August 31, 2009

Three decades later

“I can’t believe it’s been 30 years.”

That was the line everyone kept saying. I graduated from high school in a class of about 500 so I didn’t recognize everyone at the reunion, but almost everyone at least looked familiar. Some of us who stayed in town have sent kids through the same high school, and how strange it is that we have kids who are older than we used to be.

The most surprising thing was that people hadn’t changed all that much. The upbeat, enthusiastic boy? He is now an upbeat, enthusiastic man. “I’ve been a firefighter for 20 years now, and I love it.” The nice girl who sat behind me on the bus who was friendly to everyone? She was hugging former classmates and saying, “Let me see photos of your family.” The kid who thought obnoxious jokes were funny? Yep, he still does.

For the most part, I thought the class of ’79 looked better than they did in high school. A big part of it, I suppose, it that they were no longer wearing platform shoes and tight disco shirts. And of course, we’re about 48 years old now – with aging eyes. That kind of fuzzy vision is flattering to all of us. Mostly, though, it was cool to see how self-assured and self-confident everyone was – not afraid to be themselves. That’s something that comes from age and experience

Architect Friend and I walked around the crowd, peering at nametags and comparing notes. “Have you seen Lacrosse Player Kid? Did Woman Who Moved to DC come back for this?”

I was disappointed that Kid With Great Sense of Humor hadn’t made it to the reunion. “I thought he’d be here,” I said to Architect Friend. “He was our class president.”

“I didn’t know that position was for life.”

That’s the funny thing about class reunions: you can’t escape the roles you played back then. Kid With Great Sense of Humor will always be the class president to me.

Friends kept introducing me to their spouses in exactly the way they had for four years of high school. “Here’s jo(e). She’s our valedictorian.” They started saying that when I was only in ninth grade, and all through high school, that label made me cringe. It was the 70s, and being smart carried a negative stigma, especially for a girl in a conservative community. It wasn’t until college that I felt okay about being academically gifted.

But at 48, it’s a different story. I just laughed every time someone said, “This is jo(e), the smartest girl in our class.” I love that after 30 years, they fully expected me to fulfill that role. There’s something sweet about being part of a community who still think of me as a teenager, who half-expected me to walk in wearing bell bottoms and a red velour shirt.

August 30, 2009


“I gotta tell you something,” said Little Biker Boy, my eight-year-old neighbor. We were sitting on the front porch as usual, me drinking my morning cup of tea and him running lego cars up and down the step. He paused dramatically. “The other morning when I came over, there was a snake on your front porch. Right here.”

“What happened when you walked up?”

“It went right away – fast!”

Like most kids, Little Biker Boy is fascinated with snakes. The ones that live in this region are harmless – mostly just garter snakes or common water snakes. And they do sometimes sun themselves on rocks or roadways or the concrete step to a house.

So when I went for a walk with Little Biker Boy and Ponytail, we looked for snakes. We found a small one, hiding in the cracks of some cement blocks near a neighbor’s driveway. And then in another spot, where Little Biker Boy told me he’d seen a bigger snake, we found crumpled skin, coiled around a post.

Little Biker Boy held the snakeskin carefully in his hands and carried it back to my house, where it’s now sitting amongst the toys and lego blocks on my front porch.


August 29, 2009


I kept telling myself that a clean house would be the silver lining. Just think, I told myself this morning, how clean the house will be without a whole gang of teenagers and young people hanging out here, making food in the middle of the night and playing poker and taking off their wet Ultimate clothes and tossing crumpled white socks everywhere.

Boy in Black moved up to campus this morning. He packed his stuff – a laundry basket full of clothes, a cardboard box of desk stuff, his disc bag, some bedding and his laptop computer – into the trunk of the car and drove off. He’s pretty casual about moving. Unless you count his musical instruments, almost everything he owns – the stuff he considers important – fits into his backpack or his disc bag.

My plan was to clean the whole house this weekend once the three older kids had moved out. I thought it would feel satisfying, somehow, to have the whole house clean.

I started with the bathrooms while my husband went out to get a new part for the vacuum cleaner. We break vacuum cleaners more often than anyone I know. I have no idea why. Unless it has something to do with the amount of odd things that get sucked into the machine: poker chips, wire hangers, granola bars, whole socks, sometimes. I didn’t clean all day – I played with the neighbor kids for a little while this morning and went over to my parents’ house in the afternoon because they need my laptop to burn some CDs. But still, this evening, the house is already looking cleaner.

