I’m pleased to announce that after working on the manuscript off and on for five years, the book is now available for Kindle as well as in paperback.
From the back cover:
“In the memoir My Next Husband Will Be Normal – A St. John Adventure, Rae Ellen Lee and her husband, Tom, ditch their sailboat on the West Coast and fly to the U.S. Virgin Islands with a down payment for a mom and pop business on St. John. The plan: when they aren’t sewing canvas bags at their little shop, The Canvas Factory, they’ll be beach potatoes. But there are risks to living in paradise one cannot anticipate. For soon after unpacking their flip-flops, the husband–a former Republican state legislator with a silver crewcut and solid traditional values–realizes he is really a she. Convinced the world needs more humor, Lee rations the angst in favor of the picturesque and absurd. Adding heat to the story is a cast of colorful cats, customers, and Caribbean personalities. Toss in a few sex toys, some steel pan music, a pinch of voodoo–and stir.”
Reviews are rolling in. A podcast interview with Maura Curley from Virgin Voices is in the works and I’ll include it here as soon as it’s available. In her review, Maura said, “Adventurous readers will relish Lee’s outrageous revelations.” For the full review click the link: http://tinyurl.com/7hqcoqc.
Podcast interview (15 mins.) here: http://virginvoices.vi/st._john
Or visit me at my website: http://www.raeellenlee.com
Also from the back cover:
Lee’s first memoir, I Only Cuss When I’m Sailing (first published as If the Shoe Fits by Sheridan House in 2001), chronicles her move with husband Tom from Montana to the West Coast to live on an old boat, fix it up, learn to sail and set off for the Caribbean.
“. . . charming, witty, beautifully observed, and above all delightfully genuine.” Living Aboard Magazine
To purchase this book for Kindle please click here: http://www.tinyurl.com/6s52wap
No, I’m still on the move — this week at my son’s new house across the Clarkfork River from Thompson Falls, Montana — looking out the window at tall Douglas fir and Ponderosa Pine trees. A group of deer are bedded down in the grass not far away, and an exotic donkey just ran through the yard. This is open range, don’t forget. All my belongings are currently stored in my son’s garage, under a tarp, while I housesit (and dog, cat, yard sit) while my son and his little family are on vacation. They are visiting his father — who I was married to briefly several decades ago — in Michigan. Casey the black lab dog and I are having a great time. The orange cat is okay, too, although Scoobey looks like a special needs cat. The yard is another creature altogether. Besides the herd of deer I have learned from the neighbors that we are situated smack dab on top a gravel bar. Landscaping — or rather trying to keep trees alive during the drought — is how lots of people while away their retirement years here. And I’m supposed to be writing, but I have become yard-obsessed too. I took the lawnmower in for a tuneup and I am oh so excited to get it tomorrow so I can mow the front yard. It has to be set up as high as possible to mow OVER the donkey droppings and pinecones and rocks.
Did you know that white vinegar will kill spotted knapweed, just like Roundup will? That’s what a neighbor tells me. And deer will not eat herbs or plants with aromatic leaves — or that everywhere shrub, the potentilla. Isn’t that interesting?
Today I ordered a pair of Talon binoculars. The guy asked, what kind of birds do you look for. Well, there are little gray birds and there are big flappy birds, and I like the big ones best. Mostly I want to look into a moose’s eyeball at a safe distance, see if there’s a reflection. I want to hike high into a cirque basin and look at the rocks walls — like I’m in an art gallery.
The temperature was up to 100 degrees a couple days ago, and now it is about 45. When it warms up again, after I mow the front yard, I’ll load up my kayak and drive up to Fishtrap Lake — high in the mountains northeast of here. I won’t have my binos yet, but I will take my sketch materials and lunch and spend the day. There is a hiking trail around the lake too. And a free Forest Service campground.
