February 28, 2006

Icy Winds

It wasn't so much the single digit temperatures that made Sunday a cold day at the ski slope: it was the gale force wind. The slopes were in good condition, hard-packed snow instead of ice, which is great to board on, and the frigid temperatures meant no lines at the chair lift. It was the kind of day when you make sure your helmet meets your goggles, your goggles meet your face mask, your face mask meets your neck gaiter, and your neck gaiter gets tucked into your coat.

We came in every couple of runs to warm up, gathering at the usual picnic table to eat sandwiches, drink juice, and fight over french fries with hot sauce. We were a smaller group than usual at the ski lodge, just me and the six boys: Boy in Black, Older Neighbor Boy, Shaggy Hair, Skater Boy, Philosophical Boy, and With-a-Why, a staircase of boys who range from seventeen down to eleven. When I was waiting in the snack bar to get some more french fries, a twenty-something woman gave me a shy smile and said, "We've seen you here every week, and we're just dying to know. How many kids do you have?"

Before I could even answer, she said, "We counted six sons today."

I laughed and explained that only three of the boys were my sons, but the extras were really part of the family. I glanced at the table and saw how she might think that they were all my kids: they were certainly acting like brothers, joking around, fighting over food in the cooler, exchanging goggles with each other, teasing each other, lacing each other's boots, shoving each other over to make more room on the bench.

I had brought the camera this week, but it was too cold to really use it much. Taking my gloves off in frigid temperatures is too much of a sacrifice. Besides, I am not that great at standing still on a snowboard. And it is hard to take photos of moving bodies. Here is the usual view I get of one of the boys – snow shooting up into my face as he carves past and disappears from my sight.


Here is the one time I got them all to stand still outside the lodge.

snowboarding boys

February 27, 2006


Last week, the elementary and secondary schools here were closed for winter vacation. My husband took the week off and took the three boys out of town, leaving me alone for the week. So I had the whole house to myself for a week.

I had wondered how it would be to stay alone. I can think of only two nights in my life when I’ve slept in a house by myself. I’ve never lived by myself. Or had a room to myself. In fact, for most of my life, I have lived with a whole crowd of people, usually jammed into a fairly small house.

How strange it felt to go to the grocery cart and buy food only for myself. Instead of loading five gallons of milk into the cart, I bought one quart of soy milk. The cart seemed empty. Perhaps the strangest thing was that when I returned from the grocery store, my house was still as clean as when I had left. The house stayed clean – and I mean company level clean -- the whole week.

It was funny at first to be by myself, to make decisions on what I felt like doing without considering anyone else. I had so much time on my hands. No driving kids to music lessons, no cleaning up after everyone, no putting anyone to bed.

I had planned all kinds of nice things for myself – having friends over, eating dinner at my parents’ one night, having my daughter over one night, taking a bunch of our extra kids snowboarding – so it felt like a vacation week. And even with all my plans, I still had lots of time to just be alone in the empty house.

What I discovered is that I liked being by myself, having the freedom to spend my time any way I chose. I liked having the house clean and quiet for a week. I liked just sitting by the fire with my laptop and a snack, working with no interruptions at all. How nice not to be interrupted.

Of course, by the end of the week, I had had enough alone time. I missed my kids, my husband, the noise and confusion, the warmth and affection and teasing. I would make a terrible hermit. I am too much of an extrovert. I was happy to have my family return. A week was enough.

But I am thinking that having a week to myself every winter might be a tradition we will continue.

February 26, 2006

Gathering before the storm

My mother and Generous Hyper Woman have been friends since the late 1950s. They were neighbors who rounded up their children to play in the wading pool on hot summer days or who sat in the kitchen with coffee on winter afternoons. And they stayed friends long after the kids grew up and had children of their own. Since Generous Hyper Woman and her husband Opera Singer spend their summers up on the river, they are frequently visitors to my parents’ camp.

A few weeks ago, Generous Hyper Woman went into the hospital for what she thought might be an ulcer. But then her husband, Opera Singer, called my parents with the news. It wasn't an ulcer. It was cancer. The surgeons opened her up and said the cancer had spread too far. They closed her up again and sent her home.

Their daughter Shiny Personality, who has inherited her mother's generous nature, immediately emptied a bedroom in her house, furnished it for her parents, and invited them to move in. And yesterday, she threw a party, inviting family and friends, all of us who have known her parents for years. An anniversary party, she called it, to celebrate the fact that her parents have been married for 47 years.

But we all knew too, that the time for enjoying parties is running out for her Mom.

Yesterday, Shiny Personality’s house was filled with people and food, with talk and laughter. Little children ran around, grabbing cookies from overloaded trays. Elderly aunts kept making everyone eat more meatballs. Everyone who came brought photographs, which we pinned on a big white board. We joked about all the old stories: for their honeymoon, 47 years ago, Generous Hyper Woman and Opera Singer went to Faraway Southern State on a Greyhound bus. Who plans a long bus ride for their honeymoon?

Shiny Personality lives in one of the nicest houses I've ever seen, with big floor to ceiling windows everywhere. The house is high up in the hills, with a magnificent view of the countryside, gold and white corn fields that stretch to piney woods. Outside the windows, high winds and swirling white snow marked the approach of a winter storm.

But inside, things were warm and cosy and safe. We crowded onto comfy furniture or sat on the floor with plates of food, everyone talking at once. Delivery trucks brought flowers from out of town friends, huge lovely bouquets. Shiny Personality kept bringing her mother food, coaxing her to eat something. Cousins ran upstairs to play with each other.

When it was time to leave, I gave Shiny Personality a hug. We were born the same year, knew each other as kids, went to high school together, but do not see each other often as adults, except at weddings or funerals.

"I'll see you –" she began, and then caught herself. "Well, I hope it won’t be soon."

February 25, 2006

The Pseudonymous Meme

Inspired, of course, by the discussions about Jeff Rice's piece over at NewKid's and Dr. Crazy's. And since it's my meme, there are no rules. Do whatever the hell you want with it.

Is your blogging persona more serious than your real life persona? Not really. I would say, though, that my blog posts are more serious than my comments. Comments are spontaneous – more like how I talk – whereas my blog posts are the way that I write, which means I edit them. So yeah, my comments tend to be more playful. And filled with typos. Especially when I am over at Pilgrim's bar, getting drunk on all the virtual beer.

Do you think the only safe way an academic can write publicly is to write anonymously? Of course not. I participate in discussion lists under my real name. I write other things under my real name. But yeah, ask me again in a few years after the Bush administration has taken away even more of our civil liberties.

