Guilty Pleasures of the Non-Edible Sort: Books, TV and Becoming a Writer


I am NOT going to discuss the many guilty pleasures we enjoy in the food world (fyi, crispy tortilla chips and home-made guacamole tops my list. )

No, I want to talk about a bit about those guilty pleasures we have of the non-edible variety.

Guilty pleasures that we devour by reading or viewing. Those little pleasures that we try to keep secret from our friends (and spouses) for fear they will think less of us. How can we be perceived as the thoughtful, literate and intelligent beings we know we are if we occasionally indulge in reality TV ( GUILTY)?

My mystified husband when he comes upon me watching DVR-recorded reality TV asks:

Why do you like to watch those dumb house buying/selling shows so much?”

I hit the “pause” button and/or change the channel but I don’t answer him.

They are such different fare than my usual diet of news/talk shows or British detectives on PBS. But I find real-estate-related reality TV fascinating. And many people (excluding my husband) do too, I’m sure.

For who doesn’t like to peer into a wealthy person’s over-the-top master bedroom? Or laugh at the frequent complaints of a prospective buyer that an L.A. swimming pool is just too small? Or wonder why so many Americans never understand why all European apartments don’t come with granite counter-tops and giant refrigerators?

Why does a “guilty pleasure” make us feel so guilty anyway?

My in-the-know daughter reassures me that these days it is acceptable to have cultural tastes that are both “high” and “low.” So I am in the norm (normcore?) by liking to watch TV at both levels.

But this high/low concept may not apply equally well to my tastes in books.

I am an avid (rabid, really) but picky reader. I have no problem putting a book down very quickly if it is not well-written. Its’ characters must be well-developed, the sense of place strong and the story arc clearly organized to hold my attention.

I’m a fan of the classics, love Jane Austen and Edith Wharton. And I pounce on any new books by contemporary female authors such as Julia Alvarez, Jhumpa Lahiri and Ann Patchett, beautiful writers all.

But I do steer away from the impenetrable books that sometimes top best seller lists and garner much reviewer praise. Sometimes I think book reviewers assume that the more difficult the book, the better.

When I read a book that is both well-written and enjoyable, I wonder – Has that become a guilty pleasure too?

Perhaps I am a tad over-sensitive because I have been trying to fashion a second career as a writer. I take classes, read books on the craft of writing and write every day. I continue to write non-fiction essays and articles about young adult mental health and parenting.

But what’s new this fall are my experiments with fiction. What we called “creative writing” in the old days. Writing a series of short-stories. Creating an outline for a possible novel.

The fabulously supportive women in my writer’s group cheer me on. Yesterday they told me I have “found my voice.” Which is great…

BUT. There is always a but. They describe my fiction writing voice as accessible and friendly. But not literary like my favorite authors. My descriptions are not lush, my prose is not lofty. Sigh.

I expect that when (“when” and not “if”) I publish my first short story or book, a reviewer will place me in the genre of “relatable” fiction –  as in “chick lit” for older women who are no longer chicks and perhaps never were chicks.

Yes, if I am lucky, my writing may fall into the category of being someone else’s guilty pleasure. Just like guacamole and chips or (at least some) reality TV. Ms. Faulkner I shall not be – but likely not Ms. Fluff either.

So please – feel free to indulge in whatever your own reading or viewing pleasures may be, and let’s lose the guilt, shall we?








While I ha developing a voice, relatable, not impenetrable. the more you don’t understand something doesn’t mean the better it is.



Filed under Baby Boomers, Book Club, Books, Communications, Female Friends, Reading, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

You wear my shoes, I’ll wear yours: Changing Perspectives, Parenting and Mental Health

Four pairs of various running shoes laid on a wooden floor background

What does it mean to “walk in another person’s shoes”?

One of my favorite children’s books was “The Really Real Family” by Helen Grigsby Doss.

Set in Hawaii, it’s the story of two young girls, orphans of multi-cultural background, living with a foster-mother while they waited to be adopted by a “really real family.”

