I am Vicky

A hiking we will go
A hiking we will go

One of my favorite movies as a kid in the ’60s was The Parent Trap with Hayley Mills playing identical twins separated as infants when their parents divorced, who meet each other years later at summer camp. I loved everything about that movie. Except the awful Vicky.

Vicky was the gold-digging fiancée of the girls’ father, Mitch. A prissy city girl, she’s totally out of her element in the great outdoors, which is made comically evident when she goes camping with Mitch and the girls. Since the twins don’t want her marrying their dad, they sabotage her. The coup de grâce comes when a terrified Vicky awakens to bear cubs licking honey off her feet that the sisters poured on her while she slept. She freaks and storms off, shouting “Get me outta this stinkin’ fresh air!”

What a beyotch. And a wuss. My tween tomboy self laughed and turned up my nose at Vicky-the-wuss. Until nearly five decades later when I realized that now I am Vicky. (The prissy, wussy part, not the beyotch.)

I enjoy the great outdoors—gardening, walking our dog Mellie, and chillin’ on the patio. Camping and hiking? Not so much. I’ve never gotten the appeal of bugs, sleeping on the ground, and wild animals. Possums especially creep me out. They’re big, fat, mentally challenged rats that waddle and hiss and bare their menacing teeth like Jaws’ great white.

I’m a few months shy of 60 and have only hiked about five times in my entire bookworm life—usually on a wheelchair-accessible trail. Two of those times were in my single, evangelical days way back when. Christian singles do everything in a group—camping, hiking, rafting; all manner of outdoorsy things, which is tricky for an indoorsy girl like me. But I sacrificed my natural inclination to fit in with the group. (But mostly to fit in with a guy I was crushing on.) I even went backpacking. Once. Squatting in woods and packing my poop in the ground with a plastic shovel isn’t my idea of a good time.

Recently though, I hiked along the coast with my husband. A FIVE-MILE hike. Cue Gilligan’s Island theme song. I prepared by reading up on the hiking area in advance, but was disconcerted to discover we needed to watch out for poison oak, ticks (Eww) snakes (double-Eww) and bobcats. Bobcats? As in cousin to the mountain lion? Oh. My. God.

The morning of the hike I donned my khakis—a friend advised me to wear light-colored pants to show ticks easily—then pulled up the YouTube video on how to remove a tick. Like the Boy Scouts, I wanted to be prepared. I nearly lost my breakfast. The tick was stuck in the guy’s SCALP! Eww. So excited to begin communing with Mother Nature.

Our guided hike started out well on a wide open trail with great views of the Pacific. I’m feeling confident and in control. I can do this nature thing. (Especially since the only critters we’ve seen are hawks and seagulls.) An hour later, the trail narrowed as we headed into the woods where we’re surrounded by trees and ferns. As we hiked, I said to our guide in an offhand jokey way that I’d read there were bobcats in the area. (Were being the operative word.)

“Yep. They’re like big fat house cats. But they don’t usually approach humans.”

Usually? “You don’t have bears though,” I said in the same jokey tone.

“Sure,” Guide-man said as he led us deeper into the woods. “But they’re rare.”

WTF?? THERE’S FRICKIN’ BEARS IN THESE WOODS? (I only scream it in my head though; I’m no Vicky. I hum “I am woman, hear me roar” and forge ahead, keeping a sharp eye out for Yogi and his housecat pal). Eventually the trail tapers into a narrow path with grasses and greenery brushing against my light-colored pants.

“Watch out for stinging nettles on the left,” Guide-guy warns. “And poison oak on the right.”

My head swivels from left to right. What fresh HELL is this?! Poison oak, stinging nettles, bobcats, bears, and ticks? Oh my. This hiking stuff is DANGEROUS. And people do this for fun? I find it a lot more fun—and safe—reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. But seasoned hiker that I’m fast becoming, I forge on, using the hiking poles my friend loaned me to push aside any poisonous greenery while continually scanning the area for bears and bobcats.

Just keep going, just keep going, says Dory’s voice in my head. Another hour later as my out-of-shape, beyond middle-aged body is huffing and puffing up a steep hill, Guide-Guy cheerfully says, “Almost there.”