Do you think that your blog could ruin your career? Well, the amount of time I spend reading blogs or hanging out in virutal bars like Pilgrim’s does probably hurt my career. Blogging can be an insidious form of procrastination.

But otherwise, no. During a presentation at a conference last fall, I read three blog posts, identifying them as such at the beginning of the session. I also read poetry that had been published in academic journals. No one in the audience seemed to treat the blog posts any different than the poems.

What would happen if an administrator at my college discovered my blog? Nothing. I doubt anyone would even read it. I doubt my tenure committee even read all the stuff I gave them when I went up for tenure.

Do you use a pseudonym out of fear? No.

What is the biggest drawback to writing pseudonymously? I have trouble spelling the word. Shouldn't it be pseudononymous? I always want to put in that extra syllable. I think I tend to use the word anonymous instead, because it's easier to spell, but pseudonymous is a better way to describe my blog. I don't feel particular anonymous on the blogs. People know who I am, they know many of my opinions, my feelings, and thoughts. They just might not know the name I use at home.

Has anyone stumbled on your blog and found it accidentally? Yes. My daughter did because she was using my computer. Two of my siblings found my blog while doing google searches for something that had nothing to do with me. Anyone who knows me and reads even one post usually recognizes me. My blogging persona is not really a persona at all.

Have you outed yourself to any other bloggers? I usually give my real name to anyone who sends me an email. That means almost all the bloggers who read me on a regular basis know who I am. Since I am not famous or anything, I doubt that my real name means much to them. Except that they can google me and see a photo – and often people do like to know where I am located geographically. (No, I don’t live in Maine! How come people always think that?)

Has your blog allowed you to experiment with writing? I would not call the kind of writing I do on the blog experimental, but yes, blogging is an experiment for me. I usually write poetry and the blog is my attempt to play around with writing non-fiction.

Why do you use a pseudonym? The super cool bloggers that I admire – like Bitch Ph.D. and Profgrrrrl – use pseudonyms. When I began blogging, I chose a pseudonym because I was following the conventions of the community I wanted to belong to. I don’t make huge attempts to hide my identity or my location. The pseudonyms I use are often just silly. (Like when I went to a conference in the Big Midwestern City with at Least One Very Tall Building and the Baseball Team that Always Loses. Is there anyone who couldn’t figure out where I was?) But using them marks me as a blogger.

I do like that real life people cannot find my blog by googling me.

I think that is the main thing that writing pseudonymously does – it limits my audience to other bloggers. Students, family, colleagues, or real life friends cannot find my blog by searching for my name. Bloggers come to my blog via a blogroll or a comment I’ve left on a blog. That way, my readers are bloggers who understand the conventions of blogging. They understand that posts are written quickly, often rough drafts and unfinished thoughts. For the most part, they know the blogs that I link to, and can see what I write as part of a larger conversation in a blogging community. I don’t have to explain what a meme is, or explain why I might post a photo of a cat on a Friday. Pseudonymous bloggers write for other bloggers. That seems to piss off people outside the blogging community. I think they are jealous.

February 24, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

Smelling the Wind

by Audre Lorde

Rushing headlong
into new silence
your face
dips on my horizon
the name
of a cherished dream
riding my anchor
one sweet season
to cast off
on another voyage

No reckoning allowed
save the marvelous arithmetics
of distance


February 23, 2006

Another February memory

It was sixteen years ago today.

I was younger, of course, and pregnant with my third child. We were having a quiet weekend, building a new bookshelf for our home. I was just beginning the second trimester of pregnancy, and some of my energy was returning. My other two pregnancies had been healthy and normal, and I knew what to expect. Usually I feel really great during the middle part of pregnancy.

I did not expect to see blood. And I knew right away what that meant. I was having a miscarriage. A sonogram confirmed what I already knew: no heartbeat.

I chose to stay home for the miscarriage rather than go to the hospital. I did not want any unnecessary medical procedures. I trusted my body. I knew what to expect from the contractions because I’d had two children already. The midwife told me what danger signs to watch for.

The waiting part was the hardest, waiting to go into labor when I knew that the contractions would not lead to a birth. I just wanted to get it over with.

My mother took my two children home with her. Friends brought food – lasagna, salads, desserts – all the comfort foods they knew I liked best. My sisters and women friends kept calling on the telephone. Red-haired Sister, who lived out of town, sent flowers and gifts. The women in my life knew what to do to be supportive; the men, for the most part, did not. But they tried.

My father did not say anything to me when they came to get the kids. He can be strangely inarticulate. But he brought me my favorite painting, a scene up at camp he had painted, and gave it to me as a present. I still have that painting. It hangs in my living room. My brother drove from Camera City with his girlfriend, and gave me a pot of tulips that he said I could plant in the garden when spring came.

My husband kept himself busy doing tasks – cleaning the house, folding laundry, finishing the bookshelf. He did not know how to talk about his own feelings, or what was going on. I think he was very nervous about my refusal to be admitted to a hospital. He finds doctors and hospitals and medical tests very reassuring, and he does not understand my dislike of all things medical.

The contractions began at night. I sat on the couch with a book, trying to read through them. I did not want to use any of the breathing techniques I had used during my other labors because it made me feel sad. When I am giving birth, I welcome the contractions, knowing that the rhythmic movement is opening me up, getting me close to seeing the baby. But I did not welcome these contractions. I didn’t want them.

I remember sitting on the floor of my bathroom (chosen for the linoleum floor, which could be cleaned easily), breathing through contractions, feeling kind of dizzy, leaning against the bathtub for the coolness of the porcelain. My husband, who can be very supportive in other situations, faints at the sight of blood, so he had to leave the room. I talked to the midwife on the cordless telephone, and she reassured me that it would be over quickly.

And it was. I put the placenta in a plastic container to send to the lab, took a shower, and climbed into bed with my husband. I felt empty and bruised. In the morning I would call my friends and family, talk to them, allow myself to be comforted. But in the dark of the night, I grieved for the child I would not have.

It was sixteen years ago. I don't think of it much any more. Except once each year, on this day.

February 22, 2006

Where I am from

We gave my father a digital camera for his birthday, and for a test photo, he walked over to a window, took a picture his backyard, and emailed the photo to me. Since I only live about six miles away, it was kind of silly, but I liked the shot. And I figured I would put it up on my blog, even though my parents don't know about my blog.


