Remembering a poem (which I do a lot…)

“To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” by Robert Burns (written in 1785) is a wonderful poem to read aloud with a group of seventh graders before starting Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. The language is rich with old Scottish words (I like to try on an accent every now and again even though I’m not at all good at it; I ask kids to say it aloud as well – there’s always one or two who nail the Scottish brogue) and a powerful message. It’s a poem that has a specific audience – the poor little mouse that gets unhoused, which reveals such tenderness and empathy from the speaker. Here are the lines that contain Steinbeck’s title (and a truth about life):

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,

Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy!

I hope some of you who are reading this tried it with an accent; David would kill it… Here’s a good link to the entire poem and some audio files of it.

And so, although Ben and I had some best laid schemes for our sixth-month journey, we were needed elsewhere. We’ve been in Portland, Maine, for the last week trying to be as present and helpful as we can while Ben’s 94 year-old father (also named Ben) works through heart problems at Maine Medical Center on the ninth floor. Today is a good day. Ben had general anesthesia yesterday to place a pacemaker surgically under his ribs because the easy solution which is a minor procedure was not an option for him. He’s made it through spectacularly and now has a road of rehab ahead of him. Ten days in bed has left him weakened, but with a stronger, steadier heart he’s moving forward.

Being in a hospital for a week brings back memories of my parents’ stays. Then and now I have been so overwhelmed by the care of nurses, staff, and doctors. The RNs, CNAs (a lot of acronyms on hospital employees’ tags!), and physical therapists, all of whom have been women, are so kind, strong, and professional. Each has a sense of humor, too. A loose knot of nurses stand or sit at the central station which is right outside of Ben’s room. There’s always a soft hum of voices and machines, punctuated regularly with laughter. Time goes by differently in a hospital – often I’m amazed to see the sky darkening; when did the hours slip by?

We’re on a journey, just not exactly where we thought we’d be right now.

If Ben continues to improve, we’ll head out across the Atlantic. No Holland, but we may pick up the itinerary in Rwanda.

Here’s the view from Ben’s hospital room, post snowmageddon…on the horizon is Mt. Washington with the rest of the majestic Presidentials:




Books: real ones and e-ones…

As we get ready to pare down to carry-on for six months, I have had to read my real books quickly to get down to just my Kindle for the trip. This year-long sabbatical has been such a wonderful reading-filled luxury (an auspicious sign for retirement life…). Ben, smartly, has created a list of all of the books he’s reading. I have a bit of an electronic trail on my Kindle, but there are many more real books I forget.

The two actual books I brought down to New Orleans are A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (recommended by the fine readers who work at the Norwich Book Store) and Family Life (a gift from Bill Bussey). I just finished A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – wow. Like The Narrow Road to the Deep North (an amazing story during WWII in Burma with prisoners of war which just won the Man Booker Prize), A Constellation of Vital Phenomena unveils a brutal world (of Chechnya during two wars) but compels you to face this world because of the gorgeous writing and heart-breakingly tender scenes. I had to stop several times while reading to write down some phrases that are so poetry-like – in fact, may even define poetry: “relief of unburdening” and “transcribing memories.”

My Kindle has nine great books I have not read on it (Nora Webster, Redeployment, We Are Not Ourselves, How To Be Both, Everything I Never Told You, Some Luck, Dear Committee Members, The Goddess of Small Victories, & Lila), but I would love some suggestions for more. Please e-mail me or leave a comment with your recommendations. Hurry if you can – we leave in three days! Thanks!

New Chapter

New chapter: not quite out of the country but out of Vermont, taking Ben’s parents to visit friends in Florida, and seeing Abby in New Orleans for a week because she will be unable to join us en route. Her vacations are only a week long, leaving her very little time besides travel to and from a place. It’s been a good time for testing bags, getting vaccines, and wrapping up small details.

We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. So, the VonVonni dress didn’t quite work (crazy sash stuff and a lot too sexy for me); Abby wouldn’t take it either… However, over the holiday, she found me the perfect black dress at Revolution, a cool clothing store in White River Junction, Vermont. One dress and two skirts, done. Shoes: at dinner the other night in Boston with our friends, Bruce and Carrie, I heard about The Walking Company for the first time. Bruce described the feeling of the shoes he found there as walking on clouds. Off I went to the South Shore Plaza and found my own pair of cloud shoes. These new ABEO walking shoes and the Chakos I purchased eight years ago are going to be the only shoes I’ll take. Seven shirts, two pairs of pants, two shorts…feeling close to being packed. We get to try out our luggage and backpacks on these quick trips to Florida and New Orleans. I am using a cool travel backpack that’s light weight but holds a ton of stuff. I’m a fan.

Our good friend, Ernie, told us about a great card to have while traveling at least in the US: Global Entry. It basically gets you through the TSA pre-checked lines at every juncture. We’ll see if it streamlines things on our travel abroad; it’s a number you add when you purchase plane tickets.

We’ve had our vaccinations (yellow fever – required to enter Rwanda, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid…) and feel armed with medications for anything (Malarone, Cipro, & elevation medication). Two new visas are in our passports: India (don’t even ask about the complications with that one…) and China. Other visas we’ll get online (Turkey)or at the airport (Rwanda & Tibet).

So, we’re in New Orleans – so much to love about this place: Abby’s here, great music, delicious food, the temperature is over 50 degrees. She’s in a great place right on Magazine Street. We’re looking forward to going to Abby’s school, KIPP McDonogh #15, and watching her in action. One added attraction – our niece, Elsa, is visiting here for a few days to see Tulane.


Once we get back to Dedham and tidy up a few final details, here’s our general itinerary:

Holland (Amsterdam & The Hague): January 23rd – 30th

Rwanda (Agahozo Shalom Youth Village & Kepler in Kigali & mountain gorillas): January 30th – February 25th

South Africa (African Leadership Academy, St. Brendan’s, Durban, Cape Town): February 25th – March 21st

Turkey (Istanbul/Robert College & bike ride along Aegean Sea with David for 2 weeks): March 21st – April 11th

India (Mumbai & Kerala): April 11th – 28th

Thailand & Laos (Luang Prabang & Elephant Conservation Center)– April 28th – May 7th

China (Beijing School 57, Dandelion School, Chengdu, Xi’ an) & Tibet – May 8th – May 30th

Japan (Sapporo, SIT school) – May 30th – June 5th

San Francisco & driving across the country – June 5th– June 25th

How excited we are and how lucky we feel!

Abby’s living room:

abby's living room

Abby teaching:

abby teaching


Beignet eating with Elsa & Ben:

elsa and ben