The Shipping News

May 25, 2014

Lots of emphasis in Chestertown this weekend on shipping news:  Chestertown Tea Party Festival, the town’s biggest party of the year.  Just happened to be reading a shipping book about shipping news.

1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award winning book, The Shipping News, is our neighbor’s all-time favorite book, so I had to read it, too.  Laura, our neighbor, told me it was “dense,” and she was right. Heard from some friends about the book and 3 out of 3 hated it, would never read it again.  (But one of the three did also mention that it is the all-time favorite book of her brother-in-law, too).  My opinion?  I loved the story, and thought E. Annie Proulx’s writing was brilliant.  I would definitely read it again, and really, I need to; there was so much in there.


 “His boots rang on the naked stone.  Stumbled on juniper roots embedded in fissures, saw veins of quartz like congealed lightning…” p 208

“…the clock’s face peered out like a bride’s from a wreath of worked wildflowers.  The knobs of the kitchen dresser sported tassels like a stripper in a bawd house, the kettle handle knitted over in snake-ribs, the easy chairs wore archipelagoes of thread and twine flung over the reefs of arms and backs….” p 213

“‘Well, I wondered what happened to you,’ said Mavis Bangs, the part in her black hair glowing like a wire in the rhomboid of sunlight.  ….Anyway, noon I went up to the post office and got your mail.’  She pointed at the aunt’s table with her eyes.  Importantly.  She had jumped into the habit of doing small kindnesses for Agnis Hamm.  And would get the mail or pour a cup of tea unbidden.  Proffer things with invisible trumpets.” p 228

Below, one of my favorite parts, since I’m a sucker for good stuff happening to the underdog:

Jack Buggit was an unlikely looking newspaper editor…

‘Quoyle!’  The hand shot out and Quoyle shook it.  It was like clasping a leather pot holder….

I know what my readers wants and expects and I gives ’em that.  And what I say goes.  I don’t want to hear no journalism ideas from you and we’ll get along good.’

….’About time you got here….Jack’s on his way down.  he wants to see you.’….’Why?’ said Quoyle apprehensively.  ‘Because of the piece?’  ‘Yep.  He probably intends to tear your guts out for that…yacht piece,’ said Tert Card.  ‘He don’t like surprises….’ 

The roar of the truck engine, the door slam; Quoyle went sweaty and tense.  It’s only Jack Buggit, he thought.  Only terrible Jack Buggit with his bloody knout and hot irons.  Reporter Bludgeoned.  His sleeve caught on the bin of notes and papers on his desk; paper sprayed over the desk…

Jack Buggit strode in, ginger eyes jumped around the room, stopped on Quoyle.  He hooked his hand swiftly over his head as though catching a fly and disappeared behind the glass partition.  Quoyle followed. 

‘All right, then,’ said Buggit.  ‘This is what it is.  this little piece you’ve wrote and hung off the end of the shipping news–‘ 

‘I thought it’d perk the shipping news up a little, Mr. Buggit,’ said Quoyle.  ‘An unusual boat in the harbor and–‘ 

‘Jack,’ said Buggit. 

‘I don’t have to write another one.  I just thought–.’  Reporter Licks Editor’s Boot. 

‘You sound like you’re fishing with a holed net, shy most of your shingles standin’ there hemming and hawing away.’  Glared at Quoyle who slouched and put his hand over his chin. 

‘Got four phone calls last night about that…boat.  People enjoyed it.  Mrs. Buggit liked it…..So go ahead with it.  That’s the kind of stuff I want.  From now on I want you to write a column, see?  The Shipping News….’ 

Quoyle went back to his desk.  He felt light and hot.  …Quoyle rolled paper into the typewriter but didn’t type anything.  Thirty-six years old and this was the first time anybody ever said he’d done it right. 

Fog against the window like milk. 

pp 63, 68, 143-44.


Hijacked! We have a NEW email address!

May 20, 2014

If you have tried to contact us via email and have been unsuccessful, the title above indicates the reason why.  🙁

Just use this new address and you shouldn’t have any trouble!

Thanks for being patient through these technological difficulties!!

Miss Phoebe

April 14, 2014

Yes, I grew up here.  One can tell because of the title of this post, since the local yokels grew up calling their elders by their first names with their appropriate titles preceding:  Mr. or Miss.  A woman’s marital status applies not; she is “Miss,” regardless.  Hence, Miss Phoebe, at age …. hmm … not quite sure now … 95??  She was married, but has been widowed for many years:  25 or 30, maybe?  (I’m sure she knows the exact number of days since Mr. Townsend died, but that fact, like so many other rich, deep ones, lie far beneath the quiet composure of the sweet, calm way that she has).