Here is where I am from, the place where I lived for the first 23 years of my life. That little red barn once housed a horse, an appaloosa that we would ride in the fields back beyond the house. The hayloft above the horse stall was a great place for pajama parties, all of us unrolling sleeping bags onto the scratchy hay, a comfy place to lie awake and talk all night. During my teenage years, I would sometimes sneak up to the hayloft with a boyfriend on a hot summer night.

The clothesline always served as first base for whatever game we were playing – softball, kickball, or whiffle ball. Sometimes this meant running through wet laundry that hung down in your face. I can remember standing on first base, getting into long conversations with my mother as she hung out the laundry. That canoe alongside the barn is one of mine. I have canoes stashed all over the place.

You can't tell, but under the snow behind the clothesline is a well that still runs over every spring. My father dug that well when he built the house back in the 1950s. That well was one of the last projects he ever did with his own father, who was diagnosed with cancer just after my parents bought the land and who died before the house was completed. My grandfather was a master carpenter. He and my father had built many houses together – my Dad started building houses when he was just a kid – and my parents' house was their last.

To the right of the barn, also hidden under snow, is a big vegetable garden. I have many childhood memories of helping my mother plant seedlings or weed rows of plants. Even now, when I go over there for lunch, she might send me out to the garden to pick a tomato or onion. My parents raise most of their own vegetables and keep them in a cold room and a deep freeze.

Of course, it is winter right now and it is snowing in the photo – the kind of thick snow that sticks to the ground, that piles into drifts. I am from a place that gets a whole lot of snow.

February 21, 2006

On a cold winter night

Since it's winter vacation, my three boys have the week off from school, and they've left town on a trip with Spouse. When my Wonderful Beautiful Smart Daughter, who has a room in a dorm at Snowstorm University, told me that our extra kids were bored and sending her instant messages constantly, we came up with the plan to take the extras snowboarding last night. Neither Skater Boy or Blonde Niece have ever been to the ski slopes at night, and they were eager to see what it would be like.

Late afternoon, I piled snowboard gear into the car and picked up a bunch of our extra kids – Skater Boy, Blonde Niece, Older Neighbor Boy, and Philosophical Boy. Something funny seemed to be going on with the temperature gage in the car, though, and by the time we reached my daughter's dorm, the thermostat light was blinking, and some kind of horribly obnoxious alarm was ringing. I was in favor of just ignoring the alarm, but since Blonde Niece had a cell phone, I decided to call Spouse and see what he thought of the situation.

"Oh, that's very bad," he said immediately. "Don’t drive any farther." He assured me that if I drove any farther, the engine would seize up, the car would explode, and the universe would end. I think he may have been exaggerating a little, partly because he gets frustrated at my willingness to ignore all manner of engine lights and troublesome noises. Actually, he was quite calm in giving me advice – from thousands of miles away – until I happened to mention I had taken his car instead of mine. Funny what a difference that seemed to make.

At that point in the conversation, my daughter came out of the building to get in the car. "What's going on?" she asked, overhearing my sincere reassurances to Spouse that I was indeed taking very good care of his car while he was gone. (Well, maybe they were not sincere. I was heartlessly laughing at his reaction.)

"The engine might explode," said Older Neighbor Boy, "But we're good."

Our plight set off a flurry of cell phone calls, including calls from Spouse to both Daughter and Blonde Niece, begging them to save his car by convincing me to call a tow truck, which is apparently some free service that came with the car. Luckily, I live in a community full of all kinds of helpful people who can be reached by phone. Neighbor Guy, sympathetic to our plight, arrived with his van, and offered to let me take it to the ski center. Neighbor Woman arrived in a different car and offered to stay with Spouse’s car until the tow truck arrived. So I loaded kids and gear into the van, Neighbor Guy and his small daughter went home in Neighbor Woman's car, and Neighbor Woman stayed with Spouse's car.

The nice thing about driving into the mountains is that all cell phone service halts. So once we were out of cell phone contact with worried Spouse, patient Neighbor Woman, and the tardy tow truck driver, we put the whole situation out of our minds. How great it felt to leave behind the stressful car situation and cell phone calls, and instead spend the next four hours in the icy cold air of a winter night. The slope, packed down from all the day time skiers, was fast. Because it was vacation week, none of the high school ski clubs were there – no big yellow buses in the parking lot – and the lodge was half empty. By 10 pm, in fact, my group were the only ones in the whole lodge.

Snowboarding in the dark is an exhilarating experience. Breathing in the icy air of a winter night woke my whole body, the coldness tingling through me. As we rode up the chair life, my daughter kept talking about how pretty everything looked. The big lights shone onto the white snow, lighting up the slopes and the white edging of snow on the pine trees. The woods on either side of the trail looked dark and mysterious. We could see snowboarders below us, dark silhouettes chasing their own shadows down the slope, their boards scraping against ice.

By the time we drove home, making our way through dark country roads, we were all pleasantly tired from taking run after run. And the frustrating situation with the car had long been forgotten.

February 19, 2006

Pajama Party

So last night, I found a new way to beat the February blues: a pajama party with the Shadow Women. (That is the pseudonym I gave this group of friends when I first mentioned them on this blog. The pseudonym we use in real life, a nickname given to us by one of our husbands, is the Wild Women. I am not sure which pseudonym fits better.)

Long Beautiful Hair said that as she was packing up her duffle bag, sleeping bag, and pillow to carry out to the car, her teenage son said to her, incredulously, "You are going to a pajama party? Aren't you a little old for that?"

I don't think I will ever be too old for a pajama party. The seven of us gathered by the fire, talking and laughing, our conversations ranging all over the place. We talked about kids, about jobs, about sex. I told them about Bitch PhD's bra post, and even took my shirt off to model the Wacoal bra I was wearing. We analyzed Signing Woman's marriage. We laughed at Makes Bread’s latest trials with her husband, a man we all know and love, who does have his blind spots. Quilt Artist, who is always sewing something while we sit and talk, pulled her latest quilt out of her quilt bag for us to admire.

Eventually, when people started looking sleepy, all comfy by the fire, Long Beautiful Hair and I cranked up the music, and made everyone get up and dance. Our friends have come to expect this behavior from us; they know that resistance is futile. They complained about the music, complained that they were too tired, and then they got up and danced anyhow. We played the sound track from Footloose and Dirty Dancing, and then switched over to CDs from local bands.

