Sunday, December 30, 2012

Free-Falling at Fifty

Single-shot of Earth taken from 22,369 miles away by Russian weather satellite Elektro-L No.1.

So… here we are. We’ve survived the infamous and much-anticipated Mayan “End Date”, which coincided with our winter solstice. Despite the alignment of our sun between earth and the center of the Milky Way, we haven’t experienced a reversal of our magnetic poles. No drifting asteroid or off-kilter planet has collided with the earth. We’re not experiencing a nuclear winter. We don’t even have much snow on the ground. It seems the “Apocalypse of 2012” had more ‘woof’ than ‘poof!’

A friend asked me last month what I was going to be doing on December 21st. I looked at the calendar, saw the date came on a Friday and said “I’ll be at work.”

“Seriously?” he asked. “You’re going to spend what could be your last day on earth… working?”

Ever patient and practical, I explained.

“Ah, but you see – if December 21st isn’t my last day on earth, I want to have a job to go to on Monday morning. The End of the World is merely a supposition. If I ditch work based solely on frenzied conjecture, becoming unemployed is a certainty!”

I’m not much of a gambler, it seems. (And I really don’t talk like that, either. ‘Frenzied conjecture’? Forgive me, please…)

Of course, there have been grumblings about all sorts of man-made disasters that might signal the End Times – or at least, very Rough Times. I’ve heard predictions that the stock market is going to crash… and that the banking industry will follow. That the current Middle East conflicts will evolve into world war. That America will soon become a police state, a socialist state, a fascist state. The catastrophes envisioned by some people are endless.

All of these scenarios are possible. Some may even be probable. There is no guarantee that our lives will move forward with predictability or that they will improve as time goes by. That’s what we hope for, of course…but history has shown that we humans and the earth which sustains us have a tendency for going through periods of great upheaval. Sustained boredom is not an option, here on Planet Earth.

But what is the benefit of worrying constantly about all things ‘doom’ and ‘gloom’? I believe an individual’s quality of life suffers immensely when he concentrates too much on ‘what ifs’, especially when they are pessimistic or depressing.

So I’ve decided to look to the future and approach 2013 with a positive attitude. The year will have several milestones in it and I’d rather look forward to those than dread possible calamities.
Guy, Josie-Earl and Eli, Thanksgiving 2012
Our son Guy will turn thirty. Daughter Josie-Earl will be graduating from Carrabec High School. Our boy Eli will (we hope) get his driver’s license. Steven and I are going to celebrate our 20th anniversary. And I will turn fifty. That’s right; in 2013 I will turn fifty. Years old. The ‘Big Five-Oh’. Yay….
I’m trying to look at my September birthday with optimism rather than dread. For just as no one knows if there is imminent disaster on the earth’s horizon, so I don’t know if turning fifty will be the big ‘downer’ I expect it will be. The great thing about it is that I have some power over how I approach this landmark birthday. I can be bummed out and discouraged and act like I’m ‘middle-aged’ – or I can do things to make my 50th year one to be remembered with happiness and a sense of accomplishment.

I’ve decided to go skydiving to celebrate my half-century mark. By writing this publicly I’m setting the plan in stone…which is exactly how I imagine I’ll drop – like a stone. I’m not particularly scared of heights but I am petrified of falling. When I cross the Onawa Trestle, the center of which rises 157 feet above the stream bed below, I practically have to crawl on my hands and knees. Even standing several feet away from the edge I can convince myself that I’m going to fall and I get dizzy with vertigo. It’s rather silly but I can’t help it. I’m terrified of falling.

So I’ll jump, instead. From a few thousand feet above the earth. Am I afraid to? Absolutely! I’m petrified! But it’s kind of funny… I’m not nearly as worried about skydiving as I am about chickening out. I have this awful dread that I’ll get to the open door of that airplane and I’ll change my mind. Vehemently. Maybe even violently. That I’ll plant my feet, embed my nails in the fuselage and refuse to budge. Yep, I’m far more fearful of acting cowardly about the whole ‘step out into nothing’ scenario than I am of plummeting to earth with nothing but a swatch of wispy silk to break my fall.

To protect me from myself, I’ve asked several friends if they’d like to go skydiving with me. I’ve even asked them if they’d volunteer to push me out. I’ve accepted their ready agreements with delight and relief – sure that they only wish to save me from myself and will receive no pleasure from the pushing.

What else will I do to celebrate my 50th? I haven’t decided yet. I’m still coming to grips with the fact that I’ve decided to jump out of an airplane while it’s in the air. But one thing that will make the year special is that I think I’ll be able to enjoy another visit from Larry, one of my good friends in Australia. When I asked Larry if he’d like to go skydiving with me he said, “Nah.” There was no hesitation whatsoever in his response. But he did volunteer his girlfriend Deb for the excursion. He even promised to talk her into giving me a little push if I needed it. What a pal.

We made it through the year 2012. Some of it was good; parts of it were not-so-good. Since life is unpredictable, 2013 will likely be the same but I’m determined to make the most of it. I’ll challenge myself to overcome one of my life-long fears. And when I land back on terra firma I’ll be exuberant. Proud of myself. Full of exhilaration at my accomplishment. And with luck, those friends I grab in panic on my way out of the plane will land safely beside me.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sisterhood of the Traveling Poo--Part Deux

Just one of the delightful 'poo' themed gifts I've received from Dozy.  

Well, she did it again.  My amazing friend Dozy-- that intrepid shopper from Down Under-- managed to find me the perfect souvenirs while on her most recent African safari. 

You might remember that Dozy is the gal pal who has sent me oodles of exotic… um… ‘manure’.  Yes, there’s a story, there.  After all, no one would gift a friend with defecation without good reason, right?  If you don’t know the history behind Dozy’s sh**ty gift-giving habits, I invite you to read “Sisterhood of the Traveling Poo” at the link below.  Trust me-- it will all make perfect sense! 

