Bug Tripping in Aruba

            Aruba has earned its title, “One Happy Island.” One of three Dutch islands in the Lesser Antilles with Curaçao and Sint Maarten, Aruba is located safely below the hurricane zone. The island temperature is a constant 27 degrees Celsius (81 Fahrenheit), days are sunny and dry, and warm trade winds fan the air. On the southwest coast, coconut palms, cacti, and aloe vera plants dot the white sands of Palm and Eagle beaches. On the northeast side, rugged cliffs hug the coast. Mostly flat, the highest elevation is Mount Jamanota at 189 meters (617 feet).  

Eagle Beach, considered the most beautiful stretch of sand in the Caribbean, lies on a knob of land that reaches into the sea. The sand is squeaky fine, and the turquoise water is shallow enough to wade out several yards. In the spring, leatherback turtles creep onto the beach and lay their eggs, and after two months the hatchlings scramble for the water under the watchful eyes of nature monitors. 

My husband and I were looking for an environmentally friendly stay, and Bucuti and Tara Boutique Resort on Eagle Beach looked to be just the ticket. Owner Ewald Biemans named the resort Bucuti after one of the island’s coral reef where he liked to take a boat and retreat for solitude and relaxation. Tara is the Sanskrit word for “star,” and at night the sky is studded with twinkling lights. The lodging caters to the eighteen-and-over tourist and requires a five-night stay at around $500 per night for a standard room, which includes taxes and a full European breakfast. 

Situated on fourteen acres, the four-star hotel has 104 rooms and suites, a spa, and an infinity pool, but we chose it for Biemans’s eco-tourism mission and the numerous environmental awards he has garnered. Solar panels cover the roof of the hotel building, and the workout machines in the resort’s gym generate electricity as visitors use them. You’ll see no plastic anywhere, and even food left on diners’ plates is scraped into buckets for a local farmer to use as pig feed. According to Biemans, we would expend less energy staying a week at his resort than we would remaining home and driving to work each day. Bucuti and Tara is, in fact, the only carbon-neutral resort in the Caribbean. A guilt-free vacation was exactly what we were looking for.

Mr. Biemens, who hails originally from Austria, is considered a pioneer of sustainable tourism, and the resort has won numerous awards for environmental innovations, including The World Tourism and United Nations Global Climate Action Awards. The resort’s motto is “Romance, Wellness, Sustainability.” I would add hospitality to that list. When we arrived from the airport via taxi, two people greeted us at the curb, a porter offering to take our bags and a concierge who welcomed us and led us to the lobby where we were each offered a glass of champagne before checking in.

The standard room has a king-size bed. The closet holds robes, yoga mats, and a safe for valuables. We filled the two insulated thermos bottles with filtered water and were invited to take them home at the end of our stay. An air purifier and dehumidifier keep the air fresh and free of mold. A door leading to a private patio with a table and two chairs allows views of the beach and garden, which is sprinkled daily with greywater from the showers. Above the patio, flags of Aruba, the European Union, the Netherlands, England, Canada, and the USA wave in the breeze.

The official Aruban language is Dutch, but Papiamentu is predominantly spoken among the locals. A form of Spanish Creole, Papiamentu is a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, English, and African words and phrases. Although all Arubans are bilingual and speak English fluently, it is appreciated when you use Papiamentu to say “Bondia” for good morning and “Masha danki” for thank you.

Eagle Beach drew us almost before we had unpacked our bags. But first we used the iPad provided in our room to reserve an umbrella and accompanying cushioned beach lounges and towels. Should we choose an spot around the infinity pool where the jetted tub is solar heated, or cozy up to the bar, or get close to the Caribbean water? No worries—when thirst or hunger calls, we raise the red flag attached to the lounge chair, and a waiter appears to take our order, brings our desired drink or snack immediately, and we sign the bill to our room. 

A word of caution—get organic sunscreen from the lobby giftshop, and keep to the shade of the umbrella. The trade winds give the impression the equatorial sun is benign, but don’t be deceived. In case of burn, purchase a tube of the local aloe to slather on pinked skin. 

On weekdays, Pilates, yoga, and tai chi classes are complimentary, as well as an early morning mindfulness beach walk. The full breakfast offers pastries, meats, cheeses, yogurts, cereals, fruits, crepes, oatmeal, and eggs any way you desire them, including Benedict and omelets. Vegetarian and vegan options are always available.

Bucuti and Tara boasts two restaurants. The bar at Elements is on the beach, and the patio invites outdoor dining. The red snapper is delicious, and my husband enjoyed chicken fettuccini. With wine, the bill came to well under $100. For more upscale dining, Senses offers an extravagant five or eight-course prix fixe dinner with wine pairing. One evening we booked a table in the courtyard at Ike’s next door at the Manchebo resort. A mango martini whetted my appetite for mushroom risotto, and my husband relished the local mahi-mahi dish. Be sure to make reservations as resort restaurants get busy, especially during winter and spring seasons.