At last we reach the end of the trail and kick back with snacks and water. I’m ready to return to the motel, but our car is at the beginning of the trail and the only way back is the same way we came. Past the stinging nettles. Past the poison oak. Through bobcat and bear country.

Two hours later, feet screaming and calves on fire I spy the parking lot. Civilization! I’m tempted to kiss the ground, but don’t want to eat a tick.

Just call me Vicky.

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TV Crushes

IMG_0830TV Crushes

Growing up, I was in love with Little Joe Cartwright. How could you not be? He was so cute!

In the mid-‘60s, TV westerns were the best place to find a wagon load of gorgeous guys. My favorite was Bonanza. And not just because of the curly-haired, mischievous, and dimpled Little Joe. Some episodes I was drawn to the dark-haired handsome Adam who always dressed in black and was so wise and mature. Other times I even fell for Hoss; for such a big guy he was dadburned gentle. (Although what was the deal with their clothes? As rich as they were, you’d think the Cartwright boys could have afforded more than one outfit.)IMG_0829

My preferences changed weekly, depending on which of the boys was taking a girl for a buggy ride and picnic. But did you ever notice that going on a picnic with one of the Cartwright boys usually ended in death for the unlucky woman of the week? Once I realized that, I scratched that IMG_0831romantic scenario and moved on to the Barkley brothers over at The Big Valley.

Problem was, not one of the Barkleys alone had all the characteristics on my wish list. I yearned for the intelligence of Jarrod, the strength and raw masculinity of Nick, and the sensitivity of Heath. (Later, Heath became The Six-Million-Dollar Man, so I could have had two out of three in one package if I’d only known.)

Finally, there was The High Chaparral with Big John Cannon, his happy-go-lucky brother, Buck, sensitive son Blue, and flirtatious brother-in-law Manolito Montoya. Manolito was the dashing and charming ladies’ man who made my heart flutter every Sunday night. But my tween heart was fickle and some weeks I’d give my heart to Big John, the gruff family patriarch who reminded me of John Wayne. And a couple times I gave it to Buck, the fighting, free-spirited, Civil War vet who deep down didn’t think he deserved the love of a good woman. I wanted to show him he did. And then of course, there was the sweet, young “Blue Boy,” always trying to prove himself to his daddy. I fell in love with his beautiful blue eyes and sweet spirit.

But it wasn’t just the guys of TV Westerns who won my tweenage heart. I also fell for the dynamic secret-agent duo in The Man From Uncle. Although Illya Kuryakin was arguably the cuter of the two with his black turtlenecks, intensity, and thatch of blonde hair, I usually swooned over the cool suaveness and sophistication of international ladies’ man Napoleon Solo in his ubiquitous suits and tuxedo. A world away from the blue-collar guys in my factory town.

And of course the crème de la creme of my romantic childhood yearnings was Davy Jones of The Monkees who made a daydream believer out of me.

What about you? Who were some of your childhood TV crushes?

Tub Travels

Bathtub Vacation

Everyone needs to get away from it all occasionally. That’s why people take vacations to such exotic locales as Greece, the British Virgin Islands, and Hawaii. Some of us, however, have to settle for the economy excursion, or as I prefer to think of it, the budget-bathtub plan.

My tub is my ticket to paradise. All I need is a good book, some hot water, and Calgon (lately replaced by Bed, Bath & Beyond) bath salts to “take me away.”

It’s not the same for Michael. He’s a shower-guy. I enjoy showers too, but I’d IMG_0832much rather settle in for a long evening’s soak. And I come prepared. A cup of steaming hot tea with milk and sugar and some English shortbread on a flowery plate is essential if I’m reading Maeve Binchy or Rosamunde Pilcher. If I’m reading Sue Grafton, Daniel Silva or David Baldacci, I’ll have a margarita. But if it’s Harry Potter, Little Women, or Mitford, I choose milk and cookies.

Just not Oreos. Dunking’s too difficult in the tub. (Those little crumbs from the chocolate cookie outside have a tendency to adhere to the skin when there’s bath oil in the water.)

It took my husband a little while to adjust to my bathing habits. We’d been married less than a month when one night I told him I was going to “have a bath” (an English turn of phrase I’ve held onto after living there years ago; so much more elegant and Downtonesque than “take” a bath.) Michael was busy in the other room when I informed him of my bathing intentions, so just said, “Uh huh,” and continued with whatever he was doing.

