July 27, 2005

Our bags are packed

We will be off first thing in the morning for another camping adventure. Just the six of us, this time. In August, it is our annual tradition to go on a vacation that does not include extended family or extras. (I should add too, that first thing in the morning does not mean with teenagers what it means with the rest of the population. If we get going by 10 am, I will consider ourselves lucky.)

Our August vacation changes from year to year. Last year we camped in the sand dunes at Assateague, a barrier island off the coast of Virginia. We swam in the surf, flew kites on the beach, and stared at the herds of wild horses that were actually not very wild but more like tame scavengers who tromped around the campsite begging for food. When a hurricane began moving up the coast, we had the excitement of trying to sleep in a tent that was swaying in gale force wind. We woke at dawn to the sound of poles clattering all around us as everyone in the campsite hurried to be the first off the island.

The year before that, we drove to Shenandoah National Park for some hiking through gorgeous lush woods and mountains so misty that it was like moving through a cloud. In Virginia, we spent an afternoon at an amazing underground cavern, with all kinds of cool red rock formations in weird shapes, before driving on to Cape Hatteras, where we camped in the sand dunes and spent every day at the beach. We were at Hatteras for the full moon so our vacation included romantic late night walks on the beach.

The summer before that, we spent our August week in West Virginia, at a remote farm in Appalachia. We were volunteers that week, all six of us, and that vacation included getting up every day at 6 am to do chores around the farm before putting on long pants and boots to go work construction on the homes of people who could not afford to hire anyone. The record high temperatures (over 100 degrees and humid) made that experience a bit surreal. I recall sitting in the hot sunshine on a roof, two stories up, absolutely melting, and watching my seven-year-old son nailing in roof shingles, one slow stroke of the hammer at a time. The best part of that vacation was watching how hard my kids were willing to work in that situation -- and catching a glimpse of the wonderful adults they were going to be some day.

The summer before that, we camped at Acadia in Maine, yet another beautiful national park. We hiked on trails that took us on cliffs above the ocean, explored rocky beaches, swam in the icy ocean, and watched a sunset from the top of a mountain. My kids, who were still pretty young, made me nervous by walking near the edges of cliffs, and I made them nervous by screaming at them whenever they did so.

No matter where we are headed each August, everyone in my family loves a road trip. Spouse and I will spend our time up in the front seat, talking, while Smart Beautiful Wonderful Daughter keeps peace amongst her brothers. Shaggy Hair, owner of an iPod, is in charge of the music this year. Boy in Black, once he gets going, is very funny and can usually be counted on to entertain us in ways that would be impossible to explain to anyone outside the family. With-a-Why, who insists on bringing his special soft blanket and pillow along with a herd of stuffed animals, will snuggle up to one of his siblings, so quiet that I will have to turn around once in a while to make sure he is still there.

We stop pretty often on trips. Bathroom stops. Food stops. I can't pass up a Scenic View sign or a historical marker or wonderfully tacky tourist places. Spouse likes roadside diners that serve dreadful greasy food and weird specialty milkshakes. In the days before cell phones and iPods, when our kids were younger and the adults got to be in charge of the music, Spouse used to stop at pay phones to call in requests to local radio stations. "You need to play it soon," he would say pleadingly, "I'm just passing through."

I cannot read in the car because it makes me motion sick so I expect my family to entertain me. And they do. We play games, we reminisce about other trips, they mock me out for my taste in music. Mostly, we just enjoy each other's company. The kids are growing up fast: my daughter will be a sophomore in college this year, and my oldest son a senior in high school. I don't know how many more of these vacations we will get, all six of us together as a family. So this week, I am planning to savor every minute of it.

July 26, 2005

All about the hat


Since Phantom Scribbler yesterday posted a photo of one of her kids wearing a baseball cap, I figured I would do the same and make it a meme. Here is my son Shaggy Hair Boy with a baseball cap pulled on over his wet hair.

Of course, it is not just any cap. It is a Chicago Cubs' hat. That is because I made the mistake, many years ago, of marrying a Cub fan.

It is the same old story. You marry someone because you are in love with him, and that blinds you to certain facets of his personality. I knew he was a Cub fan, but I thought he would change. I thought that if I loved him enough, he would abandon his loyalty to the team that always loses. I thought that his fanaticism about the Cubs would fade with time.

It's not that I am loyal to some other team. No, it is worse than that. I hate professional sports altogether.

I should have been suspicious the first year we were married. We were making plans for a romantic weekend, and Spouse suggested that we drive to Chicago to see a baseball game. Now, most of you have grasped by now that we live nowhere near Chicago. I mean, not even close. To get to Chicago, we must pass many other cities that have baseball teams. In fact, we have a fine minor league team in Snowstorm City. If we wanted to see a baseball game (and no, that is not something I would ever want to do), we could just drive to the stadium that is ten miles away. And I am of the firm belief that baseball has no part in a romantic weekend. None whatsoever.

