Thursday, January 31, 2008


In this entire world, there is nothing more amazing to me as our five senses. We experience our earthy existence through this wonder of creation every day. Often, our awareness of just how much they are influencing us doesn’t resonate until long after an event or experience has transpired. So it was for me last Sunday.

In preparing to attend the Long Way Down viewing party in West Boylston, I went to the storage shed to look for a beach chair I intended to bring. My mind was preoccupied as my hand gripped the handle. Only slightly aware that the door was frozen, I gave a solid tug, and resisting at first, it yielded and slid open on its track. Washing over me like a thundering wave of the mighty surf, came the rush of air from within. I stood paralyzed as my olfactory senses kicked into high gear.

Hibernating within the confines of the shed, rests Jade, my beloved Yamaha vStar. Winterized and protected as she is against the elements, the smell of her leather, oil and lubricants was a powerful trigger setting off a flood of memories. Despite the cold, my skin felt warm with the recollection of summer days on the road, with the sun upon my back. I squinted, as if to shield my eyes from the bright sunlight the memory was evoking. I am transported instantly back in time, my palms and thighs reacting to the memory of Jade’s rumbling v-twin engine as we slipped along country roads.

Transfixed by my emotions, the reason for my mission here vanquished from my mind. I let my hand gently glide the length of Jade’s body, fender to fender, in one long, slow and tender moment. In this bittersweet interval, a pang of sorrow overwhelms me. Jade is beginning to show her age. We have traveled many miles together, and I am far from putting her out to pasture. Jade will need lots of loving care in the year ahead. I am thankful for this brief moment. With memories of the wind in my face, and the power that is Jade beneath me, she is forever young in my heart.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Long Way Down

Yesterday, Andy and I enjoyed an afternoon watching Long Way Down, the story of a 15,000-mile odyssey from John O'Groats Scotland to Cape Town South Africa on motorcycles. Part of the enjoyment was that we watched this six-hour documentary with motorcycling friends from the New England Riders. One of the oft repeated mantras of the NER is “safety first.” Imagine our surprise and shock when the wife of one of the riders in the documentary expressed a desire to take part in a small portion of the adventure. The twist was that she had never ridden a motorcycle before.

The next day, in an off-the-cuff remark on the NER forum, to what was missed by an early departing viewer, made the alarm bells ring in my head. In true Pat fashion, I could not let the statement go unchallenged, as it was in my opinion, gender based and unflattering.

To the NER’s credit, they preach safety first. I agree that safety is paramount when riding alone or in groups. The wife, Ev, took a rider training course, and with little riding experience under her belt, joined the group for a small segment of the ride. She dumped the bike several times, and showed herself to the world for the inexperienced rider that she was.

I have great admiration for Ev in challenging herself, and conquering her fears. The rest of the NER group thought it was foolishness to allow such a novice rider to take part in the expedition. Not only was she inexperienced, but they were in a foreign country to boot. She could, they said, have killed herself or others in the group. To be true to the NER mantra, they are correct in saying this was a bad idea.

As for the documentary, I feel it put an interesting twist on the story. The situation was more controlled than it appears to be from the viewers point. Often, Ev was seen out in front, where everyone could keep an eye on her and ride at her pace. The others followed at a distance to avoid collision should she go down. The cameras were rolling all the time, so now Ev has plenty of footage to see her mistakes, practice, and become proficient. Moreover, they had a medic along to treat any injury.

The NER is sticking to its guns. “She should not have gone.” is the consensus. “Her husband doesn’t have the stones to tell her she can’t come.” is another. Would they say the same for a novice male rider? “Yes,” they tell me. In trying to convince themselves this statement is true, I have yet to be.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Personal Trainer

The muscles across my back, from shoulder to shoulder are buzzing this morning. Shucking the winter coat off, my shoulders reminded me as well, of their activity the evening before. I print off a form and rising from my chair to retrieve it from the printer, my quads rebel against the activity. So it is fitting that this morning I should see Hal featured in this morning’s edition of the Telegraph.

Hal Mahar was, and still is an inspiration to me and a number of former colleagues. Hal was our leader in 2001 at a Weight Watchers at Work program. He has a way of delivering a message with humor that helps us remember the message and at the same time treats all with human dignity. Because of Hal’s encouragement, I shed 68 pounds and began to workout at the gym.

Never having exercised before, I chose a circuit-training center for women, where I felt I could ease my way into understanding gym equipment and receive instructions on how to use these strange machines. Over the course of time, this proved to be inadequate to my needs, and a friend offered to introduce me in the ways of weight lifting. Here is where I would like to offer a caveat to anyone thinking of taking up such an offer. Look your workout guru over very well. Does he look like a bulldog across the chest? Do the biceps threaten to pull the seams as they ripple beneath the surface doing simple tasks? If so, and you still accept the offer, be ready to workout in serious fashion. This is the avenue I needed to step up my routine. I have never regretted accepting the offer for instruction.

