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

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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?

 

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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.

 

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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:

ZUCCHINI BLOSSOMS WITH  COUSCOUS

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.

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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

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.

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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

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.

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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.

“Exactly.”

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.

The Book of Love: My Mom’s Alzheimer’s Journey

My mom’s Alzheimer’s journey ended on Wednesday. She died peacefully with her family by her side. There are more chapters to this story that I have been sharing with you but at the moment I am sitting here alone in my daughter’s Providence apartment waiting for my husband to arrive and join me at the wake and the funeral. I am not religious. I know these rituals help others but for me it’s a struggle.

For me songs are like prayers.  This one is for my Dad who lost the love of his life, his wife of 60 years. When we told him he had given her a wonderful life, he said, “No, she gave me a wonderful life.”

Camp Compo: Stories From Higley Hill

“Let us not be too particular. It is better to have old second-hand
diamonds than none at all.”
~Mark Twain, Following the Equator

It was as if he tucked his wallet in his back pocket, zipped up his ski jacket, and walked out the front door, never to return again. His snowmobile suit still hung in the closet and his clothes filled the dresser draws. The liquor cabinet was well stocked, the ice cube trays full, and the fridge was loaded with mixers. “Can I make you a cocktail?”, Rich asked the first night we slept in the house.

Vermont House 2

His name was Richard, too. Richard Compoletero. It sings like some of the names in Moonstruck, and reminds me of the scene when Rita Cappomaggi answers the door and says “It’s Johnny Cammareri” in a lilting voice.

Compo passed away five years ago but his personality still fills the rooms of the funky little house we bought, more like a summer camp by a lake or an old ski chalet decorated in the style of 1970’s Italian trattoria meets the gothic vibe of Barnabas Collins of Dark Shadows.

Italian Trattatoria

 

His three sons inherited the house, and I suppose like many of us, their busy lives interfered with their plans to use the place as a vacation getaway. As the years passed by, they continued to keep up with the bills and the real estate taxes but their kids grew up and the wives most likely tired of the place, so they visited less and less often, until one day they hung a For Sale by Owner sign by the front door, behind a pine tree, barely visible from the road. And so the house sat empty for a couple of years, until the day my husband’s good friend since first grade, whose name is also Rich and lives up the hill from Camp Compo, happened to notice the sign and a realtor he knew in the driveway.

Vermont Rich called us right away and gave us the phone number. My Rich reached the youngest son. “What a coincidence,” he said, referring to the unexpected phone call, not the fact that his name is also Richard. Fortunately, for the sake of this story, he goes by Randy. “We’re about to give the house over to a realtor.”

“I know,” Rich said, and explained about his friend driving by, and how we worked at an inn in Connecticut but were looking to buy a house in the area. “It would benefit both of us if we bypassed the realtor.”

Randy needed to talk to his brothers but soon got back to us. They were all eager to sell so he told us where they hid the key. It was a slow time of year at the Inn so the next morning we hopped in the car and drove up to inspect the place.

We’d seen a lot of wet basements in Vermont, crazy septic situations, deteriorating roofs, and other home improvement situations that were daunting. Camp Compo was clean, the roof was in good condition, and the pool table kind of sealed the deal. That and the Defiant wood stove. We knew old houses well. Our home in New Hampshire was built in 1728, and although we didn’t want to repeat that never-ending DIY project, we thought we could manage this if we could settle on the right price. Because of course, there was the not so small problem of a tumbling basement foundation that needed immediate attention. But our friend Vermont Rich is a stonemason, so we had that going for us.

IMG_4167

Rich & Rich playing pool

We called Randy and made an offer that after a bit of back and forth he and his brothers agreed upon.

“I checked that Inn you guys work at and you seem like really nice people. Those are some great reviews you have. I feel good selling the place to you,” Randy told us. I guess it’s true what they say. What goes around comes around.

Compo was quite the improvisor. He also recycled long before it became the environmentally correct thing to do. The original house was a traveling bank. Some time back in the late ’60’s/early 70’s, he owned a crane operating business so had the equipment to also move a “pop-up” bank around to several locations in and around Stamford, Connecticut. Once one permanent bank branch was built he’d move the unit to another location, and when the project was completed he moved the modular unit to this ten acre chunk of land he owned in Vermont, where we now live. Two years later he built an addition; a great room with a west facing view of Haystack Mountain and some amazing sunsets.

Sunset in Vermont

Haystack Mountain at Sunset

He also worked on a house that needed a new entry way and when he tore down the existing structure, he saved some of the posts and the shed-like roof, and used them in the front entrance to the great room. Randy told us he and his father had a hell of a time taking the thing down. It was full of hornets nests and both of them got gang stung dismantling it. They kept one of the nests and tucked it in an eave as a personal sort of shared heroic memory. We’ve left it there for now because someone who recently stopped by to visit told us he saw people were shellacking them and selling them for a couple of hundred dollars on-line. The things some people collect never ceases to amaze me.

The fully stocked liquor cabinet was actually an improvised wall in the kitchen cabinet made with a piece of cardboard duck-taped to the shelves, separating the booze from a set of gold, green and brown plates, bowls, and coffee mugs. On the shelves with the Sambuca, Gordons London Dry Gin, Tito’s Vodka, Johnny Walker Red, and Cointreau was a container of I Love My Carpet and an unopened package containing something called a toilet flapper, so I’m not quite sure why Compo separated the improvised liquor cabinet from the dinnerware.

He certainly enjoyed his creature comforts and once he settled in to putting up his feet and relaxing, it appears he did not like to get up to answer the phone. I got rid of a dozen old phones, rotary and push button. They were set on little tables throughout the house along with a pen and a pad of paper nearby.

He also had a gadget for everything. In the drawers we found one of those wooden tongs that grabs toast from a toaster, an apple slicer, a tool to make watermelon balls, a garlic press, an electric can opener, a Vermont bullshit meter, a back scratcher, and something called The Giant Destroyer, two gas cartridges that kill gophers, moles, rats, ground hogs, skunks, squirrels, and ominously, Others. I’m glad we found this on a shelf along the stairs to the basement, not the liquor cabinet.

Once the foundation is fixed, we still have work to do but most of it’s cosmetic. We do have to rebuild the front entrance, for now we’re walking the plank, and a big priority is rebuilding the sunset view deck. Eventually, we plan to replace the wall-to-wall carpeting with hardwood floors. Paint the walls. Do something about the bathroom. We’re not planning on getting in over our heads here. We’re off the grid, living a simple life, making our wants few except for that biggest of all desires. Time to live life. Time for me to write. Because if not now, when?

At some point, Compo’s personality will fade from the house and ours will take over this humble abode. We’ve already hung our pictures and moved our furniture in. Some of Compo’s worldly possessions, like the couch and the dining room table, now reside in an apartment in Providence where my youngest daughter will be living off Broadway when she returns from studying in Germany. But we did promise Rich aka Randy his Dad would remain here in spirit. By the pool table Compo left us we are going to hang the homemade sign that hung by the front door above For Sale by Owner. Every once in awhile we will make a cocktail, an old-fashioned real drink, raise our glasses and toast Mr. Richard Compolatero, in a lilting sing-song Moonstruck sort of way, for this beautiful spot on the planet where his simple vision and endless ingenuity will always reside.

Compo