favorite things

My favorite things: wheels

Written Wednesday, January 4, 2016.
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Backroads of Connecticut are really fun!

I learned to drive when I was 15 years old. My mom taught me. My poor mother.

I got my driver’s license on my 16th birthday.
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My first car was a hand-me-down 1969 Plymouth Sport Fury, 383 V8, dual exhaust.

I quickly realized that a car meant freedom.

I was the only one in my group of friends who had a car, so we would all pitch in to buy a few gallons of gas to feed the beast and then go as far as we could.

As an adult, my car provided greater employment opportunities. I didn’t mind a long commute. I love to drive.

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My 1975 Honda Civic

After moving to the Austin area (Cedar Park to be exact), I bought a tiny Honda Civic. My dad’s Honda Gold Wing had a bigger engine than this little 4-speed. No air conditioning, no power steering, this car was, however, fun!

I drove that car all over the Texas Hill Country. I loved to explore!

I commuted into Austin for work before getting my own place in the Rosedale neighborhood. This car was a blast on the hills and curves when I took the back roads.

When this car bit the dust, I struggled for years to find another dependable car, or one that was as much fun.

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Mine had 10 years and 200k miles

A move to St. Petersburg, Florida and me without wheels left me feeling trapped and claustrophobic. I found an old, worn-out Oldsmobile station wagon, a monster with floaty suspension (and another V8). I paid $250 for that thing and loved it. I could load the kids (I was up to four) and go anywhere which we did, often.

When the kids were on the verge of making me crazy (which was quite often), we would pile into the car and go on an adventure. One of my favorite places was across the amazing expansion bridge that connects St. Pete to the mainland and drive around in the rural parts of west Florida or head to Tampa where we had a family membership at the Florida Aquarium. Having a car was necessary for my sanity!

A year or so after that, I bought a Mazda MPV minivan. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was what my husband wanted me to have. It wasn’t large enough, really, for the kids and stuff.

I never liked that minivan.

When I was separated from my husband the first time, my MPV gave up the ghost for good. I spent a month searching for a replacement vehicle and found a really nice, used Toyota Sienna. My brother-in-law loaned me the money and I made payments for the next few years. This was the first vehicle that I bought driven, pardon the pun, by pure self-determination and not practicality alone. I know, another minivan. But this was the best vehicle I had ever owned — it wasn’t a junker, really old, or a basic model. It was loaded. It drove like a car, had a powerful 3.0-liter V6 and ran without ever giving me any trouble.

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2007 Road trip from Connecticut to Austin, Texas. Seneca Rocks, WV.

I took the kids on a 3,800-mile road trip to Texas and back in the Sienna, much of it on back roads through beautiful Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and then Texas. Yep, that mini-van represented freedom.

Then my 19-year-old totaled it when someone cut him off on the highway on his way to school.

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My next car is my favorite to this day: a 2003 Saab 9-5 station wagon–my first turbo. Yes, I like station wagons a lot. I had kids, a dog, needed to haul my trash to the transfer station and occasional bicycles to and from kids’ friend’s houses. I paid almost nothing for this very used vehicle, but loved it (still have it sitting off the driveway waiting for me to find the title so I can sell it).

This leads me to what I am driving today. I found another used Honda, an Accord this time. It has dings and scratches, and a black interior which I detest, but it is a dependable, decent car. It always starts and always takes me where I want to go.

See, my Saab quit being roadworthy at the beginning of 2016. I went without a vehicle for seven months. A friend of a friend sold me a very sad, poor condition Chevy S-10 pickup to use until I could scrounge up enough money to buy a decent car. Never buy one of these. Total junk. But it allows me to haul off trash and junk as we prepare the house to sell (when it is running, which isn’t often). This truck was all I had to drive until September when my 26-year-old son found me the Honda Accord.

I miss driving my Saab a lot (sport mode)! But I fully appreciate the freedom a dependable Honda Accord affords me.

This afternoon I am using that car to pick up my daughter and granddaughter from the airport in Providence. She will, in turn, use that car to visit all of her friends while she is here.

Knowing that my car is sitting out there in the driveway waiting to take me wherever I desire is glorious. Having wheels is definitely one of my favorite things.

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Texas Hill Country

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My favorite things: reading

 

girl-reading-book-in-treeReading came easily to me in the first grade on an Army base in Italy. But I didn’t experience reading for pleasure until the summer I turned ten.

The Dade County (Florida) public library system had finally provided a real public library in the shopping mall for its bookmobile patrons, and I remember going in every Saturday morning, scouring the shelves for interesting fiction and going to the checkout area with my stack of 4-5 books.

I read propped up in my favorite tree, on the porch roof, on my bed, and reclined on one of our matching couches. I read a LOT.

That was the summer after my parents’ divorce became official. Reading was my escape.

It continued to be my escape as I read classics, also checked out from the public library in Austin, Texas all through my 20s.

One consistency, throughout all my years of reading, has been my love of the YA section. If reading is my escape, I don’t necessarily want to only read dark, gritty works that leave me feeling disturbed. Young adult fiction provides a nice selection of interesting books without many of the harsher elements found in adult works.

I see, feel and read about the reality of our world every day as a Twitter addict and news junkie. Again, reading is an escape for me. I am unapologetic about that.

I am drawn to fiction written for adults with dark themes such as murder, kidnapping and crime. I love stories with strong female protagonists struggling against oppression or difficulty. I despise romances.

After reading nonfiction and fiction written for adults for a few months, I will take a break and dive into some YA fiction for a time to decompress. It helps me find my happy place.

I love words. I love thoughts and ideas elegantly expressed in beautiful, well-written prose. I love an exciting story filled with characters that bring me along for the ride as long as they have substance. I don’t like too much fluff (literary junk food, as I call it).