But Spouse is a Cub fan, and that has not waned during the 21 years we have been married. Worse, he has converted Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter. The boys seem immune to creeping Cubsfanism, but Spouse got to Daughter at a young age, and I have found her actually CHECKING THE SPORTS PAGE OF THE NEWSPAPER .... after taking it out of the recycling bin, where I routinely toss sections of newspaper I consider useless.

That brings me to the camping vacation we are about to take. Spouse said he would be willing to do the work of planning our August vacation this year. And so he did.

We will be driving all day tomorrow to camp in a location nowhere near here. We will be hiking in sand dunes and swimming in a great lake. We will be driving into a city to go to the museums, the aquarium, and the art institute. All things that I love to do. But we will also be going to a baseball game. Because this vacation just happens to take us to Chicago when the Cubs are in town.

Coincidence? I think not.

July 25, 2005

Summer Interrupted

Since I will be leaving for another vacation tomorrow and plan to be home only one week during August, I have been scrambling over the last week to get done everything I need to do before the semester begins. I've been rewriting my syllabi, mapping out my courses, cleaning my desk, and even making copies. It doesn't feel right to be doing this all during July, so far ahead of time. Usually, I make all my plans during the third week in August and that busyness helps mark the transition from summer mode to semester mode.

This year, though, I will be spending the last two weeks of August on a 14-day raft trip through the Grand Canyon. It's a white water adventure and writing workshop rolled into one. It's a trip I am looking forward to, a trip that I expect to be restorative and life-changing. But classes start the day after I return home so I have to plan my fall now, in July heat.

It's been difficult, especially on these ridiculously hot days, to even think about the fall. I've taught these courses many times before, and I like the books I am planning to use, so it's not that I am doing an unpleasant task. No, the hard part was simply rousing myself from summer mode: switching my brain into a different type of thinking.

It's not that I don't think about my courses during the summer: I read books I am considering. I talk to colleagues about teaching. I went to a week-long conference in Oregon. I go to meetings on campus. But it was still hard to get my brain back into thinking in terms of a MWF structure and planning what I can do in one-hour chunks of times. It was painful to put paper due dates on the syllabus, remembering that I will be grading all those papers. On peaceful summer afternoons, I can almost forget the whole ordeal of paper grading, and I was not happy to be reminded of it.

But despite the heat, the humidity, and my absolutely miserable mood, I did get all my planning done. I even called the bookstore and put in my book orders. I've piled all those folders onto the back corner of my desk. I am free now to return to summer: another month of camping and canoeing, reading and writing, hiking and rafting, sunshine and water.

Wish you were here

Daughter was in Big Midwestern City this weekend, going to a concert that featured 60 bands and lasted two days. I figured that she would have her cell phone off during the concert and did not expect to hear from her. But yesterday, the phone rang, and I picked it up to hear loud music pouring forth, a song that sounded familiar to me since it is one that our household boy band plays often. I could hear Daughter yelling into the phone: "Put the boys on!"

I handed the phone off to my son, who listened to the whole song, smiling. He couldn't talk to Daughter - there is no way she could have heard him - but I could tell he was pleased that she was thinking of him. The same thing happened again today. My sons all grabbed different phone in the house and happily listened to a concert song from hundreds of miles away. At the end of the song, they hung up, since two-way communication was not at all possible.

I tried to picture the scene at the concert. Thousands of people crammed altogether in a big outdoor park in blistering hot weather, everyone dumping water over their heads, a band playing, and thousands of teenagers calling friends to let them know they were thinking about them during certain songs. How many cell phones were gathered in that one place? I am trying to imagine just how many teenagers scattered across the country got cell phone calls over this weekend, all connected to that one concert.

I could tell that my sons were pleased that their sister was thinking about them, that somehow those phone calls were important to them. I guess it was silly for me to expect that she would be buying postcards ....

July 24, 2005

Photo of my Dad

One of my Dad's first jobs was playing taps at military funerals. He was fifteen years old that summer. World War II had ended, and the bodies were being shipped home. The Commander of the Post had contacted him because he played first chair in the school band. So almost every Saturday, he'd put on his suit, put his trumpet case over the handle bars of his bike, and ride into the village. He'd leave his bike at his best friend's aunt's house and meet the Commander, joining the funeral procession.

He says that military funerals were almost always the same. Everyone stood clustered around the grave. The women in the family, dressed in black, would be very quiet. When it was time for him to play, he would hit that first note, and everyone would start to cry. After his last note, the firing squad would start their salute. At the end, the widow was presented with a folded-up flag. My father went to maybe fifteen funerals that summer, all young men from the small village where he lived. He made $20 per funeral, which in the 1940s was a lot of money for a kid from a poor family to make.