U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere as well as Aruban and Dutch money, but since the pandemic, most restaurants and upscale stores prefer credit cards. For the several casinos on the island, a credit card will buy you a ticket to play the machines. Resorts hug the east coast of Aruba, including the Hyatt Regency, Courtyard Marriott, Hilton Oceanfront, Renaissance Wind Creek, Ritz-Carlton, and our Bucuti and Tara.

Sundays are quiet, and most shops and restaurants are closed, so we walked across the parking lot to Bob’s Pizza where during happy hour a medium pizza is upgraded to large at no extra cost. The barbecue chicken with mushrooms is tasty with enough to take back to our room for the next day’s lunch.

If you are willing to pry yourself from your cushioned lounge chair on Eagle Beach, it’s worth an afternoon trip to downtown Oranjestad for shopping at Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Rolex, and other designer stores that sell below U.S. and European prices. We bought tee shirts at the flea market across from the Renaissance resort and cooled ourselves with a couple of the local Balashi beers at a bar on the dock where charter boats load passengers for a day of fishing. It’s also impressive to watch giant cruise ships approach the docks at the north end of Oranjestad.

Island tours are available via bus, all-terrain vehicle, or horseback. Jet skis and windsurfers can be rented, or sign up for a workshop in making aloe scrub, birdwatching, or meditation. For an evening of romance, take a sweetheart sunset sail aboard a catamaran or a Spanish Lagoon cruise on a 115-foot wooden schooner. 

We chose to rent a reconditioned pink 1960s era VW Beetle from Vintage Aruba Rentals. The four-gear manual has no air conditioning, but vent windows push open to bring in a cool breeze. Venturing north, we stopped at California Lighthouse on the northeast tip of the island near Arashi Beach and the Sasariwichi dunes. Named for the steamship California sunk in nearby waters in 1891, the lighthouse asks a $5 fee to climb to the top, small price to pay for a spectacular view.

Only off-road vehicles are allowed on the unpaved road along the western edge of the island, so my hopes of walking the Peace Labyrinth at Alto Vista Chapel were dashed. Instead, we steered the VW toward interior paved roads where houses are modest with an occasional food market and bakery. I wanted to see one of the animal sanctuaries, and we paid the $10 entry fee for Philip’s Animal Garden, which includes a bag of grain nuggets and carrots to feed the four-legged animals. The gatekeeper said all the animals—including ostriches, donkeys, peacocks, monkeys, snakes, horses, and a camel, among other creatures—have been rescued from circuses and inhumane conditions in South America. I especially liked the half dozen piglets with the mama pig who opened her mouth to let me drop in food. We found the facility clean and the animals healthy and were glad to contribute to their care.

On advice not to miss Baby Beach, we headed past Queen Beatrix International Airport and the Citgo Oil Refinery to the south end of the island. The parking lot was crowded, but we found a small spot for the VW and marched toward the silvery sand. The beach is officially known as Klein Lagoen and its shallow crystalline water is the perfect spot for snorkelers and children learning to swim. 

The afternoon sun had bathers crowded under the shade of the few palapas, so we retreated to Rum Reef Restaurant for Magic Mango beers created for Balashi Brewery by Aruba’s first female brew master. Seated on the deck with a view of Baby Beach under a cloudless sky, we sipped and lunched on grouper sandwiches with fried plantains.

After a week in this paradise, it was hard to leave Aruba. In fact, 70 percent of those who stay at Bucuti and Tara are repeat visitors. One woman we met was on her tenth visit. Biemans says, “Nature is the pillar of our economy, as without our unspoiled nature, there is no tourism.” When we climbed into our taxi for the airport, we had become believers.

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The past is with us

I was thrilled to receive the following review from a recent reader of my 2008 biography:

“Written with clarity, facts, and understanding, Louella Bryant hits home to the reader that truth can be more fascinating and rewarding to read than fiction. The expatriates seeking alternative lifestyles had a tough decision to make, not the answer for all of them, illustrated by Ms. Bryant, as she relates the ironic fate of Charlie Dean. Educating and brilliantly written. I highly recommend reading WHILE IN DARKNESS THERE IS LIGHT.”

From Brigitta Lawrence, World War Two survivor and refugee from war-torn Germany in 1949. The age-old question stands today. “Should any mother’s son go to war?”

It some point, we lose authority over our children. My son turned 43 this month and is a father of his own son. I can’t direct his life, nor should I. He learns from his mistakes as well as from his successes. All we as parents can do is wish them well and pray they will stay safe. Tragically, Charlie Dean’s fatal mistake cost him dearly. I hope you’ll take a look at the story.

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Readers ask about my new release BESIDE THE LONG RIVER

  1. What’s the novel about? 

In spite of objections from English teenager Sarah Lyman, in 1632 her Puritan family boards the ship Lyon bound for Massachusetts Bay Colony. When the Massachusetts laws prove unbearably harsh, Sarah and her family join Thomas Hooker’s group in settling Hartford, Connecticut. There Sarah befriends two Pequot Indians whose camp is near the English settlement. Fearing the Natives are dangerous, the governor declares war against them and Sarah disguises herself as a boy and joins the soldiers—to try to stop them. 