Our 5 3/4 year old grandson has “figured out life,” [see preceding post] and you know, I believe I may have, too:  I want to be like Miss Phoebe when I grow up.  When I’m in my 90’s, I want to be the person who welcomes, and who waits patiently, with grace; the one who listens – with smiles, nods, encouragement, and with great interest, like the one visiting is her most favorite person in the whole world, (even though, in Miss Phoebe’s case, I know better, because she is much loved).  I want to laugh, (like my Aunt Sara), and for my eyes to tear up when tears are shared – like Miss Phoebe’s did yesterday (even though she, by her own admission, is not a cry-er) and just like they did with Aunt Sara, Aunt Bernice, Aunt Hilda and with both of my parents before they died so long ago now.

I really couldn’t tell you if Miss Phoebe has face wrinkles or not, although she must, since she is a 90-something, but I can’t say for sure because I’ve never noticed.  What I have noticed is that her beauty goes way deep and radiates out through her skin in a kind of glow.   She’s “pretty,” real easy on the eyes.  But not in the usual way of meaning it.  She is, though, just the same.  (And she did used to be a beautiful young woman, just for the record, but even if she hadn’t, she would still be one now.)

I stayed 2 hours at her house yesterday afternoon and I thought it was oh, maybe 30 minutes.  Terry, her son, came through her front door at 5, (and I knew he was coming at 5 to fix her supper for her, because she had told me), and since I had to be somewhere else at 5, I burst out, “Terry!  I thought you weren’t coming till 5!”  He laughed and said that it was.

Her sons take turns now, coming to fix her supper and to spend nights with her, since they’re worried about her falling.  “Girls,” Miss Phoebe calls them, come during the day to help her with her bath and to get her lunch because Miss Phoebe needs to stay put (in her chair) unless somebody is with her.  (The “girls” are the ones who say that her “diapers,” as she calls them, which she only wears at night, are not “diapers” to a lady, but rather “fancy pants.”  She giggled at that, but we agreed together that you might as well come ’em what they are and thank God for them, since they bring a lot of peace of mind – good grief, that could be a commercial, but I’m not sure a TV crew could even capture the wearing of Depends as such a lovely thing as Miss Phoebe makes them).  Up until a few weeks ago, she was doing her meals by herself and doing fine, but since a few falls happened in a row, this is her new life.  And she makes it look easy.  So this is what I mean:  I want life to look easy when I’m that age.  That’ll make it easier for those I love, for each one who comes through my front door of my 90 year old self, if there is such a thing, and I want those who come to be glad to be there.  I know, of course, that a life of caring for a 90+ mom isn’t “easy,” but I know that it can still be “good,” even when it’s not easy, since it is when things are not easy that some of the best memories can be made – of all kinds, and I think you know what I mean.

So yep, I want to be like Miss Phoebe when I grow up.  And God willing and if the creek don’t rise, maybe, just maybe, with a ton of grace thrown in besides, maybe I will.  At least, that’s my dream.

The Closet

April 4, 2014

Our 5 3/4 year old grandson said to his mom and dad last weekend, “Well, I finally figured it out.”

“What?” they asked.

“Life,” he answered.

“Life?” they wondered.

“Yeah, life is like a closet full of really great things.  It has a door on it and when you make good choices, that door opens and those wonderful things pour out.  But when you make bad choices, the door stays shut,” he told them.

Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman, is our most recent book club selection.  Our group chooses books randomly – which our laid-back, adventurous group embraces – but you never know what you might get next.  Even those who choose might be surprised, but that’s just fine b/c we all just love a good story, so we run with ’em.  Someone mentioned that this particular book was the subject of a TV show, (which I’d never heard of), but b/c Barbara, our English teacher, had recommended it, I was looking forward to reading it.  And I was not disappointed.  Kerman’s memoir of her year in a federal prison is a great read, with grace, beauty and love revealed through the lives of many whose own closet doors had often been shut b/c of their choices, b/c of the choices of others or just because.  I didn’t want to put the book down.

Piper Kerman tells it like it is; she doesn’t try to pretty it up.  She’s honest about others, the circumstances and her own choices.  And sometimes her candor, coming out of nowhere, kicks you in the gut and causes you to stop right where you are:

‘When they shackle you, try to flex your wrists so there’s a little more room, and if you try to catch the marshal’s eye when he’s chaining you, maybe he won’t cuff you so tight your circulation goes.  Oh, and double up your socks so the restraints don’t make your ankles bleed.’

‘Pray they don’t send you through Georgia.  They stick you in a county jail, and it’s the worst place I’ve ever been in my life.’…

I went to talk to the Marlboro Man.  ‘Mr. King, they’re shipping me out on a writ, to Chicago.’  I actually succeeded in making him look surprised.

Then he laughed.  ‘Diesel therapy.’


‘Around here we call the airlift ‘diesel therapy.’

