insurance which required my presence at my desk forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year.

At the end of this long day of innkeeping I am stretched out on the sofa, my ankles stiff, my back a little sore, and despite the nap I took just before the cocktail hour, I am about to drift off to sleep so I am writing instead in an attempt to stay awake to catch this evening’s Perseids meteor shower. The sky is mostly clear and out here in the valley of the Berkshire Mountains we are far from the glow of city lights.

Tomorrow morning we will once again make breakfast, fold the sheets, make the beds, and listen to the stories that pass through our front door. But tonight we will take a blanket outside, lay down on the lawn, look up, and let our eyes wander across the sky.

Unknown

The Great Mountain Forest

The name alone is enticing. It evokes a place of solitude and tranquility. Tall ancient trees, shady trails, babbling creeks. It is all this and more.

Ghilds pond

Ghilds Pond – The Great Mountain Forest, Norfolk, CT

Two months ago we moved to the Berkshires and already we have visited this place many times. At first I was unable to hike. My broken feet could only travel so far. We parked close to the trailhead so I could slowly make my way across a small bridge where sunlight filtered through the trees and sparkled on the brook below. I stood for awhile beneath a canopy of tall hemlocks and white northern pine listening to the sound of silence.

brook GMF

Summer has finally arrived and today my feet are on the mend. The air is heavy and humid. By late afternoon the temperature reaches ninety two degrees, a number we have not seen since leaving South Florida and arriving in this valley of morning fog, gray days, and cool breezes.

We have learned that in order to truly relax, we need to escape. At the Inn there is always something to do. Towels to fold, mountains of sheets to wash, plants to water, a dishwasher to empty, or my favorite task, arranging flowers.

basket of flowers

“If you want to learn about nature, go to the same place again and again.” ~ John Burroughs

The air is cooler here beneath the trees. I am ready to attempt the .75 mile hike along the Tamarack trail. It doesn’t sound like much and I have certainly taken much longer walks and hikes but after seven weeks of wearing an air boot on one foot and a hard soled shoe on the other foot, my ankles are stiff and the sole of my left foot still aches where the tendons were torn from the fifth metatarsal bone.

The path starts out flat and gentle. A thick organic layer of decaying leaves and pine needles covers the forest floor. I am hyper-aware of what might be hiding beneath my feet. I proceed with caution but I am on my way.

the trail

Amid all this green spender and quiet, the mind tends to settle. Calmness prevails. My thoughts wander to Emerson and Thoreau. Although I am not sure they ever made it to this particular forest, they hiked places like this. I am thankful to the settlers of this area who had the foresight to set up land trusts and preserve this beautiful corner of America.

During my time in South Florida over the past two years I hiked along hardwood hammocks, elevated islands of tropical trees growing between wetlands and drier ground. The canopy of palmettos, cypress, and foreign plants I had no name for also created a shady canopy but civilization was never far from the trail.

One day we walked a path not far from the beach and in less than a mile we came upon Port Everglades where we watched five massive cruise ships, each one larger than the one before it, sail out to sea for harbors such as Charlotte Amelie or Key West or Santo Domingo.

Here in the Great Mountain Forest I am miles away from the 21st century.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall..” ~ Robert Frost

stone wall

When Europeans first arrived in New England they began to clear the land for farming and livestock. The soil erosion created by the cleared land, the trampling hoofs of cattle, and the natural cycles of freezing and thawing caused the soil to push the rocks to the surface.

“That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun.” ~ Robert Frost

The exposed stones were used to build walls and became an iconic feature of the New England landscape. Many of these old walls can be found along country lanes and here along the trails we are hiking, where the forest is reclaiming man’s attempt at controlling nature.

Along the trail we read a marker that states that if every stone wall built in the Northeast were laid end to end, the wall would be more than 250,000 miles long and would travel back and forth from New England to Olde England more than 80 times.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down…” ~ Robert Frost

This place we live in feels like home. The landscape, the people, the literature, the arts, the sense of community, the respect for the land, and the history of a place that was settled by people with big ideas.

