Months ago, I started a tattered flag photo series on Instagram. The flags are not all literally tattered but in some way they are a symbol for our tattered nation and the election of 2016.


VFW Hall Shelburne, MA

Last week I was visiting my older daughter in Lake Tahoe. She and her boyfriend, along with my husband, like to golf. It’s not my thing, so on the days they hit the golf course they would drop me off in Truckee where I wandered the streets. I find the most interesting photos are hiding on the back roads so I walked along the railroad tracks and the side streets where old houses are tucked in together, imagining them buried in snow, snuggling to keep warm.


Historic Truckee, CA

I am a lifelong liberal. The prospect of a President Trump is beyond the borders of frightening. However, from my perspective, the powers that be — the wealthy donors, the respective political parties, the Super Pacs, the media — have given hardworking, taxpaying citizens an election without a choice this year. I honestly feel like someone grabbed me by the neck and shoved me up against a wall and said “you have to vote for her.”

“I know. I know. I will. I promise,” I answer in a strangled voice, gasping for air. The night before one of my afternoons in Truckee, before the weekend of the hot mic that revealed some disgusting locker room talk between Trump and Billy Bush, I finally stopped procrastinating and registered on-line to vote in Vermont. The next morning I received a reply. “Congratulations, you’re registered to vote.”

I posted the news on Facebook along with my doubts, concerns, and trepidation. Within seconds a ‘friend’, someone I only know through another friend I met after I wrote a blog about his book, called me a BernieBot and said “Fuck you, Enjoy President Trump.” It’s unsettling to receive these kinds of things so I started shaking, immediately deleted my rather innocuous post, and before I could block him, he blocked me. These are the times we live in. So much for civility and freedom of speech. This guy is voting for Hillary and so am I, albeit reluctantly. Politics is a blood sport these days.

In Truckee I took so many pictures my phone battery died. I was in need of an electrical outlet. The Bar of America seemed like an ironically appropriate place. They had outlets all along the walls and their menu offered The Stiff Drink. “Oh come on everyone asks for one, so here it is, with a Bacardi 151 float!” After last night’s emaiI, maybe I could have used one of those but instead I ordered a margarita. A passing train blew its whistle as I took my first tart limey sip. The Orioles were playing the Bluejays and at five o’clock the place was filling up fast.


Train passing through Truckee

This is a small town. The owner of the bar traveled from table to table talking to the locals. A guy passing by on the sidewalk knocked on the window and waved at two couples sitting at a table behind my barstool. “That’s my barber,” one of the guys told the other three. Another couple sat down next to me and ordered a half dozen chili rellenos standing up in shot glasses filled with a pink creamy dipping sauce. They also ordered boilermakers. The husband dropped his shot glass of whisky into his mug of draft IPA and some of it spilled over the side. “You did it wrong,” his wife told him. “You have to sip some of the beer first.” She proceeded to show him how it is done, perfectly.

The husband had a long gray ponytail and the wife looked like a friend of mine I met while working at the Inn. I quickly struck up a conversation. They are building a house up in the mountains outside of town and the wife showed me pictures on her phone. I told them about our house in Vermont and showed them pictures of the collapsing foundation and the renovation. Their kids had attended a private boarding school in Concord, MA so they were familiar with New England. We discussed my Rhode Island accent and I told them I never thought to change it but wished I had.

“Regional accents are good,” the husband said. “So, Vermont. That’s where a certain senator with the initials B.S. is from, right?”

I wondered when we’d get to the topic of the election of 2016. It seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. Did he mean bullshit when he used Bernie’s initials? Despite that possibility I decided, What the hell. The couple was friendly and I’d ordered my second margarita. I decided to go there. “You mean Bernie Sanders? Yeah, I voted for him in the primary when I was living in Connecticut.”

“So did we!” they said simultaneously, the husband slapping his hand down on the bar. Phew! A barroom brawl avoided. It seemed as if the three of us breathed a collective sigh of relief which released the flood gates holding back the desire to talk about the underlying hum of anxiety that has gripped the nation.

“Trump is beyond awful but I don’t trust Hillary,” he said.

“Well, it doesn’t matter. We have to vote for her,” she told him.

“No we don’t. We live in California. He’s not going to win this state.”

“I’ve contemplated the same thing.” I admitted. “He won’t win Vermont either and we’re dealing with an electoral college so we could lodge a protest and not vote. Still, I’ve never not voted. Democracy doesn’t work if we don’t vote.”

“Do you really think it’s working now?” he asked.

“No, not even close, but we have to protect the Supreme Court.”

“Do you think she means what she says about Citizens United?”

“No. Maybe…” I laughed nervously. “We can only hope, right?”

They nodded in solemn agreement and we changed the subject to the new Thursday night football uniforms. The wife and I didn’t like them. He did.


Truckee, CA

One of the pictures I took in Truckee was of a flag hanging from a porch with a Trump/Pence sign on the front lawn. It was snuggled between two houses, both with Tibetan prayer flags strung along their front porches. Do we assume the Tibetan prayer neighbors are liberals and the Trump family are bigots? It’s hard to imagine voting for Trump and ignoring all the atrocious things he says, but maybe they are low information voters who aren’t tuned in? Maybe they get all their info from a certain news channel? Are they tired of politics as usual? Do they think an outsider, a businessman who doesn’t pay taxes, will improve their lives and clean up Washington? Do these neighbors get along?

These questions are impossible to answer and if you think any of these divides and issues and problems are going away after the election you’re a better dreamer than I.

The following night we were in South Lake Tahoe and had dinner at an old-fashioned Italian restaurant that played Frank Sinatra, had a large salad bar, and a 1950’s Italian trattoria vibe. I asked my daughter if she’d registered to vote. Yes, and she’s voting for Hillary.

“We need to get you registered, too” I told Rich. “We’ll do it when we get back to the room.”

We discussed the election for a bit although Rich hates discussing politics. A woman two tables over called out, “I’m sorry but I couldn’t help overhearing some of what you were talking about just now. So…” She hesitated. “Do you mind? Ummm, you know… I was just wondering… Who are you voting for?”

