In 2017, historian W. Fitzhugh Brundage wrote, “The Confederate monuments in New Orleans; Charlottesville, Virginia; Durham, North Carolina, and elsewhere did not organically pop up like mushrooms. The installation of the 1,000-plus memorials across the US was the result of the orchestrated efforts of white Southerners and a few Northerners with clear political objectives: They tended to be erected at times when the South was fighting to resist political rights for black citizens. The preservation of these monuments has likewise reflected a clear political agenda.”

Brundage continues, “Few if any of the monuments went through any of the approval procedures that we now commonly apply to public art. Typically, groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which claimed to represent local community sentiment (whether they did or did not), funded, erected, and dedicated the monuments. As a consequence, contemporaries, especially African Americans, who objected to the erection of monuments had no realistic opportunity to voice their opposition. Most Confederate monuments were, in short, the result of private groups colonizing public space.”

There are roughly three times as many monuments honoring men of the Confederacy than monuments honoring heroes of the Revolutionary War. As Americans, we all benefit from our victory against the British, some more than others. But who, if anyone, benefits from the Confederacy’s loss to the Union? And why is the Confederacy, a failed attempt to split from the United States, still being celebrated with monuments, memorials, and much-beloved flag?

Below is an historical essay I wrote over five years ago. Before Charlottesville. Before Trump. In it you’ll be introduced to a handful of men who suffered through and survived the worst of the American Revolution and, subsequently, have been completely forgotten by their own country. They were POWs before POWs were ever defined. They suffered mortality rates that exceed the Korean War and Andersonville, both of which have been given memorials that are funded by the federal government. But there is no monument celebrating the Prison Ship Martyrs, those many thousands who lived and died, simply so that we could argue today about whether or not the statue of a Confederate general, an American traitor so intent on preserving the Southern state’s rights to enslave human beings for economic growth, could remain on display in a number of Southern states.


I used to believe that the Prison Ship Martyrs could never gain enough support from our government because the colonists were, by definition, traitors. They were rebels. They fought back against their own government. And they won. Why would the United States want to fund a monument that celebrates a rebellion against their own government? 

Then it dawned on me: It’s much easier to appease the ones who lost, the Confedate States of America. This isn’t about people. This isn’t about democracy. This is about memorializing the loss. The government doesn’t want to honor the rebels who won.



In New York City’s East River sits a basin near northwest Brooklyn where human bones have regularly washed ashore for more than two centuries. The basin, referred to as Wallabout Bay, was once home to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, one of the country’s oldest naval installations. The Brooklyn Navy Yard began development in 1801 to support the newly established United States Navy, a military arm created by John Adams during his presidency. Over the years, the waterway’s natural channels were disrupted by construction and the river floor uncovered the horrors of war of which few Americans today are even aware. Even though the bones have been surfacing in cycles since 1795, nearly every new discovery has resulted in more failed attempts to honor the men and women who died in Wallabout Bay.

When construction of the Brooklyn Navy Yard began at the beginning of the nineteenth century, scores of human remains were uncovered by the dredging of the basin’s mud flats. In 1808, locals who knew the story behind the washed up remains again collected the bleached bones and skulls that littered the Brooklyn shoreline and placed them in a crypt to be buried nearby. Yet skeletal pieces continued to come ashore for decades, and personal accounts began to surface telling of the merchant seamen and privateers who had died on these waters. Their deaths were not the results of shipwrecks or maritime accidents, not of drowning or falling overboard. These deaths, estimated to be somewhere between 11,000 to 16,000 men and women, were instead the result of the unsanitary conditions and barbaric treatment inflicted upon prisoners held aboard British prison ships in Wallabout Bay during the American Revolution. 

Between 1776 and 1783, at least sixteen prison ships, including the Jersey, Scorpion, and Good Hope, were moored in Wallabout Bay. The ships were employed by the British throughout the duration of the Revolutionary War. The British stationed prison ships up and down the eastern seaboard, some as far south as Charleston, South Carolina. The prison ships in Wallabout Bay, however, were notoriously brutal. Filth and disease were rampant aboard the vessels as prisoners suffered from diseases like smallpox, typhus, dysentery, and yellow fever. Prisoners’ poor diets often led to malnutrition from starvation or food poisoning, and contaminated water and dehydration were chronic concerns. More people died aboard these prison ships than in all the Revolutionary War battles combined. Held captive on these decaying hulks, the prisoners were mostly colonists, although some were simply unlucky foreign merchants. 


The most notorious of all the prison ships was the HMS Jersey. Built during peacetime, the Jersey was a decommissioned fifty-four gun warship. The ship was nearly forty years old before she was stationed in Wallabout Bay as a floating prison. More than 1,000 prisoners were crammed together between decks at any given time. Poor ventilation and sanitation, on top of spreading diseases, led to approximately a dozen deaths each night. A familiar call every morning awakened the prisoners below: “Rebels! Bring up your dead!” 

A number of first-person accounts were made public in the decades after the war. Andrew Sherburne’s Memoirs was written in 1828 and Thomas Andros published The Old Jersey Captive in 1833. The best known account, however, is Recollections of Life on the Prison Ship Jersey, written by Captain Thomas Dring. The manuscript was completed in 1824. Dring died in August of the following year, but it is noted that “his faculties were then perfect and unimpaired, and his memory remained clear and unclouded, even in regard to the most minute facts.” Dring, not yet a captain at the time of his unfortunate captures, was taken by the British in 1779 and imprisoned aboard the Good Hope. He managed to escape after a four-month confinement, but was again captured in 1782. He spent the next five months aboard the Jersey where he was “a witness and a partaker of the unspeakable sufferings of that wretched class of American prisoners, who were there taught the utmost extent of human misery.” The Jersey had a widely known reputation for death and wretchedness, and Dring and his comrades feared conditions on the ship before even stepping aboard.

The filthy environment aboard the aging ships promoted death and misery. In the case of the Jersey, its many gun ports were closed up and sealed off entirely. Ventilation and sunlight were nearly non-existent, leading to the areas between decks to carry a stench “so thick and putrid that it seemed to have tangible weight.” According to one prison ship survivor, Robert Sheffield, “The air was so foul at times, that a lamp could not be kept burning, by reason of which three boys were not missed until they had been dead three days.” Sheffield was captured in the summer of 1778 with nineteen other men. Three of them died within the first week. He referred to his prison ship as “a little epitome of hell.”

Food and water rations were poor, at best. Dring recalled the food allowances in his personal account explaining that one prisoner was responsible for collecting the rations each day for his mess, a designation given to one’s assigned group of fellow prisoners. Each mess received two-thirds that which was provided for those in the British Navy. One day’s rations usually consisted of one pound of biscuit, one pound of pork or two pounds of beef, a pint of oatmeal or peas, and occasionally butter, sweet oil, suet, or flour. The sweet oil was “so rank and putrid that we could not endure even the smell of it.” The bread was crawling with worms. Another survivor, Captain Alexander Coffin Jr., recalled “There were never provisions served out to the prisoners that would have been eatable by men that were not literally in a starving situation.” Coffin also noted having seen prisoners steal bran and slop from the troughs kept on board to feed the crews’ hogs.

The cook on the Jersey used the salty sea water from Wallabout Bay to prepare the prisoners’ meager rations in a giant copper boiler. “The copper became corroded and consequently poisonous,” Dring writes, “the fatal consequences of which must be obvious to everyone.” Coffin reported that the drinking water provided to him during his imprisonment was ordered and delivered by the city, but that “I never, after having followed the sea thirty years, had on board any ship, water so bad.” Another prisoner, Christopher Hawkins, claimed his drinking water came from the side of the ship “where all the filth and refuse were thrown.” Historians dispute this claim, however, as the water would be too salty, but historians agree it is entirely possible that this water, filled with filth and refuse, was probably used to boil and prepare the prisoners’ food. Historian John Ferling writes, “They tried to eat in this environment, too, cooking their food in a large kettle filled with water gathered from alongside the vessel, the very site where the previous day’s excrement was dumped each morning.”

Not surprisingly, disease was rampant. Lice, ticks, and other vermin flourished in the dark, dank bellies of the hulks. Typhus, dysentery, yellow fever, and smallpox were common and caused more than a dozen deaths each night, especially on the HMS Jersey. Many who managed to avoid or survive those diseases often “succumbed to the scurvy, which made their teeth fall out and caused their gums and eyes to bleed incessantly.” It was not uncommon to hear of prisoners who were so hungry or malnourished that they ate their own clothing. Sometimes they ate their own shoes. Rotten food and unclean water caused intestinal illnesses that resulted in tubs overflowing with human waste. Some survivors told of prison ships “whose decks were slippery with excrement.”

Historian Edwin Burrows describes the mortality rate of those held aboard the British prison ships by comparing them to events better known to the general public: The mortality rate among American soldiers who fought in the Korean War was approximately thirty-three percent; the mortality rate among Union soldiers in Andersonville, Georgia, was a bit higher, around thirty-five percent.

Andersonville was the notorious prisoner of war camp run by the Confederates during the American Civil War. Designed to hold 10,000 prisoners, Andersonville recorded a prisoner population of more than 32,000 only six months into operations. Food and water supplies were insufficient; medical care was nonexistent. Those who died had suffered from either disease, exposure, malnutrition, or a deadly combination of each. David Swain calls Andersonville “a humanitarian disaster,” adding that “incarceration in the Andersonville prison camp was probably as miserable but statistically less lethal” than life aboard the prison ship Jersey

However, during the Revolution, when the entire American population hovered around only three million people, the mortality rate among prisoners held aboard the British prison ships was nearly forty percent. Some historians believe it is possible that as many as 16,000 died aboard the prison ships. If that is true, then mortality rates among prisoners could be as high as fifty percent.

Every person held aboard the prison ships was considered a traitor against the British. Since Britain had yet to acknowledge America’s independence, anyone charged with fighting for the colonists or aiding them in any way ran the risk of being imprisoned on board a ship festering with filth and disease in Wallabout Bay. The thousands who died aboard these floating prisons were often given another chance at freedom. By promising to enlist in the royal army or navy, a prisoner could buy his release with his newfound loyalty to the British. Most, however, chose not to, and instead faced certain death by remaining true to the American cause. 

Those who died were buried haphazardly along the Brooklyn shoreline on the banks of the Wallabout. Prisoners looking for a means to leave the ship temporarily volunteered for burial duty. Dring writes, “The prisoners were always very anxious to be engaged in the duty of internment; not so much from a feeling of humanity, or from a wish of paying respect to the remains of the dead (for to these feelings they had almost become strangers), as from the desire of once more placing their feet upon the land, if but for a few minutes.” British guards were present as the prisoners on burial duty dug into the ground and heaved the bodies into a trench with little time to reflect. Dring recalled having been the only man in his detail to have worn shoes at the internment of one Mr. Carver. He removed his shoes at one point just to feel the earth against his feet.

