Susan Greco is an Atlanta native and mom of two boys, both in college. Susan's blog, Hindsight, is about life’s choices and our connections with one another. She loves cooking for friends, traveling, growing flowers and tomatoes, and considers it a great day if she’s laughed out loud, had a really good cup of coffee or made time to go for a run. High energy, high hopes, and vivid details fill her up, and she adores playing around with words to paint the pictures she sees and wants to share.
House renovations mess with your peace of mind, and if your mind and home are already a mess, well then bless your scattered little heart. It’s been a week, or is it a month, or how ’bout we just call it as it is and say years?
As we plow forth in this now several years long home improvement journey, the spaces are changing, some for the better for sure, but many temporarily piled higher with our seemingly endless mounds of stuff. I can’t solve the puzzle, full, queen and cal king bedding, for instance. The linen closet has been taken over with paint cans and new HVAC ductwork serving those changing spaces, so these items find themselves homeless. And whomever in the linen industry decided to not CLEARLY LABEL sheet sets with their proper FULL, QUEEN, KING designations was an inconsiderate buffoon. Am I the only one who finds herself draping these UNMARKED sheets across the tops of beds trying to decide which goes with which? When I achieve what feels like success, I get a fat Sharpie and duly note said size. We’ve two bathtubs in living spaces downstairs, another upstairs in the hall, and boxed sinks and toilets scattered about also waiting for their permanent homes. Seems there is nowhere to find calm except for the living room, which doubles as my husband’s part-time office, and the dining room, unless you’re just going to throw in the towel, go upstairs, and climb in bed under the covers.
In addition to the new spaces we are adding, we also are finally getting around to some house maintenance things, the big ones that take forever to complete and which seem to require multiple equity lines of credit, like a new roof and exterior painting. The house’s origins date back to 1860 and the lead paint removal is tricky, requiring the half a dozen or so paint removers and scrapers to wear hazmat suits. For the last 48 hours our front entry has been off limits with a “KEEP AWAY, LEAD PAINT” banner draped across it. The back entry for now is a makeshift setup, requiring you pay attention and carefully grab a column if you’re going to not lose your footing going up or down.
It seems topsy turvy is becoming normal. These days I’ve found I also am struggling to enter my car. The fob no longer works to open the driver’s door and the key isn’t helping either, so I must enter the front passenger door and climb over the console, this despite new fob batteries. It’ll be some time before I can get an appt to get it looked at, but I’m glad I’m flexible and can maneuver over consoles and up ladders to get where I’m going.
Meanwhile there are the cats, bored out of their tiny little minds and being hustled here and there, wherever the work isn’t. I’ve made notes for doors, big sticky notes, with a “KEEP OUT, CATS INSIDE” warning which I move around depending on where the kitties must quarantine on a given day. I often remind my husband and subs which rooms are off limits so none of us forgets. The thought of crawling army style through the crawl space yet another time to persuade the rotund 17-lb Bo to move toward the treat I’m dangling is exhausting, and the hours-long effort is equally if not more so. The little one, sweet Sam, only recently weighing in at 5lbs, likely wouldn’t dash into the crawl space if she were to escape, and we’d worry about owls or hawks or coyotes that would find her a delectable snack. So corralling the cats is a must so we can continue enjoying them in our lives and so they can enjoy the screened porches to come. I remind them of this often.
The bits of improvements we see are huge beacons of hope, enormous concentrated beauty we continue to gaze at starry-eyed. The upstairs bathroom we’ve used for years has been getting lots of love. Since we moved here in 2009, that space was our shared bathroom for the four of us. It had zero HVAC, so we rolled in space heaters in winter and fans in summer. The floor was noticeably sloped, and I recall once when one of the boys was sick and I dropped an old-fashioned thermometer. Little beads of mercury rolled all over the place and I kept chasing them with scotch tape as they threatened to go under the claw foot tub, basically forever out of reach. The slope was such that when you were sitting on the toilet it felt as if you were on the low side of a sinking ship. But today it’s leveled and the room’s tiled and awaiting wainscoting, lighting and fixtures.
In the middle of all this, two days ago my husband tested positive for COVID. Other than the fact that it’s highly contagious, it’s hard to say exactly where he picked it up. Regardless, he’s been congested, feverish and developed a hacky cough, but is otherwise okay like you are when you have a cold. He was able to schedule a video telehealth appt with our internist today who called in Paxlovid, a recent drug that is supposed to stop COVID in its tracks.
