Posted by: jeanne | September 19, 2018

sheepy time

monday. i’ve been in olo since thursday afternoon, and it’s been glorious. i get surprised smiles and big hugs from everyone i know, and those i don’t know wave. the weather is also glorious. the vegetation on the mountains has turned a rich red-gold, and the birch trees in town are yellow and shedding leaves. in the morning, there is snow on the tops of the mountains, but it melts away as soon as the sun hits it. of course, the first thing i did was to catch a cold. runny nose, sore throat. a good dip in the pool should solve that hahahahahaha.

i’m staying at ida’s house. now that anna kristin and elisabeth are in university in reykjavik, there are several spare bedrooms, so i get to sleep in anna kristin’s room, which is decorated with lots of her paintings, and has a brilliant view across the fjord to kleifar and the valley beyond. there’s a french woman who is also there. she’s involved in a scheme called work-away, where you go somewhere and volunteer doing whatever, and your host family welcomes you into their home, feeds you, introduces you around. you get lots of free time, and you get to learn about where you are staying. and there’s no age requirement, so it’s something everybody can do.

let’s see. since it’s monday (wednesday now), i don’t really remember what happened, so let me review my photos, and i’ll be right back. okay, it all makes sense now.

friday the town began the annual gathering of the sheep down from the mountain side. when i realized i was going to be here for rettir, which is what they call it, i contacted several people and asked if i could help them gather their sheep, as if it were an individual task. little did i know, but the entire town goes out to help. they start at dawn, and walk the mountain valleys, or take cars up the tiny little roads, and 4x4s, and scare the sheep down, chase them off the mountain. it was not a clear day, but somewhat rainy, and i was told that this was good, because if it’s hot and sunny, the sheep just want to sleep, and it makes it much harder to get them.


so everybody in own was waiting, all morning. and then at some point before lunch, the word went out that they were coming. so everybody went out onto the street and started gathering at the place where the road entered town.


all the kids from the schools, even the toddlers, lined up along the road to prevent the sheep from running everywhere. i stepped forward to get a better photo, and got yelled at, because i was standing right where they wanted the sheep to run. so i retreated across the road with everybody else, but still, when they came to where i was, they all stopped and looked at me. i think it was because i had the camera in front of my face, and must have looked like a cyclopean monster.


the sheep came, and crossed the road, and headed toward the bridge, and everybody followed them. what a racket – sheep moms calling their lambs, lambs answering, people yelling and shouting at the sheep, sheep panicking and running to exhaustion. some sheep were limping or dragging, and these they lifted into the backs of people’s trucks and drove to the pens.


but most of them – several hundred – went willingly to the pens, where they were pretty tightly packed, but not so much that individual sheep couldn’t circulate. it was a constant brownian movement in the pens as the sheep jostled and tried to jump over each other. all the people who had sheep brought their vehicles down to the pens, and there was food and drink in every one of them. the first thing people did once the sheep were safely penned was to stop and get some lunch.


so i went back to kaffi klara for some of ida’s wonderful soup and homemade bread. and then i went out to the latest wall, because it had stopped raining.


the wall was in pretty good shape, so i gridded it, circled the intersections with a pencil, and then went to the junior college to find a ruler, and sat down to grid my drawing.

first try, the troll was too close to the edge, and the horse was too big.  this is second try, inked in immediately because of the constant threat of rain

i always have trouble with that part, because i can never remember what to divide into who. i only got an hour at a time on the wall – now that it’s finished (it’s tuesday now) i can say that. and every time i returned to the wall, there was some paint that had run down and dried, so i had to cover that first.


and then that would run as soon as the rain started up again. and the paint took forever to dry, for the most part, because it’s well below 50F, which is supposedly the minimum drying temperature.

a repositioning of the tail took forever, because the rain really liked the end of the house


but i did my best, brushed everything out as much as possible, put on thin layers that might or might not have dried before the next shower.


and when i’d had enough, i went to the pool. they’ve got a new sauna now, and it’s shaped like a gypsy wagon, and holds maybe 6. and the temperature is set at 110F, and there’s a water pot for steam, and i can take maybe 5 minutes before i have to get out.


the first day i was there, maya was leading an exercise group for old people. i fit right in. omar was there, and asgeir and kristin, and a few others i know but don’t know. it’s only the people i worked with to paint trolls that i know at all well, and everybody else i know to wave at. but those i got to know last year and the year before, i count as real friends, almost family. thursday, when the class was going, i was too tired, and too shy to join in, so i watched them from the hot pot. but on monday i joined right in, and exercised in the water for almost an hour, and then collapsed into the hot pot, the hotter pot, and the sauna, followed by a dunk in the cold pot, which i remembered i’d gathered the courage to plunge into the last time i was here. it’s not hard to spend an hour between laps and the pots, even two hours. and tho i don’t understand more than baby icelandic, everybody loves to laugh and joke, and laughter has no language.

i can pretend that these trolls are modeled after me and jim

a wall-eyed savior, dubiously eyeing the weather – nobody goes barefoot outside in iceland

the view that greeted me every morning.  not usually with sunshine, this trip

on the weekend, it cleared up a bit, and i had several hours to paint.  the snow melted off the mountaintops and i had to remove all my outerwear and work in tshirt and long sleeved shirt.  it was brilliant, and so warm that i had to pause again and again to look at the mountains and rest my arms.  the paint dried right away.  but i paid for it, because the pool closed at 2, while i was still saying just one more color, just one more coat of paint.  waaaah.

but ida and bjarni made up for it, because they decided not to bother cooking, and we drove over to siglufjordur for dinner.  burgers.  at the gas station.  believe it or not, there is always food at the gas stations.  not just hotdogs, but specialty burgers as well, in this case named after american cities.  did we have the chicago burger or the los alamos burger? i forget.  before we settled down for dinner, tho, we went out to the edge of the fjord, where the greenlandic iceberg was currently floating by.  they’ve been tracking it since it made such a splash (haha) in greenland.  it was near the westfjords last week, and this weekend it floated by siglo.  we’re waiting to see if it comes past olo this week.


but by monday the weather was back to normal.  still summer, sort of, but with a snowstorm on the way.  snowstorm in sorta summer means anything over 100 meters gets snow, and anything below gets rain.  and don’t forget the gale force winds coming from the north.  so maybe the iceberg will be forced ashore, and we can have an extra special tourist attraction here.


so because it was raining, i couldn’t work on the wall, and spent much of monday and tuesday (wait, it’s still tuesday) working on a watercolor of the interior of kaffi klara, which will probably have to wait until i come back to finish.


so i went to siglo.  i hitched, because that’s a thing you can do here.  and got a lift with a nice swiss artist who’s spending some time here.  she was going to meet a photographer and sailor who might be able to take her out on the water, if the waves go down to a manageable level (tho the locals don’t think those breakers are unmanageable at all).  so i left her there and went to the bank, where i had some business to attend to.  that’s where the painting above is hung.  nice picture, from the heyday of siglo’s herring trade.


then to the bakery, where i had some lovely salmon on flatbread, and then a wander down to the handicapped workshop, where they make and sell all sorts of things.  i got a troll cozy, a wooden raven, and a potholder that came from the 17km scarf they knitted when the tunnels were opened in 2010.  and it cost half nothing, so i was very pleased.

a sod roof. someone has taken a course in turf-house building


and then i started back toward olo, as the sun came out and the rain stopped.  you have to walk past the last turnoff in order to get a lift, and sure enough, i was only halfway to the tunnel entrance when someone stopped, a tour guide going to akureyri.  everybody here knows him, but we did not introduce ourselves.  he knew who i was, anyway.  we talked about the loss of olo’s bank, their ambulance, the primary school, all gone off to siglo.  it’s heartbreaking, and the people here don’t like it, because towns without services die.  so they’re all becoming a little bit more activist as they realize nobody’s going to do it for them.


but now i’m almost done with the mural.  yesterday was mostly about covering the runs and putting in what details i could manage.  and today (tuesday) is all about finishing it.  there was no rain at 7:30 this morning, so i piled out of bed and rushed down to the wall.  but the garage door where i am keeping the paint was locked, and nobody was home.  i plodded wearily back to kaffi klara, where ida was working on making lunch, and she texted holmar, who was in fact home.  so i had a cup of coffee and went back.  he was there, and the reason the garage door was locked was because they’re expecting a real blow in a few days, and you simply have to bring everything inside, or it vanishes.


now i’ve only got a day, or two, depending on the weather, and i’ve seen most everybody i know.  everybody asked about connor, and i told them all i’m planning to come back with the kids any old summer now.  i got big hugs, and we spoke as much as we could, and now it’s not raining at the moment, so i’m going back out to the wall, and putting on the final touches (and covering any rained out spots).  and then i’m going to the pool.  and i’ll write up just a little more before leaving.


the pool is always the highlight of my day.  i was there by myself today, because i was too late for the exercise session, and everybody had left by the time i got there.  so i got to go from hot pot to hotter pot to sauna to cold plunge to baby pool (floating) to lap pool, and all over again.  several times.  i might have spent a couple of hours there, just lazing around with my eyes closed, counting my breaths, watching the raindrops bouncing on the water, watching the clouds rake across the mountains.  the storm that’s coming gave us plenty of warning, with high north winds and crashing breakers.  the breakwater is as high as a house, and the water was splashing right up over the tops of the rocks. and you know the wind is high when the birds prefer to sit on the ground, facing the wind and grumbling.

hotter pot and sauna, with the old farmhouse and the mountains

when i got out of the pool, it wasn’t raining, and the sky to the north was clear, so i dashed back to the wall, saw a couple of spots that needed correcting, but mainly put on some pink on tongues and lips, a little burnt sienna on the troll’s face, and black outlines around everything.  then i signed it (jim + jeanne), and carted all the paint back to the listhus storeroom (thanks, alice) and returned the key to anno, who is guest host for the next six months, lucky him.

the wind had gotten so strong that i had trouble walking into it.  so i only ambled off toward ida’s.  as i passed the cafe, i noticed movement inside, even tho they closed at 6, and it was 7.  so i went in the back door and found ida and gummi having a beer.  great.  i joined them.  gummi had gone around to the fish factory and bought up all the smoked salmon and trout he could find, because ida’s workaway girl, a lovely frenchwoman named danni, is going away tomorrow, and wants to bring some fish home with her.  and so do i.  so he bought the store, and now we have more than enough to take home.  i hope they let me bring it in my carryon…  i’m also planning to buy a leg of lamb to bring home, but again, i’m not sure about what they’ll let me get away with.  it’s not exactly liquid, and it’s vaccuum sealed, so i’m supposed to be okay with it, but you just never know.


ida was waiting on her husband bjarni, who was shepherding 20+ erasmus students in from reykjavik, so we went downstairs to the kitchen and prepped 3 pans of lasagne, and a pan of pork, potatos, onions, mushrooms, and cheese for tomorrow’s lunch.  ida asked me to help out, since danni is leaving tomorrow, and she has to be at school to teach.  so i’ll be finishing lunch preparations, finally able to do something to earn my keep at ida’s.

elf house, and an elf church

the storm is coming, but laura, who travels all the time, said it would probably be okay, that they wouldn’t cancel the flight but would only delay it until the weather lifted.  and ida needs me.  so i’ll be trusting in the luck of the trolls to get me back to reykjavik in time to do all the things i’ve planned there.  and i’m sure i’ll write that part up on the plane and include it with the sketchy drive home narrative.  i’m actually quite anxious to get home.  jim has a movie role upcoming, and there’s an auction we have some artwork in, and i’ve got to get started on making prints for an upcoming show.  and there’s less than a month to go before we go to india.  lots to do, just the way i like it.

okay, one more thing.  today i worked at kaffi klara, and managed to scorch the soup, but made more, and managed to feed everyone who came.  which was almost nobody, because it’s raining and windy all day.  so now i’m going to the pool for my last drenching, and tomorrow i’m off to reykjavik, if the plane is not canceled.  i’ll let you know.

Posted by: jeanne | September 14, 2018

iceland, niceland

tuesday. i’m on an icelandair flight to rekyavik; going to olafsfjordur for a week to participate in the second annual troll festival. it’s been a long time getting here, and it was kind of an ordeal, but now i’m actually on the plane and in the air over probably pennsylvania, i’m relieved and looking forward to the next step.

but right now maybe i will take a nap until they come around with the (optional at extra cost) meal tray.

okay, i’ve had my nap. other than a stiff neck i feel much better. we’re flying over greenland at the moment; normally one of my favorite parts of the trip. but this time, so close to the equinox, it’s been dark for hours. usually when i fly over greenland, it’s summer time, and i can see everything. but tonight, there’s not even a moon, and there are no northern lights. so oh well.

this time, i’m flying icelandair instead of wow. the price was almost the same when i booked, and icelandair leaves from dulles, whereas wow leaves from baltimore. dulles is a 20 minute drive from mikie’s house (we are in the flight path for departures), and bwi takes 2 hours to get to by car, and a deal more than that travelling by train, subway, and car. so i was glad to fly with icelandair for once. and since my last trip flying with them, they’ve dropped meal service, and now you have to pay for your bags, so it’s no wonder it’s almost as cheap as wow.

it was a rather normal 13 hour drive up to dc from atlanta. i’m so used to it now. i’ve been doing the same drive every couple of months for over a year now. i’m so very used to it that i’ve begun to forget the road. sometimes i don’t know where i am, sometimes it doesn’t feel like the right road. i remembered to bring a notebook with me, and my usb with music on it, and i filled 3 pages with observations and thoughts, and things to look up. and i finally started to record the mile markers next to scenic spots i’d really like to have a camera for. so one of these days, i can pull over and snap photos. or maybe if i ever have a passenger, i can get them to take photos.

i drove during the day this time. not because i had to, either, because i poured another big chunk of cash into the car to make it roadworthy. i drove during the day this time precisely because i’ve been driving at night lately, and i wanted to see the landscape. southwestern virginia is so pretty. but because i’ve done this drive so many times lately, i didn’t bother calculating the best time to start. i had my alarm set for 5, to avoid rush hour traffic in atlanta, but there’s really no rush hour traffic in any of the cities on the road. if i’d gone up i-85, i would have hit major cities all thru south and north carolina, but going thru the mountains avoids most traffic and most cities. as it was, i had trouble sleeping, so it was 4:30 when i snuck out of the house and got in the car.

