June 29, 2007

Gone fishin'

Fishing

Well, not really. I don't fish. But I wanted to put up a photo from last year's July vacation at my parents' camp, and I liked this one of Dandelion Niece. She's standing on the edge of an island in the Big River that Runs Between Two Countries. You can't see the rest of my extended family, but they are scattered about the island, some sprawled on the rock to soak up the sun, some splashing in the cold river water, some rooting through the ice chest to find food. The river is filled with islands of grey rock, more than a thousand islands altogether, and that's where we swim on sunny afternoons.

I won't be fishing this week up at camp, but I'll be canoeing through the marsh, sailing on the river, hiking through the woods, and swimming off islands like this one. Back at camp, we'll have games of bocce and horseshoes and frisbee golf. Boy in Black has decreed that we'll be playing Ultimate Frisbee every single day, and he is insisting that every person must play, although my parents keep saying they are content to be spectators. We'll have campfires at night and music, of course, depending on how many musical instruments can fit in the car when we pack.

In the midst of all the activity, I'll also have some quiet time to read and to write in my journal, to hang out in the hammock under the oak trees, and to take evening walks with my husband. Of course, living in a tent for a week means no computer access, but I'm likely to come home with stories. And a few photos, of course.

Camp

That's my father's sailboat at the dock.

June 28, 2007

Three women and a mall

"Do you go shopping together?" One of my conference friends asked me once, when she heard that I live in the same town as my mother.

Shopping together? I looked at her in horror. My mother and I go canoeing together, and snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. We go on walks together, or to the movies. We eat together. We talk on the phone. But shopping? It's hardly what either of us would choose as a fun activity.

Yet, somehow, this week, I found myself heading to a clothing store with my mother. Only an extreme situation could have forced us to such torture. My brother is getting married next month, and neither of us had anything to wear to the wedding.

We didn't go alone, of course. That would have been disastrous. For one thing, we are both so bad at directions that once we were in the mall, we would have been lost immediately. We'd have ended the day by wandering pathetically about the parking lot saying to each other, "What car did we bring? The red one, right?" Last time we went shopping together, which was sometime in the late 80s, we brought Kindergarten Friend, who obviously had a less traumatic childhood than I did because she somehow does not have any deep fear of department stores. This time we brought Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter, who has the useful ability to find her way around the mall and who used to claim that she actually liked to shop for clothes, although I think she's changed her mind after this trip with us.

Most of the stores we went to – and I swear, we went to every store that might possibly carry dresses – had very few summer dresses in stock. "We are clearing things out and getting ready for the fall merchandise," a clerk explained to me. That kind of thing always takes me by surprise. Summer just began – the solstice was last week. I forget that malls function on a seasonal calendar that does not correspond to anything in reality like, for instance, the actual seasons.

The few dresses left on the racks were on sale, prices wildly slashed, which would have been a good thing if they'd been in any kind of normal sizes. The choices seemed pretty dismal. Too often dressy clothes are designed for flat-chested women who are eight feet tall and three inches wide. I have breasts and hips, which seem to me normal features for a grown woman, but it's obvious that whoever designed these dresses did not take that kind of thing into account. My mother and my daughter amused themselves by repeatedly holding up dresses they knew I would hate.

"Look, here's one for you!" my daughter would yell out gleefully, holding up some kind of narrow garment in a pink floral print. Pointing out ugly dresses is so much easier than trying to find one that you might actually wear in public.

I decided to take our mission seriously. I found a dress that I thought might be acceptable and held it up to my daughter.

"You should try that on."
"Really? You think it'll look good on me?"
"No, but it'll be funny."

I explained to my daughter my theory about why trying on dress clothes – designed for style rather than function – is so frustrating. "My body looks great naked. So putting on clothes always makes it look worse, not better. It's always a losing proposition." She rolled her eyes. And going naked to my brother's wedding is not an option, as she nicely pointed out, so we continued our quest.

When my mother bravely decided to try on a dress, any dress, really, just to get us started, my daughter and I sat on a bench inside one of the dressing rooms and chatted. I was telling her how I used to come shopping here in high school with Outdoor Girl. We'd try on really expensive dresses just for the heck of it. My reminiscing was cut short when we heard hysterical laughter coming from my mother's dressing room. My daughter looked at me: "That can't be a good sign."

Then we both started shouting, "Come out! You have to show us!"

My mother did eventually find a dress that looked lovely on her, and after trying on all kinds of ridiculous dresses clearly designed for someone two feet taller than me, I did find a dress that fit me perfectly. I couldn't avoid a print, because sadly, prints seem to be in style, but I found one that was at least sort of cool looking. And it had a skirt that twirled, a most important feature for a wedding reception, where I will spend most of my time dancing. I tested the dress out by dancing around crazily, while my mother and daughter pretended they didn't know me.

"Your arms and legs are nicely tanned," my mother pointed out helpfully.

"Too bad it's a farmer's tan," my daughter snickered. She was right, of course. The deep neckline of the dress showed white skin that contrasted with my brown arms. Of course, my daughter is hardly one to sneer at uneven tans. I might have a farmer's tan, but she's got a concert tan, the kind of tan you get when you trust your younger brother to put sunscreen on you while you are standing in a dusty field in a southern state, waiting for eleven hours in the hot sun for some famous band, just to beat 80,000 unwashed, half-dressed, stoned teenagers to the front row seats that could hardly be called front row seats because no chairs are provided. At least I don't have handprints on my shoulders. Anyhow, the whole family will be up at camp all next week, living in bathing suits most of the time, so our tans will be all evened out by the time we wear our new dresses.

On the way home, in the car that had been sitting in a hot parking lot for hours and bore more than a passing resemblance to a pizza oven, we decided to cheer ourselves up by calling my youngest sister, Urban Sophisticate, who lives in the Big City Like No Other. My daughter was driving so I grabbed her cell phone.

"Hey," I said, "We're cruising through Traintrack Village and we thought we'd give you a call."

"Hey," said Urban Sophisticate, "I'm in Famous West Coast City that Cool People Refer to By Initials Only."

I am old enough to remember when telephones were attached to walls, and it is still a shock to call someone, thinking I know at least which coast she's on, only to find she's on the other side of the country.

"Mom and I were buying dresses for the wedding."

"You and Mom went shopping together? For clothes?" Her voice sounded shocked, and then worried. "You didn't buy anything, did you?"

"Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter is with us," I said.

"Oh, thank goodness."

Yeah, it's nice that my little sister has such confidence in us. As I snapped shut the cell phone, my daughter pulled into the driveway of Blonde Sister's home. "So long as we're here, let's show Blonde Cousin the dresses."