The phone rang this evening and I answered it in the bedroom, where I was working at my computer.  Since the TV was on and my husband and daughter were also chatting behind me, I took the phone downstairs to the kitchen so that I could hear.  I spied a package on the counter and I grinned.  A carton with Dozy’s unique handwriting on it!  It had to be a box of poop!

Yep.  And not just a little bit, either.

I couldn’t wait to open the box so I put the phone down, grabbed a knife and sliced through the packing tape.  There were four individually wrapped parcels in the box.  The first contained a soft and beautiful scarf from South Africa.  There was nothing crappy about that gift—it was lovely.
Josie models scarf from South Africa

 But then, oh, then!  From inside pink tissue paper I pulled a pretty little notebook… made of pressed elephant dung.  Amazing!  I believe the inside sheets are called ‘pooper’ instead of ‘paper’, but don’t quote me on that until I’ve researched the matter further.
Ele-poo notebook

blank pooper just waiting for pen and ink

The next item was wrapped in a sheet of foam.  It was chunky.  Heavy.  I cackled nervously—wondering what large African animal Dozy had followed behind with her pooper-scooper in hand.  I was still chatting with my friend, trying to hold the phone between shoulder and ear while I hefted the package and unrolled the wrapper.     
Dung beetle rolling dung ball-made in Zimbabwe
 And there in the palm of my hand was… a dung beetle.  A BIG one!  And not just the bug, mind you!  My beetle came with its very own massive ball of dung clutched between its hind legs.  What a load of crap!

And what a WOMAN!  Dozy’d found the perfect African gift.  And THIS TIME I knew better than to try to eat the dung beetle, too.  (Yes, that’s a story for another day…)

But there was one more tissue-wrapped bundle.  I couldn’t imagine what it was.  The delivery slip on her box listed three items (and please note Dozy’s expert word-smithing): “Scarf, ornament…stationery”.  Check, check…and check. 

I tore off the wrapping paper-- and there it was, in all its glory.  The real deal.  Authentic.  Pure.  Straight from the African elephant…to me.

A pop-top pack of pachyderm poop.
Genuine elephant dung from South African

Perfect.  And very grassy. Quite interesting, in fact.  For now, though, I’ll resist the urge to pop the top and inspect it further, knowing that my acute anticipation will only enhance the experience, later on.

Dozy has certainly outdone herself.  I can’t begin to imagine what gift I can find for her that will compare to these treasures.  Still, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a comparable souvenir …and hope that when I find ‘that certain something’ it will give her as many grins and chuckles as she’s sent my way.

What a gal!  Thank you, Dozy-dear.  You are the absolute BEST.  Sending s**tloads of love back atcha!

African gifts from my friend Dozy 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Grumble Bluff--the Story Continues

Life is full of surprises.  Four years ago I was eagerly anticipating the publication of my first novel, Grumble Bluff.  My 'plan' was to begin to write full-time, if possible.  I've always wanted to be a novelist and I envisioned finally achieving my dream.  But... life is full of surprises.  Three years ago my focus necessarily changed and my writing was put on the back burner.

I'm hoping that will change in the near future.  I've written two sequels to Grumble Bluff and have a third rattling around in my head, begging to be allowed out.  Soon, I hope.  Soon...

If you haven't read Grumble Bluff, I hope you will consider giving it a look.  If you have read it, maybe you'll read it again?  Here are a few comments from some folks who gave me the honor of reading my first novel.



Eugene Saint on: Grumble Bluff

Grumble Bluff is an intricate and soul-searching study in the relationship between two young tweens, cursed – but also bound – by their social status. It is a wonderful story about the true meaning of friendship – through the best of times and the worst. A story of both ignorance and of deep compassionate understanding set against the sometimes cruel realities of being that age.

OK enough of that... here’s the deal. Karen Bessey Pease will keep you rolling with her wit and observational humor. This book is a hoot. She’s a hoot. But then – and you know damn well it’s coming – she rips out your heart and holds it still beating before your eyes. She is vicious. I’m a tough old bird; I’ve raised eight kids and served two tours in Combat Infantry; this book broke my heart. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

My four daughters are going to love this book probably just because they’re girls. My four sons are going to love this book just because they’re not. I suppose for that to make any sense at all... you’ll have to read the book – I did. This has best-seller written all over it. All through it. This is the diamond in the heap and I feel incredibly fortunate to have stumbled across Grumble Bluff. Something tells me I have Jack Ramsay to thank for that. I owe him – and trust me, he’ll get what’s coming to him.

Once in a very long while you read a book, hear a story, watch a movie and you know it will be with you forever. This is one of those. It’s made that way by Ms. Pease’s command of each scene. This is a book you hear – a story you see. A world in which, at least at some point, we’ve all played a part. I hope you won’t regret your role.

Eugene Saint

WOW!  That's all I can say.  WOW!

 I just spent 3 1/2 hours, almost to the minute, reading Grumble Bluff.  Knowing you as I do, I expected some laughs.  And having read the reviews, I expected some emotional scenes.  But 3 1/2 hours later, all I can say is, WOW!

You've done something that very few people can do;  you got blood from a stone, you proved I am human, you brought tears to my eyes, and less than  a paragraph later, you made me laugh!  WOW!

 I'm sure I'll have more to say later, but for now I only have one thought to pass on;  If a year from now you are still selling real estate, instead of spending all your time writing, or signing books, you need a better agent!

No Bull, you're an amazing writer!

Concord Twp., Maine


“Reading Grumble Bluff from cover to cover was an absolute privilege. I’ve seldom encountered prose that reads as smoothly, and I felt in the opening few chapters that Karen Bessey Pease’s writing had assumed the shape of a magnificently comfortable sofa while she introduced me to two of the most down-to-earth and engaging characters you’re ever likely to meet.” 

