Sleeping Outside

sleeping bag funWhen my big sister Nan and I were simple kids living in a house thick with ancient relatives, we yearned for that rare occasion when we got to sleep outside.

We never did that in our own yard, so small it could hardly fit its in-ground garbage can and its creaky old clothesline. But oh when we went to visit our cousins in West Roxbury!

There were no trolley cars screeching past the end of their street. There were no alleys between brick buildings like the one we had with its revolving store of interesting things, bits of brightly colored glass, a discarded lady’s scarf, and once, for a thrilling six-week period, the remains of a small dead animal, flat as an envelope.

Their neighborhood felt like the neighborhood we saw on Leave it to Beaver. Their mom wore an actual apron. They had a real screened-in porch, and we could roller skate as much as we liked along smooth sidewalks.

And best of all I would get to “camp out.” Nan would do other, older things with the other, older cousins but I was always matched with cousin Mary Lou, who was closest to me in age, and boy did Mary Lou know how to have fun. For our big campouts she would fashion a little tent for us, expertly pounding its pegs into the grass. She would produce real sleeping bags, the old-fashioned kind, made of cotton and lined with plaid flannel.

There, as evening gathered in, we would feast gloriously on Franco American spaghetti heated up over small cans of Sterno and lie back in that soft grass, telling ghost stories and waiting for the stars

It was heaven. And I believe I remember it today because last week I came upon a passage I had copied out just 20 years ago from T.H. White’s wonderful bThe Once and Future King. 

The passage goes like this:

The boy slept well in a woodland nest when he laid himself down, in that kind of thin but refreshing sleep, which people have when they begin to lie out-of-doors.

At first he only dipped below the surface of sleep and skimmed along like a salmon in shallow water so close to the surface that he fancied himself in air. He saw himself awake when he was already asleep.

He saw the stars above his face, whirling on their silent and sleepless axis and the leaves of the trees rustling against them, and he heard small changes in the grass. These little noises the footsteps and soft-fringed wing beats and stealthy bellies drawn over the grass blades or rattling against the bracken at first frightened but interested him so that he no longer cared to see what they were but trusted them to be themselves, and finally left them all together as he swam down deeper and deeper, nuzzling into the scented turf, into the unending waters under the earth.

Perhaps it was the part about trust that moved me to copy this out in the summer of ’96. Anyway, it’s the part that moves me now. And tonight when the darkness gathers, I want to look up at the still-swollen moon and those steady stars and remember to trust more; to trust, as Lincoln said in his farewell to the people in Springfield, that all may yet be well.    

sleeping in the woods (1)



Posted by on July 20, 2016 in hope


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On the Starship Colonoscopy

colonoscopy fearsSit with any group of 50-somethings long enough and sooner or later the talk will turn to the various strategies for getting through the  colonoscopy prep.This regimen, in case there are small pockets of the population who have not heard, involves the drinking of eight 8-ounce glasses of a thick chalky cocktail, at 15-minute intervals, until the entire 64-ounce pitcher has been drained.

That’s a gallon of gritty sludge, downed within the space of just two hours.

As one who was recently contemplating her own date with destiny, I consulted my 900 stranger-friends on Facebook for advice on how best to approach the ordeal.

“Make the drink as cold as you can!” many said. “Use a straw!” advised a second faction. “Skip the straw and just fire it down!” counseled a third group.

I had used all three techniques by the time I was finished, and let me just say I wasn’t exactly yodeling out a Julia-Child-like “Bon Appetit!” with each glass.

But as unpleasant as the prep is, everything turns rosy when, in your hospital gown and booties, you are escorted into the hospital’s ‘scope suite, where you all at once feel like a guest on board the Starship Enterprise, with the many uniformed crew members circling and circling as they tend and monitor.

You are ushered to a gurney where, alongside 15 or 20 other pre- and post-procedure folk, you stretch out like so many limp strips of bacon.

Someone comes and covers you with a warm blanket.

Then a cheerful medical professional in a pirate-like headscarf comes along to take your vital signs. His hands make a sort of Sign of the Cross as they move from your left arm to your forehead to your chest and then over to your right hand. This is where the needle goes to deliver the I-love-everything drug that cancels all fears. You will then discover another cheery young crew member sitting inches away and peering into a monitor that offers a minute-by-minute account of what’s happening inside you. You feel like the coolest guest at the dinner party. Everyone finds you so interesting!

At last you are wheeled into the operatory for the “periscope up” procedure that has brought you here. A neat slice of time is cut from your life, and the next thing you know you’re back in Mission Control with your fellow strips of bacon.