After the girls quarreled, their foster mom suggested they could best understand the other girl’s true feelings if they actually walked in each other’s shoes. So they switched shoes, walked in them for a while, and came to see the other child’s point of view. And thus the quarrel was patched up.

Not sure why this book has resonated with me for so long  – was it because as a kid growing up in Connecticut, Hawaii seemed like a far-off foreign land where people ate odd things like “poi?” Or because I was intrigued by kids who lacked a family?  Or fascinated by the idea of actually switching shoes to find out how another person really thinks?

Last week I had a chance to understand what it means to see things from inside another person’s mind, if not their shoes.

On Thursday and Friday I was invited to participate as one of 14  mental health “experts” in a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) advisory group on “Engagement.” Our group was composed of doctors, psychologists, social workers, advocates, family members – with diverse mental health perspectives from around the U.S.

And what, you may ask, is the concept of “Engagement” and why does it matter? Let me explain in non-jargonese.

One of the hats I wear (Except I don’t wear actual hats. Ever. I look terrible in hats.) but figuratively one of the hats I wear is as an advisor/advocate/writer on young adult and college-related mental health.

In mental health lingo, “Engagement” traditionally has meant methods of reaching out to people who have mental illness, at whatever stage of their experience, so they will enter into treatment and hopefully, comply with it.

Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? And in many small discussion forums, the participants accept, without question, the written agenda set by the sponsoring organization.

But (thankfully) not this group!

Right from the start, even as our group’s facilitator was hand-writing the standard definition of “Engagement” up on the flip chart in the front of the conference room – hands shot up in the air to challenge it.

The conventional definition doesn’t work, most participants contended. We need to start thinking of “Engagement” not just as a one-way-street (doctor engages patient), but as an active, two-way process where the person receiving the treatment has an opportunity to express his goals, then a plan for reaching those goals is mutually designed and both the provider and the patient work together to get there.

I started to listen more closely – fascinated as the older model of “Engagement” was tossed aside and a new one evolved from lived experience.

As the Mom of a teen and then young adult with mental health challenges, I had always subscribed, without giving it much thought, frankly, to the conventional  “Engagement” model of health care  – the provider as the knowledgeable giver of a remedy and the person with the illness as the quietly docile recipient.

Does this sound familiar to you?  Person develops symptoms, sees a doctor and the doctor says ” You are ill, you are broken. I can fix you! Here take this pill and come back in one week.”

As a parent my perspective was always a narrow one:   “Did you take your medicine? Did you go to therapy? Are you doing what the doctor says you should do?”

I rarely, if ever, thought about how mental health care must feel from the perspective of my child.

How my child must have felt about the experience of being on the receiving end of a scary sounding diagnosis, of being thought of as a broken object to be fixed  – so focused was I on wanting my child to get better – and as soon as possible, please.

What I should have done, I’ve realized, is somewhere along the way –  figuratively or literally – was to switch shoes (sneakers in this case) with my child so I could walk in another person’s shoes to see how it felt to be him.

During last week’s meeting two participants in our group made this concept come vividly alive for me.

Two amazing young adult women, both in the early years of their professional careers, both living with mental illness. They spoke eloquently about what it was like to leave college, how it felt to be hospitalized, to feel socially rejected by some peers, to experience discrimination in educational and professional settings and to deal with a mental health system that was all about “fixing them” – and not about understanding them.

You will no doubt be glad to know that during last week’s meeting I did not actually take off my own shoes and try to exchange them with any other participant.

But just listening to the other participants gave me an “ahah” moment. For real understanding to happen I needed to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. The other person who has actually lived the experience, beyond having my opinions shaped from where I sit as the knowledgeable-yet-worried parent figure.

Likely this concept translates to the parenting of children with all sorts of challenges, big and small. And to other kinds of broken systems, not just the mental health care system.

For we won’t know what needs be changed – and how to make those changes – until we really listen to the people on the receiving end – or we get a chance to walk in their shoes, literally or figuratively.




Filed under Adult Kids, Books, College, Communications, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting, Raising Kids, Relationships, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

September is for Apples, Honey and Tiny Acts of Resistance



September is a time for looking back and looking forward. I am excellent at the rear view mirror part – less so at seeing into the future.