The opportunity for such personal attention is rare these days, and last evening was one of those few occasions. Curiosity about my “new” gym was the catalyst for this excursion. We took advantage of every machine, free weights and cardio equipment available. I let myself be encouraged into more sets than usual, realizing that I have been slipping instead of progressing.

I feel privileged to have such a friend who will spend time showing me the ropes, while never making me feel self conscious or incapable, never asking for anything in return. As for Hal, yes, he is paid to do what he does, but he himself will tell you he feels like a disciple leading us to a healthier life style.

We all have many such “personal trainers” in our lives and so often we fail to recognize or appreciate them. Who is your personal trainer? These two people alone have helped my self-esteem in ways that are hard to express, but manifest itself in so much of what makes me successful in my daily life. I have moved from making such statements as “I can’t do that!” to “let me try that!”

Over-time I’ve added more personal trainers to my list, such as writers, consultants and advisors. Each gives selflessly of their time and talent. It is how I came to enjoy motorcycling, and believe my writing has merit. They help me believe no dream is ever out of reach. Look around and recognize the personal trainers in your own life. The highest honor we can give them is to practice the lessons they teach, and pay it forward.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Leaping Into the Future

It’s been a quiet week. The highlight so far has been meeting the painter hired by the property owner to paint the railings in the stairwells. Seems this guy has 30 motorcycles in his garage, antique Indians and Harleys mostly. I was hoping he would chat more about his collection, but he’s fairly tight lipped. One of his helpers rides a Harley too, and small world that it is, even knows two former employees. The two former employees are husband and wife, both Harley Riders themselves. As is typical of Harley owners, they were polite when they learned the make of my own bike. “Well, that’s good for starters,” they said with a twinkle in their eyes.

I had to leave the house an hour early this morning to let them into the building along with our pest control man. As I left my drive, I was a bit lead footed on the accelerator as I traveled along the snow-covered dirt road that leads from our home. Out from the woods comes a young white tailed deer, and leaps right in front of the car. I break, with serious intent to stop, but slide along the icy road. The van’s back end has intentions of coming around to the front. Thankfully, I come to a stop before that happens and avoid the deer as well. I’m awake now! I continue on my way with less pressure on the accelerator.

I had time today to finish the book Kyla gave me for Christmas. I have two valuable pieces of advice to take with me from this most current book by Sonia Choquette. Since I’m in the zone of self-help books, I was sorry to see the book come to an end. However, while out to lunch and browsing through Target, I spotted a new book by my other favorite author, Wayne Dyer. I knew right then how to put my gift certificate to good use.

Other then self-help books, my other bible these days is the Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2008 edition. It’s a reference really, and has web links that I take the time to examine. The reference is useful in that if the comments under each heading don’t turn me off, I then check their web site. If I like what I see there, I mark them as a possibility of a place to market my writing. My days may be quiet, but they are far from unproductive.

The self-help books feed my soul; the references feed my curiosity and educate me in the ways of the publishing world. Both are food for the mind and soul. Just like the deer leaping into view, you never know what opportunity will pop up next. I want to be ready… body and soul.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wild Time on Elm Street: Presidential Primary 2008

The phone rings. I’m informed of an opening at 4:00 and “would I like to take that appointment.” “Sure!” I say. This is on Monday, January 7th. “You do realize tomorrow is Primary Day?” my husband asks. “Oh geez,” I thought, my appointment is in the heart of downtown Manchester, the hotbed of political activity in the state. I adjust my travel time accordingly. It turns out to be good planning.

Exit 5 off 293 takes you to the Granite Street Exit. This is only a couple of lights from Elm Street, my destination. As soon as I’m off the highway, I’m stopped at the light. It cycles 4 times before I can get through the intersection. I look up the hill toward Elm and can see the cars trying to turn down Elm without success. I check my watch. I’m still OK.

The light cycles continue in the same pattern of cycling three to four times before crossing an intersection, but this affords me ample rubber necking opportunity. Every street corner is mobbed with sign toting, candidate chanting people. My first impression is how large the groups are that are standing at each corner. This is not the two or three, standing- with- each- other for mutual- support group, but large and mob looking in appearance. I begin to wonder if I should be a bit afraid.

I start looking at the people individually and marvel at the cross section of society represented. Young and old alike are standing together in mutual camaraderie. They are not stereotypical in their support either. I see as many young people supporting older candidates such as John McCain, as I see supporting younger candidates like Barack Obama. I listen more closely to the chanting. My skin begins to prickle with the excitement.