The bathroom that I cleaned this morning? It’s still clean, hours later. The kitchen floor that I washed? It’s still clean, hours later.

But this all feels way less satisfying than I thought it would. I keep looking around the house for my daughter, wanting to ask her something, and it takes me a few minutes to realize that she’s not here. Shaggy Hair Boy is my most extroverted and expressive child: his absence changes the energy in the house. I keep expecting to hear some jazz piano music coming from the living room. Usually, when I’m working at my desk, I take breaks to go sit in the living room and just hang out, and it’s strange to have the room so empty. I keep expecting to find Boy in Black’s long body stretched on the couch, or Shaggy Hair Boy looking up with a grin as he tells me some random thing he just noticed.

I’m living with two quiet introverts – my husband and With-a-Why. They are currently sitting on the living room floor, absorbed in a game of chess. They can play chess for hours and hardly say anything the whole time.

It might take me a while to get used to this.

August 27, 2009

Moving day

It took only a few minutes to carry Shaggy Hair Boy’s stuff into his dorm room. He packed last night by shoving his clothes into a couple of laundry baskets without even removing the hangers so it was easy to just hang everything in his closet. Then I made his bed while he piled office supplies onto his desk. His roommate, whom he’d been texting, was at band practice so we didn’t have a chance to meet him.

“It’s probably better that we aren’t here when he meets his roommate for the first time,” said my daughter. “That way, Kid From Southern State can avoid the awkward conversation you have when you meet someone’s parent.” She was probably right. Besides, meeting all of us can be kind of overwhelming. Better to introduce the kid to us slowly.

We walked across campus to find Skater Boy and see his dorm room, which looked pretty much like any other dorm room. Except he did have some cool posters on the wall. And a nice view of the cemetery. Then we left Shaggy Hair Boy and Skater Boy to wander around Snowstorm University together. Saying goodbye to them seemed kind of anti-climatic: they’re living about 12 miles from our home. Boy in Black didn’t need to say goodbye at all: he’ll see Shaggy Hair Boy at Ultimate practice since they’re both on the Snowstorm University team.

Once we got back to the house, we piled my daughter’s stuff into the car: we’d moved most of her stuff ten days ago, but she had a few more things to bring: a painting my father was lending her, a book shelf she’d put together last night, some office supplies we’d bought. She and I talked as we drove and listened to music, and the 150 miles went by fast.

Since Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter won’t have a car while she’s living in Bison City, we went to the grocery store before I made the drive home. We’re both so used to buying massive amounts of food for the household that it seemed very strange to buy food for just one person. We had to keep putting stuff back. But we tried to buy her a semester’s worth of anything that wouldn’t spoil.

We talked while we were shopping, and it seemed like we kept getting in the way of people who were trying to move up and down the aisles – we are both kind of oblivious when we’re talking. Then at the cash register, we somehow managed to break the credit card machine, which totally flustered the kid who was ringing us up.

I thought it would feel strange to drive home alone, but it was actually fine. I kept thinking about Shaggy Hair Boy, starting his first year of college, and my daughter, just starting grad school, and I felt too excited for them to feel very sad about them moving out. I arrived home just as my husband and With-a-Why were getting home; they’d decided to get pizza and watch a movie together for a little father-son bonding. Boy in Black and First Extra haven’t yet moved into their campus apartment, so they are both here, playing cards. And Blue-eyed Ultimate Player – whom we all love -- has returned, back for his junior year at Snowstorm University. Philosophical Boy, who is still in high school, arrived a few minutes ago to make a fourth for cards.

I’m listening to their chatter – mostly about Ultimate and music – while they play, jumping into the conversation whenever I can.

“You writing a blog post?” Blue-eyed Ultimate Player just asked me. “Make it funny.”

“I’m too tired to be funny,” I told him. “I just drove 150 miles.”

I explained to him that I’m not naturally funny: I have to work at it. To prove it, I looked over at Boy in Black and First Extra. “How many times have I said something funny? I mean, in real life?”

They both answered at the same time. “Twice.”

I went back to typing stuff on my computer, checking on facebook to see updates from my daughter and my niece. Then Boy in Black called Shaggy Hair Boy, putting him on speaker phone so we could all listen to him.

