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As the lucky ones, we can help

It's a gorgeous early fall day, warm as summer. I'm biking around the Big Parker quarry in Rockport. Leaves are starting to turn red and yellow, and the water is a brilliant blue. Another biker appears in front of me on the narrow trail, and we stop to pass each other. We nod and smile.

"Lovely out today."

"Isn't it? We're so lucky."

"Aren't we? Enjoy yourself."

"You, too."

And off we go, to enjoy the rest of our ride, the rest of our day. Everything around us is beautiful and whole. There are no downed trees or power poles, no roofless houses, no blocked roads, no wrecked cars and trucks. In Rockport, in Newburyport, in West Newbury - everything is as it should be and we are all enjoying a beautiful Sunday.

We're so lucky.

Right now, there are places in the world, some in the United States, some international, that are badly damaged, some devastated beyond what we can imagine.

In Houston and parts of Florida, the hurricane winds and waters have receded but anyone who has ever been through a damaging storm or even a minor flood knows what comes after - dealing with damaged roofs, wrecked drywall and carpeting, ruined clothing, ruined photo albums, ruined computers. Mold everywhere. Every single part of life that we take for granted needing to be put back together.

Mexico City recently suffered a 7.1-magnitude earthquake, killing more than 150 people and collapsing dozens of buildings. Hundreds of other buildings may be compromised. We've seen the films of search-and-rescue teams struggling to find trapped victims, pictures of Frida the Labrador with her boots and goggles on, helping them, working against the clock to save human lives.

The Caribbean islands have taken a terrible hit. Some, including St. Thomas, St. John, much of the BVIs, the Turks and Caicos, and smaller and less well-known islands such as Barbuda, were devastated by Irma.

Others which had largely been spared by that storm - notably Puerto Rico and St. Croix - were slammed hard by Maria. Conditions are described as apocalyptic in Puerto Rico, with almost all communication and electrical services ravaged, roads washed away and blocked, houses gone. The island has been almost completely destroyed.

I take the devastation of the Virgin Islands as a personal blow. I am a huge fan of the USVI, and I have been lucky (there's that word again) to have spent a fair amount of time there.

My parents took me on numerous trips to St. Croix and the other islands as a child, and now my husband shares my love for this incredible part of the world. Each of the islands is wonderful in its own way, and certainly St. John, before the hurricane, was probably the most beautiful but we have a special fondness for St. Thomas and a little hotel complex called Bolongo Bay.

I always knew there was something special about Bolongo. It's the type of place where you feel instantly at home, where people who love it come back year after year. It's not the fanciest place on the island but it has one of the biggest hearts and that's on display in a huge way right now.

According to managing director Richard Doumeng, the hotel is housing government relief workers and homeless staff members, many of whom have lost everything. The hotel's management has set up a GoFundMe account, with all money raised directed toward providing basic necessities for hotel staff as they go about the long process of rebuilding their lives.

It doesn't surprise me that the management of Bolongo is housing and caring for their staff. The loving spirit of the place could always be felt; now, the rest of the world can see it. The complex suffered less damage than many other businesses on St. Thomas, but along with the rest of the island, is facing a long uphill climb.

The Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico. Mexico. Parts of Texas and Florida. Many difficult days lay ahead for some people. It's very easy to forget how life has changed for others when nothing looks different to us.

Fall is coming and New England is as beautiful as ever. Our lives are busy and we all have our own joys and problems. But if nothing else, we can spare a thought for people whose lives have been upended, and just as importantly, we can spare them some cash, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 - pick one of those sums, or one that works for you, and send it to your favorite charity.

The Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Samaritan's Purse - these are all good, and there are many others equally worthy. Don't feel that the scope of these disasters is overwhelming and that there is nothing you can do.

Few of us are equipped to physically aid in the recovery efforts but many of us can put our dollars together to assist, and that's just as valuable.

Today, we are the lucky ones. Today, we can help someone.

Published by the Daily News of Newburyport

Taking to the waves together

Normally at this time of year, I take you on a bike ride. We've gone around the Rockport quarries, seen the world famous Paper House (awesome), and had transcendental iced coffee at the Common Crow. But let's do something different. Let's go sailing.

But I'm not talking about bobbing around the harbor or pleasure cruising. This is racing, and it's serious. There is no admiring of sunsets, opening of wicker picnic baskets or uncorking of wine bottles onboard. There is no comfy seating. There is no relaxing.

Wait, don't everybody leave!

OK, a couple of you are still here. Phew. You and I and the skipper are headed out to our sailboat, a 19-foot Flying Scot called Talk like a Pirate. We leave little Sandy Bay Yacht Club by launch and head out to our mooring. The sun is shining, the waves are sparkling, the ocean is sapphire blue.

The launch operator pulls up alongside our boat and we climb aboard. We pull off the boat cover and mount the rudder and tiller. We pull the jib out and fasten it to the shrouds (wires that hold up the mast) and untie the rolled mainsail. We hoist the main and the jib, and pull on our sailing gloves and life jackets. You and I will handle the jib (the smaller front sail) and the skipper steers the boat and works the main sail.

The skipper unclips us from the mooring and we're off.

Here's your quick sailing lesson: Number one, we're not in a motorboat. We don't just turn the key and go. A sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind. It can sail in a straight line downwind or with the wind from the side. When sailing upwind, sailboats tack, or turn, zigzagging back and forth to get where they want to go. The wind shifts constantly and we must continually make incremental changes to the lines that adjust the sails' shapes.

When the skipper says, "Ready about," we uncleat the jib sheet (rope) we are holding with a quick jerk. When he says,"Hard-a-lee," later we let that line go, scramble to the other side of the boat, and pull in and cleat the jib on that side. This all has to be done in a split second, sometimes in high wind and waves and often with boats bearing down on us from all sides.

We leave the harbor and are now out in Sandy Bay. I said that there was no relaxing, but while we sail out to the start of the race, we can admire the incredible view - granite pier, the breakwater, Straitsmouth Island lighthouse - the whole beautiful vista.

OK, that's enough sightseeing! The boats are milling around, jostling for position and we wait for the starting gun. Bang! We cross the starting line between the yellow inflatable mark and the committee boat in a tight pack. The boats are only feet away from each other and it's a high-pressure scramble as everyone heads for the other yellow mark barely visible across the bay.

A sailboat race isn't like an auto race. There is no track. Each boat can go in any direction and that is the challenge. Every skipper uses his or her experience to gauge the wind, the waves and the current to decide their course. Idle chitchat is strongly discouraged. Yelling has been known to occur. Language may be colorful. There is the occasional scream (from me) as we cross other boats with only inches to spare.

And now the wind picks up and the boat starts to heel. We lean way out over the side to balance her, far enough that we feel like we're going to fall over backward (Pro tip: Hang on to something). Now, we're flying like the gulls overhead as Pirate slices through the water. It's an incredible feeling.