Yesterday I drove into Thompson Falls and poked my nose into a pottery shop called Mud Magic. The shop owner, named Eric, looked like he just crawled off a Harley motorcycle but was really nice. He does workshops, hosts art and writing events, sells art supplies — and coffee roasting devices, green Fair Trade coffee beans, and of course his lovely pottery. I didn’t even know I wanted a coffee roaster — although I adore good coffee — and I bought one, a Fresh Roast + 8 Coffee Bean Roaster. For $79.95 I got the roaster, a lb. of coffee beans and the most wonderful pint-sized off white mug with a lid that doubles as a coaster. Eric showed me how to roast beans, but I haven’t worked up to doing it myself. My son has a satellite TV, which I am unable to operate, hard as I’ve tried to follow instructions. So I can’t bear the thought of failing with the coffee roaster quite yet. I’m researching sources for green beans, learning all about coffee roasting, even learned today that you can roast coffee beans in an air popcorn popper just fine. Imagine that! Why don’t more people KNOW about this — and actually DO it. They would drink far superior coffee and save money too (unless they prefer Folgers). I wonder how many other things I don’t yet know about — like this “alternative” way of dealing with coffee — that is better and cheaper and more fun to do? Like using white vinegar to kill spotted knapweed.
I will insert photos when I get set up in Bellingham, WA, where I’m moving to the week of June 18. I will also post pictures and information about my books.
The trip headline read, From Budapest to Krakow – Across the Carpathian Mountains. In the spring, when I had to choose a trip to celebrate turning 60, I already knew this would be a summer of living life on the skinny branches, only higher up and farther out than normal. So, why not hike with a group over a mountain range I never knew existed, across a country I’d never heard of (Slovakia). Just google Walking Softly Adventures. You, too, might discover new geographies.
En route to Budapest, I landed in Amsterdam to change planes. The greenness was other-worldly, with water everywhere. Everyone in Amsterdam has waterfront property. I’d been living in Montana, where the cheat grass had started to go dormant from lack of moisture. I had turned sixty and, in Montana, looked seventy. My skin was that dry. Cheat grass dry. Next stop Budapest and an easy transfer to a bus that traveled through Budapest, past beautiful Baroque (possibly Mesozoic) architecture, with geraniums sprouting from most window sills. The bus dropped passengers and their luggage off at various hotels. My stop was last – a nice little pension with breakfast, which I usually slept through, thanks to the nine-hour time difference I was adjusting to. By the time I met up with my tour group a few days later, I had watched lots of American TV programs voiced over in Hungarian, and I could see from the news that Switzerland had suffered serious flooding. I was glad to be in Hungary.
My “tribe” for the next ten days consisted of “active seniors,” almost all of them older than me, some of whom also suffered “cheat grass face.” The group included a nice couple in their young eighties from Portland, a portly former football pro turned Dutch Reformed Minister wearing a knee brace, his sassy wife who became my closest buddy on the trip, and five friends from Seattle of Asian descent who hike a lot together and had recently ridden camels out of Tunis — all really nice people. One woman, the only smoker, was in Europe doing one hiking trip after another with various tour companies. Anyway, we all walked and hiked and climbed our way across rolling hills and patterned farmlands into soaring, glacial-carved crags and peaks. We visited wine cellars, fortresses and monasteries that are World Heritage Sites, and listened to our Hungarian guide, Gabor, tell us about his culture. “Be careful not to ask a Hungarian, ‘How are you?’ because he will actually TELL you, and it won’t be pretty,” he said, wryly. He talked a lot about “the change” that gave them all greater freedom, and now what it means to join the European Union. Hearing all of this made me glad I was born in Priest River, Idaho. We all liked Gabor, and he knew his butterflies and storks (seen on many telephone poles in towns we visited or drove through). I took lots of digital photos.