So far I’m handling this whole empty nest thing just fine.

August 25, 2009

Summer of the hammock

Summer of the hammock

When I came home from my west coast trip this June, the first thing I noticed was the hammock in our living room.

It would be hard NOT to notice the hammock. One end touched the drum set on the west wall, and the other end reached over the couch on the east wall. The sides of the hammock brushed so close to the piano that I couldn’t walk through the room.

The kids thought that having a hammock jammed right in the middle of the living room was a fine arrangement. Always, one or two or even three of them would be lounging on the hammock, balanced precariously beneath the orange tree. I’d come home in the afternoon and find Quick or Skater Boy just chilling in the hammock. Every morning, I’d find Shaggy Hair Boy or Boy in Black asleep in the hammock. When I’d talk about moving the hammock outside where it belonged, the kids acted like I was proposing something ridiculous.

“What? The hammock adds MORE seating space to the living room.”
“It was just wasted space anyhow. No one uses the space in the middle of a room.”
"Move it outside? No one wants to sit outside when everyone's in here."
“It’s raining. It’ll get wet.”

One day, I got fed up with how messy the living room was, and I moved the hammock outside. It was With-a-Why’s summer chore to clean the living room, and I figured that he could vacuum more thoroughly without that awkward contraption in the middle of the room. Besides, I told myself, a hammock really does belong outside.

Late that night, Quick began cleaning the living room – and rearranging the furniture to make room for the hammock. I couldn’t stop him; Quick is such a nice guy that is impossible to say no to him. Besides, it’s my policy never to stop a teenager who is cleaning my house. He was even vacuuming the hard-to-reach places that With-a-Why routinely ignored.

Sometime after midnight, the kids carried the hammock back in.

They explained to me the next morning that my logic was faulty. The reason the living room was such a mess had nothing to do with the hammock, and everything to do with With-a-Why being the baby of the family. Sadly, this was probably true.

The kids figured out that they could keep the hammock in the living room by doing a bunch of cleaning to appease me whenever I started getting frustrated with the lack of space. So the hammock stayed in the house for the month of July. I didn’t move it out again until August when it was time to start looking ahead to fall.

This week my household is dispersing, with three of my kids and most of my extra kids heading off to college and grad school. Even as I write this, Blonde Niece is on her way to City Famous for Baked Beans and Tea Parties. I’ll miss always having a gang of young people in my house – some lounging on the hammock, a bunch crowded onto the couch, some throwing discs across the room, some playing poker at the table, some at the stove making strange, huge pancakes. I’m going to miss the chatter, the jokes, and the energy. I might even miss the hammock.


That's Shaggy Hair Boy in the top photo, and Boy in Black in the bottom one.

August 24, 2009

Up a creek

Ready for winter

My mother and I both like to paddle up the creek that winds its way through the cattails. My mother is a great person to canoe with: she never complains when I get distracted by the view and forget to steer, she is willing to go off and investigate whatever odd things we come across, and she’s very patient when I stop paddling altogether to take my camera out of the dry bag. Unlike the rest of my family, she doesn’t say things like, “Don’t you already have a photo of a water lily?”

We took the left fork of the creek because we wanted to see where the beavers had built their lodge for the winter. Sure enough, as we came around a curve, we saw the big pile of mud and sticks, a thick home where the beavers could raise their young. As we paddled up to the lodge, my mother said, “Hey, look! A snake.”

If snakes symbolize change, seeing this creature was entirely appropriate. My life will be changing dramatically this week as my three oldest kids, plus about a dozen extras, go off to college and grad school, leaving me home with just my husband and With-a-Why.

The water snake lay stretched across the top of the beaver lodge, sunning herself in this dry, sheltered spot. Lumps in her thick body indicated she’d just eaten. I stood up in the canoe to take a photo, and when I touched a stick on the lodge, just to keep my balance, the vibration got her attention. She raised her head and her tongue flicked the warm breeze.


That’s my mother in the top photo.

Water lily in August

Water lily in August

August 23, 2009

Into the river

During the last week or so, temperatures have gone up into the 90s, and my house has resembled a tropical rainforest. Except without the canopy of wonderful plants and colorful singing birds and cool green light. One small fan, which we move from room to room, is completely inadequate during an August heat wave.