When we round the mark, everything changes. This is the downwind leg and we take the tiller while the skipper hoists and handles the spinnaker, a large billowing sail that captures the wind on this slower portion of the race. Our spinnaker is a giant black and white Jolly Roger that I like to think strikes fear into the hearts of our competitors but probably doesn't.

And now we head back to the starting mark and do it all over again. Most of our races are two upwind/downwind legs and then a final upwind one. Sometimes, a single boat wins by a large margin and sometimes several boats duke it out until the end. When you're so far behind that no one can see you, it's called a "horizon job." When you're dead last, you finished DL - there is a more explicit version of this that I will leave to your imagination.

Finally, it's time to hang out and enjoy after-race snacks on the dock. We had a great race and finished respectably. Don't worry if everything seems to be pitching and rolling. That will pass. You've got your sea legs now.

Published by the Daily News of Newburyport and the Gloucester Times, August 2018.  Photo by Beth Leahy

Archibald's view: 

A Pym fan's confessions

If you've never heard of Barbara Pym, you're not alone. If you have, you were probably one of the 100-plus people at the North American Barbara Pym Society Conference at Harvard Law School on March 17.

Pym was a British writer of the mid-20th century who chronicled the lives of unassuming women and unsuitable men. Her novels are slender social comedies filled with quiet humor and the comfort of ordinary things.

She was a keen observer of the foibles of human nature and the difficulty of relations between the sexes. The Church of England looms large in most of the books but is less a religious presence than the social construct around which many of the characters' lives are lived.

It may be true that we Barbara Pym readers are all just a little bit odd but it is an oddity that we embrace and celebrate. Tom Sopko, North American conference organizer, noted in his opening remarks that Barbara felt that "odd people are more interesting to observe."

Indeed, he continued, that "there is an inescapable slight oddity to many Pym characters," implying that this may well describe her fans as well.

Point taken. When challenged, most of us could identify any quotation from any character in any of the 11 books; advanced BP fans could then go on to discuss its social significance and relation to Barbara's own life.

We're not nerds, exactly, we're simply people who feel, as Barbara did, that "the small things of life (are) often so much bigger than the great things ... the trivial pleasures like cooking, one's home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, (and) funny things seen and overheard."

The Barbara Pym Society began in 1994 and meetings are held in both England and America. For me and the other Pym fans, attending the conference is like visiting Mecca. It is glorious to be among a room full of people who understand, for instance, the significance of the vulgar, chunky mug that Miss Caton drinks her tea out of in "The Sweet Dove Died" (it's a nod to class differences in Britain. "No thank you, Miss Caton - I really couldn't drink it - and where did you get that terrible cup?").

Indeed, tea itself - the drinking or not drinking, the making, and the sharing, is a central theme in all of the novels. This quote from "Excellent Women" captures it perfectly: "Perhaps there can be too much making of cups of tea, I thought, as I watched Miss Statham filling the heavy teapot. Did we really need a cup of tea? I even said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look, 'Do we need tea? she echoed. 'But Miss Lathbury ...' She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realize that my question had struck at something ... fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind." Exactly.

Barbara passed away in 1980 but any true fan can rattle off the key points of her life. She was born in 1913 and attended St. Hilda's College, Oxford. It was there that she met Henry Harvey, the man who would be the unrequited love of her life, and the inspiration for the self-involved rector in "Some Tame Gazelle", the novel in which she imagines herself and her university friends as aging characters in a English village.

She joined the Women's Royal Naval Service during World War II (as did Mildred Lathbury of "Excellent Women", who recalls their "ill-fitting white uniforms").

Following the war, she worked as an assistant editor at the journal Africa, and learned about the anthropologists who populate her novels along with curates and vicars. She continued her writing and found modest success and acclaim. When the Sixties came along, however, her stories of quiet women fell out of favor. Pym fans know this as "the wilderness years," when she despaired of seeing her work in print again.

Salvation came in the figure of English poet Philip Larkin, who in 1977 called her "the most underrated novelist of the 20th century." Thus, began her resurrection and she went on to write several more books. Barbara never married, and always fell for the wrong men -married, gay or simply unable to reciprocate her feelings.

It may have been her inability to commit, her repeated yearning after the wrong person, which informed so much of her writing. She is obviously describing herself in this quote from Jane and Prudence: "For although she ... was very much admired, she had got into the way of preferring unsatisfactory love affairs ... so that it was becoming almost a bad habit."

Her unwillingness to give up her position as an observer of life rather than a full participant helped to give us her wry and bittersweet novels.

Many people would probably find Pym novels supremely dull. But it's nice to know there are a handful of oddballs like myself who want to read about damp English churchyards and fairy cakes, and who will always treasure the dry humor and sad wisdom of one unassuming excellent woman.

Published by the Daily News of Newburyport, March 2018

After the Storm

Everywhere trees bent double, fingertip branches that traced the sky
Now dug deep in snow and held fast, upside down,
In cold white straitjackets.
Some will free themselves from winter's grip, and spring back,
Shaking themselves in the wind like a dog.
Some are cracked and will move no more.
Others wear great blond gashes where limbs were torn--
Jagged gouges revealing an unprotected core.
Tangled wires hang at head-height,
And boughs small and great litter lawns and roadsides.
Fully budded, grey and red, now to wither on the ground,
And never unfurl their leaves and paint the summer sky green.

The throaty roar of generators drowns out birdsong,
A strange racket on this blue and white day.
"Do you have power? Do you?"
Waiting for the spark to leap from house to house.
And when it does, quiet relief

And coffee.

Written on March 10, 2018 by Marilyn Archibald. Dedicated to the power and tree crews and emergency management personnel who work hard to restore electricity and ensure public safety during and after storms. Thank you all.  Published by the Daily News of Newburyport.

Old MacDonald's actual farm

Old MacDonald really did have a farm. I know, I was there.

It wasn't the farm described in the children's song. There were no pigs or cows, but there was something much better-ponies. Lester MacDonald's farm was a ramshackle barn in Reading that looked like it might fall down at any moment. The paddocks, much of the year, were knee-deep in mud. There was no riding ring, no trainer, no helmets-and to me and a pack of other horse-crazy girls in the 1970s it was as close to heaven as we could get.

Mac was something from another era, an actual horse trader. He was a real-life Grandpa Beebe, the old horseman from Marguerite Henry's classic "Misty of Chincoteague," right down the suspenders and white stubble on his chin. His clothes hung on his skinny frame, and a cigarette hung from his mouth, even when he was pitching hay (safety wasn't a big concern at Mac's).

He was often yelling, at ponies or kids, or both at the same time. "C'mon, c'mon!" he would roar at some hapless ten-year-old. "This pony's not going to ride itself, y'know!" Mac charged a dollar an hour to rent a pony. He would tuck the money into a wallet fat with grubby singles and send riders off into the paddock. The ponies knew exactly what they could get away with, and things often ended up one of two ways-the pony would simply stand there, or take off to be with his buddies. Riders either fell off or hung on for dear life-sometimes a combination of both.