i’d packed more casually than usual, also. this still meant popping out of bed at frequent intervals to stuff something into my backpack, but really it meant throwng almost random things into the bags. the only thing i forgot was a lopapeysa, the enormously heavy sweaters worn in iceland. so now i don’t have a sweater, and my clothes are more like fall clothes than the winter things typically needed in iceland. but it was rainy and chilly in dc today, so i was happy to put on my travel clothes and stick my lightweight driving clothes back in the car.

wednesday. i made it all the way to olafsfjordur, had a nap, met up with a few people and talked about what’s going on with the town, went swimming, lost my credit card on the road and found it again, and am now sitting in ida’s living room writing.

the flight to iceland was 5+ hours, and it was dark, and i slept much of the way. i was just so exhausted from driving the day before. and to tell the truth, i’ve been exhausted pretty much ever since coming back from pennsic. maybe i picked up lyme disease. probably not. but anyway, i didn’t have the enthusiasm to stare out the window until we were on the approach to reykjavik at dawn. there might have been stars, but the cabin lights were on. and if there were northern lights, i missed them. but the first view of land, black against the shining sea, and seeing the ancient lava cracking and rolling beneath me, and hearing the impressions of the tourists seeing it for the first time – all of that was very welcome to me. being able to say thanks and goodbye in icelandic was also nice. and it was good to be able to explain to the tourists that we were going thru lava, not permafrost, that there’s no permafrost in iceland because it’s not that cold, and that conical mountain in the distance was in fact, a dangerous but inactive volcano (dangerous because according to siggi, it’s capable of covering reykjavik in lava).

the flybus dropped me at the bus station, which is right across the road from the domestic airport, and the guy at the bsi counter told me to walk down to that bridge, down that way, and cross over, and i’d be there. but when i got outside, i headed for a taxi, because i didn’t want to bust the wheels of my carryon trudging down the street. and it’s a good thing that i did, because the terminal was far far far from that bridge, and it was a good 5 minutes before the driver dropped me off. and we talked the whole way. just like the driver of the taxi to dulles from my brother’s house – we talked so deeply that i never told him which airline until we were right upon it.

waiting for the plane to land, and when it did, everybody piled into the gate area. i was in the bathroom at the time, and it wasn’t a matter of missing the flight, just some bewilderment when i came out into the lounge and found it empty. but i got on – a bombardier propeller plane holding maybe 30 passengers. and i was seated at the window, as ever, exactly next to the propeller. i gave some thought to what it would do to me if it shattered in flight, like that poor woman where the engine blew up and sliced her window open and sucked her out. i only gave some thought, because there’d be nothing i could do about it and would probably rather die before i knew it than be conscious all the way to the ground. anyway. smooth flight, up to 30,000 feet for maybe 10 minutes, and we started our descent. we passed one hole in the clouds, and i could see the highlands, all rippling lava and barrenness, with braided rivers and a melting glacier. the ice was translucent, so i could tell it wasn’t much of a glacier. it looked like a very large snowfield melting away.

and then we were down, and out, and waiting for our luggage, and then alla was there in a borrowed car, and we were very happy to see each other. we talked all the way back. but first, we had to stop at the red cross, where alla is a volunteer, so even tho the store wasn’t open, she dragged me inside and i looked thru the boxes in the back until i found a suitable lopapeysa. and then she took me to a phone store so i could get a sim card for my phone. there was some sort of crazy woman there, speaking english with a flawless american accent, but acting peremptory and impatient. everybody was careful to avoid her eyes. i asked the person who was helping me, and she said they know her, and she’s icelandic, but never speaks icelandic to anybody, and that she was mentally disturbed. okay. but someday i could aspire to being mentally disturbed and speaking a foreign language like a native in some other country.

and then it was the hour long drive around the coast to olafsfjordur. the trees are turning fall colors, and the vegetation on the mountains is all fading greens, rich golden browns, and reds. but late into the drive, i got really sleepy and had to put my head back while alla drove. but i woke up right before we got to the tunnel, and so i got to see the first sight of the lovely valley and the tiny town jumbled at the bottom of it.

we dropped my gear off at ida’s and then alla dropped me at kaffi klara. gummi was there to greet me. he gives the best bear hugs. we talked about the town, and i had some coffee, and then stumbled back to ida’s for a nap. and then i went walking thru the town. first to the house where i’m going to put up another troll mural. i got a photo of the owner of the house, and will photoshop his face onto the drawing of the troll. that’s where i lost my card, walking thru the grass to get a look at the wall. after that i stopped by listhus and had a nice talk with anno, and artist from germany who will be here all winter running the residency. he loves the long darkness and the cold and snow and northern lights. and then i went to the pool, where they’ve built a new sauna! i wanted to use my year’s pass that i bought last year, but alas, it’s based on the calendar year and not 365 days of usage. i had tried to suspend it when i left at the end of the summer, but it didn’ take, so i had o buy a 10 swim pass, and that’s when i discovered i no longer had my card. so they let me in for nothing and told me to pay tomorrow. yay. a bunch of people were doing exercises in the pool, and i knew some of them – asgeir and his wife, and omar – but didn’t want to join them because i just needed to swim a little and then rest in the hotpots. i stayed well over an hour, and then came home to start looking for my credit card.

but now it’s found, i’ve unpacked and separated out all the gifts, and tomorrow morning i’ll start chalking the wall, and continue talking to the people here. the town is having some serious issues, and i want to be useful in solving them.

Posted by: jeanne | August 19, 2018

boys in comfortable clothing

pennsic is an old tradition. this is its 47th year, and they’ve been gathering in a 500-acre campground all that time. originally it must have been a farm, and it still had an old 2-storey farmhouse and other outbuildings, and over the years someone put some cabins in.

we pulled off the interstate midafternoon sunday; it was a nondescript exit with a gas station, amid farms and rolling wooded hills. we turned down the road where they held school bus auctions – the boys glared suspiciously at the buses. was this a trap?

the road wound on into the woods, and circled around a few hills, and as we rose over the brim of one, we saw the road cutting thru a vast sea of white tents, and then wind on up over another hill which featured a wooden castle facade and an acre of caution tape.

we were directed into a field to the left, and asked to show our receipt and some id. then we had to go down one of several parallel traffic-control lanes to the end of the field, then cut back to the road and find a place to park alongside it. we were the only vehicle. turns out, it was a good thing we arrived sunday afternoon, because all day friday and saturday had seen hundreds of cars using the lanes, and people standing in long hot lines in the sun. when we got there, we parked right in front of the troll tent – the toll booth into pennsic – and were the only ones in the tent who weren’t on staff. so we got their full and undivided attention. the boys love attention.

attendance at pennsic has swollen to 10,000+ these past few years, and procedures have had to adapt. what might have once been a simple process is now clogged with several layers of bureaucracy, and the process of checking in and getting our id badges was… lots of fun. notably, getting wrist bands for kayden and connor was absolutely necessary. but since they’re not toddlers, it was determined that they were going to get necklaces. hahahahaha i don’t have to tell you why not. it was at station number 2 where we had this discussion. i was sent to station number 3 to arrange the wristbands, but was told there that the system said badges so the kids couldn’t have wristbands, and was then sent to station number 1 to get the nice ladies to write the kids’ badge numbers on wristbands and attach them. and this was among basically the same people, across a small and empty tent, where i had to go from window to window almost as a joke. i thought. this was also the place where the ladies kindly took me aside, seeing i was a single female and a first timer, and told me not to accept any drinks i didn’t watch being mixed up, by anybody i didn’t know very well, at any of the late night parties that go on pretty much every night – especially not anything glow in the dark or sparkly blue or named something fairyish. since i had the boys, i wasn’t likely to go to any of those parties, but i thanked them the same, because nobody wants to wake up from a dose of roofies and not know what they’ve been done to.

we finally finished with troll, were given thick guidebooks and vendor guides, shown where to go to get to our campsite, said goodbye, and got back in the truck. it was a long and winding road in, full of one ways, and stops, and you wouldn’t ever want to go as much as 5 miles an hour for fear of hitting someone. especially with a big pickup. the roads (gravel) were marked at intersections with medieval names, and at first we passed utility buildings used by the campground staff, and the large tents of pennsic university (hundreds of classes over the 2 weeks), and then we entered several blocks of encampments, fenced off by banners strung between poles. with an entranceway – all kinds, from poles to gates to castle forecourts – and the vision as we went by of a central coutryard of some kind, and tents lined up around it. in some courtyards they’d started alleyways between tents, filling in mini blocks; in others it was still too early and the middle was completely free of tents. these were all encampments that had been reestablished year after year after year in the same areas, with the same neighbors, and we could see people inside them, going about the business of preparing dinner, or still setting up their tents, or lounging around in already completed pavilions. some encampments went all out to embody the theme, with period fire pits and period canvas tents in front, and all grills and coolers and nylon tents hidden in the back.

i don’t understand the hierarchical structure at all, and i don’t know who was a member of the society for creative anachronism and who wasn’t, which was a kingdom encampment and which wasn’t, and how serious were the campers inside it. some took the whole medieval reenactment – living history – thing very seriously indeed, which is a good thing. some didn’t give a damn, which is also good.

we found our campsite, thru the main city part of the campground (store, playground, internet cafe and charging station) and then downhill to the lake. dallas was waiting at the bottom of the hill, and guided us in to our designated camping area. it was a nice long stretch of modestly sloping land going right to the edge of an arm of the lake, so we had a reedy area between us and the water, and the ground went up a little woody hill rising to the edge of the road. there were tents lining the entrance, including a wooden gypsy van, an open tent with a wooden floor down by the water’s edge, a double stalled shower tent next to it, and then an open end going to the dividing line between our encampment and the next clan’s (?). we took the open end, and went back to the truck to pull out the tent gear.

alex, kayden, dallas preparing dinner, connor, annabella, and avery

dallas and i tried to put up the tent, and then alan came over and tried to put up the tent, but i just couldn’t make it work, as i said before. and shopping, and dinner, and someone else’s tent.

monday. so when i woke up and discovered one of the other campers had made coffee, i started in on the tent again. i’d gone thru my photos on my broken computer, found the one i took to sent to wenzel tents, and zoomed in on it until i discovered my error: so simple. i had the topmost tent loops on the inside of the pole structure, when they should have been outside. silly me. i blame 8 hours of driving and other things. so i put the tent up myself. dallas, understandably, watched from the kitchen tent over his own coffee. it was easy. and then i populated the tent with all its things.

the view for anybody washing dishes in our campsite

first the ground covers, long lengths of canvas that would someday be made into paintings, covered by several 4×6 and 5×7 rugs i love, with an 8×10 sisal mat for the screen room.

we brought 2 tents (plus the 6-person pup tent). one was the million year old 9×12 tent (that was showing more rips in the sides, mainly from my clumsiness (but i dreaded finding the boys putting their feet thru it)), and the other was the million year old 12×12 screen tent, which i had decided i was going to fit together, even tho jim never had in all their years of camping. i’d spent sleepless nights figuring out how to do it. and it worked. we had a bedroom that was spacious enough for a queensized air mattress and my bed on the rugs, plus my own clothes and bag and computer and camera etc. and everything else went into the screen room, or under the 20×20 tarp wings, depending on whether it was waterproof or not. we had the camp table set up in one section, and ran a laundry line from side to side, and had the food things and the clothing bins and the kids’ toys around the sisal rug. it was very practical, and very breezy, and never too hot to take a nap in. it took until after 2pm to finish putting everything up.

i learned a new knot while putting up the rain fly tarp. a taught hitch. my neighbor ken, who had the tent across the alley my tent made, showed the knot to me, by which you can easily tighten and loosen the knot, but i forgot it immediately and went back to the overhand knot i usually use. this meant i had to pull up the stake every time the rope was too slack, but the ground was soft, and not very gravelly, so i didn’t mind. i’m definitely learning the knot before i have to do it again, tho.

the boys slept forever, and then they ate the cereal we had bought at the store in butler, and were playing ball with the bat i’d brought, and their three balls. which reduced to no balls by the end of the afternoon. they lost them all in the rushes, and the goopy ground prevented them from going in very far. so after that they played with imaginary balls. at the campground in tennessee they played with imaginary bats.

eventually i corralled them to help me unload the truck, insisting that they bring absolutely everything out of it and put it into the screen room. we clarified it several times while they worked, and so of course they left the front seat untouched, and i had to further empty the truck when they were done.

our tent+screen house+rainfly.  i’m pretty proud of it, actually

but in the end it was cleared out, and i left the boys under supervision and went off to park the truck. oh. no i didn’t. dallas let me know that i couldn’t just leave the boys there. like it’s against the rules to be out of earshot of kids that age. so we all piled into the truck and followed dallas to the hill of vehicles and parked most of the way up.

i decided to park facing out, and since it was a wet day, it was very difficult to back into position on a grassy slope. but after leaving several smears in the grass, i got the truck into position and we remembered where we parked, piled into dallas’ truck, and went back to the campsite.

and that’s when i left the boys and wandered off to get pictures of the next campsite over, the one that went out to the point. they were playing with alex, and i was still in earshot (tho he looked really dubious when i told him i would be right back). so i walked off and went thru the boundary and wandered past tents and people, and took pictures of the picturesque. and then in the japanese camp (which i hadn’t realized i was crossing into) a very smiling woman in a kimono asked if she could help me, and that’s when i backed out, bowing, and claiming to be a newcomer unaware of the rules. blissfully unaware, as usual.

avery got himself a job filling the tiki torches every evening

and then dallas made pork ribs on the coleman propane grill (put my ’80s stove to shame), and the ladies in the kitchen made stuff to go with it, and i might have made a salad, and everybody ate sitting around the picnic tables. then the boys played, i helped clean and straighten the kitchen, they lit a fire in the fire pit, it got dark, and we went to bed one by one.