After a woozy interval, the doctor materializes and, with a somber clergyperson’s air, tells you how things looked. He dematerializes again and you yawn.

Somebody brings you a snack of juice and crackers.

You yawn again and have a little snooze. It’s like being in pre-school again, but without the singing.

In short, it is Heaven and you  have come through. you have been seen, and accepted for who you are. And when you depart, you depart smiling, with a strange but unmistakable sense of blessing, and bits of graham cracker crumb still clinging to your lips.




Posted by on July 12, 2016 in health, humor


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Crazy Fun

archer has funYou’ve got to love a holiday! We’re here on this Glorious Fourth eating eggs for lunch and left over fried chicken for breakfast, going out on paddle boards and fishing off the dock. Even baseball right IN the water was on the agenda this weekend.

Archer, this handsome Rhodesian Ridgeback of a canine, captured the spirit nicely.

By day there was the swimming and the spraying of hoses on sturdy baby legs by sturdy baby humans.


Then the  in-the-water baseball looked like this:


…while and the paddleboarding looked like this:


By night there were fireworks, every night leading up to the Fourth,  and man they were CRAZY fireworks, that went on and one for an hour, because this is after all New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state where nobody dares tell anyone else what to do. They were going off from every corner of the cove and from two towns both up and down the lake from this cove.

To me the din was awful which seems strange since you’d think the older you get the deafer you’ll be so no problem about the loud noises.

For sure I am old: if I didn’t know it before the weekend, I know it now. The little baseball player pictured above asked me the other night just how old I was.

“I’m sixty-seven,” I said.

He looked up at me with his large brown eyes and said so sweetly, “I knew you were old, TT! You know how?”


“Because your face has those crinkles.  And you have to bend down to hear me. Also, your voice.”

I’m not sure how my voice gives me away. To me, inside the chambers of my old skull my voice sounds to the same way it always has, but who knows? Maybe to the young I sound like Ursula from The Little Mermaid. 


It is what it is, eh? All I know is I’m just glad to be here on this anniversary of our nation’s birth! Here I am three years ago on the same day with grandson David. It’s the kids who keep us smiling!







Posted by on July 4, 2016 in aging is fun!, family life


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How the Rich Get Richer

starbucksI saw a tastefully turned-out woman with a Prada handbag and perfect hair at Starbucks.

I wasn’t trying to ‘see’ her but she was lingering at my elbow as we both stood at the small station all Starbucks storefronts have. This is the place where management provides straws and swizzle sticks, napkins and a modest range of ‘enhancers’, from cinnamon to cocoa powder, as well as the usual range of choices in the general cream and sugar category.

 I felt I was holding her up, the way she lingered idly beside me and so I muttered an apology for not doing a speedier job of dribbling cream into my coffee from the tall cool carafe that stands beside the other tall cool carafes that hold the lowfat milk and the regular milk. I thought probably she needed access to the cream too.

But when I stepped back, my own iced coffee enhanced to my liking, I saw more: She did treat her own coffee with cream, and Splenda, too; but then she reached into the mini-bin that held the sweetener in the familiar pale-yellow packets, closed her fingers around a good dozen of them and slipped them quick into that slim Prada purse.

Maybe Starbucks can handle this kind of ‘shrinkage’ as they call stealing in the retail world, but it still made me shake my head.

It also made me think I maybe don’t belong in a coffee shop where the customers have Prada purses. It made me think I should maybe dump that high-priced decaf espresso and walk right over to my old haunt Dunkin’ Donuts up Main Street a ways.

Sure, they keep the Splenda behind the counter so you have to ask for it a packet at a time, but things just feel more HONEST there. Plus at Dunkin’ you’re far more likely to be greeted with a “Hey, how’s it goin’?”  which I, for one, will take any day over a “What may I serve you?” 


Posted by on June 20, 2016 in excess, humans!


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Napolee-o-leon (& Others)

homer in his underpantsIt’s two weeks now since my man and I got back from France, where the number of pictures I took as compared to the amount of food and drink I consumed stands in a ration of 1 to 1000 – and now here I am with little more to remind me of the experience but my new fat tummy. 

Lucky for us , we took this Viking Longboat cruise with two close friends who took tons of pictures. Even better, ‘she’ has written the whole trip up on her travel blog, a site which in my greedy way,  I have boarded as a pirate boards some poor sitting duck of a vessel, and helped myself to the photo booty. ‘He’ was my first friend when I moved at age 9 to our new house and found myself caught up in endless rounds of kickball and the chase-hide-and wallop game we called  “the Commies vs. the Americans. Good times.

