Joining the herd

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Count me in. I’ve joined the herd.

I walked through the open door feeling uncomfortable. It was the AT&T store. My freewheeling days of being a non-cellphone user were finally up. I slipped inside wondering if anyone would spot my discomfiture. Was the fact that I’d never owned a cellphone obvious?

At that moment, my sweetie pie Ryan called out, “Here’s a virgin cellphone user!” So, whatever anonymity I had was instantly gone.

A dark-haired woman who was perusing cellphone cases grinned and gazed at me. “Really!” It felt like she was staring at an animal long thought extinct.

Geez! I wanted to scream, “I am not a technophobe! I have both laptop and desktop computers. I can layout a magazine in InDesign and am comfortable with Photoshop. I read on a Kindle. I have five social media sites, three e-mail accounts, a website, and a blog.”

But…I have never owned a cellphone.

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Twenty years of begging my students to “put down the phone” was exhausting.

I have written about this before. As a teacher of 20 years, my disdain for cellphones runs deep. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time asking … cajoling … begging … OK, threatening students to, “PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE PHONE! Please, stop cradling those electronic devices like they’re defenseless newborns. And, geez, are those tears? I promise I’ll give the phone back at the end of class.”

“But Ms. Montgomery,” students always say when they learn of my phone-less condition. “What if someone needs you in an emergency?”

“They should call 911.”

Then they shake their heads, unable to comprehend how I can exist without a phone.

A tiny bleached-blond woman, who didn’t look much older than my high school kids, approached me at the cellphone store and asked how she could help.

“I have to get a phone.”

She smiled. “Which one?”

“I have no idea!” I explained that I needed the phone for two reasons. One is that, as an author, I need to be on Instagram, and while I have an account, who knew you couldn’t post from a computer. The other reason is that we’re planning to buy a home in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands where there are no landlines. AT&T is the only large carrier that operates there.

I pointed at a random phone on a display rack. “I’ll take that one.”

She requested my ID and checked my credit score. “What am a buying, a car?” I mumbled under my breath.

“What color would you like? We have black, red, white, and purple.”

“Purple, I said, not realizing she meant the color of the phone. I thought she was describing the case, which would cover my new device, protecting the wee thing from harm. When she appeared with a purple phone, I still said fine, then I wandered off to the cellphone-cover wall. Who knew there were so many decorative options? For me the choice was quick and easy. I grabbed the case that was zebra striped – an homage to my 40 years as a football official.

I don’t think anyone will mistake this phone for theirs,” I said to Ryan. “Purple with zebra stripes.”

“I see that.”

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With my new phone, I’m afraid I’ll end up like these folks, ignoring those around me.

I’d like to tell you that I’m delighted to have my new phone, but I can’t help feeling a bit off. I have railed against the devices for so long, I feel like a traitor. I fear becoming the woman who was so engrossed in her phone she fell face first into a mall water fountain. Or the people who slip into the Grand Canyon every year trying to take that perfect selfie. Or the couples who go out to dinner and ignore one another while they text other friends.

I’m trying to cozy up to my new phone, but our relationship remains a bit rocky. Still, I know I’ll eventually adjust.

A least, I hope I will.

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

Wild Horses on the Salt

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

 

Lockdown lessons learned from my cats

Like everyone else, I have been marooned at home for months. I realize I have no reason to complain, since that would make me sound like a spoiled brat.

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With a fridge filled with chocolate and wine you’d think I’d be a happy girl.

I have a lovely house, fabulous food cooked by my sweetie pie, a well-stocked wine rack and some spirits socked away just in case the Zombie Apocalypse rears its messy head. Then there’s the chocolate drawer in the fridge, where regular people probably keep fruits and vegetables. But, after recovering from an overweight childhood where I was yelled at every time that ancient refrigerator door latch gave me away, I keep all that sweet stuff available just because I can. My house! My fridge! My rules!

I also have my trusty Kindle on which to read, daily newspapers delivered to my front door, and Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO Now. Add to that my dog and a few kitties who are always happy to sit in my lap, and well, gosh, I’m quarantining in luxury.

And yet…I’m struggling.

“What’s on tap for tomorrow?” my sweetie pie says at the end of every day.

At which point we smile sadly, since there is generally nothing on tap. For excitement we go to the grocery store, once we’ve rigged up our masks. The other day, we had to pick up something at the dry cleaner. That, depressingly, was our singular outing that day.

I can’t help but think of Billy Murray in Groundhog Day, where as Phil Collins – a cranky weatherman hemmed in by a snowstorm – he’s trapped in a never-ending loop, repeating the same day over and over.

“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same,” Phil opines in the film. “And nothing that you did mattered?”

Exactly!

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In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character seems doomed to spend the same day over and over. I can relate.

As anyone who’s seen the film can attest, Phil is pretty much a complete jerk. At least, he was at the start, but as the same day continually repeats itself, Phil becomes a better person.

Humm?

“Have I gotten nicer during quarantine?” I asked my sweetie pie.

He looked over the top of his reading glasses. “Are you looking for me to say yes?”