Recent Septembers (2010, 2011, 2012) have not been kind to me or to my family. It’s been the month where we find ourselves in hospitals, and not wearing badges that say “visitor.”  Luckily, so far this September 2015 neither I nor any one in my family has had a close up view of that big neon sign that blares “EMERGENCY ROOM”.

(Note that we are only half-way through the month so there is still time for unfortunate things to happen.)

My daughter “fondly” calls me – “Negative Nancy” – for my uncanny ability to latch onto bad news, to be in the know with the latest gloomy international headline or have an update on a friend’s poor health. She would likely shake her head in dismay if she knew how avidly I read obituaries in the newspaper every day.

Nothing like a well-written obituary to get you motivated in the morning.

Which is why in synagogue earlier today for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (happy 5776!), I took a small census of those around me. We sat in the sanctuary near friends and friends of friends. I take cheer in seeing all of them fully dressed, sitting upright (a/k/a alive) and thus not in the obituary pages.

Will they be sitting near us next September?

One of the prayers we read on this holiday talks about who will live in the coming year –  and who will die – describing possible means of death in the most graphic, biblically-specific fashion.

I like to look around me during that prayer and say a little one of my own hoping that those close to me will thrive this coming year. Not that thriving is under my control which is what the rabbi discussed in part  – that control over our own lives is the biggest illusion of all.

And yet we make plans – for that is what we do each September.

To go football games, take college visits and travel for Thanksgiving. For weddings – three of my friends have adult kids who are getting married in 2016 and I am already looking forward to their celebrations. All confident that everything we plan will come to pass.

Which of course it will not.

Which is also why my prior September ill-health experiences caused me revert to two-year-old behavior – to try to exert control over the smallest of matter as some toddlers do.

When our son was two, his favorite phrase was “I don’t haf’ta if I don’t want to.”  I was the opposite as a child, teen and adult. The ultimate, dutiful, Susie-Student-Council-Type who always did as I was told.

Three years ago – from September 2012 through December, 2012 –  I tried out for the “best patient award” – – ever compliant, dutiful and trusting during multiple hospitalizations and two open heart surgeries. The human pin cushion, that was me, the “Horizontal” ( a/k/a the patient), always smiling, polite and friendly, ready to be poked, prodded by any “Vertical”  (a/k/a doctor, nurse, aide) wearing a badge who entered my hospital room.

Very little is under your control as a hospital patient.

You get told what to do and when to do it. Many times I lay flat on a stretcher under a thin blanket in the busy big hospital hallway waiting for an MRI or an MRA or an EKG or an Echocardiogram or a Nuclear Imaging Test. Hospital staff scurrying by me en route to their next task.  My sole task was waiting. For a long time. Until my name was read off a clipboard and I was wheeled into a “procedure” room where I was told by another set of Verticals what to do and when to do it. You get the idea.

When I emerged in late December, 2012, with complications and uncertainties, but most definitely alive, I made an internal vow to leave my always dutiful persona behind me.

During Rosh Hashanah services yesterday the rabbi reminded us that while the big picture of things is not under our control, like whether we live or die, we do get to choose how we live while we do so. His message was to live life as positive person who shuns hatred.

The message of lack of control resonates with me the most. If we can’t control the big things then the tiniest of things that are actually under our control matter even more.

I try wherever possible to be a kind and caring person. But ever since my lengthy experience as a hospital “Horizontal”, I am no longer an unfailingly dutiful person.

Not that I have turned into someone who disobeys all authority. I drive within the speed limit, I get my teeth cleaned regularly, I pay bills on time.

But whenever I have a chance to say, “no”, I do so – if I feel like it, I will skip a meeting, skim through the chosen book club book or sleep way past the alarm.  Or even more daring, I refuse to set the alarm! I have become a master of minor resistance.

For this coming year – 5776 or 2016, however you define it  – I will continue to exercise my right to disobey in the tiny ways that show I remain in control of at least some minor aspects of my life.

Some time soon I may even decide to skip flossing my teeth before bed. Just for one night. Just because I can. Just because I’m “Vertical.”



