I Like to Think of It as Charmed, Thank You…

photoRecently, I handed out the pens by the dozens to the servers at the downtown restaurants. I’d had them printed with Upside Down Kingdom, my website, and my tagline: Author, Blogger, Poet, Traveler.

One particular night, when it felt as if the world had used me as a punching bag and the construction was still going on at the house, I decided to go out for a quick bite before heading home.

I perked up over my food—I always do. And I had a book to read, so I hardly noticed the group of people seated next to me, other than to hear occasional bits of conversation when they got loud.

At one point, though, I suddenly heard them talking about poets, writers, and travelers. My ears naturally tune in to these words. I looked up to see they were paying their tab, and signing the check with one of my pens.

“Wow,” the check signer said, a man in a very nice business suit. He was eyeing the pen. And then he said to the group, “That’s a great life.”

I didn’t say a word, though the title of this blog is exactly the first thing that came to mind. And that’s when, suddenly, the world made a whole lot more sense to me.

“Yes,” I thought to myself, “Yes, it is.”

My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon. I’ll sign it for you.


Thank You Construction Workers, Cleaning Crew, ER Vets, and Ben & Jerry’s, It Was One Hell of a Week

Well, we made it to Friday! This week has been Week Two of much-needed house repairs where a handful of men and women have practically lived with me in order to get the work done before their next job is slated to begin. In the process, the house had to become exceptionally dirty, normal-use items had to be put in creative places and not-so-creative places (like dog food in my dining room), and I spent the better part of this week replaying scenes from The Money Pit in my mind. I remember when Shelley Long opens her medicine cabinet and a workman hands her her morning ritual items, including telling her she was out of birth control pills, or something like that. It’s amazing how familiar we get when sharing space with others. Last week I was concerned with getting laundry put away for the sake of privacy, but this week I only cared enough to get the basket out of their way. (They were using the laundry room as a home base, though tools had been left all over the house.)

In addition to The Money Pit, I kept repeating to myself J.D. Salinger’s “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters!” as a sort of construction mantra, usually as a happy sing-song, but other times I let my mind wonder why a person would need to write such a line as a failsafe in case the carpenters hadn’t thought to raise the roof beam high. Every spare moment I had this week, especially while walking from my car at the back of the house over the ice to the front door because I gave the carpenters my only back door key, I contemplated Salinger and his note about the roof beam. Luckily, my roof beam’s fine, I think.

My cat and dog were rather disturbed by the chaos, which brought about a couple vet visits this week. That was expensive, but the furry kids are worth it and seem to be much better. Personally, I’m starting to see double in my right eye, but the vet didn’t want to look at that. Incidentally, the stuff they prescribed to calm the cat left him glassy-eyed but zippy. We stopped that med. And boy, the new prescription cat food smells lovely in my dining room. Once some paint dries, I can access the lower level of the house (which makes it sound huge, right? “The lower level and the East Wing and all…” in my best high-brow voice. In reality it’s more cottage-size, so having no access to the entire basement really cuts the living space in half). Anyway, soon I hope to put the pet dishes back in the basement, sorry, “Lower Level,” where they belong. I’ll also be able to do laundry then, too, which I don’t much care about but I’m sure my coworkers do.

Concentrating on writing through the noise and interruptions was an interesting feat, and of course this is the big deadline week of my entire month and even the office has noisy work happening at the moment. But I managed to meet all the necessary deadlines as well as chat with you all. I credit Ben and Jerry’s Cinnamon Buns ice cream for some of that. I discovered it this week at the grocery store and bought it on a whim. The stuff made me so happy I cried. No kidding. My nerves were shot. Then made a late-night trip back for more. Then I got some work done.

photoAll in all it’s been one heck of a week. And I truly have no reason to complain: The carpenters were gracious enough to let my dog out routinely (or maybe the furry foreman was getting too close for comfort. Border collies tend to run the show.) And, you won’t believe this, but yesterday before the whole troop left en masse, they called in their emergency back-up: a cleaning service who ran through and scrubbed the putty off the steps, wiped up all the plaster dust, swept the floors, scrubbed the sinks, and even tidied the pet bowls. I may not clean for a month (you know I’m kidding, sort of).