My daughter’s last day of work for the summer was Thursday. So early Friday morning, she and I tossed our bathing suits and toothbrushes into the car and drove up to camp for a couple of days. My parents were already there, enjoying the shade of the oak trees and the breeze that comes off the river.

The hot August days that can be so miserable at home take the icy chill off the river water. Sailor Boy, who is stationed with the Coast Guard up on the river, joined us for a swim. At our favorite island, we jumped into the deep water, swimming out to rocks where we could sun ourselves and climbing up onto my father’s boat, which was anchored nearby.

Island swim

The two figures on the island are my parents. That’s my daughter on my father’s sailboat and Sailor Boy swimming alongside it.

August 20, 2009

On that note


We’ve been to his piano recitals, where he plays classical musical in a way that’s moving -- and flawless. We’ve seen a DVD of him performing as the timpanist for an orchestra that included the best young musicians in the northeast. We watched him in the high school variety show, where he appeared on stage again and again, acting in comedy skits, doing a drum solo, and playing a stirring rendition of Clare de Lune on the piano. He’s an incredible athlete who makes dramatic throws and catches on the Ultimate Frisbee field. He’s smart: the salutatorian of our local high school. He’s good at pretty much everything.

But at the candle ceremony we held in our living room last night, the same words came up again and again: “he’s the nicest person I’ve ever met.”

It's not that the group of kids and extras who gathered for the ceremony are an overly sentimental group. In fact, the young men seem to take pleasure in insulting each other. Even gathered in a circle or the ceremony, balanced on the arms of chairs or kitchen chairs dragged over into the living area, with flames flickering from beeswax candles, they spent about half their time joking and tossing sarcastic comments across the dim-lit room.

But even a group of young men who exchange insults the way monkeys pick bugs out of each others’ scalps could say only complimentary words about Quick.

What’s especially notable about Quick is that he’s world’s nicest guy, but he’s not a pushover. He’ll always stick up for what he thinks is right. It’s a rare combination: that laidback, super-nice personality paired with real strength of character. None of us worry that he’s going to succumb to peer pressure in college: he won’t.

The candle ceremony was a send-off: Quick leaves tomorrow for college in Camera City. It’s going to be strange to have him living somewhere else. I’m used to just walking into the living room and seeing him sitting at the drums or playing a board game with With-a-Why or doing homework with Shaggy Hair Boy or throwing a disc back and forth with Boy in Black. He's part of the family, a kid who will help clean or cook, or who will sit down to play the piano whenever we need music. We’re going to miss him.

August 19, 2009

Moving day

On Saturday, we drove to Bison City, 150 miles away, to bring my daughter’s stuff to the apartment where she’ll be living for the next year while she’s in grad school. She’s still here until next Thursday, but we decided it was a good time to transport her bed and her desk, as well as her clothes and books. She’s very organized and she’d spent a couple of nights packing up everything she needed.

“Mom, what can I take from the kitchen?”
“Anything we have two of.”
“What about this?”
“Okay, anything we have one of.”

Last year, she’d given the box of kitchen stuff she’d used her senior year in college to Boy in Black and First Extra for their campus apartment. She rummaged through it, consulting Boy in Black.

“Can I take this?”
“Take whatever you want.”
“Well, I don’t want you to have to buy anything.”
“We won’t. That would be too much work. Whatever you take, we won’t bother to replace. No colander? We won’t make noodles this year.”

Her stuff fit nicely in the back of my husband’s van, but then her three brothers decided that they were going to come too. And then somehow, Skater Boy and Sailor Boy ended up joining us as well. So in two vehicles, the eight of us took a 300-mile roundtrip to check out her new apartment.

There wasn’t much to see. The living room was empty: just a carpet and beige walls. The kitchen held a refrigerator and stove. Her roommate’s bedroom held a bed, a desk, and not much else. We moved my daughter’s stuff into the other bedroom in about five minutes. Her belongings didn’t take up much space.

“Want some lawn chairs for the living room?” I offered. I had two bright red folding chairs in the back of the car, and I figured they might add some colour.

“No, I think it looks fine like this.”

There’s an amusement park with waterslides near Bison City, so after we’d inspected her apartment, we drove to the park. Unfortunately, it was the first hot Saturday we’d had all summer, and everyone in the region seemed to have the same idea. The lines for the water slides were ridiculously long. My group didn’t seem to mind – they just joked around and talked while they were in line – but I felt bad for the families with little kids.