When the day to day hustle and bustle of life and the headlines in the newspaper that lands on my front doorstep each morning gets me down I find myself escaping to this beautiful place which changes with the seasons but somehow manages to make time stand still.

Here in the Great Mountain Forest we no longer know “What (we were) walling in or walling out”. 

NOTES FROM A REMOTE NORTHEAST REGION OF PUBLISHING

Thoughts on Blogging

A surge in visitors have found their way to my home page but I haven’t written anything in sixteen days. When I write a blog, the bar graph shows my Internet home soaring to skyscraper heights. For a few days I am living in a penthouse in Manhattan at the epi-center of the publishing world then things settle back down to my modest ranch house on the fringes of suburbia where a dozen or so people stop by each day, travelers along the Internet highway who stumble upon my roadside rest stop.

My blog tells me where my readers come from. It’s helpful in an analytical sort of way. As a busy innkeeper and writer by night, this helps me allocate my time better.

Do Twitter followers follow the link to my blog? Rarely.

Do visitors to my blog click on one of the links to the three books I’ve written that brings them to Amazon where they can buy the books? No, not very often.

What do I do with this information? I cut back on Twitter and take a break from blogging because honestly this is all about selling books, but how do I keep myself in the public eye? I don’t know the answer to this question and I wonder if anyone really does, because suddenly during this second week of my blogging hiatus, and despite all the advice to pimp yourself all over social media, I have been averaging thirty to forty visitors a day which is a decent amount for me on a week I haven’t written anything new.

They are hitting my homepage, the place where you can read About Me, but where are they coming from? There is a very unhelpful category titled Unknown Search Engines, sometimes accompanied by somewhat helpful hints from the search terms used, such as the ever popular my fat ass or jumping cactus, which brings the folks searching for info on the Jumping Cholla Cactus Garden of Joshua Tree National Park to my most popular blog. My hope is they are amused enough by the blog post to stick around and read it, maybe buy a book or two, and then move on to find what they were really looking for. You sell books anyway you can, one book at a time.

Then there’s Facebook.

In the past week, three guys I don’t know sent friend requests. There was very little info available on them. We have no friends in common and they have no friends I can view. No information is available on their profession, education, or location. They each have a picture of themselves with a girlfriend or possibly a spouse. Like my character Sam in Life Is All This, I am not always comfortable sharing myself on the Internet. It may seem to some that this examined life for the public comes easily to me but I much prefer writing fiction and many of my musings have been air-brushed for public consumption.

I ignore the friend requests.

Still Life in Connecticut.

My life as an innkeeper is busy and rewarding. Rich and I enjoy the work. One morning he actually said, “We were born to do this.” That may be true but I am also still driven to write. Some of the best advice I have heard, time and time again is:

Write the next book.

So I am doing that instead of wasting time on Twitter and other black holes on the Internet that fritter away precious time.

I am also trying to find new avenues to promote my books.

One day it pops into my head that I need to contact Tom Robbins. Why Tom Robbins? He is the author of Still Life With Woodpecker and one day a pompous New York writer compared me to him in a not so nice, very sarcastic sort of way.

So I wrote a letter to Mr. Robbins to let him know that despite the dripping sarcasm from the well-connected, self-satisfied New York writer, I was very flattered to be compared to Tom Robbins. I also sent a copy of my latest novel, Life Is All This. Yesterday I received a letter sent with a Batman stamp

Robbins envelope

FROM THE UNION OF MAD SCIENTISTS

Robbins letter

Tom is eighty-two years old and has undergone five optical surgeries since 2006. He is unable to do much extra-curricular reading these days but appreciated my letter, my kind words, and the copy of the book. Then he said this:

As for your rude pen pal, yes, there are among us any number of writers who seem to believe a page is a window pane that they must lick clean with their dull and often nasty tongues to afford a peek at some dreary tableau of social reality on the other side. Well and good — but that isn’t literature, it’s reportage. It’s falsified journalism. Such writers are neither creative nor nimble-minded enough to make of the page a door through which the reader can step into a fresh new world, a reality composed of ideas, images, and situations which heretofore did not (and often could not) exist. A book without imagination, without style, is like a swan without feathers: it’s just another dead duck.