Rich nudged me under the table. The Don’t Get Started nudge, but I ignored him. “We’re voting for Hillary. Reluctantly, but the alternative is unthinkable.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “We are, too. But his..” she pointed to her husband, “his co-workers at the distribution center where he works are all voting for Trump and it’s so scary. We were beginning to think he might actually win this thing.”

They live over the border in Nevada which at the time I am writing this has Hillary up four percentage points in the polls. We talked for awhile. “I don’t see how he can win,” I said, trying to reassure her but what do I know? The waitress brought our bill and we got up to leave. “Good luck to all of us,” the worried woman from Nevada said as we walked toward the door.


Trash Heap Providence, RI

Lost in all the profanity and bullying and obscenity of Trump over the weekend of the hot mic locker room conversation and the debate that embarrassed a nation was also the news of Hillary’s Goldman Sachs speeches. My heart sank when I read about it. It left me with an anxious feeling in my gut. All that trepidation and doubt that brought about the hate email I received.


Winnemucca, NV

On Wednesday at the Salt Lake City airport while waiting to board our flight my husband struck up a conversation with a guy wearing a New England Patriots sweatshirt and a U.S. Marine baseball cap. They talked about Tom Brady and how he was on fire during Sunday’s game. A man with a mission. I joined in and added, “There’s no stopping him when he’s pissed.” Rich asked the Marine where he lived and he told us Rhode Island. We got into the where in Rhode Island are you from conversation. I grew up in Warwick, he grew up in West Greenwich, his wife was from Cranston.

“We live in Vermont now,” Rich told them.

“Aaaah, Bernie country,” he said. “We voted for him. He won Rhode Island. I couldn’t believe it.” He said this with a smile full of wonder then frowned. “Now we got a mess on our hands. Trump’s a raving lunatic. And her….I can’t bring myself to vote for her. Don’t trust her. I’m sitting this one out.” His wife nodded in agreement. I didn’t say it out loud but I thought to myself, Bernie was as pissed as Brady but politics is a different game than football. And yes, I know, if you want to bring deflategate into the discussion some would say both games are equally rigged. Such is the world we live in.

A guy wearing a Korean War baseball cap came over to shake the Marine’s hand and said, “Thanks for your service.”

“Well, thank you too,” the guy from Rhode Island replied.

“I always make a point of thanking another vet.”

It was time to board our plane. We were flying Southwest. The veterans had an A boarding pass. We were a C.

Before I could vote, when I was sixteen, I rode my bike to McGovern headquarters in Warwick, R.I. to phone bank for George McGovern. I was twelve the day RFK died and I cried. My first presidential vote went to Jimmy Carter in 1976. It’s been a long forty years and a lot of elections haven’t gone my way but that’s how democracy works. I have canvased and phone banked for Barack Obama, John Kerry, and other Democrats over the years. I’ve contributed small dollar amounts to campaigns. I sent twenty seven dollars to Bernie times four. I have never not voted, even in the mid-terms. Raised by a U.S. History teacher, I understand my civic duty. I know my vote is my only voice.

I am afraid for my country and the state of our democracy. Of course, I am with her.

On the flight home I sat next to a man flying to Missouri and reading USA Today. One of the headlines was Trump at War With GOP. Our descent into Chicago was bumpy and turbulent. Surrounded by clouds, there was zero visibility behind, below, and ahead of us. The landing came in hard and fast. It seemed the flight was a metaphor for the 2016 election.

Arriving safely at our gate, the steward welcomed us to Chicago and said, “It’s a crazy world out there. Stay safe, be kind to one another, and pay it forward. Don’t forget to wash your hands after handling chicken and don’t fry bacon naked.”


Leaving Midway Airport, Chicago

As I write this blog, I feel nervous and hesitant about posting it. Is there someone else out there whom I will piss off because I’m not enthusiastic about my choice? Although Hillary is more than qualified, I don’t see this election changing much of anything for middle class America. It’s politics as usual and there’s some really big money involved. I felt a lot better when millions of us donated $27. We knew the candidate was beholden to We the People. I hope I’m wrong. I would love for Hillary to prove me wrong. I will gladly eat crow if I am wrong, but it seems to me the problems we have will continue to fester and I hate to think about where we will be in 2020.

There are a few things I do know. Kindness is rare but it can still be found if you look hard enough. We can all learn a lot by talking to strangers. We live in a period of history when no one feels safe, and that may have something to do with the fact that at times it seems this country is frying bacon naked.

Lessons From the Road: A Slice of American Life

The drive from Lake Tahoe to Park City, Utah along Route 80 is like traveling across the moon. It is an eight hour trip through the middle of nowhere. A full tank of gas is a necessity. It is important to remember this if you ever happen to be traveling this stretch of highway.


Route 80 Nevada

The landscape is desert sand, sagebrush, salt flats, train tracks, and an occasional cluster of trucks, RV’s and Port-a Pottys gathered together for a dirt bike rally. Exit signs mark various locations, such as Hot Springs, a place where smoke rises from the desert soil like hot water from a hot tub but the springs are not a destination. A pipeline runs in a mile long circle and what appears to be a power plant stores energy from thermal springs. Rich and I speculated on what exactly was going on there.

Below the sign for the exit was another sign: No Services. Exits with gas stations are far and few between. If you’re ever driving Route 80 across Nevada, keep that in mind.


Rock formations along Route 80 Nevada

Economizing, we had rented a small bright red Yarvis. The golf clubs didn’t fit in the trunk so we put the back seats down. It also had a wimpy horn that Rich tooted every once in awhile, making a sound like the Roadrunner. However, the little car that could did occasionally reach ninety miles per hour. Most of the ride we tried to keep to the speed limit of seventy-five. The gas tank was much smaller than we are used to. If I ever rent a Yarvis again, I will remember that.

On the radio, we found a local talk show that filled us in on What’s Happening in Winnemucca, Nevada. Bill, a lifelong town employee passed away recently. He worked at the Water Department, and then Parks and Recreation until he retired. He enjoyed golfing and playing with his grandkids. The local schools in town are being redistricted. One school district has too many kids and the other has too little, so students living at the new apartment complex over by the Good Morning Furniture Store will be sent over to the underpopulated school.