An hour later, however, he called in to me, “Are you all right?”

“Yes. I’m just reading.”

“Okay.”

After another hour had passed and I still hadn’t surfaced, he knocked on the bathroom door, then poked his head in, concerned. He found me in the empty tub. Buck naked and bone dry. Clutching my John Grisham.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Trying to finish this. I’m on the last chapter.”

“But there’s no water in the tub.”

“I know. It got cold, so I let it out.”

“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in a chair or on the couch?”

“Not now. I only have a couple pages to go.”

(Adapted from Dated Jekyll, Married Hyde)

How about you? Do you take tub vacations too? What kind of refreshments do you bring for the trip?

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Boomerangle

IMG_0209I didn’t have a miserable childhood with crazy, alcoholic parents. I didn’t escape a third-world country after being sold off as a child-bride at 12. I wasn’t raised in the projects by a drug-addicted mother who turned tricks to make ends meet. I’ve never made a sex tape. (You’re welcome.) I’m not fleeing an abusive relationship with my tattooed and pierced lesbian lover. I’m not a woman trapped in a man’s body longing to develop an Adam’s apple, facial hair, and wanting to change my name to Bruce. I’m not psychotic, schizophrenic, anorexic, dyslexic, or eccentric.

Just occasionally neurotic. Although my friends and family might disagree on the occasional part.

I’m a happily married (most of the time), soon to turn 60, lower middle-class suburban white woman packing some extra pounds who has a steady 8-5 job, drives a 20-year-old Honda Civic, and sings in the church choir.

In short, boring with a capital B.

At least to young people and New York publishers. All 15 of them (or was it 25? I’ve lost count) who rejected my funny, sometimes spiritual, sometimes heartbreaking, good-girl-gone-bad-gone-good-again memoir. The best (she says humbly) book I’ve ever written. Of the dozen or more—17—I’ve had published. The most transparent. The book of my heart and soul.

But I’m not bitter. Just “unknown” and not very exciting, apparently.

photo - author in airforceI sure was in my younger days. Not many (any) girls in my high-school graduating class of 1974 ran off to join the Air Force, fly a typewriter through Europe, and date fighter pilots. Or toss back schnapps and eat wild boar in Germany, tilt at windmills and tiptoe through the tulip fields in Holland, and visit 13 countries before they were 23.

Not to brag (too much) but I also skied in the Alps (okay, snowplowed into cars in the parking lot, but let’s not quibble. I was on skis in the frickin’ ALPS! Were you?) enjoyed a gondola ride in Venice, went au naturel on a topless beach in Sardinia, and tried not to gasp in good-girl, Midwestern shock when I saw the women in the windows in Amsterdam’s red light district. I did gasp at Winged Victory in the Louvre, swim in the Mediterranean, watch Yul Brynner polka across a West End stage in The King and I, eat snails in Paris, frog legs in Luxembourg, and drink ouzo in Greece. (That ouzo left me winding through tables in a taverna doing a Zorba-like snake dance with the waiters and other drunken patrons, smashing plates and yelling “Opa!”)

I also flew a glider over the English countryside, belted out “Don’t Rain on my Parade” on the 3 a.m. ferry from Dover to Calais, and kissed Gordon MacRae. (My childhood musical crush Curly in the movie-musical Oklahoma. Shortly after that kiss, he died from mouth cancer. Just sayin’.)

At first glance, my life now—the year I’m turning 60—may not seem as exciting and adventurous as it was in my 20’s, but who needs all that excitement anyway? These days I’m excited about Sunday afternoon naps.

IMG_0237I’m glad I experienced the wild and crazy things I did (most of them) in my younger days, but I’m happier and more content now than I ever was back then. You couldn’t pay me to go back to my 20’s. Or 30’s. Forties? Maybe. Those were good years. (My first book published at 40.) But I prefer to look forward, rather than back. This year, in addition to turning 60—a number that seems surreal when I say it aloud since I still feel about 43—I’ll also be celebrating my 25th anniversary with the love of my life. And I find that pretty exciting. We’ve only just begun. Cue The Carpenters.

What about you? Are you more content now?