Mac had a couple of girls who were his chief helpers. Ann had a deep voice and an ability to organize the chaos. Her pony Ebony, tall and regal, was the herd leader. Second in command was spirited Lucy, whose pony Chiquita kept the other horses in line with equal fire.

And then there was U-Pay, the scrappy little black and white pinto that was Mac's favorite horse. U-Pay was slab-sided and whiskery and stubborn, just like Mac. He was Mac's go-to horse for birthday parties, where he would bad-temperedly trudge around someone's backyard or simply put his head down and graze, ignoring all pleas to move. Mac would sell anything to anybody, but he would never sell U-Pay. Mac would occasionally stop working and stand for a moment, one hand patting U-Pay, the other stroking Spot, his Dalmatian. Then he would be off again, shouting at someone to sweep the goldanged floor, for 'crissake.

When you bought something from Mac-a new bridle, say-you had to watch that he didn't take your old bridle as well as your money. But he often let kids who couldn't pay even a dollar ride his horses, blustering loudly to cover up his feelings. "Ann! Go saddle Snowflake before I send him to the glue factory! C'mon, move it!"

I rode at Mac's for several years, then moved to a different barn when I got a larger horse. A few years after that my mother and I heard he was ill and went over to visit him. Mac was sitting on his porch when we got there, bundled up even though the day was warm. "Can't work no more," he said glumly, his voice was low and raspy. "Can't do nothin' but sit." I remember thinking that I had never actually seen Mac sit before. He had always been in constant motion.

Mac passed away not long after we saw him. The barn and the house are still there, but part of a suburban subdivision. The paddocks are long gone, and there is a neighborhood where the ponies used to roam. But I'm glad I can still remember a time when a dollar-my allowance-- would buy me an hour in the saddle with Mac shouting at me to get that pony moving, dang it.

This article was originally published in the Daily News of Newburyport

Going Country, Boston-style

I attended my first concert at Fenway Park a couple of weeks ago, and it was so great I'm now wondering why they even bother to have baseball games there. It was an absolutely gorgeous warm September night, the sun put on a spectacular show as it set, and the drinks were only $27 each (I think the very bad sausage roll we got was $42, but that might be low).

KIDDING! I really did have an incredibly fun time, empty wallet notwithstanding. We saw what was billed as the Ultimate Double Header, Jason Aldean and Kid Rock, along with Thomas Rhett and a Thousand Horses as the warm-up acts. For those of you who don't have the Bull 101.7 as your number one radio pre-set like I do ("Horns up, Boston!"), these are country singers. The show was a sell-out, and I was surrounded by people wearing t-shirts, jean shorts, and cowboy boots and hats (when I saw all the hats I quietly mourned that I had opted not to wear my own cowboy hat, a serious mistake that I didn't really get over all evening).

It was a wonderfully mixed crowd-- boomers and millenials, New England rednecks and State Street banker-types. If you think Bostonians aren't country music people, think again. According to a 2014 article from Nielsen (the ratings people), country is the number one radio genre in the U.S., with more than 60 million listeners tuning to country radio each week. All the people rocking out at Fenway prove that Bostonians are not immune to the charms of country music, which is full of rock and pop and even rap influences these days.

And BEER. It's very full of beer influences. It's appropriate that Jason Aldean set a record for beer sales at Fenway during his two-night stand, because honestly, I'm not sure country music could exist without beer. Beer in country music is inevitably ice cold, usually consumed in the MOONLIGHT, in a TRUCK, on a TAILGATE, in the HEADLIGHTS, and often next to a CREEK, SWIMMING HOLE or BEACH (ed. note: capitals denote most common country themes). WOMEN usually wear what's left of those BLUE JEANS and often have SUGAR or HONEY on their LIPS. There are plenty of songs about HEARTBREAK and EXES, but PARTYING is also common. Themes are often combined, ie, consuming BEER or WHISKEY in a TRUCK while PARTYING to forget HEARTBREAK of EXES.

I believe that Boston needs its own country song, and not a mournful weepy one either, because that's just not who we are. Granted, Boston doesn't have a lot of swimming holes, especially these days, but we've got BEER. And if you've got beer, you've got a country song. I present to you my first effort at songwriting, called Mass Nation. It's set to the tune of Thomas Rhett's Vacation (a song firmly in the partying genre), which, if you haven't heard it, you need to listen to right now. You can thank me later. The woman behind me at the concert called Vacation her song, and I corrected her that it was, in fact, my song. I think I corrected her really loudly. Sorry lady, my bad.

Mass Nation
My guy is rockin' that vintage
Larry Bird shirt like he's sponsored,
Asking me I can make a packy run for him,
Gonna go see Chara and the Bs at Boston Gahden
And if you diss Big Papi
You'll just have to beg our pardon

Put some Sam Adams in my Poland Spring Watah
Ya think ya wicked smaht if Hahvard's your alma mater
Put some Sam Adams in my Poland Spring Watah!
We whine about the wintah
but summah's so much freakin' hottah

Singin' hey, let's pahty like we are Mass nation
(do do do DO da do doot)
Heeeeeey, we a Red Sox Nation
(do do do DO da do doot)
Got my toes in Cape Cod sand,
Mocha Dunks in my hand
Singing hey, let's pahty like we are Mass nation

I got my Cumby's cup amplifier playin' Aerosmith jams
Steven Tyler is a god, and IT'S THE T--don't call 'em trams
Feels like it's Nantucket and I'm sippin' on some craft brew
But I'm on Revere Beach, baby, crushin' on that fried dough

Singin' heeeey, let's pahty like we are Mass Nation
(do do do DO da do doot)
Heeeeey, we all a Patriots' Nation
(do do do DO da do doot)
Got my toes in Cape Cod sand,
Frappe -not milkshake- in my hand
Singing heeeeeey, let's party like we are Mass nation! YEAH!