As for me, I tested negative two days ago but soon developed my own congestion and headaches too, and today I tested positive. Much like a pregnancy test, it’s nerve-racking to wait those 10 or 15 minutes for the single or double line results. This same internist couldn’t do a video chat with me until next Tuesday, which isn’t ideal because you want to get Paxlovid in you within five days after symptoms start or else COVID can go right on replicating in you. I got on the horn to my oncologist and an on-call doctor called in a Paxlovid prescription without requiring a video chat. Despite my white count being back to normal since I’m 2+ years post chemo, they still don’t want cancer patients sick with anything. I am thankful to get this drug and feeling the ground underfoot steadying.
The COVID congestion is definitely a thing which even DayQuil doesn’t touch, and the headache is a big ‘un, like a long thick wall, but get a couple of Tylenol in you and it collapses. Otherwise, because we’re vaxed to the max, it’s your basic head cold. Given we’re both quarantining inside, the plastic covering outside couldn’t have been better timed. It’s keeping the PEEL AWAY paint product toasty warm so it will best pull the paint layers off the wood and keeping our germs inside where they belong.
I plunge into deep observation mode when I find myself visiting a different culture and country, noticing it all–how people move, what they wear, eat, buy, and say (though often the language is lost on me but for little bits I know). You can learn a lot through body language, intonations and hand gestures. The magic is watching them savor foods, friends and the festivities wrapped up in the two. I sometimes feel as if I’ve walked onto a movie set or in on a game of jump rope, the outside observer waiting her turn to join in. Drinking the coffee in cafes, nibbling on a sliced baguette and watching a city strut by reminds me how much I want to extract that strain of community and mindfulness, practice it over and over and then take it home with me to live. I want the rich dreams too that I’ve had on this vacation, thick with activity and layers and real as can be, but which fade the second I wake.
Often when you vacation, there are the obvious things you don’t want to miss–historic sites, parks, beaches, museums, etc.–but sometimes what you most vividly remember are the small things that gave you a flavorful sliver of a place. These are some of those bits from recent travels to the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, and France. Adventures are best when you share them, so thanks for coming along.
Halfway to the Atlanta airport our Lyft driver proudly brought up his no vaccine and no Covid status, crediting his good fortune to Jujutsu and eating right for his blood type, and it was in that moment, preserving my own no Covid status, that I slid my mask back on.
AMSTERDAM: Our Amsterdam hotel had a big breakfast buffet including “cloudy apple” juice, the opaque kind with murky apple goodness settling on the bottom. The Anne Frank house tickets were sold out, but there were cafes at which to enjoy a Heineken. When the smiling server asked if we were American, I sarcastically remarked, “Please don’t hold it against us,” adding that we didn’t vote for the last guy, and he laughed. I can feel myself trying a little too hard to not land myself in the ugly American category, those travelers who get annoyed when there are no English menus and other conveniences that they believe they deserve. I further joked, “Please don’t spit in my beer,” and he said he would, his friendly smirk telling me otherwise. You could sense a slight upper hand and pity in his How’s it working out for you all? I’m sorry for you sentiment in the air especially given all the mess the US is juggling these days. Or maybe it was my imagination.
Not even a block from our hotel entrance was a small Red Light district with a succession of a half dozen or so windows of caged women on display in compromising positions and sexy underwear. Like a tantalizing Macy’s storefront with lots to consider, but here it’s simply sex they’re selling. I almost wished I could pay one of them for her time and in lieu of sex I’d rescue her with a “Let’s get you dressed and out of here” take charge encouragement, go for a coffee and have a not red, but green lightbulb drop revealing an easier path toward making a living. “On the practical side, prostitution in the Netherlands has been legalized since 2000. Also, prostitution is considered as a regular job. Sex workers have the same rights, protections and obligations as any worker in the Netherlands. Since 2011, they even pay taxes on their earnings.” See full article here: https://dutchreview.com/featured/prostitution-in-the-netherlands-what-is-really-happening-here/
GHENT: We arrived early evening at our modern hotel in the middle of old Ghent. As it turned out, our stay coincided with The Ghent Festivities, an enormous festival (https://visit.gent.be/en/calendar/ghent-festivities) attracting two million visitors to the city. From our hotel restaurant window table perch we caught a glimpse of the gigantic and growing party outside, surely a Covid super spreader event, but great music and revenue for a city elated and proud to welcome after the two-year break Covid brought. We meandered outside after dinner on the edges and soaked in great music and the happy vibe.
When in Belgium, you ought to have yourself a waffle. I tried at our breakfast buffet, but they went too fast, but a chocolate croissant, oversized Bing cherries and coffee hit the spot. (I did later in Bruges get myself a waffle and it tasted similar to a cake ice cream cone, far less sweet and rich than the States’ version, but good with just a light dusting of powdered sugar). I noticed two elderly couples at their sunny window table–regulars I sensed from their familiar banter with the maître d’–who were thoroughly enjoying themselves, their joyful laughter on display and champagne bubbles rising up in their flutes gave this morning’s breakfast a special celebratory feel.
