Tag Archives: Travel

Major Engine Malfunctions – Personal and Vehicular



The irony of the flashing message on the dashboard of the car did not escape me.

We were about to leave the parking lot of the Massachusetts motel where we had spent the night to drive to Connecticut to see family on the way home from our Vermont vacation. My husband turned the car on and there it was in bold flashing blue letters –

Major Engine Malfunction. Reduced Power. Get Service Now.”

I would have laughed, but couldn’t summon up even a slight smile. For the first time ever, my sense of humor had left me. Perhaps it went on a vacation of its own? Somewhere restful like the beautiful deep lake in Vermont where we spent a few days in mid-August. The peace of which I could not fully appreciate because I was also experiencing a ““Major Engine Malfunction” of my own. My aunt and uncle and cousins in Vermont were kind to me. They sensed I was operating with “Reduced Power.”

My long-time therapist labeled it Depression – which I have never before experienced.

Anxiety, yes, that is a familiar condition for me. Years of it. (SEE the title of this blog.) But Depression? That’s been something new this summer. Feeling flat. Low energy. Sad on the sunniest of days. Not enjoying spending time with my grandsons at the beach (my usual happy place.) Dull, no interest and little appetite.

And I couldn’t write. Not a word. For weeks. The space formerly occupied by my creative self was blank. Not so much a writer’s block, but a nothingness.

The Depression kind of crept up on me in June, then steamed full ahead in July and by early August my therapist decided I should try a new medication. Which I did. And experienced a full set of horrible side-effects (which luckily for you I will not enumerate.) Poor timing as they put me in distress during my longed-for few days in Vermont. The lovely lake, the green mountains, the quiet of the woods, the water rippling at the dock; none worked their usual magic on me.

My therapist agreed I could taper off the new medication but wow, its side effects were persistent. I was still feeling awful on that bright morning in my old college-town in mid-Massachusetts when the car’s error message of “Major Engine Malfunction. Reduced Power. Get Service Now” eerily matched my own condition.

In the good news department: the car’s engine did not erupt as we slowly drove to Connecticut where the car got the service it needed.

My 94-year-old Dad always says that a problem is not a problem if it can be fixed by money. Lucky for us the engine was still under warranty and we spent little to have it repaired.

If only our personal engine malfunctions could be so readily resolved.

I am working on mine with the help of a new med, my therapist, my patient husband, and understanding friends and family.

And as soon as the space formerly occupied by my creative self resumes functioning, I will get back to writing – and taking classes and volunteering and enjoying the sunshine.

Waiting also for my sense of humor to return from wherever it went on its own apparently needed vacation. I will keep you posted.





Filed under grandchildren, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Travel, Women, Women's Health, Writing

Lake Privileges

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Why do we travel? Do the reasons change as we get older?

Years ago, as Young Marrieds, my husband and I mentioned to his Dad and Mom that we wanted to take a trip to Paris, a place we had never visited together.

JP’s Dad asked us:

“Why? Do you have friends in Paris?”

We told him we didn’t know anyone in Paris. Our visit to the famous city would be to sight-see.

He shook his head.

Then why go there? We only go to places to visit people we know.”

I scoffed at my wonderful late father-in-law’s approach to travel. He and my mother-in-law came to the U.S. as immigrants after WWII when they were a young married couple and on the rare occasions when they left our country, they did so only for the purpose of visiting their relatives and friends in Northern Greece or Australia. The thought of booking a trip to go to a fascinating city where you knew no one was incomprehensible to my father-in-law.

I remember once seeing photos after my in-laws had returned from a three-week stay in Melbourne where many of their friends and family from Greece had emigrated. Hundreds of photos. All of people sitting around dining room tables filled with food smiling for the camera. Not a single picture of the city, a nature park or a famous winery.

Norm, if you are up there listening now, I finally understand!

Now – in my Empty Nester/Newish Grandmother Days/WeAreAllGettingOlderFast Days – I see my father-in-law’s point – sometimes it is the people, not the places.