And…  Your talents are obvious. In the space of a few paragraphs, you persuade me to laugh, then brought me to the verge of tears, without forcing me into either. That's gifted writing, and I thank you for the experience and pleasure of reading your work. What you've got is a masterpiece to rival… Proulx and Picoult, Amy Tan and Geraldine Wooler.”  Jack Ramsay, author, Brisbane, Australia

“The story easily transcends the beauty and working-class reality of its western Maine setting; it gives life to the everyday concerns of families trying to keep their children safe and help them make the tough transition to young adulthood. Author Karen Bessey Pease writes Katherine Anne's story in the first person with an impeccable youthful "voice." Katherine Anne and Greta are smart, tough, tender and silly. They are grounded by their time in the Bluff. Their sadness and joy will be yours while you're in the pages of Grumble Bluff This is a book ideal for adults or young readers. If you are looking for a story about real issues, infused with the simple magic of friendship and the healing beauty of nature, grab Grumble Bluff and prepare to love it.”  Linda Bulger, Amazon Reviewer, Avon, ME   

“Finally, a story for young folks where the conjuring comes from the heart, not a wand! I loved the two main characters in this book - genuine, yearning, promising gals. I'm looking forward to the sequel.”   Firestarter, reviewer on Amazon

“Well, Karen, what can I say? I've finished Grumble Bluff and I can't but believe it will be a best seller. You've taken a simple idea and developed it to perfection. Surely, if there is any justice in the literary world you will soon be famous!”  J. Rupe Boyd, author, The Heart Reader, Ohio

“This is absolutely delightful, you have totally captured this 12 year old girl's angst, but done it with such finesse and such humour… I just love this too much… It is a completely effortless read.”  Alexandra Stopford, author, God’s Away on Business

“Not fair. First you make me fall out of my chair laughing… and then, not ten minutes later I'm dripping tears so that my eyes got all blurry and I had to stop, take off my glasses, blow my nose and breathe. This is a fabulous book … it is a beautiful story and if my lips ever make it to His will be talked about in classrooms for generations to come. Really, really well done, Karen!” - Lesley Barker, author, Pastor’s Ex-Wife, Kentucky

“I love your easy going writing style. I really feel like I'm seeing the world through Kathy's eyes. What a magnificent achievement that is. I was a super skinny kid, but I can certainly relate to the taunts that she endures.”  Tyler Adams, author, In Search of Me and Alex, Canada

“Karen, I've read…this compelling and engaging story. Loved it.   Your characters are nicly (sic) developed and very believable. The writing is crisp and easy to follow, and the story does a great job of pulling the reader along.”  Michael Croucher, author, Through Bravo's Veil

“The scenes of bullying, with those all-too-familiar patterns of mob behaviour among children, are harrowing. Also painful to read was the parents' half-hearted responses, the feeling that the behaviour the girl suffers is somehow her own fault. This is strong stuff that most people will identify with.  I liked the introduction to the forest scenes the most - the love of the natural world, the peace to be derived from it. I particularly enjoyed the description of dissolution and decay as being a natural process. Buddhists will love you for that!   All in all a smashing read…” Pat Black, author, Snarl, UK

“I love this book...your story has me hooked! I love, love, LOVE Kathy and when my daughter … is old enough this book is a must read because the message is so good. ..  I am so emotionally connected to your book that… I started to cry and had to re-read a page! I really care about your characters and that is a compliment to your writing!  This book is really well done… You are like a new Judy Bloome”   

 And then:  “I finished reading Grumble....Loved it, made me cry, and you really shocked me with the twist at the end! Excellent writing and left me wanting more!  My best friend… was raving about your book this morning I told her you are working on more and she said she wants to know as soon as possible when she can buy the next! You have a following already.”  Jana Viles Pease, reader and mother, North Anson, Maine

I just finished your book last night and I just loved it!  Great job and I can't wait till the sequel.  I told my daughter that she has to read it as well.  You brought me to tears in the book… Not many books bring me to tears----KUDOS!!  Very touching story and I plan to send a copy to my step-daughter, she will love the story as well.   I just thought you would love some feedback--not that you don't get any, but it is always great to get a pat on the back.  Consider yourself patted.  Crystal Trenholm, reader, Kingfield, ME

“That Writer Pease is an accomplished writer proficient for producing intensely eloquent imagery is evident as the reader treks through the fragrant woods along with Kathy and Greta to sit with them and listen to the splashing of the brook.  Grumble Bluff helps tweens understand that there can be hope and life can be better. Grumble Bluff is a work for the counselor’s shelf, parents and kids to read together and classroom.”  Molly Martin, Molly’s Reviews

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bickering Below

Josie and Eli, 2002

My ‘office’ is in a corner of our upstairs bedroom.  Directly below is the living room.  As I sat at my desk, trying like the devil to write a poem for the 60th birthday party of a stranger in Massachusetts, I could hear the unmistakable sounds of teenagers involved in a difference of opinion.  I couldn’t hear the words being said, but I certainly recognized the volume and the tenor.  Josie and Eli were arguing.

I let it go for a few minutes.  I was busy.  I was trying to be creative and come up with a poem which would exemplify a woman whom I’d never met, but who had been described to me in great detail by someone who loved her.  I was getting paid to provide the focal point for the event: an amusing story told in rhyme which would be framed and gifted to the woman whose life was being celebrated.  I didn’t want to lose my concentration.  I was on a roll.

But creative ‘rolls’—especially when they are supposed to be humorous—necessitate that I be able to focus.  More importantly… that I be in a good mood. 

Listening to my children squabble isn’t conducive to supporting a mellow temperament.  Finally, I rolled back my chair and went to the head of the stairs.

“Hey, guys?  Will you please quit fighting?”

“We aren’t fighting, Mama!” hollered Josie-Earl.

“Yes, Mum, we are!” shouted Elias.
J&E, 2009

Uh-huh.  Just as I thought.  They were fighting about not fighting.

“Okay, well…whatever.  It sounds like fighting.   So stop it.”