I finally make the left turn onto Elm. I progress only a short way. I come to a stop directly across the street from the Merrimack Restaurant. The news cameras are everywhere. In listening to the radio broadcasts this morning, I believe nearly every candidate has stopped in at the Merrimack today. The hubbub doesn’t seem to have subsided yet. I watch the goings-on.

I check my watch again and see that I have ten minutes to make my appointment. It’s evident that there are no parking spots to be had on Elm, and I suspected as much. My destination was to be the public parking garages. I can see by my progress that I’m not going to make any of them. Even if I am successful in reaching a garage, my mind imagines the “full” sign is flashing. I can see my destination building looming in the distance. It is still several blocks away. I decide to look for parking and take the first thing I see.

Up ahead, parked not far from yet another news van, is an SUV full of young men. They are sitting in the windows of the van, waving their political signs and chanting “O-B-A-M-A FOR A-M-E-R-I-C-A” over and over again. I watch them for a while, as I’m not moving at all. Without warning, they pull out of the spot and into the traffic fray. I cannot believe my luck. I pull into the parking spot.

I have ten minutes to make my appointment and several blocks to walk. I’m wondering how I will get past the mobs at the intersections. The sidewalks are as congested as the streets. I decide I’m going to get to my destination one step at a time.

Everyone is friendly, and I have no trouble making progress. I slow only once. An older couple, with a small lap dog on the end of a leash, is standing across from another news entourage. They are grinning ear-to-ear. I pause to see what has their attention. The news folks are under a large carnival size tarp. Is that Mike Huckabee? However, the clock is ticking and I move on.

It takes as long to get out of town, as it did to get in. Now I’m on the race for time again, as I haven’t yet cast my ballot. The polls in my hometown close at 7:00 pm. I arrive in town at 6:38 pm.

The town hall is packed with voters. I see many town folk and they wave in friendly greeting. Some of the polling place workers are long time acquaintances. They tell me there was but one ten-minute lull in the whole day. I’m amazed and predict a record-breaking turnout. The news the next morning confirms this suspicion. Ahh…nothing is as invigorating as politics in New Hampshire.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Old Russian Lady

With St Anselm College being so visible in the news recently with all the presidential candidates congregated there for the debates, it was hard not to remember fondly, living in the shadow of the college. The story below has nothing to do with politics. Its only connection to the Presidential Primary is the location.


It doesn’t matter that my family moved from Desaulnier Street when I was but three years old. Life, for me, was idyllic and my memories sweet of our time there. My parents owned a newly constructed cape at the top of the hill, just a few houses from where Desaulnier meets College Road in Pinardville. In those days, parents didn’t worry so much about their children running free in the neighborhood. Even at the tender age of three, I traveled much as a free-range chicken, hunting and pecking my way through my world.

When I think of this place, I remember most my two older sisters, but not much about my younger brother. Ma sometimes sent my older sister on errands down the street, where there were a few Mom and Pop stores. Despite not being the oldest, she was the reliable one. Ma would give her a note so the store keeper would know what was needed. The oldest sister, being deaf, Mother would often have my sister take the oldest with her, probably to expand her world. I would want to go of course. “Hold their hands!” Ma would instruct, and off we would go, my smart sister in the middle, with the oldest on one side, and me on the other. What a trio we must have been, one who couldn’t hear the cars coming, and the other never paying attention to the direction she was going. Instead, my eyes would wander side to side inspecting the neighborhood as we went. What a great adventure!

I often wanted to play with the older kids. They were bigger and older than I was and often shooed me away. I persisted and often they relented and let me follow them about the neighborhood. Their favorite game was cowboys and Indians. Once, Ma even painted our faces so we could run through the open lot next door. The grass was so high, I couldn’t see where I was going, but I could hear the kids whooping and hollering. It sent shivers down my spine and I reveled in the drama!

The kids on the street feared “The Old Russian Lady.” This woman lived in the brick house on the corner. The kids called her mean and scary. She wore a babushka on her head. I don’t think the babushka did much to help her reputation. I kept my distance from her, until my curiosity for the cows won over. If I wanted to see the cows up close, I would have to walk past the Old Russian Lady’s house. I was intercepted on my first attempt to see the cows. With fright, I heard her calling sharply. Who knows what she was saying, as it was Russian of course. I stopped and looked in her direction not knowing what to expect. There was the Russian Lady coming toward me. I froze in my tracks. However, something didn’t seem right? The Russian Lady didn’t look mean. She was smiling! The next thing I knew, she was offering me candy. It was a root beer flavored candy shaped like a barrel. I accepted it, and popped it in my mouth. As I stood there enjoying the root beer candy, she babbled on in Russian. Then with a pat on the head, I was turned and sent on home.