Blond Brother-in-law had installed an air conditioning unit in one of the windows, and their living room was pleasantly cool and dark compared to the steamy hot car. Blonde Niece modeled for us the dress she is wearing to the wedding, a dress she conveniently found in a drawer in her room. (That's the kind of thing that happens when you have two older sisters.) She looked beautiful, of course, because she looks beautiful in anything she wears. She told us that Drama Niece, who is going to be the "best man" for her father, was planning to play the role to the hilt by wearing a suit.

In the cool house, I stripped off my sweaty t-shirt and shorts, and tried my dress on for Blonde Niece. "What do you think of the crazy print?" I asked.

"I like it," she said. "It's kind of psychedelic."

"Yeah," said my daughter, "when she first came out of the dressing room, I felt like I was stoned."

Yep, that's the look I'm going for.

June 27, 2007

Storm

Wet

Before I was even awake today, I could feel the heat and the humidity, that heavy thickness that makes me lethargic. While the kids were asleep, I made macaroni salad and fruit salad, the only things I could even imagine eating in this weather, and put big containers of both into the refrigerator. I figured that making food gave me all kinds of parenting points, and I had earned the right to just lie on the floor for the rest of the day.

Boy in Black had decided the heat should not stop anyone from playing Ultimate Frisbee. By noon, teenagers had begun to arrive, carrying bottles of water and looking surprisingly cheerful as they set their cell phones on the bookcase near the door and prepared to go out onto the hot field. "Oh, it's cooling down," CoolKid said optimistically as he stripped off his shirt.

I opted out of the game, since I felt headachy and nauseous, on the edge of a migraine. The headache was a good sign, actually, since I get migraines when low pressure systems move through. The conditions, I thought hopefully, were just right for a good thunderstorm, which would cool things down in no time.

Late afternoon, the storm arrived. Finally. The thunder came rolling from a distance, with lightning splitting open the sky above trees that were shaking in the wind. Rain came crashing down, a hard steady rain, pounding down on grass and teenagers. The Ultimate Frisbee game continued, kids racing about in the midst of dramatic crashes of thunder, the storm making the frisbee go off in crazy directions.

"This feels good!" My daughter exclaimed. I could hear sighs from the other players as they agreed with her. They splashed through the new puddles, intent on the game, stopping only to wring out the bottoms of their t-shirts and to re-tie wet bandanas.

I stood on the edge of the field and watched them, the rain soaking my hair, my shirt, my shorts. The wind gusted across the field, slapping water drops against my legs and arms. My headache disappeared, and so did the lethargy. After three days of heat, it felt just wonderful.

Playing Ultimate

June 26, 2007

Hot hot heat

Another day in the 90s. The humidity is so high that any movement takes effort, like walking through water, except without that nice coolness of water. Our house has windows on every available wall, which is wonderful in the winter, but not so great on hot summer days. When I was at my parents' house this afternoon, their house was considerably cooler than mine, even though they don't have air conditioning either.

"We always pull the curtains shut in the morning," my father said. Yeah, we never remember to do that. And we do have an electric fan but I hate the noise a fan makes. I'd rather listen to birdsong and bullfrogs and the sound of teenagers complaining about the heat.

Luckily, we don't get many days above 90, or at least we didn't used to. The worst part today was driving Shaggy Hair Boy to his guitar lesson. The steering wheel was almost too hot to touch, and I could feel myself melting into the car seat as the sun dripped through the windshield. Normally, I sit in the car and write a blog post on my laptop while he's at his lesson, but today I could not bear to have any contact with a hot computer that would likely stick to my sweaty legs. Instead, I drove to the grocery store and bought myself some cold juice.

When I returned home, Skater Boy was filling the ice cube trays. "We're making smoothies later." That sounded to me like a good plan for supper.

I took a spot on the couch. "Someone look at the paper and tell me when the heat wave is going to end."

The newspaper was scattered about the floor. Boy in Black picked up the section nearest him. "I don't see the weather, but I've a page of dead people here. Want to hear the names?"

My daughter reached over to the nearest laptop. "Thunderstorms tomorrow." Thank goodness.

By late afternoon, the lethargic teenagers were beginning to perk up, making phone calls to friends about the evening's Ultimate Frisbee game. When Smart Beautiful Wonderful Daughter came out of the shower, she wandered about in a towel, her hair dripping wet, looking nice and cool. "Let me take a photo," I said, "I want to put something on my blog that isn't miserable."

Girl and cat

June 25, 2007

Summer heat

Boy and cat

We always get a hot spell somewhere near the end of June. When the kids were little, this kind of weather used to send me out to buy a wading pool. Now we all just lie on the floor and complain about the humidity. The upstairs of our house gets ridiculously hot, so by midday we gather downstairs, which is one big room, with curtains drawn to keep out the sun. Creatures, human and feline, sprawl on the carpet.

Late afternoon, the bullfrogs begin croaking, the noise coming in through the open windows. I wonder that they have the energy. Boy in Black stirs off the couch to go teach a drum lesson over at the music center. (He made the switch from student to teacher when his teacher went on vacation and asked him to take his students.) With-a-Why drifts lazily over to the piano to play a song. My Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter sits up at the edge of the couch and opens the nearest laptop computer, checking to see who is online. Shaggy Hair Boy, sound asleep on the floor with one of the cats, does not move as I step over him and go search the refrigerator for some cold juice.

I often protest Boy in Black's nocturnal tendencies – I'll come down at 5:30 am sometimes and find him playing his guitar, which drives me crazy – but in this weather, staying up during the cool darkness of the night and sleeping during daylight hours makes a whole lot of sense.

That's Shaggy Hair Boy in the photo.

June 24, 2007

New skin

When I was a kid, I didn't much like snakes. My instinctive reaction, perhaps a sensible one, would be to stop in my tracks at the sight of a snake stretched out on a rock to sun itself. The snakes in my life were harmless garter snakes or water snakes, but I'd have nightmares about snakes, long and brightly colored snakes that I had never seen in real life, snakes that terrified me. I'd wake up shaking, drenched with sweat after a snake nightmare. These dreams continued into adulthood. But then my friend Poet Woman told me that I needed to embrace the snakes in my dreams. She told me that snakes symbolized change and transformation, and that I needed stop being so afraid of change.

I've tried over the years to embrace change, to welcome snakes into my life. Poet Woman used to give snake demonstrations at a science museum, and I'd watch her as she stood calmly talking while a long boa constrictor slithered over her shoulders, winding around her long hair and then her legs, just crawling all over her. One time she asked me to stand still, and she placed the snake on me, the coils of it turning heavily against my own hair.

I've learned all kinds of things about snakes from my students, who take a whole course in herpetology. I've seen snakes, real life snakes, at important moments during my life, at times when I was undergoing transformations of my own. I've gathered snakeskins, too, and have several on the bookshelves of my home office, as a reminder to myself of the kind of shedding that sometimes needs to happen when growth occurs.