2. Where did this story originate?  

My father-in-law Steve Parson asked me to help him write a book about his mother’s family history. In research into the early Lymans, I became enthralled with young Sarah Lyman and Steve gave his permission for me to write her story into a novel.

3. How authentic (real) are the characters? 

The Lyman elders, Richard and his wife, are as I wrote them, as are the four children. There was a baby, but I left him out as I couldn’t figure how he contributed to the story. Thomas Hooker, Massachusetts Governor Winthrop, and Captain William Pierce of the ship Lion actually existed, as did Captain John Mason, who led the raid on the Pequot encampment.

4. How much of the story is based on actual events? 

  • The Lion sailed from England in June 1632 with the Lymans aboard. 
  • A young boy fell overboard on that voyage, which I’ve included in the book. 
  • Earlier, English passengers brought small pox to the New World, an outbreak which made its way to Native tribes.
  • The Lyman family are listed among the original settlers of Hartford.
  • I’ve found no evidence that the Lyman family was involved with the Pequot War, but the massacre did occur in May 1636 under the direction of Captain Mason.

5. Why did you have Sarah Lyman dress as a boy and join the English infantry? 

The massacre of Pequot women and children was so horrendous, I wanted Sarah to see the action firsthand rather than being told about it. Female characters dressing as men in Shakespeare’s plays was common to the period.

6. What about this story drew you to it?

From the time I first read about her, I saw Sarah as a modern badass. She bucked convention and wanted more for herself than a husband and a brood of children. She didn’t marry until she was in her twenties, whereas most girls married in their teens, and she lived nearly to 70, a ripe old age for people of that time.

7. Who is your audience for the story?

Anyone interested in Colonial America, Native American history, or a just a good story of adventure, bloodshed, and love.

8. What gives you the authority to write about Native Americans when you’re white?

As Ken Burns said, “I’m in a business of history and that includes everyone. And I have, throughout my professional life, tried to tell the story of this country in an inclusive way and that means talking about race and trying to tell stories from multiple perspectives… But I do not accept that only people of a particular background can tell certain stories about our past.” 

The character Ayaks is the son of a Dutch trader and a Pequot woman. My first novel, The Black Bonnet, is the POV of a slave girl who discovers her father is the white slaveowner. If we test our DNA, we’ll find we’re all a mixture of races. Why should writers limit ourselves to stories only about white people? 

President Barak Obama says we’ve got to talk about race, to bring it into the daylight. Discussions of race are a disinfectant, he says. We can’t pretend native history doesn’t exist side by side with white history. We need to look at it in order to heal the deep wounds, the indignation, the anger, the pain. I hope in some way Beside the Long River helps to do that.

9. What is the takeaway—what is it you hope your readers will gain from the book?

The 1636 Pequot War in what today in southeast Connecticut was a massacre of six hundred natives justified by the belief that English colonists were destined by God to expand their dominion across North America. The Pequot nation stood in the way of fulfilling that destiny. Few settlers objected and even fewer tried to stop the attack. That persecution and bloodshed continued well into the 19thcentury, and prejudices against Native Americans continues to this day.

10. Where can readers purchase the book?

Beside the Long River will be released in January 2022 and is available for preorder from Black Rose Writing (https://www.blackrosewriting.com/historicaladventure/besidethelongriver). Also check my website, louellabryant.com. Look for the book this winter from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever books are available online. 

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Where were you when…

If we survive long enough, we experience moments of awareness that we’re living through history. For our parents, it was Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. For my generation, it was the Kennedy assassination. 

I was in high school history class, ironically, when we learned Kennedy had died from gunshots to the head. Miss Rudnicki was skinny, gangly, with bucked teeth and bad skin. She was a stern teacher and, I thought, heartless. As she dictated quiz questions on the previous night’s reading, a chapter I hadn’t read, an announcement came over the intercom that the President was dead. Miss Rudnicki stopped the quiz, put her head down on her desk, and wept. School was canceled for the day. I don’t recall other details except being home and watching events unfold on our small TV screen. But a thousand times I’ve relived the scene of Miss Rudnicki crying, and I never neglected another homework assignment for her class. 

Twenty years ago, we lived history again when planes crashed into New York’s Twin Towers and Washington’s Pentagon. I was in high school then, too, teaching English in Vermont. As with the other events, there was a sense that we were in a dream from which we would awaken at any moment. Watching the news on the big screen in the school auditorium felt more like playing a video game than witnessing the reality of the attack. 

In front of a Vermont police station, citizens of the town erected a rusted section of one of the tower’s beams as a memorial to the three thousand who died in the attack. That bent metal is testament to the reality of the 9-11 event. I’ve visited the warehouse in Dallas from where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal bullet. I’ve stood on the grassy knoll and looked for the mysterious man on the railroad tracks. I may not know who actually killed Kennedy, but visiting Dallas convinced me that his death was not fabricated.

As the nation acknowledges these historical events, I realize that the past could repeat itself in some form at any moment. What’s important to remember is that history is happening all around us—no video games, no doctored images on a screen, no fantasy of some demented mind, but reality.

