A conversation Karl had recently with a co-worker:

K: So, Rob, at what point in a marriage do you completely understand your wife, knowing what she means and why she does things? Year two? It's year two, isn't it?

R: Yeah, Karl. Year two.

K: That's what I thought.


I'm writing this from Concord, Massachusetts, where we're indulging in our one "splurge night" hotel. After last night, the beautiful surroundings are very appreciated! But first things first...

Maine was beautiful. After we landed in Portland, we rented our car and drove up the coast to Freeport. Mom had read about a little old-fashioned "motor lodge" with individual cabins called the Maine Idyll Motor Inn, so we went there first to try and get a cabin. When we pulled in the "no vacancy" sign was on, but something told me we should at least ask, so we parked the car and went into the office. Tracy, who was running the desk, told us they had been sold out for months (a wedding party had rented the entire place) but she'd just discovered one couple's names down for two different cabins, and if we wanted to wait a few minutes while she solved the mystery, we might be in luck. We waited, she solved, and after about twenty minutes of phone calls and Tracy running out to check both cabins while we chatted with the owner (grandson of the man who had built the place in 1923), we had the key to Cabin 11 and a warm welcome. The place reminded me of all the little motor inns from "It Happened One Night" with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert; there was romance and adventure and charm everywhere. I especially loved the poems written by an ancestress of the owner and Friends minister tacked on the walls of the cabin, lovely little old-fashioned verses about family and friends and trusting in God. We lit a fire, made hot chocolate on the little hot plate and popcorn in the microwave, and sat up talking until very late. It was a wonderful start to the adventure.

The second day we left Freeport to drive up to Bar Harbor and see Acadia National Park on Mt Desert Island. Seeing how connected most people there are to the ocean was fascinating - from the boats at almost every house to the lobster "pounds" by the side of the road, there was an absolute sense of being aware of the rhythms of the season and the sea. There is something so valuable in such a life - I think maybe it makes you more consciously aware of a dependence on God, and on our connection to the earth. I feel the need for more of this connection in my own life, which is what makes me long for a garden to grow my own herbs and vegetables, or a place to walk away from buildings and city where the small, subtle changes of each week and month can be noticed and celebrated as the year goes on. Acadia was majestic and rugged, proud and beautiful. It was gray and 0vercast, which actually made it all feel somewhat mystical. The fog kept descending lower and lower as we made our way around the island, and when we stopped for tea and popovers at Jordan Pond, it was hard to see much beyond the green of the trees. We felt almost as if we had found our way into an enchanted forest, that there was something wild and magical around us. We stayed in another small cottage that night, right on the shore where we watched the tide come in and go out.

The third day we intended to drive across the state line to the New Hampshire lakes region, staying in one of the little towns around Lake Winnipesauke or Squam Lake. It rained the entire way there, which always makes driving a little more stressful, and when we got there we realized that the guidebook description of "quaint little town" really meant "TINY little town." Nothing jumped out at us for a place to stay, so we kept driving... and eventually decided to head down to Concord, NH. By the time we got there it was early evening, and we soon found out that a NASCAR race was only a few miles away and every hotel for quite a ways was completely full. We kept driving south, eventually deciding to head to Portsmouth. There was nothing available anywhere we checked (in addition to the car race, there was a bike race, a car show, and the beginnings of fall foliage season we were unwittingly competing with). At nearly ten o'clock, we saw a little motor court with a vacancy sign, pulled in, and grabbed one of two remaining rooms. The place was probably built in the '50s, and I'm sure the mattresses hadn't been replaced since then (along with most of the other furniture). Everything had that funny smell you find where old people live, the heat didn't work, and we were sharing the room with at least two fairly impressive spider webs. It was NOT the best night's sleep I've ever had.

This morning we headed out to explore Portsmouth, and did a self-paced walking tour of the downtown and waterfront area. We had breakfast at a a quirky, creative and very delicious place called "Friendly Toast," where we shared pumpkin pancakes and scrambled eggs with feta, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives. As we were walking around they were setting up for the bike race; we were too early for the adult competitive race but did get to see the kids racing - there were a couple who were really determined and pedaling their little legs as fast as they could, and it was fun to cheer them all on. We drove down to Hampton Beach, which is a 1940's era seaside amusement center, with fried dough (or "fried doe," according to the signs) stands, arcade games, sand and ramshackle summer rentals on the ocean. It was so easy to imagine sailors from the nearby Porstmouth Naval facility taking their current sweethearts out for a good time on the boardwalk, buying corndogs and ice slush drinks and winning stuffed animals or having their fortunes told.