Thanks for bearing with me this week, all!

And, as the week’s not over yet, I hereby raise my cinnamon spoon to the weekend with the best-frazzled toast I could think up: Bring it on.

My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon. I’ll close one eye and sign it for you.

Ponding Water

My fellow Pittsburghers will know what I’m talking about…

I got a message a couple days ago from a friend who was traveling the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I wrote back, “Tell all of my people I say hello, and watch out for Ponding Water!”

paOh, the stories I have of that road! There’s the day I hitched a ride with a trucker (indeed!) when my car broke down on a mountainside. Weirdly enough, that was my safest option at the time. And, of course, there’s my family’s invented tradition, the Annual Peach Run, which gained infamy because of that treacherous Turnpike. But those stories will come to this blog later. This story is about Ponding Water.

When I lived in D.C., I habitually drove the Pennsylvania Turnpike West to visit my family in Pittsburgh. I usually entered from about the midway point, Breezewood, and drove through the hills and mountains, twists and turns, the Allegheny Tunnel, and constant construction that is the Original Turnpike route, opened in 1940. (The opposite drive, from Breezewood to the East end is typically flat, straight, and “Please-get-me-out-of-the-car-I’ll-walk-from-here” maddening with hours of the same da-dunk, da-dunk, da-dunk from your tires over the multitude of seams in the road surface. I’ve only had to drive the East portion about a dozen times in my life, and that was plenty enough.)

Constant Turnpike construction on the Original Turnpike toward the Western Expansion (opened in 1951) gives us what we call “Jersey walls”—movable concrete barriers on either side of the road that guide you through lane changes and keep you from driving off hillsides. They’re placed to allow about a foot of clearance from the side of your car. You’ll see them.

IRThe funny thing about Pennsylvania is that it’s typically raining somewhere. (In Pittsburgh, we blame the Great Lakes for this, but I digress.) Along the Turnpike, which stretches from East to West (or, for Pittsburghers, it stretches West to East, from Us to Them), it’s likely raining (or snowing) on this long road at multiple points simultaneously. Weather plus Terrain equals Construction, every Pittsburgh kid knows that. They teach it right after the Immaculate Reception.

The very first time I saw a Ponding Water sign, it was one of those movable construction signs, lit up by light bulbs. I passed it and thought, “I’m already pondering all this water. What a weird sign. Did an English Major program that in?”

And then it dawned on me what the sign had actually said. The Jersey walls were trapping the rain water, making the road a virtual canal. I’m driving on this narrow expanse of concrete, rain is flying, the road surface leaning left then sloping right from the construction, the tractor trailers and cars around me are all trying their best to navigate at top speeds. Ponding Water. They might as well have written, “Death Ahead!”

With about 80 miles left to go, I remember a red Toyota truck that suddenly hydroplaned and did a 360 degree spin about 30 yards ahead of me. Luckily no one was traveling in the lane next to him at the time, so the driver was able to use both West-bound lanes to complete the spin. He narrowly missing one jersey wall with his front end, but his tailgate made contact with the opposite wall. The rest of us gave him room, and the driver and truck shook it off and kept going. Ponding Water.

I remember the irony and outrage of knowing I had to pay the exit toll before this would all end. You read correctly: if and when you reach your destination, you pay to exit the road. Depending on the distance you traveled, you could pay $1 or $30+ for your car (trucks with more than 2 axles pay more). So sharpen your skills and try to enjoy the ride, because this kind of adventure is far from free. I can tell you that no matter how bad it got during the drive, every time I reached the Allegheny Valley Exit, I felt nothing but relief to pay the toll and exit the road. I never had any fight left to argue the system. Not once.

I have very vivid memories of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, so vivid that I wonder if I weren’t more alive then. Let me explain: Sometimes you need a good, white-knuckled shaking-up to put things in perspective and remind you how great life can be. Colors are brighter, food tastes better. Pennsylvanians know this best.


My novel, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon.