September 23, 2015

Swimming weather in the mountains


Every fall, I travel to the mountains with a group of women friends for a weekend retreat. It's a tradition. We bring warm clothes and hiking boots, as well as books and journals. Weaving Woman brings her loom; Quilt Artist brings an art project. I'm the firekeeper, and I carry in armloads of firewood while my friends make big pots of delicious soups and stews. We normally spend hours by the fire each night, talking, sometimes dancing, always eating.

This year, Signing Woman — whose generous family owns the beautiful old camp where we stay — moved the weekend from October into September because she's going to a wedding on our usual weekend. The weather was unseasonably warm, and that meant that we got, for the first time, to see this great camp in summer weather, the season that it was clearly built for.

Instead of huddling inside by the fire, we threw open all the windows, letting the breezes flow through. We sat  out on the dock. We swam to the raft and soaked in the water that had been softened by months of summer sun. Makes Bread and I tried out the paddleboards: it turns out that a paddleboard isn't that different than a canoe, except you stand up instead of sit. Best of all, the camp has a little sunfish sailboat. I took the sunfish out for sail on Saturday, and then again on Sunday. Zooming along under wind power, using my body to shift the boat into the right position, made me remember just how much I love sailing.

By the end of the weekend, we were all as relaxed as a bunch of kids on summer vacation. The tough part was remembering that we had to pack up and go back to work on Monday.


September 16, 2015

The last bit of summer

End of the season sail

Labor Day weekend at my parents’ camp is often cold or rainy, coming as it does at the end of the season. But this year, the weekend was sunny and warm. “This feels like July,” we all kept saying. It felt like a wonderful bonus.

About fifteen family members gathered for the weekend, bringing tents and food. My brother brought his sailboat so that he and my father could take several long sails on the river. Red-haired Niece and her boyfriend brought their dog and their motorboat: I went out on the river with them for the fun of leaping off the boat into the deep, clear water. We ate corn on the cob that had been picked that morning, we swam in the afternoon, and we sat by the fire in the evening, enjoying the absence of the mosquitoes.

Schoolteacher Niece brought her one-year-old daughter, who had fun playing at the beach. She seems to love water in all forms, whether it’s water to drink or water to play in. When I handed her an empty bucket, she started right down to the dock with the intent of filling it up with water.

Off to get water

I took several leisurely paddles in my little red kayak. I love the river in September when the cattails are high, the water is low, and the creeks are secret, hidden places. I usually start off by paddling as hard as I can against the wind, and then once I’ve gone far enough, I drift with the wind, taking photos and looking down at the water to spot fish swimming through the weeds. When I was a child, I used to spend hours lying on the bow of my father’s sailboat, staring down at the underwater world of mysterious green weeds and imaging the fairy people who probably lived there.

  Into the creek

September 11, 2015

An event in a history book

My first year students are mostly seventeen and eighteen years old. When we talked about the 9/11 terrorist attack, none of them chimed in to say where they'd been or what they remembered. They were just little kids: they don't remember it at all. The kids who grow up in Big City Like No Other have heard about that day from parents and family members, and others learned about it in school, but they don't remember it. They're too young.

August 31, 2015

And the season changes


This morning, I had to wake up to an alarm clock, put on real clothes, and drive to campus. Fall semester has begun. I don't know how it happened, but somehow another summer has gone by. 

Gardens are filled with black-eyed susans and bright sunflowers. We're still eating zucchini. I spent yesterday evening chopping up tomatoes, filling quart bags to put in the freezer.

With-a-Why, my youngest, is entering his junior year of college. A music major, he's auditioning for a jazz singing group, so he spent last night at the piano, playing and singing The Girl From Ipanema. Boy-in-Black and Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter, who had come by and were just hanging out in the living room, offered helpful suggestions as he practiced scatting. When Boy-in-Black took a turn at scat, he sounded like the bear in The Jungle Book.

My son Shaggy Hair Boy and his wife Smiley Girl are back from their honeymoon. They both teach in the public high schools in Snowstorm City so they will going back to work soon. My daughter, a clinical psychologist, starts her final internship tomorrow. And Boy-in-Black started a new job a few weeks ago.

So we're all busy. I'm always sad to see summer end, but I'm looking forward to everything that fall brings: homemade apple pies, a weekend in the mountains, get-togethers with friends, and a crackling fire at the hearth.

August 19, 2015

Shaggy Hair Boy gets married


I’ve had a fantastic summer, with lovely trips and good family news. My brother-in-law’s cancer is in remission, my youngest sister’s twins were born healthy and beautiful at 38 weeks, and my eighty-something parents are still both in good health. The summer ended with an exciting event: my son Shaggy Hair Boy and his girlfriend Smiley Girl got married. I’ve gained a daughter-in-law. I’ve known Smiley Girl since she was my student at Little Green five years ago, and she’s a perfect match for my middle son. Everyone in the family is thrilled.