dallas making dinner, kayden, connor messing with ken, and annabella

except for the boys. they did not go to bed. they played in the tent. i was trying to hang out with dallas and alex under the awning of their porch, and the boys were in there bouncing on the queensize air mattress. on a slope. so it was jammed up against the tent walls, with children roughhousing all over the place. i had a fit. several fits. because i did not yet realize that i was going to have to sit in the screen tent and read for the half hour that it took the boys to actually get to sleep once they couldn’t squiggle and whisper. it took several nights of surprising them at it and turning into kali before i wised up. after that i finished the two books i’d brought with me.

but they fell asleep fairly quickly most nights, and i rejoined whoever was sitting around the fire, and looked for stars or the moon. but the first few days were very cloudy and misty, and we never saw the moon, and i never really figured out which way was north.

tuesday. and wednesday. youth combat didn’t start up until thursday, so we had three antsy boys. avery professed his profound disappointment to his dad, several times, on the phone. but every time i asked them if they were enjoying themselves, they said yes, so i wasn’t worrying. classes were to be had. there were some fun things to be done with kids – making felt, dipping candles, drumming, making belt pouches, etc.

and then there was fool school. that’s where kids go to learn how to entertain, with skits, juggling, acrobatics, jokes – all the usual courtly entertainment. alex said it was the most fun he’d had at pennsic. so we went there at 10am for an hour, for those three days. the first day was like cutting teeth. we were late, and they were practicing tongue twisters. the boys hung around in the back of the theater building (an open faced shed), staring at their feet, while everybody else acted like they’d all known each other for many years. which they probably had. but the second day we arrived like old troupers.

everybody was supposed to separate into groups and develop a skit, and because we had to leave early in war week, we decided to work on our own skit so we wouldn’t disrupt any other groups. so the boys decided to start with handstands and devolve into fighting. typical, right? so we worked on choreographing, and teaching the boys the rudiments of stage fighting. they’re not used to that – the concept of not hitting each other. the teacher had to facilitate that more than once.

once fool school was over, we always went back to the camp. there were classes, but none of the ones we wanted started until 1, and it was only 11. so i might have taken a nap, or the boys might have had second breakfast and then lunch, or played quietly, or not. it was different each of those days. the weather was pretty consistent, tho. low clouds, spotty soft rain, nice sunsets, no stars, and heavy dewfall.

they always enjoy playgrounds

connor, annabella, avery

and then came the first day of youth combat.  thursday of the first week. we were there at 8am. gone were the days of sleeping in. it was just like they were back in school. i usually got up before the alarm went off and had some time to myself watching the light come up over the lake. and then it was a bustle of quietness to – without waking the rest of the camp – get them up and into their garb, stuff some food into them, and march up the hill to the lists.

i vastly preferred the floor to this – kayden’s falling off the edge in slow motion, for hours – it’s nerve wracking

the first day was mainly organizational. we signed our kids in, they put on all their gear, and the marshals inspected them. for many it was pretty simple, but we ran into some headaches.

the sign-in table.  repairs happened in the back of the tent

it took avery 3 or 4 times getting inspected, and then going back with the marshal to fix something about his armor, and then getting inspected again until they hit another problem that needed fixing.

the problem was with our swords, first. they were larping swords, and not sca-compliant. so they had to examine them extra carefully and make adjustments. and then their helmets were not up to snuff. there’s no standard of equipment except if you make your own. everything you get from a sporting goods store needs fiddling with. so the marshals had boxes and cartons full of fixes. tape, lacing, bits of leather for gorgets and neck guards, loaner gear (the boys loved borrowing various kinds of swords), more tape.  on the second day, a rivet in the brow of connor’s helmet broke (i told them not to throw their gear) and if it weren’t for the toolsmiths in our camp, i’d have had to go find a sporting goods store in town.  but they fixed it, and it went back into service the next day.

everybody in the youth combat tent was a volunteer. they’d been doing it for how many years, and were devoted to it. one of the women keeping administrative calm was in a motorized scooter, and everybody (except the 27 year old who was raised in the sca) was a grandparent. if they hadn’t been so attentive and diligent, the kids wouldn’t have learned anything. as it was, they improved visibly with each session. so, thanks, youth marshals.

that first morning, they didn’t keep us the whole session. the boys were all tired from battling, and getting used to being so well watched. they had more than just themselves to battle, and that made all the difference. for avery especially, because he was in with a bunch of boys his own age and older, and he was holding his own. he’s very tall, so he had a good reach, and he’s very spirited, so he had the will to get back in there. every time i saw him he was smiling and talking with the other kids. all boys at his level.

there were girls in connor and kayden’s group of under 10 year olds, and they held their own, too. but there seemed not to be any in the 10-14, and the ones in the 14-18 range were truly iron women. and when it came to adults, there were plenty of women warriors – archers, weapons throwers, fencers, heavy weapons – all well represented. and all the women marshals on the youth list were past mistresses at the arts of war. valkyries.

the roman mom morphs into a warrior

we finally stopped for the morning, and were told we could keep our armor there in the dressing tent. which was a great relief, because the kids didn’t want to be lugging their gear back and forth. so we arranged our stuff around a tent pole, and i waited for the boys to finish putting everything away. we didn’t have the boys’ athletic cups, so that wasn’t an issue the first day. but they took a very long time in the portapotties when they were done. and while connor was in his (the disabled one, a palatial space for a 6 year old), the other two took turns cracking open the door and disturbing him. very funny. while i waited in the tent. only once, tho.

the dressing tent that first day

the dressing tent thereafter

a word about portapotties. they’re incredibly efficient these days. a sign taped up on the inside of the door says so. 135 million gallons of fresh water saved every day thru the use of portapotties. on jobsites, in campgrounds, onsite at festivals all over the country. millions and millions of molded plastic boxes containing millions and millions of gallons of blue liquid that really doesn’t smell so bad. millions of miles of single-ply toilet paper. millions and millions of motion-detection led lights velcroed to the inside walls so people can cope in the darkness. and each one is rated. each portapotty can handle 10 men for one 40-hour workweek. so how many? that’s what i wondered every single time i sat in one. if 10 men x 40 hours in a week, then what for 10 men for 7×24 hours in the week? that’s 4 times 40. so either 2.5 people a week, or cleaning out 4 times a week? for how many people? our campsite had 2 portajohns. so we should have been good for 5 people in the camp. but we were on a main road and all sorts of people used it all thru the day and night. and we had many more than 5 people with us. later i was told that the portajohns up near the battlefields were cleaned out every day, and twice a day during war week. but i still want to know how many hundreds of them there were, and how many people they were meant to serve. and i still want to know how many people actually made it to pennsic this year.

btw, off-color spoiler:  it seems, on direct physical observation, that most of the 10,000+ people in attendance had some sort of digestion issues while they were there.  i can’t speak for what ends up in their receptacles at home, but there were very few well-formed ex-food sticks poking out of the central mound of single-ply paper. most of what the blue liquid mercifully deodorized were soft and saggy piles colored burnt sienna, and textured like brown25.  not well-formed – type 5.  mine as well, for which i blame road food.  but at least it wasn’t the usual type 1 torment i usually deal with when travelling. small favors.

we came back up the hill at 3 for another session. it was always warmer, with the sun mostly out and clouds building up to some sort of rain. i usually changed my clothes to something more summery for this session (tho i didn’t take too much care about my dress) and tried in vain to stay out of the sun. the session ran until 5, and then we sloped back down the hill to our campground, there to mess around and get ready for dinner.

over 200 shops.  the boys were into necklaces, and we got material to make proper swords, and some gifts

dinner was often a group effort, with gretchen and judy taking most of the brunt. but others pulled out spare food to eat, and sometimes made something themselves, and twice dallas cooked huge hanks of meat. i even made spaghetti once (with lamb!), and salad twice. and then filling and lighting the torches (the boys often fought over it, with connor feeling left out), and then building and lighting the fire, and then marshmallows, and then bed.

friday, saturday, sunday, up at 7. to the list at 8. 8-10 fighting practice. then something wanderingish until 11 and drumming practice!

then down the hill via the playground. or lunch in the food court. or shopping. or a class (which had always been canceled). then some sort of rest for grandma (the camp we stayed in had a two nap minimum) and back up the hill for the 3-5 practice. and then back down, exhausted, to get dinner ready and go to bed.

judy, alex, mary ann, gretchen

the boys love to dance.  i believe they’re doing the dab

and since by now i wasn’t having any nonsense, the boys got themselves to sleep while i sat in the screen tent and read a couple of chapters. these nights the stars came out and we sat around the campfire just taking it all in.

a bunch of views of the same tents on different days

our tent went thru some changes. maybe the second day, word went around the campground that there was a powerful blow on the way from the southwest. so everybody went around checking everybody’s tents and lines, and adjustments were made. i moved some of the equipment further into the screen tent, and took the fly off the poles and staked the edges to the ground. the blow petered out, i put the poles back up and moved the rainfly a little toward the front of the screen tent, so the rain wouldn’t come in and drench the table, which also moved closer to the bedroom tent.

i had had to make the main tent itself completely off limits except for sleeping. only changing into our out of the garb, and sleeping or napping. because if they were allowed into the main tent for any reason, they would all pile in on the air mattress and bounce it into the tent walls. i’d already put several significant rents into the nylon sides of the tent, just getting the thing up. luckily i had plenty of tape. but i couldn’t have the kids roughhousing inside it because they would surely destroy it. thus the rules. and they worked pretty well.

judy and ken play some strategy game.  we went to some trouble to recover the tokens the bad boys flipped into the long grass AHEM

i got to know the kids a lot better over this week-ish. kayden i hardly knew at all when we started, and he had a lot of trouble conforming to the rules that avery and especially connor have been raised with. and we had some meltdowns, particularly when i would melt down and turn into kali, the devouring mother. hopefully they got to know me, too, and things will be better next time we go someplace.

by saturday, we noticed a definite uptick in car traffic, and more people setting up tents in jeans and tshirts. vistas began to close in. gladius arrived in our camp. he set up a pavilion at the water’s edge every year, and he’s been coming to pennsic longer than anybody. he’s not yet jim’s age, and he’s wearing well. his pavilion is a big open tent for the camp, with nice wooden tables and benches, and a custom made chair for the fireside, and banners, and period dishes and cups.

the picnic benches had been migrating the whole time. first out on their lonesome in the sun and rain, then one by one inching toward the shelter of the kitchen tent’s awning, and now squinched between the kitchen tent and gladius’ pavilion.

for the first time we noticed cars parked all along the lanes when we went to the lists. when we’d come, it was just lines strung in a field. but now it was a parking lot, and presumably all the hundreds of people indicated must be standing in line in the troll tent, getting their intricately stamped metal badges and their heavy handbooks and vendor guides. the boys didn’t seem to notice. they were busy improving their swatting skills and learning to listen to the marshals.

roman family with their fighting kid

and spending time in the portapotties. at this point avery was wearing one of those vacation-type pants with one seam that wrap around your waist and tie at the front and back.

he loved them because they were ninjalike. and he had to tie the leg ends together to keep them from flapping. it’s this that was keeping him in the bathroom for fifteen minutes at a time. because he’s not sure how to tie the knots, and tries instead to twist the two ends together. we’re working together on this. he’s interesting in wrapping cloth, and so am i, and you have to figure it out for yourself even tho all you’re doing is rediscovering the wheel. or the knot.

suddenly i had to leave the boys to the marshals, because connor finally showed someone the arm he’d been complaining about, the one that was only a scrape he’d gotten sliding home on the wet grass back at camp.  it had healed up nicely, into a huge quarter-sized scab, and he’d duly picked it off, against medical advice, and so it continued to be an issue.  but now there were little sores, and little blisters.  i knew by the blisters it was poison ivy.  so i rushed him down to the ems tent, and they cleaned him up and wrapped his arm, and put duct tape over it to make it look like armor.  and gave him a freeze-pop. we hustled back to the lists and got him armored up, and thought no more about it except to check the bandage that evening and the next morning.

at this point we decided we’d better buy anything we were going to get. we’d been booth shopping for days, after morning practice. at first they wanted weapons, and then they switched to $5 jewelry. i wanted 72″ linen at $11/yard. there were bone and wood and metal buttons, knives, glass things, ceramic things, pewter things, used saris, turkish delight. costumes, corsets, boots, sweaters, hats, walking sticks, all kinds of armor bits and pieces, drums, real jewelry, and the list goes on. and on and on. 200 vendors. very little duplication. daunting. so we didn’t get anything. $5 pendants for the boys (mostly a wolf theme), a length of rattan to make swords, and a box of turkish delight, because i couldn’t help it. and when i opened it in the next tent, the people in that booth said ooooh so i passed some out. it’s not right if you’ve only heard of turkish delight and never tasted it. and when we got to the list, they’d mostly never had any either, so i passed a few more pieces out. (but i still have some here at home, from the same box – we bought another box on monday afternoon to give to the marshals as thanks).

sunday afternoon’s practice was hot. the weather was clearing up and now it was getting into the upper 80s during the afternoon, with nary a cloud in the sky. and people were in full armor, more and more of them. war week was under way, and the whole place was lively. the cleaning trucks came twice a day (with a mixed exhaust-blue smell and a lot of engine noise) as promised, and a big food service tractor-trailer backed in to the back of the food court, and the trash truck emptied one after another of half a dozen minidumpsters.

the jannissary band, practicing in a tent nearby every morning, finally donned their uniforms and gathered for their photographer, and then went marching around the campground playing their arms off. there were the beginnings of fencing matches in one roped-off field, and heavy sword fighting in an adjacent field.

more tents were going up along the main street to the battleground, and people were dragging in seats and tables and stuff. the boys never noticed. but we were able to take connor and kayden’s chest protectors back to camp, because they hadn’t been using them for several days. the marshals looked it up, and determined that as long as the skin was covered by clothing, they didn’t have to wear gauntlets and kidney/chest protection. it was much cooler that way.