While we were sitting in the shade, debating which part of the park to check out next, Sailor Boy said, “There’s a lot of negative energy here. Some of these families are just going at each other.”

He was right. Despite all the colorful images and plastic smiling faces that stared out from the concessions, the general mood at the park was hostile. I could hear parents yelling at their kids, couples snarling at each other, adults fighting over how much money to spend. The hot sun, the pavement, and the crowds were making everyone miserable. I’d forgotten how much I hate amusement parks.

Even though the waterslides themselves were fun, it was a relief to leave the park and retreat with my family to an air-conditioned restaurant where we were waited on by a smiley young woman who kept flirting with Boy in Black. We talked and joked about the day, and drank pitchers of water and lemonade with our pizza before getting back into our vehicles for the long ride home.

August 18, 2009

Just outside

Front step

The little neighbor kids, Ponytail and Biker Boy, have spent many mornings this summer playing on my front step. I leave bins of toys on the porch for them, and we’ve got a big lawn that is mostly shaded. We’re on a quiet, deadend street so my front yard is a safe place.

Some days, they’re good about playing quietly while I’m working in my home office, just a few feet away. When I want to take a break, I come out and sit with them for a while. We talk and eat snacks -- or put the garden hose in the tree so that they can run in the spray. Sometimes Shaggy Hair Boy will play with them or take them on walks. He’s good with kids.

Four of us in the household work at home sometimes, and that’s hard for these little kids to understand. Boy in Black’s summer job has been doing research; that is, he’s getting paid to sit on the couch in our living room writing computer programs and running simulations on his laptop. One of my daughter’s jobs has been freelancing for a magazine: editing articles on her computer. I’ve been writing, of course, and putting together syllabi. My husband checks the stock market on his computer and answers emails when he’s working at home.

The kids don’t get how doing stuff on a computer can be “work” or why we might need the household to be quiet during the day. They’re needy kids, with a difficult home life, and sometimes they drive the household crazy, always banging on the door to ask for another drink or snack or “Can’t I play the drums now?” Teaching them boundaries has been difficult work. One day when I left early to go run some errands and forgot to lock the front door, Boy in Black was awakened by the two kids jumping up and down on top of him.

Little Biker Boy is a child with a whole lot of anger inside him. At eight, he’s already got a host of childhood demons to deal with – and not the resources to do so. I’ve explained to him many times that the “no hitting” rule at my house works in his favor – since he is considerably smaller than the gang of young men who live with me. But it’s taken him a long time to curb his tendency to react violently when he doesn’t get his way.

But he can be sweet and charming, too. He’ll bring in the trashcans after the garbage truck comes through, and he’ll be so proud of himself for doing us a favor. “Look! I brought your trashcans up the driveway!” Some days, I ask him to wash my car with the hose – just to keep him and his sister busy and cool – and he’ll brag for the rest of the day about how clean the car looks.

On a ridiculously hot day this week, I came outside with juice so that we could have a snack in the shade of the river birches. I was wearing an old shirt that was covered with stains, and shorts leftover from the 70s. I’d yanked my sweaty hair up off my neck with an old scrunchie – not a flattering look -- and because my contact lenses had been bothering me, I was wearing a pair of glasses that my daughter has called ridiculous.

Little Biker Boy gave me the kind of sweet look only an eight-year-old boy can give. “Jo(e),” he said with complete sincerity, “you look beautiful today!”

August 17, 2009

On second thought


I have never tasted peach pie.

Artist Friend was horrified when I told him that. And his brother even volunteered to make me a peach pie if I’m ever in Motor City. When I go visit my friend PoetryeWoman, who happens to live in Motor City, I fully intend to show up at the house of Artist Friend’s brother and demand a pie. The fact that I’ve only met Motor City Brother once will not stop me. If his pie crust is anything like his brother’s, well, then it will be worth violating any kind of etiquette about how well you need to know someone before you show up on their doorstep demanding pie.

The only pie I ever make is apple pie. Since I live near apple orchards of all kinds, it makes sense on cool autumn days to make apple pie. And I like apple pie because it’s not as mushy or sickly sweet as most other fruit pies. Especially if you use tart, just-picked apples.