I also love poetry written by women, and some men, who have suffered (another whole blog post).

This leads me to one of my prejudices: I prefer women authors to men because I do not believe a man can truly know what it means to be a girl or woman. I admit to this prejudice. I own it.

And so as I finish up the Harry Potter series of books today, I look for my next series of detective stories, murder mysteries, or fantasies, the kind not filled with profanity and graphic sex (I have to be in the mood for those kinds of books, and do read them, just not when I am reading to escape life’s dark times).

I will read nonfiction books about nature, wildflowers, permaculture, gardening, cooking, home renovation, Texas and other parts of the U.S. I will continue to spend hours each day reading news and articles about our world. And when I become disheartened, I will pick up a work of fiction or book of poetry and escape for a time until my soul quiets.

Sharing Literature

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At the Providence airport.

The first night my four-year-old granddaughter was here for a visit, I pulled out this huge tome of poetry with the goal of reading her to sleep. Laying in the special inflatable bed I bought for her when she was a baby (looks like a life raft), snug beneath a sherpa-lined blanket with her sweet-smelling long-blonde hair spread out on her brand new pillow and pillowcase, she was wiggly to say the least.

I held the heavy book beneath a desk lamp perched on the edge of my 20-year-old son’s desk (he gave up his room to his older sister and niece) and looked for poems that had funny themes and lots of onomatopoeias. I easily found one that set Charlotte giggling.

Each time she would try to sit up, I would stop reading and tell her I will continue when her head is on her pillow. She loved the poems so much that she willingly complied.

When she asked to see the pictures, I told her she had to make them in her head.

In less than 10 minutes, little Charlotte was asleep.

When I returned to the living room with this news, my daughter said she had never gone to sleep that easily in her life. Well, I did attribute it to a day spent in airports and on airplanes, but she loved hearing the poetry Grandma was reading to her from the “red book.”

When I think about girls in some cultures being kept from getting an education because of male dominance and/or religious doctrine, I see red. Every girl deserves an education, but most of all, each one should experience the joys of being able to read about a world beyond her own, and to escape her culture and reality when she wants. Girls have it quite hard in many parts of the world. We Americans often forget that.

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I will make sure my granddaughter learns to read well and is surrounded by literature even if I have to teach her to read myself (one of my superpowers, by the way).

And so I read because it gives me great pleasure and helps me escape the harsh realities of life. It is certainly one of my favorite things.

My favorite things: evening out with sons

On December 15th, I told my sons, 23, 20 and 16, that on Friday the 17th I would like to take them out to eat and then go Christmas shopping together.

On a normal day, I am lucky to get a grunt in response to questions and, if I am especially fortunate, eye contact.

Following my announcement, I got eye contact, verbal affirmation that it was a great idea, and a promise to be available.

It took a little bit of coordination to include my 20-year-old because he worked in Rocky Hill at the time, the opposite direction from where we typically shop and eat out.

Three of us headed to Waterford at 3 p.m. to get ahead of the Friday evening Christmas  horde. My 23-year-old was in contact, via text, with his younger brother letting him know where we were as we shopped.

We visited Books-a-Million first (great place to find interesting, unusual gifts) and Best Buy next, where my tall 20-year-old caught up with us. I saw him out of the corner of my eye and immediately smiled.

We were together.

We talked with a salesperson for a bit about the differences between XBox One, Playstation 4, Playstation Pro and Nintendo’s new gaming console that will release in a few months, then spent a few minutes looking at PC gaming peripherals.

I bought a hard drive docking station so I can access my collection of old hard drives. We headed to Buffalo Wild Wings for an early dinner.

It was approximately 5 p.m. when we arrived at a very loud restaurant, from the music, not people talking; the place was practically empty. I asked the host if there were any quiet tables. Thankfully, there was a side room where music was not piped in where it was bearable. I was there to spend time with my sons, not listen to bad music.

Since it was the first time for two of us, it took us quite awhile to figure out how the menu worked. It is unnecessarily complicated. Seriously.

We ordered three appetizers and drinks. I had to hit the ladies’ room, so I asked my 23-year-old to order me something dark or amber from the menu. He knows what I like.

When I returned, it was only a few minutes before my delicious amber ale arrived.  Yum.

The best part of the evening was that I was sitting with my sons around a table with fun, tasty, high-calorie food at hand. I didn’t cook any of it, and we shared everything. Stuffed mushrooms, fried mozzarella, spinach artichoke dip–we were all reaching over one another to taste everything, sharing dips, passing baskets and chattering away about unimportant, nonserious topics. We were all happy.

We were together away from a chronically messy house, distracting technology, and work.

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My three sons with me at the mall.

After dinner, we hit Bed, Bath & Beyond. We spent at least 10 minutes in the coffee making appliance department where I was looking for a stainless steel carafe (they had one kind only — ONE). I bought some replacement stoppers for my wine keeper system, got a wonderful massage in one of their display chairs, and enjoyed time with my sons.

Next, we walked all the way to the other end of the mall to check out what fun stuff FYE had in stock.

At my 23-year-old’s recommendation, I picked up Kubo and the Two Strings. Wow, what a wonderful movie!

We looked at all of the licensed merchandise, discussing which TV shows, games and movies were successes and which were failures.

Blu-ray in hand, we left the store.

And suddenly, everyone was exhausted. We are a family of introverts. Four stores, two in the mall, and over an hour at a loud restaurant had worn us out. We headed home.

Several times during the evening, I thought to myself that this might be the last time I go Christmas shopping with these three sons. My two oldest sons and daughter weren’t there because they have very busy lives and two of them live 1,800 miles away.

I enjoyed that evening while it happened and will treasure the memory the rest of my life.

Spending time with my grown kids is definitely one of my favorite things.