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, Maya Angelou said. I’d add that the worst is bound to happen, but I’m focusing every breath on expecting the best.   

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Under attack by tiny vampires

A year ago, wanting to lose weight and get into better shape, I started running. My rural Vermont town is nestled at the foot of a mountain, and roads are either uphill or down. Each day I ran a little farther until I made it to electric pole #19 at the top of the first steep hill. I knew people jogged into their 80s, a decade away for me, and I planned to keep at this exercise thing to challenge my aging body. 

One evening after a run I was showering and noticed a tiny red tick on my shoulder. Even without my reading glasses I could see little legs wiggling on a body that appeared headless. Ticks excrete an anesthetic at the point of entry to dull the bite and help them avoid detection so they can feed. I hadn’t felt the bite, but the skin around this tick’s legs was red and sore. 

I got out of the shower and called my husband into the bathroom to pull the creature out. He used tweezers and managed to grab the body, but the head broke off and stayed under the skin. 

“You should go to the ER,” he said.

That evening at the hospital the doctor dug out the tick’s head. The nurse gave me two Doxycycline pills and advised, “That should take care of any Lyme.”

When I told a Kentucky friend about the tick, she said one had crawled up her pants leg and burrowed into the back of her thigh without her knowing. It must have feasted on her for three days because by the time she flicked it off, the critter was engorged and skittered across the floor in search of a safe hideaway to digest her B-positive. 

We live by the Green Mountain National Forest, but I had never seen ticks on our property. Where had I picked up my hitchhiking vampire?

Ticks can live for three years without eating while they wait for a juicy host. Imagine being so ravenous that you bury your head in your dinner. I could do that with ice cream. Or chocolate.

I’d been wanting to clear an area thick with ash saplings and wild honeysuckle and instead plant evergreens to screen our neighbor’s house. Her dog had picked up ticks there, but I had sprayed the area and hoped I’d killed all the little beasts—or at least chased them away. I girded myself with long pants tucked into my socks, long sleeves, gardening gloves, and bug spray and spent an afternoon clipping brush and settling young spruce trees into their new home. If I’d encountered a tick, I hadn’t noticed.

Our house sits at the edge of acres of thick woods. We’ve seen moose, bear, coyotes, foxes, and the ubiquitous white-tailed deer that munch my hosta and phlox. My gardens are a midnight candy shop for deer families, and most spring and summer mornings I wake to stubs of hosta plants. For Mother’s Day, my daughter-in-law gave me perennials that needed planting—Jacob’s ladder, bleeding heart, hens and chickens, and other garden plants. I covered up and spritzed myself with a deet spray. Dividing the baby plants between two gardens, I took my time to compost and mulch around them. When I came in for lunch, I was pretty proud of how the gardens were filling out with poppies, iris, and peonies. 

As I was eating my sandwich, I felt a tickle on my neck. I reached and found a moving lump—a large black tick searching for soft skin to plumb with its corkscrew head. It appeared white-tailed visitors had been depositing their bloodsuckers in my gardens. I was under attack.

There are 850 species of ticks around the world, ninety of which are found in the U.S. Hard-shell ticks are found in wooded and grassy areas like where I live. Brown dog ticks found in the western U.S. transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, symptoms of which are similar to Lyme, but the western bacteria is potentially fatal. Blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, carry the Lyme bacteria as well as the babesiosis parasite and anaplasmosis, which can cause severe illness or death if not treated. 

My gardens require constant attention in the spring, and a few days later when I came in from weeding, what appeared to be a deer tick crawled across my shirt. I found a third clinging to my towel when I emerged from the outdoor shower. Had it lain in wait on the post by the shower stall, or had I brushed the towel against a plant on which the vermin perched? How clever these beasts to anticipate the towel eventually would be against my naked skin, the skin it planned to violate on a tender spot of flesh pulsing with blood. 

Each of a tick’s eight legs is equipped with a sharp claw that allows it to cling to fur, hair, cloth, and skin. I tried shaking the towel, to no avail. The tick was not letting go. Normally I wouldn’t touch a tick, but this one had overstepped its bounds. It wasn’t playing fair. I grabbed and pulled in order to release it from the soft cotton loops.

The body of a tick excretes a fluid that hardens around it, like a crab shell. Scientists call it a scutum. The only way I could think to kill my towel traveler was to smashed it against a tabletop with the edge of a glass bottle. I used the bottle that held tick spray.

I have since learned not to squish ticks. If they carry Lyme, the bacteria can be released and do as much harm as a bite. It’s better to flush the tick down the toilet or burn them, as we did when I was growing up in Virginia. Each summer evening my mother checked my brother and me for ticks after we’d been rolling in grass and tromping through nearby woods. If she found one, which she invariably did, she squeezed it into a balled-up tissue and set the tissue afire with her cigarette lighter. We liked listening for the pop indicating the danger had been exterminated. 

When I flipped over the creature I had just killed, I saw how the legs were attached to its pale belly in perfect symmetry, each leg positioned to move in synchronicity with the others. 

What marvelous and terrible machinery!