They got married on a farm. It’s a working farm, with goats and chickens and several big shaggy dogs. The reception was held in a barn strung with white Christmas lights. A bunch of us gathered there the day before to arrange the flowers the bride’s mother had bought at the farmers’ market. We used mason jars leftover from another wedding. The caterer served food grown locally. The men in the bridal party wore navy blue dress shirts and grey pants, and the women wore navy blue dresses, all clothes that they could re-use. The dessert was gelato, made right on the farm. The bride and groom are very environmentally conscious, and that showed in every decision they made.

The photograph above shows the field where the ceremony was held. As we were all commenting how gorgeous the view was, one of the bride’s friends said, “You can even see a wind farm in the distance. That’s so perfect.” The guests sat on planks of wood balanced on bales of straw. My brother played the guitar. My daughter did a reading. The maid of honor sang. The wedding party included all of the bride’s nieces and nephews, a bunch of adorable kids.

The reception included live music, of course, mostly jazz. My son With-a-Why sang “These Foolish Things.” Drama Niece warmed up the crowd with “When the Saints Go Marching In” while the groom took a turn at the keyboard and my brother led a conga line. Skater Boy, whom we’ve known since he was a tiny kid and who, despite the pseudonym I gave him years ago, is a respectable young man who develops computer software, gave a toast that was touching and funny. The toast was interrupted briefly by a sheep wandering into the barn and right up to the microphone. Then the maid of honor, who has known the bride her whole life, gave another toast while the musicians played with the baby sheep.

The guests were mostly family, but for us that includes our long-time extra kids, even the ones who live in far-off places now. They all showed up, young adults now rather than teenagers, all of them looking so grown-up that I felt nostalgic for the days when they hung out in my living room, jamming and playing games all night. And of course, even in the midst of so much happiness, I felt sad that Blonde Sister, who died last November, couldn’t be with us to celebrate the wedding of the nephew she’d helped raise.

The bride and groom, like most young people nowadays, kept the traditions they liked and discarded outdated traditions. The little kids (and many of the adults) walked down to see the goats and wandered about the farm looking for chickens and dogs. Young people played Kan-Jam and a giant set of Jenga outside the barn. Old people and young danced to jazz music. Everyone stood around talking, eating gelato. And the best part of the whole day was the realization that Smiley Girl, whom we all love, is now officially part of our family.

August 04, 2015

Ah, vacation

Olympic National Park

What I love about the Pacific Northwest is that the landscape is so varied. We hiked up mountains, we walked on sandy beaches, we hiked through a rainforest, and we spend an afternoon climbing around rocks as we searched tide pools for starfish. Every morning, my husband and I would find a diner where we could eat a huge breakfast while we planned our day. "Shall we go hiking? Shall we find a beach? Where should we go for the sunset?" It was lovely to spend a whole week doing nothing but visiting beautiful places.

Sand Dunes

That tiny figure on the beach in the bottom photo is my husband, searching for the best place to watch the sunset.

July 28, 2015

Early morning on the west coast

Quileute Marina

I woke up early to the sound of ocean surf. I dressed quickly, grabbing my fleece and my camera, and walked down to the marina to watch the fishing boats leave for a day's work. I love the sounds of a marina: the clinking of metal when the boats rock in the wind, the slap of hoses and knocking of buckets as the fishermen work, the squawking of seagulls as they circle about in hopes of a snack. This fishing village, home to the Quileute people, is over 800 years old.

My husband and I have travelled to the west coast for a week-long vacation. We've been hiking mountains, exploring tide pools, walking beaches, and eating in little local diners. The weather has been cool and misty, which feels wonderful this time of year. My body tends to stay on east coast time no matter where I go, which means that I wake up at dawn, just like the fishermen in this little village, and that gives me an extra couple of hours to myself each morning, to walk the misty beaches and docks.

July 22, 2015

Newborn twins!


The beach in this photo is just a few minutes away from my youngest sister’s house. So of course, when I visited her, we went over to see the ocean. But the beach was not the main attraction. There was a much more exciting reason for my visit — newborn twins!

Yes, Urban Sophisticate Sister and her husband, Tall Architect, are parents now. Their daughters were born at 38 weeks, which is fantastic for twins, and the babies are clearly thriving. They looked exactly alike when I first met them, but after a few days, I’d spent enough time staring at them that the subtle differences seemed obvious and I could tell them apart easily. (That’s usually my experience with identical twins — they are identical only to people who don’t know them. That’s why, even as a kid, I thought the movie Parent Trap was ridiculous.)

Visiting a household with newborn twins is completely wonderful. Normally, I’m always fighting relatives and friends for a chance to hold whoever the newest baby is. But with twins, there are enough babies to go around! There is ALWAYS a baby to hold. And these babies are especially cute. I took hundreds of photos to try to capture their many expressions.