Checking out, we used our expiring drink vouchers for a post brunch champagne and beer over which the bartender, all of 18, told us about his family and education. In Belgian schools you choose a route of study around age 12 and that choice affects the classes you’ll take through high school. Good for churning out career ideas, but this structure sure boxes you in should you later want to move in another direction. As with several other European countries, healthcare and education are covered in your taxes, so it’s wonderful that everyone gets the same chances.
BRUGES: Our hotel in elegant Bruges was on a lively canal with popular tour boats loading up outside. Checking in on a Sunday meant few open restaurants for dinner, but our hotel found us one. The occasional horse drawn carriage clopped past our outside table where we feasted on beautiful homemade foods that a friendly husband/wife team churned out. Simple, attractive decor inside included sweet photos of their children on the wall. As with Ghent, Bruges is a stunning medieval city by night and charmer by day.
CAMBRIDGE: Arriving late to this bustling college town, we found downtown dinner places full so walked back to our hotel for dinner. A generous portion of pea risotto with roast chicken I ordered arrived piping hot and was divine, and the staff were attentive and friendly, almost uncomfortably so. Our waitress thanked us profusely as she went about tending to our every need, setting out additional forks and knives each time we used one. It was to such an extreme, I actually wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d knelt into a curtsy before us. All this fuss made me want to hop up and help clear the table as I’m unaccustomed to and uncomfortable with this level of royal treatment. I began thanking her as well, grouping plates for clearing which began to make her uncomfortable–surely not my intent. It turned into one big thank you fest, the politeness easing up by dessert when she became relaxed enough to realize it was okay for her to chat with us. She told us she was from Latvia but wasn’t sure if we’d heard of it and was delighted to learn Joe’s mother is also Latvian, a reminder of this small world we all share and how connected we actually are. A little walking around the next day around an enormous campus field with a Ferris wheel and we were on the road again.
STRATFORD: Stratford-Upon-Avon as it’s called here or Stratford-On-Avon as it’s referred to in the US is a lovely small village on the banks of the river Avon. Swans flutter by and theatrical playhouses dot the town, and you can almost imagine Shakespeare walking these very streets so many years ago (he was born here and died in 1616 at just 52). Surely with paper and pen in hand, he sat on these very riverbanks watching swans and churning out sonnets. We walked past his old schoolhouse and childhood home, which you could tour, but with less than 12 hours here, our stay was of the check in to hotel, wander around, find dinner and press on the next day variety.
OXFORD: Oxford is another bustling college town which was bigger and busier than Cambridge and where we came to see our studying abroad son, Evan. Oxford and Cambridge are the Yale and Harvard of the UK, or is that the Harvard and Yale? I’m afraid I’m the wrong person to explain these rivalries, because I feel certain none of these places would have admitted me. Evan toured us around his dorm and academic building and dining hall, which appeared straight out of a Harry Potter novel. In fact, I’ve read the inspiration for Hogwarts’s dining hall came from nearby Oxford’s Christ Church College Great Hall.
Leaving hotels, we tend to empty our room of the soaps, coffees, creamers and biscuits, but unlike the Grinch we do stop ourselves short of the lightbulbs. In our defense, they all get used along the way and back home, the soaps find their way into shelters. For some reason on this last day, I took some extra Walker’s cookies (you know, the shortbread folks?) from the unattended housekeeping cart in the hall.
With our England travels wrapping up, France was up next, and we drove toward Kent, UK moving through the backed-up queue for the Eurotunnel. Ever reminded from pavement signs on the road before us to keep apart the length of two chevrons, we began to notice evil looking thick red lined roads on our iPhone maps route ahead, which felt like one of those miserable contractions you see coming, but don’t yet feel. (I speak from experience having naturally birthed an 8 lb. 12 oz-er.) In England, and definitely France too, people don’t let you in in traffic, but when you open up space for them to cut in, they seem super grateful and pleasantly surprised.
Stoplights in England are interesting, too. You can be waiting at a red light (stop) and instead of the nothing before the light suddenly turns green (go) and you’re free to go, you may get a red and amber light (prepare to pull away) or flashing amber (give way to pedestrians; go if it’s safe to do so). It’s sort of a courteous, “Here’s a little preview of what’s to come, you’re out of the red do-nothing zone and your light is about to turn green. We just thought you’d want to know.”