Ticks are not insects but are small arachnids, like spiders and scorpions. They don’t jump or drop from trees onto their hosts (thank goodness). Instead, they use what’s known as questing where one will perch at the tip of a blade of grass or the stem of a bush, waiting to sense carbon dioxide, body heat, or vibrations. Extending its front legs, the tick waits for a host to brush the vegetation and quickly latches on.

A tick’s brain is not located in its heads but in the abdomen. Although, brain isn’t the right word. Ganglia is attached to the abdominal nerve cord, acting as a thought organ. The tick knows only two things—eat and breed.

One warm day I had an urge to walk down the driveway for a visit with our neighbor Nancy. She mows her lush lawn to the edge of beautiful gardens abloom with color. For decades we’ve been best friends. In the field that separates our properties, we mow a wide swath of grass as a path between us.

Since I was sticking to the mowed area, I thought it safe to wear shorts and a loose tee shirt. Nancy served tea and cookies, and we had a good chat. On the way back, I checked the young evergreens I’d planted. Noting that the long grass around them, I reminded myself to get the mower out the next day. For now, I tiptoed through the grass quickly, stopping only long enough to satisfy myself that the trees were sprouting candles, a signal of their health. My lilac bush was bursting with purple blossoms, and I wiggled into its branches to snap off enough flowers to fill a vase. 

I had taken to showering after being among the plants but this time I didn’t bother before dinner, thinking I had been prudent in avoiding my nemesis. Before bed, I stripped down for my nightly cleanse and found the dreaded wiggling legs protruding from my stomach. I hadn’t realized I’d been bitten, although bite is not exactly the word. The head was embedded under the ski, and the tick was enjoying a feast of my blood.

I called for my husband to bring the special tick tweezers he’d bought after my tick incident the previous year, and he extracted the arachnid and sent it down the sink drain.

“We should have saved it,” I said, “to test it for Lyme.” But too late. I comforted myself with the statistic that only black-legged ticks carry Lyme and at most only half of those have the bacteria. What color were my dinner guest’s legs? I wasn’t sure—another reason to save the tick. 

Male ticks eat very little but hang onto a host until a female arrives. While she dines, he mates with her. Female ticks must drink blood in order to produce eggs, a thousand at each laying. After several weeks, the eggs will produce nearly invisible and ravenously hungry seed ticks. In the nymph stage, a deer tick is the size of a speck of ground pepper. So tiny, they are difficult to detect and often the victim is unaware of having been bitten.

The female may lay up to five thousand eggs in its two-year lifespan.

The spot where Harry removed my girl tick at first looked like a small red hole. An hour later, a dark ring surrounded the wound. Not a red ring, I thought—no problem.

A few weeks later I felt itchy. When I inspected, I found a red rash on my chest, my breasts, and my stomach. The rash lingered for a few days, so I called my doctor. She ordered a blood test for the next day, a Friday. I had stopped running—I was just too tired. Any activity sent me for bed rest before I could drag myself up to make dinner. I was back in bed by eight o’clock. And I started having headaches and dizziness.

I wouldn’t have the blood test report until Monday and tried not to worry. Over the weekend, I assured myself the test result would be negative. 

On Monday morning, the email arrived. There it was—in bright red letters, bold face, highlighted in yellow, followed by an exclamation mark: POSITIVE!

I stared at the word in disbelief. Then I closed my eyes. There had to be a mistake. Advanced Lyme can cause encephalitis, meningitis, autoimmune disorders, facial paralysis, arthritis, personality swings, heart palpitations—and the list goes on. For years, a friend has battled Lyme and babesiosis. The parasites lodge in the red blood cells causing pain, anemia, blood clots, unstable blood pressure, and organ failure. 

When I looked again at the email, the word was still there—POSITIVE! My life is over, I thought. I was condemned, issued a death sentence. Or worse—a permanent disability.

The life cycle of the Lyme bacteria renders it undetectable except at certain stages of development, but my blood test was positive for antigens of Lyme bacteria. What did that mean? 

My doctor was not surprised by my test results, having seen a significant rise in the number of Lyme cases this summer. In fact, the Bay Area Lyme Foundation reports 400,000 cases of Lyme in the U.S. each year, but the actual number may be much higher because so many people have Lyme without knowing it. As for my blood test, the doctor explained that the IgG result measures immunoglobins indicative of antibodies battling diseases. My antibodies had been battling Lyme bacteria for some time. 

“How long is ‘some time?’” I asked.

“Up to a year,” she said.

I’d had Lyme for a year and not known it? How was that possible?

The doctor prescribed a two-week regimen of the antibiotic Doxycycline, 100 mg twice a day. The Doxy made me nauseous unless I took it after eating, but crystallized ginger and probiotics helped. The pharmacist recommended a dose of 85 billion probiotics to replenish the good gut bacteria that the antibiotic would kill along with the bad bacteria. At night I took liquid drops of a natural stress reliever to help ease my fears and bring on sleep. 