Wishing you every good fortune, I bid you please…feel ridiculously fine.

I appreciated his kind words and feisty attitude. I think all along I knew it was a shot in the dark but I would have loved for him to read the book and give me a few kind words I could have used in an editorial review. That would have been over the moon awesome but…oh well.

Which brings me to:

THE TOPIC OF ELUSIVE AMAZON REVIEWS

So hard to attain. So important to selling books. In so many ways. An author friend of mine finally got her book on Book Bub and saw some amazing results. It took her three tries which seems to be the magic number. Book Bub is looking for a certain number of reviews, they won’t say how many but I’m guessing it’s at least over thirty or forty. I applied anyway, with my six reviews. I now have rejection number one under my belt.

When Book Bub accepts you and advertises your book, your sales jump. Then Amazon notices and starts putting your book on those lists If You Liked This Book You Might Like…. and there’s your book, maybe on the page for Anna Quindlen’s book, finally getting support from Amazon. My friend called it the halo effect.

My husband and I have quickly achieved a halo in the Union of Popular Innkeepers. The guest book’s pages are quickly filling up with glowing reviews.

“You are both a breath of fresh air.”
“It was a pleasure meeting you! What a wonderful stay.”
“We don’t usually write in these books, but we are so grateful for our experience here.”

Next Question.

How do I transfer this to my books and Amazon? Some of the readers of my newest novel, Life Is All This, had to have liked the book. Is it a fear of having to say something witty and erudite? Is it a fear of having to use words like erudite? Do they not want to use their name on the Internet? Do they not know they can make up a name, like Amazon Reader, Reads Lot of Books, Book Lover, Cat Lady?

This is a numbers game, folks.

And when you’re self published you only have yourself and your readers to promote the books.

I’m going to leave you with something from a very wise and sweet little girl I met earlier this week. She was here with her parents and her younger brother after they all dropped her older sister off at summer camp. Her father spoke only Japanese, her mother spoke a smattering of English. I could hear the adorable little girl and her three year old brother upstairs, running through the halls and giggling. Her American Girl doll sat on a chair in the sunroom while everyone made tea. They drank lots and lots of tea. After they left, we found a review in the guest book written in childish script with flowers running down the left side of the page, and hearts and curlicue periods at the end of the sentences.

I LOVE HERE. I LIKE THE PIANO.
I LIKE THE BREAKFAST. I LIKE THE GARDEN.
I LIKE THE HOUSE.
LOVE CICI
I AM 6 YEARS OLD.

CICI'S REVIEW

THE BWI TERMINAL

There is something about transportation hubs that is universal. They are infused with emotion. Teary goodbyes and happy reunions. Tension at the baggage check-in and the security checkpoint. Angry travelers upset over missed connections, lost luggage, delayed flights. Happy revelers leaving snowbound cities for tropical shores. Drinks with strangers in the club car of a train or an airport bar.

I have a long-standing history with one hub in particular. The Baltimore-Washington International Airport. For many reasons, I travel Southwest ninety five percent of the time. They have a fantastic rewards program. They seem to fly most anywhere I need to go. They don’t charge for the first two bags you check. Their cancellation policy is one of the easiest.

We became rewards members when my youngest daughter started college in Denver. First, I applied for the Southwest credit card which offered me two free round trip flights for signing up. Because the offer had no blackout dates I then was able to purchase her flights home to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving and Christmas for a ten dollar service fee.

We packed all her college things in six suitcases, two apiece. After leaving her at the campus in Denver, my husband and I continued on to the Vail Food, Wine & Beer Festival over Labor Day weekend where we lived out of our carry-on bag. I packed light and it was a bit chillier than I had anticipated so I bought a leopard print sleeveless fleece at a sidewalk sale in the center of Vail Village for ten dollars and now find myself wearing it quite frequently here at the inn where until today we were waiting for summer, or even spring, to arrive. My Florida wardrobe is not working in Connecticut.