there was a fencing battle going on at the wooden castle when practice got out, so we walked up there to see. on the way around the side of the wall to the back, we noticed a bunch of swordsmen lining the walls of a keep with a narrow entrance. there was a ramp leading up to the keep, and then the walls stretched to the other side where there was another keep and ramp. the other army was clustered around that area, getting ready to attack. there were many more attackers than defenders. they all marched over to the keep, swords at the ready, and attacked. or the ones in front attacked, while the rest of them lined up for their turn, or milled around in the back. the ones in front wedged themselves in thru the narrow entrance, immediately got sliced in two by the defenders massed together in the inside of the keep, and emerged, arms raised in death, back thru the entrance while some other eager attacker wedged thru the door. slow motion suicide of the attackers. (when i related this to ken, he said that with broadswords and shields the tactic would have been to rush the door and press the defenders to the back walls, but fencers don’t carry shields, so it was a cakewalk for the defenders)

when we got back to camp, i heated up whatever canned crap the kids wanted to eat, and got to work. the ladies made stir fry to get rid of their leftovers, and i had some of that. i pulled some of the milk crates aside and reorganized them, and put most of the garb away, and prepared as much as possible to break camp the next day. there wasn’t a whole lot to be done, but i knew there was limited time. the plan was to finish up the morning session, come back and break camp, leave it all piled up by the road when we went back for the afternoon session, come back with the truck, load and leave. by 5. snicker.

dallas, alex, avery and kayden

the boys went down as usual sometime after dark. once the fire was lit, there was no way to get them in bed until they’d had their marshmallows, so i portioned out a few each from the bag and left them to toast them at will. connor particularly liked to stick it into the fire and turn it into a ball of flame, and then eat it once the charred remains were cold. avery learned to put a nice golden crust all over it. kayden worked on the middle ground. after i put them to bed, i noticed that avery was tossing and turning, and finally sitting up. so i called him out of bed, and we went to investigate the music.

practically every night there was drumming somewhere in the campground. being a huge campground, it meant that practically every night there was drumming somewhere near. being on the lake as we were – a prime location and the scene of many many epic parties thru the half-century – there were usually drumming circles, in someone’s camp, every night. the camp next to ours was inhabited by musicians, so there was a drum circle every single night, and at 4pm they’d teach drumming every day. i loved it. the boys took it as background sounds and never said a thing about it. the drumming usually went on until very late, sometimes very very late, and the people who’d attended (drum circle = party) walked past our camp and used our portajohns until the sun came up. every night. but sunday night was extremely loud, and every now and again there was a big rumble from the crowd, so it was not an issue for me to grab avery and go find out what was going on and where it was coming from.

we’d seen it being built as we came and went to practice that day. we hadn’t known it, of course, because there was building going on all over camp as people there for war week set up their stuff. they built a 20×20 stage out of wood, and put up a 10′ diameter circle (i guess a shield). when avery and i saw it that night, there were hundreds of people there, milling around in the camp and on the road. we found a vantage point where we could watch a dozen drummers beating out a compelling rhythm, and see the fire dancers on the stage. guys who got up with long batons lit on both ends, and twirled them until the flames went out. then a big cheer would go up as he left the stage and another one climbed up.

monday was the start of action on the battlefield. we got up to the lists at 8, knowing it was our last day. we never even bothered with a sit-down breakfast, but grabbed the last of the pop-tarts on our way out of camp.

testing the trebuchets

morning practice went as usual, and i let connor and kayden quit a few minutes early because it was damned hot. and tho i was in a rush, avery spent an unusually long time in the portajohn arranging the fabric at his ankles. they also all had to go to the bathroom to remove their athletic cups, which added ten minutes each time they donned or doffed their armor. and i was in a rush, so i turned into kali right away.

i fed the boys when we got to camp, then put them to work. emptying the tent, one box at a time, and putting everything on the grass neatly. getting all the toys into their ziploc bags and ready to go under the back seat. gathering the clothes, separating them into kayden’s and everybody else’s, and stuffing them into their proper backpacks. stuffing all the pillows into a trash bag so they wouldn’t get wet on the still-dewy grass. that’s all i had them help me with. it’s all i could stand, really. it was so difficult to get them to do even the simplest things. avery was good. he was being really responsible and really adult about everything, and paying attention when i gave him a task. and connor was okay but draggy. but i really had trouble with kayden, who put on a major show of attitude every time. first not doing the task – just sitting there looking at something. then when i insisted, he’d throw his head back and groan and roll his eyes and stamp his feet. if he were my kid…. but i just hissed at him until he did it.

then we went back up to the lists for the tournament.  it was only the first tournament of the war, bin ut at least we got to be there for one of them.  the princess of somewhere was in attendance, sitting under the tent chatting with people while the kids battled each other.  it was just like practice except for the audience.  and there were no melee battles.  it was very hot.

the younger kids finished first, and all collected in front of the princess on their knees, while she made speeches and handed out awards.  kayden got the award for most chivalrous!  he was very pleased to go up and bow before her while she gave him a stuffed something and a trinket for his armor.  connor got the award for youngest kid, a medal, and they all got various awards just for being there, because kids love that stuff.

avery’s battles were just the same as well, but when it came time for them to kneel and accept awards, avery was tied with some kid who’d been doing this all his life for most chivalrous!  the other kid looked like atreyu, and avery towered over him.  most chivalrous boils down to not killing your opponent when he makes a mistake, but waiting and even helping him to battle readiness again before proceeding.  we were all very proud, especially back at camp, and when calling home.

then we had a short look at the happenings on the battlefield, and raced back to camp.

mainly, i packed up and got ready by myself. avery helped take down the tent, and connor gathered the poles, and kayden threw stuff in the trash. but mainly they played in the field next to me while i packed the milk crates and the big bins, making order out of everything so it could go straight back into the attic when we got home.

then i had the boys cart everything over to the truck, using the collapsable camp wagon. avery got to pull, one of the others got to stand in back and stabilize the wagon. and they had to go slow. what could go wrong? i turned into kali a couple of times during this procedure, but was luckily too busy folding and packing the tent.

after that, i let them occupy themselves arranging their seating while i packed the truck bed. and eventually it was all squared away, and everybody in camp had come to the truck to say goodbye, and the boys had all peed and were ready to go. it was 8pm.

at that point one of the women who’d been tending to connor’s poison ivy expressed her concern, so i asked her to unwrap the bandage, and the problem was worse than ever, so we went straight over to the ems tent and had them rewrap it. they wanted us to go to the nearest town with a hospital and get them to put him on steroids, but i couldn’t do that for several reasons, mostly because we had to get on the road. he was in clean bandages, and i had found some benadryl to give him, and he was okay enough.

but we took the opportunity to leave the truck at the ems tent and go to the food court next door. we got dinner there, hopped back in the truck, and started home. i ate only a fraction of my nastiness, but the boys ate most of their stuff. i let them use their electronics for the first time in a week (except for those times i needed a nap in camp and there was nothing for them to do ). they were quiet until we got to breezewood, which is where the interstate ends and you have to go thru a town before you can get back on. kayden forced me to pull off on the pennsylvania turnpike so that he could pee, by the side of the road, in the dark, which caused all sorts of issues, but i’ve talked about that already.

once we got back on the road, i called an end to the electronics, and the boys went to sleep. and then i drove until dawn. without music, without a notebook to jot down my thoughts. stars and the moon, late. now, about that missing time.

the map apps uniformly say our location to breezewood was 2.5 hours. it took us three. that can only partially be explained by having to pull over for kayden’s not having peed when he was supposed to (but i didn’t have to go then). that could have taken at most 5 minutes. but never mind. i don’t know how these apps determine how long it takes – possibly by using the posted speed limit to calculate. the posted speed limit on the pennsylvania turnpike is 70mph. but nobody goes that fast. the trucks all go 55. that’s because it’s a dangerous, narrow, old northern road thru mountainous country. the speed limit is more of an advertisement. it’s 168 miles. at 70mph it should take 2.4 hours. okay. going 55 it takes 3 hours. oh, so i’m fine after all. whew.

but breezewood to bristol, which is where the sun came up. where did i go wrong there? breezewood was 11pm, sunrise was almost 7. 414 miles, 6 hours. comes to almost 70mph, which is about right. but it took me 8 hours. why was that? oh yeah, because i pulled into a truck stop and napped at some point, and got back on the road at 5:30. i thought it was half an hour, but it must have been a lot longer than that. still, 2 hours? i would think my neck would be sore. so whatever. how about bristol to atlanta? it’s 325 miles, and supposed to take 4:45 at almost 70. but i’ve never driven it in under 6 hours. chattanooga takes 2 hours, knoxville takes 2 hours, bristol takes 2 hours. again, there must be some reason; i must stop several times. ah yes. we stopped at an ihop for breakfast, and even tho it was to go, we had to wait 15 minutes. and the boys had to pee and wash their hands – twice. and we spent the 15 minutes outside running around (i set my clock), and then jammed back into the truck and ate on the road (the secret – nothing with syrup). but it could have taken half an hour at most, even with the shenanigans in the bathroom. and i do believe we stopped at the georgia welcome center 2 hours from home and ran around some more.

we got home around noon, and i left the boys under grandpa’s supervision, and they emptied the truck into the studio end of our bedroom. i took connor to the urgent care clinic, and they cleaned everything up, lectured him some about poison ivy and washing, and gave him steroids and called in a prescription for prednisone and some gel i’m probably confusing with fungal cream but i don’t remember the name.

when i got back from the clinic, i put avery into the truck and we took him home with all his necklace ornaments and the clothes he was in. everything else went into the laundry.

i finally got out of the truck and hung the keys up around 6pm, and discovered i was out of guinness. drat. i’d been looking forward to a nice rewarding pint on my front porch. but oh well, i was still on camp time, and just did without. water is good.

so now we’re back. it’s been a good week since we’ve returned, and i’m only now finishing this post, catching up with what we did long after i’d forgotten it (as you can see with the missing time bits). if it weren’t for the photos, i wouldn’t remember anything of what i did, especially the driving part.

i’m going back to iceland for a week in september, for olafsfjordur’s annual troll festival. i’ve got things to do, people to see, places to go, and as ever, i’ll document it here.

Posted by: jeanne | August 11, 2018

road trip to pennsylvania with the boys

i’m sitting on our porch in atlanta, the morning after getting back home from our trip to medieval pennsylvania. i’m actually sitting on the porch most of the rest of the week as well – recovering.  the rental truck has been returned, the first load of laundry is in the washing machine, i’m on my second cup of coffee, and jim has gone off to the library. so, normality ensues. we’re also having a power outage, to keep things amusing (it’s been over an hour now, so i’m starting to think about our now-empty camp coolers and all the things i have in 2 suddenly nonfunctioning freezers. also, i can’t reheat my coffee without getting out equipment and lighting the stove – it’s like a campground here. like i said, amusing.

i would have blogged our trip every day or so, but my travel computer decided not to work; something about the track pad and having to resort to keyboard shortcuts that i am unfamiliar with. anyway, i put the laptop away after the first day and just took mental notes.  my memory being spotty at best, and woefully inadequate at long form composition, i’m going to break out trip down into easy to handle parts. first our trip to cleveland tn and washington dc, and then our tale of medieval glamping and fighting with foam covered wooden swords and fancifully painted hockey helmets.

i’ve spent the last few weeks dragging things out of storage in the attic. i inherited an awful lot of camping equipment from jim’s first wife, eve, who was a master of organizational skills. and everything had been kept together in the attic, so all i had to do was go thru everything, selecting what we’d need (i selected way too much of course), and inspecting everything before repacking it to go to the campsite.  the studio area in our bedroom filled up with milk crates and bagged equipment. it got a little unwieldy. jim did not complain, just waited until we’d gone and then rearranged the furniture.

a vintage wenzel tent

our tent is from the early ‘80s, or even the ‘70s. it’s a wenzel tent, and they still make tents, so i looked them up, and didn’t see ours. so i called them, and read out the model number, and even the serial number of the tent (they were way thorough bitd). but the girl on the phone had no knowledge of anything before computers, and even tho they’d uploaded their old paper catalogs, they didn’t go that far back. and i find that unacceptable, so i’m going to contact the management when i get around to it, to let them know they’ve got a museum relic still going up at the campsite. and these days, when companies are no longer family companies but owned by some jerk from wall street, they probably won’t care even at the management level. but just in case there’s a wenzel family member still running things, i’m going to call them back and offer them a photo of said relic.

always in the back of my mind was the fact that, while we’d borrowed plenty of period garb for the two older boys, connor had exactly one pair of pants that were only a little too long, and one tunic. and two days before leaving, i finally got around to making him a few more pairs of pants. and found that i didn’t have the plug to the sewing machine. so i had to borrow a machine (thanks elizabeth), and that task came with its own special difficulties and delays. but the pants got made, out of fabrics i’ve had in my stash for years, and everything got piled into the center of the floor, and the pile kept getting larger and larger, and spread out to the front porch.

fortunately, connor’s nana had him for the last week, and avery was with his dad, and kayden was with allison and antonio, and i could concentrate on getting everything done. i would have missed much more than i did, had i been distracted by the boys.

on wednesday morning, jim and i schlepped out to get the truck. i had some anxiety about it, because there was so much to take and a short bed wouldn’t do it, plus i needed a truck that would fit all three boys into the back so i could ride by myself up front – isolation being necessary for our mutual survival. it was a dodge ram 1500, and they skimped on things like the back leg room, and a back-up camera, and a usb feed for the sound system. but there was cruise control and bluetooth, so it was only inconvenient. and quiet. so i kept the windows open. and the boys rigged walls with pillows and blankets. rolled up rugs went under their feet, and all their travel toys in ziploc bags, and everything else got loaded into the back of the truck. anything that could be harmed by rain got stowed under a tarp or put into the front seat, and all the chargers got stuck in a pile on the hump next to the driver’s seat.

our local homeless guy, minio, came by as i was loading the back. he only added to the distractions, so i didn’t do the completely thorough check i had planned, and avoided him physically because i find him so annoying. so i missed something that i had previously spotted that morning and marked for moving into the staging area. sigh.

only i can load a truck. or a box, or a cabinet, or whatever it is that needs packing. so avery helped me lift the 4 large bins, and after i placed them in the truck bed, he and kayden lifted the milk crates and odd ends onto the back of the truck, and otherwise continued making their nests in the back seat while i packed things like a puzzle. i love puzzles.