The extraordinary traffic pile up and 9+ hour wait in the car to inch along the less than two miles to the Eurotunnel was quite a thing to behold and be in. We’d prepaid these Eurotunnel tickets and now caught up in the line, it wasn’t an option for us to simply turn around and hope the ferry fifteen miles away in Dover could accommodate us. And so we sat in the standstill, unable to properly enjoy the spectacularly gorgeous day and scenery outside. Rumor was the cause was Brexit or workers on strike, but the net effect was a traffic pileup of a magnitude we’d never seen, and one that was all over the news in the UK. As our dwindling luck would have it, we’d skipped breakfast knowing we’d grab something later, but there was never a “later,” except those cookies from the housekeeping cart. Several hours in, I had to pee so badly so I found some trees to duck under and go behind. A lady was walking her dog by these same trees and I hoped she’d sense my urgency and get her dog to take his/her crap by the side of the road instead giving me a little privacy. Surely the dog wasn’t self-conscious like me? However, I waited it out for my turn. Out of the woods now, I jogged to catch up to our car which had advanced ahead by ten or so cars.
Hours later, having consumed more water (thank god we brought along three enormous full water bottles) but without the benefit of trees to go behind, we had to get creative. Weren’t those nail clippers we brought in our luggage in the trunk? These clippers would begin the tear into the plastic water bottle I needed to carve out a W/C. I ripped the rest by hand, freeing the torn top from the base.
It’s not so easy, this dropping your self-consciousness and jeans in the backseat while people, bored from hours of sitting in their cars, walk by yours with dogs and strollers, as headlights and streetlamps illuminate the 8-lane queue we find ourselves in as midnight approaches. Somehow, I perfectly aligned with the jaggedy edged bottle opening and got my relief, then dressed and walked across four lanes, cradling the sawed-off bottle in my sweater, before emptying its contents onto the grass. The day improved considerably after this and also since Joe soon after successfully got a bag of chips and a Twix to release from a nearby vending machine, salty sticky empty calories we inhaled in seconds.
Speaking of calories, the colonel seems to pop up everywhere in Europe, particularly where we were in the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. I read Dutchies, as they are called, in particular enjoy their fried food and it seems, their KFC. In Paris, it was an especially sad sight to pass a homeless man and his dog with a large chicken-less KFC bucket at their feet accepting coins.
PARIS: The couple of Old Navy and H&M fast fashions I bought for the trip rolled up small and served me reasonably well in this, the city of the well-dressed. On Parisian women, fluttery tops skimmed wide leg trousers worn over Chuck Taylors or generic white tennis shoes, and expensive short-strapped leather handbags completed their look. Slim brown flat strappy sandals were everywhere and worn with pencil skirts and mid drift tops in this, the land of the tiny waist. I never once saw any of these women eating a pastry. Older women well into their 80s also looked sharp, with their tanned bony knees on display below the hem of their mini-skirts and modern stylish frames on their faces. Surprisingly, cigarettes in Paris are still all the rage especially between young women’s pale pinkish nude polished fingers. French men glide along, tieless, in form fitting suits and leather dress shoes with slim toe boxes. Ten euros cash will get you a cute blouse on the streets in Paris, but it won’t get you that blouse if you want to pay with a card or try it on– you’ve got to spend fifteen for that.
Our Paris hotel’s lit makeup mirror extended off the wall, the rectangular illuminated magnifier it seems I’ve been waiting for. This common hotel convenience I took particular notice of as if seeing one for the first time. For years I’ve stretched my torso over a sink at home and occasionaly at hotels too to apply unsharpened eye liner in poor light, but for a few mornings in Paris I invested the ten minutes with newfound precision. Enlisting the usual players in my makeup bag, I took great care to paint the canvas, with nothing but time to get it right. There’s always the someday idea that when everything is done, every dust bunny swept up, clapboard painted, and any and all decluttering complete that once and for all, I will enjoy some of these conveniences. What am I waiting for?
On our last full day in Paris we walked 22,000 steps (or 9.7 miles) up and down stairs, across tree lined boulevards, past cafes with people enjoying a simple cup of coffee or glass of wine at day’s end as they watched the city walk, bike and drive by. Every time I move this much, I’m impressed I’m permanently attached to legs that can get me this far and thrilled with the magic eraser effects all that movement brings, shifting my mind into neutral with little time for annoyances and disappointments, self-criticism or boredom.
That same morning, I had a croissant from a Paris boulangerie, my first on this trip. On afternoon walks I’d passed windows with cases of croissant and other glorious gluten, but by then, the bees had begun noticing them too and were hovering. I’d determined I’d hold out for a morning one, freshly made and for when I was hungry and could focus completely on it alone. This particular croissant I bought looked tasty enough and I began of course at one of the pointy twisted ends. Instead of shattered flakes releasing from layers and raining down onto the wax paper sleeve or even worse, the pavement below, with each bite, this roll held firm. It had the soft layered pillow texture of a popover, but without dark crisp edges or hollowed out insides. Bite after bite, the magnificence was simply butter soft but stable, holding its shape until the very end. Each morsel quietly melted in my mouth–rich, flavorful and lovely–and true to true Parisian croissant form, it left no butter residue on my fingers. Pausing after that last bite to process the loveliness I’d just devoured, I knew I’d never duplicate that particular moment, standing on the sidewalk, cars rushing by and me, tasting a simple croissant and changing my life with each bite.