Every night we stayed in castle hotels or four-star inns, always with giant pillows on the beds and buffet meals with more food than I’d ever seen in one place. After living out of a cooler all summer, I was like a hungry pygmy who’d just taken down a water buffalo. I gained weight. We always had hiking choices to make: less strenuous or more strenuous, and I usually opted for the more difficult. One hike took us up a stream gorge (something like a slot canyon in Southwest Utah), which involved walking on wet slippery wood ladders over the stream (I couldn’t have done this without my two new trekking poles).and then up a series of metal ladders, many stories up, that were bolted into vertical rock faces immediately adjacent to the waterfalls. This is the most exciting hike I’ve ever done in my life. I absolutely loved it, and I must go back to Slovakia to do it again. We hiked over a pass across the High Tatras. I was on top of the world – or so I thought – until we hardier folk climbed the highest peak in Poland assisted by chains bolted into the rock, coached by a Tatra Mountain Guide with serious body odor. I wore my Great Old Broads for Wilderness t-shirt. We stayed three nights in Zakopane (pronounced Zokkoponnie), Poland, a charming resort town with nice (cheerful, even) people, special mountain resort architecture, folklore festival and market, and world ski jumping championship on astro turf. Here I finished reading Michener’s book Poland –borrowed from Sherry and hauled with me from Idaho.
The owners of the travel company, out of Portland, led the trip – and I have never been so taken care of in all my life. A trip with this company should be prescribed by psychologists everywhere for caretaker people like me. It was finally my turn. And then all too soon we reached Krakow, and it was time to say goodbye to my tribe. Several of us cried. I bravely took the train from Krakow to Poland to fly home, and discovered that only younger Polish people who work in hotels speak any English. I didn’t know how or when to pay on the bus from the train station to the airport, and there was no one to ask, so when the ticket police came along I nearly ended up in Polish prison because I did not have enough Polish money to pay the fare AND the fine for my criminal act. A total stranger paid my fine and then got off the bus. I will never tell another Polish joke as long as I live; however, I do plan to write a letter to the president of Poland about the incident – because to encourage tourism, they just gotta do better with signs and other languages. I’ve thought about it and decided this notion is not ethnocentric on my part, it’s just good business.
Back in Helena, I stayed a couple days with Jeff, Lee and Madison, before moving to the Montana Artists’ Refuge (MAR) in the tiny town Basin, about 45 minutes south of Helena. They had a space available for a writer. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t do anything right to snag some illustrious “residency.” I had to pay rent, just like the other two residents – both artists – but it turned out to be the best thing I could have done with the month of September. I worked hard on updating the pages of the book (out first in 1987) for a reprint of Just West of Yellowstone, requested by the bookstores and the Forest Service in West. I’d been collecting new information off and on for a couple years. A member of the Board for the MAR is a graphic designer, and he designed a new cover for the book. I think you’ll like it as much as I do. When I bring out the new edition in the spring, I’ll let you know.
One resident at the MAR, an artist about my age, became a buddy to walk with at the end of a work day – up one of the gulches out of town. The aspens were turning yellow and we watched their progress. Pat talked a lot about other art residencies she’d done, and we also discussed how to determine where to live when we grew up. New Mexico, she thought. In fact, several of my friends are thinking about where to live and talking about New Mexico as a possibility. But maybe not – and this question about where to live keeps coming up, so I’m considering writing a book about that too. I mean, when you find yourself suddenly open to finding a home for yourself – because a hurricane displaces you, or a divorce, or your spouse dies, or it’s simply time for a change — and you can move to wherever you want (within reason) – how to you go about deciding??? What aids are there “out there” to help you find your place? Proximity to family members can play a role, of course, but it isn’t always necessary to live near them, either, given the ease of air travel. And they may not even WANT you to be close.
Then during the first half of October I drove back to Big Foggy north of Priest River to stay at the cabin there and visit my favorite population on the fringe, the GBTC. I continued work on my update for Just West. The weather was cooling and the aspens and cottonwoods along the river were golden in the fog. It was a beautiful and magical time, as always. Almost every evening, Sherry and I watched on DVD the first season of MONK – a television series about an obsessive-compulsive detective. Highly entertaining. On the weekend, I drove to Sandpoint to stay over night with friend Bobbie Ryder-Johanson at her little cottage on Lake Pend O’reille. We had a lovely time catching up with each other’s lives, since we were neighbors and classmates at the Univ. of Idaho from 1979 – 81. We shared photos and stories. We sat at water’s edge and sketched and talked in the warm fall sunlight. I even toyed with the idea of buying a lot near Bobbie’s place, one with an old rundown cabin on it complete with thick moss on the roof, but it’s too expensive, and the location is too isolated for me. Bobbie and her family live near Pullman, WA, and are only there about one weekend a month.