This week, though, I passed baskets of ripe peaches at a fruit stand and actually got as far as thinking about making a peach pie, on the slim chance that Artist Friend is right about how great it tastes. I’ve been on kind of a cooking spree ever since seeing the movie Julie and Julia so the timing seemed right. But then I remembered how damned hot my house has been this week: well over 90 degrees for several days in a row, with the kind of humidity that makes it feel like I’m moving underwater. And the thought of turning on the oven changed my mind.

We can just eat the peaches one at a time, plain. A ripened peach is a fine treat on a hot day. The pie will have to wait until the next time Artist Friend visits.

August 16, 2009

To the waterfall

Walking the streambed

Going away for a family vacation in August has gotten impossible now that our older kids have jobs and other commitments. We’ve had to content ourselves with short weekend trips. Luckily, we live in a beautiful part of the country.

Last weekend, we drove to a place famous for gorges and waterfalls. We had only 48 hours, but we tried to find something that could please each person in the family. For Shaggy Hair Boy, who loves good bread, we ate at a local bakery and bought him a loaf of bread to snack on. (That probably seems like a pretty token effort, but hey, we had six people to please.) With-a-Why wanted a hotel with vending machines, cable television and a pool. My husband wanted to go hiking. I wanted a waterfall. My daughter bought jewelry at the farmers’ market. Boy in Black always says his favorite part of a family vacation is just chilling in the back of the car, listening to music as we drive along.

The Gorgeous City farmers’ market was a disappointment. The location was wonderful, an airy wooden structure on the waterfront, but many of the stalls seem to sell expensive items marketed for tourists. We had to look hard to find farmers selling local produce. The most exciting moment was when a woman walked through with a dog who started growling at people. A kid screamed. The crowd parted. A man who had been happily eating some kind of savory meat sandwich leaped to his feet and backed up against a stall of jewelry, necklaces swaying and mirrors tilting as he knocked against the table. “He’s really very gentle,” the woman kept saying, pulling at the dog’s leash ineffectually. Yes, that’s what dog owners always say as their dogs bite savagely into strangers.

The weather was cool and sunny, which was perfect for a nice hike on a trail outside of town. We walked through a gorge, following a wide, flat streambed of limestone surrounded by shale cliffs that rose nearly 400 feet on one side. Boy in Black and Shaggy Hair Boy ran back and forth across the streambed, throwing a frisbee. We walked lazily, stopping to explore and take pictures. Shaggy Hair Boy had old sneakers on so he didn’t hesitate to walk right into the stream. The rest of us picked our way carefully across rocks in the stream, and mostly ended up getting our sneakers wet anyhow. At the end of the gorge, we stopped at a 215-foot waterfall, which we had mostly to ourselves. Then we walked back, following With-a-Why who was chanting, "Hotel! Let's go to the hotel!"

I really should change Boy in Black's pseudonym to "Boy in Pink Bandana." That's him in both photos, and the boy with the curly ponytail is Shaggy Hair Boy, of course.

August 14, 2009

Disc in!

For the point

People don’t think of it as a spectator sport. There are no bleachers, no stadium seating, no admission tickets. And there’s always plenty of room in the parking lot. The sport of Ultimate is a well-kept secret in this area.

The Snowstorm City Ultimate League played every Tuesday this summer. My husband, my parents and I brought folding chairs and sat on the sidelines, amidst the bags of discs and clothing and water jugs and the players who were sitting on the ground, stretching as they waited their turn to sub in.

Boy in Black was captain of a team that included all four of my kids, plus Blonde Niece, some of our extras, and some Boy in Black’s teammates from the Snowstorm University team. It’s fun to watch a team when you know everyone. First Extra and Boy in Black have been friends since first grade, and they can communicate without words. First Extra is a handler, which means he’s good at throwing the disc, and Boy in Black is especially good at cutting, which means running to jump and catch the disc. I'd see First Extra take a quick glance in Boy in Black's direction, and then a split second later the disc would come arching through the air over the heads of other players while Boy in Black leaped to grab it.

Ultimate is an exciting game to watch. It’s fast-moving, so that there’s always something to see. Players make spectacular dives to catch a disc. Ultimate is about a million times more exciting than softball, a sport that is so slow-moving that I’ve never been able to watch for more than an inning. Because Ultimate is self-officiated, you never have to wait for an umpire or a referee: almost everything gets settled with just a few words.