I still don't love snakes the way other people I've known. I wouldn't volunteer to give snake demonstrations like Poet Woman does. I would never pick a water snake up and carry it around in my pocket like That Kid We Knew Up at Camp. I wouldn't write a dissertation on snakes and spend my life studying them like Grad Student Who Studies Shy, Endangered Rattlesnakes. I certainly wouldn't grab a snake and chase my friends around with it like Any Number of Annoying Kids I Went to School With Including Blonde Sister.

But I've grown to appreciate the presence of snakes, the watersnakes that sun themselves on our dock up at camp and the garter snakes that live in my woodpile. Four years ago, during a wonderful week that was filled for me with growth and transformation, I saw a snake at Pretty Colour Lake and then another snake at Pond Made Famous By Nature Writer. This May, while I was doing yard work and planting two new river birches, a project that felt good because it was the first time since my knee injury that I felt truly healed, I tried to move a dead tree that had come crashing down during a winter storm, and beneath it, curled in the grass, I saw a small snake.

Snake

June 23, 2007

Flat

Warmth

I'm not used to air conditioning — I don't have it in my home, my car, or my classroom – but on the small southern campus where I was staying last week, almost all the buildings were air conditioned, even the dorms. It took me a while to get used to the idea of putting a fleece on when I went into a building, instead of the reverse. The main building had these wonderful stone steps that absorbed the sun heat, so when I came out of the building, shivering, I'd find some of my friends and then lie down on the stone to get warm.

"You've gone flat," I heard Rana say one of these times, as we gathered in a clump on the steps and I collapsed on the stone. (I didn't know, actually, that she was taking a photo – she's quite sneaky with the camera.)

Rana knows me primarily from blogging, so it seemed entirely appropriate for her to see me going flat, back into two dimensions. We had been talking about the ways in which our readers see us. Some readers just see what's on the surface of a blog post, some read between the lines for the depth, others engage with the blogger in the comments, some hold conversations with each other in the comments without ever returning to the surface, and some dredge the muck to find stuff in the post that the author never intended. It's an interesting dynamic, more interactive than most texts.

And I suppose much depends on where the reader is coming from. I can imagine that my friends at the conference (like Artist Friend who was in this photo before I cropped him out) could look at me lying flat on stone steps and know that my lying on stone to warm myself comes from years of swimming off rocky islands in the icy cold River that Runs Between Two Countries. He can read my body stretched on the steps as me feeling comfortable and at home, at peace amongst friends. A stranger might glance at me and think only, "She must be tired."

Back in my college days, when I attended fiction-writing workshops, we'd talk about what the reader brings to the text, and how that affects which parts of a text might resonate with the reader. But the readers were always these hypothetical readers, no one we'd meet in real life. Blogging has bridged that gap between writer and audience.

Readers leave me comments or send me emails, often asking for more of the story I am telling or letting me know when something confuses them. Artist Friend, who is both a a character on my blog and a real life three-dimensional friend, sometimes responds in my comments. My kids' friends will joke about stuff I put on my blog. Heck, my Dad will send me emails, telling me not to use swear words. I get hate mail when I dare to write something feminist, such as a critique of Club Libby Lu or an analysis of what it means for parents to dress their little girls in sexualized Halloween costumes.

When I began my blog, I felt I was writing for strangers, these pseudonymous people whose blogs I read, but since then I've met more than 30 bloggers in real life. Many of the people I interact with in the comments are no longer faceless two-dimensional readers, but real life people I've talked to and shared meals with and hugged. I've gotten used to friends saying, "Oh, I read that on your blog."

At the panel we did on blogging at Friendly Green Conference, someone pointed out that blogging is not a genre, but a medium. There are all kinds of genres within blogging. I like that distinction. And I continue to wonder how the medium affects the genre. I am writing creative non-fiction most of the time when I blog, and the interaction I've had with readers does change what I write. I've had scientists send me an email if I get a fact wrong, and I've had family members do the same with any personal history I include. And too, blogging has changed my style. I use more humor and more dialogue than I had ever planned, simply because my readers like it.

Blogs themselves tend to come and go – I am always taking blogs off my blogroll because they've ceased to exist and adding new ones – but blogging as a medium seems to be getting more and more accepted. My parents, in their seventies, check Ianqui's photoblog every day to see shots of Big City Like No Other. Friends send blog addresses in holiday cards. When I read creative non-fiction at Friendly Green Conference, I didn't hide the fact that I was reading blog posts; I even kept the pseudonyms instead of changing them. Even those of us who write about connection to place, that is, the Friendly Green Folk writers, are increasingly doing it in a virtual medium.

Blogs exist on a flat screen, but I am beginning to think they have dimensions that have yet to be explored.

Photo credit: Rana, of course.

June 22, 2007

Strawberries and fireflies

Early yesterday evening, I drove through the hills, past cornfields and red barns and signs that pointed to ski resorts, to the old white farmhouse that belongs to Plantswoman. The wind was cool, and I was glad as I stepped out of my car that I had changed into jeans and brought my fleece. Friends were already gathered in the kitchen. Plantswoman and her daughter had spread a tablecloth on the big dining table and were setting out food: bottles of wine from local vineyards, a big cut-glass bowl of ripe strawberries picked the day before, a basket of freshly baked biscuits, a tray of strawberries dipped in chocolate, and a bowl of cream that had just been whipped.

After food and conversation in the house, Plantswoman said it was time for the solstice bonfire. The clouds were turning blue as we carried chairs up the hill, past the carefully kept garden and horse pasture, circling around a lovely pond tucked into a hill. The bullfrogs were croaking, deep and loud, and jumping into the pond with splashes, and the little green frogs added their squeaky voices.

Plantswoman had asked everyone to bring a poem. (Yes, a scientist who tells her guests to bring poems. How cool is that?) So we had books with us as we walked up to the fire, and we kept talking about books too. Two landscape architects in the group mentioned James Howard Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere, and that set us off analyzing Snowstorm City, with those of us who have lived here all of our lives chiming in to describe what downtown was like during the 1960s. Another woman had just read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and that set us off into a discussion about ways to eat seasonally.

"In June, it's easy to eat seasonal produce," said one woman as she dangled a fresh strawberry above her lips.

The fire was crackling in no time at all, with flames swimming about on the still surface of the pond. "We should go skinny dipping," Biologist Woman said, looking at the pond.

The thought was tempting, but the wind was still blowing, too cold for swimming in a spring-fed pond. Instead, we gathered near the warm fire, and listened as Storyteller told stories about her childhood, and about the lives her parents had led. They lived on the River That Goes Between Two Countries, back in the days before the Seaway was built, at a time when native people could get everything they needed from the land and the river. She talked about the difficulties her people have in maintaining their language, since so many of the old people who knew the language as children were sent to boarding schools that tried to erase that language.