A burst of green would occasionally appear on the horizon and we’d drive by what looked like turf farms or a stand of cyprus  running along a driveway leading to a group of trailers or a small ranch house. A woman on the radio sang, “I hate you. I love you. I hate that I love you.” Rich thought she sounded confused and changed the channel.

There are four exits for Winnemucca, population 7,396.  At the second exit a sign on a building announced Beer and Brothel. Get Off Now. “I suppose that could be interpreted in more ways than one ,” Rich said. The gas stations advertised slot machines but we had a half a tank. The full tank theory hadn’t occurred to me yet. Remember that?


Winnemucca, Nevada

It was a sleepy, quiet Sunday afternoon in downtown Winnemucca. We needed to stretch our legs and find a restroom. I suggested the Winners Inn and Casino where the New England Patriots game was on the TVs. It was Brady’s first game back. Unable to pick up the game on the radio we watched a few plays. Slot players sat alone dropping quarters in machines on a blue sky day and only one blackjack table was occupied with a woman wearing a flannel jacket and stiletto heels and a guy  in a leather jacket and baseball cap smoking cigarettes. Leaning his elbows on the table, he looked anxious. He hit on a sixteen. Although my husband never gambles a good friend of his does and he whispered, “You should never hit on sixteen.” The dealer, a woman a little older than me, won the hand and swept his chips away. A rancher in blue jean overalls and a white T-shirt headed into Pete’s Kitchen, a 24 hour diner.

Outside I took a few photos. The bar across the street from the parking lot offered an all day Happy Hour. Back on the road, we picked up a good radio station outside of Elko. Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused, and Canned Heat’s Going Up the Country. After the music turned to static, we found an old episode of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. On the west bound side of the road, a tractor trailer was flipped on its side. Two police cars and a couple of auto body shop guys were loading the cargo from one truck to another.

In Elko we stopped at Burger King and got the two for $10 Big Mac Meal Deal. Several miles back Rich said we should get gas at the next stop. After we ate we got back in the car and onto the highway where we blew through Wells fifty miles down the road. Twenty miles east of Wells, Rich shouted, “Shit, we forgot to get gas.” The next town was Wendover, fifty five miles east. The red light came on twenty miles after Rich shared this dire news. We pulled into a rest stop to ask a guy in a truck if he had some gas. Everyone drives around with gas when they live in the middle of nowhere, right? No, not necessarily. If you’re ever driving this road, remember not to take that for granted.

“Wish I could help you, but you’re not going to make it,” the guy in the truck said. “There are no exits between here and Wendover. You can’t even turn around and go back to Wells.”

Luckily, we have Triple A so we gave them a call. They found someone in Wells but it would take about an hour for him to get to us. We  immediately started arguing and blamed each other. I said it’s the driver’s responsibility to keep an eye on the gas. He thought I should have reminded him about the gas. On the bright side, there was a restroom in the parking lot. I walked over to use it and Rich paced back and forth along a dirt bike trail. When I returned a woman in a beat up old truck filled with a kitchen table and chairs pulled in to take her sheep dog for a walk. Her short hair was carrot colored and she was wearing a sweat shirt that said, “Over the Hill? I think you have the wrong person.” She appeared to be in her mid-sixties and was driving a faded blue station wagon, the passenger side dented.

We told her we had run out of gas and on the off chance, we asked if she had some. “Oh gee, I wish I did. It’s happened to me before so I should be prepared, and by the way, I know the Triple A guy in Wells. He’s a good kid. I was married to a gambler and you know what they say. Fill your tank before you go to the casino. You might not have gas money when you drive home.” It has happened to me before, too. I should have remembered the road trip to Florida.

As her dog sniffed around the parking lot, she told us she was moving to Ogden, Utah. She lived back in Elko for twenty years, “the longest I’ve ever lived in a place. My husband said we had to move there and then four years later he dropped dead. I had a good job so I stayed. But now my daughter in Ogden has scleroderma. You know what that is?”

“Some kind of auto-immune disease?” I asked.

“Yes. Your skin stiffens and turns to leather. Your feet curl up, you can’t walk, your face stiffens up, you can’t eat. Your organs, too. I’m moving out there to help her die.”

“How old is she?” I asked.


We talked for awhile about life, bad luck, and her plans to take a road trip with her daughter while she could still get around in a wheelchair. Another dog owner pulled into the rest area and his dog jumped out of the car. Her dog got nervous and she said, “I better go. He’s afraid of other dogs.” We wished her well and then she was off. We never got her name. After she left, we didn’t return to bickering. I rolled down the windows in the car, got out my laptop, and started writing. Rich called some friends on his cell phone and spent the better part of the hour’s wait talking on the phone.

The tow truck driver arrived about forty minutes later. He was a handsome young man who had been working at the tractor trailer rollover all day. The truck rolled over one and a half times but the driver suffered only a broken wrist. “He was lucky,” he said, then told us the cost for the gas would be $11.25. The service call was covered by Triple A.

We got on the road and texted our friend Steve in Park City to let him know what happened. He said he’d have cold beer, red wine, and beef stew in the crockpot waiting for us. Thirty-five miles later we saw the town of Wendover in the distance. A mirage with neon casino signs blinking like stars against a pink and blue sunset sky. In the distance was the Utah border and the Bonneville salt flats. It appeared to be a large lake but as we got closer we realized it was an alien landscape flat as a pancake covered with thick crusty salt that looked like snow. To the west the scene was interrupted by mountains, to the east the salt flats appeared to go on forever and you could almost see the curvature of the earth.


Wendover, Nevada

The view turned to darkness as the sun set and the stars came out. The moon which was just a sliver four nights ago was now a full half moon. I stared out the window at the passing taillights and thought about how running out of gas isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, how their journey will play out. Losing my Mom this summer was sad and I miss her but my loss pales compared to the road that lies ahead for the stranger I met at the rest stop. In a fortunate life, our parents pass away when we are adults and we don’t have to bury our children. The mother I met In Nevada was moving to Ogden to help her daughter die. A cheerful, friendly stranger at a rest stop who I will not forget, delivering a message to not sweat the small stuff when traveling the road of life.