In his memoir, Dring also wrote that he and a small group of other prisoners petitioned General Henry Clinton, then the commander of the British forces in New York, and requested to leave the ship in order to “transmit a memorial to General Washington, describing our deplorable situation, and requesting his interference on our behalf.” The petition was approved. The prisoners included information in written form, however the individual charged with delivering the message was also instructed to verbally inform General Washington of squalid living conditions and treatment being endured by the prisoners. Washington received the messages and shared his interest in working to mitigate their sufferings to the best of his ability. Unfortunately, there was little Washington could do directly.

The Continental Congress was repeatedly unable to improve conditions on board the prison ships, especially as they were unable to offer the exchange of British prisoners being held by the patriots. Even George Washington personally met with British officials in the hopes of keeping the situation from deteriorating, but to no avail. While the cruelty administered by the British encouraged colonists to continue fighting, those incarcerated aboard the ships were never considered prisoners of war. The treatment shown to them was more in line with the British exacting a sort of revenge against the colonists (and those who aided them) as traitors. 

However, it was not until after the Revolutionary War had ended that Congress sent American diplomats Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams to negotiate such treaties with foreign powers. These treaties would ensure humane treatment of POWs in the event of future conflicts. The men and women who died aboard the British prison ships moored in Wallabout Bay became known as the Wallabout dead, or even the Jersey dead, regardless of their ship of imprisonment. The Jersey had been known to nearly all prisoners simply as “Hell” and represented the brutality inflicted upon those who lived and died. Later, the Wallabout dead came to be known simply as the Prison Ship Martyrs, a name still used today. 


As remains continue to wash ashore over the following decades, the idea of a memorial has been proposed numerous times by locals, by influential community members, and by organizations who believe the Prison Ship Martyrs were an integral part of America’s victory in the War of Independence. While there is no denying the role the Prison Ship Martyrs played in the Revolution, there is also no denying that their story has been largely neglected in the pages of history. Yet another more widespread story of neglect continues to exist: There is no federally recognized memorial to the Prison Ship Martyrs.

(The monument pictured above is maintained by the New York City Parks Department and is funded entirely by private donations.)



Between 1721 and the signing of our Declaration of Independence, smallpox inoculations saved some of the men we now call our Founders, that group of revolutionaries considered unmatched in their political, diplomatic, and ideological talents. Although George Washington survived his brush with naturally acquired smallpox, he recognized inoculation was a wartime necessity. Benjamin Franklin’s four-year old son died of the disease soon after Franklin decided against inoculating the young boy. Franklin carried this burden of guilt for the rest of his life. John Adams and his wife, Abigail, chose inoculation, at different times and for different reasons. Thomas Jefferson opted for inoculation, as well, and experienced no lasting effects. Except, perhaps, a newfound belief in the evolution of practical medicine.

Jefferson was a true skeptic of physicians. He believed doctors killed more people than they saved. In fact, it’s been said that whenever Jefferson encountered a group of physicians he would look toward the sky in search of circling vultures. Jefferson was of the belief that the body could mostly heal itself. As physicians treated (and killed) patient after patient with mercury-infused milk and regular bloodletting (a favorite of Washington’s, and the very treatment he requested just before his own death), Jefferson opted to take one for the team and arranged to get himself a smallpox inoculation. He soon became an enthusiastic supporter of inoculations, even insisting his slaves be given the same preventative treatment.

Speaking of slaves, Onesimus, whose name means useful in Latin, and Cotton Mather had quite the slave and master relationship. Mather considered Onesimus to be extremely likable and intelligent, and Onesimus felt secure enough with Mather to purchase his freedom. Onesimus still came back to shovel Mather’s walkway, perform various manual labors, and eventually paid Mather back for a bunch of stuff he’d stolen back in the day. Even though Mather once wrote that Onesimus was becoming pretty lazy and useless, their working relationship was one of respect and, dare I say, affection. After Onesimus introduced Mather to the practice of smallpox inoculation in 1721, which had been performed in parts of West Africa for generations, Mather was smitten, both with the concept and with his former slave. Mather was gracious enough to give credit to Onesimus when he wrote to the Royal Society about Onesimus’s groundbreaking crash course on how to prevent smallpox.

But does the name Cotton Mather sound even vaguely familiar to you? It should, and not because Mather was partly responsible for saving thousands of lives with his support of inoculation. Mather was, in fact, also partly responsible for the deaths of quite a few others back in Salem, Massachusetts.

That’s right! It’s the same guy!

COTTON MATHER: ULTIMATE kind of WITCH HUNTER but also VAX PIONEER! (Mather also had issues with pirates and the evils they embodied, but that’s something I’ll have to delve into another time.)

Mather was one of inoculation’s earliest supporters, decades before the Revolutionary War. And this may have been why his neighbors were initially against the practice. Considering the reputation he’d only recently made for himself in his witch-hunting wake, a lot of people simply believed that Mather just wanted to infect everyone with smallpox and kill them. Can you blame them? Mather’s witch-hunting story can be confusing, though. Historical documents tell us that Mather did and did not believe in spectral evidence. They tell us that Mather did and did not condone the use of spectral evidence in the trials. The only thing I’ve managed to gather from it all is that Mather, one of the most influential Puritan ministers of his day, was a big fan of speedy executions. He believed that the execution of every witch in New England was a miracle from God. And New England’s cup runneth over with God’s miracles.