Filed under Family, Holidays, Midlife, Relationships, Women, Women's Health

“Let Them Learn From Failure”: Does it Apply When Parenting Our Adult Kids?


Wait, so you can’t insist that your adult “child” do what he/she doesn’t want to do?

All joking aside, this question has been an ongoing life lesson for me – and also a much discussed topic among my friends who also have adult “kids” (italicized because while they are no longer little children, we are still their perennial parents.)

What can we do if we think our adult “kid” is about to fail?

It is our strongest instinct as parents to rescue our children.  But we shouldn’t always do so, says author and teacher, Jessica Lahey in her recent, thoughtful book “The Gift of Failure”. Parents of growing children do them no favors by scooping them up on the playground of life to save them from every slip and fall. When our children are young, Lahey explains, they learn from failure so we must let them experience it, rather than always rushing in to protect them from its’ consequences.

(a concept I well knew in theory, but then again years ago when my high school son left his biology textbook in his locker at school that evening before a big exam…)

But what happens when our growing children are all grown up?

If our young child falls off of a playground slide, his scraped knee heals. If our teenager doesn’t get accepted into the college of his choice, likely he will do fine at another school.

But if we think our adult son is about to enter a disastrous marriage, our adult daughter is in a relationship harmful to her mental health or our son’s partying ways are spinning out of control, the stakes are much higher, aren’t they?

Lately my friends and I have been sharing our worries about our adult “kids.”

  • My friend L.’s 30-year-old daughter struggles in a tumultuous  relationship with an unkind man. Upset and crying, the daughter calls L. and says that despite how he acts, she really loves him and can’t part ways. Can’t she see, L. wonders, that she is hurting herself by staying with him?


  • The 26-year-old son of my friend H. recently began his first post-grad school job at a big financial firm. He’s always been a model kid, dutiful, well-behaved but suddenly (?) has started to go out to bars with friends every night, partying till the wee hours and arriving late at work. He just received a warning notice from his boss. Can’t he see, H. thinks, that he is messing up at a critical time?


  • C.’s  29-year-old son brought his girlfriend home to meet C. and her husband.  The girlfriend’s strongly controlling manner upsets C., as does her son’s changed behavior. She thinks her son is about to announce his engagement. Should she tell her son she thinks that marriage to this woman would be a mistake?

Do parents of adult “kids” always know best?

Parents believe that we have clear (yet hardly objective) vision with our kids’ best interests in mind. That our kids are the ones with the big blind spots that prevent them from recognizing bad choices.  Surely, if we point out to our adult “kids” what we know to be true – they will promptly turn to us and gratefully say, thanks, Mom and Dad  – you are so right, I was so wrong. I will do exactly what you say and change my life!

Not happening.

If I ever tried that, my adult kids would dismiss me as intrusive, give me the silent treatment or get angry and the carefully nurtured bonds of Parent/Adult “Kid” communication would greatly fray.

Does the “let them learn from their failures” concept apply even when our adult “kid” is poised to make a major life mistake with possibly painful consequences?

My carefully thought out answer? And honestly, I am not waffling here. But both Yes and No.

Yes:  While they are adults, we are their perennial parents, and with great delicacy and respect, we still can tell our adult kids how we feel.


No, we shouldn’t tell them what to do.

Telling them how we feel  – versus – telling them what to do = a BIG difference.

I’m not writing an advice column here (but hey, wouldn’t that be a great job to have? Kind of like my lawyer job where I gave advice to clients for many years, but their questions were far less fun. Not that my clients weren’t fun. They were. But legal issues, not so much. I digress.)

My friend with the daughter in the struggling relationship could tell her the next time she calls:

“It makes me sad when you tell me Boyfriend says such nasty things to you.”

For the son whose job may be on the line:

“I worry about your health when you talk about going out and drinking every night during the work week.”

The controlling serious Girlfriend?

“Son, it made me very uncomfortable listening to how Girlfriend talks to you during your last visit home.”

Assuming we can limit our remarks to how we feel – a major assumption that – might our parental comments prod our adult kids to think things through and start on different paths?

Or not.