I went back to work.  The lull was temporary.  Maybe 10 seconds.  The bickering continued uninterrupted.  It was quieter, but the tone was distinctive.  What on earth made me think they’d stop simply because I told them to?  Who do I think I am; their mother?

Within a few short minutes, the voices were loud and the timbre was getting nasty.  I sighed.  Banister bellowing wasn’t going to make the grade.  I had to go down there and walk amongst them.

At the living room doorway I stood, hands on hips, and looked at them.  Josie was in her father’s recliner.  Eli was on the couch, remote control in hand.  I had an idea that the television was the source of the disagreement.  Most likely, Josie didn’t want to watch Ice Road Truckers.  Was it ‘Survivor’ night?

“We aren’t fighting, Mum.”  This time, Eli took the high road, which involves trying to mislead his mother so she’ll skedaddle more quickly and let him get on with the business at hand.

“Yes.  This time, we are!” vowed his loving sister—no doubt hoping that her honesty would result in Eli getting the lion’s share of any blame.  If she could get him in trouble, maybe he’d have to give up control of the TV.

“What’s up, guys?  You hardly ever fight anymore.”

“Exactly,” said Jos.  “So this one’s a freebie.”

I really hate it when I have to admit that I admire a smart mouth.  Especially when it’s directed at me.  I sighed. 
J&E, 2011

“Josie, you haven’t washed the supper dishes yet.  Eli, you have laundry to fold.  Do your chores now, please, and stop this.  I don’t like to hear you fight.  It makes me feel bad.”

Well, it does.  I’ve never liked conflict—especially when it involves people I love.  But in all honesty, I hoped that by throwing that comment into the mix, they’d care enough about my feelings to settle their differences before the situation devolved into a full-blown ruckus.  A ruckus in which I would have to be the ‘bad guy’.  It was a little manipulative, sure.  But I’m just a mother who—after thirty years of ‘practice’ raising children—still doesn’t have a handle on what—exactly—will work.

I went back upstairs and tried to re-enter ‘the zone’.  But my concentration was gone; my good mood diminished.  It was quiet down below.  I didn’t hear water running in the kitchen sink; didn’t hear the laundry room door open and close.  But it was quiet.

For almost five minutes.

These Pease kids are stubborn.  They don’t back down.  They were each determined to ‘win’ whatever prize was at stake.  They simply couldn’t allow the other to have the last word.  I don’t know where they got that trait, but it’s annoying as heck.

The sounds of irritation and sarcasm floated up through the floor.  I’d just about had it!  I pushed away from my desk and stomped to the top of the stairs.  If I could hear their hushed arguing, then they could certainly hear my determined footsteps above their heads. 

Prepared to lay down the law once and for all, I braced my hands on the banister.

Silence. Not a single human sound from downstairs.

For three minutes I stood there, saying nothing.  They knew where I was.  Their ears had followed my obvious progression.  They were playing it safe.  Opponents when left to their own devices, they were now united in their desire to avoid my wrath.  I nodded my head in satisfaction.  There!  They knew they were on the edge and that the tipping point was imminent, unless they quit their bickering, post-haste!

This time, I won a full ten minutes.  I re-read what I’d written and began to compose the next stanza in my head.  But then…those sounds.  Those irritating—and now disobedient-- sounds.

I shrieked.  I hate to admit it, but I did.

“You two CUT THAT OUT!  NOW!  You’re going to wake up your father!” Yes, that was as lame as it gets.  As lame as I get!  Steven would never wake up to the sounds of their distant grumbling but he would stir when a one-hundred-decibel shout was emitted twelve feet away from where he lay sleeping.

This time, the two teens responded in unison. 
J&E, 2012

“We’re NOT fighting!”

“Well, cut it out, anyway!”

There.  That would show them!  That would get me the respect I deserve!

Oh, brother.  Being the optimistic sort, I have no doubt I’ll know what I’m doing by Year Thirty-two.  Until then, I’ll comfort myself with the knowledge that I got the ‘last word.’

And I’ll bet it’s annoying as heck. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Sound of a Leaf

I sat up in my orchard, with cocoa cup in hand.
My husband and my youngest son were roaming nearby land.
The ‘Wees’ (those Tennessean pups) were running here and there,
And Stevie-cat took swipes at them as they passed by his chair.

The dew was heavy on the ground.  The sun peeked over hill.
The trees—their colors riotous—gave eyes and soul a thrill.
My ears could hear the quiet sounds of man and man-boy talk,
As they discussed the forest, on their early morning walk.

And as I smiled and listened to the puppies and the ‘boys’
I once again discovered how this farm has brought me joy.
With face upturned to feeble sun, I heard a quiet sound…
As leaf detached from maple branch and floated to the ground.

How many places in this world can humans still discern
That sound—unique and beautiful—that happens when leaves turn
From shades of green and emerald, which they’ve dressed in since their birth—
To red and orange-- which they wear-- ‘til falling back to earth?

Some things are worth protecting.  Some things are just too rare
To justify complacency.  To say “I do not care.”
This part of Maine is quiet and there’s natural dark above.
To me, it’s worth an effort to safeguard what I love.

As someone who craves peacefulness—nonetheless, I found
That sometimes it’s essential to speak and stand your ground.
For ‘comfort zones’ exist, I think, for seeing if we dare
To step ‘outside’ and see just what we’ll do-- to prove we care.

If I am not successful here, then soon will come the day
When trees with golden foliage cannot be heard to say,
“Alas, I’ve done my duty.  I’ve given it my best.
“I’m falling now—just listen! as I glide to earth to rest.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Grahame and KK's Grand Adventure (con't...)

On the road with Tony and Nicola--right before the elephant 'mock' charged them...and caused Grahame and KK to 'mock' wet their pants and have 'mock' heart attacks...

(This is 'Part Two' of the column which appears in GAG, below...)

In my last column I told you a little bit about Grahame and KK’s trip to Africa.  When I wrote that column, my Australian friends had only spent a night or two on the Dark Continent and most of Grahame’s ‘travel log’ pertained to their experiences en route and as they got settled at the home belonging to their son and daughter-in-law, Tony and Nicola.