That was the trip that began our life in an empty nest and we passed through BWI coming and going.

A few years earlier, my sister and I flew to BWI for a girls weekend at our cousin’s house in Chevy Chase. She left from Providence, I left from Manchester. Waiting at Orbryki’s Crab House for our flights home, my brother-in-law called and gave us the news our Uncle Donald had passed away. Donald was my godfather and the first gay man I ever knew but for years he was married. He grew up in a time and place where it wasn’t easy to admit you were gay.

He ran his own upholstery business and did some interior decorating for nightclubs in Providence. His houses were always decorated in a very ornate, Victorian style.

While waiting for our flights, Maureen and I ordered wine and reminisced. I remembered the summer I was thirteen Donald gave me a tip on how to get an Indian tan. Add iodine to baby oil. (This was before we worried about skin cancer.) He also told me watermelon aids in digestion. That same day a young girl and her husband stopped by the beach house he owned in Little Compton, Rhode Island. The girl was a third or fourth cousin of Donald and my mother’s. She wore a long Indian print skirt and a beaded headband and she carried her baby in a papoose. The baby’s name was Chelsea Morning, just like the Joni Mitchell song. Years later, when my husband and I were debating baby names I thought about that day. My husband liked Chelsea but was not hot on Morning so we named our oldest daughter Chelsea Marie.

Obrycki's, Southwest Terminal at BWI

Obrycki’s, Southwest Terminal at BWI

A year after we moved to Florida, my husband’s oldest brother passed away and I found myself dealing with another loss while traveling through BWI on our way back to New England for the memorial service. For some reason I can’t remember, Chelsea was flying to New Hampshire. She was living in Steamboat Springs at the time and we hadn’t seen her in almost a year. She wanted to come to the funeral so we planned to meet at the Manchester airport. Making our connection in Baltimore we crossed the terminal to our departure gate and there she was at the gate across from us arriving from Denver and connecting with the very same flight to Manchester. Sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways. A flight leaves from Fort Lauderdale and connects with a flight from Denver at BWI and one of those classic airport scenes occurs, all hugs and kisses and happy reunions.

Then there was the time I helped my younger daughter transfer from the Denver campus of JWU to Providence. We too met in Baltimore. She was arriving in a terminal on the second floor so I rode the escalator up a flight and saw her striding towards me wearing black jeans with fringe, looking very Colorado and grownup. I waved wildly and hopped off the last two steps to give her a big hug.

The first time I sold a book in an airport was on my flight back to Fort Lauderdale after leaving Providence. Connecting yet again through BWI, my next gate was directly across from my arrival gate with Obrycki’s Bar blocking the way. How convenient, I thought. I had spent a very busy two days moving and unpacking by daughter’s things into her dorm room and was ready for a glass of wine, or two. After all, I had a two hour layover.

Obrycki's Bar-BWI Southwest Treminal

Obrycki’s Bar-BWI Southwest Terminal

A young woman in her early twenties sat down next to me and we struck up a conversation. She had lived in Baltimore all her life, even gone to college in the city, but somehow she met a boy from Buffalo and was on her way to visit him. He wanted her to check out the city and possibly come live with him but she didn’t know if she was ready for that, or the Buffalo winters. One thing led to another and here I was telling her about my novel, The Reverse Commute, and the girl in the story who was living with her boyfriend but wasn’t ready for commitment. When we heard her flight to Buffalo being called to board, I gave her my card and wished her luck. The next day when I happened to check my Amazon account I had a sale. I like to think she bought the book.

I sold another book in BWI back at Obrycki’s Crab House where my sister and I waked my uncle. It was a young man this time who was visiting his girlfriend. He had just been to Asheville, N.C. and so had I. We discussed brewpubs and hiking while my husband chatted with a couple from London. I don’t know why he mentioned his girlfriend loved to read but I pounced on that tidbit of information and gave him my card. I hope he bought the book, too. By that time I had published two books so maybe he bought them both.