Some say Mather’s work with the promotion of smallpox inoculations was his redemption, though it took decades for that to even cross people’s minds. Mather, like Adams, Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson, was a complicated character. Mather lost most of his loved ones to smallpox, leaving him to often feel displaced and alone. He was hated by multiple communities and got into sermon wars with other ministers. He even survived a botched firebombing attempt on his house once. It’s no wonder this guy battled so much internal conflict. It sometimes turned Mather an absolute train wreck.

One Boston newspaper called The New England Courant was extremely critical of smallpox inoculations and made it a point to publish stories about attacks on those who supported the practice. Mather’s assassination attempt made the news, of course. Another early and staunch supporter, Zabdiel Boylston, the town doctor, had been threatened with bodily harm if he even tried to leave his property. These stories all made it into the hands of the newspaper’s sixteen-year old apprentice, Benjamin Franklin.

In his autobiography, Franklin wrote:

In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of the parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.

Historically, even the men and women we revere the most have had to be convinced. Not by science, but by death. By personal loss and the idea that they could have done better, could have done more. Perhaps, like Washington and Jefferson, we can give value to the lives of those who society tells us are undeserving. Like Adams, we can finally adhere to the advice of experts and implore our families to do the same. Like Franklin, we can admit our failures and work to save other people’s children, even if we couldn’t save our own. And, like Cotton Mather, we can again be presented with opportunities to redeem our former selves.

To Colonize

When French explorers landed upon Nova Scotia in 1617, it is believed they brought with them the smallpox virus that nearly obliterated the Indian population of what would later become known as New England. In 1633 another smallpox epidemic raged, this time across the Boston area. It infected colonists and Indians alike. Approximately 1,000 Indians became sick with smallpox and more than 950 died. Native peoples had virtually no natural protection against the disease, leaving them more susceptible. Yet, as unknowing hosts, they gave the virus the very fuel it needed to continue spreading across the North American continent.

This region of New England, better known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, would endure a half dozen more outbreaks, some quite significant, before the end of the seventeenth century. But going into the eighteenth century, Boston was different. The city had a number of quarantine regulations in place. The people who lived there were now better protected than they had ever been. 

Colonists endured, as an unquestionable reality of life, a barrage of infectious diseases. Their children, and their children’s children, were also familiar with sickness and death. Smallpox and yellow fever. Influenza and diphtheria. Cholera and typhoid. Before it was even understood how diseases were spread, quarantine measures were often imposed.

New York City was the first American city to enact a localized quarantine order during a cholera outbreak in 1663. Boston went on lockdown in 1783 to halt the spread of yellow fever. Philadelphia, only ten years later, lost over 10% of its population to a smallpox outbreak. Officials only managed to slow the spread of the disease by imposing isolation orders on those who remained in the city. History shows us that most of the time isolation has worked in our favor. 

Viruses, such as influenza and smallpox, and bacteria, such as cholera and typhoid, are often confused as one and the same. But viruses cannot survive without a host, which gives them their only opportunity to reproduce. Bacteria are much more self-sufficient. Viruses cause disease whereas bacteria can be quite beneficial. One thing they both have in common, though, is the ability to colonize a person’s body, leaving them asymptomatic and completely unaware they are carrying the illness. A colonized body is not an infected body, but it still must become an isolated body so as not to infect others. 

It’s an interesting choice of words, isn’t it? Colonize. Historically, colonizers have been brutal oppressors, intent on violating the social order and recreating cultural norms. The violence inflicted by colonizers upon a body of people is such that the people yield, they submit, and they eventually succumb. It is how our country came to be and it is how our country has endured. It is both an individual surrender and a collective one. American history simply begins a new chapter each time.

Yet here we are again in the very beginning of a new chapter. What is being inflicted by colonizers this time is upon single bodies, and it is not violent. It is in my body, perhaps yours, too, but we feel fine. We walk the aisles of the grocery store because we are bored, or take too many visits to Home Depot because we have time, tired of being stuck in our homes. We do not practice social distancing. We do not stay in the house. Some of us do not even believe such measures are necessary. We are asymptomatic, completely unaware. With each breath, each touch, each close encounter, the virus is spreading because of us. We have unknowingly become colonized.

People must acknowledge that quarantines, whether imposed by law or by self, buy researchers the time they need to understand the disease. Quarantine is not a punishment, just as it is not the cure. There is no cure. Coronavirus, like smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, and AIDS, is the oppressor. It is violating the social order. It is recreating cultural norms. It is making people so sick that they yield, they submit, and they eventually succumb. Over a quarter million Americans are infected. Hundreds of thousands of us could die from this. Most of the sick will recover. But many of us are simply colonized.

Colonists, their children, and their children’s children, endured the grim realities of infectious disease outbreaks. They accepted the brutal deaths that accompanied these epidemics as a part of life. If our bodies are colonized by the virus, then we, too, are victims. But if we continue to break quarantine, we are no longer victims. We have become the colonizers. We have become the brutal oppressors, intent on violating the social order and recreating cultural norms. We bring the virus with us everywhere we go. We ARE the virus.



artwork by David Owens, 2020


Favorite Books of 2019


Remember me?

I’m still around. Kind of. I’ve just been busy.