We passed a “Periph Fluide” sign on the road to the airport as we motored along pre-sunrise at zero dark hundred. A fluid periphery (similar to the UK’s term, “Ring Road,” a city’s perimeter roadway) is a lovely thing especially when you are up at that magic sunrise hour and hoping to reach the airport in plenty of time. In France, the street signs look similar yet slightly different. For instance the speed limit sign, in lieu of being rectangular with the words “Speed Limit” floating above the numeral and both inside the sign, France’s are a red ringed circle surrounding the numeral, and there’s a second sign below it, somewhat of an afterthought, “Rappel,” French for reminder, which comes across as a gentler, “Excuse me, but we’re just suggesting this as a speed limit, a little reminder for you to consider as you move along” friendly little nudge.
In flight back to Atlanta, I was abruptly awakened by a Delta flight attendant’s announcement which began: Ladies and Gentlemen, I have bad news. The announcement it turned out was about an IT glitch, which resulted in no screens, no TV, no flight tracker, nada, and no seat adjustments either. Even though the verbiage bad news brought with it an initial jolt, I rather liked no tv, not knowing the progress, and instead experiencing other ways to fill the time and adopting the blind trust that we’re moving in the right direction. I’ll take practically any disappointment or inconvenience over a nose dive into our collective ruin, which still groggy from sleep I only assumed that “bad news “announcement would detail.
The Delta jet bathroom sign stated: “A wipe of the counter goes a long way for the next guest. Thanks for keeping the counter area clean and dry.” Of course, I had to now wipe the counter and by the looks of things when I walked in, the previous passenger had done the same. My mother had the same idea years ago during her girls’ bath time when she’d consistently provide my sister and me with little sponges and a can of Ajax to wipe away the tub ring when we were done. Brilliant! Imagine if these little signs were posted everywhere pushing us along to each and collectively clean up and be better for it. They’d go a long way.
Obviously, I don’t live in Europe nor do I have hours to while away at a cafe table, but neither do the people living there. Yet when they share a table with someone, it seems they do that and only that. Electronics don’t join them or newspapers either; it’s just the cup, the company and street for entertainment. Like us all, they have their own frustrations and bad days, but then the simple sweetness of a summer day returns.
Coming out of this trip where good quality coffee is poured into small cups with saucers to be enjoyed now versus reheated throughout the morning, I hope to rethink my oversized mug stirred with healthier “milk” slurped hastily as tv news drones in the background. Here, back home in this country even with all its many challenges, there are tables to sit at and silence to listen to.
The Delta croissant wasn’t even close to that other one, which in my mind I can still taste, so it only took one bite for me to decide to leave it on the plate. I did, however, keep the mini Bonne Maman Fraises preserves that came with it, mostly for that iconic sweet miniature red and white checked lid. Maybe it will sit on the kitchen counter for a few days and I’ll pass by it and remember, or it’ll join the other jams in the cupboard. Or maybe I’ll break its seal and spread it over some crusty bread and make myself a moment.
I was up and out to the Apple store yesterday. My iPhone 8+’s dropped calls, increasingly meek volume, and oversized heaviness when I take it for a run has had me looking at others. We’ve had a long relationship all these years and I’ve kept it safe inside a sweet yellow flowered cover. Even though its oversized screen once turned me on, it’s now time to slim down. Word is that the SE i-Phone is pint sized yet mighty and a bargain too, and after I held one, I knew that was it. Bullnosed corners as smooth as a stainless kitchen island’s and tiny, so all your fingers wrap around it, this phone is petite and curvy and lightweight, and it slides down in your pocket instead of always sticking up.
Lenox Square’s new Apple store space fronts Peachtree Street and the window wall is bright and welcoming, and on this Tuesday morning void of the usual crowds. My sales person, Stef, was quick and smart and kind, and generous, too. After noticing the small chip on the corner of my phone she remarked, “We didn’t see that, did we?” and went on to credit me the full $160 trade in. She kept tabs on me as she hopped between customers, and I refreshed the SE’s tiny screen as it assumed my T-Mobile number and went about absorbing my apps and data too. We were done in no time, Stef, the SE and me, and I was released into the mall lighter, the now naked faceless 8+ staying behind. So long, old girl, you were great.
Next on the list was breezing through the Gap. I had a gift card and they have great tees and underwear. Win win. I walked past the space turning around again because it’d been a while and I must have just passed it. Nope, it’s vanished. Poof, no Gap. The Simon Mall desk guy proclaimed it official: the Gap has left the building. Damn.