I will also add that visiting my sister gave me new respect for friends who have raised twins. It’s not twice as much work; it’s like ten times as much. My sister and her husband are new at the parenting, but apparently, having twins is the best crash course ever: after two weeks of non-stop practice, they were experts at changing, holding, swaddling, feeding, and comforting their newborns. They also both seemed totally sleep-deprived, a condition I remember well from my days of having newborns, although looking back, I have to say that I had it easy: I had my kids one at a time.

On the long drive home from my sister’s house, I stopped at rest area and met a woman who was carrying an infant. As I talked to her, I noticed that I was unconsciously looking around; I was wondering where the other baby was. That’s right. After just a few days with my sister’s twins, I have come to think that babies come in pairs.

July 18, 2015


At the beach

The most fun part of the family vacation at my parents' camp this year: my grandniece! She's a year old now. We put our lawn chairs in a big circle to form a human playpen, and she'd walk around, a bit unsteady on the uneven ground, an endless source of entertainment. On the sunny days, she came with us to the beach. I don't think she spent even one minute sitting in the shade under the umbrella: she loved wandering along the water's edge and she kept moving, cheerfully getting up again every time she fell, smiling happily, no matter how wet or sandy she got.

July 12, 2015

After the rainstorm

From the Dock

Whenever I talk about family vacations at my parents’ camp, I describe sunny days that we spend entirely outside of our tents: the gang of kids lazily playing cards on a blanket, lunch on the picnic tables under the oak trees, an afternoon swim off a rocky island, a game of bocce or perhaps a nap in the hammock, tanned family members gathering at the picnic tables for dinner, then a campfire where we play games and sing songs. But the reality is this: sometimes it rains.

During the first half of our week-long vacation, storm clouds moved in. It rained and rained and rained. Once the clouds parted for about 15 minutes. I walked down to the dock, took the photo above, and then reported back to the group huddled under a tarp. “Sunshine is coming our way!” 

Dandelion Niece glanced at her smartphone and said, “Um, not exactly.” That’s the problem with this younger generation. Technology has destroyed any hope of false optimism.

That night, the rain came down so heavily that water began leaking into the small tent I shared with my husband. I reached into the dirty clothes bag to find something to sop up the small puddle that was inching closer and closer to my pillow. I decided that cotton underwear would do the trick. Thankfully, the first panties I grabbed were black, a color that hides all stains, even mud from the floor of a tent. I figured that once I got home and did a wash, there would be no evidence that I’d used them as a mop. Even when it comes to lace panties, I’m practical.

“Is water leaking into the tent?” my husband asked sleepily. Camping isn’t really his thing.

“All taken care of,” I said, smugly, tossing the panties to the bottom of the tent. That next day, the ground at camp was so soaked with water that we were afraid to move any of the vehicles for fear of repeating the Vehicles Entrenched in Mud Incident of May 20ll.  There we were, half of the family stranded on our little peninsula, while family members still at home in Snowstorm Region kept sending us hopeful weather reports via text messages. I began to worry about a possible emergency situation: we might run out of chocolate. Tie-dye Brother-in-Law and Tae Kwondo Nephew said that if the situation became dire, they’d drive their boat down the river and to the grocery store.

But the next day, the weather gave us a break. The sun came out. I began pulling from the tent anything that had gotten damp or wet, draping things on our vehicles to dry. I’ve found that the hot metal of a car, which absorbs the sun heat, works better than a clothes line at camp. The crowd at camp cheered up considerable. My mother made blueberry pancakes, Red-haired Niece arrived a cooler of food, and my husband went off to do errands, driving 30 miles farther north to pick up something he needed for work. My phone kept chiming with messages from various family members who were heading our way, cheered by a weather report that promised four days of sun for the long weekend ahead.

By the time my husband returned from his errand, our kids had all arrived. Colorful tents had multiplied like mushrooms, tucked under the pine trees, and my oldest son had set up a net for badminton, which has morphed from the lazy game I played as a child to a highly competitive sport that my sons take very seriously. The rain was long forgotten.

“Well, that was an interesting drive,” my husband said when he stepped out of his van. I looked up. The shuttlecock dropped to the ground as the badminton players turned to listen. Clearly, there was a story.

“First a pick-up truck went by,” my husband said. “And this guy honked and waved. I thought – wow, these guys in the north country are friendly.”

I looked at him, puzzled.

“Then another bunch of guys went by, laughing and giving me the thumbs-up sign,” he continued. I could tell he was enjoying the story. But I didn’t know where he was going with it. I mean, I’m glad that the men of this rural region were shattering his stereotypes, but it was unlike him to draw attention to something like that.

Then Bill paused for dramatic effect. “Turns out they had a reason to honk. Guess what was hanging from my side view mirror?”

He reached into the van and pulled out a familiar item of clothing, which I’d hung on the mirror earlier that morning to dry — my black lace panties.

“I’m glad they didn’t blow off on the highway,” I said as I grabbed them. “And look – they’re dry now.”

My sons looked from their father to the panties and then in a single move, like a gang of meerkats who have just seen a winged predator, went back to their badminton game.