Since that time, Grahame and KK have had many ‘African adventures’—and Grahame has sent me almost seven thousand words detailing their holiday experiences. Most of us can only dream about sharing the landscape with magnificent animals such as elephants, impalas, lions, leopards, crocs, hippos, giraffes and rhinos.  It’s likely we will only experience seeing those majestic (and often dangerous and/or endangered) creatures in a domestic setting, such as a zoo or an animal park.  And yet, my friends are spending their vacation sitting on riverbanks, on boats and on the outdoor decks of restaurants while viewing these animals in their natural habitats. 

I’m very thankful (even while being slightly envious) to have been given this opportunity to experience Africa ‘second-hand’ -- due to the kindness and graciousness of a good friend.
Black mambas--photo G. Dowling

Grahame has sent me some of the amazing photos he’s taken of the local fauna-- like the pair of Black Mamba snakes (extremely deadly!) which were sunning themselves right below the patio on which his family was dining.  Or the pair of bull elephants that sauntered into the nearby watering hole and decided it was a good time and place to strut their stuff.  The gents got into a bit of a rumble in their efforts to astound the gals with their ‘tusk action’--proving that boys will be boys, no matter where they live or how impressive their equipment.

I confess that—upon reading the portion of G’s journal pertaining to how he and KK were treated when they took a side trip to the famous and spectacular Victoria Falls—I once again got a bit wrathy.  Grahame wrote, in part:

“We arrived at ‘Vic Falls’ airport. A big difference in the friendliness of the South African airport staff to the Zimbabwe immigration and visa control, where they herded everyone into lines and barked orders as if we were prisoners lining up for a roll call. (They were) generally quite unpleasant and rude while scrutinizing our passport and tickets…”

I began to write about the fact that part and parcel of the African Experience is the state of the human condition on the Continent, as well as the politics surrounding each region.  After waxing philosophic, however, I decided to ‘leave it be’.  This is a light-hearted column…and Grahame and KK are having an amazing vacation. That’s what I want to focus on. I’ll ‘bristle’ in their defense another day.

Instead, I’d like to show you a bit of Grahame’s own ‘human condition’. I can’t adequately convey how this man tickles me and makes me smile.  Yes, we’ve had mild disagreements over the years (topics like ‘God’ and ‘guns’ have sometimes illustrated our differing philosophies) but I am confident that G is the best kind of friend that a person could have.  He’s sensitive but strong, polite but wickedly irreverent…and he has an amazing and powerful love for his wife.  That one quality alone is what I admire most about him.

But while I am in awe of his ‘husband perfection’…I can comfortably tease him about his other characteristics.  This segment from a recent email epitomizes my pal Grahame and shows his sense of humor (and indelible style) far better than I could ever do. 

“Just after I signed off yesterday writing to you I was sitting on my bed at Tony’s (the others had all gone down to the park) when a ******* giant baboon peered in the sliding glass door from outside at me. The door was open but the screen slider closed. Scared the crap out of me and I shrieked which made the baboon shriek and run. Closed up the place, closed all the curtains and went out to the car to drive down and join the others at the park, walked around to the driver’s side of the car and bugger me there was another one of the buggers who shrieked and jumped up in the air and almost made me soil my trousers. All very exciting. Jumped in car and went to park to get some medicine (aka Chardonnay.)”

Hah!  Tell me this.  How can a girl read words like that—and not smile? 

Grahame and KK--Off on a Grand Adventure

Leopard in Africa (G. Dowling photo)

(It might not make sense, but this blog posting was written before the one up above...)

Grahame and KK are off on a grand adventure, and Grahame has taken me with them!  I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right.  My left leg did dangle out of the overhead compartment during the 14 hour flight-- but apparently, it was no cause for concern.  Grahame and his ‘carry on’ had already been vetted by airport security.  And then some!

Yes, two of my Australian friends are taking a 3 week vacation to Africa.  Their son Tony—a best-selling author of adventure novels set in the Dark Continent—lives there with his wife for six months out of the year. (Check out Tony at  You won’t be sorry!)  Grahame and KK have visited Tony and Nicola in the past, but this is the first time I’ve obtained a front row seat in the Land Cruiser.

See, Grahame recently purchased an iPad and he assured me that—once he bought a compatible ‘sim card’ in Jo-burg —he’d be able to email me directly from Africa and tell me of his adventures there.  For a woman whose idea of a ‘trip’ results in bruises and mild embarrassment, this is a wonderful opportunity to share in an experience which I’ll most likely never get to have, first-hand.  When I asked Grahame if he’d mind if I wrote about his African escapades, he glommed onto the idea like a slug to a petunia leaf.  (He describes himself as a bit of a ‘poseur’—and who am I to argue?)

The first missive I received was written from 28,000 feet while he was winging his way to Africa on a Qantas flight.  He described in detail his experiences with Immigration/ Customs, and I read his words with a combination of amusement and irritation. 

“We went straight through check-in and immigration/customs; very pleasing, no delays… but then I got pulled aside by a big beefy customs/security guy who gave me a printed notice to read, saying that they were going to frisk/search me and my ‘carry on’ bag… and that if necessary they would need to take a specimen off me (where from or what of was not specified) and if I objected to any of the process I would be taken to a room to be interrogated and/or ‘body searched’ if necessary....!!!

“I of course said ‘okay’ so I was frisked all over and patted down; I had to hold my arms out straight and have my armpits checked, my shoes were checked and then a hand scanner was run all over me and my bag, as well.

“All very exciting...I don't know why I was singled out as the only one from the people passing through but I wonder if my name is on their watch list after you tried to send contraband potatoes...very strange, very strange!

“I then asked if KK had to be checked out also and he said no—it was just me they were interested in.  Hmmm...  So I was obviously a ‘person of interest’ to them… and I can only think 'potato smuggler' (or I look suspicious; to which KK [when I asked what she thought] said I looked a bit shifty.)”