This summer JP and I took two people-driven trips.

The first was a week in a circa 1962 rental house in a beach town on the Delaware coast, a place we have been to many times before, but never to stay together with our daughter, son-in-law, their near three-year-old son and 4 month old baby.

You may think that sharing a house with two little people who wear diapers, require frequent feeding and must constantly be watched is not particularly relaxing. And you’d be right. It was not relaxing.

Memorable instead. To experience all of the familiar seashore sights through the eyes of my oldest grandson. To  introduce him to the big ocean waves (scary), to miniature golf (fun, but why couldn’t he keep the ball at the end?) and to chocolate ice cream with sprinkles (more, please).

And to walk the beach with the baby, to watch him nap in the sea air and to hold him every chance I could.

Sure I did my fair share of diaper duty, dish washing and laundry folding (it’s not really a “vacation” when household chores are part of each day, is it?)  but getting in so much bonding time with the two little guys was worth it. Even if they won’t remember this trip we took together, I will. And for the people, not the sights.

The second trip – which we are still on – as I am writing this – was also people-driven, at least the first half of it. Luck comes in the form of having family who have a lovely house perched on a hillside above a small lake in southern Vermont and invite you to stay there for a few days.

My aunt and uncle’s house faces west to the mountains. We spent lots of time sitting on their deck. Enchanted by the changing moods of the lake, rippled only by the occasional kayaker or paddle boarder. Watching the sun set (I’m not awake when it rises.) Warm days and sweater-wearing nights. Lovely.

We did do a bit of sightseeing – to places I remember from childhood ski trips – to the Vermont country store, snacking at a dairy bar and taking the chairlift to the top of the mountain – and then down via the alpine slide (the slow track.)

But like our week at the beach, the best part of Vermont was the people.

Listening to my aunt and uncle’s stories. Enjoying my uncle’s puns and my aunt’s good cooking. Hearing updates about my cousins and their families. Laughing at familiar foibles.

We stayed for 4 nights – seemed like the right amount of time – and then drove south to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts for a few nights. More mountain views, lakes, charming little towns.

The Berkshires are quite lovely – there is art to see (highly recommend Mass MoCa, contemporary art in a re-purposed factory), nature to enjoy (JP hikes, I read and wait at the bottom of the trail) and places to find with good coffee and interesting food.

But gorgeous as the scenery is in the Berkshires, the second part of our trip after being with family in Vermont seems a bit hollow. Minus the time to spend with relatives, the sights lose a bit of their luster.

My husband and I are having a wonderful time, don’t get me wrong. Any chance to get him away from his hard-charging office to sit in the morning sun on the porch of a bed and breakfast and admire the gardens is welcome. And I particularly relish – as the Empty Nester who stays home with a Still-Working Spouse- spending weekday time together.

I now appreciate my father-in-law’s view of travel. Choosing to fly thousands of miles to visit with family instead of to see kangaroos in their natural habitat. The top ten sights of Paris will always be there (I hope) but family and friends won’t be.














Filed under 1st Grandchild, Aging, Baby Boomers, Empty Nest, Family, Husbands, Travel, Women

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

The Road Trip and A Reluctant Traveler


My friend, Caroline, is the kind of person who can go on a 10 day trip with just one small suitcase.

I, on the other hand, am unfamiliar with the term “carry-on luggage.”

15 years ago when my husband and I flew to Bermuda for a short vacation (highly recommended to see grown men wearing knee socks with shorts), we arrived at the island airport with three huge suitcases. Two and 3/4 of them filled with my things.

(My husband asked me to tell you that he packs light; that I, not him, am the sole reason for the excess bag charges.)

The man at the airport who helped us with our suitcases directed us to the line for people intending to relocate to Bermuda. To move there permanently. I was embarrassed to tell him we were only visiting for five days. He smiled, sent us to the tourists’ line, having seen my type before.

My theory is that one must pack so as to prepare for all contingencies. This will not come as welcome news to Caroline as we plan to depart this Friday on our long-planned, Road Trip, driving cross-country from Washington, DC to Los Angeles.