I had no idea what he was talking about…..

….After a rough pat-down, a female marshal checked my hair and my mouth for weapons, and the hop was on to the stairs up to the plane. 

On board were more marshals, enormous beefy men and a handful of weathered-looking women in navy blue uniforms.  As we clinked and clanked into the passenger seating area, we were greeted by a wave of testosterone….

Con Air is like a layer cake of the federal prison system.  Every sort of prisoner is represented…

I was feeling more positively about everyone’s shackles….

Con Air does not fly direct….At one stop more women got on.  One of them paused in the aisle, waiting for a marshal to tell her where to sit.  She was a scrawny little white woman, missing teeth, with a cloud of hair that was an indeterminate shade somewhere between gray and peroxide.  She looked like a woebegone yard chicken, like she had led a hard life.  As she stood there, some wise___ called out, ‘Crack kills!’ and half the plane, which must have contained some crack dealers, busted out laughing.  Her homely face fell.  It was like the meanest thing you ever saw on the schoolyard.  (pp. 257, 262, 263)

And some hardly have any closets at all.  🙁  🙁





Swinging on the River

February 27, 2014

Spring is the first time in the year to check for swing – if you’re by the river, that is.  A rise in the temperatures, a change on the calendar, a short walk to the water and the boats will be there:  the Washington College Crew Team during the week, and the Chester River Rowing Club on the weekends.  The early bird-ers can catch the view in the mornings but the afternoon strollers can watch the grace and beauty of the sport then:

There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define.  Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it.  Others find it but can’t sustain it.  It’s called ‘swing.’  It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others.  It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant.  Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once.  Each minute action–each subtle turning of wrists–must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman, from one end of the boat to the other.  Only then will the boat continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between pulls of the oars.  Only then will it feel as if the boat is a part of each of them, moving as if on its own.  Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation.  Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language.  Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like.                                    p 161, Boys in the Boat

Ivan: not just for a snowy day, but for any day….

February 26, 2014

It’s been quite a winter, unusual for us here.  We don’t usually experience such snow or so much bitter cold.

One morning, about a month ago, I was walking at Wilmer Park, next to the River, and I heard something.  It wasn’t a big something at all, but a very small sound.  I wasn’t sure what it was because all around me, it was so still.  (My footprints were only the 3rd set seen in the snow).  Then it dawned on me that I had heard the ice on top of the river cracking.  In the frigid frost, that was the only sound there was.  And I thought again, for the umpteenth time, “Wow.  I love living in Chestertown where I can walk every day by the water.”  It’s been a thought of mine, way more than just once, that living here is like being on vacation.  At least, that’s how it seems to me.  But guests tell me, too, that they feel the difference here.  Chestertown doesn’t have a corner on the “quiet market,” but you just can’t beat the opportunities that quiet brings.

But thankfully,  quiet does come in different places….


People call me the Freeway Gorilla.  The Ape at Exit 8.  The One and Only Ivan.  Mighty Silverback.

The names are mine, but they’re not me.  I am Ivan, just Ivan, only Ivan.

Humans waste words.  They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.

Everyone knows the peels are the best part….

I’ve learned to understand human words over the years, but understanding human speech is not the same as understanding humans.

Humans speak too much.  They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say.

It took me some time to recognize all those human sounds, to weave words into things.  But I was patient.

Patient is a useful way to be when you’re an ape.

Gorillas are as patient as stones.  Humans, not so much.

pp 2 – 3, The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate, 2012.


Ivan has more to say, even though he uses his words sparingly.  And I think you’ll want to know what those words are.  I recommend this lovely little book – not just for a snowy day, but for any day.


Going-Home Faith

February 12, 2014

The Americans’ story, in The Boys in the Boat, of the 1936 Berlin Olympic 8-man rowing race for the gold was so riveting, frustrating and exciting that I could barely get through the race chapter (called “Touching the Divine.”)  I don’t know that I would’ve been able to, except that I knew the outcome of the race before beginning the book.

The chances of the boys in the boat for the gold medal looked doomed.  They had a drafty, cold place to sleep.  The race was rigged, in that the best lane assignments were given to the host country (Germany – a few years before WWII) and to Hitler’s buddy-country, (Italy), rather than by qualifying times.  Their own stroke man was so ill he was practically in a coma during the actual race.  The starters were out of view from the coxswains, causing the race to begin before the boys knew it.  It was a mess.  They won anyway.

They found that Joe had been lying awake there all night.  He had spent much of the night simply staring at his gold medal, contemplating it as it hung on the end of his bunk. As much as he had wanted it, and as much as he understood what it would mean to everyone back home and to the rest of the world, during the night he had come to realize that the medal wasn’t the most important thing he would take home from Germany.

