Have Books, Will Travel

bookshelvesSome people flip through photo albums to fondly remember past vacations. Others, in today’s social media-crazed society, may look back over their Instagram posts to see snaps of time spent away with family or friends, in some exotic location, or just for a short getaway. Me? I just pull up my Goodreads list of books read, and I can happily remember great trips or time spent with family by seeing a book title and the date I completed it. I’ve been an avid reader my whole life, and my bookshelves can vouch for that. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Metamorphosis of Me into a Literary Reader: A 1987 Thanksgiving break visit to my future husband while he was in grad school in Charlottesville, Virginia, opened my eyes to Franz Kafka’s classic The Metamorphosis. Just barely surpassing a frat house for cleanliness and style, I enjoyed the quiet of his apartment and his English major roommate’s bookshelf.
  • Hunting for Something to Read: Over Christmas break in 1999 in Louisiana, awake in the middle of the night with nothing to read, I borrowed Hunt for Red October from my brother-in-law’s bookshelf, my first and last Tom Clancy.
  • Tea Time Will Make You Fat: Living overseas for two years allowed us the ability to travel around Europe inexpensively. In the fall of 2002, just after unpacking and getting ourselves settled, we traveled to Glasgow, Scotland, to see my mother’s cousins and extended family. cooks bookshopWe spent a lovely day at Edinburgh Castle and shopped on the Royal Mile that afternoon, where I stumbled upon the Cooks Bookshop, owned by Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of the pair of British cooking celebs I knew from a PBS cooking show. We went in and naturally I had to buy the first of their cookbooks that accompanied the PBS series, Two Fat Ladies.
  • James Bond a la Provence: In the summer of 2003, while living for two years in Belgium, my family spent a week in Cavalaire-sur-Mer, Provence, France. In advance of the trip, I visited the high school library of the international school my daughters attended to check out some books to bring along. One book was an omnibus edition of five Ian Fleming novels. I have such fond memories sitting on the balcony of the rental apartment, reading this hardback while sipping a cool drink and listening to the waves.
  • pittsburghNo Hunger, Too Busy Reading to Eat: Easter break of 2012, I read an entire book in the bathtub of a Pittsburgh Marriott Courtyard hotel room. I was just going to relax in the tub and read a few pages of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, but I ended up adding hot water repeatedly until I finished the whole book.
  • lewes24 Hour Getaway: In October of 2012, my hubby and I drove to Lewes, Delaware, for my birthday weekend. While there, I managed to squeeze in enough reading to nearly get through Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Part mystery, part puzzle, part homage to bookstores, this is still a favorite of mine.
  • Rocky Read of Rowling: In the summer of 2014, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Kennebunkport, Maine. maineWith high winds and rough seas, our water activities were canceled several times, but I happily sat on the sunny porch of the inn where we stayed, reading (J. K. Rowling’s alter ego) Robert Galbraith’s second detective mystery novel in the Cormoran Strike series, The Silkworm. Note: book 2 is decidedly creepier and more graphic than book 1 but not nearly as creepy and graphic as book 3. I’ll need a brightly lit room and a stiff drink to make it through book 4.
  • los angelosFirst Anniversary of Baby Bird being Gone: My younger daughter moved to Los Angelos over Easter break of 2016 to pursue her dream of being a screenwriter. While on this life-changing trip to drop her off, I read Liane Moriarty’s The Last Anniversary, my first of her novels. The tone and mood perfectly matched my own bittersweet feelings of the time.
  • All the Time in the World to Read: July of 2016 found me in Fort Myers, Florida, visiting a dear friend in her beautiful home. After she left for work each morning, I would have coffee and read on her “lanai”. fort myersAs the mid-day sun became a bit too much, I’d dive into her pool and swim lazy laps. In stark contrast to this paradise of a setting, I read a friend’s debut novel, All the Time in the World by Caroline Angell, which takes place in the ultra-glamorous Upper East Side of Manhattan.
  • Puerto RicoYes, Chef, More Mofongo: Over Thanksgiving break of 2016, my husband took me to Puerto Rico for my 60th birthday. Amidst all the great food we ate there, including mofongo, I devoured Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir Yes, Chef.
  • Water, Water, Everywhere: Summer of 2017 found me on my first ever mother-daughter road trip, traveling to Niagara Falls. niagara fallsWhile my daughter was off at her conference, I sat in an outdoor cafe with a big cup of coffee and Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings. No waterfalls featured in the story, but all the action takes place on the Chesapeake Bay.