Recipe for Zucchini Blossoms and Selling Books: Stories From Higley Hill


I consistently sold books throughout the summer and through the month of September. A book a day, sometimes two or three. I couldn’t figure out why or how. I had moved to Vermont and was temporarily off the grid. We had a foundation to repair, my husband was looking for work, and we took the show on the road so we weren’t home a lot. We put wifi and cable TV on the back burner. One less bill to pay. I wrote a few blogs but not as many as I used to when I was an innkeeper and sharing my journal. So what was driving sales?



My WordPress blog provides some handy statistics that Amazon does not. I’m not sure why they don’t. Doesn’t it help both of us to know what’s working, where the readers come from, and how they find the books?

I began my own statistical investigation. WordPress provides info on where my blog readers come from each day. They can link from Facebook, Twitter, another writer’s blog where I wrote a comment, or just good old Google searches. Sometimes WordPress provides me the search words readers used that brought them to my website. Another piece of information I get is the blogs they read. Two of the most frequently read blogs are found by searching for the jumping teddy bear cactus and a recipe for steelhead trout.



This is where the recipe for stuffed zucchini blossoms comes in. I spend an awful lot of time writing thoughtful blogs about life in my fifties, innkeeping, my empty nest, my mother’s long battle with Alzheimer’s, and various other life stories. I do think some of these thoughtful pieces sell books. But on many of the days I sold books someone read the blog about my visit to the Joshua Tree National Park where I was attacked by the jumping teddy bear Cholla cactus or they found my recipe for steelhead trout.

This blog is an experiment. Saturday a hard frost was predicted for northern New England. I was at a friend’s house, they were away for the weekend, and their daughter told me to grab some veggies in the garden. I found four zucchini blossoms, no sign of zucchini yet, and this late in the season no time left to bear fruit. So  I picked them along with some swiss chard and went home to find a recipe. Among my many cookbooks only the Silver Pallete ladies had a recipe. It called for ricotta cheese which I didn’t have, so I came up with this:


Leftover couscous

Chopped fresh mozzarella cheese

A handful of Italian cheese blend

Mix together and stuff the gently washed zucchini blossoms

Mix bread crumbs and panko. Lightly beat one egg. Sprinkle flowers with flour (I am a huge fan of Bob’s Red Mill-his flour has changed my baking for the better. As Emeril would say, it’s taken it up a notch). Dip floured flowers in egg, then bread crumb mix and fry in vegetable oil until golden, turning carefully.

Sprinkle with grated parmesan

Recipe quantities can be adjusted for the number of zucchini blossoms you can harvest.

The finished product was amazing. My husband described it as a delicate burst of zucchini flavor. We will now spend the rest of the winter craving this concoction and waiting to plant a garden full of squash blossoms.

In the meantime, I will hopefully continue to sell books. My fourth novel is almost complete and I am desperately seeking a literary agent. I won’t kid you, selling books independently is no easy road to travel but it can be done. If you found my blog because you were looking for a zucchini blossom recipe please let me know. And better yet, if you bought a book I’d love to hear from you and how you found me.

P.S. Don’t forget those Amazon reviews.



Pick Me Up And Turn Me Round: Stories From Higley Hill

It was a summer in motion. Long rides across New England through forgotten mill towns and struggling small cities. Places that informed the novel I am writing. I slept in a lot of beds. I would wake confused and wonder, where am I? Whose house is this? It took a few minutes to orient myself. Where is the door to the hall that leads to the bathroom? Where is the nightgown I discarded in the middle of a muggy night? I certainly couldn’t wander around in my underwear looking for the bathroom in someone else’s house.

When we first left the inn, we spent a few nights at home in our own bed in Vermont but we needed a paycheck. The owner of the inn didn’t give us the two months notice nor the severance we were owed per our contract. The small bonus we earned is in limbo, awaiting year-end audits. I don’t expect to ever see it, but let’s not go there. I got all of that out of my system by writing about it. Rich still harbors deep resentments.

There were a few days of unpacking and then we were off to the Cape where Rich had lined up work for friends. First a paint job in Brewster which required removing all the second floor doors. Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night was awkward but other than that we had wonderful dinners with old friends and I walked and wrote a lot.

We moved on to another friend’s house that we had to ourselves on Mondays through Thursdays. There was a view of the Bass River and for a month we slept on a trundle bed in the finished basement. The bathroom was easy to find, it was never completely dark as the curtains were sheer and the lights of the boatyard cast a mellow glow across the room. Sunrise and sunsets were sublime, the air was a perfect temperature, and pink blossoms drifted like snow across my path as I walked to the cranberry bogs, a deep crimson red in the month of May. I wrote a lot of blogs, finished the Innkeeper’s Journal, and exorcised the demons, so to speak.

geese over the bog

My Mom’s health deteriorated, and my Dad was also dealing with the turmoil created by the fire at his condominium, so there were numerous trips to Providence. My youngest daughter was working at a pecan farm in Georgia then leaving for Germany to study at a wine institute in Koblenz so I had a Providence bachelorette pad to myself. In her up and coming West Side neighborhood, trendy new restaurants are popping up everywhere and one of many speakeasies, dark bars with discreet signs, is across the street in the historic old Avery House. If I wasn’t eating at my sister’s house in Warwick I’d grab a bite at North, an Asian fusion place, or the Broadway Bistro where they played Lou Reed’s Romeo Had Juliet the first time I stepped through the door and took a seat at the bar. Pinching pennies, I ordered appetizer menu items like a bowl of corn chowder with corn fritters or crabmeat served on cucumber slices with sesame sauce, and a glass of wine, or two. I felt like I was young and single and living in Boston again.


