Home and feeling at home are often on my mind. Bill and I travel a lot, trying to find out as much about the wider world as we can. The best part for me is seeing how people live in other countries—what kind of shelter they inhabit, what they eat, how they treat each other.
Here are some unedited photos from our trip to Vietnam.
My friend Norm Benjamin died last week. I didn’t get to say goodbye to him. He was one of the first people I met when we moved to Simsbury, Connecticut 22 years ago. Norm was a husband, father, church sexton, owner of Cobblestone Landscaping and all-around good, kind person. I thought he would live well into his eighties, as his father did, but he died at age 67–too soon. It’s hard to believe.
His friendship meant a lot to me, and I wrote about him a few years ago in my blog about “Autumn Leaves and Leaving:” An excerpt:
In the autumn of 1996, Norm appeared at my kitchen door and told me he had come to say “goodbye.” Our family had moved to Connecticut from California six months earlier and Norm was one of my few friends. We had worked together fashioning a garden around the newly built house, planted trees, installed a raised bed for growing vegetables. It was Norm who taught me about frost heaves, the mud season, hardy perennials and Swamp Yankees—all new concepts for a West Coast native—and he was a good friend, besides, so I was distressed at his leaving.
” Are you moving away?” I asked.
He shook his head. I recognized the incredulity with which most locals greeted my cluelessness. “No. It’s the end of October. I’ll see you when winter’s over.”
Time passes, life changes. We sold the Simsbury house with its beautiful gardens that Norm and his wife, Pam, planned for and with me. Pam and I have sustained our friendship through various moves within the East Coast and then to California but it’s hard to keep up from long distance. I thought that everything was fine until I learned that Norm was very ill and then, only days later, that he died. Norm won’t be back when winter’s done. A modest man, I’m sure he had no idea how much he will be missed.
I have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. This doesn’t mean I am certain to get it, but my risk is greater than that of most people. My father had significant memory loss and, when he died at age 88, had been showing signs of Alzheimer’s for about 15 years. That would make him exactly my age when his condition was noticeable.
I am significantly healthier than my dad was and….so far so good. I haven’t been stashing my wallet in the refrigerator. I can find my way home. I’m not so good at finding my car in parking lots but I never have been. I ace those tests all Medicare patients get when they visit the doctor–I can draw a fabulous clock face. Some of my friends are worrying about losing their memories, too. We compare symptoms: “I lost my car keys twice today;” “I forgot my next door neighbor’s name;” “What’s the name of that thingy that…does that stuff…you know.” Or my personal favorite: “What were we just talking about?” And neither of us can remember.
To date, there isn’t much to be done to stop progressive memory loss so, besides keeping up with the literature and participating in medical studies, what is to be done? I figure the best approach is to appreciate what we have while we have it. And deal with the problem if it presents itself.
Do you remember that pathetic indoor lemon tree I thought was dead a few years ago (see blog of May 16, 2016). The photo at the top of this pages shows it as it is now, in our garden in California, flourishing with age!
We have just returned from a month in Vietnam. Despite all assurances from friends to the contrary, I was concerned that Americans would not be welcome there after the long, bitter war that divided both our countries. Boy, was I wrong! For one thing, 70% of the population wasn’t born until after the war ended, so they have no memory of it and no more interested in talking about the Vietnam War than my adult children are. The economy is on the upswing and, though Vietnam has a communist system of government, it surely has an entrepreneurial, capitalist spirit. I will write more on this subject in the next few blogs, but meanwhile, here are some photos I took as we made our way around the country.
I was surprised, after two weeks in the south, to find that the weather up north in Hanoi was so chilly. Though it looks as if a concerned parent has overdressed this little person, I resorted to wearing several layers myself to deal with the chill.
And no city photos would be complete without the obligatory rooftop alley cat. I don’t know why this kitty looks so sad.
I was forewarned that traffic in Vietnam, especially in the cities, is chaotic. And yes, it is, though it’s organized chaos. Somehow it works. Buses, taxis and thousands of motorbikes carrying unimaginable loads maneuver beside and around each other like schools of fish. There is a lot of honking, to be sure, but I have not seen a single accident in the week we’ve been here.
The elderly do not seem to drive motorbikes but are often passengers. It isn’t as frightening to see a Vietnamese grandma clinging to her adult son’s back as it is to see entire families, including babies, zig-zagging along. Here are some photos taken by me and my friends.
We are on a photo tour of Vietnam for the next several weeks so I will be posting from the road (depending on internet connections, of course). Judging from all the changes to this fascinating city, I doubt I will have any trouble with connectivity in most places in the country. So I’ll “see” you next week!