Refusing to give up, I opted to give Bloomingdales a try. It’s calmer than cluttered Macy’s, though not exactly the price point I was after. The upper floor lingerie department was eerily quiet, and the clearance rack tucked in a carpeted corner was picked over, but I motored through it because I wasn’t leaving empty handed. Ten minutes in, the carpet underfoot felt uncomfortably thick, and the whole place seemed shop-vacced of its air. I realize I’m middle aged and on a cancer treatment pill that hurls you back into menopause, but my god, it’s hot in here!
A guy came by asking if I needed help, but I couldn’t imagine this was his department nor was I up for seeing if he knew what a racerback bra was and where in this heat one might be hanging. “Is it warm in here to you, too?” I asked, and more than willing to vent his frustration, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yeah, the air’s been out since Sunday,” shaking his head from the heat and dismal sales before retreating behind a door from where I’m assuming a fan was blowing. The woman at the register told me she heard it could be three weeks before the A/C gets working. Three weeks of unairconditioned mall, and in July, no less. Get me outta here!
Pushing through the Bloomie’s sauna, I made my way back into the mall passing Pottery Barn and its striking window display of sumptuous sofas and fluffy beds. One such bed was a mess, however, and I studied it more as I walked into the store. It was more than disheveled, in fact, it was alive! Something moved and then moved again. It was then that a woman emerged from under the comforter, stood up, fixed her mussed-up hair briefly before glancing at me knowing she’d been caught as she made her way out of the store. Bag-less and purse-less, she appeared to be just a regular shopper, and otherwise didn’t present as homeless. With my mouth still gaping open I found a nearby employee. “Did you know?” I began, and he interrupted smirking futilely, “Welcome to Lenox!” He’d apparently woken her up and instructed her to leave, but she’d taken her sweet time.
Having had more than my fill of the mall, I next inched along in Atlanta’s rush hour toward home, a few errands left to finish along the way. Finally, on the edge of Decatur something caught my eye. A chillingly familiar dark eggplant colored creature began crawling across the dashboard, its enormous antennae preceding its oval body, a filthy Porsche with a split down the center where its wings came together. I gasped, incredulous, yet unable to exit the vehicle with traffic moving and no curb cuts to turn into. It plunged down into the dash and up again closer to the steering wheel now climbing the visor mere inches from my scalp. I can handle frogs, lizards, and the occasional small snake–ok, maybe not in my car– grasshoppers, too, but am rendered frozen, completely terrified by these enormous Palmetto bugs/roaches/whatever you want to call them.
Meanwhile, he/she crawled from my side of the dash to the passenger side and I managed to pull into a nearby McDonald’s lot swerving my car diagonally across two parking places and screeching to a halt like police do when they quickly show up to a store that’s got trouble. Now reduced to a complete mess and with my heartbeat stuck on hold, I exited the car and opened the doors exhaling repeated guttural shrieks, disgusted, and needing to climb out of my own skin. A guy leaving the McDonald’s noticed my little hissy fit and mouthed an, “Is everything okay?” and I spread my thumb and forefinger apart to approximate the size of my problem and mouthed back, ROACH, my eyes rolling. Meanwhile said roach vanished and I was now sunk sitting on the curb trying to figure out what to do as I was most assuredly not getting back in that car. Walking toward the rear car door, I noticed him on the window. I flung some mail his way and in victorious slow motion watched him sail to the pavement and casually crawl away from my car, completely unrattled by the situation in stark contrast to me. As if escaping from jail, I hightailed it out of that lot and minutes later was home pouring myself a glass of wine, retelling the story to my husband, who seemed to welcome the humor.
That feeling of dread is returning. It’s more than an upcoming dentist appointment but less than a cancer diagnosis, and it’s moving in fits and spurts–fits from our ex-president who tried to get his way and failed, and who has returned as a regular in the news as the January 6th hearings are underway, an unfortunate yet necessary waste of resources. The replays of his voice, fantasy rhetoric and loop of lies is today as draining as it was the first go-round, and once again, it leaves me simultaneously drawn in, mortified, and depressed.
The spurts are sprays of bullets still and increasingly killing all manner of good, unsuspecting, and undeserving humans. Seems we’ve evolved into an insecure power-hungry lot, and as the world shakes its head and laughs at us, we are failing at life’s most basic tenet, to protect our own and revere these precious lives we’ve been given. The acts of violence themselves are horrific, but that the call is coming from inside the house only heightens the horror and gives way to a weary disbelief and shame as we ask ourselves, “Is this really who we are now?” I’m encouraged, however, to learn of upcoming changes to gun laws in the works.
I’m simultaneously drawn in, mortified, and depressed.