when we were done, i sent the boys to pee and then interrupted minio’s soliloquy to say goodbye to jim. and then we were off, and while navigating atlanta traffic in a much larger vehicle than usual, i successfully figured how to set the trip odometer. without incident. yay. after that i was a grownup and acted like i had kids and cargo in an unfamiliar deathtrap on a 2446 mile journey driven mostly in the dark of night by an increasingly sleep deprived grandma.

but this was the middle of the day. say around noon. and we were on our test run. first an hour in atlanta lunchtime traffic to greater roswell, where dallas was loading his own stuff into a big old trailer, and had offered me some space. dallas was leaving for pennsylvania that evening, and i was going to be on the road for three nights and most of a day before i arrived. and i was dangerously overpacked with 4 huge bins and milk crates et al. i dropped off the huge rolly bin with the tent equipment (hahaha maybe they’d set the tent up for me and it’d be sitting there when we arrive, i thought, hahahaha), while ginger the best mother on the planet took the boys inside and fed them pancakes and let them pee off the edge of her hillside deck.

and then we were off f’real. now leaving our home state for points north. i’m pretty sure i let them use their devices for the two-hour leg. if i didn’t, they fought. otoh, if i did they also fought. avery constantly behind his wall, watching youtube demos of his favorite videogames. ever inching into connor’s territory with his barrier pillows. connor and kayden arguing over whose turn it was to take the tablet. both older boys tickling connor, whose screams short my circuits.

and then we were at the ocoee river, using my gps to find the campground. we would have stayed with emma, whose house is on the same river, except she was sick and nobody needs to be around kids when they’re sick. and besides, the boys like camping, and i brought the small (6 person) tent i’ve had for almost 20 years, and to make it even sweeter, we were going to go tubing down the river and emerge within sight of our tent the next morning.

so we left the truck mostly packed. we’d eaten recently at the sonic in chatsworth, mainly because i like their chicken sandwiches, and i can get a milkshake there (tho they’ve recently discontinued malteds). plus the boys can get what they want. so they all had a pee and washed their hands. at least i sent them in to do so. i was so naive in the early days.

i got avery to help me get the coolers to our picnic table, along with the camp stove and the milk crate with the dishes. he and kayden had to take the crate with the canned goods. connor helped take the chairs over to the campfire, and kayden set them up. then i found the small tent and sent avery out to find a suitable location – flat and free of sticks and stones – which he carefully chose at random. and then they discovered the 3 wiffle balls i’d secreted, and left me alone to put up the tent and inflate the air mattress (discovering!!! that the pump holds a charge and can be used cord free!!!). these things took no time, and i got to relax for a few minutes, only coming out of my cave to warn the boys not to hit balls into the tent again.

don’t ask me what we ate that night. i think i opened a can of soup. the boys played ball. the rest of the campground seemed to be a church group, or several, and they did jesus cheers on and off, and had a morality play of some sort around a fire once it got dark.

and then to bed. what an ordeal. the best part of that night was when i ventured out of the tent to pee some time in the middle of the night. there were thousands of stars, big and wet and splashy because we were right on the river. we don’t get stars in atlanta, only planets and airplanes.

we only had our queensized airbed to sleep on. i’d figured, why not, face us all in 2 different directions and we’d all fit. but i hadn’t considered the kids’ sleeping habits. avery curls up into a ball or stretches out, but he’s still all night. connor squiggles; i’ve documented his somnolence in iceland, and nothing has changed in a year. but kayden fights in his sleep. he shoves and elbows, he kicks, he uses his whole sleeping body to bulldoze others out of his way. all three boys sleepwalk, i’m amused to report. more about that later.

the boys might have slept well, but i did not. i had planned to put avery next to me, and connor on the foot of the bed opposite him, with kayden at the foot opposite me. that way our heights would somewhat even out. but the boys didn’t like that arrangement, and be’d bad, so i put connor next to me and angrily hushed every whisper until they fell asleep. and after that it was a matter of fending off squiggling and thrashing limbs all night. i vowed to sleep on the ground from that point on.

thursday. sometime during the blue light hour right before dawn, i thought about the bag of poles i had discovered on the porch. i was sitting there slugging down a coffee break before packing the truck, and reached behind me on the glider to find a green plastic bag full of aluminum poles, part of the stash of waterproof things i had built on the porch prior to having the boys move everything down to the loading area. i remember touching it, then bending around to look at it, and going ‘ah’ because i knew i would miss something. but then minio came up, and that was it for memory and relaxation.

i got into the truck while the camp was still sleeping, and called jim. i knew he’d be up with his coffee. he went out on the porch, and sure enough, a bag of poles. not the main tent poles, which would be a deal breaker, or the screen tent poles, which would be sad, but the bag of rain fly poles, which would be totally optional. in fact, dallas advised against it, because they have terrible blows every year, and everybody wraps their tents with their rain flies, which i can’t even stand the thought of (read: like being in an oven).

i could totally have done without the poles. i wanted to use them to extend the shade and invite the breezes and keep the rain and its weight off our 35-40 year old tent. i could live without that. but it was 53 degrees when i crawled out of the tent, with a heavy dew immediately wetting the cuffs of my pants. when the boys got up, they complained about the cold. in the tennessee mountains. and we were going to be a couple of hours south of canada.

so we went back to atlanta. while the rest of the camp woke up way early, doing jesus cheers, i shoveled some breakfast in them and we left the tent where it was, and trucked the 2 hours back home. everybody was forced to pee (but i don’t have to), and then they dug thru their drawers for thermal underwear and sweats. i found a bat. actually i had a list of things. 3 bs, a t and an f. let’s see if i can remember. bat, basket, something, oh never mind. i got them all at the time, which is what matters.

20 minutes later (minio was still there) we were back on the road, and we arrived back at camp 20 minutes before the bus left to go tubing. so it was all good.

we put on our water shoes and bathing suits. the boys wore their shirts. we walked up to the main building, where everybody waited around for awhile, and then got life jackets and picked out inner tubes, and tried to throw them up on top of the bus. it never worked, but the boys tried several times each until patience was lost and somebody threw the tubes up themself. then we joined everybody else in the bus. more cheers and chants. rah team. we were in front with the guides, and they were in their own world, separate from the rubes. the guides were mainly college kids, making a few bucks and living the river life for the summer. some of them would move up to the mountains when they finished school, and become river hippies for a few years, until their late 20s, when life, a wife, and kids would catch up to them. i know several of them; they’re a breed.

we retrieved our inner tubes off the top of the bus, and gathered on the slip next to the river. we were right below the ocoee dam, which was dry and looked unused, but i had been at emma and dallas’ when the dam released water and the river rose 4′ in 20 minutes. i’d asked several guides if i could have a line to tie all 4 tubes together, and they said yes, but never produced a line, and as the group entered the water, one of them flourished a line on his kayak and said we’d get to it once we were in the water. i was going to say something, but he was the experienced one, so in we went.

avery was lost to us immediately. he floated down the river all by himself, and we only caught glimpses of him every now and then. i grabbed kayden’s tube by one of its handles and kept hold of it, and we rowed backwards to keep even with connor, who kept falling off of his inner tube and splashing into the river. he knows how to swim, and had a life jacket on, but damn. the guide was right there with his kayak, and kept putting connor back on his inner tube, but he’d go down again. and it’s not because he was too small, either. they’d gone to pains to get him the smallest tube they had. it’s because he kept trying to stand up, or flip over onto his back or front, or sit up on the edge. again, squiggling. it’s a connor thing.

so he and the guide became fast friends, and everybody floated on down the river. eventually they came over to where kayden and i were, and we got the line and linked us all together. connor stayed still on his inner tube (because i had a constant eye out for him), and we could just see avery every now and then. we waved for him to come to us, but he ignored the suggestion and threw his head back to look at the passing trees.

it’s a wonderful river to float down, and it’s such a peaceful thing. no traffic, no traffic noises. no houses except up the hill away from the flood zone. just trees overhead, to the sides, and sometimes below – fallen into the river and making it necessary to paddle out of the way. the ride was about 2 miles? and took about 2 hours? but really it was timeless and endless, and we saw a blue heron fly up the river overhead, and i got to lean back and wash my hair in the river, and avery was waiting for us when we got there. he was shivering a little, but when the others came up they all ran around and dried off.

and then we packed up the camp and stowed everything, and drove back to the main highway, where there was a pizza joint, so we got a big pizza and the boys ran around the nextdoor farm (slightly pissing off the farmer, i think), and then we went to emma and dallas’, just across the street and down by the river.

emma and dallas live in a wonderful a-frame ten feet from the ocoee river. floating down the river, we’d passed it before i noticed. emma’s been sick, so we only stayed for a few hours. i fed the boys, and put them into the bunk beds, and then emma and i sat on the deck and talked until late. i don’t get to see her often enough. we finally went to bed; i slept in the attic room, and set my clock for 1am. which came right away. but it was sleep of a sort, and a short 8 hour trip to dc. or was that 10?

i roused the boys, who wanted to sleep walk, but i made them come all the way awake. they peed off the back of the deck, toward the river, and then went right back to sleep in the back of the truck, after only a little squabbling over space and elbows.

friday. and then i drove all night, into the dawn. i’ve often extolled the virtues of i-81, so i don’t have to here. it’s my favorite interstate highway. what i find increasingly troubling, however, is what this road does with time. i have a good time sense, and can usually tell what time it is without a watch. so it’s not that. it’s something to do with distance. somehow, every time i drive this road, it always takes significantly longer than it’s supposed to. and i made an effort to track it this time. not with a notebook, because i wasn’t set up to take notes as i usually am when i drive solo. but i noted when i passed this or that city, and mentally compared it to various map apps’ driving time. and it was always out, by over an hour. more about this later.

morning dawned, and we were only in bristol, which is halfway. i had been telling everybody that we would be getting in to northern virginia by breakfast, but it was 11:30 when we pulled in to mikie’s house to deliver presents for the kids. who weren’t there, so we made a quick getaway and were at the storage place by noon. the boys all helped cram everything from the truck into storage, and then we got to mom’s around 4, and took her out to dinner at an ihop not too far away. she had steak. i don’t know what the boys had. i fiddled with a salad. then we got back in the emptied truck and went to alexandria and parked it in a storage garage for the next 2 days. we hiked several blocks to the marriott in crystal city, got our room (upgraded to a suite wrapped around the elevator bay), got in our bathing suits, and went to the pool.

it was an indoor/outdoor pool, and the deep end was outdoors. it had a hot tub, just like in iceland, only with something bubbly on the surface mingling with a lot of unwashed body oils, unlike in iceland. it was heaven for the boys and myself, and we talked to an ex biker guy who was now a youth counselor, with an impressive beard and rippling tattoos on his arms and chest. mostly naked, in the hot tub next to me. his wife was also interesting, so we had a nice talk about the kids while the kids tried to drown each other in the deep end, and the lifeguards (students from eastern europe) stood like sheepdogs over them.

the bliss lasted for 30 minutes. and then they kicked us all out for the night, and we had to wait until 10am to go back. life is just not fair.

so we scrambled back to our room, thru the freezing corridors of endless conference rooms. the boys took their turns calling the elevator, pressing the floor button, and pressing the doors closed. we settled it first thing. and then it was in the room and get ready for bed. my part of the kingsized bed was comfortable. connor was asleep in moments on the other part – safely out of squiggling range for now – and kayden and avery got the foldout in the living room, and kept it at a whisper.

saturday. i had thought it was a free breakfast, but evidently not, and it was $40. the croissants were spongy. good thing i’d found a website that sold me cheap parking in a nearby garage, because you pay $40 a day to park at the marriott, with no in and out privileges either. grrr. after breakfast we went down to the pool, and texted mikie about our plans for the day. the zoo. and then mom.

we walked a tunnel directly from the hotel to the subway station, switched trains at metro center, and got out at the zoo stop, which is down the hill from the entrance. we noted some construction delays on the line, but didn’t think it would affect us because it was further out. hahahah

the national zoo is a wonderful zoo. it takes up many many acres of rock creek, and takes forever to see all of it. and it’s free. socialism at work. most of the museums are free in washington. and i grew up there. so i still hate paying to go to a museum anywhere in the world. that’s privilege for you.

mikie texted me when he and shan and the kids arrived by car, and we went way down the main drag to meet them in the lion exhibit. it’s a circle around several different habitats, and we found them over looking pride rock. so we all hung out there for 20 minutes or so, their 4 and my 3, and then we all moved on around the circle in a cluster. to the tigers. halfway around, with the family all lining up for a group photo in front of some imprisoned fellow-mammal, we noticed that kayden was missing. so shan kept track of the kids and mikie and i went opposite ways around the ring, until we got back to where we’d been sitting, and found kayden perched under a tree on the bank, sniffling and looking scared. that’s one. or no, i guess connor falling off the inner tube a bunch of times should be one. so kayden is two almost-catastrophes. there’s always three, right?

we wandered to the primates and the otters and the vultures and the white wolf (who hid from avery’s camera), and the bears and seals and i forget what. it took several hours, and it was quite hot. we took advantage of every misting station we found, and the boys were very helpful showing other kids how to turn it back on when it shut off after a while. and then we said goodbye for a while, and mikie’s family returned to their car, and ours went back to the subway. first we got hotdogs and sat down to eat them. 4 hotdogs, 4 drinks, 4 chips was $30. cheap.

and then we were affected by the construction work on the line. evidently the washington metro has been spending money on things other than keeping up the tracks, so there are massive problems and massive repair work, and they’ve been single tracking for a long time now. so we waited on the platform until a train came along, and then we got on, only to discover that we were going the wrong way. they we got on the right train, but got off on the wrong stop for our change, so had to wait for another one. and when we got to the right stop to change, our train was one of those affected, and we had a very long wait for it.

so when we finally got to our destination, tyson’s corner, we were way way later than mikie, who had been hanging out with mom and the kids at barnes and noble for a long time. mom was sitting in a chair fonding a random book, and the kids were all upstairs with mikie and shan, and i sat there with her for 20 minutes, talking about nothing in particular. she was in a good mood, for the most part. i was glad to be sitting still in a cushioned seat with my mom in a good mood.