Three of the women around the fire belong to our community choir, and it wasn't long before they began singing old folk songs. I sat on the ground, cross-legged, and fed sticks to the fire while their voices rose around me and fireflies came out to dance in the night air.

Solstice fire

June 20, 2007

Rocking chairs, fountains, and magnolia trees

Friendly Green Conference is always held on a college campus rather than in a big, urban hotel. That means that lodging – dorm rooms – is cheap so that starving grad students can come, with all their energy and enthusiasm, and we get all kinds of independent scholars and freelance writers who don't have institutions to fund them. This year, we even offered a camping option, and some Friendly Green Folk set up tents on the grass near the fraternity houses.

I love returning, for a week, to the life of a college student.

Campus living has vastly improved since I was in school. The campus apartment I stayed in with three friends last week included a big living space with hardwood floors, a full kitchen, and a front porch full of white rocking chairs. I came to the conference early to attend a day-long planning session, and when I moved my stuff into the suite, it seemed wonderful but rather empty. That night, I returned to my room to find that the first of my roommates, EcoWoman had arrived. Some of you will recall that EcoWoman was the first woman to ever pose nude for my blog. When I saw her again now, a year and a half later, she was creeping about the building in the dark, picking flowers from bushes and putting them into a brightly coloured paper cup she had stolen from somewhere.

"The place is too bare," she said. "We need to spruce it up."

We stayed up past midnight decorating for the roommates who would be arriving the next day, talking and laughing in the manner of two women who have not gotten enough sleep and are functioning on mere adrenaline. I hung red t-shirts from the curtain rods, pulled a rocking chair in from the porch, dragged a chest of drawers out of one of the bedrooms, and draped bright clothing over chairs. EcoWoman had a glossy magazine she'd read on the plane, and we ripped it apart to hang the pictures everywhere we could. As the week went on, we added little touches: a pile of bright yellow magnolia leaves on the counter, a bunch of red apples, some branches of green leaves tied to the curtain strings, more cups full of flowers. And a few items I don't dare mention because they may have been illegally obtained. We kept inviting friends to come to visit and see the place, which was looking quite cheerful and homey. I suspect that the refrigerator that our upstairs neighbor, Woman With Lovely Voice, had stocked with beer was the real reason they came.

Well, that and our sparkling personalities.

"It's like walking into a cloud of estrogen," Artist Friend said when he walked into the room of chatting, giggling women. I think that was when EcoWoman and I were discussing the aesthetic advantages of draping bras over the curtain rods. I am sure Artist Friend and Philadelphia Friend were just jealous – the room they were sharing in a different dorm was clearly leftover from the seventies – and they stubbornly refused to lend us the chair from their room.

What I especially love about college campuses is that they are designed for conversation: grassy lawns where a group can sit and talk, benches near ponds and fountains for more private conversations, stone steps for gathering in the sun and analyzing the last speaker. This small southern college featured white rocking chairs everywhere, on the porches of our campus apartments and in the pavilion where the musicians gathered at night. The hammock in front of my building, strung between two big trees, was big enough to hold three or four people.

The first day, Warm Bearded Writer showed me the cool place he takes his students. He led me to what looked like a huge hedge of thick glossy green leaves. "Go inside," he said. Ducking under the branches, I walk inside to see the wide, old trunk of a magnolia tree that was growing all around us. Although it was a hot summer day, the cave-like area was shady and cool. And the flowers were in bloom. "I bring my classes here," Warm Bearded Writer said. I could just imagine my own students sitting on the piles of glossy magnolia leaves, fighting over who would get to sit in the tree.

There were only two disadvantages to last week's return to college life. One is that I can no longer handle sleep deprivation as well as I used to. I woke up early every morning to be at breakfast at 7 am, ready for a day of sessions and speakers that began at 8 am and continued into the evening, with a plenary speaker one night who did not begin speaking until after 9:30 pm, and a meeting one night that ended at about 10:30 pm. Then of course, I'd hang out with friends, listening to music, walking downtown for food, finding a bench for a long confidential chat, or even making time for an impromptu reiki session. I kept saying, "I am going to go to bed before midnight one of these nights," but that never happened. My roommates, EcoWoman, Rana, and Activist Woman, were no help at all. Oh, they would tell me to go to bed, and then they'd start talking about something interesting. By the end of the week, I was exhausted and spent the afternoon just lying in the hammock with some friends, talking to each other and anyone who meandered by.

The other problem with campus living was that I am not used to having to carry a key. I never lock anything at home, but the campus apartment had a door that locked automatically. I came out one afternoon to sit on the porch with Artist Friend – and realized as soon as the door shut that I could not get back in. Luckily, Philadelphia Guy came to my rescue by finding my roommate Rana, who had a key.

That experience saved me the next morning. My roommates left for breakfast and I stayed back to take a shower, hoping to look presentable, or at least awake, for the reading I was doing later that day. I stepped outside in my towel, or rather in two ridiculously tiny towels that they had issued me. Apparently the guests at the college must normally be small children because no one else could possible find these towels valuable. Anyhow, that is my routine in the summer: go outside and see what the weather is like before deciding what to wear. So I stepped outside, thinking, "Oh, it's warm here, nice and sunny, I'll wear the skirt – oh FUCK!"

As the door swung shut, I reached and grabbed it just in time. Of course, my friends would have just LOVED it if I had had to go running over to the dining hall wearing nothing but two white hand towels – especially a certain blogging friend who carries her camera at all times, always ready to take a sneaky shot. I think Artist Friend would have teased me about it for the next ten conferences. Knowing my friends, they would probably have refused to lend me keys or clothing, and let me go to my reading naked.

Pseudonymous Blogging Friend

Pseudonymous blogging friend (coughRANAcough)on the steps of the main building on campus, where we would sit in the sun after listening to plenary speakers.

June 19, 2007

Notes from the Naked Blogger

Three bloggers in a hammock

I have a confession to make.

I had my laptop with me all last week. And I was staying on a wired campus. I could have blogged, but I didn't. I allowed myself to be distracted by three-dimensional people.

Of course, bloggers themselves were half the problem. One of my roommates was an evil historian who uses the pseudonym Rana. I've been reading her blog since before I had one myself, and I've had countless silly conversations with her over at Pilgrim's virtual bar. In real life, she looks just like her gravatar and acts just as I expected. She was funny and spontaneous ("Hey, everyone look in this store window and let's vote on which is the ugliest pair of shoes"), she knew how to engage in deep, analytical discussions about plenary speakers or panels, and she was a sympathetic listener who followed my ramblings with perceptive remarks. Her mannerisms were even exactly what I expected: I got to see her do her "happy dance."

