Here are a few of the women in my family, starting out on a hike on Memorial Day: Drama Niece, School Teacher Niece, Blonde Niece, Red-haired Niece, my mother, and Blonde Sister. They don't know I have a blog, and I thought they would be puzzled when I asked them to pose looking away from the camera. "You are taking a picture of our hair?" my sister asked, "Even though it's been three days since any of us had a shower?" But then she shrugged and posed. They are a most cooperative group.
May 31, 2005
When we return from camp, our home seems suddenly luxurious. Indoor plumbing! Hot and cold running water! A comfy couch! Reading lamps! A real bed! Percale sheets! The best thing, by far, especially after a weekend of cool weather that did not include any swimming, is to stand underneath a hot shower and wash all the grease and campfire smoke out of my long hair. Such a great feeling.
May 30, 2005
She had noticed the trumpet player, but she was dancing with someone else most of the evening. When the trumpet player left the bandstand, he approached her with a bag of cookies. "Would you care for an Oreo?"
She took a cookie. By the end of the week, they decided they were meant for one another.
It sounds like the corny plot of a summer movie. But it's actually my parents' story. Forty-eight summers later, when the family is gathered around the campfire, and my sister starts talking about the movie Dirty Dancing, my mother says to the grandchildren, "Hey, that is my story." Then she and my Dad tell their story again.
May 27, 2005
Memorial Day Weekend will be our first weekend at my parents' camp since last fall. The weather prediction does not look ideal - cold and rain - but that doesn't matter. We'll pack long underwear (the nights will be cold no matter what and tents do not hold the heat) but optimistically, we will all bring bathing suits as well. My Dad will get his sailboat back into the water. My canoes need simply to be turned over, and they are ready to go.
Even if the weather turns hot and sunny, we won't swim all that much because the river will still be icy, numbingly cold. But we will spend lots of time just hanging out - sitting on blankets spread out on the ground, huddled together for warmth, the teenagers spreading suntan lotion over goosebumps, almost everyone with a book or journal or magazine. The women in the family will talk and talk. Spouse will claim the hammock in the shade of the oak trees. We'll play bocce and frisbee golf. My brother and Boy in Black will play their guitars. We'll build big campfires to sit around at night, everyone talking, laughing, and telling stories. My mother will be the only person to remember to bring a flashlight.
If it rains, I'll go canoeing or hiking, getting completely soaked and chilled before stripping off the wet clothes, putting on dry long underwear, and settling into my cosy tent with either a good book or a warm husband. The teenagers, who have a tent to themselves far away from everyone else, will stay up too late, talking and singing and playing cards. My mother and brother-in-law will cook all kinds of food over the fire. My father and I will get into at least one argument. The water will be high and the cattails low, and the water in our bay clear because the weeds haven't grown up yet. Blonde Niece, Drama Niece, and Shaggy Hair will all insist on swimming, no matter how cold it is, just so they can brag about it.
At camp, I'll get up at dawn with my Dad for an early morning sail. We'll sail through the grey mist on the bay and out into the river, which is quiet that time of day. We'll weave our way through the islands - past huge old mansions with big stone piers, the elaborate summer homes and gardens of rich people, small well-kept cottages, some old fishing camps. The state park we pass will be filled with tents and trailers; everyone still asleep. We'll go past the island owned by the Nature Conservancy, an island of high branches filled with great blue heron nests. Quietly, we will glide past the channel marker where the ospreys nest.
By the time we get back to the dock, everyone at camp will be waking up. Spouse will have driven to town for the morning newspaper, and everyone will be fighting over it. My mother or brother-in-law will be frying bacon or making blueberry pancakes. Blonde Sister will be sitting at the picnic table with a cup of coffee. The teenagers will be stumbling about sleepily. The little kids will be full of chatter. Another day at camp.
It is easy to get romanticized ideas about rural living. Especially in my part of the country where the woods are pretty benign. No venomous snakes. No carnivore that preys on humans. Just a lush landscape of flowering vegetation, rich soil, trees and creeks and meadows.
It would be easy to become complacent. Except for the mosquitos. At night, I scratch the poison ivy rash on my arms and the scattering of mosquito bites on my legs and listen for that annoying buzz. It's funny how something so small can make us humans feel humble.
May 26, 2005
Choosing the play: Pick a famous one that your audience is familiar with. It's the only way that they will possibly be able to follow what is going on. Really, I am not kidding about this. The school also has a tradition of taking great liberties with scripts, rewriting whatever parts of the play they want to. When the school performed My Fair Lady, for example, they changed the setting from London to Train Track Village. This was consistently funny. My favorite was the little kid saying, "There's drinking and women all over Train Track Village." Maybe you had to be there.
Seating arrangements: Leave an open area in front of the stage where toddlers can wander around to watch their siblings. Often these toddlers are as entertaining as what is going on up on the stage. Back in the day, they used to always put a row of nuns right up front; this ensured that the cast always got a standing ovation.
Casting: Make sure that every kid in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade gets a part or at least a role like scene changer or curtain puller. Add lots of extra characters to the play if you have to -- whole gangs of pirates or chimney sweeps or mermaids. Yes, this inclusion policy does guarantee that lots of lines will get fumbled and some of the acting will be just awful, but it will also give even the shyest child some stage experience to brag about. And always, there are glimmers of talent: one kid who is really funny or another who hams up his role.
Costumes: The school has a low budget for plays. Actually, they have no budget at all. But it is amazing what can be done with thrift store clothing and a little duct tape. (Note: the entire gang of pirates in the play last night were ALL wearing white and black, with touches of red. Either these parents googled my blog .... or they all have the same stereotype of pirates that I do.)
Special Effects: Sixth graders playing around with lights is about as special as it gets. But last night - and the kids were very excited about this - we had fog. Oh, the wonders of dry ice! The crowd was impressed but not quite as impressed as the cast, who were quite beside themselves. There was also a cool scene in which kids held long swatches of fabric and rippled it up and down to create the illusion of ocean waves. Christo would have been impressed.