After all the dancing, we had another round of eating: vegetable soup, veggie chili, chips and salsa, cookies and cake. Long Beautiful Hair, saying that it was a pajama party tradition, put this weird gunk that she called a face mask all over her skin. After it dried – and this was the creepy part – she began peeling it off. It was like a scene in Scooby Doo; I expected to see some evil villain emerge as she peeled her face off. I am not sure what the effects of the face mask were, since her complexion is gorgeous to begin with, but watching her shed a layer of skin like a snake was certainly eerie.

We stayed up way too late, of course, in the tradition of pajama parties everywhere, and at breakfast, everyone was sleepy. We sat in the winter sunshine that poured in through the east windows, eating muffins and cereal and fruit, drinking hot tea and coffee, talking and listening to music. A hike in the woods, through several inches of new snow and cold crisp air, revived us all. After a relaxed lunch of leftovers by the fire, everyone headed home, ready to return to their everyday lives.

February 18, 2006

Trees I admire


One of my favorite trees is far back in my own woods, about a half mile in, near the northeast corner of my property. To get there, I walk through a forest of crooked scotch pines, through a section of mixed hardwoods, and through several groves of old hemlocks. During spring or thaw, I tramp though puddles and climb over fallen trees.

This tree has been hit by lightning. It’s been infested with beetles that killed many of the beech trees around it. Some of the branches are crooked, others seem fused together in odd ways.

It's a tree with scars, a tree that bears the mark of stormy weather, of disease and stress. It's a survivor, a tree that continues to grow, roots firmly in the soil, grey bark still protecting its core, branches reaching up toward sky.

February 17, 2006

Friday Poetry Workshop

For Friday poetry blogging, I am once again posting a poem that I am working on, a poem I would like feedback on. (Well, if blogger cooperates, that is. I’ve had a hard time leaving blogger comments this week. Go clear out your cookies if blogger is giving you attitude. Sometimes that works.)

Please don’t feel you have to know anything about poetry to leave a comment. You can just tell me what parts you like and what parts you don’t like. You can tell me simply, yes or no, keep the poem or cut it in favor of a better poem. You can tell me what you think the poem means. You can tell me if parts of the poem confused you. You don’t have to worry about hurting my feelings – after all, I am deliberately choosing a poem that I think needs work, a poem I am thinking about dropping from the manuscript. And the manuscript is too long so I am going to have to cut some poems eventually.

If you would like the context, the manuscript is all poems about the body, all written from the perspective of one woman. This section of the manuscript is about daydreams.



Mirror: Shivering, I wriggle
out of jeans.

Hair: The tangled smell of woodsmoke
rises against shower steam.

Song: Your dream self lingers
along the curve of my belly.

Words: Fingers crawl
across guitar neck and strings.

Roots: Roasted with oil and garlic,
chewed softly and swallowed.

Brush: Bold wings of colour
spread across canvas.

Neck: The rim where spirit
collides with echo.

Touch: When you brush against me
seeds fall from my skin.

Map: Surfaces of you
I have not yet explored.


February 16, 2006

Long-haired Teenage Boys

When I gave Shaggy Hair Boy his pseudonym last year, he was thirteen years old, and his shaggy hair was falling into his eyes. He hasn’t had a haircut since, and the shaggy hair has transformed into a gorgeous mane of long curls that reach his shoulders. Boy in Black, my seventeen-year-old, now has the shaggy look, with locks of wavy dark hair falling into his face. Today I noticed that I couldn’t see his eyes any more.

Me: Wow, your hair is getting long.
Him: Yeah, I haven't cut it.
Me: You’ve got those scholarship interviews next month. Maybe you ought to trim it for that.
Him: I don't know. I like it like this.
Me: Yeah, but in an interview, people like to see your eyes.
Him: I was thinking it would be cool to have long hair for graduation.
Me: I think you would have time to grow it out again.
Him: You think I should cut it just for the interviews?
Me: Well, the scholarship is worth a whole lot of money. Might be worth a haircut.
Him: You think they are going to be biased because I look like a stoner? Aren't they supposed to be all in favor of diversity?
Me: I don’t know. You do have gorgeous hair. You look totally like a hot snowboarding dude.
Him: (laughing and rolling his eyes) Yeah, that's what all the girls say.
Me: Really, you and Shaggy Hair Boy have the best hair in the school.
Him: Well, I think it's funny that when people look at me, they see a teenager dressed in black with long hair and they think I'm a trouble maker. Or into drugs.
Me: And instead you are mad smart, and all gentle and compassionate.
Him: And nice to little kids. See, I'm shattering the stereotype.
Me: Well, it's a great look for you.
Him: I think it'll be funny to get up and give a speech at graduation looking like this.
Me: And of course you'll still be wearing that wristband.
Him: (holding up wrist) Yep. Still got it ....

February 15, 2006


Tonight I turned off all the lights in the house and then crawled around in the darkness with a handheld black light, searching for mysterious markings on the carpet. I held the black light up, waved it one way and then the other, and watched as a spot appeared near the corner of the couch, a spot that would have been invisible in the day time. How magical black light can be, making things appear before our very eyes.

Of course, if you are someone who owns cats, you know that what I was doing was far less romantic than it sounds. Yes, you guessed it. I was searching for dried spots of cat urine so that I could treat the spots on the carpet with Urine-off so that our house won't smell like cat pee when the humid weather returns in the spring.

The funny thing is that I get a certain amount of enjoyment out of a task like this. I mean, the black light does make the task easy. It is satisfying to find those spots and scrub them out. I was thinking tonight that I wish I had a black light I could wave over myself during times of intense introspection. A black light that would highlight my faults, my issues, my weak spots. So that I could just treat the spots, douse them, scrub them, be done with them for once and for all. Do they make Urine-off for the soul?

February 14, 2006

Valentine's Day Meme: First crush

Every afternoon after lunch, our second grade teacher would have us push our desks back, and in the middle of the room on linoleum tiles that were splattered with sun, she would put us in pairs and teach us to dance: the foxtrot, the waltz, the jig. I don’t remember what else I learned that year – not much really, since I read way more books at home in a single week than we could possibly stumble through in the classroom, one kid reading at a time in the most painfully slow way – but those afternoons taught me to love the way it felt to move my body to music.

My dance partner had dark hair, white teeth and the personality of a labrador retriever puppy. His hands were warm, and just the feel of them made warmth rise to my cheeks..

Dark-haired Boy would talk to me while we danced, but I was way too shy to answer him back. I would nod yes or no, sometimes even smile. Soon he began teasing me whenever the teacher left the room, pulling on my braids or calling me Brain. I didn't know what to do. No boy in school had ever talked to me like that before. Most people ignored me because I was so quiet. My father's nickname for me was Mouse.