High Energy Writer
was another serious distraction. When she met me, she said, "Are you jo(e)? Wait! Turn around so I can see the back of your head and picture you naked." I'd never met her before, but she turned out to be a gorgeous woman who carries the world in her purse and who comes up with hilarious observations about the world around her. She tried, to give her credit, to get me back on track. "What are you doing just sitting here and talking?" she would ask at breakfast. "Shouldn't you be out getting naked photos for your blog? You are falling down on the job!" But then she'd launch into a funny story that involved sex toys and airport security. I can't leave to go to my computer when someone is telling a story about the strange things a security guard did with her umbrella.

South Rockies Blogger, who not surprisingly had all kinds of interesting stories to tell, joined us for several meals, and I have to say that it was wonderful to hang out with a group of bloggers. "It's so nice to be able to talk about blogging without people thinking I'm crazy," I said at the end of one lunch.

"Oh, we think you are crazy, " said High Energy Writer, "but it's got nothing to do with the blog."

I kept thinking that bloggers need a secret signal at these kind of conferences. Perhaps we could open our laptops and draw a fish on the screen. At a party one night, Philadelphia Guy, who knows I blog, introduced me to Cute Australian Blogger Who Takes Fantastic Photographs. (I suspect he would appreciate his pseudonym a whole lot more if it weren't coined by someone old enough to be his mother.) And Dandelion Diva came to our session on blogging, where we bloggers outed ourselves to all kinds of non-bloggers. At that session, when High Energy Writer was happily pulled up our blogs on the screen to show to the crowd, it did occur to me that having a post up with a naked photo of myself on the day I outed myself to some of my academic colleagues was perhaps poor timing.

But I blame my blogging friends for giving me the undeserved reputation of the naked blogger. (Or the nekkid blogger, as my southern conference friends would say. Why is that everything sounds better in a southern acccent?) Their chatter caused the strangest phenomenon. All week, women kept coming up to me and volunteering to pose naked for the blog. I'd be standing in line in the dining hall, and a woman with a Friendly Green nametag would come up to me and say, "When's the nude photo shoot? I'm ready."

But our ambitions were too high. "Hey, Mississippi Poet is staying in a B&B with a huge bathtub. We could put a dozen nekkid women in there." Or "How about all of us naked in rocking chairs on the porch?" Bloggers and Non-bloggers alike kept volunteering to pose, but we never did find the right combination of camera, natural light, and naked women. You know, it's harder than you think to get a bunch of naked women together in one place when there's this whole academic conference going on.

Interestingly enough, no man volunteered to pose naked. Artist Friend said, "I'm certainly willing to take the photo," but when we said that the photographer had to be naked, he gave us a look of horror. Philadelphia Guy said he needs tenure first. Other men smiled and said nothing, and then quickly started talking about sports or books.

Rana, High Energy Writer, and I had scaled down our plans and were going to settle for a naked threesome — three naked women in a hammock. We were discussing possible angles when Philadelphia Guy appeared and offered to take the shot.

It is harder than you think to remove clothes when you are in a hammock full of wriggling women. Rana was so triumphant at getting her socks off that she threw them nearly twenty feet into the air. Philadelphia Guy, who really had no clue what we were trying to achieve, began taking photos as soon as he saw the first bit of bare flesh. I think he was a bit disconcerted by the raucous encouragement, "Come on, Philadelphia Guy. Work it, baby!" He took a few shots with my camera, then switched to the other cameras we'd hung about his neck. We chided him for going too slow and missing some key action shots.

"I am not a photographer," he protested.
"We're going to change your pseudonym to Slow Hand," one woman called out.

The discussion of his new pseudonym led to such hilarity that he began snapping away like crazy. I cannot tell you what happened next, as I must protect the bloggers involved in the photo shoot. Really, it was nothing bloggable. Nothing any of my readers would be interested in. The session ended with three women, fully clothed, rocking sedately on the porch of our campus apartment, discussing books and politics.

Sedate bloggers

Four bloggers on a bridge

Four bloggers on a bridge

I can assure you that these strangely misshapen bloggers are all fully clothed.

Photo by High Energy Writer, who carries her camera everywhere.

June 18, 2007

Hanging With Friendly Green Folk

Friendly Green Association is a young organization: our first conference was held in 1995. The first Friendly Green Conference I went to was in 1997, and I remember it well, a conference held on a campus high in the mountains of the northwest, with all kinds of amazing discussions and speakers, and wonderful field trips that included whitewater rafting. I met writers, scientists, activists, and scholars. I especially remember the gatherings we had in the evening, when Friendly Green Folk pulled out guitars and harmonicas and bottles of wine and played far into the night. Warm Bearded Writer says that after that conference he went home and said to his wife, "I've found my tribe."

And that pretty much captures how I feel about Friendly Green Folk. We aren't just an academic association, we are a community. Between conferences, we keep in touch with emails and phone calls. We send each other our writing and our ideas. We edit each other's stuff, we talk about our personal lives, we give each other support and affirmation. When I see a Friendly Green Folk at some other conference, it's like running into a cousin. And our biannual conference feel, more than anything else, like a family reunion, filled with hugs and smiles and laughter, with shared confidences in moments snatched between sessions, with meals that include so much banter and raucous behavior that one of the food service staff asked me, "Did y'all sneak in some beer or something?"

It's not that we all agree on things, or that we don't, as group, have our share of eccentric personalities. In fact, quite the opposite. I'd say we have an unusually high percentage of stubborn and opinionated individuals, and we come from different cultures. If you watch Friendly Green Folk arriving at the airport, you will see some folks wearing blazers and carrying laptops, while others sport tie-dye shirts and birkenstocks, with guitars slung over their shoulders. I have one friend who stayed at an upscale Bed & Breakfast place a mile from campus, and another who pitched his tent near the frat houses. And like any group of people who live in close quarters for a whole week, we have our share of emotional drama.

What we have in common, though, simply overrides cultural differences or personal tensions: we are a group of people passionately concerned about the way that our species is destroying the natural world.

The plenary speaker who opened the conference was one of my heroes, Writer Who Warned Us About Global Warming Years Ago. He's just a normal guy, like someone you'd run into in the grocery store, but he says things that make profound sense. Because of weather and some kind of issue with air traffic control, most of the planes in the northeast were grounded the afternoon he was travelling to the conference. He made his first flight, but then the plane just sat on the tarmac. He got off the plane and into a rental car, and called to tell the conference organizer that he was driving as fast as humanly possible. When he finally entered the big conference room at about 9:30 pm, we all cheered.