Are you a BAD MOM if you let your kids watch The Ladies Man on Christmas Eve? I’m afraid I may be, at least by local standards.
Our family’s move from loosey goosey California to traditional New England twenty years ago opened up a whole new world of occasions for guilt and shame. That first December, everything looked like a print by Currier and Ives. Beautiful as it was, I couldn’t get a grasp on all the traditions. It seemed as if everyone decorated for Christmas the weekend after Thanksgiving, my favorite weekend for doing nothing. There were unconfirmed rumors that families wore matching PJs when they opened Christmas presents. One of my good friends had beautiful decorations handed down for generations, and she put them in the same place every year. I, on the other hand, could barely remember what we had for decorations, much less where I placed them in years past.
The most memorable Christmas in those early years was when friends let Eric, their teenage son, come to our house for Christmas. Eric’s Jewish parents agreed that our house seemed like a good place to go because we celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah. Our teenage sons rented a video to watch before dinner. We all settled down and the boys turned on The Ladies Man. It was clear from the beginning that this film was not going to be a cozy Christmas story. For starters, it had nothing to do with Christmas. But Tim Meadows and Will Ferrell were funny even though the humor was raunchy—really, really raunchy. While the three boys choked with laughter, I started worrying that Eric’s parents would think we were horrible people. We watched the whole thing.
That was long ago. Now we have our own traditions. I put up the tree and all the other decorations whenever and wherever I please. Our granddaughter chases the cats around the house and the kitties stay under the beds for a week. We eat roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and pop those ridiculous British Christmas Crackers. We celebrate on whatever day near December 25th we can all be together. And we always watch The Ladies Man.
Credit: Upload of photo to Creative Commons by badstar91
Friends are always sending me links to cute animal videos. I am quite aware of all the time it is possible to waste in a day, so I try to avoid watching them before I sit down to write. Unfortunately, once I begin watching the clips, it’s difficult to stop.
The videos are often on YouTube. There is a series on The Dodo called “Little But Fierce.” In just two weeks I have received from friends clips about a tiny armadillo who “likes to snuggle” and rolls around in a bathtub filled with water and the story of a “tiny pink blob” who “grew up into a hedgehog.” [Note: it was an hedgehog blob–what else would it grow up to be?]
If you watch enough of these videos you will discover that they all have a common story line. Because the animals are “rescued” there is an element of suspense: will they make it? And how do the human rescuers know what to do? In the case of the snuggly armadillo, there was a point at which its little heart failed and the rescuer did CPR on him for an hour and 45 minutes. And it worked! The baby hedgehog’s chances of survival were very slim but with constant feeding and a heating pad, he (she?) gained weight and, of course, became very snuggly. The rescued animals are often “tiny fighters” with “huge personalities.” I have a lot of admiration for a person who would take in a baby armadillo, but what on earth will she do with it when it’s full grown? It’s one thing to hire a cat sitter if you are going away; it’s an entirely different matter to find someone to babysit a 15-pound adult armadillo.
But then again, maybe it will provide inspiration for writing: Lonely Housesitter Befriends Adult Armadillo….could be a story….
For several years I have been afraid of water and therefore seldom mustered the courage to snorkel, even while wearing a life vest. When our kids were little, I would sit on the sand of some vacation spot and wave at them as they flippered around, enjoying the beautiful coral reefs. I saved the drawing above, produced by my son Ben when he was five years old, because I loved the idea that he was afraid and understood that it took courage to dive into a pool for the first time. He overcame his fear and now is a regular scuba diver in Belize, where he lives.
We visited Ben and his wife, Jo, on their island last week and he suggested that if I could overcome my fear of deep water, scuba diving is much more pleasant than snorkeling. He swore he knew someone who could teach me in four feet of water and keep me calm on a deeper dive. I took the long, boring on-line course required by PADI (the Professional Association of Dive Instructors), managed to get through the four-feet-of-water part (thank you, Raul Cruz of White Sands Dive Shop) and went on to the open water tests.
Let’s just say that the beginning was a little rough. I was terrified and could hardly breathe, even though I was still on the boat. I will spare you most of the details, except you should know that in order to become a PADI-Certified Open Water Diver, you need to demonstrate—down there 40-50 feet below the surface—that you can fill your mask with water and then clear it out, take your air-supplying tube out of your mouth, fling it away from your body, then locate it with your right arm and get it back into your mouth. There were other terrifying maneuvers and with Raul’s calming instruction, I did them.
I’m writing this, not because I expect praise but because it is has been decades since I have felt so proud and confident. As a little girl, I believed I could do anything I set my mind to (thank you, Mom). As an adult, it has been much easier to refuse uncomfortable challenges. It took one of my children to push me to act like a grownup.