It’s no wonder our baseline worry is higher with all this plus a pandemic, inflation, gas prices through the roof, the war in Ukraine, hate crimes, racism, hunger, and the list goes on. I can neither process nor solve it, but I know I won’t look away; the load is too great, a pile that won’t stop growing.
I’m unsettled and distracted, all over the place on most days as it is, but these days are dizzying in their onslaught of bad news. I’m a Type 2 on the Enneagram, a helper who struggles to find limits and prioritize all the helping, someone who can absorb and feel so much from the news and even TV shows, so I’m trying to balance the overwhelm with how much I can do in my own world and beyond. I realize I need to cover my own face with a mask first before helping others.
As summer settles in, I’m remembering those innocent childhood days running through sprinklers and selling lemonade, and ripe peaches dripping down our chins. It doesn’t much matter if my current mood matches the season’s, Summer 2022 is here, it’s hot and it’s happening, and it will be gone in a blink. There is still much work to do on every front, but I need to take a break from the news, eat a tomato sandwich over the sink, get to a pool and lie out in the sun, and shuck corn for succotash. These rites of summer sometimes feel pointless against this world gone to hell backdrop, but there is a point, and it’s going to take a concerted effort to resuscitate these once effortless traditions, but I think I should.
There is a hopeful intentionality to this magic hunt, pausing long enough to climb into the season and feel it on you. Maybe these efforts are contrived or some wistful homage to a sweeter past, but they deliver the power to activate all our senses, trigger our best memories, and deliver new ones. Summer’s sure doing its own part, cranking out magnolia blossoms, sunshine and butterflies, and as with every year, everyone’s invited.
I can tell I need an anchor, a reminder of something predictable and beautiful that hasn’t been tarnished by our man-made noise and mess, a calm in this topsy-turvy sea. I think it’s been here all along with bunnies munching on the lawn, lightning bugs blinking as the day winds down, ceiling fans spinning at full throttle and fruit flies buzzing around the peaches on my windowsill. There is tremendous reassurance knowing these things are still here, same as they ever were, and that not everything breaks, and I’m on a hunt for more.
Recently I’ve been walking with a friend on the Atlanta Beltline where there are loads of people out with their dogs. With no dog of my own going on nearly a year, I’m on a “soft” hunt, stopping walkers with cute large dogs that smile at me to learn where they got theirs. One such golden retriever encounter sent me to a website where I saw similar smiling pups and cats, too, and I soon landed on an image I couldn’t unsee.
I’ve already got Bo, an oversized big-hearted orange tabby who recently lost his buddy Louie, also a ginger, but who now seems bored living with just us humans. Adding insult to injury, the vet suggested he slim down and switch to wet food, so his days sans kibble have grown noticeably duller.
If you cast your line out, that cork is eventually going to bob, and while I do like fishing, be careful what you fish for. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the kitten became an obsession, and of course I emailed Jessica, owner of the kitten’s mama who, as it turns out, lives on a farm several states away in Pennsylvania. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work, but from our exchange I’d learned that the kitten is super sweet, great with people and dogs, and in a week will be weaned and ready to go. Despite the highly impractical deterrent, my husband agreed this was one cute cat. Fast forward a few days and several thousand SkyMiles later and we found ourselves on a plane to Baltimore.
My suitcase held a collapsed cat carrier, a dish tub litter box, small bag of litter (which security flagged) and other assorted kitten things–toys, towels, food and water bowls–and in my carry on some reading, a toothbrush and change of clothes. With so much already invested, in flight my brain kicked into worry mode: With Samantha sleeping outside, what if coyotes get to her before I can? Or as many new adoptive parents fear and experience, what if this family changes their mind?
Putting worries aside, we landed and made our way to our Nissan Rogue. The way back held luggage, the middle seat, which I draped with a shower curtain, was dedicated kitten land, and the humans called front. We made our way to Annapolis, Md., every bit as beautiful as I’d heard, and walked around past old houses and the waterfront, which felt equal parts Virginia and New England, all of it quaint, historic and oozing charm.
Next stop was Baltimore and lunch at Lexington Market, home of Faidley’s famous crab cakes and every type of seafood imaginable. The baseball-sized crab cake we each ordered was delicious, not too eggy and with barely any filler, and we stood at one of the small round tables to eat, airport style.
After lunch we headed to Millersville, Pa., passing rich farmland with stripes of green, brown, and gold rolling hills and into Lancaster (pronounced “LANG-ki-ster”), the oldest inland town in the U.S. We stayed at an inexpensive Airbnb in Bird-In-Hand, Pa., and our room was in one of several non-descript buildings behind a pretty Victorian house. Simple enough, it had a double bed, a Bible on the nightstand, two bars of soap the size of foil wrapped pats of butter, and zero Wi-Fi. Driving in we noticed an Amish-owned market selling pies, but arrived too late to sample any. We did see several Amish families traveling via iconic horse and buggy, tops up and wipers going in the mist, and with surprising bright red blinking turn signals illuminating the rainy road.