North in Providence, RI

I didn’t know how to use the smart TV in the apartment, which made me feel old, but I watched the Democratic convention on my laptop and wrote a lot. It was a hot summer and the sounds of the city kept me up late after long days at the nursing home, barging into the condo association office to raise hell, and daily walks along simmering city sidewalks. Young people laughed outside Avery at midnight, the kitchen staff at North dumped bottles into recycling bins, trash pickup started before dawn on Tuesday mornings. I slept late and walked to the Seven Stars Bakery down the street where I hung out with college students and young professionals, reading the New York Times on my laptop, drinking strong coffee, and eating goat cheese quiche, chocolate croissants, or flaky cheese biscuits. All summer long, everywhere I went, people talked about the upcoming election, and that also informed my work-in-progress.


At the Avery Bar, Providence, RI

Everyone I stayed with drank coffee. Some had Keurigs, others brewed a pot, and a few even ground the beans. If my hosts didn’t have half and half I managed with whole milk or an extra pour of two percent. One percent, skim, or God forbid, soy or Coffeemate, were a bummer. I drank a lot of iced coffee and discovered a lot of coffee shops throughout New England this summer.


Coffee Exchange Wickendan St.  Providence

A life long friend at an undisclosed location legally grows medical marijuana in her basement, so there was that, too. Along with eggplant parmesan and meatballs, a fully stocked backyard bar, and a passion for politics that rivals mine, we spent many an evening passionately discussing Bernie (me) versus Hillary (her). As the election approaches I am still deeply disappointed.

We vacationed for three days on Nantucket with my cousin and her husband at their lovely little home near the high school. We drank Cisco beer at the brewery where we enjoyed the music of Danger Muffin, read books on the beach, and visited an old friend, a local carpenter who has lived on the island for thirty years and is trying to finish the renovation at his amazing, ambitious house but needs more cash to complete the project. Everywhere we went we bumped elbows with the one percent who don’t need to worry about things like that. Our friend has seen the changes on Nantucket throughout the decades, a microcosm of America and what all the fear and anger is about during the summer of our nation’s discontent.


Surfside Beach, Nantucket

Rich and I also stayed in Milton, Massachusetts at an old house filled with books while he worked at his sister’s new condo. There were a lot of staircases and one room led to another. It was easy to get lost on my way to the kitchen for morning coffee but we had a room with a bathroom right outside our door. The wallpaper had an intricate pattern of palm trees, peacocks, and tigers. On our last night there, Hurricane Hermine blew through this town still inhabited by Lodges and Cabots and other wealthy Boston Brahmins. The rain beat on the dormers of the mansard roof edged with copper and dripped from leaf to leaf on the tree that danced with the high winds, tapping on our bedroom window.

We always brought dinner, wine, and beer. We served just about everyone our summer meal of BBQ chicken topped with pesto, caprese salad, and a side of street corn. The times I was home in my Vermont kitchen I finally mastered pie crust. All it took was my food processor, very cold ingredients, and the Barefoot Contessa’s Perfect Pie Crust recipe, so I showed up at some of these houses with a blueberry pie. When I was alone in Providence I hit up Venda Ravioli on Federal Hill and arrived for dinner bearing made to order cannolis.

I washed my own sheets and towels and remade the bed before I left. Last summer at the inn I was doing thirty loads of laundry on a full house weekend. I wondered how I would have managed this summer of my mother’s passing if I were still at the inn. I know I wouldn’t have been able to visit very often and most likely wouldn’t have been by her bedside when she took her final breath. Some things happen for a reason.

If someone told me this is where I would be at the age of fifty-nine I wouldn’t have doubted it. I am a nomad, a gypsy, a Native American on a ramble. I love hotel rooms, other people’s vacation homes, and small bottles of shampoo. I spend a lot of time writing alone but love the company of good friends or a conversation with a stranger sitting next to me at a bar.

On Tuesday evening after Labor Day weekend I found myself looking back on the first summer since I was sixteen that I didn’t work, for a paycheck that is. I did write a lot and I’ve reached that sweet spot where the whole thing’s come together and the editing is pure pleasure.

This was also the summer I moved to Vermont and have been living off the grid. The summer Rich and I dropped our daughter off at the airport for her flight to Frankfurt and on the drive home listened to NPR and heard the news of the terrorist truck driver who killed eighty-four people in Nice. A few days later a shooting rampage took place at a mall in Munich. So I followed her studies and later her travels, via Facebook Messenger, with some trepidation but much joy that she, like her Mom, was backpacking through Europe and having the time of her life. I reminded myself that when I traveled with my backpack, Anwar Sadat was assassinated and I accidentally stumbled upon an ETA protest in San Sebastion where soldiers arrived in armored tanks spraying tear gas and shooting rubber bullets.

I also spoke to my older daughter in Lake Tahoe almost every day and listened to her stories of life on the West Coast. Like her Mom she loves traveling this beautiful, diverse country of ours and has a restless soul.

It was the summer my mother passed away. She too loved to travel and lived a wonderful life.

I am not much for mourning the passage of time, for time is all we have and its passage is our unique, individual lifetime. It is our responsibility and privilege to make the most of our days. For me, success has never been about money. I may live long enough to regret that, but this was also the summer I devoted time to a book I feel may be the best I’ve ever written. I’m sure many would see this as an impractical endeavor but I’m determined to see it through the whole competitive, privileged, impossible New York publishing scene.

I sold books consistently throughout the summer. If you bought one and have read this far, Thank You. (And please don’t forget those Amazon reviews. They will be a huge help in November when I pitch this book to agents.)

Hurricane Hermine followed us to Vermont last night. The sky grew dark and a smoky gray fog slipped around the base of Haystack Mountain like a ballerina’s tutu. I expected a downpour. It didn’t happen. The sky grew dark, the night was quiet, and when I later looked to the west the Big Dipper was to my right and a crescent moon to my left. There was a chill in the air. The calendar still records summer but here in Vermont autumn is creeping in.

Last night we slept like children. I knew where the bathroom was but I didn’t wake until long after sunrise. Life is like that, sometimes you don’t get what you expect but as someone once wrote (that would be me), it’s true, Life Is All This.

The Letter: Stories From Higley Hill

The letter


I found another letter in our house. This one was handwritten. In the upper right corner of the first page was the number three. No salutation, no date, and the letter ends at page 6 with no Yours Truly. It starts with a laundry list of health concerns. The writer is clearly a woman.