As Jessica Lahey said, failure teaches a lesson. It breeds resiliency. Second chances. Growth.

Marriages don’t always work out. Young adults lose jobs. Mental health can worsen and then improve. Even when the stakes are so high, do we owe our adult “kids”, not just the littler ones, the right to make their own mistakes and learn from them?

It’s complicated.




Filed under 1st Job, Adult Kids, Baby Boomers, Communications, daughters, Empty Nest, Family, friendship, Letting Go, Parenting, Raising Kids, Relationships, Sons, Women

The Semi-Guilty Stage of Semi-Retirement – Women vs Men?

iStock_000044753522Large doors

My friend, Martha, recently retired as a top executive at a big non-profit. 36 years at one company. Her colleagues held a party for her, many lovely tributes; you were great, we will miss you, good-bye, good luck!

Martha’s last day of work was on Friday.

On Monday morning she did not have anywhere she had to be.

What to do now? – Both of us are semi-retired but hardly retiring.

We talked about how strange it feels to be at this new place in our lives. (It’s been nearly three years since I left my law firm and I’m still figuring it out) –  it is extremely odd to no longer have a required schedule after years of having a very firm one.

Then I realized what makes it so odd – think about it! – from birth forward, someone else – not you – has been in charge of your daily planner, your “life clock.”

When you are a child, it is your parents who get to decide when it’s time for you to eat, nap, play, do your homework, practice piano, apply to college. Then your life clock nudges you to study for exams, to apply for an internship, to get ready for the interview, to get a job.

Finally! You become an adult – yet the life clock hovers: Time to go to work, to get married, to have kids. Time to write that memo, to go home, to make dinner, to bathe the kids, put them to bed, and then it’s time to look at your email again.

Years pass, your kids grow up, they leave the house (hopefully), you grow older, if you have an outside career, that matures too – and then you retire or semi-retire voluntarily or not (in my case, the latter) – and suddenly your life clock hits the pause button.

For the first time ever YOU are now in sole charge of you!

You get to decide what to do each day – and when to do it. You could theoretically, as a newly semi-retired person, if you wanted to, and I don’t necessarily recommend this, spend every week day in your pajamas, eat cereal for breakfast and lunch, whiling away hours catching up on Netflix.

(Unless you have a spouse who is still in the workforce, who strongly suggests that since you are no longer working in an office downtown, that you might actually now have the time to cook weeknight dinners for him to eat when he comes home at night. The nerve!).

So much blank space to be filled in on your calendar in this new semi-retired stage of life. And I think the challenge of how to fill up these blank spaces is harder for women to deal with than it is for men.

Women – my hypothesis anyway – are uneasy having free time. In our minds there is ALWAYS something that we should be doing or that needs to be done. We are so used to seeing each day, work day or weekend, as an endless “to do” list.

When we had growing children, their “to do” lists become our “to do” lists (Sorry, but Dads, as involved in your children’s lives as you may have been,  you didn’t internalize these kid-related tasks as we Moms did, IMHO).

So when Moms semi-retire, we keep thinking – I must stay busy! I must be productive! I need to accomplish something each and every day! All day!

My semi-retired women friends are hardly slackers. They are busily consulting, planning, teaching and writing. They’ve started their own businesses, they take care of their elderly parents, they serve on boards.

But it never seems to be quite enough. We still tell each other – proudly – how busy we are. How much we have to do.

Do men in semi-retirement feel this nagging pull to stay on schedule even now that they are off-schedule?

Having recently done a significant amount of 100% non-scientific research, I can report that no, men do not feel the same way. The semi-retired men I know who recently left long careers are now happily playing golf, puttering in their garages, taking photography classes and starting new small businesses.

These men are far less burdened than my semi-retired women friends by the weight of “I MUST BE PRODUCTIVE” every moment of my semi-retired day.  They go off to golf on a Tuesday afternoon without giving it a second thought – they put in their years at the office, I deserve this! –  while for semi-retired women, even taking an exercise class on a weekday afternoon can feel like a guilty pleasure.

I suspect that all newly-semi-retired women continue to feel that giant tug towards the “to do” list that governed us all of our lives.