We two couples had also gone, via this same Viking cruise company, from Budapest to Nuremberg back in 2014, when the world felt to be in far less trouble than it feels to be today. That was a dream of a trip on which I got to hang out for a while with actual Mozart, or anyway an official Mozart impersonator.  He spoke about the hard life of a professional musician which he actually is. He’s a serious guy.


This time though it was not Vienna but Paris, a city which appears to do a lot of looking back. We passed the place to which poor Marie Antoinette was brought to meet Madame La Guillotine, she  paraded for mockery’s sake in a crude wooden cart, her hair shorn and her wrists bound behind her back. We saw the monuments Napoleon brought back from Egypt where he went to further foil the British by messing up their trade routes. And, in our fancy tour bus as wide and serene as a clipper ship full-bellied with the breeze, we billowed along down the very route the Allies took after the brutal 100-day Battle of Normandy to at last reach and liberate this famous City of Lights.

On other days we went to Giverny, the estate and gardens established by the Impressionist god Claude Monet who smoked 60 cigarettes a day, slept with his best friend’s wife, and quarrelled sfrequently  with his one surviving son that the son wanted nothing to do with the place after the old man died at 86.

We saw castles and clambered over their ruined stones. We marched up and down streets with ancient stone and timber houses and even a few thatched roofs. And finally we went to Napoleon’s country house, where we saw with our own eyes how small of stature the man  really was. This is his bed, which, in the flesh looks like the the popsicle stick nest you might build for your pet hamster. Poor Josephine lived there as well until he divorced her for failing to give him a son.  


We walked in the gardens of this estate, known as Malmaison, but the tour guide apparently ran out of steam because with an hour to go before we could board the bus and go back to our cozy longboat, she told us to enjoy the gardens and disappeared .

It was 55 degrees,  the hospitality center/gift shop was closed and a layer of low grey clouds hovered above us like an omen of old.

Our two pals duly circled the large garden, admiring the roses and chatting up the other members of our expedition.  

The two of us did not. We went and sat on a stone bench – until  another Viking cruiser, from the American  South to judge by her accent, came by, declared us ‘cute’, and snapped this picture.


Then she made us get up and walk to a spot 100 feet away  where she snapped another.


The lesson of that moment? Stick around long enough and you too can become a monument. 😛



Posted by on June 13, 2016 in Foreign Travel, gittin' old, humor


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A Rose by Any Other Name?

circus monkeyHere’s a thing you’re not ready for in life: The day when all of a sudden you’ll get a new name.  I think of the way, for decades, my kids called me ‘mom’ and they called their father ‘dad.’ But then we became grandparents and got issued new names, that now feel so permanent they might as well be on our passports.These days he’s “Papa,” a name that for me recalls the swaggering older Hemingway with his white beard and his blather, and I’m “TT,” a circus monkey of a name if ever there was one.

Of course, name changes happen in other ways too and certainly some people bring on the change themselves. The singer songwriter Car Seat Headrest certainly wasn’t given THAT handle at birth. Those in religious life also come to mind in this connection. A girl  could spend years thinking of herself as Eileen Casey, until the day she took the vows and became forever after Sister Sebastian, after the Christian martyr who got himself so thoroughly shot through with arrows that in all the art he looks like a human pincushion.

st. sebastian

Not so long ago, a woman, upon tying the knot, was simply expected to hand in her maiden name like a set of expired license plates. I began teaching school mere weeks after processing down two aisles, one to get my diploma and the other to be wed, and for that whole first school year every time anyone called “Mrs. Marotta!” I’d be looking around wondering what my mother-in-law was doing at my workplace.

But! There can also be an upside to the name-change-upon-marrying thing.

If, like me, you had a surname people mocked, you might almost welcome a change. I used to be Terry Sheehy and believe me when I say that was one hard moniker to carry around. The boys called me “Terry Sherry” or “Tee-Hee Sheehy.” Or sometimes they’d just yell, “Hey, HE-She!”

I think of that girl who gave up her name at 21. I think of her as she looked in her 5th-grade school picture with her tragically flipped-up bangs and the cold sore on one side of her mouth and how oblivious to her imperfections she remained as she, say, affixed baseball cards to the spokes of her bike to get that nice putt-putt sound.

I think of her eight years later, happily dressing for her senior prom, which she attended all unselfconsciously in a gown her family rented for $15.