“Also went to the doctor for a complete physical. Just having a period too often and far too many days at a time.” I can only imagine she is writing to another woman because I don’t know many guys who want to hear this information.

“The blood pressure is right on the button, heart fine, blood count good, no sugar or infection showed in the urine. Never the less my legs and feet swell so badly at times I can’t get on my shoes.” She goes on to explain a biopsy and mentions how the doctor doesn’t think it’s anything serious, just “a chemical and body change due to my age.” Then she’s on to her teeth, and mentions dental exams back in 1958 and 1960. She has only one filling, a gold inlay, and says “it just seems so wonderful to have my teeth stay in such good condition.”

She’s boring me to tears but at least I now have a time frame of the 1960’s. She finishes up the first page of the medical chronicles with a full report on her mother’s health. Apparently her and her husband, Gene, live with her mother. I wish I had something better to work with here, like an illicit love letter, but unfortunately this, along with the bank notes, is all I found.

I flip to Page Two. She writes her letter this way: not turning the page over but flipping it upside down, starting at the bottom of the next page. Gene is a handy guy and has put jalousie windows in the sleeping porch and made it into a bedroom for his mother-in-law. It’s been a hot, humid summer – which may be contributing to those swollen legs and feet.

Things get a little more interesting when she moves on to current events. “I am still studying and making contacts and calls. I certainly started during a poor time as far as the stock market goes. Kennedy has done a wonderful job of upsetting ‘Big Business’ plus the general public. No one knows what he’ll do or suggest next.”

Just imagine what she’d think of Donald Trump.

“The retail sales are down, showing people are hesitant about spending or going further in debt. With taxes being cut and the government still spending, and wanting to spend more and asking for more and more, what else can follow but more inflation? More and more people better put some of their dollars into variable dollar assets or in years to come they won’t even have enough dollars to buy groceries. It isn’t easy, however, to convince people that investing in securities at this time is the best hedge against inflation especially people who have never put dollars in American Industry before.”

I’m guessing from this information it is 1961 or ’62, and the letter writer is most like likely a Republican. Clearly she is not a fan of JFK. She goes on to talk about teaching Vacation Bible School in July and then mentions a letter she received from some friends in Eastern Pennsylvania. “They haven’t had rain in ten weeks and the heat has broken all records. It’s dairy country and the farmers are in a fix. It’s been declared a disaster area and there goes more money.”

There are also water problems in her neighborhood. A lot of wells have gone dry and she may have to connect to city water at the cost of $150 so she “sure hopes we don’t have to do that.” I can’t help but wonder how she would feel if her neighborhood was declared a disaster area and needed financial assistance. Five new houses have been built on her side of the street and she is also not happy about that. I am getting the sense this woman wouldn’t be a friend of mine. She likes to complain but the parallels are interesting – the hot summer, the droughts, the money concerns, the bitching about taxes and government spending.

By the end of the third page I am able to pinpoint her location. “Since Barbara works at the Florida Theater she gets passes. Mother, Gene, and I saw The West Side Story last week. It’s strictly teenage amusement. The music is pleasant and it was an outing without spending cash.”

I find her take on West Side Story amusing as my parents were big fans of Broadway musicals and this was one of my Dad’s favorites. I remember playing the album on the stereo in our family room, singing along to “I feel pretty, oh so pretty.” The music was Leonard Bernstein, the lyrics Steven Sondheim and this play was his Broadway debut. And the story was inspired by Shakespeare! Nevertheless my letter writer is saving her other free pass for Advise and Consent. She enjoyed the novel and hopes it will be a better night out at the theater.

“We have only been to the beach four times all summer. Just haven’t taken the time and don’t like to use gasoline for pleasure. Gene can just hardly contain himself, he wants to go to the beach so badly. The salt water bathing seems to make him feel better.”

Poor Gene. This woman and her frugality and complaints are starting to wear on me. Life is short lady, use a tank of gas and take your husband to the beach. It’s summer in Florida!

Finally, she shows her kinder side in the last paragraph. “We continue to watch over our elderly neighbor, 84 years. All her kin are out of state for the summer. I do her laundry with mine and we take her to the doctor weekly and church and groceries and what not. She’s quite a person. We enjoy doing for her. Her nephew has one of the largest funeral businesses in town. They have one daughter and six adopted children. Two pairs of the children are blond brothers and sisters. The children including their only child are under sixteen. They are a wonderful family. The old lady’s well gave out last week. Never a dull moment. Gene hooked our garden hose to her neighbor’s city faucet and ran…” And that’s all she wrote.

I have no idea how this letter from Florida ended up in my house along with Mr. Van Ness’ bank letters. I have since found out that Mr. Van Ness did live in a large home around the corner on Upper Dover Road. I found some old Christmas cards he had made up with a photo of the house he called Chez Nous and my friend recognized the property.

Chez Nous

Chez Nous – Christmas Greetings from the Van Ness Family

I wish I had found a more interesting letter to share.  I can only imagine what she thought in the coming years leading up to 1968. I think this might be another reminder during the hot, crazy summer of 2016 that the more things change the more they stay the same.

Contemplative Loafing: Stories From Higley Hill

Library 1

I recently spent a weekend outside of Boston at an old New England house filled with books. I planned to take walks, hike the hills, and write. I did manage to write but most of my time was spent browsing the books that lined the upstairs hall and the living room wall.

I frequently got lost, in more ways than one. On the first floor, one room led to another, and I circled around trying to find my bedroom. Along the route I gathered books and my plans for fresh air and exercise turned to what Walt Whitman once coined contemplative loafing. Honestly, it was too hot and muggy to do anything else.

The Politics of Rage by Dan T. Carter practically leaped off the shelf into my hands. The biography of George Wallace seemed as topical as the daily headlines so I brought it to the living room and plopped down on the only comfortable piece of furniture, the couch.

Virginia Durr, a lifelong campaigner for civil and human rights who saw much of the dark side of history, noted that Wallace’s appeal must have something to do with the basic insecurity of Americans in the 1960’s and ’70’s. She believed they had to “blame somebody else….I just don’t know, I wish I could understand why Wallace or anybody feels so good about humiliating other people,” she said. ~ The Politics of Rage, Dan T. Carter

If that doesn’t sound like our current predicament, I don’t know what does, as we all anxiously make our way through the hot summer of 2016, full of fear and insecurity at the thought of a possible Trump victory.