Hmmph!  If you knew of Grahame’s innate kindness and mild-mannered temperament, the very thought that he might be a danger to anyone would cause you to shake your head in wonder.  And he certainly doesn’t look like a suspicious character!  He is a good-looking, presentable bloke and I have it on good authority (his) that he only wears support hose when embarking on a long trip.

Regarding the unfortunate incident Grahame mentioned concerning potatoes and smuggling and ‘watch lists’….well, that’s ancient history.  A misunderstanding and nothing more.  I’ve long-since made up with the good people at Aussie Customs and have forgiven them for destroying the spuds of my labor. 

Grahame and KK arrived safely in Africa, but their 10:00 a.m. take-off was delayed for quite a long time.  The captain first reported that they were waiting for six passengers on a connecting flight from Melbourne that had been delayed.  Fifteen minutes later those passengers had been seated but due to the delay, the jet in line behind them was given their place in the queue.  The captain then reported that that plane had broken down on the runway (which could rattle the confidence of the calmest and most frequent of fliers) and it was going to have to be towed away before they could depart.  By the time it was hauled from the field, 11 more flights had jumped ahead of them in line.

At 11:20 a.m. the captain came over the intercom to inform passengers that they were ready for take-off and he instructed the crew to perform the ‘safety precaution drill’.  To add a bit of spice to the flight, the head steward then picked up the microphone and announced that ' due to a failure of our visual equipment the safety drill will not be able to be seen on screen, but we'll give instruction over the intercom while you watch the staff go through the drills.'

On the plus side, Qantas doesn’t skimp on the alcoholic beverages, and my friends were soon relaxing with ample amounts of Chardonnay at 5 miles up.

Grahame had reserved the ‘exit seats’ to ensure that he and KK had plenty of leg room during the flight.  He commented that it was ‘worth it’, even if there was one drawback. 

“They're next to the toilets, which is 'icky' when the line forms up in front of you-- but okay when you need to go yourself, as the door is only 3 steps away.”

As you can see, this adventure is sure to be fraught with excitement and danger and I’m thrilled to be living it vicariously and sharing it with you.  As of this writing, my friends have arrived at Tony and Nicolas’ home.  The first exotic African animal they came into contact with?  A bush baby.  One who eats mandarins—preferably pre-peeled.
Bush Baby at Tony's (G. Dowling photo)

Stay tuned.  Hippos and elephants have been spotted and Grahame and KK have already had some wonderful photos ops.  They’ve also been instructed on how to deal with baboons which are skilled at Breaking and Entering. 

Now, that’s more like it!

The Heavens Above

Full moon in New South Wales, Australia (photo G. Dowling)

Do you ever stand outside on a clear night and revel at the beauty and majesty of the heavens?  I do-- just as often as I can.  I admit it: I’m addicted to the night sky.  I think I always have been.

As a child I would often drag my sleeping bag and pillow out onto the lawn and lie under the stars, captivated by the panorama above.  I would stare at the bit of universe that was visible to my naked eye and which extended from one edge of the clearing to the other. The Milky Way, its glimmering wide band extending beyond my scope, seemed to me a living thing.  I knew I was a part of it and yet…it was up there, and I was down here.  How could that be? 

When I was very young I believed that falling stars were an unusual occurrence and someone told me that each one signified the death of a person on our planet.  For a seven year old, that was a frightening thought.  Death was ‘bad’, wasn’t it?  And very sad?  One night as I snuggled on the top bunk in the bedroom I shared with my older sister, I saw a star shoot across the horizon and wink out.  Just like that.  Blazing, swift, full of energy and light, and then… gone.

“Someone just died.”  My voice disrupted the stillness of our room.

“Someone dies every second, Karen,” was the response from below.  She was my big sister.  She must know what she was talking about.  Her words didn’t bring me comfort, for I wondered how long it would be before a falling star signified the death of someone I loved.

Years later, lying in a warm sleeping bag and watching the glittering light show above, I realized that shooting stars no longer caused me worry.  Instead, they gave me solace.  If they indicated sentient beings who had taken their leave of the earth, what better way to memorialize them?  I’d believed that falling stars were a rarity when my viewing screen was a small window overlooking the woods, but my night-time sojourns taught me that there were dozens of meteorites to be seen on any given night when the cosmos was spread out before me.  I began to view the busy night sky as a global celebration of life and I would try to picture the faces of those who were being honored in the heavens.

I grew to know the constellations by sight and I knew where they could be found on any given night.  Convinced our planet was the center of the universe, I believed that the stars marched in perfect synchronization…evening to dawn and season to season.   They were always where they were ‘supposed’ to be and that fact provided a young girl with a feeling of stability.  There weren’t many things I was sure of, but the night sky was a ‘definite’.  My parents loved me-- and the heavens moved with predictability. Those two things I knew.

The night sky has changed in the forty years since I first saw a falling star.  In my youth, the blinking lights of a jet plane flying overhead were a sight more rare than those bits of burning rock falling through the atmosphere.  An airplane’s red and green beacons provided interest and a brief focal point but they were an intrusion, especially when the sounds they made caught up with the sights they provided.  Satellites were also uncommon.  Now, man-made luster often seems to dominate the radiance of those natural luminaries that have flecked the firmament since time began.

Now, too, there is light pollution; another threat to the natural beauty that has kept mortals enthralled and gazing aloft for generation upon generation.  Even in our rural corner of Maine, we see its impacts and experience nostalgia for those nights when the sky was unblemished by man. 
Full moon setting over Mt. Abram, Maine (K. Pease photo, taken from my bedroom window)

Nonetheless, I remain devoted to looking at the heavens.  My moods vary with the waxing and waning of the moon.  Aurora Borealis, those Northern Lights which shimmer and dance in greens and yellows on the horizon, never fail to leave me breathless.  A meteor shower is cause to wake my children and take them, sleepy-eyed, from their rooms to the front steps so that they can glory in a performance which costs nothing to watch but which provides more romance, thrills and majesty than anything seen on a synthetic ‘big screen’.  A lunar eclipse takes precedence over sleep, too.  And comets?  Even as a grown woman I’ve been known to sleep upside down on my bed so that I could go to sleep watching their fluctuating glow through my skylight.