Our conferences are always held on a college campus, and this year, we were at a small college in the south. All week we wandered the campus and the town, and everywhere we went, we were treated with warmth and friendliness. Everyone seemed to recognize that the nametags marked us as kin to Warm Bearded Writer and Gorgeous Scientist, the two faculty members who were hosting the conference. And our reputation preceded us. The maintenance men who were fixing something in my building the first day came in to show me how to turn off the air conditioning and teased me the way they would a cousin or sister. "You're one of them tree huggers, right?"

One night, a certain carefree group of Friendly Green Folk, tempted by the warm night air, decided to go skinny dipping in one of the fountains. They'd stripped off clothes and were cavorting in the water when a campus security guard strolled by, and stopped to ask, a bit suspiciously, "What are y'all doin'?"

"We're from Friendly Green," one of the naked bathers said as way of explanation.

"Friendly Green?" he said. He relaxed his posture and waved his hand. "Ah, have fun."


How many bloggers can fit into a hammock?

Coming up next: how many bloggers can fit into a hammock?

June 11, 2007

On the road again

After less than 24 hours home, I am off on another trip, this time by myself, flying south. I am heading to my favorite conference.

I've been looking forward to this conference for months. I'll be going to sessions to talk about books and ideas, about teaching and writing, about environmental issues and feminism. I will get to meet some of my favorite writers. In the evenings, friends will bring out guitars and harmonicas for a jam session, and we'll stay up late, talking and listening to music.

I'll be seeing friends I made on a whitewater rafting trip I took summer before last, and friends I've know for years. Artist Friend will be there! I am rooming with three very cool women, at least one of whom has agreed to pose naked for the blog. The week will include several blogger meet-ups.

The conference will begin with all kinds of happy reunions and end on Saturday with a raft trip. I am looking forward to all kinds of great conversations.

June 10, 2007

The traditional nude photo

Silhouette

Early in the week, I explained to my husband that since he was at a conference, we were — in essence — conference roommates. And that meant, of course, that he had to pose naked for my blog. It's a tradition, I explained. Other roommates have.

Of course, I knew it wouldn't happen. My husband, who has a different kind of job than I do, guards his privacy. And I've respected that by keeping information about him off the blog. I don't think anyone he works with would ever recognize him from my blog. I haven't so much as posted a photo of the back of his head. Yes, you can see his feet in the last photo I posted but no one he works with ever sees him barefoot so I think I'm safe.

There is little chance that Spouse will ever consent to a photo of himself on the blog. He was completely willing, however, to take a photo of me. Well, maybe not completely willing. But I handed him my camera, and he obliged. Spouse has little patience for photography. In fact, during our hikes he was heard to mutter, "How many photos of mountains do we need?" So I knew we would have to take the photo quickly.

Me: How about a classic shot? A silhouette in front of the windows?
Him: Okay. Which button do I press?
Me: The round silver one. How's this?
Him: It's uh ... well, it's a good shot but ....
Me: Did you take one? Let me see.
Him: You look ...
Me: Naked.
Him: Yeah.
Me: It's more than a silhouette.
Him: Maybe you need a towel.
Me: Yeah, toss me that towel.
Him: Okay, this is good.
Me: Damn! Wait a minute. Stupid towel.
Him: Stop dancing around, and it won't keep falling off.
Me: But I want it to look natural.
Him: No, this isn't posed. Not. At. All.
Me: Just because it's posed doesn't mean it has to look posed.
Him: Hey, I can see your reflection.
Me: Argh. This towel won't stay up.
Him: Uh, you might need a second towel.
Me: What?
Him: Well, your breasts are in the photo now.
Me: What?
Him: In the reflection. In the window. I can see nipples. And your face.
Me: MY FACE?
Him: Your face? That's what you're worried about?
Me: I don't show faces on the blog. It's a tradition.
Him: I'll move this way and see if I can lose the reflection.
Me: Just take the photo. I'll just crop out the reflection.
Him: Stop moving.
Me: But I want it to look natural.
Him: What's with the hands? You look like a tree!
Me: I'm greeting the sun.
Him: Whatever.
Me: Are we done?
Him: I am.

Through the window

Window

Usually when my husband and I travel, we stay in a tent or a cheap hotel, crowded in with all the kids, but for this trip, my husband was attending a conference, and the conference was held at a luxury hotel. It's the first time we've ever stayed in such a place. It's not the lifestyle I'd choose – the waste of resources would make me feel guilty – but it was certainly worthwhile to experience that lifestyle. You know how in movies people stay in fancy hotels where they put on white bathrobes? This place actually gave us thick white bathrobes. We'd come back from a hike, wet and muddy, and the first thing I'd do is strip off all my clothes and put on the white bathrobe so that I could just lounge about in one of the comfy chairs by the window like a character in a movie.

Of course, some of the services in the hotel seemed kind of strange. We returned from an evening walk one night to find the bedcovers on the bed pulled back and the drapes drawn. My husband's first thought was: "Wait, we walked into the wrong room." My first thought was: "Someone has been here! Did they take anything?" Then we saw the chocolate mints on the pillows and a note explaining that "Melissa" had performed the "turn-down" service for us. I have to say, I think it's a little weird to think that we would have been unable to pull back the bedcovers ourselves, but I am entirely in favor of the tradition of passing out chocolates.

The best part of the hotel was simply the incredible view we had out the window. We spent hours just snuggling in the comfy chairs by the windows and watching the mountains. The mists and rainclouds would roll across the slopes, shifting what we could see, and in the late afternoon, the sun sent shadows across the landscape. In the evening, the sky turned dark blue, and the mountains become dark silhouettes.

View from the window

The view through the window.

Lakes, Beautiful Lakes

Famous lake

Thursday afternoon we drove to Famous Lake With a Woman's Name. Many years ago, my Aunt Seashell had visited this lake; she said it was one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. And the lake was just incredibly beautiful, with green water that reminded me of Pretty Colour Lake back at home, surrounded by stark mountains of rock and ice. But the shoreline was filled with tourists, so we found a quiet hiking trail that took us up a steep wooded slope.

One of the cool things about hiking in the mountains is that you get to walk through different microclimates, areas that have different vegetation based on the such things as elevation and which way the slope faces. At the higher elevations, we hiked into snow. A small lake nestled into the top of the mountain was still mostly frozen, although the snow and ice were melting everywhere, with streams and waterfalls rushing through the woods everywhere we went. The air was warm enough for a t-shirt, but we slipped and slid through snowbanks on our way back down the trail. I kept thinking how fun it would be to come down on a plastic toboggan.

The hiking trails smelled wonderful everywhere we went: stands of Douglas fir, western red cedar, and spruce. On Friday, we hiked around a lake into a basin that reminded me of the southwest desert. The low area wasn't yet covered with plants: it was mostly bare with a few stunted trees just clinging to the soil. We'd been hiking in a misty rain earlier in the day, so when the sun came out from behind a cloud, we took the time to sit down in all that sunshine and soak in the heat.