I have been invited as a travel companion whose purpose is to provide lively conversation, map management and a guide to interesting restaurants. I have not been invited to do any of the driving. Caroline understands, as do all of my friends, that driving is not one of my better skills.

She has also told me, kindly but firmly, that her Subaru will be filled with furniture and the other items she is bringing to her son who recently moved to L.A. so I must pack lightly.

We won’t have a lot of room in the car. Remember, I am bringing all of Drew’s stuff to him. You can only bring a small bag.” she reminds me.

Uh, sure, Caroline, I’ll do just that.

But what if we hit an ice storm in Little Rock? or snow in Amarillo? There could be unusually cool weather in Kenab, Utah, too.)

(for those of you geography buffs following along, yes, we are driving well out of our way to visit the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in southern Utah to volunteer for a day.  One of the bonds that Caroline and I share is our love of rescue dogs. One of those probably won’t fit in her car either.)

To accommodate the potential weather variables, I intend to pack an assortment of light to heavy pajamas and sweaters, boots just in case, a fleece or two ,(it could be that cold), short and long-sleeve shirts, pants of varying weights, sandals (it could be that hot) and sneakers, something nice to wear in case we go out, my kindle, various device chargers, magazines, maps (I don’t trust GPS systems) – and of course, my blow-dryer.

Caroline, who does not like to fly, which is the reason we are driving, laughs when I tell her this.

“Seriously, you are packing lightly, aren’t you, Nancy?,” Caroline asks me during a recent planning phone call.

“You won’t need your blow dryer.  Your hair will look fine. The people at the gas stations and motels really won’t care what you look like.”

I am trying to be convinced by this but still not sure.

It is not that I am particularly vain. I last got a manicure in May, 2011 before our daughter’s wedding. My daily make-up routine, now that I am no longer office-desk-bound, is minimal. And I am not so wedded to my blow dryer, as close as we once were: I did survive without her (it?) for weeks in the hospital.

But I am the kind of person does not handle change well. I have a need to know what to expect at all times, a character trait which hinders me whenever I travel, because travel reliably delivers change, doesn’t it?

So I fool myself into thinking that a trip will go precisely according to plan if I bring most, if not all, of my favorite possessions with me. To trick the system into thinking I am at home – while on the road.

Taking a break from packing, I read an article in the New York Times about an empty nester couple’s year-long, 46 city tour of Europe. From the photos, I could see that both traveled light, back-packs and one small pull bag each.

(And not to be at all catty about this, but from the look of the wife’s hair, she seems to manage without a blow dryer. Her hair looks naturally curly, mine is that flattish kind of stick straight that we all admired in 1970 but not so much anymore.)

Even though this couple had minimal luggage, I was heartened to read that even these adventurous travelers brought their personal pillows with them to each city they visited.

I totally get that, that need to have a bit of home with you at all times. So while I am (sort of) looking forward to traveling across the country, I am already also looking forward to being back home again.


Filed under Baby Boomers, Empty Nest, Female Friends, friendship, Midlife, Travel, Women

Gratitude for a Thanksgiving Trip Not Taken (a/k/a why is it called the “Garden State”?)




I wrote a really lovely Thanksgiving blog post yesterday which I am NOT going to share with you.

(lucky you)

It was a heartfelt, poignant, perhaps bordering on maudlin essay, one of my favorite kind.  I described the Connecticut Thanksgivings’ of my early childhood, my family’s visits to our cousins’ house on “Walnut Tree Hill Road” (a very Thanksgiving-ish name, no?), the New England-y food we ate, watching their old black lab, Domino, on his pillow, snoozing when we came into the house and still snoozing when we left hours later…

Then I thought – this post is a snooze too! Who really wants to hear about other people’s childhood memories? Unless they are either hilarious or deeply tragic, most stories of other people’s childhoods do not capture my interest, falling in that dreary middle between boring and mundane.

And I am neither.

Then I thought, I should write about what I am truly grateful for – as so many other writers do.