And yes, I know what you are thinking – you don’t need to say it – I agree that staying productive in semi-retirement is definitely a positive. I am not suggesting that those of us living in this transitional stage peel off into total slothdom, as personally enticing as that sounds some days.

But I do wonder when – if? – that nagging sense that we must stay productive each and every moment of the day will begin to taper off.










Filed under Aging, Baby Boomers, Empty Nest, Female Friends, Husbands, Men vs Women, Midlife, Raising Kids, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Women, Women in the Workplace

Why We Travel: A Lesson From My Father-in-Law



My husband, JP and I just returned from a long-anticipated, 12 day August vacation to England where we knew no one.

I phrase it that way because taking this trip brought back memories of my father-in-law – let’s call him, NP –  who had his own take on the concept of travel.

NP was the ultimate “people person.” More than anything he loved visiting relatives, going to family reunions, hosting big groups for a bbq in their back yard. The sole reason to travel for him was to get together with people he already knew and had not seen for a while  – to see family and old friends from the village he and my mother-in-law came to the U.S. from in the Macedonian region in northern Greece when they were in their 20’s.

Every August NP and my mother-in-law would leave their home in Detroit to take an extended trip to see relatives – one year they would visit their old village in Greece; the next August they would travel to the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, where many of villagers had emigrated and the following August back to the village. They always stayed with relatives. I don’t think my father-in-law had ever been inside a hotel room.

One time years ago when JP and I were in Detroit, we mentioned that we were thinking of taking a trip to Paris (which never happened), NP asked us – “Who do you know in Paris?”

We told him, “No”, we have no friends or family in Paris that we wanted to see.  We had separately visited Paris in our college years, and wanted to return as grown-ups to see the sights, to walk the streets, to eat the food, and to wander through museums.

NP shook his head – “Why would you want to go somewhere where you don’t know anyone?”

That was how my father-in-law saw the world – the people in it mattered. The scenery did not.

We visited Detroit one September when our kids were young just after my in-laws had returned from a trip to Melbourne. They shared with us their trip photos – there must have been about 300 of them – and not a single photo showed a vineyard, a beach, a site of historical interest or a city scene. Instead there were 300 photos only of people – older relatives and long-known friends sitting around kitchen tables, reminiscing and catching up with each other.

“And this is cousin Alex with his wife, Dora, next to him is cousin, George and that is Mary. This one is of Nick’s family and his kids, Nick, George and Angelo. And then we stayed with cousin Jim and his family, George, Nick and Peter.”

And so forth.

All people. No scenery.

I asked my father-in-law if they had seen the Melbourne zoo, the market, the cathedral or gone to a nearby winery. He scoffed, why would they do that?

What NP cared about most in his life was family. He never understood why JP and I took vacations with our kids to national parks, to see the Gettysburg battlefield and to walk the Freedom Trail in Boston.

Honestly, I used to laugh at NP’s theory of travel, thinking he was the one who entirely missed the point. Yes, seeing family and old friends was important, but what about seeing the famous world sights, being exposed to unfamiliar ways of doing things – that was a big part of why we wanted to travel.

Now, after coming home from our trip to England, I finally get a glimpse of what my father-in-law meant.

You should know that JP and I are not big world travelers. Prior to this trip to England, the last time we went abroad was in 2005 when we visited our daughter who was then studying in Florence, Italy for her spring semester in college. And yes, we returned with the requisite pictures of the Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery, the Duomo and the vistas of cypress trees up against ancient stone villas.

On this trip to England, we left London after a few days for the countryside in Yorkshire and then drove (very carefully, on very narrow roads, on the left, thank you JP for doing all the driving) around the multi-shire region known as the Cotswolds where we took more pictures of ancient castles, palaces and limestone houses by little rivers in pretty villages.

My husband and I spent an entire 12 days together (the most wonderful part) but on our return, I realized that we had talked to no one else  – other than hotel staff, taxi-drivers, waiters at pubs and ticket-takers at museums.