eventually we collected the kids and walked down to the food court at the other end of the mall. mom had brought a rolly chair/walker with her, and stumbled along for awhile, then decided to sit in it, even to it’s not really a wheelchair. i took the handles and pushed her backwards, joking with her about every little thing. we had a good time. it was a long walk. the kids resisted all the stores until we passed the disney store, and the girls just walked on in and made themselves at home. so we hung out in front of the store while the boys went in to see what the fuss was about. it was all girl stuff, except there were action figures. but i went in and rescued them from that.

we stopped at panera and got lunch. it was crowded, but magically a large table appeared empty soon after we arrived, so we colonized it, and everybody fit but me and mikie, who occupied the adult table adjacent to it. everybody got stuff to eat – all of these steps take a really long time because both kids and moms can’t make up their minds and want things they can’t have, and throw hissy fits when they’re told no. i picked at my salad and talked to mikie, who was tired. mom enjoyed her great-grandkids. shan looked stressed but doing okay.

then we walked most of the way back to the bookstore to where we had come in from the subway. there’s an astroturfed parklet there, where people hang out. with a plastic toddler-sized chess set (tho they’ve painted out the chessboard as it conflicted with the other decor (or something)). the boys let loose and the girls joined them, and shan and i sat on a bench and talked. mom and mikie had stayed behind so he could go get her phone fixed at the phone store, and i was surprised when my phone went off. it was mikie. mom had fallen, and i was needed.

so i took off and walked as fast as i could back toward the phone store. but mikie yelled from across the hall halfway there, and i saw him on the phone, with mom hunched over on her chair with her arms over her head, and a security guard looking concerned nearby. she’d been siting on the chair, and mikie had been pushing her, and he’d hit a rubber gasket on the floor, and she went over backwards and hit her head on the marble floor.

and omg there was a golfball sized lump on her head already, and it was bleeding, and she was shaky. mikie was on the phone to 911 and they were sending an ambulance. so we just had to wait, and nothing could actually be done until the ems people got there. we had security people, tho. including a nice young cop, who mom kept noticing was very nice looking, and saying so.

it took about 20 minutes for the ambulance to get there, with deathbed humor and frequent checks on mom’s condition. mikie gave me his car keys and we fished mom’s id out of her wallet. mom complained of a headache and a stiff neck, and various pains in her ribs and chest, and began to get shaky and mottled looking around her mouth. and then the ems people showed up and everybody backed away as they took readings and got her ready to transport and fixed her up with oxygen. we made more jokes, and then we all paraded most of the way to where shan and the kids were, to the loading dock of macy’s where they’d come in. mom hardly noticed my goodbye kiss. mikie went with them, and i went back to the play area, gave shan the keys (frantic calls to mikie to find out where he’d actually put the car), and then took the boys back to the subway. where we had to wait almost an hour to catch a subway back to the hotel. and got only 10 minutes in the pool before it shut down for the night.

sunday. i set the clock for 6, but woke at 5 with the quarter moon shining in my eyes. so we got up, dressed (everything was fully packed), and hiked to the truck, retrieved it from the bowels of the other hotel parking garage, and drove to the storage unit as the sun was coming up. we loaded, then i made the boys run twice around the long storage building before getting into the truck. then we drove to a dunkin donuts nearby and got coffee and crap, and we were on the road at 8am.

it was during this leg of the drive when i first noticed individual peculiarities in the boys’ travel habits.  we practice three travel rules in our family (just ask the boys’ mother:  she hates this part).  eat when you can, pee when you can, sleep when you can.  because when you’re traveling you never know when you’ll get the chance.  avery takes forever in the bathroom.  i don’t know what he’s doing; preening in the mirror, probably.  connor is in and out, and i have no complaints about him, but he does love his soap and the electric dryers.  and kayden only pretends to pee and washes his hands like a dry martini (waving them over the faucet).  each time we would take a rest stop, we would be delayed for about 15 minutes while i waited for the boys to finish messing around where i couldn’t get to them.  and as soon as we got back on the road, kayden would tell me he had to go, urgently.  so i’d have to get off at the next exit.  and when we were on the pennsylvania turnpike, where you don’t just get off at the next exit but look for a rest area on the turnpike, we had to go an hour between rest areas, so finally we had to pull off at an emergency wide place in the road, which was horrific – our truck shook as the 18-wheelers roared by  – while the boy got out of the truck and went to pee over the guard rail.

it’s supposed to be a 4 hour drive from dc to pittsburgh. the campsite is only a little ways north of the city.  and tho we did stop twice, to let the boys run around, pee, gas up, and eat, and tho i took a wrong turn in the end and had to bushwhack cross country for a few miles to get to our destination, it was 4pm when we finally arrived. and we’d left at 8.  so that’s 8 hours on the road.  even with stops, we weren’t hanging around for 4 hours.  it’s just too much missing time to account for.  i think aliens might could be involved.

they work off the energy i need while i sit in the car and close my eyes for a few minutes

there were some really nice rest areas on our trip; whole acres of field where the boys could race

avery defines his space, connor rigs up his own wall

i’m sure there’d be a wall between them too, if they weren’t sharing a tablet

another rest area on the pa turnpike, with services.  and dogs

bushwhacking thru some old industrial mountain towns

connor messing with his spacer, excited to finally be at pennsic – that’s a sea of tents in the background

i couldn’t explain our lateness to dallas, who was anxiously waiting for us. we unloaded only the tent things from the truck, and unpacked the tent, but i couldn’t for the life of me remember how to set it up. others in the camp were unfamiliar with this kind of tent, so tho they tried, they couldn’t figure it out either.  it was a very frustrating hour that dallas and i and the boys and alan spent trying to get it going.

mainly, the boys stayed out of the way while we struggled with the tent, not shown

in the end, dallas pointed out that we still needed to go shopping, and the stores were going to close soon, and it was a 20 minute drive to the grocery store in the next town. also, there was an empty tent with an air mattress in it, and we could use it that night. so we abandoned the fruitless task and went out for food and ice, and when we came back we ate ravioli and some other canned something, and piled into a kind neighbor’s tent.

and as this is the end of the non-medieval part of our trip, i’ll stop here, and resume with our entry into medieval pennsylvania when i continue the post.

Posted by: jeanne | July 24, 2018

vacation with the boys

in what is being billed as the most complicated trip ever, this year’s exotic trip with the boys is a camping trip.  but not going to the beach camping, and not going to the georgia mountains camping, and not even going around iceland camping.  this time we’re going to western pennsylvania, and we’re camping as part of the 10,000 other people who are historical reenactors, all there to wear costumes and get drunk for ten days.  we’ll be there for a week.

please note: all photos with kind permission by george hunter at


we’ll start the trip with a visit to my friends emma and dallas’s place on the river in eastern tennessee.   emma’s sick, so we’re going to keep the visiting short.  we’ll camp the first night, then go tubing down the river the next afternoon.  after a pizza, we’ll crash, and then late that night we’ll get back on the road, and be on the outskirts of washington dc in time to go to breakfast with my mom, and see my brother mike’s family for awhile, before heading downtown for a couple of days, to visit some of the great free museums that are there.  in a hotel with a pool.  that’ll take from wednesday to saturday.


then a whole week in a tent with three boys, starting on sunday.  and after that, we pack up in the afternoon and drive off into the sunset, making a beeline back to atlanta, just in time for connor and avery to go back to school.  what could go wrong?


stored in our attic, there are two families’ and 30 years’ worth of camping equipment, and at this point i’ve been thru it all and tested everything we’re going to take.  except for a few things, which i’m sure will prove faulty now that it’s too late to get anything from amazon even with expedited shipping.

everything’s in bins and there’s a list i am still adding to, and i’m renting a pickup on wednesday and stuffing it full of stuff.  and if it won’t all fit, i can schlep it up to dallas and he’ll put it on his trailer.


the place we’re going is near slippery rock, pennsylvania.  it’s a campground across the road from moraine state park, and every year at this time it is stuffed full of medieval reenactment enthusiasts.  they use canvas tents.  they don’t have tvs and radios, or air conditioning or slipstreams.  they’re a bunch of nerds who are there for first hand experience with calligraphy and weaving and armored combat.  the event is called the pennsic wars, and the organization is called the society for creative anachronism, and it has a long history at this point.  i’ve known about them since my college days, but never got involved.  but for this year’s special trip with the boys (and because my friend dallas has been bugging me to go for years), i’m finally dragging my sorry butt out there and joining in.  i do it for the boys.


they’ve been in training for over 6 months now.  we got them taekwando armor and hockey helmets and bought them rattan swords and foam shields, and they’ve been learning swordplay.  but it hasn’t been play.  they’re not allowed to whack each other, can’t hit from the back, can’t even swing at someone else unless they’re fully armored and aware.  and hardest of all, they have to learn a light touch.  it’s not play.  they’ve gotten expert tutelage from knights and barons who’ve been out there whacking each other for years, and they’ve actually learned a thing or two from them.


one of the main reasons people go to pennsic is for the fighting.  i’ve been told the sight of 2000 armored fighters coming together in the first moments of a melee is something i will never forget.  i hope to get it on film.  and i’m taking the long lens, because 10,000 canvas tents and a hilly environment.

the boys are certainly looking forward to it.  the war proper doesn’t begin until the end of the first week – friday, but there are classes of all kinds in the five days we’ll be there before it.  the boys can do sword drills, but they can also go to fools’ school and learn how to do acrobatics and juggling, how to tell jokes, and things like that.  i can learn a bunch of things, as well.  knitting, weaving, dyeing with woad (french pastel).  i can help out in some large kitchen setup.  of course, duh, all of my time will be taken up with supervising the boys, because duh there’s no one else who’s going to do it.  and they must be watched.  i’ve already been warned that in our camp, people don’t get up until 10, so the boys are going to have to deal in the mornings, quietly and inside.

hahahah with no electronics because no electricity.  me keeping the computer charged enough to download and process photos, and write blog posts, is going to be some trick, even tho i’ve got a usb and electric plug charger.  but that will only be for 20 minutes at a time when i go to the grocery store or we go to moraine lake to go swimming.


i’m down to the last day before i get the truck and load up.  i have to make ice cream for jim, and transfer photos to a data stick so he can make paintings of france while i’m gone.  i have to finish  making 3 pairs of pants for connor, which is half done.  i have to repack to account for backpacks only when we get to dc, as well as camping when we get to tennessee – all of this means organizing the things we’ll need into separate bins kept in one spot in the bed of the truck.

because of the dimensions of the truck, which i had real trouble finding, i’m not going to  be able to fit 3 full size rolly bins.  so i’m already focused on there being storage space under the kids’ back seats, and that i can fill up that space and the area under their legs with all the soft goods – the tarps and sleeping bags and blankets and rugs.  i will more than likely be stopping to help fill dallas’s trailer.


we’re going to be offloading everything once we get to dc.  i’m putting it into mom’s storage; it’s a brilliant idea.  and then we can either park the truck at the hotel (omg $37 a day), or put it somewhere free in the suburbs and take the subway from there.  (or parking panda, a spot in the same hotel garage for $18 total.  hah)


we’ll take the subway anyway.  i’ve got bunches of subway cards from various trips from one airport to another.  and on friday everything depends on how well i’m handling having driven all night, whether the hotel will let us check in early so i can get a nap.  we could conceivably go to the zoo or a museum in the afternoon.  on saturday it’s a museum for sure.  the only question is:  natural history or air and space.  i might troupe them thru the hirshhorn’s sculpture garden.


Posted by: jeanne | July 17, 2018

what we thought of france

to sum up, we liked the south of france for its picturesque countrysides and ancient hillside towns, its real sense of history and a feeling that people have lived in the area in much the same way for half a million years. the landscapes are familiar to us – it’s very much like the appalachian mountains with rolling, very green hills, isolated patches of arable land, not overdeveloped and in places quite untouched.












we loved the little non-appalachian touches, avenues of plane trees hundreds of years old, extending for miles thru the middle of nowhere; riverside roads carved so deeply into the cliffs that we drove under the mountain to get around riverbends; medieval towns where we had to leave our car near the city walls and follow cobbled-over sheep paths up the hill.




like home, again, the weather was great for the beginning of summer, except you can never tell at the beginning of a season what it’s like to actually live thru the season. it’s pleasant enough at the start of summer in atlanta, after all. actually, the south of france had its rainiest spring for many years, and it was flooding downstream of the brown water in the lot, aveyron, and tarn rivers as we crisscrossed to and from ancient hilltop towns that all looked alike after a few days – steep, cobbly, half-timbered, photogenic, lookie that house is a vendre, with a romanesque church and a ruined-ish castle. and a view from heaven.

the food was great, needless to say. we ate out of the supermarkets, and it was amazing. not just cold cuts, but 5 different types of dried ham, specialty cheeses, the freshest bread possible, and what kind of wine will you have with your ham and cheese baguette madame? if only we’d brought checked luggage – the only drawback to backpacking is the 4oz liquid rule that says no jars of honey or pate or bottles of anything, no cans of pastel paint, no 2-liter grocery store cologne. next time, i promise.

the land varied from navigable rivers thru piedmont, with large market and commercial towns, to rolling hills with vineyards and cows and isolated cone-shaped hilltowns of gray walls and red clay rooftops, to towns glomming up a wide spot in the gorge and running mills with the rushing streams joining the river, to towns clinging like ivy on spurs jutting out of the side of limestone cliffs and hanging a thousand feet above the flood plain of the river.

could we live in one of those little bitty towns? i think we could. we could be happy with a town as small as 4000 (or 1100, or 800, or 500???), if it was on a train line or within a 10-minute taxi ride, with a supermarket and a school (got to have kids in a town), and a not-intolerably busy tourist trade (no tour buses). and it would have to be relatively flat.

so – that wipes cordes-sur-ceil and saint-cirq-la-popie right off the list, because both of them are insanely steep tourist traps.






but places like auvillar and lauzerte and najac and villaneuve and saint-antonin-noble-val bear considering, because they’re sleepy tho utterly charming, and walkable, with good transportation, and cafes and schools and art galleries.