One thing is clear after gathering my photos of the places I have written about in this essay: it seems like I like places near the water as much as I like books!

Links to Faith and Family

Every morning, I instinrose gold chain and crossctively reach up to feel for the rose gold chain and cross around my neck. I never take it off. It is more than just a sign of my faith; those gold links are a connection to my mother’s family in Scotland.

In 1997 my mother’s first cousin, Anna Liddell, came from Glasgow, Scotland, for one of her visits. She had been traveling from Scotland to Louisiana periodically since 1993, to visit my mother and help care for her after her many surgeries. This time, however, my parents had flown to Maryland in advance of her arrival and they were all going to stay with me for two weeks.

We had a marvelous time, knitting, cooking, shopping, and sharing family stories. Anna was in her late 60’s but spry and fun, full of mischief and energy. I adored her. She had never married, although she had fallen in love when she was young, but sadly, he was protestant, and her Catholic parents would not accept that. Not a trace of bitterness or regret lingered, however, she had made the decision to turn down his proposal of marriage of her own free will, knowing the differences in faith would come between them and their families. Being the only daughter, she remained at home, caring for her parents until their death. After her mother’s death, and her retirement, she began to travel and enjoy her freedom. She and my mother were very close, and my father was very fond of her as well.

One afternoon in my kitchen, she taught me her family’s simple recipe for scones, a staple of the Scottish afternoon tea tray. She complimented me on having a “light hand” with the dough, not kneading it too much or too roughly which would make the scones tough. While they were baking, she reached up around her neck and took off her chain and put it in my hands. She told me her father had given it to her when she was a little girl and she had been wearing it ever since. She insisted I take it, intent on connecting us to one another, across the miles and across the ocean. I’ve worn it ever since.

In May of 2000, my mother in fairly good health, my parents and I traveled to Scotland to visit her. I had traveled overseas as a high school senior, but this was my parents first time outside of the country. It was, as the famous credit card commercial boasted, “priceless”. Anna drove us around Glasgow, pointing out all of the landmarks and sights, but more importantly, the places where my grandparents grew up. We visited St. Agnes Catholic Church, Lambhill, to see where my grandmother made her First Holy Communion. We saw the house where she grew up and the neighborhood where my grandfather lived before he left for America and his job with Freeport Sulphur Company. It saddened me to think that my grandparents never saw their families again after immigrating to America.

We drove through the Highlands, looking over the fields of bluebells and heather, the thistle dancing in the spring breeze. One evening we had a lovely dinner on the shores of Loch Lomond, which Anna told us terrified my grandmother as a young girl. Another day we drove to Edinburgh and toured Edinburgh Castle. While in Edinburgh, we also toured the Royal Yacht Britannia, which had been retired from service by the Royal Family. Anna also took me to the Scottish Opera to see Richard Strauss’s Salome, which was fantastic. We squeezed a lot into that week, spending time in the homes of the families of Anna’s brothers. My parents stayed on for an additional week but I had to return home to my husband, two small children, and work. My mother passed away ten years later, and I am so glad she had that trip to be able to visualize where her parents came from and I was so fortunate to share that experience with her. We all felt very lucky to see Scotland for our first time through Anna’s eyes.

Anna’s cross and chain around my neck is much more than jewelry or a symbol of my faith. It is my link to my Scottish heritage. Someday I hope to pass it down to a granddaughter, putting it in her hands and telling her about Anna, sharing with her our Catholic faith and our Scottish heritage.

Anna’s Scones (sweet)

  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 3 tbsp. butter, really cold, cut into small pieces
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ¼ cup raisins or currants
  • ¼ cup milk

 Mix together flour and butter by hand with fork or pastry blender until it resembles a coarse meal. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt, mix well. Add sugar and the raisins or currants. Stir in a little milk at a time until dough forms a ball. Turn dough out onto floured board. Knead lightly about ten times until smooth. Pat or roll out about ½ inch thick. Cut into rounds or triangles and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake immediately at 450 degrees in a pre-heated oven for about 10 minutes. Serve with butter or clotted cream and jam or preserves. Yield: about 10 scones

To make these into savory scones, leave out the sugar and raisins (or currants) and add instead ¼ tsp dry mustard powder and ¼ cup grated cheddar cheese. These can be split and served with butter and ham for a light lunch.