When I told my mother that a boy at school was calling me Brain, she said, "Oh, he’s just jealous because you are so smart. And maybe he teases you because he likes you. Wouldn’t you rather be a brain than an empty head?"

So next time, Dark-haired Boy came up to me and started saying, "Hey, you are such a Brain," I mustered my courage and said, "Empty-head!"

Dark-haired Boy was delighted. My insulting him was just the encouragement he wanted. "You are talking to me!" he said. Everyone knew that I was the shyest kid in the class, and he took my few words as a huge compliment. He bragged to other kids that I had given him a nickname.

Young as I was, I can remember tucking away this nugget of information: boys like it when you insult them. How very peculiar.

My shyness disappeared as I got older. Other crushes came and went, but I always had a teasing insult for Dark-haired Boy. Alphabetical order kept us together even after we both left the small elementary school and went on to the big public high school. He was always in my homeroom, and often sat just ahead of me in classes. He would turn to flash me a smile before a teacher handed out a test. "Quick, give me some of your brain power."

By senior year, we were rarely in classes together, because I had been pushed ahead into classes with kids a year older. We never dated because that would have been weird. I mean, by then we’d known each other so long we were like cousins. We didn’t have the same friends, or belong to any of the same groups, but we were still always in the same homeroom and we’d talk to each other some times, bonded in the way you get bonded to someone you’ve known your whole life, even when you realize that you have little in common.

I saw him last the day of my high school graduation. We were lined up in alphabetical order, but a teacher told me to move to the front of the line because I was to give the valedictory speech. "Brain!" he whispered as I passed him, and I laughed. I knew he was one of the kids who had smuggled cow bells in to the formal ceremony so that he could ring them and make a commotion during funny parts of my speech.

Whenever I run into old high school friends in the grocery store, we talk about who we have seen, and who is doing what. So I heard stories about Dark-haired Boy over the years. I knew he'd made some bad choices. I knew he was drinking heavily.

He was dead by the age of forty. Cirrhosis of the liver. My mother called to tell me. A short illness, the obituary said. I’d heard about his drinking, knew that this death was coming, and yet still seeing his name in print, the name that had been listed just above mine so many times during our school years, was a shock.

When I see old friends and we play catch up and talk about high school days, people tend to sigh and shake their heads when they talk about Dark-haired Boy. But I think of him as my first crush, the first boy to tease me out of my silence, the first boy to make me feel that I wasn't invisible.

February 13, 2006


One time during a long weekend at the monastery, Monking Friend and I were eating lunch at the guest house with an older couple, Gruff Voice and White Hair, whom we had just met. When the topic turned to children, the couple began telling us about their grown children. One son had published several books and gave lectures on some important topic. Another son had written songs that we had heard of, songs that were pretty famous. It seems like all their kids were hugely successful.

I could tell Monking Friend was starting to feel a little squirmy. She does not come from a family that gives compliments easily, and I think it's hard for her to shake the feeling that bragging is somehow wrong. I am completely in favor of parents bragging about their children – I think it's healthy behavior -- but I have to say, I too was beginning to wonder just how accomplished one family could be. I wondered what it might be like to be just a regular kid in that family.

Then the couple began talking about their grandchild. He had Down's Syndrome.

"He got a job at Local Grocery Store," Gruff Voice bragged. Their faces glowed with pride.

"Yep, he is holding down a job," White Hair said.

"You can see his self-esteem go up when puts on that Local Grocery Store uniform," Gruff Voice bragged.

"I was so proud when he showed me his first paycheck," said White Hair.

There was no mistaking the pride and affection in their voices. I looked at Monking Friend, and we smiled at each other.

February 12, 2006

Fresh air and sunshine

When my daughter and I arrived today for our sixth and final snowboard lesson, Blue-eyed Instructor noticed my new snowboard immediately. "You bought a snowboard! You have gear! This means you are committed!"

He was so enthusiastic about my purchase, examining the board, checking it for flexibility, and pronouncing it perfect, that I could not help smiling. I recognized his enthusiasm, of course, because I am a teacher myself. It's always wonderful when your student not only learns the basics of what you are teaching, but catches your love of what you are doing. I feel that way when a student stops by my office to tell me she went to a poetry reading or talks to me about a book he read over the summer.

I'd had a miserable night, waking from a nightmare and unable to sleep, and an even more miserable morning, getting up to find that one of our cats had climbed into the open drawer of good ski socks and was peeing on them, an event that I did not handle with grace or humor. But the weather conditions at the ski slope were just perfect: lots of snow and temperatures in the high 20s. And the company was perfect: Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter can change my mood with just her presence.

What a difference from our first lesson. We both were flying smoothly down the slope, carving back and forth, turning with pretty good control, able even to maneuver around the clumps of beginner skiers who make the mountain an obstacle course. Our dismounts from the chair lift were not exactly perfect – we stand too close together getting off and tend to run into each other, which often means we end up in a tangled heap – but still we felt like confident, competent boarders.

"I told you!" Blue-eyed Instructor kept saying. He was as happy and triumphant as we were.

At lunch time, we had cake with the whole gang to celebrate Blonde Niece's birthday, and then spent the afternoon snowboarding some more, showing off our skills to the rest of the family. What I love most about learning a new sport is that it leaves me no time to think. Concentrating on what my body is doing – bend the knees, keep weight forward, drop the shoulder – leaves no room in my head for any melancholy thoughts. Riding up in the chairlift with my daughter, just talking about stuff and admiring the way the sun was shining on the whole snow-covered mountain, was a wonderful break between runs.

Tonight I am physically exhausted from a day spent outside in the fresh air. And that means tonight I will sleep well.

Middle of the Night February Blogging

It was twenty-five years ago. My sister was engaged to be married, the first of my siblings to take that plunge. The wedding was planned for April with the hopes that perhaps spring would come early. Valentine's Day weekend, she and her fiance, ManWithPast, came home to finish the wedding plans, write out the invitations.

I cannot tell the part that happened next. It's too many details, and it's not my story to tell. But I will tell you the ending. ManWithPast drove his car off a cliff, straight into an icy lake. Deliberately.

He did not survive the impact.

I was a sophomore in college, the same age as Daughter is now. I remember the phone call, my mother telling me the news. My boyfriend was visiting, and he drove me home. Even though I got home in the middle of the night, my sister was awake, just lying in the dark in the bedroom we’d shared when we were little.