Immediately after the race, even as he sat gasping for air in the Husky Clipper while it drifted down the Langer See beyond the finish line, an expansive sense of calm had enveloped him.  In the last desperate few hundred meters of the race, in the searing pain and bewildering noise of that final furious sprint, there had come a singular moment when Joe realized with startling clarity that there was nothing more he could do to win the race, beyond what he was already doing.  Except for one thing.  He could finally abandon all doubt, trust absolutely without reservation that he and the boy in front of him and the boys behind him would all do precisely what they needed to do at precisely the instant they needed to do it.  He had known in that instant that there could be no hesitation, ho shred of indecision.  He had had no choice but to throw himself into each stroke as if he were throwing himself off of a cliff into a void, with unquestioned faith that the others would be there to save him from catching the whole weight of the shell on his blade.  And he had done it.  Over and over, forty-four times per minute, he had hurled himself blindly into his future, not just believing but knowing that the other boys would be there for him, all of them, moment by precious moment.

…Now he felt whole.  He was ready to go home. 

                                                  (p. 355, Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown).


“Boys in the Boat” (1936 Berlin Olympics)

February 6, 2014

     …it wasn’t until he began to talk about his rowing career at the University of Washington that he started, from time to time, to cry….None of [his] recollections brought him to tears, though.  It was when he tried to talk about ‘the boat’ that his words began to falter and tears welled up in his bright eyes.

     At first I thought he meant the Husky Clipper, the racing shell in which he had rowed his way to glory.  Or did he mean his teammates, the improbable assemblage of young men who had pulled off one of rowing’s greatest achievements?  Finally,…I realized that ‘the boat’ was something more than just the shell or its crew.  To Joe, it encompassed but transcended both–it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition.  It was a shared experience–a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love.  Joe, was crying, at least in part, for the loss of that vanished moment but much more, I think, for the sheer beauty of it.      (Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown, 2013, p. 2)

George Washington’s Secret Six

January 9, 2014

Since I’d just finished this book the day before, and since we were talking about something else that made me think of it, I told our 5 1/2 year old grandson a few things about it.  “Yeah,” I said, “Benedict Arnold wasn’t a nice man; he was kind of mean, and he owed our country a lot of money*, then he had to figure out how to pay it.”  (We were playing with some pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, so it just came up).  “He made a lot of bad choices and decided the only way to pay was to ask the British commander, General Clinton, if he needed a spy.  Adrian was all ears.  He knew about the kids’ book, I Spy, and often uses that particular phrase in conversation, but this took “spy” to a whooole new level.  During this telling, his mommy got home, but he barely heard her (and he loves it when she gets home), but he just hardly noticed, since we were at a good part:  Benedict Arnold, in all of his badness, on the one side, was too much to pull away from.  And on the other side, to tantalize further, were our spies, the true Patriots: our unsung, unnoticed, unknown American heroes, who had provided so much valuable information to George Washington, while living in constant danger.  Since we’d been in the middle of playing store, I told him about Robert Townsend, the quiet storekeeper who learned lots of good stuff from the British officers who frequented his store.  Gosh, we had really only begun to scrape the surface of the story when Emily returned home.  But it was probably enough for one day.   I recommend the book, a true story, since I could hardly put it down.  Besides, you might have an interested little one in your family who’d be all ears, too.

* Arnold owed over 1,000 pounds to the Colonial government for undocumented expenses during the unsuccessful raid of Quebec in 1775.

“In The Garden”

December 8, 2013

It’s December and a strange time to title a post “In The Garden,” but that’s where I was today:  in the garden of my childhood.  As we sang the old hymn by that name today at a sort-of-cousin’s funeral at the church where my Aunt Sara played the organ for so many years, I traveled instantly back through time.  I was six years old again, singing in the car with my mother and sister as my father drove.  I was a little girl singing in the pew of Kennedyville Methodist Church as my Aunt Hilda played the organ.  It was the same song, then as today, sung the exact same way, with the pauses coming at the exact same places:  “And He walks [pause] with me, And He talks [pause] with me….” It was my sister who sat beside me today in the pew, just as she’d sat beside me when we were young.  My cousin, his wife, and their grown son – more of my family – sat in front of me.  The nurse I used to sing duets with sat behind me, then on the way out, I saw Carol filing out also, just a few people back from me, after the service.  All of them knew me when I was just a kid. Carol was my dear friend who loved me in that same church when I was just 24 years old, when I knew nothing but thought I knew everything.  So today when we all knew some of the same things and some of the same people, in that same place, singing that same song in that same way, it was a gift.  Merry Christmas to me.  Thank you, Lord.

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Location, Location, Location.

You might notice the WAC Administration Building cupola out of the corner of your eye as you walk onto Simply Bed & Bread's brick path, since our house is just a stone's throw away from the college. Or it might be the ...
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