Back to Helena for a few more days with Jeff, Lee and Madison – before leaving MT for the next 6-1/2 months. I must say that my son and his wife were patient and generous with me in my comings and goings all summer, and I know that I disrupted their lives on more than one occasion. I miss my granddaughter like crazy, but Jeff and Lee are good about sending me pictures, and I can send her cards and presents – like a first globe of the world with a little sign on a movable pin that says, Gamma Rae is now HERE.
After Helena, my last stop (before returning to St. John for the winter to work) was in Santa Fe. My friend, Diana, had just moved there from Pullman. Earlier in the summer she said many times, “You’re going to LOVE Santa Fe!” And she was right. For almost two weeks we did all sorts of things around town – plus unpacked some of her boxes. She ended up with too much stuff for her smaller new abode, so she gave me lots of nice clothes. We went on a couple birding hikes at the Audubon center near town, shopped at the Whole Foods Store, went to art galleries, and participated in an art invitational sponsored by the gallery that represents D’s beautiful acrylic flower paintings. Diana painted a pumpkin for the auction. The other artists, mostly from Colorado, painted still life set-ups, architecture, and street scenes, and we all attended the evening critiques as well as a huge reception at an art patron’s house out in the country. Wow! A new employee at the gallery is an opera singer who came to Santa Fe from New Orleans with her family. They just barely escaped with their lives and lost everything else. The Rotary Club of Santa Fe sponsored them, and the family is doing well, however, the 6’ 2” tall opera singer can’t sing soprano in 7000’ high Santa Fe, only (for now) Mezzo. Santa Fe has everything – welcoming, friendly, liberal, creative people; the most incredible art galleries and shops, and beautiful scenery and sky and mountains. My friend Carol from Fort Worth flew up one day for lunch with us, which was great fun. She and I will meet and drive around New Mexico and visit Diana in Santa Fe the first week of May in 2006.
And on October 30 I left Santa Fe for Seattle to catch my breath before my flight to St. John. Friends Katie and Lorna drove the 90 miles down from Bellingham for lunch with me and a great visit around Pike Place Market – a gloriously fun time with these two firecrackers. They plan to go with me (and any other friends I can round up – just let me know) on a goat packing trip into Grand Staircase/Escalante in SW Utah for a week in October 2006. They’ll bring their ukuleles. I’ll bring mine. We’ll paint and write and entertain each other and the goats. Suddenly it was time for Katie and Lorna to leave for Bellingham, and for me to bag my things and get on another plane.
And here I am back on St. John – where new dramas (stacked on top of old ones) continue to unfold, and where the weather’s the same as when I left in May – sunny, warm and moist (no cheat grass here), with a good chance of mosquitoes.
This conch shell washed ashore in a storm and the conch creature died. I cleaned the shell and I’m sending it to my Granddaughter for her second birthday. The challenge is how to describe what this is and where it came from. To a two-year-old, the back yard is a big place. How can I introduce the world to her?
This “weather report” covers June 15 – August 15, 2005, and begins with a hailstorm – one with golf-ball-sized hailstones that I watched bounce off my nice new (2001 Mazda Tribute SUV) car one evening in Montana. The dents wrecked the resale value of my car, not that I was intending to sell it, and I caused me to change its name from White Lightning to The Dent Mobile, and collect $6100 in damage from the insurance company. This amounts to good wages for a summer, and what’s even more enlightening (and pathetic), is that it’s more money than I’ve earned on all my writing projects put together. My son said, “The next time you see a hailstorm coming, holler. I’ll drive my truck over and park it next to your car!”