As lovely as small Cotswold villages, with their gardens, their little alleys and their picturesque names  – “Moreton-on-Marsh”, “Stow-on-Wold”, “Upper Slaughter” and its sister, “Lower Slaughter” are, they were all filled with people who were strangers to us. We only had that typical exchange of pleasantries as tourists do.

This September it will be 17 years since the death of NP, my father-in-law, the ultimate “people person.”

And I think I have finally come to understand his perspective on travel. There are many beautiful places in this world to see, so much history to appreciate, lovely art museums and rolling hills dotted with sheep.

While I wouldn’t want to travel only to places where I already have friends and family, there is something to be said for remembering that beautiful old buildings are just that – important edifices for sure (Blenheim castle, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, with its vastness and grandeur was amazing) but still just edifices.

The lives that people led in those buildings and the lives that they now lead are what really matter. Thanks, NP for being the “people person” that you were and sharing with me a valuable lesson in the purpose of travel.




Filed under Aging, Aging Parents, Family, Holidays, Husbands, Marriage, Midlife, Relationships, Semi-Retired, Travel

Clotted Cream, Devonshire Arms and the Yorkshire Dales

imageAn abbreviated (for me) post this week as I sit at an unfamiliar computer writing this from a “country house inn” in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, not to be confused with the Yorkshire moors which we will see tomorrow.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime-trip which my husband, JP, and I had promised ourselves. And after only about a decade or so of planning, we finally made it to England.

My own anglophile fantasies began back in law school when I (or as they would say here “whilst I”) helped myself to sleep every night by reading one after another of the entire set of Agatha Christie mysteries, the plots of which I completely fail to remember. But they soothed me to sleep, with vivid images of lovely little villages, friendly pubs and rolling green hills.

Later I graduated from the “cozy” mysteries to the genre of crime fiction known as “police procedurals”, which remain a favourite today. My book club friends laugh at my obsession with them but for me they satisfy the need to combine interesting characters, technical details and a tidy ending – along with, of course, a strong sense of place.

Most of the ones I read are set in England, my preferred locale (Ruth Rendell, P.D. James), though I like Scottish crime fiction as well – having read through most if not all of Ian Rankin (Edinburgh) and Anne Cleeves (Shetland Islands). I am a complete sap for any mystery with a strong sense of place.

Which is why when we landed in London last Saturday it was if I knew my way around, so many of the street and neighbourhood names were so familiar.

And now that we have left London (lovely but loud, over-crowded and wow, do they drive aggressively; I was nearly nipped by taxis several times while crossing the streets.) and made our way north to Yorkshire, I feel even more at home, as if I have stepped into the pages of many of the mysteries I have read for years. From the vocabulary – lift, lorry, boot, bonnet, way out, mind the gap – to the food – crisps (chips), chips (fries) mushy peas (just as it sounds), beans on toast (same), pudding (desserts) – I find myself thinking I have perhaps morphed into a character in one of my favorite crime novels or series? Perhaps one of those snappy female detectives (like the ones in the British films “Happy Valley” or “Broadchurch”) with the brusque manners but the tender hearts underneath who solve the complicated murder puzzle at the end.

The nice cab driver who took us from our London hotel to Victoria station today to catch our train told us that he and his family love America, that they try to visit every few years and that their favourite place is Disneyworld. Which is of course, a completely fictionalized place not found in any book.

I was thinking after we chatted with him that I enjoy crime fiction for the opposite reason – because it is not imaginary but based on real life and set in true places.


Which brings me back to England, to this tiny village, where I sit at an unfamiliar (typing errors?) computer in a lovely country house in a small village in northern Yorkshire; early evening and it is drizzling outside. Perfect!

Tomorrow off to see more real life places  with names like Masham and Wensleydale, places I have read about for years and imagined in my mind’s eye.

That is the beauty of books, isn’t it, for many of you were also likely bookworms as a child as I was.

Avid readers always get to go to places they won’t typically visit in real life. I feel so lucky now to be taking this long dreamed of trip to see the places I’ve only known in books. And they look just like I imagined they would.

Pinch me, I told my husband, we really are in England!




































Filed under Baby Boomers, Books, Empty Nest, Husbands, Midlife, Reading, Travel, Writing