Sometimes I even visit the old me on the top shelf of the linen closet where a version of me slumbers in my white heirloom-pack wedding dress box. I pry open the cardboard lid and peer through the plastic window to see a version of the young woman I was once was, lacy sleeves folded over beaded satin bodice, a Sleeping Beauty of an image if ever there was one.

So is Terry Sheehy gone forever then? I hope not. I think of old St. Sebastian, who survived his attack and kept on keepin’ on, as the saying goes. I think of the former Eileen Casey who lives happily on in the nun who took his name for her own.  We are who we always were, only kinder as the years pass, let us hope, and more forgiving of both of ourselves and of others.


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Posted by on June 6, 2016 in Uncategorized


Visiting the Graves


prayers at the graveWhen we were kids, my sister and I went to the cemetery with our mother and aunt every Memorial Day, though it didn’t mean much to us, young as we were. We mostly danced among the graves, and dashed happily off to fill the dented metal watering can at the leaky old faucet. And anyway our dead had been dead for so long, the mother of our mom only 31 when she was buried there in 1910, her unborn baby in her arms.


Then time passed as time will do and I guess I was almost grown when I noticed that we weren’t going to the cemetery so much anymore, even though our mother and aunt’s own dad now also lay beside his dead young wife.  “Is it because we moved an hour north of Boston and Holyhood is too hard to get to?” I asked Aunt Grace one day as we stood in the dining room of our childhood home.

“That’s not it,” she replied. “It’s because they aren’t there,” she said, and then repeated the declaration with a strange passion I had never before seen in her: “They aren’t THERE!” she said again, as if to suggest that any fool knows the dead travel to a place infinitely farther than we humans can conceive of in our poor imaginings.

Was that why we weren’t going to the graves so much anymore? Because nothing was really down there but clay? Or dust? Or whatever remains behind aside from the metal hasps of the coffin? And if that is the case, then why, all these years later, do I still stand again at that grave and picture them all just a few feet below me? 

I see my mother and aunt in their favorite Sunday outfits. I see my grandfather with his dark eyebrows. I see the young woman whom I should have known as my grandmother lying in the high-necked Gibson-Girl-style dress they would have chosen for her back at the start of the last century. But what good comes of these vigils? I wondered at the time.

And then one day I saw a young woman sitting on the grass of a soldier’s fresh and flag-decked grave. She was there when I came by at noon and she was there when I came again at 6:00. This was one month after we buried our last remaining elder who over the last six years of his life became in many ways my closest friend. In the long quiet days since that passing I studied countless snapshots of him – as a schoolboy in the 1920s, as a young man starting out in life and then suddenly in the South Pacific during the worst of the fighting there in World War II. I hadn’t even understood his part in that war until the day, almost 70 years later when he shyly handed me a notebook of poems and sketches he wrote from the front.

Then another day, which was a day just last week, I visited the place here pictured overlooking Omaha Beach where lie 9,387 of the fallen, almost all of whom died on June 6, 1944 and in the 100 days after as part of the Allied invasion of Normandy:

amercian cemetery normandy

I was with a group of about 80 people. In the impromptu ceremony  held for us, an offcial of the park asked any veterans among us to come up front and join her. About 15 people did and when she then read the poem written by a young man in combat just before his own death in Lebanon, one of our veterans wept openly.

That might have been the moment I first really understood what Memorial Day is and why we mark it.

Here then to “the lost” as they were called in that first awful World War, and to the man with the tears running down his  face and to  my own family’s veteran, gone now too under the earth young as he once was and full of life.

ed in the jungle heat  



Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Tales from the Barn door

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

All Thoughts Work™ Outdoors

Hiking the beautiful American Pacific Northwest wilderness 2011-13

The Journey of My Left Foot (whilst remembering my son)

I have Malignant Melanoma, my son had Testicular Cancer

Exit Only

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!

Days Like What

There are 24hrs in a day, here are mine.


A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

The Freelance Retort

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!


Another Good Day in Rural America © 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Ann Aikens ~ all rights reserved

Eating The Week

Week-size morsels of the stuff we eat


Tales from the Barn door

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

All Thoughts Work™ Outdoors

Hiking the beautiful American Pacific Northwest wilderness 2011-13

The Journey of My Left Foot (whilst remembering my son)

I have Malignant Melanoma, my son had Testicular Cancer

Exit Only

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!

Days Like What

There are 24hrs in a day, here are mine.


A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

The Freelance Retort

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!


Another Good Day in Rural America © 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Ann Aikens ~ all rights reserved

Eating The Week

Week-size morsels of the stuff we eat


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