June continued to be action-packed – with incredible sunsets, fox pups and bluebirds greeting my comings and goings on the two-track road to my cabin, and cold weather. On trips to Helena, I saw quite a lot of my son, Jeff, his wife, Lee, and my adorable granddaughter, Madison. I babysat some, happily, and used their house as a docking station for my electronics (laptop, cell phone) until I discovered how and where else to do it. At the cabin I sorted through all my belongings and bought a storage shed to share with Jeff. The rest of my time was taken up with keeping ice in my cooler (since I had no refrigeration), writing, hiking on the ranch, and driving into Helena for more ice and food as well as buying cool-weather clothing at the thrift stores. I bought several items at sporting goods shops for my big hiking adventure in Europe the end of August. I kept looking at these purchases (trekking poles, micro-fiber clothing you can wash at night and it dries by morning, etc.) as an investment in a positive lifestyle, one that doesn’t involve alcohol.
Toward the end of June I drove over to Pullman, Washington, to stay a few days with my good friend from our days at the Univ. of Idaho. We met in gym class, two non-traditional students—Diana studying architecture, me in landscape architecture, and I became friends with her and her husband, Ray. Unfortunately, Ray died in August 2004, just as they were preparing to move into a new house. Diana and I had a lovely visit. We hiked and sketched one day and had mutual friend Jennifer Rod over to dinner. Jennifer was just back from a motorcycle trip to Colorado and exclaimed about the beauty of Flaming Gorge. We saw another friend from UI days, Bobbie Ryder-Johanson, WSU campus planner, at lunch. Bobbie told us she had bought a cottage near Sandpoint. Diana and I talked frequently on the phone after my visit, until I received a cell phone bill and fainted.
The way the cabin is situated — in a grove of conifers on a mountainside, looking out at thousands of acres of ranch land across to the Elkhorn Mountains – I felt something like a bird in a nest. The location is good “edge habitat,” where I could look out and watch for danger but no one could see me. I learned from the post mistress at Jefferson City that a Chinaman owned much of the rangeland on the mountainside, and lived part of the year in nearby Boulder, MT. Of course, I romanticized the setting and called it all The Chinaman’s Ranch, and I decided to give my next novel, set on a ranch, that title instead of Cowboy School (which my cousin’s wife made me promise NOT to call it). On my hikes I came to imagine that the Chinaman was really quite a hunk of a cowboy, and that I would actually meet him while on one of my hikes – and I dreamed up an entirely new sort of novel to write, one that was more of a bodice-ripper, one in which I did not fend off the Chinaman off with a trekking pole.
I joined the Montana Wilderness Association and went on several hikes with them to train for my turning-sixty hiking adventure – from Budapest to Krakow over the Carpathian Mountains August 19 – 29. The first hike took place near Yellowstone – Windy Pass – a 10 mile hike that reached 10,000 feet – with 22 hikers plus the leaders, and there I was, bringing up the rear. The utterly gorgeous alpine scenery held my attention, but ohmygod, what a death march. One problem was that in early July we can experience serious thunder and lightning storms in mid-afternoon, so we had to get down off the ridge quickly. Remember, I’d been accustomed to living at sea level. To redeem myself in the eyes of the other hikers, I slid down a steep snow field on my butt instead of walking around. I’d done this other times and places, but as I slid faster and faster I used my trekking pole tip as a brake and dug in my boot heels — plus the heel of my right hand. I did not want to tumble in a heap onto the rocky, muddy outwash below the snow, and I didn’t. My right hand regained feeling about 12 hours later. One young man took my photo so I could prove to the world what I had done, and I’ll try to include it.
Gail Richardson, a naturalist and guide friend from West Yellowstone days, drove over to the ranch from Bozeman to hike with me one day – which was great fun. She’s leading an outing to Fiji in November, and leads many trips for organizations like the World Wildlife Fund. On another day I drove down to Whitehall, MT, on I-90 to have lunch with my sister, Marian, and her nice new husband, Everett. They were on their way to Northern Idaho. Those two are a couple love birds, and I’m very happy for my sister, who deserves every happiness.