This article was originally published in the Daily News of Newburyport, September 2016

#Confessingmyunpopularopinion, round deux

All right, people, gather round, because it's that time again. It's time for me to stand up straight and tall and proclaim "No, I don't want freshly ground pepper!" It's time for me to tell the world that fedoras look silly on anyone who isn't an 82 year-old man. It's time for me to #confessmyunpopularopinion once more. This is not for the faint of heart, and you may need to buckle up in the event of turbulence. Hold on, here we go:

Fennel is an abomination.
Nachos are garbage.
Pesto isn't good.
Turkey should be served at least once a week
People only pretend to like dark chocolate.
Ditto black beans.
Milk with ice is excellent.
Candles look so innocent but they're really waiting to burn your house down.
Buffalo Wild Wings is a sad and disappointing place.
Broccoli is the only vegetable you really need.
Nothing has ever replaced the show 24.
Using spaghetti squash in place of actual pasta is a travesty.
Cauliflower is okay but doesn't belong in pizza crust, I don't care if Oprah makes it.
Saying "easy peasy" is a fireable offense.
Following it up with "lemon squeezy" gets you brought up on charges.
Most Girl Scout cookies are just expensive supermarket cookies but the Thin Mints are fire.
Kit Kats and peanut M & M's are the best candies, and Good and Plenty deserves to burn in the pits of hell.
As does any form of black licorice.
Pub fries are gross.
McDonalds fries are sublime.
Thomas the Tank Engine was disturbing.
I'm tired of fish tacos.
Caribbean Life and Beachfront Bargain Hunt are better than Fixer Upper, and Chip and Joanna are kind of annoying.
Tiny homes on wheels are just trailers.
TGIFridays did a terrible thing when they got rid of their Oreo frappes.
Frappes are awesome and don't get enough respect.
McDonald's milkshakes don't count as frappes but Shamrock Shakes are excellent because GREEN.
Cambell's tomato soup made with milk is the only tomato soup; people who make it with water are enemies of the state.
Chickpeas are a nightmare.
Mushrooms should be outlawed.
Chocolate bread pudding can substituted for any meal.
Subscribing to the New York Times when you live in Boston is traitorous, not to mention pretentious.
No one looks good in Bruins gear.
Chet and Natalie were overrated.
Maria Stephanos should have stayed on Channel 25.
Hooters wings are actually exceptional.
The poop emoji is not cute.
People who think amusement parks are fun are wrong.
Ken's Original Italian is the best salad dressing.
But blue cheese is > ranch.
Drakes Funnybones are pretty good but Hostess Fruit Pies are just weird.
Bow ties on men are bold and awesome.
Pecan pie is better than apple pie.
Farro is not an ingredient I need to know about.
Ernie Boch Jr. is kind of cool.
Man buns are kind of sexy.
Toasty Cheez-its are everything.
The Count is the best Sesame Street character.
Elmo is the worst.
Miss Piggy has always made me uncomfortable.
I'm tired of hearing about Mr. Rogers.
Durgin Park deserved to die, but Indian pudding is still important.
The term "furbaby" is annoying.
Ditto "pet parent."
Ditto "granddog."
Pineapple on pizza is okay.
Pizza should be a food group.
Pizza Hut is terrible.
French bread pizza is not pizza.
Duran Duran was the greatest group of the 80s, Simon Le Bon was a genius and Rio is practically Shakespeare.
Hall and Oates were bad, and Maneater is awful.
Krill is a fun word and needs to be used more often.
Thick & Fluffy Eggo waffles are better than homemade.
Pancakes are > waffles.
Lemon ricotta pancakes aren't real, and no one has ever actually made them.
David would like to chime in now:
Man can live by cereal alone, as long as he has at least 15 kinds.
Asparagus should be outlawed.
Same for brussel sprouts.
Hostess fruit pies are amazing.
Ode to Billy Joe is the best song ever written.
Olives plus broccoli is a delicious pizza topping.
Torte is German for 'unhappy with dessert'.
Docksiders are the only shoes anyone needs.
80's hair on women was great.
And though we disagree on many of our #unpopularopinions (Hostess Fruit Pies? 80s hair? I mean, c'mon) we agree where it really counts:

Fake maple syrup is an offense so grave there are no words for it.

Marilyn Davis Archibald (archie4618@aol.com) lives in West Newbury. She is currently helping her cat Toast decide whether it makes sense to run for president again in the 2020 election, considering she only got one vote in 2016.  This article was originally published in the Daily News of Newburyport

Shooting Star

Making fun of Star Magazine is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Not that I would ever shoot fish in a barrel. I would never shoot a fish and would not know where to find a barrel of fish anyway. You know what I mean, though. It's nearly impossible to make fun of something that is a parody of itself, but I'm going to do it anyway. Unfortunately, this involves admitting that I read Star Magazine, but I guess it's best to get that out right now. I had to do hours of bathroom read-I mean research for this article, and I hope you all appreciate it.

My name is Marilyn Archibald, and not only am I a cat person, I read Star Magazine.


Thank you. I feel accepted. I must stress that I do not actually buy Star. I have not yet stooped that low. It comes to my husband's office, free of charge and completely randomly. We can go for months without receiving one, other times we get what feel like minute-by-minute updates of the Kardashians as Stars overflow the mailbox.

And speaking of the Kardashians, we should probably address that pressing topic before we move on to anything else. It is hard to remember a time BK (Before Kardashian). If the Ks did not exist, Star (and by extension, the National Enquirer, US, OK, etc.) would have had to invent them. Like dinosaurs, with overdeveloped bodies and tiny brains, the Ks rule the planet and there's nothing we can do about it. Doesn't matter what they do. You mean like Khloe's ex-but now maybe not ex-husband Lamar possibly overdosing on Viagra after a three-day binge at a brothel, you ask? Well, yes. They are also reproducing like crazy, so there's no hope of a K-free future anytime soon. I give Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner huge props. Not only did she embrace what she tells us is her true self, she managed to out-Kardashian the Kardashians in her transformation. Good on her, I say.

So, Star Magazine. Well, right off the bat, they need better editorial oversight. "ELLEN AND CAITLYN-NASTY FEUD EXPLODES!" screams the cover headline on the September 28th issue. And, less than a month later (October 26) we get "KIM AND KATE-NASTY FEUD EXPLODES!" Well, which nasty feud should I get more upset about? I think I'll go with Kim and Kate. Who wouldn't feel sorry for poor Kim, who apparently only wants to be friends with Kate Middleton? "Kim and Kanye turned away from palace!" And worse--"Princess sends back baby gift!" But Kim has the last word: "North is cuter than George, anyway." That's telling her, Kim.

Okay, we need to move on from the Kardashians (see how hard that is? They insert themselves into everything. I'm pretty sure they were involved in the Iran nuclear deal. IRAN: "You must rid the world of this infidel pestilence known as the Kardashians." JOHN KERRY: "Sorry, we can make any concession you want, but that's off the table.") One of my favorite features is Normal or Not, where Star judges whether celebs are in or out of bounds with their behavior. I know, funny, right? Oh lord, there's Kim again! Keep moving (she's normal, in case you were wondering). Here's someone named Katharine McPhee (?) and boyfriend Elyes Gabel (??) at a tennis match, normal; Boy George (really?) carrying groceries, normal; and Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine cavorting on set in a motorized wheelchair, NOT NORMAL. Were the judges were drinking before making these decisions?