Lakeshore

Melting

Mountain stream

All week in the mountains, I was conscious of snow melting, water rushing down the rocky slopes. We hiked to the sound of a water crashing down over rock and small streams trickling down across trails. Parts of the town were flooded, with the muddy water of the river sweeping underneath trees and benches.

In one town we stopped in, the lone grocery store was closing. The young woman putting a sign up on the front door explained that the power was out because of the flood. She asked us what we needed and then let us into the store so that we could peer into the dark coolers and choose from the bottles of juice. The staff, mostly high school aged, were standing around the check-out counter talking happily about the power outage and whether or not they would be cleaning out the freezer in the morning.

I have to say that everyone we met on this trip was almost ridiculously friendly. It happened over and over again. Someone would give me a big smile and a warm hello, and I'd think, "Do I know this person? A former student? Someone I went to school with?" But then I'd hear the accent and realize that I didn't know the person at all. It seems like it is somehow just a custom in this part of the world to greet everyone like an old friend.

Perhaps it's the mountains that makes everyone so friendly. I can imagine you'd feel safe and secure if you lived with those mountains. They were present all the time, even when the mists rolled in. Even when I looked into the waters of the lake, I'd see those rocky peaks reflected there.

Reflection

June 08, 2007

Morning walk

Mountain lake

The first lake we came across was spectacularly beautiful, with green water that sparkled in the sunlight. The air was still cool and moist, so the sunlight felt good as we walked the rocky beach and sat on big pieces of driftwood to talk and plan our day. We hiked the trail around the lake, a winding path that disappeared at times under streams of water rushing down into the lake. It was a wonderful way to begin the day, breathing in moist air that smelled like Christmas trees and catching glimpse after glimpse of the gorgeous green water. At the far end of the lake, we sat in the sun by a rushing stream until a horde of mosquitoes got us up and moving again.

Rushing water

In the sky

As we drove off to explore the lakes and trails of this region, the rain stopped and the skies began to clear. We could see the low-lying mountains, covered with dark green trees, the conifers silhouetted against the thick clouds. But as the clouds began to pull away, the mists dissolving in sunlight, rocky mountains began to appear high in the sky. It was as if tall castles had appeared out of nowhere.

Mountain road

June 06, 2007

Falling water

Waterfall

I spent yesterday afternoon hiking along a river that cut through a canyon of mossy rocks. Both the misty rain and the spray from the tumbling whitewater kept me cool as I walked, and the noise from the churning river kept me company. Near the waterfall at the very top of the trail, the wind and spray surrounded me, soaked me, and made the whole world blur.

Normally, hiking in the rain means stripping off wet clothes in a small tent that smells like wet sneakers and trying to dry my stuff over a campfire. It was certainly a different kind of experience to come back to the luxury hotel where my husband's conference was – where a long day of hiking could end with a hot shower, delicious squash soup served in a dining room that looked out over the mountains, a dry comfy bed with a percale sheets, and a warm husband who was eager to hear about my day's adventures.

Other creatures

Although I was hiking by myself for the first two days in the mountains, I was never completely alone. Through the trees, I could hear birdsong, even though I often couldn't identify the birds. I saw humans sometimes, mostly young people who reminded me of my students, in pairs or groups of three. The other hikers I met were mostly men in their thirties, alone and eager to talk, giving me all kinds of helpful advice about what trails to take. One trail near a popular waterfall was filled with people of all ages, including a woman who was hiking with her mother and her daughter: we stopped to chat. A young woman who went by me at such a fast clip that I barely had time to read the back of her t-shirt. The words were upside down so it took me a moment to read them: "If you can read this, pull me back onto the raft!"

I saw wildlife too. Without my mother or Artist Friend or Signing Friend with me, I couldn't even begin to identify the many birds that swooped past. Tracks and scat in muddy clearings let me know that large creatures lived nearby. I saw deer, including one grazing on a lawn in town, mountain goats climbing about a rocky summit, and an elk that ambled along a path, chewing on the bushes that grew near the edge.

Wildlife

Walking through clouds

Mist

Our first morning in the Town That Sounds Like Batman's Punch, clouds descended upon us, hiding the tops of the mountains, curling about behind the tallest pine trees, creating a shifting, mysterious landscape. When the mist would move, I'd catch glimpses of mountains, covered with green trees at the lower levels but capped with grey rock and white ice.

For the first two days of our trip, my husband has been attending a conference. So yesterday we had breakfast together at 7 am, and he went off to early morning sessions, while I put on my hiking boots, took the rental car, and spent the day hiking. Even though I enjoy hiking with family and friends, I also love having the luxury of exploring a new region all by myself. I'd brought all kinds of maps and guidebooks, but in the end, I just drove around, never entirely sure where I was (I am terrible at directions), and parked at any trailhead that looked promising. I'd agreed to save the most famous sights for later in the week when my husband would be joining me, so on my own, I explored the trails less travelled.

Cool overcast weather is wonderful for hiking. The first trail I took wound through stands of Douglas firs, and the moist air smelled like at Christmas tree lot. Sometime the sun would peek out, and shadows would fall across the trail. Other times, a light misty rain would fall, the drops falling on my bare arms, cooling me down. I saw rivers that churned white as they rushed through rock, waterfalls that crashed down through mossy canyons, groves of aspen overlooking meadows where moose graze, and forests of lodgepole pine growing on steep slopes. Always, I could feel the presence of the mountains around me, their rocky slopes coming into focus any time the mist cleared.

Dark clouds

On our way

On Monday, the alarm clock rang at 4 am. With great effort, I woke up Boy in Black, who had lost the coin flip with his sister and had to drive his parents to the airport for our early morning flight. I think he'd only been asleep for an hour, but he pulled his sneakers on sleepily and trudged out to the car. We arrived at the airport while it was still dark, checked in, made our way to the gate, and congratulated ourselves for making it on time. Then a woman with a navy blue uniform and obnoxiously cheerful voice announced that the flight might be delayed. The plane was here – we could see it out the window – but apparently there were "mechanical problems."

to For two hours, we sat at the gate, eating the food I had in my backpack and comparing notes with other passengers about what connections we were all going to miss. The dark sky outside the window grow lighter. The plane was still sitting there, and I couldn't see any activity whatsoever. Where were all the mechanics racing to fix it?

Finally, Official Woman in Navy Blue, who had spent the last two hours lying to people about how they were going to make their connections in Big Midwestern City because somehow the hour time difference would make up for any kind of delay, got tired of the whole scene and disappeared down the ramp into the airplane. When she came back, she announced cheerfully that she had talked to the pilot and had good news. "He is going to fire up the engines and see if they work."