My life revolves around books. I work with books. I plan vacations around books. I research books. I buy books. I go to meetings about books. I recommend books. I write about books. Occasionally I get to read books. And here are my favorite books that I read in 2019:


Severance by Ling Ma: This was the first book I read in 2019 and I’d been looking forward to it for a few months. A global epidemic is wiping out most of humanity, but Candace, a New York City office worker who is so wrapped up in her job, barely recognizes what’s happening around her. Her company execs have promised her big things if she sticks around to continue manning the operation. So she does. At the same time Candace starts a blog in which she photographs and documents the city in its abandoned state. In time, she joins up with other survivors. The group travels to a place called The Facility to create a new society. Here they must decide if their leader, Bob, is in it for the right reasons. The book is very subtle – there are no wow! moments, no shocking confessions or emotional peaks. And I liked that about it. The shock and awe has already happened. Most of humanity is dead. Instead, the novel focuses on these people who are just traveling through the world, trying to rebuild what they can while trying to decide if they should.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: Prepare to be heartbroken. Jojo and his love for his little sister, Kayla, and his messed up mother, Leonie, was so complicated and beautiful. The characters are as complex as the consequences their decisions have created for them, or in the case of Jojo, the decisions his drug-addicted mother has created for him. Leonie, a black woman with a rich family history in Mississippi, packs up her children for a road trip to greet the children’s white father upon his prison release. The ghosts of Mississippi’s deep-seated racism and that of Parchman Farm come to a head as young Jojo tries to find his place among the multitude of haunted worlds in which he lives: black/white, mother/father, brother/caretaker, past/present/future. It’s a lovely story.

The Wall by John Lanchester: This was, quite frankly, a bit terrifying because of the possibility of it becoming so real. The world has been taken over by the rising seas. People are risking their lives traveling by sea to breach the wall, a massive structure protected by armed guards called Defenders who will risk their own lives to keep The Others out. The Others come from different parts of the world. They are desperate to reach dry ground. They are running out of time. As the Defenders grow closer in their camaraderie, they begin to question their leadership and their role in keeping the island nation safe from outsiders. However, if they fail at their task they will put out to sea themselves. This book isn’t even trying to be a metaphor; it’s a warning for what could actually happen.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: I lived in North Florida when stories of physical and sexual abuse that had occurred at the state’s reform school became public. This book is based on those stories, except Whitehead offers up the narrative from a young black boy’s point of view. Elwood and Turner become unlikely friends at The Nickel Academy, a school for boys who misbehave, commit petty offenses, run their mouths, or simply take up too much space in their own impoverished family’s homes. The staff behave in unspeakably horrific ways and the children, as they seem to have done their entire short lives, continue to endure. One scene in particular has stuck with me since I read it, in which I, a modern-day middle-aged white woman, found myself having judged a justifiably angry but scared young, black boy. What happens to him is unforgettable, unforgivable, and heartbreaking. But isn’t that how it is these days? We judge. We react. We move on. Except I couldn’t move on for over a month. The Nickel Boys was, hands down, my favorite read of the year.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano: This book about a single plane crash survivor, a young boy named Edward, is also based on a true story. The other passengers’ complex lives and tragic ends are partly the basis of this book; the other part is how Edward manages to live each day after he is discovered to be the sole survivor amidst the wreckage in a Colorado field. After he learns his parents and brother have been killed in the crash, he is taken in by his childless aunt and uncle. Throughout the book, Edward tries to understand why he was given the opportunity to live and so many others were not. The story moves between Edward’s recovery (a process of years) and the terrifying unfolding of the doomed flight itself. (My suspicion is that Napolitano was inspired by what happened to Northwest Airlines Flight 255, the plane that crashed outside of Detroit in 1987. It killed all but one of the 155 people on board. The only survivor was Cecelia Cihan, a 4-year old who lost her parents and brother that day, too.)

I read over fifty books this year, some through audio during my long work commute, and most in actual print. And, while my list might not reflect it, I did take in a healthy amount of nonfiction. After looking through all the books I’d read in 2019, no nonfiction books were absolute standouts. Most were good, but not as good as the fiction books I listed above.


As you’ve probably noticed, I have no interest in writing much these days. I’ve taken up painting, rescuing hamsters (totally serious) and road tripping (my most recent adventure trips have been to Mystic, CT and Burlington, VT) as more enjoyable ways to spend my time. Writing is a chore, but maybe I’ll pop back here once a year to write about my favorite books. Maybe I won’t. We’ll see.

A Quarter of My Life


My husband and I have been fans of Lord Huron for quite some time. When we lived in Cleveland and found out their tour was bringing them to town we set reminders for ourselves to buy tickets the minute they were on sale. Then we moved to New Hampshire about a week before the show, giving up our tickets to people I barely knew. A few weeks later they were going to be in Portsmouth performing a free outdoor concert at Prescott Park. The night of the show an intense storm rolled through the area. It poured buckets. Lightning and thunder. The whole bit. We didn’t see them that night either since the show was canceled on account of dangerous weather.

And so we found ourselves driving to Portland, Maine one night back in July. Another chance to see Lord Huron! Another outdoor concert, too, but this time it wasn’t free. We bought tickets, booked a hotel, and watched the weather reports all week. The night of the show we reveled in our good luck. The weather was nothing short of spectacular. As was the show itself.


Lord Huron sings about the places where I grew up. I literally just did the math and even I’m surprised to learn that I’ve lived a quarter of my life on the Great Lakes – first Huron, then Superior, then Erie. In between I spent holidays and summers with my mother’s family near Lake Michigan. A few years ago my husband and I spent a couple of nights in Buffalo, New York, and made a point to drive to the Lake Ontario shoreline. She was my last lake to visit, a final check on the Great Lakes bucket list. On the way home to Cleveland we talked about me getting a Great Lakes tattoo for my next birthday. I never did.