Audience: No one ever leaves Train Track Village - many of the kids in the school have extended family in the area -- so every little school play brings in grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors. The gym is always packed, every chair and bleacher filled. And they are an easy crowd to please. They will not even flinch when the microphone makes that weird screeching sound or a kid looks over to stage left and says, "WHAT?" to the prompter.
Big green curtain: Yeah, they still close the curtain between acts. Way behind the times, I know. But this does provide two more jobs - pulling the curtain is an exciting and much sought after position. And it is fun to hide behind the curtain between acts, giggling and peeking out at the audience. I remember this well. Plus, this audience knows enough to clap wildly every time the curtain opens or closes. We are well trained.
Admission: Free. You can't beat that. Well, parents are required to drop their kids off half an hour early, which means that everyone has to spend thirty minutes wandering around the school, looking at the stuff hanging on the walls, and getting run over by gangs of giggling kids. But it is a small price to pay.
Best part: The kids are having fun. If you watch their faces, every kid, even the one with no lines, is excited. This play is a very big deal to them. As I watched my very shy child slithering across the stage last night in a crocodile costume, I felt gratitude towards his teacher, who had done such a nice job choosing a part for him. He didn't even have to say a word, but he still got a cool recognizable part. Parents and kids congratulated him afterwards, told him what a good job he had done. And he felt special. That part of the formula is hard to beat.
May 25, 2005
I'll eat it any time of day, whenever I am a hungry. I do not live in a household that has the three-meals-each-day ritual. Most of us just eat when we are hungry.
How many boxes do you buy each week?
What are your favorite cereals?
Restaurant oatmeal is my favorite: I love the texture of it. When I meet my friends for breakfast, to eat and chat and share poetry, I always get oatmeal and orange juice. When I take an annual drive to the mountains every fall with my parents, we stop at a diner and I get oatmeal.
My cold cereals are just any of those natural grain types that all taste the same. With-a-Why is going through a Cinnamon Life stage.
What kind will you not eat?
I don't like the mostly sugar ones.
What is the secret about cereal that you don't always admit?
Sometimes if I am at a conference, I will order room service oatmeal because it tastes so good and because I absolutely cannot function without food first thing in the morning. But I do feel guilty spending about ten dollars on a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of juice.
What liquid do you pour on your cereal?
Vanilla soy milk on cold cereal.
What do you put on top of your cereal?
I love fresh blueberries on cold cereal.
On oatmeal, it's brown sugar and raisins.
Do you prefer cereal or other foods for breakfast?
My preference would be a croissant drizzled with melted dark chocolate on a spring day in Paris.
Do you have any cereal-related rituals or other oddities?
When I was a kid, my mother would never buy the sugar cereals, so I used to always take a spoonful of sugar and sprinkle it on. I saw Davy Jones do this once on the Monkees. And he was a grown-up! But I don't do that any more.
Favorite cereal memories?
When I was a little kid, we would get cool prizes in the cereal boxes. My favourite was a set of tiddly winks.
On camping trips, my mother used to sometimes buy those little boxes of cereal. You would break open the box on the perforated lines, pour milk right into the box, and eat it in the box. Then you could just toss the box in the fire.
On dark winter mornings when I was a kid, my mother would make a big pot of oatmeal with peaches in it. We all sit around the kitchen table, eating oatmeal and listening to the list of school closings on the radio. Always there was the hope that we would get a snow day. And snow days are so exciting!
When I lived in London for a semester as a college student, one of my roommates used to make oatmeal every morning, and I would eat a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of hot tea as I planned my day: which cathedral or garden or museum to see, which play to go to that evening, which pub to drink at with my friends.
Your favorite thing about cereal?
Reading the back of the box! But cereal boxes have gotten less fun over the decades. Or maybe it's because I buy the boring healthy cereal instead of the fun kid cereal now.
May 24, 2005
May 23, 2005
Last night, a couple of the women were talking about how they stored stress in their bodies. Some said that yoga and belly dancing was helping to relieve some of that stress. One young woman said she had not had menstrual cramps since she started belly dancing. Another said her headaches were better. I had not thought about belly dancing in that way although I do have a range of physical activities in my life that help relieve stress. When I do reiki on someone, I can often tell where they are carrying stress, and I am fascinated by the connection between mind and body.
In class we did what my teacher calls core work, strengthening the abdominal muscles, doing undulations that begin at the pelvis and go up through the chest. This is one of the few drills I am any good at, mainly because it is so like the kind of exercises a woman does after childbirth. We had moved from undulations into belly rolls when I realized that one of the women in the class was crying, first quietly and then just absolutely sobbing. My palms tingled as I listened. BellyDancing Teacher walked over and began rubbing her back while the rest of us lay down on our mats doing yoga breathing, each one of us thinking about the sobbing woman and wondering. The class ended and the woman's friend went over to sit with her.
The woman was sitting on her mat, leaning against the purple wall, just below the window that is hung with gauzy cloths. Other women walked about, all in bare feet and in various stages of undress, some drinking herbal tea. The friend and the teacher just sat next to her, letting her cry. No one said anything, but I could feel the energy in the room and it seemed like a safe place for an emotional release. When I left, she was still sobbing.
May 22, 2005
My brother-in-law's family are all from Georgia or Maryland, and I just never get tired of hearing those voices - that calm, slow, easy-going way of talking. I feel myself relaxing just listening to the conversation, no matter what it is about. The women on my side of the family, in contrast, talk very fast and talk with their hands, lots of animated, high-pitched discussions and enthusiastic screams, bringing an element of excitement to the party. My sister's three daughters - School Teacher Niece, Red-haired Niece, and Blonde Niece -- are especially animated, all swishing their long silky hair as they talk.