Other passengers took this news calmly, but I stared at her in horror. We were about to get on a plane that would be hurtling thousands of feet above the earth. I was hoping for some kind of assurance that the mechanical problems might actually be fixed and that the plane was in good working order before we did something as foolish as fly up into the sky.

My husband seemed calmer about the whole thing than I was and convinced me to get on the plane, which did take us safely to Big Midwestern City, where of course we missed our connection. Official Woman in Navy Blue had managed to get us on another flight though, and soon enough, we had landed in Maple Leaf Country and were in a rental car, driving towards the mountains.


On our way

June 03, 2007

Traveling

Tracks

As most of my readers know, I've lived in the same place my whole life. Perhaps that's why traveling always seems so exciting to me. I love to explore new landscapes, investigate other cultures, and imagine what life is like for people and creatures who live somewhere else. Sometimes when my house is quiet, I can hear the trains going by on the railroad tracks at the end of my road. I like to imagine the passengers going past, east and south to the Big City Like No Other, or west to the Big Midwestern City and beyond. When my kids were small, I didn't get to do much traveling – it seems like I was always breastfeeding a child, so we mostly did local camping trips – but now that my kids have gotten older, I take advantage of every opportunity to see just a little bit more of the world.

Tomorrow, I'll be traveling with my husband to the Town in the Canadian Rockies That Sounds Like a Bad Eighties Band. We'll be exploring a mountain region famous for its beautiful lakes, vast icefields, natural hot springs, and incredible vistas. We'll be hiking in mountains that are home to elk and mountain goats, woodland caribou and bighorn sheep, wolves and grizzly bears, cougars and lynx. I'm packing everything from my raingear to my hiking boots to my silkiest lingerie, tossing in dramamine for good measure. I am ready for whatever the week brings.

June 02, 2007

Pottery Amidst the Ferns

Plates

One of the nice things about having so many artists amongst my friends and family is that I end up going to cool art shows. This weekend, my friend Quilt Artist let us know that a booth of her fabric art would be displayed at a neighborhood art show, so Long Beautiful Hair, Reiki Woman, and I spent the morning walking around in the sunshine, looking at art.

Tents and booths were set up on the front lawns and paved driveways of the beautiful old houses in the hills near the university, a section of town famously populated by artists, writers, musicians, and aging hippies. We began at Quilt Artist's booth, helping her set up her work: gorgeous hanging quilts, framed fabric art, and beautifully designed cards, along with quilted potholders, purses, and pillows. I am used to looking at Quilt Artist's work – she will often show me her latest quilt when I am at her house – but it's always amazing to see so much of it gathered together. I know well how much time and creative energy all those colours and fabrics represented.

Most artists I know are avid gardeners, and many of the driveways we visited were surrounded by lush, front yard gardens, just bursting with colour. The coolest place was owned by a woman famous for her pottery. Her entire backyard was a carefully kept garden, complete with stone paths, a water lily pond, and a small fountain the gurgled and splashed. She had put up makeshift tables throughout the yard, and her pottery was displayed amongst the ferns and flowers. Reiki Woman, Long Beautiful Hair, and I just kept wandering through, overwhelmed by the both the garden and the artwork.

Finally, we had to leave. Family obligations tugged. Reiki Woman had to take her son to a friend's house, Long Beautiful Hair had to take her daughter to a softball game, and I was heading to a party for my mother-in-law's 80th birthday. We took a quick walk through park that features themost incredible rose garden and then stopped back to give Quilt Artist another round of hugs and compliments.

"It's nice to get together, even if it's just for a couple of hours," said Long Beautiful Hair, as we all parted to go our separate ways. "We have to steal time whenever we can."

Pottery amidst the ferns

June 01, 2007

Dawn of the Dead

I hate shopping for clothes; I'd join a nudist colony in a heartbeat if it weren't for such things as mosquitoes and poison ivy. But I'll be traveling for the next two weeks, and my trip will include an academic conference and some formal occasions where nudity is not exactly the social norm. I looked through my closet to see what I could pack and found – well, not much at all. My summer wardrobe consists mostly of cotton shirts, denim shorts, and a bathing suit. My daughter looked at me incredulously when I tried on the shoes I wore to a summer conference two years ago.

Daughter: Are you serious?
Me: What?
Daughter: You can't wear those.
Me: They're sandals. People wear sandals with skirts.
Daughter: I don't care what you plan on wearing those with. Skirt, shorts, lingerie - you just can't.
Me: Why not?
Daughter: They're so...what's the word I'm looking for...religious.
Me: Huh?
Daughter: You know, like Jesus of Nazareth sandals.
Me: Really?
Daughter: Really.
Me (producing a pair of shoes): Okay, here's my other option. How about –
Daughter: Good God. Where did you get those?
Me: I don't remember. It was years ago.
Daughter: They are just so awful.
Me: You don't like them?
Daughter (shielding her eyes with her hands): God, those really are awful. No seriously, I don't even know what else to say.
Me: Well, I think I bought these before you were born.
Daughter (sarcastically): Really? I couldn't tell by looking at them.
Me: Well, this sole has kind of crumbled away, but the other one's still intact.
Daughter (rolling her eyes): You want to drive to Big Mall Named After Horses that Bob Up and Down — or should I?

Luckily, my daughter is an efficient woman who is able to guide me through the confusing mall. She patiently listened to my standard complaints about the kind of clothes that we saw in some of the stores. I tried to keep my rants to a minimum, but it's hard to stay silent when I see stores selling expensive jeans with ugly wrinkles at the tops of the legs or holes in the legs or worn spots on the butt. Why would anyone pay money for the kind of clothes most reasonable people would wear when they paint the garage?

Smart Wonderful Beautiful Daughter rolled her eyes when I picked out a brown shirt that looks exactly like the last five brown shirts I've owned. Well, there was one difference. As we stood in line at the cash registers, she noticed the monogramming.

Daughter: Do you mind the initial?
Me: Is it a letter? I wondered what that was.
Daughter: It's the letter G.
Me: G for great? G for goddess?
Young Man at Register: Swipe.
Me: (Trying hard to think of a goddess named Swipe.)What?
Young Man: You can swipe now.
Me: Swipe? That doesn't begin with G.
Daughter: He means swipe your credit card.
Me: What?
Daughter: Through the machine.
Me: Oh, right.

Really, I am not as clueless as this makes me sound. The young man at the register was soft-spoken and had made no gesture toward the credit card I was holding. My daughter was laughing, but the unsympathetic young man, who was young enough to be one of my sons but not nearly smart enough, told me helpfully that the G stood for the name of the store. Did he think I didn't know that? Sheesh.

With my daughter at my side, I braved a shoe store and several clothing stores, before we went to reward ourselves with a pretzel and lemonade. I bought a skirt, two shirts, and a pair of summer shoes that seem comfy. I'm good now for another twenty years.