My birthday is coming up and I have yet to shake the idea. Clearly those lakes mean a great deal to me. I have yet to shake them, too, I guess.

Daytrip: Vermont Cheese Quest


It really could not have been a more perfect day when we set out on the road for the drive north to Quechee, Vermont. Over the year we’ve lived here, we have discussed heading up that way to visit the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters or the Cabot Creamery. Coordinating our schedules and figuring out dogsitters proved a little difficult. My husband has a second job. I work nights and sometimes weekends. Do we leave the kid at home? And that’s kind of unfair to her, right? Luckily, someone told us about a smaller Cabot Creamery Store in an old antique mall located just across the state line. When I mapped it out, I noticed the creamery is only a short drive from an old, famous bookshop I have always wanted to visit, which is only a short drive from a brewery my husband has always wanted to try.

We made a day of it. Our Cheese Quest turned into a Bookstore Quest, a Brewery Quest, and a Llama Quest (how often do you get to participate in one of those?). That we happened upon the deepest gorge in Vermont was simply a delightful surprise. The kind of surprise that makes road trips like this one so much fun.

Our first stop took us past Quechee to a small town called Woodstock, home to the Yankee Bookshop. This quaint little store has been in business since 1935 and serves as the oldest continuously operating bookshop in Vermont. I’ve been on a kick lately to visit all the New England bookstores I’d heard about when I was a non-resident. It’s a worthy goal: shop local, go home with a book. It’s a win/win if you ask me.


Next we were off to Long Trail Brewing Company. We drank good beer, ate mediocre food, and waded in the adjacent river that has such a difficult name for me to remember that I often have to Google it (the Ottauquechee River!). Here is where we also met up with our friend, Rob. Rob went to school with my husband and me back in the early 1990s in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Rob and I didn’t speak much in high school. Matt and Rob never spoke at all. Yet we each acknowledge how our hellish high school experiences have bonded us for the long haul (one day I may expand on the trauma of our high school years). And here we are, visiting each other as often as we can. When we first moved to New Hampshire last summer, Rob was our first overnight guest! We hadn’t seen each other in nearly 25 years but stayed up into the early morning hours catching up. There is much to be said for shared experiences, good and bad, that make the unlikeliest of friends.


After lunch at the brewery, we said our goodbyes to Rob and headed back toward Quechee and the New Hampshire border. But I wanted to make a quick stop near a bridge we’d crossed that traveled directly over the deepest gorge I’ve seen east of the Mississippi. It’s 165 feet deep and spans over that river I can never remember the name of unless I Google it (the Ottauquechee River!). It turns out it’s part of Quechee State Park, but there are parking areas available off the highway. From there visitors can walk across the gorge on Route 4 via pedestrian bridge. There is protective fencing, no doubt erected to prevent attempts at suicide, but the view across the gorge is incredible. One can even see, if facing north, a small sandy beach where visitors have hiked into. It was very brief stop but enough to satiate my want of more nature touristing.


That someone who originally told me about the Cabot Creamery Shop had also supplied me with cash and her personal cheese shopping list (it was the least we could do since she’s the one who pointed us in the right direction). It was like Cheese Mecca, you guys. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY CHEESE SAMPLES A HUMAN CAN SAMPLE BEFORE THEY JUST BECOME SICK FROM ALL THE CHEESE SAMPLING? I nearly crossed that line on my second trip around the sample table. There are cheddar samples (do you know how many varieties of Cabot cheddars there are? NO YOU DO NOT. Trust me.), a bazillion and a half other hard cheese samples, spreadable cheese samples, and mustards. Yes, MUSTARDS. With crackers and pretzels. It’s like lunch. Go hungry. Leave happy. Or sick. Happily sick.

I can’t remember how much money we actually spent but I do remember we had to do math. Like If we buy all this cheese will we have enough money to pay the mortgage? kind of math. And yes, we did buy all this cheese. We’re still eating it – two months later. We bought it all because there are varieties in the Cabot Creamery shop that are not sold in the grocery store. And because I SAMPLED MYSELF TO NEAR DEATH so I knew all the cheeses I wanted. I literally kept a rating scorecard on my iPhone, calculated the results of each, and proceeded from there. The winners: Orne Cheddar, Vintage Cheddar, and the spreadable Port Wine. Also, Cabot cheddars are lactose free so KNOCK YOURSELVES OUT, lactose sickos. You’ll be fine.

And finally, Llama Quest! Elle often suffers from Cabin Fever like her mother, and often begs to go somewhere. She joined us on this road trip simply because I promised there would be llamas (strangely, she wasn’t impressed with the promise of cheese). AND THERE WERE LLAMAS. We didn’t get a chance to spend a lot of time with them, but Elle’s goal for the day was to pet a llama. And we made that happen because WE ARE NICE PARENTS.


The first time I traveled through Vermont was to come to New Hampshire on a house hunt. The second time I traveled through Vermont was to permanently move to New Hampshire after said house hunt. I hated it both times. Southern Vermont has a lot of closed in spaces. Too many trees blinding the view, the sky, the oncoming traffic around all those sharp curves. But this Vermont was a different Vermont. Of course there were mountains and trees and lots of oncoming traffic. There were also vistas, and open spaces, and views of the sky. It was simply beautiful. Vermont and I are friends now.