larger towns like puy l’eveque and figeac and villefranche-de-rouergue have an old core and modern suburbs. these towns go up to around 10,000 people, with many more services, and they’re on a train line. they’re way picturesque, but not particularly arty or touristy because they’re city-center for their outskirts. they have potential.



tiny towns like penne d’agenais, penne sur aveyron, montcuq and bruniquel, capdenac-le-haut, castelnau-de-montmiral and puycelsi and lautrec are precious, with every turn a photogenic delight, but they’re maybe too small, a little too tribal. some of the smallest towns only had old people in them. one town’s only apparent cafe was for sale and empty.

penne d’agenais

SONY DSCpenne sur aveyron

montaigu du quercy



penne sur aveyron




we preferred towns where people (used to) make their living by crafts and agriculture, and tended not to like old industrial towns, like the the steel town fumel, the mining towns around figeac and the mills of labastide-rouiaroux.

then there were places that were just too big, but they had definite attractions that made them worth a visit. cahors, albi, castres, lavaur, gaillac. we would never want to live there.

moissac ( and labastide-rouiaroux are special cases. we liked both of them, but the first was very large and down in the lowest land and had lots of touristic interest, and the second was small and strung out along a mountain pass and only had the nature to draw tourists.

we’re going to have to look at lisle-sur-tarn when we go back, and further explore the middle area between moissac and castres and up to albi, where they grow corn and grapes and hills that are high enough to have towns on them are the exception. and yes explore the other tiny to small towns we didn’t go to this time farther into the national park (mountains). collect more jeanne d’arc photos.

we wouldn’t be looking to live in a place in the suburbs, or anything built within the last hundred years. we’d be looking for a house inside the old walls, meaning a townhouse both centuries old and recently renovated, probably with a spiral staircase of smoothly worn wood, meter-thick walls of stone and plaster, an enormous range hood in the kitchen, a clawfoot bathtub and a bidet, an attic and perhaps a barn or garage for studio space. and a terraced garden out back. if it had a shop window on street level, it would be a gallery or studio space, and if there were 4 or more bedrooms, we’d use it as an artist residency. we feel we’d be at a disadvantage in selling art, because the tourists in this region are all french, but we would get a kick out of providing cheap digs to artists looking to be somewhere scenic, so the house wouldn’t have to be on the main drag and we wouldn’t have to take credit cards in our gift shop. we’re getting too old for that, and it’s never been very interesting to either of us.

so, again to sum up, here’s a list

1. moissac – loved it, on the lowlands, canal du midi, tres tres chaude, via podiensis, 12470 pp, tarn-et-garonne
train to moissac


auvillar – artsy, plus beaux, via podiensis, 935 pp, tarn-et-garonne
train to valence d’agen, taxi to auvillar 8min


lauzerte – artsy, plus beaux, via podiensis, 1488 pp, tarn-et-garonne
train to moissac, taxi to lauzerte 25 min


penne d’agenais – liked, 2330 pp, tarn-et-garonne
train to penne


puy l’eveque – loved, 2213, lot
train to cahors bus 50 min


figeac – very lively, not very hilly, plus beaux, via podiensis, 9771, lot
train to figeac


villeneuve – charming with church and stonemason, not very hilly, 1952, aveyron
train to villeneuve (salles-courbatiers 2 hr, taxi to villeneuve 10 min)


najac – fairytale central square, plus beaux, 752 pp, aveyron
train to najac


saint-antonin-noble-val – lowlands, not as big as i’d thought, 1864 pp, tarn-et-garonne
train to lexos (15 min by taxi)


puycelsicute w/cafe, plus beaux, 509 pp, tarn
train to lisle-sur-tarn, taxi 25 min


Posted by: jeanne | June 19, 2018

paris to atlanta

our plan worked. we got up at 6:30, made ourselves coffee and ate our croissant slathered with even more good french butter, and then split for notre dame, which opened at 8. there was already a line – maybe ten people, and we were 20 minutes early, so we walked around to the back where the flying buttresses are, and took pictures.

from the street, it looked like wwii soldier climbing up and hauling a woman

we noticed modern looking statues climbing up the roof, and wondered whether we’d find out what they were (products of the master-renovator of the 19th century – violet le duc – whom some moderns have an issue with, as he was more fanciful than accurate). and then we went in. the nice security guard wanted to look in our bag, and i told him it was just our lunch, so he wished us bon appetit and let us thru.

since we couldn’t get a viewpoint on the entire church

no need at this point to say who this is

notre dame is very amazing. it’s by far the largest church we’ve been in, and the amount of work that went into it is daunting. mass was going on inside; it was fairly well attended; we could hear the people mumbling responses thru the priest’s microphone. we could also hear the chatter of the security guards over their walkie-talkies. and the clicking and whirring of camera shutters. we walked all around; i lit a couple of candles to saints with swords (st. george, st. jeanne), and managed to take some photos in the forbidden areas where you’re only supposed to pray (but my religion is art, jim protests).

and then we left the church.

there was still not much of a line, but we were surprised and pleased to see several wedding parties posing for photos in front of the church, and one woman dresses in medieval garb posing as well.

the couples were oriental; there are an awful lot of asian tourists in paris. we could see very dark clouds in the distance, and it was in the mid-60s, so jim put his rain jacket on and i wrapped my sweater tighter around me.

we walked down the quai to the musee d’orsay, our one museum.

we would have liked to go to the louvre, but one day won’t do it, and we hesitated because of the crowds we’d witnessed yesterday. we were 20 minutes early for the opening of the museum at 9:30, so we got in line, and were some of the first people inside.  we went to the top of the building – an old train station – and worked our way down.

the top is where they keep the impressionists, and we were very happy for 2 1/2 hours, wandering around a single floor, looking at the paintings and sculptures.

jim looked closely at every single painting and every single sculpture, and i got tired, so i sat in every single seat.

impressionism is our favorite period, and we were quite happy looking at originals we’d only seen reproductions of.

except that jim used to go to the impressionist museum every couple of weeks when he lived here back in ’59, so they were old friends.

back when he was here, the collection was across the river in the tuileries gardens, in a much smaller building. but it was more than we could see today.

we had a cup of coffee when we were most of the way thru the top floor – the museum had thoughtfully (cannily) put a cafe on every floor, so we paid the 5 euros a cup for two cafe creme, and sat there admiring the interesting decor.

the mirrored wall i want to copy

in fact, i went over to the mirrored wall and studied it, because it’s exactly what i want to do in the very dark soon-to-be-bedroom in the studio downstairs.

the post-impressionists were next, pointilism basically. they were interesting, but i think the impressionists made their point and then they overdid it. it’s just my opinion.

then, down on the 2nd floor, it was a mix of periods.

we saw some fine sculptures by rodin and others, and many many nice paintings by van gogh, and of the something school and the something else school.

how i felt

have you ever seen more demented children?

the humor of this daumier sculpture might not read well in this photo

and we got more tired every gallery.

the 19th century understanding of the 400,000 year old
inhabitants of france

but we went thru the art deco galleries, where they had lots of furniture (why don’t they make things like this anymore? why is ikea so popular?)

we slept here.  sure we did.  and gave the hotel full ratings, except for the noise

daumier sculptures.  who knew? 

after that we picked and chose among the galleries on the first floor – monet, manet, degas’ early stuff, millet.

and then we’d had enough.

we’d spent five hours looking at art. it was interesting to see what people 100 years ago thought of life. now that i’m old, and have been in a part of the country where 400,000 years is yesterday, i have a lot more trouble seeing the impressionists and their era as anything but modern. i have trouble thinking the 13th century was very long ago. but maybe that was my exhaustion.

i was wrung dry, and the camera battery was critically low.

we went across the river to the tuileries. both of us had fond memories of our time in the gardens some 45 years and 60 years ago. the gardens hadn’t changed since we’d been there, but the rest of paris was way more crowded than either of us remembered, and judging by the paintings of a hundred+ years ago, it was immeasurably more crowded than it was then.

the weather had completely cleared up, and it was now hot in the sun. we found a nice place in the shade, and out came the sandwiches i’d made that morning. we ate there, resting our tired feet, and then moseyed over to an english language bookstore.

the french game of boules.  not just for old men anymore

we’d been in a bookstore last night, but it had one wall of english language books, and the selection was rather sparse. this time we went to a w.h.smith shop, and the books in french were limited to one wall, with the rest of the space taken up by books we could actually read. because jim finished his book yesterday, we had an urgent need for another one, so he would have something to do on the plane – no inflight entertainment on wow airlines. and it took awhile for him to find something – while i rested on the single chair until he found it.

black berets this time.  machine guns

art students and bulls with winkies

and then we were back walking thru the tuileries to the square in the middle of the louvre complex, and we could see that the crowds waiting to get in were immense, so we congratulated ourselves yet again.

the louvre (one wing of), with massive great ravens all over the place

the glare on the white gravel surface was blinding, and i wished for my sunglasses. but we crossed over the river and were then in the shade of the buildings, and making our way to the grocery store.

our immediate neighborhood.  it was like this from the time the chairs were set up in the morning until after midnight

we stopped at the same patisserie for croissants for the morning, and got some salmon for dinner, and came back to the flat to have a nap. we were awakened by a french woman coming to visit her friends for dinner across the courtyard from us. this woman just couldn’t shut up, and she whined the whole time, so we got up and started our evening. jim was reading his new novel, i was writing this, and soon i went to start dinner – leftovers, plus salad and salmon with the rest of the half bottle of wine i was optimistic i could finish in two days.

it was a lovely stopover in paris. the obnoxiousness of the friday night crowds was tempered by the fairly sleepy saturday morning, and the low-key enjoyment of the many hundreds of people in the garden, and we took back streets and walked down along the lower walk by the river, and generally kept to ourselves.

the idea of sitting in a cafe by the cars and foot traffic never tempted us at all, and we’re very glad we were staying in a courtyard away from the street, because except for the whining and the pop music, it was blissfully quiet there.

this morning we got up early again. we put the apartment back in order, left the keys under the mat, and headed for the st michel metro stop, because there had been some sort of announcement in the station, when were were coming from the airport, about the odeon line not running until 10am. but what happened was that there was a wildcat strike on the rer-b line to the airport, and we had to get off at gare du nord and change trains. but we didn’t know this, so when the train started moving backwards after gare du nord, i knew something was wrong. i asked a passenger, who spoke in rapid french, and told me what to do. i’m amazed i got the jist. and there were signs at the station we’d just left when we returned to it. so we got on the right train. which was very crowded, with loads of luggage piled everywhere.

we squoze in next to a florid looking guy, and settled in for the trip. and then jim said something, and the guy immediately commented that he would never have pegged us for americans. we’d gotten that a lot since coming to france. jim has the only beard-and-beret combination around, and children stared, young people moved aside for us, and even old ladies smiled as they passed him. the florid guy was from toronto, and had been chasing his daughter around europe. she was here for three months, and he decided to come visit, but when he landed in paris she was in barcelona, so he went there, and then she was in berlin, so he would have gone there too, but she’d gotten sick and just went home. so there he was, still not having caught up with his daughter, remembering france as he knew it 30 years ago, and marveling, as we did, that it had changed so much.

it’s gotten more american, i’m afraid. starbucks. mcdonalds. blue jeans. showers instead of bidets. i didn’t much like paris, either. it’s too big, crowded, rude, noisy, dirty (even tho they sweep the streets every morning and open the water valves to flush the gutters as well). maybe i’ve covered it all. oh yes, the water is flat and tasteless – lifeless after the mountain water in the south of france.

we got to the gate with 2 hours to spare, and i went to the duty free to see about getting allison some perfume, but it was a small duty free, and the large one is in terminal 2, and there just wasn’t time. so we sat there and read, and jim nodded off. but we’re in midair at the moment, and he’s sleeping well, and i’ve massaged all the photos and am ready to find a wifi connection and post this entry. it’s a brand new airbus 330, it’s kept at a very cold temperature which we can’t adjust, and we’re over the wing in the middle of the plane. i had chosen window seats, as ever, but they switched us and i forgot to ask at checkin. the plane’s mostly full, anyway. we’ll see if i can change our seat assignments for the second leg to bwi, because i’ll go nuts with nothing to stick my head out and look at. but for now i’m about to start a new book, having ploughed thru the one i brought, and soon we’ll have the rest of the wonderful french yogurt we managed to smuggle past security. then we have a bare hour between connections, and i have to get sandwiches and go to the duty free at keflavik.

we’re home now.  there’s nothing much to report about that.  we slept at mikie’s house (thanks guys), and drove home monday morning, and we’re home now, picking up the pieces and getting used to this horrible hot weather.  and it’s not even solstice yet.  99 hellacious degrees.  can we go back to europe yet?  can we go to iceland now?