Yes, I love the night sky.  It puts life in a breathtaking, awe-inspiring way. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Birthday Busk

As I’m writing this column, I’m listening to a CD—a birthday present sent to me by my friends Jack and Ali in Australia.  “Craigie Dhu” is its title.  Recorded in Perthshire, Scotland (Jack’s native ‘home turf’) some 30 years ago, it is a collection of Scottish folk music performed by artist Dougie MacLean--and in some cases, written by him, too.

I wanted to listen to it before sending my thanks to the Ramsays.  They fell in love with the Jud Strunk CD I sent to them, and I hoped I could do the same with their local music.

I did.

The first song started playing and I was struck by the peacefulness of the melody and vocals.  The second thought that followed on the heels of the first was that I didn’t understand the lyrics.  Was wee Dougie singing in English?  Don’t the Scots speak the same language I do—albeit full of rolling r’s and ‘ochs’ and ‘ayes’?

Um…I don’t think they do. 

“And show ye braw sicchts mony and ane, and busk ye wi’ a silken goon…”

I sat here trying to figure out if I would enjoy being busked with a silken goon—or not.  It seemed a bit titillating, so I looked up the word ‘busk’ and found this definition: “the metal clasps that close the centre front of a corset.”  Well, that had to be wrong.  After all, the word ‘center’ was spelled incorrectly, so what credibility could I grant to the rest of the definition?  Besides, I was looking for a verb, not a noun. had this to say, and it made a little more sense: “to entertain by dancing, singing, or reciting on the street or in a public place.”

Okay.  That was better.  I’m always up for a little entertainment.  But…entertained by a goon?  Back to the computer I went. defined goon as “gang terminology for a low level gang member… usually the street drug runners.”

Hmmm…I don’t think that is anyone I’d want to be busked by.  Optimistic of finding an alternative meaning, I traveled to Merriam-Webster which defined a goon as “a stupid person” or “a man hired to terrorize or eliminate opponents.”

I was beginning to lose my romantic vision of being busked by a goon, no matter how silken he might be.  Being terrorized or eliminated simply didn’t seem very entertaining.  Having a silken ‘stupid person’ as the busker seemed slightly more appealing, but still…

And then there are the sicchts.  What the heck are they?  Googling that word didn’t help me at all.  Not one bit.  The only mention I could find of sicchts was in reference to making balisongs, and we all know how complicated that process is!  Sheesh.

How about mony? says a mony is “an aesthetically pleasing, physically fit male, aka a ‘man-pony’.”  Now we’re talking!  Hi-ho, Silver… busk away!  However, with further research I found that mony is a (chiefly Scottish) variant of ‘many’… so most likely, that’s how the word is used in the phrase.

Braw was easier to identify.  Also 'chiefly Scottish', it’s an adjective meaning “fine or excellent, especially in appearance or dress.”

And ane appears to be the Scottish word for “one.”

So, the translation of that specific line in “Gin I Were a Baron’s Heir” goes something like this:  “And show you fine and excellent sicchts many and one, and entertain you with a silken terrorist (thug or ignoramus).”

Och, aye, lassies and laddies!  As you can see; in the space of just a few minutes, I’ve conquered ‘Scotch-English’ (Jack would bellow to read that—avowing that ‘Scotch’ is whiskey or tape, only!)  I’m almost bilingual, wouldn’t you say?  Yep.  Aye.  I learned mony of the words, with just that ane ‘sicchts’ to trip me up.  But never fear…once I learn how to craft a balisong, I’ll know sicchts inside and out.  Have no doubt… I’ll share that wisdom with one and all, once I do.
Ben A'an, Scotland (Ramsay photo)

Despite my teasing, the truth is that I love the music.  ‘Tullochgorum’ is absolutely phenomenal.  Perfection.  My favorite song is (naturally) ‘Bonnie Bessie Logan’, even though Dougie seems to have misspelled ‘Bessey’.  But we Besseys don’t get too testy about such minor errors, being so bonnie and braw, and all. 

The best thing about my birthday CD is that, when I listen to the music, I feel closer to Jack and Ali, friends who live as far away from me as friends can be, while still remaining on this planet; one made up of people who speak in many different tongues, but who are often drawn together by the universal language of music. 

“I fain would be among them, but och, that canna be.” *

Thank you, Jack and Alibal.  Craigie Dhu has taken me ‘home’ with you and the journey was lovely.

Kinnoull, Scotland

*Lyrics, 'Bonnie Bessie Logan'

Thursday, September 13, 2012

'School Shopping"

Josie's last 'first day of school' (note Eli's t-shirt...)

School shopping.  I can’t tell you how many times during the last weeks of summer vacation my daughter Josie asked me when we were going ‘school shopping’. 

I kept putting her off.  I’d say “I don’t know” or “We’ll see” or “Let me talk to Papa about it…”  I employed every standard, classic, well-worn avoidance technique each time the subject came up.  That’s because…I hate to shop.

I don’t just dislike shopping, I hate it.  I know that’s a strong term to use, but so is “two hundred bucks” and “waiting in line”, “trying on shoes”, “standing outside the changing room” and… “Does this make me look fat?”

I stalled as long as I could, until an edge of panic began to creep into Josie’s voice.  Apparently, “TIME WAS OF THE ESSENCE!”  I’ve always wondered what dire emergency would actually justify making such a declaration…and now I know.   My daughter was terrified that she might have to begin her senior year of high school dressed in something clean, neat and stylish-- but which “everybody has seen, before!”