Daytrip: Grocery Store

Someone recently said to me, “I love how you go on so many adventures!” And I wondered to myself, “Are those really adventures? Are they adventurous enough to be called adventures? Am adventurous enough to actually go on adventures?”

The answer is YES. I’m not looking to scale Mount Everest. I’m not preparing a continental trek along the Appalachian Trail. I mean, I haven’t even visited Boston yet. But sometimes when I wake up and I realize the weather is only going to be good for another two months, three months tops, I am motivated to leave my house and drive due north for nearly two hours with no other purpose in mind but to find a new grocery store and reward myself with Starbucks.

That’s what I did one morning. I had a grocery list a mile long, and I couldn’t fathom going to the same grocery store that I always go to, again. And because I reward myself with a Starbucks latte after nearly every grocery run, I couldn’t fathom going to the same Starbucks that I always go to, again.

So the kiddo and I decided to drive to Conway, New Hampshire. It’s a town we’d never been to before. We saw mountains we’d never seen before and order from a Starbucks we’d never ordered from before. The trek up north led us to venture into Fryeburg, Maine, just over the state line, back into New Hampshire, and around the entirety of Lake Winnipesaukee. We visited the towns of Tamworth and Meredith, where I found the famous Archie statue (yes, from the Archie comics!). We stopped for a short hike around Chocorua Lake. We trespassed onto farm property in rural Maine, found a Ben & Jerry’s back in New Hampshire, and finally hit up a grocery store. We drove past the iconic Weirs Beach sign on our way home, seven hours after we’d left the house.

I get antsy. I love my house and I love my little town, but I’m realizing how holed up I’ll be in a few short months when winter sets in. And I am starting to believe that I had always relied on our next cross-country move as my source of adventure. Well, we’re not moving anymore. We are here. And that just makes it harder for me not to be there, wherever there is.

So I take daytrips. I drive aimlessly and stop to look at the scenery. I go to Maine. I go to the mountains. I go to Vermont. I find a lake and I stare at it. My family often comes with me on these road trips. We visit famous indie bookshops. We buy local cheese. We drink local beer (well, Matt does). And we marvel at how beautiful it is here and say we need to do this more often. 

And with that, here’s a photographic record of my day out getting groceries and Starbucks.









When you live as far north as we do, even Boston is south. By nearly two hours. Matt managed to get the time off from work and was even willing to drive to Key West from New Hampshire in just three days’ time. We managed to do it! It was exhausting and one of the most difficult road trips we’ve pulled off. I’ll never do it again.

It was exciting, though, in ways I didn’t think it would be. Matt took us through downtown New Haven, Connecticut to show us his old digs when he worked at Yale. And we drove through New York City. I’ve never had a desire to visit NYC, and the slow-moving traffic and chaos of the place pretty much solidified this non-desire. New Jersey is quite pretty, even from the interstate. And it’s where I preferred to see the New York City skyline disappear from view. We vowed we would not be taking this route back home. Tappan Zee Bridge for the win!

A few nights’ rest with our friends in Manassas, Virginia and an overnight with my parents’ in Titusville, Florida were all we got as far as rest was concerned. We were on a time crunch – my brother’s wedding in Orlando was only a few days away so we figured we’ll rest when we’re dead and forged ahead. I’ll never do that again, either.

Am I happy we did it? YES! But I don’t think there is enough money in the world that could convince me to do it a second time. And with that in mind – as with all of the other activities we wanted to do while in Florida with the whole family – we packed in as much as we could. We weren’t even in Key West for 24 hours.



On Matt’s Key West Bucket List was to visit a bar on Duval Street and take a photo at the Southernmost Point (his last marker to see is the Northernmost Point off the coast of Maine – much more accessible to us these days). My Key West Bucket List was made up of one item: Ernest Hemingway’s House and Museum.

Years ago I had a polydactyl cat aptly named Polly. I am not a cat person, but I was undisputedly a Polly person. I learned that all polydactyls descended from the original Hemingway cats. And these cats that live at the Hemingway House are protected by the National Park Service, probably as they’re living cultural relics. My Polly walked away into the woods one day and never returned home. I miss her terribly. And as I strolled through the house and the gardens of Hemingway’s old place, I encountered cat upon cat upon cat. One after another. In the grass, on the rooftops, and on Hemingway’s bed. I imagined Polly had finished her eighth life with me and that this life, her most luxurious, was her feline reward. It was her I saw on Hemingway’s bed, resting through her ninth life under the protection of the legislative pen.



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Then we headed north. When you are as far south as we were, even Miami is north. By nearly two hours. Except I made a wrong turn somewhere on US 1, lost all hope of finding a Chik-Fil-A, and we found ourselves driving through Little Haiti. It was an experience. We were all close to killing each other by this point but we managed to make it to Titusville by dinner time.

There was a beautiful wedding a few days later and an intimate reception at the bride and groom’s favorite restaurant. The next morning we packed up the car and headed to the movie theater to watch Avengers: Endgame with the bride & groom, the parents, the wedding party, etc.

We were on the road to New Hampshire by noon and home in our own beds two nights later.


Winter & Brunswick, Maine

I decided to board an Amtrak train to Brunswick, Maine. This was months ago, just when New England seemed to be at the peak of an already long and cold winter. There was an opportunity to tour one of the most elite colleges in the country. We’d heard things about this place: the campus is small but charming, the food is phenomenal, there’s an Arctic museum on the grounds. And because we all seemed to be suffering from cabin fever, we booked a hotel across the street from the school and called it our Winter 2019 Family Vacation.


