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!

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Turning the Tables

The first time I really felt like a grown-up was when my parents came to spend the weekend with me in my tiny studio apartment. I cleaned like a fiend all week, shopped for all my dad’s favorite foods, changed the sheets and made my bed like a hospital orderly (I would be sleeping on my couch), and planned out every single cup of coffee, snack, and meal. I made sure I had some new magazines on the coffee table for my mom to flip through while watching tv, and I also put a fresh roll of toilet paper on the night table by my bed for her to use to “wrap her hair” before bed. When the weekend had come to an end, after morning Mass on Sunday and a nice lunch out compliments of my dad, I remember feeling completely drained, totally exhausted.

After that first time, and soon married with children, I always loved when they came to visit me, and I always felt so grown-up and responsible, taking care of their needs, taking my mom shopping at her favorite stores, taking them to Mass at our parish church where we knew everyone and everyone knew us. Years and years later, when they came to stay with me for a few weeks after having lost every single thing they owned in Hurricane Katrina, I fretted over them to the same degree, but that time it was out of deep concern and compassion for what they were experiencing. My parents are both gone from this world, hopefully enjoying eternal life and true peace after so much hardship, illness, and personal tragedy.

This past weekend, my husband and I traveled to Pittsburgh to visit our older daughter. We stayed in a hotel Saturday night, had a wonderful meal Saturday night to celebrate Father’s Day and her birthday a bit early, met her for Mass on Sunday morning, and then enjoyed a nice lunch before my husband headed back home to Maryland. I stayed behind and spent the night in her apartment, as we are about to embark on our first ever mother-daughter trip. My daughter has a conference in Niagara Falls, and since I am out of school for the summer, I am tagging along.

Yesterday after my husband left us, we went out to do a bit of shopping. She took me to the two places I needed to go to pick up items I had mentioned I wanted, knitting needles and flip flops. Neither was absolutely necessary but she drove me around and waited patiently while I made my purchases. After a lovely dinner at the home of her friend’s parents, we returned to her apartment and watched tv and chatted. She fussed over me, made me a cup of tea, and after some wrangling, I convinced her to let me sleep on the couch since she had to rise early and dress for work today.

Today I have enjoyed a quiet and peaceful day alone in her lovely apartment, reading and doing a bit of writing. While saying my morning prayers, I prayed for my brother-in-law who is ill, in thanksgiving for my husband’s safe return home, and for my parents whom I miss greatly. As always, I also thanked God for the gift of my two beautiful daughters, now grown-ups living off on their own, far away from home, working and making a life for themselves. Being a guest in my daughter’s apartment has brought me much joy and a fond remembrance of hosting my own parents over the years. The tables have indeed turned.

Room at the Inn

Dad and M&MNot only was this Father’s Day weekend, but it was also my older daughter’s birthday weekend. We decided several weeks ago to drive to Pittsburgh to see her for her birthday on June 20th, and then we would all be together to celebrate Father’s Day the next day. We know this drill well. We’ve been visiting Pittsburgh since the fall of 2008 when we moved our older daughter into her freshman dorm at Duquesne University, located in downtown Pittsburgh. She graduated on time, in four years, with a double major. Naturally we were very proud of her, and after graduation, we packed her up and moved her back home to Maryland.

Her time back home with us was short-lived, however. Over that summer, she accepted a graduate assistantship in Duquesne’s Office of Residence Life, giving her the opportunity to earn a master’s degree, tuition free, while working on campus. She knew the inner workings of ORL quite well. As a junior she had been a desk aid in her dorm, and as a senior a RA in another dorm. For the grad assistantship, she was assigned to the office itself, supporting the Director of Residence Life and her staff. Because her grad assistantship was in ORL, she also received free housing, which meant two more years living on campus in a dorm.Outside of chapel

In the spring of 2014 she graduated with her master’s degree and subsequently accepted a full-time position as a RD (resident director). And, so began her seventh year living on campus in a dorm at Duquesne, albeit this time in a one bedroom, fully furnished apartment on the ground floor of her dorm, across the hall from her office.

Her apartment has a small extra room which she has furnished as a guest room. When we travel to see her, our younger daughter always stays with her. We have always stayed at one of Pittsburgh’s three Marriott hotels, accumulating points and using the points for future visits. marriottThe nearby Courtyard is our favorite, but when there are not rooms available we will stay at one of the other two full-service Marriott locations in the downtown area.

This weekend, however, there were no rooms available. Mick Jagger was in town for a concert, and Pittsburgh was holding a jazz festival in the center of the city. Father’s Day probably contributed to the room shortage as well. Our daughter suggested we stay with her in her dorm. I thought she meant all four of us in her one-bedroom apartment, which I suppose we could have managed with someone on the sofa and someone on an air mattress. But, what she meant was really stay in her dorm, as in a dorm room upstairs. And, so, this is exactly what happened. Last night, Saturday, June 20, 2015, I slept in a dormitory room for the first time in 37 years.

SLUI lived in a dorm all four years of college at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. I loved dorm life. I’ve always been a night owl and no matter how late you stay up, you can always find someone else who is still up as well. The laundry rooms are normally free in the wee hours of the morning, and for a procrastinator like me, that meant doing your laundry while hanging out with another night owl. I wasn’t blessed with any sisters, so living in a dorm full of girls was thrilling for me.

friendship oakMy freshman year I lived with other freshmen girls in a dorm with a house-mother. There were lots of rules and a very strict curfew. My aunt and uncle, who lived in nearby Baton Rouge, gave me a ticket to an Elton John concert for my birthday in October of my freshman year. My uncle drove to Hammond to pick me up, brought me and his daughter to the concert at LSU, waited for us in the parking lot, and then drove me back to my dorm after the concert. He had to escort me in and wait for the house-mother to come and unlock the front doors of the dorm to sign me back in.

My last two years I lived in the sorority dorm. Each wing of the dorm was assigned to one of the four sororities on campus, Tri Sigma, Alpha Sigma Tau, Alpha Omicron Pi, and my own sorority, Phi Mu. The dorm was composed of suites, four double occupancy rooms per suite. I lived with the same group of girls both of those years. I have such great memories of those days, and thanks to Facebook, I am able to be in touch with some of those girls still to this day.

My daughter’s dorm, Vickroy, is an upperclassman dorm and unoccupied for this summer. VickroyIt is far nicer than the dorms of my college days. Still, it was somewhat surreal being in an absolutely empty dorm, sleeping in a dorm room with my husband. My daughter had made up the beds with her own linens, put fresh flowers and water bottles on the desk, and added a basket of toiletries and towels from her apartment for the ensuite bathroom. That combined with dorm-wide free Wi-Fi; well, it wasn’t far off from life at the Courtyard Marriott! It whelicopter stillas lovely, and we slept well.

We slept well, however, until bright and early this morning, when we were awakened by the thunderous sound of a helicopter airlifting a HVAC unit to the rooftop of the dorm next door. My daughter had mentioned this but she assured us that we were on the other side of the building from where the work would be taking place. However, this was not the case, and I jumped out of the bed at the first sounds of the pulsing, repetitive thumping coming from outside our window. It was interesting to watch as it hovered above the neighboring dorm, towering above us, until the unit was in place before releasing it, and darting off to retrieve another unit.

Duquesne ChapelAfter the free show was over, we showeredand packed up, and headed back downstairs to my daughter’s apartment for coffee before Mass. What had initially begun as a problem of fully booked hotels, turned out to be a very economical trip to visit our daughter so that we could celebrate her birthday as well as Father’s Day. And, who can say that they had an entire dorm to themselves for the night!M&M girls and me