Arthur Miller, in Death of a Salesman, says of a washed-up Willy Loman: “Attention must be paid.” What he was talking about, said the Democrats’ 1972 presidential candidate, George McGovern, “was the frustration of the little guy, the little salesman that couldn’t make the sale.” George Wallace tapped into the anger and that desperation. Long before journalists and pundits had coined the term “silent majority”, said McGovern, Wallace understood that there might not be a majority, but there were millions of Americans who felt that nobody was paying any attention to them, nobody cared about their frustrations. ~ The Politics of Rage, Dan T. Carter

I understand that feeling. At the Democratic convention, Hillary reached out to Bernie supporters like myself. She told us, “I heard you.” Is she being sincere or are we just being focus grouped, only to be ignored after the ballots have been counted? If money talks, and it surely seems to be that way in Washington, Goldman Sachs is a fire alarm compared to the small whisper of millions of average Americans like myself.

George Wallace had recognized the political capital to be made in a society shaken by social upheaval and economic uncertainty. As the conservative revolution reached high tide, it was no accident that the groups singled out for relentless abuse and condemnation were welfare mothers and aliens, groups that are both powerless and, by virtue of color and nationality, outsiders. The politics of rage that George Wallace made his own had moved from the fringes of our society to center stage. He was the most influential loser in twentieth-century American politics. ~ The Politics of Rage, Dan T. Carter

Carter goes on to say the Republican party embraced Wallace’s politics of rage in a more subtle way. “Reagan didn’t need to make the race connection when he began one of his famous discourses on welfare queens using food stamps to buy porterhouse steaks. His audience was already primed to make that connection.”

This all left me wondering what happens after November. If Trump loses, where does the anger go? Will Bernie’s supporters carry on the revolution? Or do Trump’s supporters fight back? Does Hillary say what she means and do what she says, or does she keep the status quo? You take Bernie and Trump supporters and add up the numbers and you have more people than those who voted for Hillary. The status quo isn’t going to quiet the no longer so silent majority.

Library 2

I put the book down and hunted for another, searching the library shelves for something more uplifting. I found a biography of Walt Whitman. “A poet who hoped to save America.”

The mid-1850’s when the first two editions of Leaves of Grass were published was a time of political and social turmoil and upheaval…. a middle class was developing, (but) the gap between rich and poor was wider than ever, immigrants arriving in large numbers, changing the ethnic makeup and fanning anti-ethnic sentiment…. In 1854 there was widespread unemployment and suffering. In the wake of the 1854 slavery debacles, William Lloyd Garrison publicly burned the Constitution and Henry David Thoreau spoke murder against the state. An ex-congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, declared that compromise now between the North and South was impossible. Frederick Douglas spoke for many when he wrote, “We now say, in the name of God, let the battle come”….On the national scene, the jingoistic Know-Nothings rose to bizarre prominence by promising to restore America to Americans.”

Echoes of Make America Great Again reverberated around the living room. The Know Nothings are back.

Whitman believed in a harmonious universe of the individual, the state, and nature. Pretty lofty stuff not often discussed by the water cooler or on a barstool at the local pub. “Justice is not settled by legislators and laws…it is in the soul.” he once said. What would Whitman think of Trump’s soul? Or the likes of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Kelly Ayotte, spineless politicians who care more about their political careers than the state of the union?

The fact we survived all of this makes me feel slightly optimistic but I am left wondering why mankind continues to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Mere mortals seem only capable of living in the present moment and incapable of learning from the mistakes of previous generations. History repeats itself and we continue to ignore it at our own peril.

Whitman believed that through poetry he could hold America together. He believed in the founding fathers, the American Revolution, and the idea of democracy despite the fact slavery and class divisions were tearing it apart. His poetry sings of the working class and the ordinary people, because he believed that was where democracy was alive, in the daily lives of average Americans. And here we are, one hundred sixty years later, still dealing with racial and income inequality. The middle class is shrinking, and there is more than enough anxiety and tension to tear us apart.

Attention must be paid but I’m not sure who is capable of paying attention in a fast paced world where breaking news drives the headlines and a presidential candidate communicates by tweeting a maximum of one hundred forty characters.

I certainly don’t think my middle class stories can hold America together but I keep writing because I don’t know what else to do. Each time I return to Higley Hill I try to shut out the news of the day and keep Whitman’s ideals in mind. He wrote something for everyone, for all Americans, and he too was as much the average American as anyone.

“I celebrate myself, And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
~ Walt Whitman

**** Two days after I wrote this blog I sit in a coffee shop posting it and read the day’s headlines. Donald Trump has told “second amendment people” they can stop Hillary Clinton from curbing gun rights. The Secret Service has confirmed they have spoken to the candidate. November is a long way off. Optimism is hard to maintain.***

Cats On a Chair


We Met In A Coffee Shop: Stories From Higley Hill

Wilmington Flood Stats

Wilmington VT town hall

Yesterday I met a transgender woman in a coffee shop. I am assuming she was transgender because she looked like Caitlyn Jenner’s twin without the makeup, styled hair, and designer clothing. Her long gray hair was shaggy, parted in the middle. It was a hot, muggy, bad hair sort of day. My hair was pretty wild too and my roots were screaming as Mark, my hairdresser years ago in Portsmouth , N.H. would say. The woman had a deep voice, but not too deep, walked with the same gait as Caitlyn, and the fingernails on her large, sturdy hands were painted fire engine red.

We were the only two people in the coffee shop when they shut the music off and one of the young girls from behind the counter came over to tell us they were closing early due to an emergency. She let us know we didn’t need to rush, they were cleaning up and we had ten minutes to finish our drinks.

Still without Wifi at my house, I quickly stopped goofing around on Facebook and prioritized my Internet needs. I checked my bank balance and answered an important email. The other woman walked toward me and said, “Well, I got my coffee in a to-go cup, so at least I can bring it with me.”