It was twenty-five years ago. No one talks about it any more. I don't think of it much any more. Except sometimes in the middle of the night. When it is February, and I can't sleep.

February 11, 2006

Crossing Over

For the last three years on the ski slopes, I've listened to the teasing comments from Boy in Black and his snowboarding friends: "Only old people and little kids ski."

"Snowboarding is so much cooler."

I would roll my eyes and say something like: "If snowboarding is so much fun, how come you always see snowboarders sitting in the snow, freezing their butts?"

Boy in Black always had an answer: "That's because they are waiting for their slow skiing friends to catch up with them."

It's true that most of the adults and little kids we see on weekends ski instead of snowboard. I know if we went to the kind of resort that rich people go to, we might see whole families snowboarding together. But the ski centers we go to cater to the local high schools, and the snowboarding population is mostly teenage boys. Occasionally you do see a teenage girl. I can always pick Blonde Niece out as she goes zooming by because of the long pony tail hanging out from under her helmet. And once in awhile, you see someone in his twenties or even thirties with a snowboard.

I am not sure I would have even thought to take snowboarding lessons if my beautiful smart wonderful daughter and her cool snowboarding college roommate hadn't talked me into it. Even so, I had intended to snowboard just for the season and go back to skiing next year. So I've been skiing on Saturdays, while chaperoning With-a-Why and the kids from his class, and then snowboarding on Sundays, when I go with my gang. The snowboard instructor for the little kids on Saturday found out I was taking snowboard lessons on Sunday, and has been teasing me for being on skis. He keeps assuring me that I needed to just switch over to snowboarding.

"Come over to the dark side," he'll say. "You know you want to."

What I’ve found, after five Sundays of snowboard lessons, is that I really like snowboarding. It's easier on my knees than skiing. And once I made it past the difficult first lesson, I’ve been able to learn pretty fast. I like the movement, the balancing, the speed. The only thing that I haven't liked is the rental boots that didn't fit me right, and the rental boards that have dreadful bindings. So this week, I checked out the sales all the ski shops are having and bought myself a snowboard and boots. Why should teenage boys get to have all the fun?

Yep. I’ve gone over to the dark side.


February 10, 2006

Slam Poetry for Friday

You never know what you might see at a poetry slam: a high school student reading a sappy love poem, a regular trying out a rough draft that falls flat, an angry person reading a political poem, or an unknown poet performing a funny piece that takes everyone by surprise. Anyone who comes early and signs up to read can perform at a poetry slam. And the audience is an integral part of the performance: they clap at funny poems, they yell at the judges, they sigh when a poem hits them just right.

The slam poetry movement was begun in Chicago in the 1980s by construction worker and poet Marc Smith. A poetry slam, which usually takes place in a coffeehouse or bar, is a competition in which each poet reads an original poem, and then is awarded a score for the poem and the performance. The three judges, who are chosen randomly from the crowd, hold up their scores on big squares of cardboard. Heckling and cheering are encouraged at poetry slams, and it is pretty common to cheer the poets and boo the judges. Perhaps the best part of a poetry slam is watching how a poem comes alive when it is performed, when a poet breathes the poem to an audience.

For Friday poetry blogging, here is a poem by slam poet Taylor Mali. I don’t have a video clip; you have to imagine him performing it.

Like Lilly Like Wilson
By Taylor Mali

I'm writing the poem that will change the world,
and it's Lilly Wilson at my office door.
Lilly Wilson, the recovering like addict,
the worst I've ever seen.
So, like, bad the whole eighth grade
started calling her Like Lilly Like Wilson Like.
Until I declared my classroom a Like-Free Zone,
and she could not speak for days.

But when she finally did, it was to say,
Mr. Mali, this is . . . so hard.
Now I have to think before I . . . say anything.

Imagine that, Lilly.

It's for your own good.
Even if you don't like . . .

I'm writing the poem that will change the world,
and it's Lilly Wilson at my office door.
Lilly is writing a research paper for me
about how homosexuals shouldn't be allowed
to adopt children.
I'm writing the poem that will change the world,
and it's Like Lilly Like Wilson at my office door.

She's having trouble finding sources,
which is to say, ones that back her up.
They all argue in favor of what I thought I was against.

And it took four years of college,
three years of graduate school,
and every incidental teaching experience I have ever had
to let out only,

Well, that's a real interesting problem, Lilly.
But what do you propose to do about it?
That's what I want to know.

And the eighth-grade mind is a beautiful thing;
Like a new-born baby's face, you can often see it
change before your very eyes.

I can't believe I'm saying this, Mr. Mali,
but I think I'd like to switch sides.

And I want to tell her to do more than just believe it,
but to enjoy it!
That changing your mind is one of the best ways
of finding out whether or not you still have one.
Or even that minds are like parachutes,
that it doesn't matter what you pack
them with so long as they open
at the right time.
O God, Lilly, I want to say
you make me feel like a teacher,
and who could ask to feel more than that?
I want to say all this but manage only,
Lilly, I am like so impressed with you!

So I finally taught somebody something,
namely, how to change her mind.
And learned in the process that if I ever change the world
it's going to be one eighth grader at a time.

February 09, 2006

Teachable moments

We were reading bell hooks’ memoir Bone Black. One student, an eighteen-year-old woman from a small town, did not like the book. It made her uncomfortable. The ideas and the style were very different from the books she had read in high school, the books she had been taught were the standard for what good literature was.

"I don't think it's written very well," she said. "The only reason she ever got published is because she was poor and black."

Ah, yes. She’s got a good grasp on the publishing industry. It's just so much easier to get a book published if you are poor and black.

I grew up in a conservative small town, and I know where this attitude comes from. A young person will toss a statement into a conversation without even thinking: "It's hard for a white man to get a job nowadays because of affirmative action." Someone else will nod in agreement. "When there is a job opening, it is sure to go to a black person."

"This happened where you live? All the jobs went to black people?"
"Well, all the good jobs."
"Where do you live?"
"Small Town in Middle of Nowhere."
"How many African-American kids were in your graduating class?"
"Um .... none."
"Are there any African-American families in your community?"
"Uh .... no."
"If there are no African-American people in your community, how is it possible that they are taking all the jobs?"
"Uh ...."

February 07, 2006

Etiquette question

Let's say you are fifteen years old. One of your chores is to scoop the cat litter box every day. Your cousin, who is doing her own chores at the same time, tells you that the cat scoop is nasty, and makes gagging noises to indicate just how disgusting she thinks the smelly cat scoop is.

What is the appropriate response?