I hate shopping, yes—but I’m not a cruel mother.  I couldn’t make my lovely daughter suffer such a torturous and humiliating start to her final year at Carrabec High School.  I capitulated at last and planned an evening trip to Augusta (where, I was told, there are ‘good’ stores.)

The afternoon before our planned excursion, Eli looked at me morosely.

“Apparently,” he said in a dull monotone, “Josie’s gonna make me go school shopping with her.”  He sounded as if the Grim Reaper was standing over his shoulder.

“Yep,” grinned his big sister, “I’m gonna pick out his clothes…no more boring jeans and black or gray t-shirts.  He’s gonna look cool this year!”

I glanced at Eli.

“I should just put you out of your misery now, huh?”

In truth, it felt good to have a co-sufferer.   Misery loves company, after all.

We drove to Augusta the next evening.  Josie wanted to go to ‘Goodwill’, first.  I didn’t know where it was.  She’d ‘googled’ directions for me—thinking that would solve the problem.   To this country girl, her directions were useless.  I like to do things the old-fashioned way.  I stopped at an Irving’s to ask for directions-- and we arrived at Goodwill about 8 minutes later.

Eli, of course, found nothing to strike his fancy.  I’d expected Josie to shuttle him around, forcing him to try on various non-Eli apparel, such as button-up shirts, khaki pants, plaid shorts and t-shirts with popular sports’ logos on them.  But… nope.  Josie was in “Josie Shopping Mode”.  Nothing and no-one else mattered.

She flicked through the racks, tossing tops, skirts, flowered dresses and little jackets into her cart.  Eli came over and shuffled his feet.

“There’s nothing here that I like or that will fit me.  Can I go sit in the truck?”

No way!  If I had to tag along behind his sister, he was going to have to do the same!   His shoulders drooped. 

“I’ll be down back—looking at the bikes.”

Josie stormed the dressing room and after much wiggling in and out of clothes and turning this way and that in front of mirrors, items were relegated to ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ piles.  Her arms were too long for this jacket (said she) and her ‘chests’ were too exposed for that shirt (said I).  The louvered door closed and she disappeared again.

“Can’t I go sit in the truck?”  Eli, having returned from the back of the store, mumbled under his breath as a buxom lady elbowed him away from the rack of purple smocks.

“We’re almost done.”  The words were said in desperation, but I tried to sound confident as a woman bumped me aside in an attempt to snatch a coveted suede jacket off the rack beside me.

“How’s this look?” she asked.  Eli’s lips twitched and he quickly strode away.

“Nice.  It’s…you.”  Her?  I’d never seen her before in my life!  How did I know it wasn’t ‘someone else’?

“Josie!” I barked.  “I’m leaving in five minutes!”

Ten minutes, nine articles of clothing and $40.00 later, we were on our way to the Augusta Marketplace…where the ‘good’ stores were.  Eli, a young man with discriminating tastes, asked to be dropped at Wal-Mart.  Josie was hot on the trail of shoes, however, and couldn’t be bothered.  She urged Eli not to buy ‘lame stuff’.  I told my son I would return at precisely 8:00 and drove Josie to Payless.  Forty minutes, seven ‘try-ons’, two purchases and $70.00 later, she wandered to the pink store next door.  I made her promise to stay there while I went to pick up her brother.

Eli was out front, two plastic shopping bags in hand.

“I’m done,” he announced, throwing the bags into the back seat.

“Done?  What did you buy?”

“A pair of jeans, two t-shirts, socks, underwear and some school supplies.”  Gawd, I love this kid.

“Josie’s not going to be happy,” I warned.

“Well, one of the t-shirts has a picture on it.  I got it to shut her up.”

“Oh.  A picture of what?”

“Skeletons or something.”


I drove back to the pink store.  We parked out front.  Waited. 

“Go get her.  Tell her it’s late and we’ve gotta go home.”

“Why me?”

“Because I don’t want to go in there.  It’s pink.”  (Okay…maybe I AM a cruel mother.)

He rolled his eyes and grumbled, but didn’t argue.  I smirked—definitely feeling cruel.  Just moments later, he emerged from the store and re-entered the vehicle.  Surprised, I said, “That was fast.  Where’s Jos?”

“In the changing room.”

“How do you know?”

“I looked around, didn’t see her,” (I’d forgotten that he is almost 6’4” and could easily see his 5’9” sister over all the racks in the store) “so I went to the dressing room doors and hollered ‘Hey, Jos….Mum says ‘Hurry up!’’”

“Did she answer?”


Okay, then.  But Josie wasn’t finished.  She wanted to ‘hit’ Kohls.  It was ‘right up there’ so—to keep the peace—I drove right up there.  This time, I followed her—determined to speed things along.  This time, I let the boy sit in the truck.

I perused the displays of sunglasses while waiting for Josie to find that ‘certain something’.  I plucked a pair off the $9.99 rack.  Josie was nowhere to be seen, but the lights were going off in the store so I figured the management team would soon do my job for me.  I took my purchase up to the counter.  A pleasant cashier rang them up in the semi-gloom.

“That’ll be $15.76,” she smiled.  I considered telling her that they’d come from the $9.99 rack but decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  I just wanted to go home.  I handed her my cash.  She printed off the receipt, placed it on the counter in front of me and circled some numbers.  “You’ve just saved $13.23!” she proclaimed proudly.

Lucky me…what a deal.

I wandered back to the truck, where Eli was listening to music and contentedly eating “Mike and Ikes” that were stashed in his Wal-Mart bag.  We peered through the store front as the lights went off, one row at a time.

“This is hell, isn’t it?”

“Yep.  Want some?”

We sat there in companionable silence under the lights of the parking lot, eating candy and humming “Waitin’ on a Woman”. 

I’ve gone ‘school shopping’ every year for the past 25 years.  I hate it as much as I ever did…but one day soon--I’ll miss it.

That sounds dumb…but if you’re a mother you’ll know exactly what I mean.