The weather is always part of the conversation at backyard parties. Will the rain hold off? Do you think we've had the last hard frost? Did you get your garden in yet? It was a cool day so whenever the sun came out from behind the clouds, we would all jockey for positions in the sun. When inevitably, the rain did come, we huddled under the awning, pulling tables of food under with us. Except for With-a-Why, who happily entertained us by dancing in the downpour with a sneakered version of Singing in the Rain.
May 21, 2005
My kids don't call it hide-and-seek; they call the game Monster. And creating places for tall teenagers to hide involves serious preparation. First, the kids gather up the piles of blankets we have in the boys' bedroom and thumbtack blankets over every single window to make the house completely dark. Our home does have many windows and this preparation involves kids standing on furniture, balancing on the arms of the couch and chairs. Luckily, my house is decorated in a style that a friend of mine refers to as Early Garage Sale so the climbing about on furniture is not a problem. The kids put duct tape on the microwave so that we won't get any light from the little green numbers. For safety, musical instruments are gathered up and deposited in my office, which is off limits, of course. And the kids dress themselves head to toe in black. That part is not too difficult for my boys. Boy in Black doesn't own much besides black - and the hand-me-downs his brothers wear are black as well.
The familiar house becomes a different place when it is completely dark. When it is my turn to be the monster, I walk slowly, afraid of stumbling into a piece of furniture that someone has moved. I can't see anything so I listen for breathing or giggling. When I come to the edges of the room, I start reaching out with my hands to feel for human bodies. It is sort of creepy. It's weird to run your hand along a kitchen counter and suddenly feel a foot. I scream a lot when I am the Monster.
Sometimes I can tell by smell which person is hiding near me. Daughter and Blonde Niece both use nice-smelling floral shampoo so their long hair leaves a trail of fragrance in the air. Often when I approach a corner of the room, there will be a sudden burst of energy. Bodies running, sliding, slipping past me, off to hide somewhere else. During these wild chase scenes in the dark house, with teenage bodies slamming against the furniture, the house does sustain some damage. Lamps get broken pretty often.
With-a-Why is still small enough to fit inside a kitchen cupboard so I never even try to find him. But what amazes me is how teenagers who are over six feet tall can disappear. One of Boy in Black's best hiding places was to lay his long skinny body on the kitchen counter, pressed up against the wall. He took a white toaster and put it in front of him. The toaster was the key; just the gleam of the toaster gave the illusion that all was in place on the counter.
Sailor Boy once took a white lampshade off a lamp and then stood in a corner underneath it. The illusion was perfect. In the dark house, everyone mistook him for a lamp. Once the couch was filled with kids who had been caught, he started inching his way over to them, his arm outstretched, to free them. They screamed in horror.
"Know how the trees come alive in the Wizard of Oz?" Boy in Black said. "It was like that. Suddenly the lamp came alive and started reaching towards us."
Eventually, Spouse and I declare our bedroom off limits (we have a lock on the door), and we go to bed. But the game rages on. I fall asleep to the sounds of kids running, screaming, and giggling. In the morning, I find kids asleep all over the house. One on the couch, one in the big comfy chair, many on the floor - all wrapped in blankets that have been pulled down from the windows, often with thumbtacks still in the corners. The duct tape will still be over the clock on the microwave, but I leave it on and let the kids sleep. I love the timelessness of a Saturday morning.
May 20, 2005
May 19, 2005
pirate dress like
how to make a pirate costume
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what pirates wear
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Mom had son wear slip
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billowing shirts pirate
Of course, it's nearing the end of the school year, and kids everywhere are putting on plays, so I assumed that the google searches came from frantic parents looking for ways to dress their kids. And I think my post would be quite helpful to these parents. I think my pirate costume skills are pretty impressive.
In fact, my youngest son is going to be in the play Peter Pan next week, and I was disappointed that he didn't get the part of a pirate. Instead he's the crocodile. It's a good part for a shy kid like him because all he has to do is crawl around on the floor. But a crocodile costume is a bit beyond my range of costume expertise.
"How do I make him look like a crocodile?" I asked another parent as we were waiting to pick up our kids. (Play practice runs late as they get near the big performance so the parents were milling about the gym impatiently.) She smiled brightly. "Oh, there are all kinds of costume ideas on the internet. Just do a google search."
I looked at the other parents with a start. How many of them had stumbled onto my blog while looking for pirate costumes?
I have told no one in my home community about my blog. No one. My husband does not read it. Or anyone in my family. None of my hometown friends either. It's an anonymous blog, completely anonymous. Now I wonder how many of these parents may have read one of my blog posts, perhaps without even realizing it was me.
Oh, well. Next week is the play. We'll see how many of the pirates show up with red silk lingerie pinned to their shoulder. Then, I'll know ....
May 18, 2005
Today, my parents stopped by on their way to Pretty Colour Lake. (They hike or bike ride or snowshoe or ski every single day, all year around and Pretty Colour Lake is near my house.) We were sitting out in the back yard with Daughter, talking and enjoying the sun, when my father mentioned that he might put his tomato plants in this weekend. So as soon as they left, I grabbed my shovel and headed out to turn over my garden.
I never do much gardening in the fall because I am always busy with school. And I never weed the garden in August because it is too hot. So turning over the garden in the spring ends up being quite a chore - digging up all kinds of stuff that grew last August and September. My vegetable gardens are right near the back door: all winter I toss compost out the door and now that it has thawed, I just turn all that into the soil. The tomato plants will love it.
Today I worked on the vegetable gardens, pulling out basket after basket of weeds. As I yanked out stubborn plants, I could feel the sun on my legs and hear the wind chimes that hang on the house. Next week I'll work on the flower gardens. And I will make numerous trips to the DPW to fill the back of my car with free mulch from all the ground-up Christmas trees and tree limbs that were picked up over the winter.
I like any kind of chore that I can feel in my muscles. My ancestors, not too many generations back, were farmers, accustomed to working long hours outside. It seems to be what my body likes as well. Working outside in the sun and wind always makes me feel healthy: too much time indoors can give me a headache. Today as I turned over spade after spade of hard-packed dirt, I could feel soreness returning to my shoulders. It turns out that gardening uses the same muscles that belly dancing does. Who knew?