Feeling no need to have him elaborate, I left it at that. Clearly Phil was responding better than I to the sameness of the days.

I wondered why this lockdown was not working for me. Pre-Corona I had too much to do, a situation that had me longing for retirement. Now that I’m retired from teaching and football officiating, shouldn’t I be happy?

According to the article “The Mental Health Survival Guide to the Pandemic,” in Psychology Today, “As people practice their social distancing and hole up in their homes, two prominent feelings are likely to emerge, boredom and restlessness. Many are already experiencing these feelings.”

Yep!

“When our routines are disrupted, accomplishing the priorities in our lives can be severely compromised. Many people begin to feel lost. They aren’t quite sure what they are supposed to be doing with their time. They begin to have too much free time on their hands. They come up with some tasks to do, but at the end of the day, they may feel that they didn’t accomplish as much as they normally do. This leaves them feeling distressed, bored, or restless.”

Yep and yep and yep!

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Kitties, brilliant creatures that they are, spend most of their time napping. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that.

What can we do with all this free time? I was considering my options when I caught a glimpse of my two cats, calmly reclining, spooning with one another. Since spending my days at home, I’ve noticed, for the first time, just how much those kitties sleep. After their breakfast, they settle in and rarely move until dinner time, which apparently does not leave them feeling “distressed, bored, and restless.”

Perhaps there’s a lesson in that somewhere. Maybe one need not accomplish a lot each day to be content.

“Where are you going?” my sweetie pie asked.

“To take a nap.”

“Good for you.”

He didn’t have to say, “Maybe that will make you nicer.”

Here’s hoping.

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

Wild Horses on the Salt

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

 

 

 

 

Breasts: a conundrum

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Ancient sculptures celebrated breasts.

It might surprise you to know that displaying female breasts in public was once the height of fashion. Prehistoric statues, by and large, almost always depicted breasts in their entirety. After all, early humans understood these appendages were pretty useful and rather magical, since, geez, they produced food.

During the 16th century, women of all classes happily displayed their breasts and no one seemed too upset about it. It wasn’t until the late 19th century when John Singer Sargent painted the Portrait of Madame X in her sleek black dress that people started raising their eyebrows in regard to exposed mammary glands.

By today’s standards Madame X – actually Paris socialite Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautre – is ridiculously tame. So, attitudes were clearly changing. By the early 20th century, there was nary a breast to be seen, as women were now covered from head to toe, and that ideal, except for the odd formal occasion, was the norm.

Until it wasn’t.

 

In the sixties and seventies, breasts were once again released from bondage, as the Burn the Bra movement took over. I will admit right here that, at the tender age of 16, I took one look at that uncomfortable contraption and without a second thought chucked it. For the next 30 years, I mostly avoided bras.

Then I became a teacher. A colleague took one look at my chest and shook her head. “You can’t go around like that in school.”

I frowned. “Like what?”

She pointed at my chest.

“Don’t be silly,” I said. “I’m old enough to be their grandmother.”

Still, that very day, I realized she was right, when I caught a student eyeing my breasts. So, off to the lingerie store I went, trying to find a system I could stand to wear. It wasn’t easy.

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On the island of Marstrand on the west coast of Sweden, I discovered a different attitude toward breasts.

Around the same time, I took a trip to Sweden. I’d lived with a lovely family when I was a student in Luxembourg. They were Swedes who had a summer home on the west coast near a beautiful island called Marstrand. One day, I took a ferry to the island, where I found no cars, lovely little bistros, and a grand 300-year-old castle called Carlsten’s Fortress. Sailboats dotted the sea. The sun was out, apparently a bit of a rarity up there in the North Sea, and the locals were so joyful they…um…took off their clothes.

As I walked the seaside trail, I noticed many people reclining on the gray rocks, mostly naked. I considered this as I sat in a grassy spot to read a book. But I couldn’t concentrate. I wondered how all those people could be so comfortable in the buff, out in the open. So, in a When-in-Rome moment, I whipped off my shirt and bra, tugged my cap down low, and waited. I pretended to read my book, but really I was thinking about sitting there naked from the waist up.

A short time later — and to my everlasting horror — a family of four approached on the trail. Two boys, maybe 10 and 12, followed their parents.  I was frozen in place. What happened next was not at all what I expected.

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Showing all the cleavage you can is popular right now.

Later that evening, over a bottle of wine, I explained the event to my Luxembourg parents, Kurt and Margareta. I shook my head. “They never even looked!” I said, clearly flustered. At which point they laughed so hard they almost spit out their wine.

Today, breasts are, once again, everywhere on display. Many women feel no qualms about exposing every inch of cleavage they can muster. I have no problem with this in general. Though I do feel there’s a time and a place for such displays. I’m still pretty old school about educational and office environments. As I have often told my students, dress any way you want for a party on Saturday night, but give your wardrobe a bit more consideration on that job interview.

I’m guessing, since we know history tends to repeat itself, the fashion world will eventually force breasts  back into hiding.

As for me, since I recently retired from teaching, the girls can once again go free.

Ah . . .