“Foul!” one player will yell.
The player on the other team will shrug: “No contest.”

And then the disc is back in play ….

My son With-a-Why was the youngest player in the league -- the only player who ever sat on his mother's lap when he was subbing out -- and Boy in Black’s team was definitely the young team in the group. But playing against more experienced players challenged them, and it was great to see them improve as the summer went on. On the sidelines, I could often hear the more experienced players talking to younger players, giving them advice and encouragement even when they were on opposite teams. Listening to the players joke around with each other and yell stuff to their teammates was almost as much fun as watching the game itself.


In both photos, the kid in the bright pink bandana is Boy in Black. He wears that same pink bandana every time he plays Ultimate. In the top photo, he's doing an offensive layout, a dive to catch the disc and score. The boy with the flourescent yellow shorts, black shirt, and curly ponytail is Shaggy Hair Boy. You can't see my daughter in the huddle -- she must be on the other side -- but that blonde ponytail belongs to Blonde Niece. And the kid dressed all in purple, who is almost as tall as the other players now? That's With-a-Why, who is no longer a little boy ....

August 13, 2009

Look! A minnow!

New mud

Whenever my husband and I visit the mountains, we take one morning to walk around Bryophyte Lake. Halfway around the lake is a bridge where we can sit in the sun, dangle our feet in the lake water, and talk. It's a quiet spot, and usually we're there alone, but this time we were entertained by a family of small children who came running down the bridge and were eager to look at the lake up close.

"Look!  A minnow!"

August 12, 2009

August night

Skater Boy and Long Dark Hair sit on the floor in the kitchen area, dumping boxes of cornstarch into a stockpot of water. They are either making a ridiculous amount of gravy or doing some kind of informal scientific experiment. “We’re making a non-Newtonian fluid,” Skater Boy says when I ask. Shaggy Hair Boy shows me how I can punch the fluid hard – and it acts like a solid. Long Dark Hair takes off his shoe to stick his foot in the pot. “One of these days, we’re going to fill a whole wading pool,” Boy in Black says.

Quick and With-a-Why, sitting on the carpet near the couch, play chess and trade trivia about the show Scrubs. Shaggy Hair Boy and Philosophical Boy spread a bedsheet on the table and dump out poker chips. Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter and Boy in Black lounge on the couch with their laptop computers open. My daughter says she’s editing something and Boy in Black says he’s doing research, but mostly they are talking to each other. Boy in Black and Quick get into an intellectual debate about the merits of different brands of breakfast cereal. “If the word fruit is spelled with double O’s, I can’t eat it,” says Quick. Six laptop computers are strewn about the room and one of them is playing the Ghostbuster song, rather loudly.

In just a few weeks, my three oldest kids – and almost all of my extras – will be leaving for college or grad school. It’s going to be awfully quiet here.

August 11, 2009


I love thunderstorms. I like to watch as trees bend in fierce winds, rain turns the world grey and misty, and lightning breaks the whole sky open. It feels luxurious to snuggle in a dry bed with a down quilt while thunder crashes outside the window and rain cascades down from gutters filled too quickly.

But the hours before a thunderstorm can be painful. Low-pressure systems wreak havoc with my head, triggering migraines that send me into a dark closet with an ice pack and an inability to handle anything.

I’ve learned some tricks to warding off migraines: getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, eliminating meat and dairy from my diet, meditating to reduce stress, running hot water on my hands and feet, staying away from triggers like cigarette smoke or new plastic, doing reiki on myself, drinking sports drinks with electrolytes, taking a nap as soon as I feel one coming on. Because I’ve gotten pretty good at anticipating migraines and taking care of myself, I don’t get them as often as I used to.

But still, this has been a difficult summer. We’ve had so many dramatic changes in weather that I’ve been fighting off headaches constantly. On Sunday, I had the worst migraine I’ve had in a few years; it was relief when the thunderstorm began that night, and the pressure in my head began to lift while I lay in bed and listened to the rain.

August 10, 2009

Morning on a mountain lake

Morning on a mountain lake

Always, in the mountains, I like to wake up early and walk through the wet grass to the edge of the lake and watch while the sun and clouds decide what kind of day we're going to have.