That root beer candy was the first of many. I would walk in the direction of the Old Russian Lady and stop in front of her house. The other kids could be scared if they wanted. I was going to wait for candy. I was never disappointed, for soon she would appear and present the root beer barrel candy. The routine was the same. Stand and eat, listen to Russian, pat on the head, go on home. It was a good deal.

One day, she didn’t come to the door as expected. Soon I was looking across the street at the cows. I walked to the edge of College Road to watch the cows across the street. A fence stretched left and right, beyond my vision. Cows wandered downhill through the trees, making their way to the fence by the road. They reached their heads over the fence to eat the tall grass growing there. These cows, I now know, came down from St Anselm’s College. In those days, they had a hands-on agricultural program. Across the street I went, to stand near the fence and inspect the habits of dairy cows. They were having some difficulty craning their heads to reach the tender shoots of grass. To be of assistance, I plucked a few blades of grass and reached upwards with my offering. At that moment, a piercing shout made me jump out of my skin, the grass dropping from my hand. It was the Old Russian Lady, standing across the road, gesticulating wildly. For the first time, I heard English words coming from her mouth. Over and over, she repeated “COWS BITE HAND! COWS BITE HAND!” At first, confused by the thick accent, I understood her to say, “Cows bite head.” That was unsettling! Now thoroughly frightened I looked up at the cows. These cows had tender brown eyes. Surely they didn’t bite! I froze in my tracks. I saw the mean Old Russian Lady coming at me. She stopped at the edge of the road and pointed for me to go home. Off I ran. Unfortunately, it was also the end of root beer barrel candies.

We moved to another part of town later that year. I don’t know what became of the Old Russian Lady, but whenever I eat root beer barrel candies, I remember fondly those long summer days, pats on the head and the smell of tall grass and dairy cows.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

100 Buttons

For many people the start of a new year brings with it thoughts of new beginnings. A clean slate on which to make our mark, explore new opportunities for growth, or to make a difference in our world. The theme of a clean slate as a metaphor for new beginnings, became manifest into reality, when the first day of the year found me clearing thirty years of clutter from my environment.

“What in the world am I keeping all this stuff for?!!” I kept thinking, as item after item emerged from every possible nook and cranny one room could hold. Scraps of paper with some long forgotten but once imagined “important” piece of information tucked here. Diskettes full of long obsolete technology there. Buried beneath old sewing patterns were bits of fabric for clothing once worn by children long since grown. All of it made its way to the trash heap.

Then I found the buttons. Tubs of buttons stored in a drawer I haven’t opened since the beginning of the year 2001. I closed the drawer. It did no good. The buttons began a rattling in my ears that continued to reverberate until I opened the drawer again. I stopped my frenetic cleaning and sat before the open drawer. As I looked inside, I saw the face of my young niece.

Only a few days into the new year of 2001 my mother suffered a massive stroke while in Florida for the winter. Two of my sisters went to Florida right away to be with Dad and help with Mom. I drove each day to my sister’s house to pick up her kids from school and be with them until their Dad returned from work. It was during this time that the 100th day of school elapsed.

“Auntie,” my niece said, looking up at me with serious blue eyes. “I need 100 things to bring to kindergarten for the 100th day. I don’t think I have 100 things.” “I have 100 things.” I told her. “But how can I carry 100 things to school?” she questioned. “Easy,” I said. “You bring them on a string.” I found it great fun to play this guessing game with her about how a person can carry 100 things on a string. That evening, I pulled out the button collection and carried every tub with me so Sarah could pick out the buttons she loved best. We counted them out and strung them on a string for school. Sarah was proud to bring that treasure to school on the 100th day.

I began the button collection to be frugal back when the kids where small. Mom had such a button collection. I remembered looking through them when I was a young girl. Mom had buttons in her jars that once belonged to my grandmother. Children of the depression era know better than to ever toss anything. As I looked at the buttons, they represented the passage of time back to my grandmother, and the promise of the future in my niece’s eyes. I stopped then and re-evaluated my cleaning.

I picked up the old diskettes and examined them more closely. Soon I was looking at long forgotten photos that brought me smiles of joy and tears of sorrow. I retrieved the bits of paper and unfolded the edges to remember what had been so important. It was then that I realized the lesson being taught to me in that moment.

Who we are is a result of our cumulative experiences. Learning what is valuable to hang on to and what is worth letting go of is the skill of the master. In looking more carefully I could see that where I had been, where I moved to, and where I want to go, was tucked into every inch of this room. I closed the drawer with the buttons, then said goodbye to all else. The lessons here are learned. The past is to cherish, but not relive. The future is not yet mine. I have now, and it’s a good place to be.