 

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

Wild Horses on the Salt

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

 

Life lessons learned at summer camp

Camp Eagle Island

In 1970, my two best friends and I went to camp where we learned life lessons we’ve never forgotten. Jill is second from the right in the bottom row, Shelly is first on the left in the second, and I’m leaning on my elbow, top right.

The news is universally depressing, as anyone who’s been keeping up can attest. But one particular story today made me sad. It was parents trying to recreate the summer camp experience at home, since many programs have been cancelled in the wake of Covid-19.

Some of the suggestions were to play camp games with your kids, make low-stress outdoor meals, and create camp crafts. I suppose the sentiment is nice, but fashioning the wonderful world of sleep-away camp at home is simply not possible.

As any avid camper will tell you, camping is about being away from home. For many of us that first experience on our own – mine came at the tender age of eight – can be magical. Mommy and Daddy aren’t around. There are new adults and new kids, all who need to find ways to connect. Yes, it can be scary, but we learn so much in the process.

My dear friend Jill, who I practically dragged to camp fifty years ago, remembers that experience today.

“I learned to come together with girls from all over – different towns, races, religions – and finally felt and understood the camaraderie that everyone always talked about when they talked about camp,” she said.

Our mutual friend Shelly also joined us, and though like Jill she was uncertain that first year, she quickly fell in love with camping.

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The lodge at Eagle Island peeks out over Saranac Lake in Upstate New York.

“The camp was on an island in a huge lake in the Adirondacks. Maybe the place was just too beautiful,” Shelly said. “But honestly, I think the reason I enjoyed it so much and came to understand how much I loved being outdoors…is because it was a Girl Scout Camp. The place was built on traditions, stories, special kid rituals, and camping lore.”

In my case, camping, especially those first few years, gave me a new perspective on who I was. I was overweight until I was 14 and was sometimes bullied. I am a low-level dyslexic which back then got me called stupid and lazy. The cool kids didn’t invite me to their parties. So, imagine my surprise when I became a cool kid at camp. The fact that I was an excellent swimmer was a big deal. That skill allowed me unfettered access to every water activity available at Eagle Island: canoeing, sailing, water skiing, scuba diving. Then there was music. We sang all the time and since I played the guitar, I felt admiration whenever I toted the instrument to the campfire. Yep, I was popular at camp, which made returning home to that other life difficult. Tears were usually involved.

“There was unlimited opportunity to learn about myself,” Shelly said of camp. “What I valued in a friend, in a group, in a leader, in myself. I went back two more years. In each subsequent year, I could feel myself emulating the counselors more and more. Like them, I wanted our group to learn new things and have fun and take care of each other, and the more I knew what I was doing, the better time I had.”

All these years later, my friends and I recall the one time none of us can forget.

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Our canoe trip took us through Blue Mountain Lake and led to a string of other lakes in New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

“The highlight of camp was the canoe trip through the Blue Mountain chain – the mist rolling off the flat, silvery lake, the quiet slip, slip, slip of the paddles, dipping in as we shoved off the pine-needled shores of the campsite,” Jill said. “I learned how to recover when falling out of the canoe and how to carry a canoe on my head. I learned to help pitch a tent, how to cook spam over a campfire. And how to lay on a flat rock amongst wild blueberry bushes in the pitch black and look for shooting stars “

“(The) canoe trip of my life, where we almost gave up, but didn’t and completed the whole lake chain,” Shelly recalled. “Because all of that gave me incredible memories of shared joy and improved self-confidence and deep appreciation of time spent adventuring.”

On that canoe trip — eight days of never being indoors or sheltered from the elements — I learned not to give up the moment I most wanted to. We’d spent the night on the rocky ground in a rainstorm. No tents. No blow-up mattresses. My flannel sleeping bag soaked and heavy. No one slept, so we were tired and cranky the next morning as dark clouds massed over the water. Our food was running low. We took a vote in that drippy, pine forest on the edge of a lake. Should we call the trip or continue on? I’m embarrassed to admit here that I voted to end our adventure and head back to camp, but I was overruled. For the rest of my life, whenever I faced a decision to quit something that felt too difficult to finish, I have remembered that moment and the joy I experienced when I guided my canoe to that final beach.

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The time my friends and I shared in the Adirondack  Mountains changed us forever.

“Camping taught me that if someone gave me a job, then other people needed me to do it, or hey, maybe we wouldn’t eat,” Shelly said. “If I didn’t paddle, the canoe didn’t get to the campground. If I didn’t hold on, I couldn’t water ski. If I didn’t get wood, we wouldn’t have a campfire. If I wanted to be good at something, I had to do the work.”

My friends and I have carried the life skills we learned at camp with us through half a century, and I sense we will never give them up, nor will we forget where we learned them. In fact, we have decided to return to our island camp. Three women now in their sixties, back in a canoe with the bow pointed toward Eagle Island. I do believe when we step on that beautiful rock again, there will be tears marking our return to the place we learned so much about life.

Does anyone still believe you can recreate summer camp at home?

 

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

Wild Horses on the Salt

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?