After two weeks of the antibiotic, I felt my energy returning. I’ve gotten out of shape in the last year, but I’m starting out again with long walks on those hilly roads. The good news is the increased demand for a Lyme preventive has prompted action from pharmaceutical companies. Pfizer has shown promising results in phase 2 trials for antibodies that neutralize Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme. The next phase will be introduced next year, and FDA approval may come in 2024.

With warming temperatures and a ballooning tick infestation, do we have time to wait?  That’s three springs in our gardens and our woods with newly-hatched tick babies that mean to do us harm. And a vaccine will not keep ticks from biting. Maybe the focus should be on making ticks sterile so they don’t reproduce because whether I get Lyme again or not, I’m not crazy about the idea of having an eight-legged vampire sucking blood from my belly—or anywhere else on my body.

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How Hartford, Connecticut, came to be

My young adult novel BESIDE THE LONG RIVER is now available for preorder. Here’s the scoop:
In the early seventeenth century, Puritan teenager Sarah Lyman realizes the leaders of English settlements will destroy anything in the way of their expansion in the New World, including wolves –and Indians. When Sarah discovers the rules in Massachusetts Bay Colony are even stricter than in England, she joins her family in following Thomas Hooker to establish the city of Hartford.
Sarah figures in Connecticut she might be able to dress and act as she wants without fear of punishment. But Pequot Indians edging close to the town’s borders must be eliminated, even though Sarah has made friends with a native girl and falls for her brother, the brave Ayaks.
Dressed as a boy, Sarah enlists with the English infantry marching to Missituck (Mystic) in hopes of stopping the massacre of the Pequot tribe and the man she loves.
Beside the Long River is based on historical people and events, including the brutal and bloody Pequot War of 1636.
Available for preorder NOW and ONLY at https://www.blackrosewriting.com/historicaladventure/besidethelongriver. If readers purchase Beside the Long River prior to the publication date of January 6, 2022, they may use the promo code: PREORDER2021 to receive a 15% discount.

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On writing While In Darkness There Is Light

In early spring of 2004, when Howard Dean was running for President, my husband Harry sat on the front porch of our Vermont house with a glass of beer and talked about Howard’s younger brother Charlie. Harry had met Charlie in 1968 when they were students at St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island. There were only two hundred students in the boarding school—all boys—and they knew each other well. 

Harry had told me about visiting a farm commune some friends had started in Australia. Three friends had dropped out of college—Harvard, Yale, and University of Denver—during protests against the Vietnam War. They traveled in Kenya and drove the coast of Australia. On York Peninsula they purchased 460 acres of land and started a farm commune they dubbed Rosebud. 

Harry and Charlie finished college—Harry at Harvard and Charlie at UNC—and in 1973 they joined their friends at Rosebud Farm. After six months of tilling fields, fertilizing with chicken manure, and lots of partying, Harry headed back to the U.S. and Charlie traveled in Southeast Asia, planning the join the Peace Corps the following year. 

Although U.S. troops had left Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos was still at war. While Charlie and an Australian friend were traveling on a Mekong riverboat, members of the communist Pathet Lao ordered the boat to dock. Charlie took a picture—his big mistake. For three months he and Neil were held in a rainforest prison camp. In December 1974, they were both executed.

Harry finished his story, put down his beer, and disappeared into the house. He returned with a shoebox filled with letters from Charlie, written from Bangkok and Cambodia, and a journal covered in red leather. I leafed through pages barely holding onto the binding after thirty years and found an almost daily accounting of those days in Australia. 

I had met Howard when he was governor of Vermont and when I tracked him down on the campaign trail, he gave me permission to tell his brother’s story. Harry’s journal entries and Charlie’s letters reveal vulnerable young men trying to find themselves. Their privileged families gave them the means to travel the world, buy a large parcel of land, build a 54-foot sailboat, and know that they would never have to be chained to a desk or to scramble for a living. They had the freedom to explore and take risks. But with risks come mistakes born of youthful exuberance. Mistakes must be paid for, and Charlie paid the dearest price. 

While In Darkness There Is Light is available from Black Lawrence Press (https://blacklawrencepress.com/books/…) and from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Bug Eating

Steak.jpgWhen I was growing up, supper always centered around meat—Sunday roast, skirt steak pounded into tender submission and suffocated in gravy, meatloaf, pork chops fried crispy in Crisco, breaded chicken also Crisco-fried. My fingers were always greasy.

            When I moved away for college, I gave up meat—except for Thanksgiving turkey—and subsisted on stir-fried veggies and rice, flavorless tofu, hearty winter squash, and lots of peanut butter on whole grain bread.

  Later, I married a meat-eater and went back to consuming mammals although my husband chided me when I ate the vegetables first and left half the gristle on the plate. I coaxed him toward seafood as a compromise, and he prepared luscious stuffed shrimp and blackened swordfish.

            After we divorced, I went back to salads and squash. My second husband is happy with a bowl of buttered pasta although he enjoys a fat burger when we eat out. We eat out a lot.

            A dilemma arose when my doctor checked my bloodwork and declared me deficient in protein. I had an aversion to methane-producing beef, Bugs.jpgconsidering them four-legged cholesterol-producing bovines, and ate more almond butter and leafy greens.