All right, moving on to Star Couples and NOO! SAY IT ISN'T SO! "Gisele & Tom: Couples Therapy." You are hitting way too close to home now, Star! Tom and Gisele, who are described as "genetically blessed," no argument there, are supposedly attending marriage counseling in a "last ditch effort" to save their marriage. Though Tom was reluctant to go, the therapist is supposedly siding with him. ""He's been getting some much needed vindication during this process," says an insider (quotes are always from an insider). Thank heavens for that, because Tom Brady is a homely recluse who everybody hates. It's not like thousands of people cheer for him at football games, wear shirts with his name on them, or name their dogs after him.

Calm down now. Tom and Gigi will be fine, I'm sure. How about something more neutral, like the ads? Most of the ads are what you'd expect-anti-aging serums and the like-but the Ashton Drake Galleries has a running ad in each issue featuring an "adult collectible" (take your mind out of the gutter please). Here we have Mrs. Beasley, from the very long-forgotten TV show "Family Affair," and even more terrifying, "Clementine needs a cuddle," a newborn baby monkey, complete with hair bow and pacifier, each only $99.99, payable in four installments. Sign me up.

Sadly, we haven't had a chance to discuss Hot Sheet, Star Fitness, and Celeb Crossword. About that last feature, all I can say is, good thing Kardashian has so many vowels in it.

This article was originally published in the Daily News of Newburyport, November 2015

Happy New Year-now make your bed

I made my bed this morning.

I made it yesterday too, as well as the day before that. I made it every day last week, last month, last year. Anytime you see me, you can assume that my bed is made. Call me a crazed, bed-making zealot, I don't care. As far an I'm concerned, an unmade bed after 8 or 9 in the morning is the first step to the kind of slovenliness that will eventually have me wearing a stained housecoat, sporting curlers, and being able to talk knowledgably about which celebrity was on "Harry" that day.

I believe I need to give my mother much of the credit for this. My sister and I were supposed to make our beds and we generally did, but I think my true bed-making inspiration came more from the sight of my mother putting HER bed in order every day; tucking the sheets, fluffing the blankets, arranging the (massive) spread, ordering the (many) pillows. I don't believe there was ever a day when my mother's bed wasn't made, or when her room was a clothes-strewn mess. Her bedroom was a always a soothing, ordered place, and even the sizable stacks of magazines that my father kept on his side of the room were tidy and organized (although she would have much preferred that they weren't there, but that's marriage for you). My mother never yelled at me to make my bed every day, she just showed me what life was like when you did.

I am not militaristic about how I make my bed. I don't do hospital corners. I can't bounce a quarter off the sheets. I don't even use a spread; instead I have a blue cotton blanket, white sheets, white and blue pillowcases, a pretty patterned fleece throw at the end of the bed, and blue, white and grey throw pillows. The colors are muted and the textures are soft.

When I put my bed in order I am accomplishing my first task of the day. Pull back the top sheet, smooth the bottom one on one side, then the other. Pull the top sheet back up and fold it over the now wrinkle-free blanket so that it looks nice, shake out the pillows and fluff them so they stand up and then order the throw pillows (only three). Arrange the fleece over the bottom of the bed, like the cherry on top of a sundae and that's it, I'm done.

How long did it take me? Less than five minutes certainly, basically no time at all. It's pleasant and meditative, and never feels like work. But somehow it means everything to my day. It's only 8'o clock in the morning and I have already accomplished something that's important to me (after making coffee, of course but that's akin to breathing, ie, I would die without it, so there's no actual choice).

My husband knows that I much prefer to make the bed by myself, but sometimes he pretends to help just to tease me. Yelling "NOOOOO" loudly until he leaves usually works, but Toast the cat is another matter. She thinks that making the bed is an invitation to play, and not the deathly serious matter that it is. She dives under the covers and pounces on the blankets until I am forced to remove her bodily, ignoring her squalling.

I had no idea other people felt this way until a few years ago, when former Navy Admiral William McRaven, chancellor of the University of Texas system, gave a commencement speech in 2014 in which he extolled the virtues of the made bed. "If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed," he told the graduates. "It will give you a small sense of pride and encourage you to do another task, and another...Making your bed will also reinforce the face that little things in life matter....And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that's made...And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better."

The speech became a social media sensation and McRaven went on to incorporate it into a book called "Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...and Maybe the World." A SEAL for 37 years and formerly commander of U.S. Special Operations, this man appears to know a thing or two about Getting Stuff Done. So if he believes in the value of fluffing blankets and tucking sheets, that's good enough for me.

Reading the comments from others as I was researching this column was eye-opening. Many people feel exactly as Admiral McRaven and I do, but naturally, others do not. Making the bed for some people was associated with unpleasantly rigid parenting or other difficult issues, and they find their freedom in NOT making their bed. I'm happy for those who reclaim peace of mind at any age, but I feel a little sad that they can't take joy from climbing into a smooth and ordered bed each night.

Now excuse me, it's 8 a.m. I need to go change the world.

This article was originally published in the Daily News of Newburyport

Sewing, ironing and a circle of connection

When I was growing up, there were such things as sewing ladies. And even more amazing, ironing ladies. My mother had both, and it didn't seem odd to me. My own sewing machine is a dense, unused hunk of metal taking up space in the spare room, and the iron can't be found. I know, because we tried to locate it the other day. No luck. No iron. No problem.

But sewing and ironing were important things in the old days, at least for my mother. Her sewing lady was named Alice Murry and we spent a lot of time at her house. "We're going to Mrs. Murry's!" My mother would say, gathering up an armload of clothes. "I need something hemmed." Hemming was also a big concept back then (whatever happened to hemming? I haven't had anything hemmed in forever). But my mother was not tall, and had fairly short legs, so most things needed to be hemmed for her.

I liked going to Mrs. Murry's. I was fascinated by her house. I didn't know it at the time, but it was an American Foursquare, roomy and gracious, with high ceilings and big windows. Her sewing room was a little addition on the back with its own entrance. This room was amazing to me. There was so much to look at-spools of thread in a rainbow of colors, a myriad of buttons, sewing implements, fabric and patterns, all organized to within an inch of their lives. It could have been chaos, but instead it was an absolutely meticulous workspace.

Mrs. Murry herself was equally meticulous as a person. She seemed like a teacher to me; slender, grey hair in a tidy bun, always in a dress and shoes with kitten heels. She and my mother were very friendly, yet extremely formal with one another. They were "Mrs. Murry" and "Mrs. Davis," never Alice and Jeanne. I asked my mother once why this was, when they had known each other for so long. My mother looked bemused as she shook her head. "I don't know," she said. "It just seems-appropriate."

I didn't mind standing in front of the big three-paned mirror as Mrs. Murry folded and pinned my pants-I felt like I was onstage. But I always happy to be done, because then I was allowed to go into the parlor (are rooms called parlors anymore?) and look at the fish tank while Mrs. Murry tended to my mother's hemming needs. It wasn't an especially elaborate tank, but I loved it. It had live plants, growing up from the bottom and floating on the top of the water, and natural gravel, so that the fish-guppies, they were-seemed to live in a actual little world that was nothing like the garish aquarium displays at the pet store. Sometimes it was hard to find the fish, but that only made it seem more real. Snails added to the authenticity, and I would crouch in front of it, losing myself in the clear water and green plants and sparking silver fish.