August 09, 2009



On summer nights, a ghost glides up and down the staircases at the old mountain hotel. That’s what they say. The building is more than 100 years old, but it still looks very much like it did for most of last century – a dining room with a tin ceiling and big windows, three floors of rooms overlooking a mountain lake, and wrap-around porches set with Adirondack chairs. I can see why a woman who spent summer evenings dancing in the mountains would come back in the afterlife to slide down the banisters.

I wasn’t scared of the ghost. I had a plan. If she came gliding past me as I walked back to our room at night, I’d introduce myself and say, “I bet you know my Dad. He was the accordion player.”

Yes, in summers during the 1950s, my father lived and worked at the mountain hotel, playing every evening in the building he called the Casino. The guests dressed up in those days, the women’s dresses swishing as they strode across the porches and gathered at the Casino to dance. Down in the bar, an old photo shows my father dressed in white, with a black bow tie and his accordion –looking like a well-groomed, short-haired version of my son Shaggy Hair Boy.

Of course, it's possible that the ghost might resent the fact that my father, age 78, is still alive and healthy, while she's been dead for years. As I walked up the staircase after dark, I began hoping she wasn't someone who had an unrequited crush on the young musician with the dark hair. It's a bit alarming to walk through a haunted building and realize that your safety might depend on how much your father flirted a certain ghost when she was young.

During our stay at the hotel, I kept telling my husband all the stories my father tells me when we visit the mountains every fall: “One dark night a car almost drove off the dock: the driver thought it was a bridge.” In the lobby, we looked through the old photo albums that held random photos of the inn looking as it had in the old days. The hotel was empty for most of the 1980s and 1990s – that’s when the rumors about the ghost had started – and only in 2003 did someone finally buy the place and begin the renovations.

As I sat with my husband on the balcony outside our room, I could hear the noises of the hotel around me: a family group giggling and pushing each other as they posed on the lawn for a photo in front of the lake, the crunch of tires on the gravel as guests arrived for dinner, the murmur of conversation from dinner guests eating on the porch, the thud of footsteps as a small child ran along the wooden porch. Plenty of life to keep that ghost company.

Back in the day

Back in the day

August 04, 2009

Gone to the mountains

Mountain lake

I've gone to the mountains for a few days with my husband -- our annual trip to do a little hiking, perhaps canoe on a mountain lake, and spend a couple of nights in an old mountain inn.

August 03, 2009

Blueberry pie

Making pie

Artist Friend always brags about what great pie crust he makes. But since he lives more than 500 miles away and I see him mostly at academic conferences, I’ve never actually tasted his pie crust.

Until now.

Last night, Artist Friend came to visit us here in Snowstorm Region. His brother, his nephew, and his niece were with him, stopping overnight on their way to the mountains for a week-long backpacking trip. Artist Friend walked in carrying blueberries and announcing his intention to make a pie.

We sat around and talked, and Artist Friend made a blueberry pie. The pie smelled so good as it baked that we ate it while it was still warm. I have to admit, that pie crust tasted pretty good. This morning, I made myself a cup of hot tea and ate the last piece of pie for breakfast just before I said goodbye to the group.

August 01, 2009

Auld lang syne

When I tell stories about childhood, I often mention Outdoor Girl. Throughout my school years, we had all kinds of adventures together, from horseback riding in a gravel pit to swimming in a pond on an eighth grade retreat to winter camping in the mountains. But I don’t see her often as an adult because she lives in The Middle of Nowhere, which is located somewhere in the south. She and her husband are farmers who raise cattle and dogs, and they don’t get away from the farm much. She comes back to Snowstorm Region sometimes to see her family, but often it’s the same week that my husband and I are off on our family vacation.

When she called Thursday night to say she was in town, we tried to figure out when we’d seen each other last. I’ve got a photo of her oldest son sitting with Boy in Black on her mother’s deck, their chubby toddler legs hanging over the edge. Both boys are now over six feet tall. So yeah, it’s been awhile.

But when I walked into her parents’ house last night, I was surprised by how things didn’t seem different at all. Her hair is white now instead of dark, but otherwise, she looks the same. Her parents – both warm, gracious people – still seem like family to me. Outdoor Girl and I jumped immediately into conversation about our lives, our kids, our work. I ended up staying for dinner – just like I used to when I was a teenager – and hanging out with the family. Thirty years have passed since Outdoor Girl and I graduated from high school – and we’ve been apart for all that time – but we had no trouble just picking up the conversation as if we were still riding the school bus home together.