My Red-haired Sister, who lives in a rich suburban area outside a big city, tells me that many of her neighbors hire gardeners, then drive themselves into the city to work out in a gym. How strange American culture is at times! She herself has several huge gardens, fantastically overflowing with all kinds of colorful flowers.
It seems funny after an afternoon of gardening to come back inside and sit down at the computer. Even though I washed them, my hands still look dirty - and rough - with mud underneath every fingernail. My arms are already beginning to look tan. At times like this, I think I am in the wrong career. I am not really an academic. I am more at home in the dirt.
May 17, 2005
Well, first David posted a photo that let us see his eyes up close. And then Dr. H posted a photo of her beautiful eyes. I decided I liked the idea of an eyes meme for national photo month. It seems appropriate to show my eyes to my blogging friends because if any of you could actually peek out from your blog, this is what you would see: me staring intently at you, reading and savoring every single word.
Three names you go by:
Three screen names you've had:
In my days as a movie star?
But that would reveal my identity.
Don't worry, I'm not Madonna.
Three physical things you like about yourself:
The way my body looks.
The way my body moves.
The way my body reacts to another body.
Three physical things you dislike about yourself:
I wish my teeth were cavity-proof.
I wish my feet did not get cold so easily.
I wish I didn't get migraines.
Three parts of your heritage:
Irish. Italian. German.
Three things you are wearing right now:
T-shirt. Panties. Body butter.
Three favorite bands/musical artists:
Joni Mitchell. Beach Boys. Miles Davis.
The last three songs you listened to:
Rain by Patty Griffin.
China by Tori Amos.
I Like You by Joules Graves.
Three things you want in a relationship:
Willingness to be emotionally intimate, even if that is scary.
Willingness to take responsibility for own behavior.
Willingness to talk.
Three physical things about the preferred sex that appeals to you:
Eyes. Voice. Hands.
Three of your favorite hobbies:
I don't like the word hobby because it makes things I do sound trivial. And I don't think anything I do - writing, hiking, canoeing, camping, sailing, blogging, reiki, belly dancing, gardening, skiing - is trivial.
Three things you want to do really badly right now:
I think I made a vow once not to blog my daydreams.
I think there's plenty of erotica on the internet already.
Three things that scare you:
I am afraid of heights but only when I'm out West. Heights don't bother me when I can look down and see treetops. Somehow, I have the idea that the trees will rescue me if I fall. Yes, I understand how logical that is.
I am very claustrophobic. The thought of being trapped in a small places makes me panic. I get nervous even on elevators.
Worst fear, though, is that something bad will happen to one of my kids and I will be helpless to stop it.
Three of your everyday essentials:
Affection. Sex. Talking.
Three careers you have considered or are considering:
Scientist. Rock star. Shepherd.
Three places you want to go on vacation:
The ocean. The mountains. Paris.
Three kids' names you like:
Margaret (because of the Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem)
Blue (I actually had a student named this - isn't it a cool name?)
Coltrane (Ha, David! I stole yours. Don't worry, though, I'm done having kids so I won't steal it in real life.)
Three things you want to do before you die:
Learn to play the piano.
Write several books.
Figure out that whole deal about the afterlife.
Three ways you are stereotypically a boy:
My clothing - jeans, t-shirt, sneakers.
My connection to nature - being an outdoors person.
Good at math (yeah, isn't it sad the stereotype is still around?)
Three ways you are stereotypically a girl:
The way my clothing fits (google "I have breasts" and you get me!)
My connection to nature - that whole earth mother stereotype.
Good at math (I decided to start a new stereotype).
Three celebrity crushes:
Dana Carvey. Eddie Murphy. Bill Murray.
Because a sense of humor is sexy.
Three people I would like to see take this quiz:
You know, I would love to watch people take this quiz. I think you can tell so much about people while watching them think and type. Watch her eyes, all that concentration. Watch the way his hands move. Listen to what she mutters under her breath.
But all my blogging friends live far away so I don't think I'm going to get to see anyone taking the quiz ....
May 16, 2005
I laughed. Balance a CD on your head? The young women in the class all swiveled their heads to look at me.
"Don't people balance books on their heads any more?" I asked.
They stared at me blankly. Ah, well.
May 15, 2005
Brother is a year younger than me, and we were very close growing up. When he got older, he had to reject me in some ways before he could get married. That sounds crazy but that's the only way I can explain his behavior. He did not talk to me for eight years. It's a long complicated story that involves the woman he married and includes a tragic car accident, but the main thing is that for eight years, all I had from my brother was silence. And I hate silence worse than anything.
Three years ago, my brother's wife died of breast cancer -- and Brother came back into the family. His daughter, Drama Niece, has had time over the three years to get to know her cousins, her aunts, her uncles, and her grandparents. She loves being part of our crazy extended family and takes the train to stay with us whenever she is on vacation from school. She, Shaggy Hair Boy, and Blonde Niece are all the same age and have become quite the threesome. I see my brother all the time now, but mostly in situations where there are all sorts of family members around.
Yesterday, he came in to town for a few hours on his way to his stepson's college graduation. He and I went to Pretty Colour Lake for a walk. Drama Niece and Shaggy Hair Boy came with us, running ahead along the trail and talking to each other the whole time.
It was a beautiful sunny day in the 50s, but Pretty Colour Lake was not crowded. The lake itself is deep and round, a plunge pool made from a glacier. The water in the lake is a gorgeous unusual color, a green-blue shade that surprises me every time I see it, no matter how often I go there. We walked on the soft mulch-filled paths around the edge of the lake, paths shaded by white cedar trees that are more than a hundred years old.
We talked about kids, summer plans, and career plans. My brother has worked for twenty years as an engineer but after getting laid off, he is going back to school to become a high school teacher. We chatted about his courses and his daughter. I told him about my August plans to take a two-week raft trip on the Colorado River. It felt okay.