After we left Mrs. Murry's we often went to the ironing lady's. Her name was Josephine, which we kids thought was hysterical. I remember her as a short stout woman with a warm smile. I don't believe I ever went inside her house. Unlike Mrs. Murray's pristine domicile, this was a scruffier abode, with lots of kids and dogs. We would ramble around outside, playing hide and seek while my mother dealt with the clothes, exchanging the wrinkled for the unwrinkled and talking with Josephine. My mother loved smooth, wrinkle-free clothing and she valued Josephine's services very highly, as she did Mrs. Murry's.

As she grew older, Josephine stopped taking in clothes to iron. Mrs. Murry too cut back on her work and one day she announced that her arthritis made it impossible for her to continue sewing. Sadly, my mother started taking her clothes to an anonymous drycleaners for tailoring. She enlisted ironing help from our longtime housecleaner Ruthie, who was like a member of the family. Watching Ruthie iron was mesmerizing; her rhythmic strokes transforming the clothes, the iron spitting and gurgling. My mother had arthritis herself by this time and she would sit and keep Ruthie company as she ironed, the two of them chatting about children and family matters.

This was all many years ago. My own relationship with ironing can best be described as complicated (one time my youngest child, at age five, picked up the iron and said "This is neat! What IS this?") As for sewing, my clothes generally come from the store ready to wear, or they don't come at all. But I will always treasure the memory of Mrs. Murry and Josephine and Ruthie and be grateful for all that they did for my mother. It was a circle of connection, friendship, and respect for work that enriched all of them.

This article was originally published in the Daily News of Newburyport

Stan Davis: Classic cars, beans and franks

My father, Stan Davis, passed away about a year and a half ago, and I'm sure that heaven still hasn't recovered from his arrival. I'm certain that because of him, there is at least one KFC store up there now, as well as an outlet mall, a couple of apartment complexes and maybe a new subdivision or two.

So many people loved Stan during his lifetime, and a number of them considered him their mentor. People who knew him talk to me about him all the time, always with a smile on their face. He was a completely self-made man, raised modestly in Reading, Mass. He left Penn State before graduating to join the Navy, and went on to fly seaplanes in the Pacific during World War II. Over his lifetime, his pursuits included: commercial pilot, aerial advertiser, golf course owner, salesman, KFC owner (6 stores), Wynn's auto products distributor (40 salesmen), apartment, condo and home builder, hotel and outlet mall owner, classic car dealer, and inventor (corn-shaped popcorn bowl). I'm sure I've left several careers out, but that's a start.

Stan was an inveterate storyteller, and like most people with big personalities, a lot of stories revolved around himself. I thought I would share a few Stan stories and memories for Father's Day--some of them will be familiar to his friends, and some are just, well, Stan being Stan.

He survived a lot of plane crashes: By our count he walked away from at least five plane crashes. The one that seemed amazing to me as a child occurred during the late 1950s, when he lost an engine just short of the runway at Logan and put the plane down in Boston Harbor. My mother Jeanne was with him, and she went into shock from the crash, unable to undo her seat belt and escape the sinking plane. When he realized she hadn't escaped, Stan dove back into the plane, wrenched her door open and dragged her to safety. The crash made the front page of all the local newspapers. My mother always thought it was unfair that Stan looked dashing and Errol Flynn-like in his pictures, while she was shown with bedraggled hair and her feet in a tub of hot water.

Stan loved butter: According to my mother, after a night of hijinks the two of them often ended up an all-night diner, where, after consuming a plate of bacon and eggs, Stan would take his knife and shave off pieces of butter and...eat them. Plain. (I plead the Fifth on whether I, as the inheritor of what is known as "the butter gene," have ever done anything similar).

He brought a Lamborghini home from Italy-and inspired Jay Leno: Stan and Jeanne were touring Italy around 1970 with a group of Wynns' salesmen. They visited the Lamborghini factory and he fell in love with an eye-popping model with blue metallic paint and a glass roof. A month later the "Lambo" rolled off a ship in Boston and quickly became the toast of the greater North Reading area. My mother wasn't crazy about it, saying she felt like she was riding around in a fish bowl, but we kids loved the car and the crowds it would inevitably attract. Years later Stan treasured a quote from Andover native Jay Leno, in which Jay says that as a kid he saw some guy driving his Lamborghini around town and it fired his determination to own a car like that himself someday.

Beans and franks was his favorite meal: Stan detested fancy food. Dragged to brunch at the lovely Andover Inn, he announced (loudly) about the smoked salmon "I hate that slimy *%$#." He loved popcorn, vanilla pudding, Cool Whip, and cheap low-fat ice cream. There were always cans of B & M baked beans in the house. He drank Dewars and soda and wouldn't touch wine or champagne (unless there was nothing else to drink, in which case he drank them liberally). He went through gallons of lemon-flavored Crystal Light.

He bought a big red building and transformed it: Around 1980 Stan bought the building at 1 Charles Street in Newburyport that is now the James Steam Mill, when it was a derelict old structure housing a few light industries. When he complained about the heating bill to the city's building inspector he was told "You bought that big red m%#$*&@#--it's your problem!" Well, those were fighting words. Mr. Davis went to Washington, secured Section 8 funding (I pity those poor legislators who tried to go against him, I really do), and the James Steam Mill went on to become one of the most beautiful affordable housing buildings in the country.

Stan in a nutshell: He hated high-priced car mechanics. He often took his Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Ferraris to places like Jiffy Lube, and was usually very satisfied with the service he received.

Happy Father's Day, Dad, and I know you'll keep things hopping up there. Heaven needs an entrepreneur like you.

This article was originally published in the Newburyport Daily News, May 2017

25 things you don't know about me

In a ironic twist, US Magazine profiled Lori Loughlin in their 25 Things You Don't Know About Me section right about the time the college admissions scandal story broke. Obviously #26 should have been "I paid $500,000 to some shady dude to get my kids into USC." So after reading that I figured I'm at least as interesting as a cheater pants celebrity, but you can judge for yourself.

1. I walloped Dean Puzo over the head with my little school briefcase in first grade because he chased me off the school bus one too many times. It had my metal lunch box in it too. He didn't chase me after that.

2. I hate the feeling of nail polish and manicures make me nervous.

3. I eat the crispy parts of the turkey when it comes out of the oven before anyone else can get them.

4. I judge women who wear stilettos. It may be jealousy, because I could never wear shoes like that, but I want to warn them that they will be the first to be eaten when the zombies come. That's actually good for me, because I'm always in sneakers.

5. I also judge men who wear their hair shaved on the sides with the top long and pulled back in a ponytail. Dudes, please don't.