Dinner was in an adjacent town, Lititz, and we struggled pronouncing it: Le Tits? Luteetz? Leatitz? I asked a woman on the street who could only offer that she knew it had “tit” in its name, but shrugged her shoulders saying what did she know, she was from Jersey. (It’s LIT-itz by the way.) Lititz was a cute town that reminded us of Decatur, Ga., where the parking meters stop running at 6pm and there are blinking crosswalk lights so cars stop and let you cross. The 18th- and 19th-century houses and shops are well-kept, the restaurant menus fresh and modern, and there are even local wines from Pennsylvania vineyards, so dinner was surprisingly good.
We got up early and checked out, which meant putting our room key in a bowl on a desk in the main house’s living room, where it seems no one ever goes. A few steps to the car and it was on to Lancaster for breakfast. Google gave On Orange 4.7 stars, so we put our name on the list and waited on Orange Street for a patio table. Swedish oat pancakes, peasant omelets, and attentive, amicable staff made it a memorable spot. Afterwards we saw the Soldiers and Sailors monument in Penn Square and peered inside Central Market, the oldest (1730) continuously running public farmers’ market in the country, but unfortunately, it’s closed Sundays.
Next, we headed to Jessica’s in Shippensburg, Pa., over an hour’s drive, but passing more picturesque farmland. We drove down a long driveway to the back of the house where we saw little faces inside peering out at us. Jessica and her daughter came outside, the daughter holding the tiny kitten they had named Samantha. Mom and daughter both wore long dresses, and on her head, Jessica wore a sheer white net stiff cap which appeared to be in the Amish Mennonite tradition. I read that “The Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites are the car-driving, outreach focused cousin of the more broadly known horse-and-buggy Amish” (www.beachyam.org), and I thought I’d spotted a Honda Odyssey in their driveway. Her menagerie of cats and dogs greeted us too and Jessica, a mother of five, reminded me of my friend Martee with her similarly pretty face, relaxed countenance, and warm heart she wore outside her body.
There was no catfishing going on here, and the kitten looked just like her photo. Haphazard patches of orange, black, and white fur wrapped her tiny body accented with a miniature pink nose and pads. We attempted to let Samantha’s cat mama have a final moment with her baby, but instead she walked away tired in the way mothers sometimes do. Samantha slept most of the 9-10-hour drive next to a stuffed cat I got her, which had a battery beating heart inside. Her wake time was typical cat–nibbling on kibble, playing, and even breaking in her first litter box, which “gift” we promptly disposed of. Riding along the highway at night with the inside car light on and me twisting around to observe and applaud our barely 1lb creature’s first litter box elimination, we screamed new kitten parents, but in that moment, I was a proud mama.
To better acclimate Samantha to life at home with Bo, I’ve been watching videos from Jackson Galaxy, an internet cat behaviorist my son’s girlfriend told me about (www.jacksongalaxy.com). His “Eat, Play, Love” approach to successful feline introductions recommends that both cats stay busy and entertained, eat well and get plenty of love and attention. The introductions need to be strategic and slow so each cat associates positive feelings around the other, which Jackson marks as one giant step toward successful catification. By letting them eat together with a door initially between them and then a screen, they’ll realize that spending time near the other brings good things, like tasty meals. Orange tabbies are usually males and calicos usually females, so at least Bo and Samantha have that in common. When the walls eventually come down, to avoid a standoff you should give each a fun focus, distract the kitten with toys and the adult cat with a special treat. Soon there will be a face-to-face, but for now, these cats will snack and stare, a screen between them.
My sister has remarked, “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” and in many ways neither can I. The house is cluttered and under renovation and things aren’t settled, yet the nagging feeling my current cat is bored out of his mind is disconcerting. What if I occupied a home as the only human surrounded by cats and besides, losing two pets in nine months has left a gaping hole and the house, achingly quiet.
Only a few days in, I alternate being ready for this sweetheart to grow out of her infant kitten stage and just snuggle with Bo already, to her sidling up beside me and rubbing her sweet face against my leg, and me melting there on the spot. These early new pet days don’t feel the same as when the kids lived at home since their excitement camouflaged the extra work. Instead, it feels a little what dating after a divorce or death might feel like–a little premature, contrived, and unusual to be hanging out with a stranger–but Samantha’s friendly nature and face, which I can hardly take in for all its striking beauty, has won me over and soon will Bo as well.
Did I need to travel all this way to find a kitten? Absolutely not. Did I need to hurry and barely three weeks after losing Louie go and add another pet to this house? Again, no. None of this involved logic, just extra love that needed somewhere to go. Welcome to our house, Samantha.