            But the greens and nut butter weren’t enough to spike my protein level. Then a friend sent me a link to a company that farms and sells insects for consumption—mealworms, too.

Bugs? Worms?

I’ve read that insects are a staple food in some countries—ants, cockroaches, even roasted grasshoppers and crickets. But I get queasy about the thought of eating bugs of any kind.

The Huffington Post reported that a composer recorded the sound of evening crickets. When he slowed down the recording on playback, what he discovered is that slow crickets sound like a resonant human chorus of voices as if singing in a cathedral. As a girl, I caught crickets and let them crawl over my hands. How in the world could anyone eat such sweet creatures?

The Ontario company, Entomo, touts insects as the next superfood. “Cricket powder is a complete protein, boasting all 9 essential amino acids, is high in B12, fibre, iron, Omega 3 and 6, and many other micronutrients,” the website says. “It is almost 70% protein, has more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, and almost 20 times more B12 than beef.”

A price of $15 for a four-ounce bag seemed steep, but I was sold on the bugs Crickets2.jpgbeing organically farmed and humanely harvested. After they are roasted and ground into powder, they wouldn’t look at all like insects, I reasoned.

When my bag of bugs arrived in the mail, I read the enclosed card with photos of foods from soups and cookies to a bowl brimming with full-size roasted crickets. “Thank yourself for making the choice to include the healthy goodness of insects to your diet. Nutritious, Delicious and Sustainable,” the card read, with advice to “enjoy them in so many ways.”

Through the plastic pouch I could see that the cricket powder was the color of, well, crickets. I opened the pouch, took a whiff, and inhaled the distinct aroma of fertilizer. I wasn’t sure “enjoy” was the correct choice of words.

Nevertheless, I had the crickets and figured I had better use them.

Crickets3.jpg   Figuring I could disguise the fertilizer flavor with fruit, I opted for a smoothie of berries, banana, apple cider, maple syrup, yogurt, and a few chia seeds. Rather than a tablespoon of cricket powder, I started with a teaspoon and a half. I was conducting a test, after all.

 

Crickets4.jpgWhen I emptied the contents of the blender into my mug, I worried that the dark little spots floating at the top of the smoothie were pieces of cricket but convinced myself that they were chia seeds or specks of blueberry. Then I held my breath and took a gulp. The sweetness from the maple syrup hit me first, but the aftertaste was definitely earthy—not like the fertilized fields that assault me in the spring and fall here in Vermont but definitely crickety. I managed to finish the concoction and after a couple more mornings of cricket smoothies, I’m getting used to the taste.

With the powder package came a recipe for “chocolate chirp cookies,” which looks like a regular cookie recipe except for the addition of a quarter cup of cricket powder. My husband loves cookies, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give the recipe a try.

Thankfully, the batter and even the scent from the oven had no trace of crickets. When the cookies had cooled, I offered a plate of them to my husband. He bit into one and frowned. Then he took another bite.

“How are they?” I asked.cricket-chocolate-chip-cookies-mr.png

He hesitated. “Good,” he said finally.

I tried a couple cookies myself and found them tasty as long as I didn’t think about insects while I ate them.

Over a few days my husband ate all the remaining cookies. I still haven’t told him about the secret ingredient and so far he hasn’t let out a single chirp.

 

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Bye-Bye Bug, Hello Leaf

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted to the Bug Tripping blog in a while, it’s because the Bug flew back to its VW hive. In 2015 the EPA gave Volkswagen notice that the company had violated the Clean Air Act when it was discovered it had programmed the TDI diesel engines to activate their emissions controls only during testing. Once the diesels were sold, the engines emitted up to 40 times more noxious fumes than in the tests.

H and I had felt pretty smug when on a cross-country trip we were getting 50 miles to the gallon. Little did we know we were leaving a trail of toxicity across the U.S.

Leaf.jpgFortunately, VW made good with its customers. They bought back the Bug and gave us $1000 in gift cards. With the windfall, we purchased a 2016 Nissan Leaf, an electric car we were sure wouldn’t pollute the environment.

 

The trick was finding charging stations. Since a charge got us just a hundred miles—less if we were using headlights and heat or a/c—we had to use a charging app to find plug-ins and be sure we could get to one before running out of power.

All was well and good until one winter night when H was driving home from playing hockey. We live in a rural area with the closest charging station thirty miles away. It was midnight and -7 degrees. H figured he could make it home where he could plug in the Leaf. What he didn’t figure into his estimate was using the brights along the country road and blasting heat to keep his toes from freezing.

Within ten miles of home, the Leaf drifted to a stop. There wasn’t a car on the road, so hitchhiking was not looking hopeful, and I was out of town and not able to come to his rescue.

H was lucky to have a couple of bars on his cell phone and called AAA.

“We can be there in two hours,” he was told.

“I’ll freeze to death by then,” he said.

What to do?

Searching his wallet, he found the number for a guy he knew who had a truck and aOuthouse1.jpg flatbed trailer. The fellow had helped H move a homemade outhouse a couple months earlier, but that’s another story. Anyway, H knew he was a nice guy and gave him a call.