1) Take the hint and wash the cat scoop in hot soapy water.
2) Toss the cat scoop in the garbage can and ask your mother to buy a new one.
3) Duct tape the nasty scoop to a piece of PVC pipe and chase your cousin around the house with it.


February 06, 2006

Crowding the table

When we get to the ski lodge on Sunday mornings, it takes my sleepy gang some time to get their equipment – snowboards, helmets, bags – out of the car. Since my daughter and I are renting our snowboards, we go on ahead and sneak into the lodge with the canvas bag and cooler. Usually we are just about the first people to arrive and we can claim our picnic tables by dumping our stuff on them. We like to sit in the same spot every week so that our extra kids can find us.

This week we arrived early as usual, but the parking lot was already crowded. All those cars means some kind of ski competition. We knew what we’d find: the lodge filled with little kids in skintight spandex outfits that look like something Spiderman would wear, bags of clothing piled all around, and parents filling up every picnic table. After scanning the room for an empty table and finding none, I decided to go for the closest thing. At one picnic table, a woman was sitting by herself, reading a book. My daughter and I approached.

"Mind if we put our stuff here?" I asked nicely.

She looked up politely: "Of course not."

I dumped my bright red cooler and blue canvas bag of food on top of the table where my kids would see it, and my daughter and I started down the stairs toward the rentals.

"Well, that woman is in for a surprise," Daughter said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, she thinks she’s sharing a table with a woman and her daughter. Wait until she looks up and finds herself surrounded by a whole gang of teenagers."

I hadn't even thought of that.

When we returned to the table, teenagers had gathered around it, drawn to the cooler and bag of food the way buzzards are drawn to roadkill. Boy in Black and Older Neghbor Boy were pulling off layers of clothes, deciding that the air temperature was not cold enough to warrant coats. Shaggy Hair was shaking his long curls, complaining loudly that he had too much hair to fit under his helmet. Blonde Niece and Philosophical Boy were already rummaging through the cooler; the car ride makes them hungry. Skater Boy, with his long hair that has clearly never felt the touch of a hair brush, was swinging his helmet, impatient for the first run of the day.

It did make me wonder what strangers see when they look at my gang. Would someone notice how gentle Boy in Black is with his little brother, taking extra time to help With-a-Why lace up his boots? Would they see the bond between Blonde Niece and Shaggy Hair in the way that Blonde Niece sighs and hands her cousin a hair tie before he even asks for it? Would they look at Skater Boy and see the sweetness beneath the attitude? Would they see the affection in the voices of the boys as they tease their mother about whether or not she'll be hitting any jumps?

The woman with the book looked startled but not annoyed. She sat patiently with her book amidst the crowd of teenagers who were jockeying for position at the crowded table -- elbowing each other, teasing each other, and taking turns sitting down to tighten snowboard boots. She gave me a smile and then looked back to her book. When we returned for lunch, she was gone.

February 04, 2006


Ah, February.

Every year, I hope that it will be different. I fill my life with healthy things – meditation workshops on Monday evenings, belly dancing on Tuesdays, skiing and snowboarding on weekends. I make lunch dates with friends, take walks in my woods, and spend time writing poetry. I have so much to be grateful for – healthy children, a husband who loves me, a supportive extended family, a job I enjoy.

But it happens late at night when I am tired, and everyone else is sleeping. The house will be dark and quiet, and I’ll creep out of bed to come downstairs for a glass of juice. I'll sit on the couch with a book or my journal (this year, my laptop), wondering why I can't sleep.

That is when they sneak from the shadows, sliding from behind chairs, slithering from the half-opened closet, squeezing through cracks in the baseboard.

And I'm too tired to resist.

I want to curl up with a quilt, bury my head in pillows, go to sleep. But I can't.

The fields where I spent lazy summer days picking wild strawberries with my siblings, hours crouched in the dried grasses under hot sun, have disappeared underneath a highway. The meadow where Outdoor Girl and I spend many afternoons horseback riding, galloping through the tall grasses, has become an office park. The woods I used to ski through with my parents, including an old barn where we would stop to eat oranges, has been replaced by a parking lot.

I see a high school friend at the grocery store, and he tells me about his divorce, his voice still shaking with bitterness. I hear a beautiful young woman, a student who is both smart and sad, tell me that she cuts herself. I see my husband's sadness as he watches our own kids turn into adults and his regret that he spent too much time working when they were little, years spent in a soul-sucking corporate job, time he cannot get back no matter how he tries now. I watch my parents grieve as their friends begin to die, one by one, often from some type of cancer. I see my father's frustration as his body weakens, as he loses some of the fierce independence he always had.

And when boys this community turn into young men, I can't stop the military from snatching them up, sending them overseas. Perhaps the government can stop photos of coffins coming home, but certainly, they cannot stop parents from talking, from grieving, from crying at the way that our children are being sacrificed.

During quiet moments in February, I want to hibernate. I want to step away from a culture that seems increasingly dominated by fear, a culture in which humans kill members of their own species, women hate their own bodies, and leaders lie to those who need them most.

February 03, 2006

Dirty Deeds Meme

This meme comes via the RevGalBlogPals.

List five chores you do unwillingly, resentfully, or half-heartedly:

1. Emptying the cat litter boxes.
2. Cleaning up after the cats when they pee in strange places.
3. Grocery shopping. Any kind of shopping.
4. Cleaning the bathroom. Cleaning the kitchen. Any kind of cleaning.
5. Grading papers.

Is there anyone who likes doing those things? Is there anyone out there who says, "Hurray! The cat peed in the corner of the living room AGAIN and I can’t wait to wholeheartedly clean it up!" Yeah, right. I would have added laundry to the list too, except I haven’t done any laundry in years because Spouse has always done the laundry. But when I do have occasion to do laundry, often because someone is vomiting during the night, you can bet I do it unwillingly.

I can't stand any chore that has to be done every day. No matter how often the dishes are washed at my house, there are always dirty dishes on the counter because at any given time, you can find at least three people eating something somewhere in the house. As I type this, for instance, Shaggy Hair is sitting in the comfy chair with a book and a glass of juice. Boy in Black just disappeared upstairs with a glass of chocolate milk and a plate with a sandwich on it. With-a-Why and Neighbor Girl had a snack earlier and left the plates and cups on the counter. And I have a cup of herbal tea on the window sill behind me.

I am a binge cleaner. I like projects like cleaning out a closet or painting a room or organizing a cabinet. That way, when I am done, things look different. And I feel a sense of accomplishment. But really, what is the point of doing dishes if they are just going to get dirty again?