And I knew it would be okay, because we were at Pretty Colour Lake, a place I've known and loved my whole life. Steep hills rise around the lake so that when you walk the narrow paths, the landscape hugs you. We passed the little valley where we picnicked every fall, gathering pretty leaves and dipping them in wax, when we were little kids. I passed the bank where the maidenhair fern grows, and I remembered walking here with Artist Friend, him kneeling on the ground to touch the fern gently with his fingers. We passed the reef where I went skinny dipping as a teenager. I saw the fallen down tree where I used to come many years ago when I was having problems in my marriage and needed to be alone to think and to cry. I've walked these paths hundreds of times, as a little kid, as a teenager, as a pregnant woman. Many times I've been here as part of a whole big group, family members and dogs, everyone joking and teasing each other. Many times I have walked these paths alone, listening as other creatures scuffle through the underbrush.
As we walked yesterday, the lake was always in view, that amazing green-blue colour, shining and shifting as the sun came in and out. I could smell the cedar trees that have rimmed the lake since before my Dad was born. We could see my bother's daughter and my son, running ahead, climbing along tree trunks to get out over the water, playing the way we used to as kids.
Yesterday, I took a walk with my brother and it felt okay.
May 14, 2005
Moving from the semester into summer mode leaves me with that same unsettled feeling. Always, I have a few odds and ends to finish up. Did I remember to write an annual report? Did I remember to submit grades for independent study students? What's all that stuff on my desk? Why do students keep sending me e-mails?
And I am often hard on myself. I feel like I am just wasting time as I go through piles of stuff on my desk, filing things, throwing stuff out. I spend hours going through accumulated e-mails, finally deleting some of them. But it is hard to feel like deleting e-mails is any kind of productive work.
Last week was a transition week. I did not get much writing done. But halfway through the week, I decided to cut myself some slack. I went out to the movies with Spouse on Wednesday night. And I indulged in a long phone call to Artist Friend on a gorgeous sunny day. I sat on a hill full of dandelions chatting lazily while he identified the birdsongs all around me. The next day I spent hours lying on the bed, stretched across my comfy down quilt, talking to Mirror Friend on the telephone. Another morning, I sat in the sun in our backyard, chatting with Daughter and eating grapes. And of course, I spent time at Pilgrim's Blog, building a tree fort and testing out the new water slide that David built.
When it comes right down to it, I didn't get much done. But it is nice to feel the rhythm of my body changing -- slowing down, relaxing. Yeah, I do want to get some writing done this summer, but summer time is my time to relax, to play. And I don't want to forget that.
May 13, 2005
My home office is a little room right near the front door of my house, just off the main living area, which is usually filled with noisy children and teenagers. Usually, the door of my office is open, and while I am sitting at my desk, I can talk to anyone who comes in through the front door or who walks down the stairs. I can look across into the living area to see the kids sitting on the floor playing cards or Boy in Black at the drums. I can look through the window of my office and watch as cars arrive on Friday afternoon, dropping off our extra kids.
No one in my family is allowed into my office without my permission. It's my own space, the only time in my life I have had a whole room to myself. When I was growing up, I don't think I ever even had a bed to myself.
On the wall behind the door, I have a poster of one of my favorite paintings: Pablo Picasso's Blue Nude. You can only see this poster when I shut the door, so most people do not know it is there. When I am in a blue mood, I will sometimes go into my office, shut the door, and sit on the floor with my back against the bookcase. I like the feel of all my books -- all those writers who have made me who I am -- surrounding me. I play a CD on my computer: Joni Mitchell's Blue, perhaps. I look at the poster of this painting, and marvel that someone somewhere was able to capture the way I feel.
May 12, 2005
One of our other birthday traditions is a candle ceremony. That's what we call it. Everyone in the house grabs a candle and gathers around the table. In our house we have candles everywhere - on shelves, window sills, the mantle - so it isn't hard to find a candle. We light the candles and turn out the lights. Then we go around the circle and each person says something nice about the person we are celebrating.
Since I've got a house full of adolescents (extras are sometimes included in the ceremony), the ceremony is far less solemn than you might think. All kinds of joking around is mixed in with the compliments. Yet despite the informality, there is still a seriousness and intimacy about sitting in the dark, with faces lit only by candlelight. The sibling will blush and look pleased when his sister says how much she loves him.
This week we had a candle ceremony for Boy in Black. What made the ceremony special is that Daughter was home for it. The boys have been so excited about having her back home. Sunday afternoon, I went into her tiny bedroom - where she was unpacking boxes of books and clothes - and noticed that all three of her brothers were huddled on the bed, watching her unpack, talking and laughing, an adoring audience to anything she said.
Boy in Black had been teasing me the last week or two about how I wasn't going to get his last sixteen-year-old kiss. All kinds of girls were lined up wanting it. And he was right. I didn't get it. Five minutes before midnight, the night before his birthday, he gave his last sixteen-year-old kiss to his sister.
May 11, 2005
I've been wanting to introduce you all to some of my anonymous friends, and I finally figured out a way that I could do it.
Here they are: Quilt Artist, Long Beautiful Hair, Reiki Woman, Signing Woman, and Makes Bread. You see six shadows in the photo because I am in there too.
May 10, 2005
Flavor of ice cream or tofutti: Chocolate, of course.
Mode of transportation: Sailboat or canoe.
Music: Anything played by a guitar around the campfire.
Food: Fresh corn on the cob with salt potatoes and salad. Tomatoes from the garden that actually taste like tomatoes!
Favorite game to play: Flashlight tag on a dark night. (We call it Zap, but I think that is a regional or maybe even a family name.)
Earliest childhood summer memory: Playing trucks with my brother in the sand under the lilac bushes.
Favorite Drink: Root beer in a frosted glass mug on a hot day at the shore.
Favorite Snack: Watermelon chilled in cold river water and shared by the whole family, including kids who like to spit seeds at each other.