“I’ll be there in 20 minutes,” he said, his voice full of sleep. In dire straits, H had gotten him out of bed.

The fellow was true to his word, got the Leaf onto the trailer, and deposited it within reach of the home charger. AAA would pay him for his trouble.

Lesson learned.

The Bug may be gone, but I’m not done with bugs yet. Stay tuned for a different kind of bug tripping in the next post.

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2017 Mexican Bug Odyssey

BugBlog5There’s no word for bug in Spanish. Insect is insecto, and beetle is escarabajo. We were planning to drive the VW Bug to Mexico, but we certainly didn’t want to call it Insecto while we were there. People might think it was infested with six-legged vermin. Escarabajo is too long a word. Escara means “It’s expensive,” and bajo translates to “low.” “Car” is coche, which reminds me of a cockroach. Maybe we could say Caro, which means “dear” and gives the connotation for how we feel about the little blue chariot.

We planned to drive the Bug to Boulder in February to visit the new grandson, Harrison Ezra Skye Reynolds, then stop at my brother’s place in Tucson on our way for our annual wintering in Sayulita, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. H got the Bug’s oil changed and checked with our insurance company for a rider to cover any hazards we might encounter on Mexican roads, three hundred dollars’ worth for the three weeks of our stay at Villa los Palmas, a condo community on the beach.

While I investigated the best route south from Tucson, I found an article about buying diesel fuel in Mexico. Not a good idea unless your diesel is older than 2000 models. The Bug is a 2014. Apparently diesel gas in Mexico is substandard and could cause new engines to seize up. H agreed that maybe we should reconsider driving the Bug. I offeredBugBlog1 my new Subaru Crosstrek. The only problem was that I’m leasing it and am restricted to a thousand miles a month. If we drove all the way to Sayulita, we’d be piling on 8,000 miles in five weeks.

How about if we were to fly from Tucson? Muy expensivo. The least expensive flight was from Houston. We have friends in Galveston and figured we could leave the Subaru with them for safekeeping while in Mexico.

So we loaded up with winter clothes for the drive through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, and Kansas as well as tropical outfits for Sayulita. Colorado was experiencing global warming, and we needed only sweaters in Boulder. The mountains around the city were glistening white with snow, but downtown people flip-flopped with bare toes.

EZ&Mondy

Baby Ezra with proud Mondy.

Ezra, as they’re calling him, is a darling little guy who prefers to be in arms rather than in his rocking seat, so we passed him around for the three days we were visiting. He didn’t mind, and we were delighted, especially H, his grandfather. H asked to be called Mondy, which was his name for his own grandad, and we tried getting used to it. I thought Grumpy would be a better name, but H protested.

We could barely pull ourselves away, but we had a flight to catch. Santa Fe was our next stop, too touristy for my tastes. I preferred El Paso, where Mexicans cross over to work in the hotels and restaurants then return south of the border for the night. They weren’t thrilled about the prospect of a wall being built, as one can imagine. We took a room in the classiest hotel in the city for just $80 a night and sat at the hotel bar under the second largest Tiffany glass dome in the world. Hermosa!

            The drive across Texas was flat and endless without much to report except for being stopped by the border patrol. I guess they were checking for illegals, and they waved us on without checking our I.D. Must be don’t look Mexican.

Leah and Mariano live in one of the oldest houses in Galveston. In fact, it served as the Galveston Historical Society headquarters until they purchased it from the University of Texas at Galveston, where Mariano teaches and heads the department of microbiology at the medical school. They didn’t tell me the house was haunted until I awoke before sunrise thinking the cat was breathing cold air on my face. I batted at it, but there was no cat. In fact, the room was warm except for that breath of cold air, as if some tiny air conditioner were blowing on me. But Leah had turned off the a/c before she went to bed.

Curious ghost? Harmless, apparently, and I suffered no ill effects.BugBlog3

During our stay, Leah took us to the marshland where she photographs exotic birds that come to feed—all sorts of wading birds, osprey, and waterfowl. We stopped at the Bryan Museum which houses artifacts of Texas history, including a huge reproduction of the scene where Sam Houston defeated the Mexican army led by Santa Ana to claim Texas’s independence. Santa Ana was captured, paraded as a prisoner, and then sent back to Mexico, where he was hailed a hero.

Finally it was time to catch our flight. I find people on flights to Mexico are more joyful than on domestic flights. Maybe it’s because drinks are free, but I prefer to believe it’s because we’re on our BugBlog2way to Paradise.

But I haven’t forgotten that this blog is about Bug tripping. Bugs are big in Sayulita, and I’m not talking about the hard-backed, six-legged kind (although there are plenty of those). I mean VW Beetles. Vans, too. They are hacked apart and redesigned, their tops opened up, painted happy colors, and loved as much as H loves his diesel Bug. They’re economical, easy to navigate along narrow streets, and exhibit a coolness that’s universal—almost as cool as H.

Categories: Beetle, Boulder CO, Bug, Car Trip, Mexico, Road Trip, Sayulita, VW, VW Beetle, VW Bug | 1 Comment

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