6. I don't like the film version of "Gone with the Wind."

7. I like Toasty Cheez-Its a lot, probably too much.

8. I worked in a veterinary practice for a month in high school and couldn't do a single thing right. They finally asked me to leave when I smashed an intravenous bottle all over the floor.

9. I cry when I hear "Smile" by Uncle Kracker because my youngest daughter made a video of her pony Jersey set to this song, and I see her cantering through the tall grass, 11 years old forever.

10. My essay "An Undersea World" was praised by my third grade teacher as the best in the class and put up on the bulletin board.

11. I went to Rob Gronkowski's 25th birthday party with my husband at Rehab in Las Vegas. We were the oldest, worst dressed people there and I talked us in by telling the gate person that I was Rob's homie. Somehow she believed me.

12. It's true that I crush crackers into small pieces in the box before I eat them. Other family members are unenthusiastic about this.

13. "Someone saved my life tonight" is my favorite Elton John song.

14. I used to be terrified of fire. When I was small a grill ignited the lawn in my backyard, and I was so frightened I threw up. I only got over this fear in eighth grade when I learned to light a match.

15. I smoked a cigarette one time at around age 8 when my mother let me try a puff of hers. I coughed for a good ten minutes and never touched cigarettes again.

16. Bread is my favorite food, but it has to be good bread.

17. I have a horror of rubber bands, just like my father did.

18. Yellow roses are my favorite cut flowers and remind me of my mother, because I bought them for her often.

19. I had my forehead split open by horse's hoof at age four when my father let go of the lead rein. I fell off and got hung up in a stirrup. My mother almost fainted when my father carried me into the house all bloody, and they rushed me to the hospital. I still remember my outrage that the doctor didn't put me to sleep before stitching me up. I still loved horses afterward, though.

20. "Annie Hall" used to be my favorite movie. Now it's "Jerry Maguire" tied with "Bull Durham."

21. The long-ago memory of my older daughter buying my son a small Lego kit to apologize for spinning him too much on a tire swing still makes me tear up.

22. I wrote a story called "Why I love my pet" about my pony Foxfire and it was published in the National Enquirer when I was in seventh grade. The paper sent out a photographer to take a picture of the two of us. It was my first piece of published writing.

19. I hate going to plays and always wish I could leave during intermission.

23. I love the sound of wind, especially at night.

24. I have a killer milk chocolate cake recipe that my mother handed down to me. I once sold it on Ebay under the name "Miracle Milk Chocolate Cake." I felt bad about doing that and since then have refused to share it with anybody, so you probably shouldn't ask.

25. And finally, I always know what time it is without looking at the clock, and I'm never late. It's not the superpower I asked for, but it's the superpower I have. 

This article was originally published in the Newburyport Daily News, July 2019

My Cape Ann soundtrack

"Noises Off" is a famous play and is also the story of my life when I am in my Rockport cottage. "Noises off" is a stage direction meaning sounds made offstage meant to be heard by the audience of a play. My cottage is not particularly quiet. I wouldn't want it to be. The 'noises off' are part of what make it special to me, and they meant to be heard through wide-open windows, screen doors, and car sunroofs. They are part of the soundtrack playing in the background of my summer.

Our cottage is within sight of the water, but we can't hear the waves from the house. However, the ocean is alive to us in other ways. When it is foggy we hear the mournful chant of the foghorn from Straitsmouth Island. When the wind is right we hear the clanging of the bell at Avery's Ledge, the south corner of the submerged outer breakwater and the gong buoy at the northwest corner. These sounds bring me right out into Sandy Bay, and I can picture the seals on the Dry Salvages and the giant sunfish, lazing at the water's surface, that we saw while we were sailing toward the end of the summer.

The water sounds that we don't hear from the cottage surround us elsewhere. There is the bumping and churning of rocks and sand on Old Garden Beach when the surf is high. There is the crack and thunder of waves against the breakwater at the end of Bearskin Neck, delighting tourists. And there is the almost musical sound the water makes during the downwind leg of our sailboat races, when the spinnaker is flying and the wind is pushing the boat from behind-a tinkling noise almost like a fountain as the boat cuts through the surf.

The wind is a constant auditory presence here, amplified by the large trees that surround our house. On weekend mornings when we are slated to race our little boat I wake up with a pit in my stomach when I hear the leaves roaring (too much wind!) or dead silence (not enough!). And speaking of morning sounds, the dawn chorus at our house is conducted almost solely by crows. I'm certain that crows have a sense of humor and think it's funny to perch directly outside our bedroom window and caw really loudly at 5:30 am for as long as it takes to make certain that we are completely awake. They leave after a while (Crows: "Okay, they're up. Our work here is done"), but we hear them calling and chattering around the neighborhood throughout the day.

The train whistle can be heard from our house, even though the train station is a good mile and a half away. Often we can hear the engine too, a low vibration that you feel in your chest. I love the deep throaty rumble and the smell of diesel when I am boarding the train to head into Salem or Boston. I am not a commuter and I ride the rails strictly for fun, so to me the train sounds and smells like adventure.

The sound of cars and human voices is a constant background presence here. We are located on the corner of a well-traveled road not far from downtown Rockport, so there is plenty of activity. Odd as it might sound to those who prefer complete privacy, I don't mind those noises. I like to hear the familiar voices of my neighbors talking and laughing. I like the rhythmic thump of a basketball as the boys down the street shoot hoops. I even like the scraping sound of skateboards, as young kids and people old enough to know better risk bodily damage grinding down the long hill in front of our house. All those noises tell me that there are other people-friends-close by, and I find that comforting.

Finally, I love the sound of gulls. The crows may be more raucous around my cottage, but the gulls are everywhere else. On Front Beach, in Rockport and Gloucester Harbors, along the Back Shore, following lobster and fishing boats-they are the lords of the air and they proclaim it loudly. I was struck by their boldness when I visited Thacher Island last summer; it felt like the dominion of the birds. Gulls were everywhere, and the look in their eyes told me that I was the intruder. Over this Labor Day weekend, as we drove down Main Street in Gloucester with the sunroof open, for block after block the sound of gulls calling was the loudest noise I could hear.

The crying of gulls, the foghorn chanting low and deep, the train whistle-these sounds go on but increasingly I am no longer there to hear them. Fewer people walk by the house. Doors and windows must be shut against the weather, and neighborhood voices can no longer be heard. But the Cape Ann soundtrack plays in my head and on the coldest winter days I can hear the bell buoy in my mind and feel warm sun and spray on my face..