Place to read: In a small nylon tent all by myself on a rainy day.
Most annoying: Scratching poison ivy rash on a hot day in a car with no air conditioning and lots of overtired children in a traffic jam in the middle of nowhere because maybe I read the map wrong.
How I handle the heat: Not well. When temperatures go above 90 degrees, I just lie on the floor and complain. We have a couple of electric fans, but I don't like to use them because I don't like the noise.
Pet Peeve: Children who leave beach towels in the bilge of the boat instead of hanging them on the line to dry.
Mistake for which no one in my family will ever forgive you: Leaving a tent unzipped so that it fills with mosquitoes.
All-time favorite bathing suit: Red bikini. When I was sixteen years old. But a black maternity suit I wore during my last pregnancy is a close second. (It is so much fun to swim when you are pregnant. You just can't sink!)
Best Time of Day: Early morning at camp, when the bay is still covered with mist and no one else is awake.
Most romantic: Walking empty beach by the ocean in the rain.
Summer movie: Dirty Dancing. But anything at the drive-in is fine with me.
Best for sex: Inside a small tent during a thunderstorm with wind and pine trees moving about outside.
There are no rules for this meme, of course. Summer time is no time for rules!
May 09, 2005
Here's the problem with being an anonymous blogger during photo month: most of my photographs have people in them! And almost always those people are members of my family. So I find myself looking through photos to find one in which you can't see the faces.
So here is yet another family member taking a nap. Boy in Black is sleeping in the hammock at camp last Memorial Day weekend. The hammock was a present from me to the whole family one Christmas years ago. At the time, I was very pregnant, with two small kids at home, and did not feel like doing any Christmas shopping. I come from a family who is pretty random about gift giving -- if we don't have time or money, we don't bother, and no one cares -- but I came up with the idea of ordering a hammock through a catalogue and just presenting it to my parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews as one joint gift. The hammock has hung at camp ever since, often with several people crowding into it at once.
The hammock swings between oak trees that are older than any of us, even my Dad. The breeze off the river and the deep shade of the oak leaves keep the spot cool. While you sway lazily on the hammock, you can hear chipmunks rustling about, running up the oak tree -- and often the sound of the kids splashing down near the dock. If you look toward the river, you can see the marsh, acres and acres of cattails, a preserve protected by one tenuous piece of legislation. A famous battle was once fought in this creek -- and farmers still sometimes find canonballs and such in nearby fields. In May, the cattails are just beginning to grow, but by July they will be a lush expanse of rippling gold and green.
Camp has always been a place for naps. I think that is what happens when we are separated from our telephones, computers, televisions, answering machines --our busy schedules, our frantic pace of life. In the simple world of camp, the only worries we ever have are arguing about which game to play next or which snack to eat next or which island to go to for a swim. So it's natural in late afternoon, returning sunburned from a swim in icy water, for every family member to find a spot where he can close his eyes and dream.
May 08, 2005
Scene One: Woman comes home from a long weekend away with her friends. She enters her newly painted living room, the one she worked so hard on last week, and sees that her husband has mounted onto the wall, right in the middle of the living room, the head of dead deer. Antlers, shiny glass eyeballs, and all. She shows undue restraint, acts a bit irritated, and then says apologetically: "Oh, I must have PMS."
Scene Two: Woman in long-term marriage with a man who is verbally abusive, constantly putting her down, blaming her for anything that goes wrong. Woman manages to sweetly ignore this behavior two weeks out of the month, but for the other two weeks, finds herself getting irritated. She goes to the doctor to complain that she is having problems with PMS. The doctor prescribes anti-depressants.
Scene Three: Woman reading newspaper. She sees the latest atrocity the Bush administration is perpetuating and bursts into tears. "Oh, I must have PMS," she says. She puts the newspaper away and goes off to find some chocolate.
I think our culture still expects women to be good-natured, compliant, happily accepting a subservient role. So when a woman gets angry or loud or emotional or sad or furious or indignant or pissed or weepy or rageful or strident or outspoken .... we blame it on PMS. If a woman has a 28-day cycle, that means she has PMS about half the time. Should we write a woman off for half of her existence?
Or perhaps we should see PMS as a hormonal surge that empowers her. Perhaps we should look at PMS as the timing of her cycle that brings out her best self, the self that she allows to be angry and outspoken, the self who isn't going to put up with a lot of garbage.
So I am here to say this. PMS is a good thing. Let's celebrate it. Embrace it. Maybe there are things we should be getting angry about. Let's take the first example from above, which actually did happen to a friend of mine. You come home from a relaxing weekend away, and your husband - without consulting you - has put up the heads of dead animals in your living room? I'd say that you might just be justified in getting angry there. Or the second example. If your husband is verbally abusive ... get angry! Don't medicate yourself. Demand that he change -- or get out of the marriage. Divorce him. As for the third example: if you can read the newspaper, read about kids getting killed in Iraq for no good reason or read again about how we are destroying the earth that sustains us ... if you can read all that without getting angry or sad, I'd say that it is possible you have not grasped the situation.
So for Mother's Day this year, this is a message to my women friends: embrace your moodiness! Listen to your hormones. Use your PMS self as a role model. Act every day like you've got PMS! Anger is a strength. Because really, there are things we should be getting angry about.
May 07, 2005
2. Daughter will move back home tomorrow. Done with her exams! Done with her first year of college! She will be living home with us again for four whole months.
3. Freckles are appearing on the face of Shaggy Hair Boy.
4. Boy in Black took the first of his Advance Placement Exams yesterday. And informed me that he is never taking another history course again.