Matt decided to drive to Brunswick where he would meet us at the station while Elle and I hopped on board the northbound Downeaster express. The route took us through Old Orchard Beach, Portland, alongside the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, and along the coast. From our huge windows we saw Ferris wheels, frozen rivers, and the ocean. It spit us out right in the center of downtown Brunswick. Admittedly, Brunswick is small. And it was cold. Not Brunswick’s fault. But the town’s smallness was much appreciated by those of us traveling on foot. Not so far to go to get to where you’re going.

The college tour was cold, of course. Led by a sophomore government major in a miniskirt. She’s from Montana and therefore immune to winters. And I, while not even close to being immune to winters, am starting to find all things beautiful in these icy cold climates. I dream of visiting Newfoundland and consider risking seasickness in order to seek out puffin colonies on the North Atlantic coast. Iceberg spotting from Twilingate. Sighting auroras from the shores of the Labrador Sea. Eating a proper Scotch egg made by a Nova Scotian. These kinds of things.




Yet the closest I’ve been to any of these places is Brunswick. Our feet were frozen and raw from the walk around town. I got to touch a narwhal tusk. We ate delicious food.


Back in 2016 Malcolm Gladwell trashed Bowdoin College for spending more money on their dining services (they consistently rank #1 in best college food) than on providing financial aid packages for low-income students. It’s an unfair assessment on how Bowdoin spends their endowment and generates funding for its stellar dining options. And would you know we opted not to eat at the college. Why? Because we’re a bunch of idiots and we just wanted to go home after a long, cold day on campus. Tired, cold idiots. Nobody thinks rationally when they’re tired and cold.

The good news is Elle graduated an entire year early, so the chances that we’ll get to take another tour around Bowdoin are good.  I’m totally going to eat on campus and I’m totally only taking another tour during the non-winter months.


We drove home together the very next day. The Amtrak train ride to Brunswick was a practice run of sorts. We’d just recently found out my brother was getting married in Orlando in April. My husband wasn’t sure he’d be able to go, conflicting schedules and all. And I certainly wasn’t going to drive from New England to Central Florida without him. Flying? Out of the question.

That’s next…

Is anybody out there?

A few months ago I said to myself, “Self, you should really update your blog.” And I didn’t because I doubt anyone reads this thing. Does that matter, though?

I’ve been busy. I’ve been really busy doing really cool things. Remember last fall when I was hired by a library outside of Concord to do their programming and help at the circulation desk? That didn’t even last nine months. But only because I was asked to be their new director in April.

This, I believed, was a horrible idea. Mainly because while I know had the skills, the knowledge, and the support of the board of trustees and the townspeople, I had no self-confidence. But I’m in my 40s now and it’s about time to start saying yes to things. So I said yes. It turns out I’m actually really good at this job. So, self-confidence, schmelf-confidence.

Since then, we’ve done a fair amount of adventuring. A road trip to Orlando for my brother’s wedding took us through parts of the country I had never seen before. And, if I may admit this, we went through parts of New York City and South Carolina that I never care to see again. Connecticut was my favorite state. South Carolina was my least.

It wasn’t long before we got cabin fever once again. While pulling out of the driveway to get groceries, the kiddo and I agreed to go to the store nearest to Starbucks. That snowballed into “Let’s drive an hour and a half north to that Starbucks and see what grocery stores are up that way.” So we did. We returned home nearly eight hours later having driven to the foothills of the White Mountains, over to Maine, and back around Lake Winnipesaukee.


Mountains behind Chocorua Lake – Tamworth, New Hampshire

A few weeks later, one of my favorite library patrons told me about the Cabot cheese shop just over the Vermont border. I wasn’t in a hurry to go back through Vermont; our move to New Hampshire only a year ago brought us through the southern part of the state and I really didn’t like it. I felt claustrophobic. There were either steep hills or thick clusters of trees right by the roadside. No room to see. No room to breathe. But, we have a friend who lives in the area near the Cabot store (which, incidentally, is not the creamery or cheese factory) and my husband wanted to visit a local brewery. I found a bookstore nearby that’s been on my bucket list for some time.

Off we went to Vermont. And, this time, I didn’t want to leave. It’s a totally different Vermont near Woodstock.


Ottauquechee River – Bridgewater, Vermont


Quechee Gorge – Hartford, Vermont

And, finally, we got to spend some rushed-but-quality time in Portland just this past weekend. We’d visited a few spots in Maine over the winter: the first time was a college tour of Maine College of Art in Portland, and another tour around the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. But this time, we left the kid at home with the dogs and headed to a Lord Huron concert at Thompson’s Point. Another bookstore visit, another brewery, and a lobster roll. We came home yesterday afternoon, fell asleep quickly, and didn’t get out of bed until 10:00. We are still so very tired. But it was totally worth it.


Thompson’s Point – Portland, Maine


As usual, I’ve been reading. A LOT. Not as much as I would like, but the stuff I’ve managed to get my hands on has been pretty good stuff. I will do my best to keep up with the book recommendations and continue making a list of my favorite reads through the months.

The dogs are doing well. The hamster is still her normal, sassy self. How they managed to get through this recent heatwave boggles my mind. It reached 94 degrees here yesterday. And while we don’t have A/C, we do have a pool. But when the air is that hot, the pool can only do so much.

Thank goodness it’s over.