On another MWA outing, a Forest Service friend, Jodie, led an excellent hike in the Elkhorn Mountains, where she’d made a lot of good things happen over the past 13 or so years. Her focus was to coordinate management of this mountain range, no small thing with so many different agencies involved. Her new boyfriend was on the hike, a nice and fun professor at MSU (and a sex therapist), and no, I did NOT ask him any questions about his work. Jodie is now with the Gallatin National Forest in Bozeman as an ecologist.
My friends who own the cabin I rented, Martin and Suzanne, came out one evening for a BBQ. Jeff, Lee and Madison joined us. M & S had volunteered again as caretakers at Kirkwood Ranch on the Snake River during June, and they showed us lots of photos of that lovely setting in that stunning canyon. They were planning a trip to Norway later in the summer, since Martin is of Norwegian descent.
All summer long I hiked and explored The Chinaman’s Ranch, never once running into the Chinaman; however, I did lose my fear of the horses. When they came running toward me, I worked at trusting they would stop – and they always did. One of my Helena friends, Sarah, tells me that horses are symbolic of freedom and other good things, that they were greeting me and telling me something hopeful. The coyotes howled but kept themselves hidden. I painted some small pastels and took lots of photos. I sniffed sagebrush and found Bitterroot flowers (the MT State flower). In the early mornings I watched Ruprecht, my resident squirrel, sunbathe on his favorite Douglas fir branch.
Oh, and I forgot to mention Boulder Hot Springs – about 20 minutes south of the cabin. Once a week I went there to soak and swim and to get a thorough deep-tissue massage to help heal my body from the stresses and strains of life and work. Several times, Lee and Madison drove down from Helena to meet me there and swim with me a while before my massage sessions, and these times are so special and precious to me. I could write an entire book about how fun and smart and utterly delightful Madison is – how she knows exactly who she is and what she wants, and can communicate it all without throwing a fit. How she isn’t even two years old and speaks in whole sentences (okay, it’s sometimes only a noun and a verb, but that qualifies), how when she’s riding in the car and you pull out onto a street she will yell, “Hang on!” How she says, “moooooooo” (because I lived where there are cows) and/or “Oh, dear!” in the most dramatic way when she sees me (because I say it so much in lieu of cussing when I’m around her). I relearned much from Madison – and one thing is to be gleeful about small things, and that large things always pass.
Another big training hike with the MWA was in the Tobacco Root Mts. Over a weekend, we hiked and talked about geology with the director of a college geology field station near Pony. We were up among cirque lakes and other incredible scenery, some of which I believe was Precambrian.
Then came the big birthday weekend. Jeff, Lee, Madison and I drove The Dent Mobile to Big Foggy, my favorite place in the world north of Priest River, ID. The party honored several of us turning 60: Me; Sherry’s husband, Sam; cousin and friend Carol Cook, an anthropologist from Indonesia. Penny and John, Kathryn (Sherry and Penny’s mother) and many other loved ones were there. It was a real celebration of The Growing Brainless Together Club, and what a wonderful time we had. Jeff, Lee, Madison and I also saw sisters Jeannie, Laurel and Patsy while we were in Priest River.
On about August 15, I tearfully said goodbye to Ruprecht the squirrel, to the fox pups and bluebirds, the cows and horses. I moved out of the cabin and flew to Budapest. But since I realize how long this letter is getting, I will wait to write about the big European hiking adventure and what came after that in the next weather report, which will happen soon.
Thank you, dear friends, for your kind attention to my letter. Writing it reminded me of the joyful time I had reconnecting with so many old friends and with family members this summer – and how much I appreciate everyone’s support and kindness during this transitional time, as well as the generous use of the cabin on the Montana mountainside and Penny and John’s beloved cabin at Big Foggy. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer during which to celebrate turning sixty.