5. With-a-Why wants to go out for ice cream cones.
6. Gorgeous bright yellow dandelion flowers, hundreds of them, cover our lawns.
7. This morning, I packed away all the mittens, scarves, and snowpants, which suddenly seemed superfluous.
8. My Dad keeps talking about camp. He's ready to put the sailboat into the water.
9. I went outside this morning, flopped onto the ground where the air is warmer, and took a nap in the sun.
10. I don't have any papers to grade.
May 06, 2005
Naps are one of the great pleasures in life. My summers are filled with naps taken in all kinds of places -- in a field of chicory and vetch, or on the fragrant floor of a pine forest, or on a sun-warmed mossy rock, or in the hammock under big oak trees, or curled up amongst the life jackets in the bilge of a sailboat, listening to the water noises that giggle against the hull.
In this photo, my Dad is settling down for a nap in the marsh at camp. He's tethered his raft to an old dock post. I've done the same thing, many times.
When you float at water level, the marsh looks different. You sleep eye level with the frogs and snakes and turtles. If you peer into the muddy water, you can see all kinds of things swimming about. And the cattails rise over your head, green and endless, way taller than you ever imagined.
May 05, 2005
When I sit at the table, I always choose the spot that gives me the view out the big glass doors. I like to watch the back meadow turning green, the dandelions jumping up all yellow. The words back meadow sound romantic but the reason we have to keep this field mowed is because it is the septic field, watered and fertilized any time someone in the house flushes a toilet. Several of my flower gardens are right in my line of vision, and I am looking forward to putting in plants at the end of the month when the soil is warmer.
For the first five years we lived in this house, we had no step outside the glass doors. So anyone who went outside had to jump down a bit to get to the ground. Not a big jump or anything ... but an awfully big step for anyone with short legs. It's amazing how quickly you get used to this kind of thing. It wasn't until last summer, when we were planning Daughter's graduation party, that it occurred to me that I ought to build some kind of step.
I decided to build a big step, 6 by 8 feet, so that it would be more like a little deck, big enough for a group of kids to play hacky sack on. Spouse helped me get the lumber one weekend, and I chose a sunny weekday when I was home alone for doing the actual work. Sadly, I had waited until the mosquitoes had hatched for this project. And it was a wet spring last year, so the mosquitoes were present in huge numbers. While I was running the circular saw, it wasn't so bad. I don't think insects like the noise. But when I sat down to hammer a million nails in, I was surrounded by a cloud of hungry insects who wanted blood.
I was in a miserable mood that day, brooding over something that now seems irrelevant. I had spent the morning e-mailing Artist Friend, venting about all kinds of things, and listening to the kind of music that just makes me melancholy. I think I was angry about something, but not admitting it. I am not always so good at the being-in-touch-with-your-feelings crap. And these damned mosquitoes were just the last straw. I slapped at them, swore at them, tossed my hammer onto the ground.
Finally, I got the electric fan that we put in the bedroom window upstairs in the boys' room and an extension cord. I put the fan right near me as I worked. The blowing air kept the mosquitoes away, and the breeze felt good as I worked in the sun. I hammered and hammered, nail after nail, allowing myself to feel angry. It felt good to drive those nails in, one after another, the pounding making a loud noise in my quiet woods.
This morning, I was feeling out of sorts, my feelings all mixed up. I talked for while to a friend who helped me sort out my feelings, then came out to sit on the back step and soak in the sun. I listened to all the noises of the woods - the chirping, rustlings, twittering, singing. The sun warmed up my sweatshirt, my jeans. New leaves were bursting from the lilac bushes next to me. A cat joined me, curling up in the sun. I remembered pounding the nails in last year, feeling angry, and how good that felt to allow myself to get angry. I thought about the questions SortingFriend had asked - and I wrote them in my journal.
The wind chime near our back door is a big one, with a deep, mellow sound that always seems nautical to me. I thought about how my Dad and I used to get up early in the morning when we were camping near the ocean, and sneak out to go prowl a marina in the newness of the morning. I thought about what a shy kid I was, never talking, often angry or passionate or frustrated, but never knowing how to express those feelings without someone telling me I was wrong to be upset.
I felt grateful for Artist Friend and Sorting Friend. And other friends too - the Wild Woman Friends, the Monking Friends, the Conference Friends, the Poet Friends, the Longtime Friends - who help me figure out my feelings. And don't make me feel bad for having feelings. I traced the nails on the deck with my fingers. It's a nice back step. I am glad I built it.
May 04, 2005
All winter, the river was frozen, with some creatures snuggled down into the mud and other creatures leaving tracks across the snowy surface, but now the ice has melted. The river water will be cold, cold enough to make every nerve ending tingle, and the breezes off the river will be tinged with that icy coolness. The water will be temptingly clear -- the thick weeds will come later -- and the cattails will be just beginning to grow. In May, the river rises up over the docks, which means the marsh will be filled with little creeks, just right for exploring by canoe. When the sun comes out, everyone in the family, young and old, will strip down to bathing suits to feel the sun on their winter white skin and to play in the chilly water.
While I am grading papers, writing an annual report, and cleaning my office, it is hard not think about camp. My parents will go up next week, but most of us will have to wait until Memorial Day Weekend. This photo is from three years ago -- two of the kids in the family, cousins of course, playing on the submerged dock. These kids are teenagers now, but they will still be excited to be at camp, to sleep in the tent with their cousins, to tell stories around the campfire, to canoe or sail, or to just hang out in the sun. And another set of younger cousins will discover the fun of dancing on a wet dock.
May 03, 2005
In my home office, I have several snakeskins on the edges of my bookshelves. If you have been imagining me working in a neat, uncluttered office, you are completely wrong. Well, some parts of my small office are neat, but the edges of the bookshelves and the windowsill and desk top are also filled with rocks, shells, feathers, and snakeskins. One time one of my kids left my window open on a windy afternoon and I walked in to a room that was just dancing with feathers, all blowing about amongst the stacks of books and piles of papers.
The snakeskin represents the part of the snake that resonates with me the most: the ability to change, to transform, to shed old skin, to grow.