Posted by: jeanne | June 16, 2018

lavaur to paris

we had our little nap in lavaur – it’s our first actual conventional hotel, and it feels so heartless compared to all the old, quirky, shabby places we have stayed in.

and after our nap, we went out to see the old town center (not much there, all closed, even tho an old monastery with church, and a huge medieval church). this is another large town with little character, and perhaps people even commute to toulouse from here.

we passed all the places to eat, and found the prices much the same. most of these places were on the ring road around the old walls, and there was lots of traffic. and the pub les americains had lots of people watching sports, and no food, even tho they advertised it. so we returned to our hotel, where there was also a restaurant.

jim wasn’t even hungry, because we’d just had lunch a couple of hours ago, so i got a salad with smoked salmon, poached salmon, and shrimp. i ordered that, and the waiter said and…? i asked how large the salad was, and he spread his hands, so i said and nothing, and jim helped me eat the fish. but we couldn’t resist the creme brulee, so we split one, and then went up to the room, where i opened the windows wide and started in on the narrative of the day.

we went to sleep before it was dark. because of the open windows, we could hear everything on the street. damned fast driving they do here in these towns. very narrow streets, and they’re gunning it. but nobody stays up all night here, so by 12 it was mostly quiet. we were close enough to the ring road that there was traffic all night, but infrequent, and it didn’t bother jim at all.

however. we both slept fitfully. we were both nervous about flying out in the morning. would we make it in traffic? would we have to fruitlessly argue with the car company about how much they would charge us? would that make us late for our plane? so we both tossed and turned. now, this is the usual way of things for me, right before traveling. but usually jim sleeps the sleep of the just. so we were up half an hour before the first alarm went off.

breakfast was rushed, i adjusted the settings on the gps not to avoid motorways and toll roads, and we got into morning rush hour traffic right there in lavaur. but the cars mostly turned north toward montauban when we hit the autoroute, surprisingly. maybe they commute to montauban rather than toulouse?

it took about an hour to get to the airport, which is 50km from lavaur. it should take about half that time, but that’s rush hour for you. once we got there, i had to do a bit of tricky maneuvering to get to the gas station on the motorway, and then got lost again trying to find the car return area. it seems to be a thing in toulouse. but that’s the last of the rental cars on this trip.

when we parked the car at the return office, i ran in and told the attendant that there was a scratch on the car, and took a picture of it because she said she was going to do the same thing. but she looked at the rental paper where the previous damage had been noted, and sure enough there was the scratch, indicated already. so there was no charge at all, and we skated, paying $100 for a week’s rental instead of $400 for full insurance. however, the peace of mind i sacrificed for a cheaper car definitely wore me down.

going in thru the airport doors, we saw some special forces guys with machine guns and cammo, and sure enough there were their red berets. jim’s is now black, and mine/his is a girl’s cap anyway, and back home nobody’s going to know. we did notice that everybody but the very oldest people wear jeans, and nobody at all wears a beret (except the army guys). just the same way that there were no bidets at all in any of the places we stayed, but every place had a modern, glass lined shower stall. what’s this world coming to?

we got thru security and to the gate with over an hour to spare, just the way we like it. i pulled out our books and we read until they called the passengers, and then got on last just to be lazy about it. and now we’re descending into paris already, having flown above the clouds the entire way. it’s been a very rainy summer here so far, and for several days it’s been flooding around bordeaux, which we could have guessed given the very brown and swollen rivers we’d crossed since we’ve been here. we have avoided all but the lightest rain on our trip, and the weather has been cool, so we consider ourselves very lucky. i just checked the weather in atlanta, and it’s up near 100f, which is horrifying. we wish to be stranded in reykjavik for a few months, until the fall arrives in the southeast…

hey, i can see our place from here

okay, we’re in paris, and we’re sitting on the terrace of a typical paris apartment (read: small). the flight was easy, and getting into paris from the airport was also easy. there was an enormous line for tickets, but then some helpful guy said the line was for credit card only, and if you had cash, you should go over there. so we went, and the line was much shorter, but still it was half an hour before we got to the ticket machine, and then we found that it only took credit cards!

we both nodded off on the train into paris. a woman came thru, handing out cards to say she was homeless with 2 young children, and she sang an out of tune song in our car. so we gave her two euro, and she got off and went to the next car down when we reached the next stop. we haven’t seen homeless beggars before in france.

we got off the train for a subway, and had to walk forever, but we both remember the paris subway system – the most complicated in the world – so it was okay. when we emerged into the daylight, we were at odeon, in the saint germain des pres quarter, and it was just gone 1pm. it was crowded, very lively, extremely busy. too busy, too noisy. and being tourists, we disappeared into the landscape, where everybody is a tourist. we must have heard 10 different languages in the blocks we walked.

it was too late in the day to go to a museum, so we walked up to notre dame. jim lived in paris in 1959-60, and i have visited several times, in 1969, in ’72, and in 1996 when allison and i traveled from barcelona to amsterdam and had to walk from one train station to the other. paris was not as crowded in any of those years as it is now. we walked down to the pont neuf and then along the ile de la cite until we got to notre dam. jim was remembering his time here, i was dodging tourists.

when we got to notre dam, he told me that he’d never been inside, so i was about to insist, but then we noticed the line. the line to get into notre dame stretched from the right hand door, all the way to the end of the place in front of the church, and then doubled back on itself all the way to the left hand door.

it was a good hour’s worth of line, and people were being patient in the hot sun, pausing at the halfway mark to take selfies with the church in the background. we sat on a wall and watched them for awhile. it’ll be as close as we get, i’m afraid. it really is a lovely old church inside, and the rose window is not to be missed. except we’ll be missing it unless we take in sunday mass when the tourists aren’t allowed in. we’ll see.

we were getting tired, so we walked back toward our little parisian flat. i’d done some searching, and knew where there was a carrefour grocery store in st germain, so we went there, and got some nice things for dinner – a head of lettuce and a bottle of dressing, some ravioli, some lamb chops, a half bottle of wine (i’m a lightweight and jim doesn’t drink at all), and then the usual for tomorrow – bread, cheese, ham, and some yogurt. we also got coffee and milk because we’re not going out until we’ve had our coffee. we will have to find a patisserie in the morning so we can get our ambulatory croissant.

now we’re back at the apartment. i’ve made dinner, we’ve eaten, and now jim is finishing his book. i’ve already looked up the english language bookstores in st. germain. now i have to look up the opening hours of the musee d’orsay, because we’re going to haunt that in the morning, before the crowds. we’re afraid to go to the louvre, based on that line at notre dame. but i’ve checked it out. notre dame opens at 8, the museum doesn’t open until 9:30. we can do both. we’ll let you know.

Posted by: jeanne | June 15, 2018

labastide-rouiaroux to lavaur

the days just keep getting shorter and shorter. 80 photos today. we’ve run out of steam, and are very glad that we’re leaving for paris tomorrow. we set the alarm for 8 this morning, only so i could process the photos for our post of yesterday’s travel. i was surprised to see that it takes me an hour to do; i’d never measured it before, but i had the second alarm set for 9. i would have stayed in bed for another little sleep, because it was so nice and quiet at the back of the hotel, but i’d had this dream about the enemy swarming over the pass in jets and we the townspeople having to retreat to the limestone caverns and tunnels, and then monitoring the resistance via internet and spying on peoples’ emails.

jim read while i messed with the photos, and then we went down to breakfast; our hosts had a bunch of store-bought cakes in a basket, and two halves of a freshly-warmed baguette. it was difficult for jim to crunch thru the crust until i persuaded him to dip his bread into his hot chocolate.

it was very windy again this morning. we loaded our stuff into the car, which i had moved in the evening so it wouldn’t be rammed by one of the huge trucks that ply these roads between the mediterranean and toulouse. we were parked the outside of a curve, and i was very nervous about it. we had time to go to the one weekly market that we’ve managed to schedule alongside our stays; this one was in a covered building – salle des fetes – and so we went inside to find a bunch of trucks parked inside the building, the sides opening out into shop windows and display cases. we walked around and i directed jim to a cheese truck, where we got a piece of goat cheese for lunch.

then it was time to go meet our one and only real estate agent, an englishman named clive, who has lived in the area for years, and has single-handedly taken on the job of enticing foreigners to the area to settle. labastide being such a sleepy little town, we wondered if it were possible, but he showed us several nice properties that had been bought up by english-speakers, and assured us there were loads of brits around buying up second homes, and basically countered all the wisdom we’d been collecting from the people we stayed with. so we’ll have to see about that.

on our little tour clive showed us to an impressive pile we’d stopped at last night. it had been snapped up by an englishman for $120k, and he was busy putting the $200k needed into its renovation. the guy was there and asked if i wanted a quick look, so i took him up on it, and while he and clive chatted, i ran in with jim. according to jim, our house looked much like it inside when the family first bought it. just not as big, or in stone, i suppose.

clive showed us one house; we’d been hoping to see the inside of something so we’d know what we were looking at. it’s an art-deco house, and two little old ladies who are now in nursing homes own it, and it was going for under $100k with only surface work to be done on it. of course, it won’t be there when we are ready to do anything, so it’s only an example, but it was good to see.

and then we were off. it was just gone noon, and everything closed for lunch. including the grocery stores. we thought it was funny. a bakery was open across from the shop, so we got bread. all we needed was meat, so we stopped next after mazamet, where there was a hypermarket, france’s version of a super walmart, i guess. there was so much choice. washing machines and refrigerators cost about what they do at home, by the way. we got some ham, and got back in the car for our next destination.

which was a tiny little place called viviers-les-montagnes, which we only decided to visit as the hill appeared off to one side of the road. so up we went, found a place to park, and wandered around looking. the church was closed. the chateau was a private home. there were no shops. so, that was quick. jim tried to stop and pee in the bushes, but it was at the back of someone’s house, right next to a shrine, and beside an ancient church. i nixed that and made him pee in some other bushes…

and then to puylaurens, whose claim to fame was that it was the site of the inquisition, instituted to root out those heretic cathars back in the 1200s. and then a protestant stronghold a couple of hundred years after that. we took our food to the park in the town square, and ate in the shade, then wandered up and down the streets and back to our car.

a protestant house in puylaurens.  looks just like everyone else

i don’t know how many pictures i took today, but we’re already at lavaur, a medium sized town within driving disance of the airport, where we are supposed to get on a 10am flight to paris in the morning. we’re exhausted, and don’t want to walk around the city until we’ve had a nap, but reception in our hotel doesn’t open until 5:30, giving us an hour.

i turned around the put the bags back in the car while jim sat down at a table outside the hotel, and then i brought back his book and my computer so i could jot the day’s events down. of course, i left the cables in the car, so i can’t consult the photos, but that’s okay, because i’ve been marking my phone with where we’ve stopped (partly so i can find the car when we get lost).

so that’s it. we’ll wander after they let us in and we get a nap, then we’ll get something light to eat, and go to bed.  ok.  after our nap, we wandered.  we found the big church right away, and went in just as the bells were ringing.  if you look really carefully at the bottom of the picture below, you can see the 3 people there to say mass.  they’ve totally lost the younger generations here.

can’t escape.  so far we’ve seen jim’s spitting image, my name and figure everywhere in churches and on street signs, and now allison

another masterpiece of le moyen age.  but it was closed

Posted by: jeanne | June 14, 2018

gaillac to labastide-rouiaroux

today was a very light day – only 235 photos. one of those days recently we took 800.

we fled from gaillac as soon as we finished breakfast. albi was only 20 some-odd kilometers away, so we went there right away. it’s a very large city, like gaillac, but it was much nicer, and we didn’t feel like we might be mugged at any moment. it had lots of innocent schoolchildren going home for lunch, and pedestrian streets in the center of the old town.

back to flat land

and it has the largest brick-built cathedral in the world. so how could we not go in? it was so magnificant that we even paid to get into the choir area. actually, we balked at paying 5 euro each, and didn’t want the guided tour (an audio player), and the nice young man said we could go in for half price, so we did.  jim remarked that it was funny how they would bargain in a catholic church, and i reminded him that there was a long precedent of doing just that.

how they built the cathedral

we couldn’t believe the intricacy of the carving, and argued among ourselves whether it was stone or wood. the surface of the walls was plaster covered brick, and every square inch had been painted, and/or was in the process of renovation.

after that, we went to the toulouse-lautrec museum, and they wanted 9 euro apiece to go in. but there was only half an hour left before they closed for lunch, so we laughed out loud at that and turned around and left.

we found a nice bakery nearby, and got ourselves a sandwich, and then walked the many blocks back to where we’d parked our car for free. the city is very large, and there was a lot of traffic, so we consider it too big for our purposes. but we liked it, all the same.

altho it was only 1pm, jim was very tired, while i was fine compared to yesterday. so we set the gps for castres, and diverted to lautrec when we saw the sign.

another medieval city, this time on the saddle between heights, rather than on top of a hill. we came across a shop where everything was the same light blue shade. this is the region of ‘pastel’, which is what the french call woad blue, or indigo blue. it only grows in this region, and it’s a big tourist thing. we wanted to get some actual plant material so we could use it at home, but the guy in the shop insisted that it was too technical, and any tourists that bought some brought it back and complained, so there was none available to buy. so we bought allison some more soap, instead.

there was a windmill at the top of this town, quite unusual from what we’ve seen. the wind was way up today, and the skies were fair, so we sat in the shade near the windmill and ate our ham and brie sandwich, and then pushed on.

jim peed in the bushes, but i waited for the public wc, and it was one of those squat and aim types of bathrooms. some english tourists who came along after i did were a bit too fastidious to use it, but i didn’t care. it was else that or the bushes…

the ladies’

then we went to castres, another big town, found the goya museum, and spend an hour inside, looking at all the wonderful paintings to be seen. and then jim was very tired, so we went on.

goya’s self portrait

armor with faces?  the helm, the breastplate, even the knees

we had to backtrack to get this shot, and jim hoped it was worth it, so i put it here so everyone can see it

the first real mountains we have seen, and we headed right into them

we got to labastide-rouiaroux, one of our major contenders, because there is a lot for sale, and it’s quite cheap compared to the other places we’ve seen. that’s because the character of the town is completely different. it’s not a circular town, and it’s not on a hill. it’s on a main road to the mediterranean, and it’s in between mountains, and it’s a former industrial town that is very sleepy (dilapidated) now.

which is too bad. we are staying at practically the only hotel in town, and our hosts bernard and dominique are wonderful. he’s a great cook, and they made us a wonderful dinner – jim had a tornedo of beef, and i had some smoked duck (they smoked it themselves). aperatif, appetizers, wine, the main course, and creme brulee. we’d warned them we weren’t very hungry – we usually split one dish between us – but they fed us a lot anyway, and we ate most of it.

then we went for a walk while it got dark around us.

decorative slate walls, only in the montagne noire

we found a lovely old pile that someone has recently bought and is beginning to fix up, and a similar house set back amid a garden that looks much newer. while we were drooling over the old pile, a van of workmen pulled up and offered to paint it for us, supposing we’d bought it. we told them were were poor artists, but they still gave us their card.

mostly it seems to be an empty town. lots of ‘a vendre’ signs up, some with prices (50k means they’ll take 25). but the town is almost sad. there are murals in places, but they date back to the ’80s. and several restaurants out of business. not a good sign. we’ll meet with a local real estate agent tomorrow morning, after we see what the local weekly market is like, and we’ll have a much better idea of what’s going on here.

but now it’s 10pm, and we’re both exhausted. we’re getting up way late in the morning – 9:00 – so it’s appropriate because it’ll be our last day here. it’s been very fast. i’m going to need some recovery time when we finally get home, almost a week from now.

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