We left New Hampshire and drove down to Concord, Massachusetts this afternoon, getting a room at the Colonial Inn, built in 1716 and where Thoreau, FDR, J.P. Morgan, and others have stayed. We used the late afternoon sunlight to explore Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, looking at the graves on "Author's Ridge" and in the other corners of the hill-covered place. We're looking forward to sleeping in our pretty little room tonight, which feels safe and warm compared to last night. Tomorrow we'll head out to see the other sights here in Concord and nearby Lexington, before driving down for a day or so in Cape Cod and then circling up to Boston. So far, it's been a great adventure -it's been so good to have the time to talk and just be together. I love New England, and keep talking about future vacations here, or eventual retirement locations, or places to move to when I make it as a writer and can live anywhere I want. It's beautiful, and seems to be calling to something in my heart... and seeing all this with Mom has been just perfect.

vip treatment

Right now I'm sitting in my office looking out the window at the sun shining on the leaves of the tree outside, and my mother is in an airplane on her way here. She should land in less than an hour, and we'll start our trip tomorrow morning. Yesterday I went through my usual pre-visitor frenzied cleaning session, while my patient husband calmly asked for instructions and helped wherever needed (even if he doesn't get the purpose of such a ritual). It took a while, but I made it through my whole list - moving some boxes and random things-we're-keeping-but-have-no-space-for into the tiny storage bin we rent, washing and folding a load of laundry, making that wonderful Barefoot Contessa Chinese Chicken Salad for dinner tonight, dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, getting the guest room/"Karl's Cave" ready for Mom, and all the other general straightening up and organizing that needed to be done. Karl complimented me today on being "less crazy" than usual, and I know what he meant: most of our guests are there to see us and spend time together, not to inspect my house. Making myself (and him) crazy by stressing over getting every detail perfect isn't really a good trade-off. As I've thought about it, though, I've decided that cleaning and preparing everything like I do is my way of saying "I love you, and I'm so glad you're here. You're important to me." It's a way of showing respect, and of doing what I can to make guests feel welcomed. And for me, that's worth all the beforehand preparation. (Although I will try to minimize the pain and aggravation for Karl.)


In three days, my mom and I will be hitting the road for a long-awaited adventure together. We'd originally planned to go to England - a place she's never been and always wanted to visit, but with the flooding there and her doctors' concerns about the long plane ride and her being so far away, we decided to make it New England instead. Neither of us have ever spent much time in that part of the country, and the beginnings of autumn seem the perfect time to go (I'm hoping for some of that famous color). We're leaving Thursday to fly into Portland, Maine, then renting a car and driving around through Maine, New Hampshire, and down into Massachusetts, spending a few days in Boston before taking the train back to D.C next Friday. We're planning to go hiking, eat good food, explore the coastline and countryside, shop (or at least window shop), maybe see a show, take lots of pictures and talk even more.

My mom has been my best friend my whole life. Even in the midst of teenage angst and drama, she was my sounding board, my touch stone, and my confidante. I'm not sure if it's because I'm the oldest (and therefore the closest thing to adult companionship she had while at home with all of us), or if it's because her own mom lost her battle with breast cancer when Mom was 16, or if it's just how well our personalities seem to mesh and compliment each other, but our relationship has always been something special. In high school, she became a speech and debate judge when I was competing, so we'd travel together to and from meets all across the state - it got to the point where the entire team called her "Mom" and looked for her encouragement and support, but I was the one who would quietly make my way up to her seat at the front of the bus on the way home to lean my head on her shoulder and talk about the day. When our interest in sign language and interpreting grew, she and I decided to begin an associate's degree program in interpreter preparation at the local community college, attending evening classes during my senior year of high school and then moving to full-time the next year. The rest of the students in the class nick-named us "twin" (me) and "twin-mom" (her) because of how much we were together. The hardest thing for me about growing up and flying away from home has been being far away from her. Especially now.

For the last three years, my mother has been battling ovarian cancer. She's just completing her second round of chemotherapy (after a period of remission) and the doctors are optimistic about "controlling" it for the near future - but there's an aspect of uncertainty about the future in these post-diagnosis days that may have always been there, but is now undeniable, constant, forceful. It's such a strange thing... even when I'm not consciously thinking about the disease, or what's happening, or what may lie ahead, it's still there somehow in the back of my thoughts. This shouldn't have been such a drastic change for me - really, we never know what the future has for us, what God has planned, how things will work out or when or why - all we can do is hold on to Him and believe in His love. But nothing had smashed into my world before this to make me so aware of that. The blessing this cancer has given me is a consciousness about what is valuable and precious, and a sense of gratitude for every day we have. It's forced me to trust God more, to hold on even tighter to those promises. And it's shown me just how dear my mother is to me.

These next two weeks are about making memories, about talking and sharing and spending time with each other. About affirmation and love, family and friendship. And about hope.