Change can be frightening. When I was a child, I never wanted to grow up. I wanted to hold onto the safety and security of childhood. I've lived in the same place my whole life: I don't think I am by nature an adventurous soul. I cling to people and places. I am still friends with my best friend from kindergarten. I am married to the man I first dated when I was sixteen years old. I still camp every summer at the marsh I fell in love with as a child. When I was in first grade, the teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up: I said a writer and a teacher. I have stuck stubbornly with those career goals.
The presence of a friend in my dream does not surprise me either. Always I have had friends to nudge me towards changes in my life, forcing me to allow curves and tangents and unexpected happenings. The older I get the more I realize how important friendships are in my life: without them, I would probably just cling to a straight path, looking ahead and missing a whole lot.
So learning to allow snakes into my dreams has been about embracing change. And trusting friends to help me change and grow in all kinds of ways.
I am not exactly sure what particular change the dream was talking about. Does it have to do with my plan to take my writing more seriously this summer? Is it part of my spiritual journey and my realization that I am no longer part of the Catholic Church? Is it about a failed friendship that I clung to for years before finally letting go? Or is it about the fact that my children are growing up rapidly, becoming adults, changing my role and identity as mother?
When I look at the snakeskin, I remember PoetShaman's advice, and I try to welcome change into my life, accepting the snakes in my dreams, even if I am not entirely sure what that change might be. And I am thankful for the friends, including of course those in my blog community, who are helping me to discover all the curves and paths and snakes that would stay hidden without their help.
May 02, 2005
Not the kind of snakes I see in real life. The snakes that live in my part of the world are small and innocuous: garter snakes, ribbon snakes, common water snakes. Nothing poisonous. Nothing harmful. At camp, watersnakes sun themselves on our dock, swim near when we are splashing in the water. They are a normal part of a sunny afternoon in the marsh.
The snakes in my dreams are bright coloured and frightening. They live in darkness. When I was a little kid, I would dream that the floor was covered with snakes of all kinds, curling and dangerous. I would wake up terrified, screaming, afraid to step out of the bed.
Even after I had grown up, moved out, and had kids of my own, the snake dreams continued. Often in the dreams I was living again at my parents' house. I'd be sleeping in a small room with the slanted ceilings that Cape Cod houses have, and snakes would slither out from the cracks at the floor board. They were long snakes, thick long snakes, often green or grey in colour. I would wake up, terrified. Sometimes Spouse would wake up, hearing me scream.
"What is the matter?" he'd ask.
"Remember how my parents used to have trouble with snakes in their house?" I would say. It would take me several minutes of talking, always with the light switched on, before I would realize that the dream was a dream and not the past.
My friend PoetShaman told me that dream snakes are powerful, and that I needed to learn to accept the snakes, learn to welcome them into my dreams instead of being afraid of them. She was working at a science museum at the time, and once when we met for lunch, we went to the cage where the boa constrictor was kept. She pulled this long thick snake out of the cage and placed the snake on me, on my arms and shoulders, around the back of my head. She told me I should learn to like snakes. She herself often gave snake demos and did not flinch as the snake slithered under her long hair or down all around her legs. I stood absolutely still, afraid to breathe even, while the heavy coils of the snake moved and twisted against my hair and against the bare skin of my arms.
The snake dreams have changed over the years. I am not as terrified by the dream snakes as I used to be. Sometimes I have dreams in which I am walking through a garden or greenhouse. I will notice snakes everywhere, green snakes, long and harmless. And I am not frightened. Somehow in those dreams, they are connected to plants and growing things.
Last night I dreamed I was in an old mansion, a huge crazy place with hundreds of empty rooms. I was with a friend and we were looking for snakes. It was a game sort of like hide and seek. We stayed together, but kept running around, finding snakes in different rooms, but the snakes were not frightening. We were happy and excited to find them. In the dream, I was a kid again and so was my friend, but we were grownups, too, if that makes sense, and the snakes were no more frightening than the snakes at the end of our dock in the summer. And yet ... when I woke up, I could feel that same sort of energy, the kind of power a snake dream has. I could feel the adrenaline, the sense of excitement and adventure of discovering snakes.
I stood at my window, staring out at the moon, the dark trees, the night sky, and wondered what the snake dream meant for me right now, at this point in my life.
May 01, 2005
The first summer will begin as soon as I finish grading portfolios and hand in my grades. Hopefully that will be sometime this week. Early summer consists of May and most of June. During this time, I am working at home and my kids are in school. Early summer is a time for writing, gardening, and thinking. I will have the quiet house to myself every day until 2 pm.
This year I am vowing to make use of early summer to devote some time to my own writing. My plan is to write every day from 9 until 11 am, and then again from noon until 2 pm. Four whole hours of writing! For me that seems huge. There will be a few days when I have to go into campus for meetings and such, so I have subtracted those days from my plan, but even so - I will have 27 days of writing during early summer.
And of course, outside that four hours, I will still have free time to do all the other things I like to do in early spring. I can't wait to begin gardening again. One of my favorite treats is to go to the gardening center to pick out plants. I love walking through rows and rows of flowers, all so bright-coloured and tempting, and choosing which ones to plant. I buy seeds and plants for my vegetable garden at a local stand that is just around the corner from my parents' house. My parents have bought their plants there for as long as I can remember. I am looking forward to wandering through the greenhouse to smell the basil, the onions, the chives.
Late summer consists of July and the first half of August. That part of the summer goes by fast, and I don't even try to get any writing done. Well, that isn't true exactly, because I take my journal everywhere I go. But late summer I spend with my kids. Late summer is for long camping trips, days at the beach, picnics, or just hanging out in our living room, everyone lying on the floor complaining about how hot it is. I am not someone who can work in the heat so when we have a heat wave, I am not likely to even turn the computer on. Luckily, Neighbor Family (they live just about exactly a mile away, but around here, that is a neighbor) have an above-ground pool in their backyard so on hot days we will all go over there. And if we are really lucky, the heat waves will come when we are at camp, with huge oak trees to shade us, a breeze off the river, and the whole deep cold river to swim in.