“I can’t bring this with me,” I said, taking a big swig from my bottle of Switchback beer.

“Drunk driving is a big problem in Vermont.”

“Is it?” I asked. “I wouldn’t know. I moved here in May.”

“Where did you come from?”

“A lot of places but most recently New Hampshire by way of Connecticut where my husband and I were innkeepers. Before that we lived in Florida. I think drunk driving is a problem everywhere.”

“Not some places. But New Hampshire has a big problem. Florida, too.”

What was she really saying? It was four o’clock on a very hot, muggy day and I was already well-caffeinated and very thirsty. I’d only had this one beer. As if she read my mind, she asked, “How many beers do you think it takes to get drunk?”

“I think it depends on the person. Your weight, your tolerance for alcohol, if you’ve eaten or not.”

“I don’t think any of that matters,” she said.

Avoiding the implications, I asked, “Do you live in Vermont?”

She told me she lived in New York with her partner. Okay, so maybe she’s gay, but the more time I spent with her the more I felt she was transgender, not that any of that is a problem as Seinfeld once said. After all, it was she who appeared to have the problem with me, the potential drunk driver.

A tenured mathematics professor at a CUNY college in New York City, she was also a computer consultant. She started talking about how so few people really understand mathematics and threw two names at me, famous 20th century mathematicians I’d never heard of. One of the mathematicians was once asked to name a prime number. He hesitated answering the question. “Prime?” he kept asking. “Yes, a prime number,” the questioner kept replying. Finally he gave in and answered eighty-one. The woman looked me in the eye and raised her eyebrows.

“That’s not a prime number,” I said.


Phew. I got that right despite the late afternoon beer. “I would have said eleven,” I replied. “But maybe this guy, the famous mathematician, thinks all numbers are prime?” I meant maybe the guy thought all numbers were unique and important in the equation you were trying to solve, or something like that. I shrugged. “What do I know? I’ve been a bookkeeper all my life. I add and subtract with the aid of a calculator.”

“I don’t add or subtract,” she said. I stood there unsure of what the story meant. The counter girl returned with the keys to lock the back door and we walked outside to the parking lot.

Somewhere between the back deck and our cars, the conversation turned to politics. I can’t remember how it started. Clearly the beer I was forced to chug due to the early, abrupt closing of the coffee shop was muddling my memory. She mentioned something about rents in New York and how she and her partner both make six figures but they rent a hovel in the East Village where they never invite friends to dinner because of the cockroaches and the rats.

“There’s something wrong with that, don’t you think?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” I agreed. I told her about apartments my daughters had rented, not really apartments, just bedrooms in college towns like Boston and Providence, where the common rooms are shared and the renter signs the lease for just the bedroom at a rate of $800-$1200 per month. “These places have four or five bedrooms and they are three story tenements. That’s twelve or fifteen leases! Theses landlords are making a killing, and you never even know who they are. You only deal with the property management company. The last landlord my daughter had was rumored to be some hedge fund guy in Greenwich, Connecticut who owns dozens of tenements in Providence. Most people don’t realize how politics and legislation effect their daily lives.”

She nodded in agreement. “Exactly, that’s what this election is all about. But daily lives don’t matter. The real issue is Wall Street versus the real estate moguls.”

I muttered a skeptical “Hmmm, I haven’t heard that theory before.”

She went on to talk about capitalism, Hitler, and the Great Depression. I was beginning to think we were on the same page until I said, “It’s a depressing election but we have to vote for Her.”

“No, we don’t. She’s far worse.”

“What do you mean? Trump’s insane, and all this hate he’s fostering. It’s awful.”

“She’s full of hate, too. She’s a war monger.”

“Well, I agree she’s never seen a war she wasn’t ready to get behind but still, do you trust him with his finger on the nuclear weapons?”

“Well, I’ll tell you this. He won’t take shit from Wall Street.”

“Do you like Bernie?” I asked. “I voted for him in the primary and I’m still deeply disappointed. And yes, I know Hillary said she heard me, but I’d still very much like to see those Goldman Sachs speeches.”

“Well, Bernie was better than the rest, but in the end he caved. These politicians have always been in bed with the banks. Did you know American banks supported Hitler?” She looked me in the eye, assessing me. “Let’s see how much you know about history. Do you know which famous banker was giving money to Hitler?”

I tried to remember famous bankers in history. Carnegie? Mellon?

She was impatient, probably guessing I didn’t know the answer. “I’ll give you a hint. His first name was Prescott.”

My eyes widened. “Prescott Bush?”

“Yes! This election is an epic showdown between Wall Street and the banks versus the real estate moguls.”

I did ask her about the Supreme Court, affordable healthcare, legal abortion, and the right to marry the person you loved. And what about this latest incident with the Gold Star Muslim parents? It didn’t seem to faze her. This election was about money and Trump could blow all that up. Shake up the system. Bring real change.

Well yes, I too want to blow up the system and bring about real change, but I don’t want to lose the social justice we have worked so long and hard to attain. Peaceful revolution is sometimes necessary but not when it destroys people’s everyday lives. We’re trying to improve things here, not make them worse.

After that we wrapped up the conversation pretty quickly. I told her to enjoy her stay in Vermont and she told me to drive safe.

I sat in the car for awhile thinking about the transgender or lesbian woman. Or maybe neither, just a woman who had the outward appearance of an aging hippie, a New York college professor teaching mathematics at a city university, reading a book titled Nucleo Mathematics in a coffee shop and writing formulas in a notebook that looked like the blackboard scene in Good Will Hunting. She mentioned how she could have worked on Wall Street for big bucks but eschewed the corporate, capitalistic lifestyle.

I was left thinking, how can this woman defend Donald Trump?

As each day in this election year passes I become more anxious and worried. The New York Times posted a video of Trump supporters that made me feel sick to my stomach. Almost on a daily basis, I find myself in uncomfortable situations with people I know, friends and a few family members, not knowing what to say if they are Trump supporters. How can I respect these people? Do I really know them the way I thought I knew them? I’m left thinking I don’t know much of anything anymore. The world has been turned upside down and I’m afraid we might all go tumbling down after it and never be put back together again.