Chores I don’t mind doing:

1. Mowing the lawn. Any kind of yard work.
2. Gardening. Hauling mulch from the DPW. Turning over the gardens in the spring. Planting seeds or plants. Weeding. Picking vegetables.
3. Shoveling snow. Especially in the evening when the stars and moon are out, and the house with looks so cosy with light spilling from the windows.
4. Building a fire. Splitting wood. Stacking wood.
5. Packing for a camping trip.

These are the chores I do willingly. And everything else – well, mostly nowadays, I delegate them. That's one of the benefits of having a houseful of teenagers.

Friday Poetry Blogging

Here is a poem by Paula Gunn Allen, taken from a wonderful anthology called That's What She Said, edited by Rayna Green.


(A Gathering of Spirits)

Because we live in the browning season
the heavy air blocking our breath,
and in this time when living
is only survival, we doubt the voices
that come shadowed on the air,
that weave within our brains
certain thoughts, a motion that is soft,
imperceptible, a twilight rain,
soft feather's fall, a small body
dropping into its nest, rustling, murmuring,
settling in for the night.

Because we live in the hardedged season,
where the plastic brittle and gleaming shines
and in this space that is cornered and angled,
we do not notice wet, moist, the significant
drops falling in perfect spheres
that are certain measures of our minds;
almost invisible, those tears,
soft as dew, fragile, that cling to leaves,
petals, roots, gentle and sure,
every morning.

We are the women of the daylight; of clocks and steel
foundries, of drugstores and streetlights,
of superhighways that slice our days in two
Wrapped around in glass and steel we ride
our lives; behind dark glasses we hide our eyes,
our thoughts, shaded, seem obscure, smoke
fills our minds, whisky husks our songs,
polyester cuts our bodies from our breath,
our feet from welcoming stones of earth.
Our dreams are pale memories of themselves,
and nagging doubt is the false measure of our days.

Even so, the spirit voices are singing,
their thoughts are dancing in the dirty air.
Their feet though the cement, the asphalt
delighting, still they weave dreams upon our
shadowed skulls, if we could listen.
If we could hear.
Let's go then. Let's find them. Let's
ride the midnight, the early dawn. Feel the wind
striding through our hair. Let's dance
the dance of feathers, the dance of birds.

February 02, 2006


This morning I abandoned the piles on my desk, pulled on my big green boots, and went for a hike in my woods. Usually this time of year, I need snowshoes but an unnaturally warm January melted all of December's snow. And temperatures that hover just above freezing have created thin, intricately patterned layers of ice on all the puddles and ponds that cover my land.

When the sun came out, the puddles became strangely beautiful. Patches of dark water would reflect treetops and bits of sky, while the whole pattern was crisscrossed with slashes of ice. As I stared into a puddle, I could move my head or shift position, and the whole pattern of sky and tree branch would shift like a kaleidescope.

By the time I reached the grove of hemlocks, temperatures were rising, and the thin layer of ice was melting, as was the ice in the hemlock trees. Drops of water fell from branches onto the calm surface of each puddle, creating swirls and distortions in the puddle pictures as I watched.

I spent a wonderful hour tramping about in the woods, crashing through thin layers of ice, loving the sound of that brittle breaking, splashing through puddles of icy cold water, and mostly – staring into puddles, each one a mysterious pool of strangely shifting colour.


February 01, 2006

Remembering the blizzard

Forty years ago today, a single storm dumped over forty inches of snow on Snowstorm City. It’s one of our most famous blizzards. And even though that snowfall record has been topped since, that storm is still the one I remember the best. I was four years old. Well, four-going-on-five, which is practically a grown-up.

The wind piled the snow into big drifts that curled, like ocean waves that have chosen to stand still. The weather stayed cold, so none of the snow melted. The wind kept whipping all that beautiful whiteness around into new and beautiful shapes, gathering it especially along tree lines and snow fences. In the rural area outside Snowstorm City where we lived, the snow stayed clean and white, even on the roads, which did not get plowed for days.

We spent every spare moment outside in that wonderful snow, after grudgingly putting on all the heavy winter clothing our mother made us wear. We were a staircase of small children – my siblings, me, and the neighbor boy – three, four, five, six, and seven. Bossy Neighbor Boy, who at the grand age of seven considered himself an expert on many things, including snowfort building, was the type to always greedily claim the biggest snow drift for himself, but after this storm, there were more than enough spots in the snowdrift for everyone. My two older sisters worked together on one fort, and I shared a fort with my brother, who was only three, but a tireless worker when it came to scooping out snow.

Building a snow fort, when you've got a lot of snow to work with, is very much like building a sand castle, except the whole thing is much bigger.

The forts began as caves scooped out of snowdrifts, caves big enough to hold a crowd of small children when we gathered around the thermos of cocoa my mother would send out. (She used our camping stove to heat it up since our electricity was out, of course.) Soon we began digging tunnels between the caves, so that the drift became a maze that we could crawl through. Brother and I, being the smallest and lightest, were the first to discover that we could walk atop the drift in some spots, and soon our snow cave had an upstairs. Digging a tunnel down into the cave below was of course the next step. I worked from underneath, and my brother worked from the top, and soon I could see his boots kicking through. I jumped back, and he came slithering into the cave, covered in snow and laughing at our triumph.

Oh, it was a wonderful storm. When I talked to my parents on the phone today, wishing them a happy anniversary (they have been married 48 years), they too reminisced about the big storm of 1966. My father says he put his downhill skis on and went out to the highway because he thought it would be cool to say that he skied on the highway. Red-haired Sister is still angry at Bossy Neighbor Boy because he told her she should try taking her boots off, and she did, and of course, she ended up with frostbite. My mother remembers a nurse finding her way to our house, saying she had not been home in days. She walked down from another road where her car was stuck, and my mother fed her lunch.

We've had bigger storms since that one – we got 48 inches of snow in 24 hours on a March day in the early 90s, which was some kind of record – but since I am several feet taller, no new record will ever match the experience I had that winter. I remember waking up to a completely transformed world. Huge drifts of snow glittered in the side yard, the fields, and even on the roads. Familiar landmarks – the picnic table, the lilac bushes, the well, the wagon, the row of small pine trees – had disappeared completely, buried. And I had the freedom to spend hours exploring that incredible landscape, hills of shifting white ready to be made into anything my imagination could think of. I was a child. And figuring out where the next snow tunnel should go was the biggest responsibility I had.