This article originally appeared in Cape Ann Magazine

A sick dog, a second chance

The first hint I had that something was wrong with our dog Truman was in the afternoon on a Sunday in late January. I tossed him a dog treat and he didn't immediately jump up to grab it. He raised his head tiredly and after a moment got slowly to his feet. He ate the biscuit and lay back down with a deep sigh.  I didn't think too much of it. Truman was nearly 12 now, and had certainly slowed down. Increasingly he was refusing to go on the walks he used to love, getting halfway down the driveway and just stopping. He slept a lot. His hearing was going, and we could no longer count on him running to us at the sound of his name. When he was out in the yard he would look toward the house, using his eyes instead of his ears to know when to come inside.

He still looked good, with his beautiful blue merle coat, but he was no longer the active dog he had been for so many years. He came to us in 2006 from a unknown breeder in Montana when I decided I wanted an Australian Shepherd. I bought him after seeing a single adorable picture on the Internet.

That was a terrible idea but we got lucky. He was a gorgeous healthy ball of fluff with boundless energy and eyes that could and did stop traffic--one a melting brown, the other a deep icy blue. Walking him was like hanging out with a celebrity. People would stop us endlessly to admire him. He would sidle up to them like a cat, eventually ending up on his back, basking in the attention.

He had the strongest bond with our youngest, Tessa. They grew up together, running and jumping, playing until they were both exhausted. One of my favorite pictures shows a sleeping Tess stretched out on the couch and Truman laying next to her, his eyes closed but one big white paw stretched over her protectively.

And now he was older, slower, deafer. But nothing seemed radically wrong until dinnertime on that January Sunday, when I poured dog food into his dish and he didn't move or even raise his head.

"Trumie? Dinner! Truman?" No response, no movement. Had he somehow broken a leg or dislocated a hip? We got him to his feet and he staggered. Something was very wrong. Our own vet was closed but they directed us to the Bulger Veterinary Hospital in North Andover. We waited for some hours while the kind professionals at Bulger assessed him. When the doctor came out her face was grim. Truman was having severe heart arrhythmia and we needed to get him to the Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital, a specialty facility, in Woburn as soon as possible.

We headed to Mass Vet at first light the next day and he was admitted immediately. When I cuddled him to say goodbye, tears running down my face, I wondered if this would be the last time I saw him alive-laying on a blanket, unable to raise his head, an IV already started in his leg.

Over the next 24 hours the amazing doctors and staff at Mass Vet stabilized Truman's heart and looked for the cause of the problem. X-rays didn't show any cancers, but did indicate clot damage to his heart. Blood work also showed evidence of anaplasmosis, a tick-borne infection, which may have pushed existing problems to a crisis point.

Truman came home with a bundle of medications, but he was a very different dog than the one who was near death only a couple of days before. He sidled up to me for petting in his usual way when I picked him up from Mass Vet. Two days after coming home he threw his favorite toy into the air a few times and pounced on it. He ate every meal, looked for snacks, and tried to get the cat to wrestle with him.

We go back to Mass Vet soon for a recheck and are keeping our fingers crossed. The wonderful people who cared for Truman there and at Bulger can't make him young again, but maybe they have given us a few more years with him.

Tess saw Truman for the first time since his illness when she came home from college recently. That night I took another special picture. It shows the two of them in front of the fireplace, Tess smiling and Truman stretched out in front of her, utterly content. This picture tells another story too, as inevitable as time: that more than ever, it is our turn to protect the old dog at our feet and care for him as long and well as we can.

This article originally appeared in the Newburyport Daily News

I ate five ice creams so you don't have to

I ate five ice creams in one day, but dear readers, I did it for you.

"They" said it couldn't be done. "They" said two, maybe three ice creams in a single day was possible, but five? Never.  

Hodgies Too Ice Cream, Newburyport, 1:02 pm, 91 F.: Perennial Amesbury favorite Hodgies has recently upped its game and opened a stand behind Shaw's Plaza. Cone sizes range from ¼ kiddie (gigantic) to large (drywall bucket). I opt to start my quest off with a coffee ice cream soda, and Hodgies does this old school treat proud. Their coffee ice is delectably strong and rich, and they put plenty of syrup in the soda. The ice cream scoop straddles the side of the cup properly before toppling in, making for a fizzy trough of goodness. I eat about half of it and share the rest with my father-in-law, who resides in nearby Country Center. I call that a win-win. Grade: A+

Hair appointment, Shanti, Newburyport, 2-2:45 pm: There is no reason I can't look good while I am on the road to perdition.

White Farms, Ipswich, 3:09, 92 F: White Farms is "the cow place" and a favorite of mine for Oreo frappes, and that's what I opt for. This is a risky choice because it's seriously weighty (which is what I'm going to be if I keep this up). I have no regrets however-it's thick and sweet with a delicious chocolate grittiness because of the Oreos. Yum. Grade: A+. But things are getting intense, because my next stop is only moments down the road.

Down River Ice Cream, Essex, 3:40, 97 F (is that possible?): The only trouble with Down River Ice Cream is figuring out what to order. Every choice sounds incredible. I figure it's time to get healthy, so I go for a black raspberry cone and count it as a fruit. Oh my goodness. The gorgeous creamy purple color alone is mesmerizing, and the taste-well, you want to swim around in this ice cream and never get pulled out. And at 97 degrees, swimming is pretty much what I'm doing with it. I'm up to my elbows in black raspberry, but it feels so good. Grade: A+

Over the Annisquam River bridge onto Cape Ann and the temperature drops to 86 F. A terrifying thought seizes me--is it too cold for ice cream now? No, I reassure myself, it is not too cold for ice cream.

Rockport, 4:15-6:45 pm: I am prostrate on the couch for a while but I rally and eat a very light dinner before the final push. I'm on Everest and I'm heading for the South Col and the Hillary Step-I can almost see the peak, and there's no turning back now, even though we're running out of daylight.

Holy Cow, Gloucester, 7 pm, a downright frosty 76 F: The aptly named Holy Cow lies in the shadow of St. Ann's church, and eating their ice cream is nearly a religious experience. I am distraught to learn that they are out of maple bacon but I press on by choosing the equally exquisite crème brulee. The waffle cones are made on demand, and I receive my ice cream in a warm, crispy-chewy vessel of delicousness. I weep a little. Grade: A+

Long Beach Dairy Maid, Gloucester, 7:30 pm, 74 F: LB Dairy Maid is a hot mess of every ice cream choice under the sun and too many homemade signs, but locals wouldn't have it any other way. I get a root beer float and am surprised, at this point, that I can still enjoy the way the vanilla ice cream merges with the soda to create something delectable and almost crunchy. Grade: A+

At home I collapse and sleep the sleep of the righteously full, after promising myself I will eat nothing but salad the next day.

Cost: About 30 bucks or so, plus tips.

Calories: A lot. Let's talk about something else.

Experience: Priceless

But what, you ask, is with all the A pluses? Could everything be so good? Isn't that grade inflation? And I say to you, beloved readers, when it's 97 degrees out and I'm scoring ice cream, there is no such thing as grade inflation.

This article was originally published in the Newburyport Daily News and the Gloucester Times