Health always comes in #1. All the more for me after I “enjoyed” most of November 2012 in the hospital, including a self-pitying and extremely long Thanksgiving day spent solo in my hospital room hooked up to beeping machines. (My family did visit me that evening, bringing stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie, but gulping them down on a hospital tray did not make for a festive holiday.)

So after my own health, there are gratitude votes for the health of everyone else in my family (ups and downs this year but we are all intact) and for the health of our two rescue terriers (also ups and downs but also intact).

But writing about gratitude can also be boring and mundane.

And as I may have told you, I am neither.

Therefore (a lawyer word I miss using) this Thanksgiving my emphasis will be on a more selfish kind of gratitude – for a task I no longer have to complete, an obligation with which I no longer have to comply, a trip I no longer have to take.

For what am I grateful?

We will NOT be spending the major part of our Thanksgiving holiday on the New Jersey Turnpike.

To my readers who grew up in, live in or otherwise admire New Jersey, I hasten to reassure you, that I, too, think New Jersey, nicknamed “The Garden State” for some reason, does have lovely spots, most of which I have not seen, except for a town near Atlantic City where I visited a boy I dated in college who lived in a very nice house near the shore, but I digress. But honestly, even you who live in N.J. must admit that your major thoroughfare does not show your state off to its best advantage.

Yes, your Turnpike has its moments in popular culture – think of the opening credits of the “The Sopranos” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “America”  where they sang about “counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike.”

But those brief moments of beauty do not make it a pleasant place to spend any amount of time, particularly for holiday travel.

No matter what time we left Washington DC to drive to Connecticut, the minute we crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge into New Jersey we would hit accidents, rubbernecking and traffic. The drive grew inexplicably longer each year, to the point where my husband and I had all but memorized the locations of the poetically-named “rest areas” – the “Walt Whitman” near Cherry Hill and the “Joyce Kilmer’ near East Brunswick – all the while enjoying ill-kept bathrooms and the company of surly fellow travelers eating yesterday’s French fries.

Then we had kids and we had no choice but to take them with us.

Traveling with little kids in the backseat of your station wagon during the holidays on the New Jersey Turnpike in the pre-historic days of the 1980’s and 1990’s before they were able to self-amuse with their own individual screens was an exercise in such extreme endurance as to make CrossFit seem like an easy stroll.

We fared no better on the return trip. Our Sunday drive back stretched to nine or 10 hours. Even when we changed our plans and left on Saturdays, we still found clogs of traffic. No matter what time of day, we hit tons of it. Always in New Jersey.

(Maybe residents of New Jersey, and there always seemed to be a suspiciously high number of New Jersey license plates on the cars stuck along side of us, have a passive-aggressive hobby on Thanksgiving weekend where they purposefully drive very slowly up and down the length of the Turnpike in large groups to create those road signs flashing “Congestion” so that non-residents will suffer enough to not want to return next year?)

But sadly, Thanksgiving travel on the New Jersey Turnpike resembles childbirth. It is painful but the outcome is good. So you do it again the next year even though you may have promised yourself otherwise.

About five years ago we hit a wall. Time to break up with the Turnpike. We had aggravated each other long enough. Let others have the pleasure of standing in line in a bathroom filled with screaming toddlers.

Yes, in consultation with our family in Connecticut, we made the mature and long overdue decision not to travel over the holidays. We would visit the grandparents early in November each year to assuage any holiday guilt and enjoy a faux Thanksgiving.

Now on the days before Thanksgiving instead of gearing up for the annual Turnpike slog, I anticipate being snug and cozy this Thursday with our own family (now adult kids who live within non-turnpike-driving-distance; one married, one significant other and one grandchild who weighs about the same as a large turkey but is much more fun to be with.)

Farewell Forever Mt. Holly Exit!

So long New Brunswick!

Won’t-Be-Missing-You-at-All Newark!

Happy Thanksgiving! And Safe Travels all.





November 25, 2014 · 6:26 pm