I have photobombed my book in airports, including of course, BWI. All the terminals have a Hudson News where they sell bestsellers, magazines, trail mix, and gum. In BWI there was a large display of Dan Brown’s latest book. Dan lives in Rye, New Hampshire not far from where I lived. My husband knows several plumbers, roofers, and electricians who have worked at the very large house he built not far from the ocean with the money he has made from his books. I had my book in my bag so I placed it next to his and photobombed the picture across the World Wide Web on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, et al. I don’t think I sold any books that day.

Book bomb Denver airport

For you see, it’s very hard to sell books if you are not Dan Brown. Right about now, if you are a frequent blog follower, you might be asking yourself why is she writing about BWI? Why isn’t she telling us her stories from the Inn, because there must be some very funny, interesting stories from this new life she is living as an innkeeper. And you are right, there are lots of stories from my first weeks here at the inn.

But my days are busy and blogging isn’t at the top of my list of things to do. Blogging brings in lots of followers and readers, but blog readers don’t always translate directly to sales, although blogs take time and work, just like writing books. So it is not that I am not writing. I am definitely still writing, in a journal of days with stories of the Inn. I can see a book evolving. A story developing. A story of a marriage, of mid-life career change, and the interesting people who pass through our door. But I see it as a book not a blog.

So I’m trying to keep in touch with my readers, but I’m keeping the Inn stories to myself, for in the end the books matter more than the blogs. To me, at least. And let’s be honest here, I am growing a bit weary of sharing my stories for free.

So here I sit tonight, consumed with my new life as it is very fulfilling, and I’m trying to think of something to write. Something that isn’t part of the unfolding story in my journal. I’m alone in the very large kitchen. The oven is on for I am making twice baked potatoes and brining giant pork chops that I am going to fill with apple stuffing. My husband has left for the airport in Hartford to pick up our younger daughter who is flying out of Denver to spend the summer with us. She was supposed to arrive on Thursday but the Denver airport was a mess and she missed her direct flight. Southwest rescheduled her to a flight this afternoon connecting through BWI.

Well, there it is. The story. Since we sold our house in New Hampshire, my family has been a band of gypsies. My daughter has never spent a college summer at home, until now, this summer in Connecticut, our new home, and we are very much looking forward to it. We spent Thanksgiving in Hilton Head, the girls visited Florida, we vacationed in Colorado and Wyoming where our daughter spent a summer in Yellowstone. We meet up in Rhode Island and Boston, and we also cross paths at BWI. Tonight, after passing through BWI, our youngest daughter is coming home to the Inn where we are creating new stories.

Home is not a place. Home is where the heart is.flying

LIFE IS ALL THIS IS ON SALE THIS WEEK

THIS WEEK LIFE IS ALL THIS IS ON SALE FOR 99 CENTS ON KINDLE. CLICK THE PHOTO BELOW FOR THE LINK TO AMAZON:

Life-Is-All-This267x400 small

In the summer of 1975, Samuel Ryder sets off to hitchhike to the Grand Canyon where he realizes life is very good. Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona the road ahead appears to be one neverending smooth ride full of fun, adventure, and pretty women.

Late at night in a vacant hotel lobby in South Florida, decades later Sam finds himself trying to come to peace with the fact that plans do not always work out and the life you imagined is not always the life you end up living. Alone at the front desk, he writes novels and communicates via email with his wife who has left him and now runs a food truck in Colorado. The two of them alone but at the same time together, trying to work things out, trying to hold onto a marriage that has moved just out of reach.

With a sharp eye for the world around him, Sam’s memories wander through the decades of his life as a traveling salesman, husband, and father. His story takes the reader on a journey from 1960’s New Hampshire where he writes letters to his brother in Vietnam, to Boston and New York where he and his wife raise their young family during the tumultuous years at the turn of the century, to South Florida during the Great Recession.

Against the backdrop of the conflicts and anxieties of a changing world, Life Is All This is the story of a modern American family facing life’s hardships with hope, optimism, and humor while discovering that pain, loss, and distance can strengthen their love and enrich their lives.