During the 1950s, my Dad played the trumpet, piano, or accordion at many happier occasions: weddings and dances. Summers, he took his band to a resort in the mountains where they played late into the night for all the tourists from the city. Music paid his way through school. And at that resort in the mountains, he met my mother.

He spent the 1960s working a 9-to-5 job and raising small children, but that did not stop him from jamming with his friends on weekends. Jazz was the background music of my childhood, the sound of the piano and trumpet vibrating through my memories. As my Dad got older, he had trouble with his teeth that forced him to switch to other instruments: the clarinet, and then the saxophone.

My Dad still plays twice a week, with a small group and a big concert band. He still practices every day. He has recorded several arrangements with my daughter, who plays the piano. Although he mostly plays the sax now, he brought the clarinet to camp. When I asked him why, he said that it was the lightest instrument he owned, the smallest and easiest to pack.

July 23, 2005

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city

It was a sunny summer afternoon. My friend QuiltArtist and I decided that it time to forget all our troubles, forget all our cares, and go downtown.

First, we went to a gathering at an art museum, a workshop with Famous Writer from BigCity. I knew about half the people in the room, mostly feminists, artists, and peace activists. We sat in a circle of chairs that had been set up on the hardwood floors, with white walls of paintings all around us, sunlight coming in through the big plate glass windows.

Because the workshop had been billed as a community gathering, I did not want to admit to being associated with the university. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I gave only my first name and said: "I have five canoes, four children, and seven cats." Unfortunately, this sentence so pleased the Famous Eccentric Urban Writer that she kept repeating it throughout the workshop, making gestures towards me. "FIVE CANOES!" she would say dramatically, "I cannot even imagine what such a thing would look like."

But the workshop was stimulating, and it felt great to be a participant rather than than the person leading the workshop. Famous Drama Queen Writer did a great job keeping the energy level high, mixing in just the right amount of jokes and compliments. She was warm and smart and funny.

Afterwards, we went to dinner in a restaurant with brick walls and small tables, the place that serves delicious bread with hot tomato dipping oil. By the time we left the restaurant, the air was cool and comfortable. We walked to a smaller art gallery for the opening of an amazing photography exhibit. The photographs had all been taken by local working class people, and I liked looking at each group of photographs, trying to see the world through the eyes of the person who had taken the picture. I've lived in Snowstorm region my whole life and yet I saw some images I had never noticed before.

The afternoon ended with a stop at the downtown store where QuiltArtist works. It's a small place filled with colour -- all kinds of beautiful pottery, carvings, quilts, candles, and jewelry made by local people. I'm not the shopping type, but I will say that I do love to look at pottery. And on gift-giving occasions, I like to buy locally made mugs, trying to match the colour and shape of the mug to the person I am giving it to.

Quilt Artist and I talked, of course, during the car ride downtown, and between the events, both chatting furiously as we walked about the streets of the city. We talked as we lingered on the sidewalks where the neon lights were pretty. I came home tired but relaxed. An afternoon with a close friend was just what I needed.

July 22, 2005

The Rewards of Cleaning

Cleaning the living room has been one of With-a-Why's summer chores. His technique of cleaning, which I think he learned from Boy in Black, is to push everything under the couch or to the edges of the room, or pile books and such on the hearth. Then he vacuums the middle of the room. The worst part about this method is that the edges of the room are already piled with amps, musical instruments, and piles of books that don't fit into the overflowing shelves.

I figured it was time for me to swoop in and do what I call a thorough cleaning, which means taking all the games and books and light sabers and piling them on the staircase. The theory behind my technique is that kids will get sick of walking past all the stuff on the stairs and put it away. Of course, that doesn't happen, because the main problem is that we have no place to put miscellaneous stuff, all we've got upstairs are small bedrooms with tiny closets, and eventually, all the stuff will just creep back down into the living room. Except for the game with the marbles. That someone will trip over, sending the marbles flying in all directions, and someone will get angry that now we've lost one of the blue marbles because those were his favorites and now he can't play anymore.

Still and all, the process is worth it because once in a while I do like to remember what the downstairs of my house looks like clean, the way it does for parties when we pile miscellaneous stuff into laundry baskets and stick it out into the garage. So this week, I did a thorough cleaning of the living area.

And found a green plastic Easter egg, still filled with candy.

July 21, 2005

Daughter posing for the blog

When I first began my blog, I wanted it to be my own space. So I chose a pseudonym. And I did not tell anyone in my family or hometown about the blog. Perhaps you have to grow up in a big family and live in the same place your whole life to understand why it is important for me to have my own space, even if it is ironically a public space.

Of course by now, members of my household know about my blog, because I talk about my blog friends and because it is hard to have any privacy when you live in a fairly small space with a whole bunch of people. And I am not a secretive person; I am a talker by nature. But my husband and my sons don’t read my blog. They are willing to respect that space as mine. They are very used to me writing stuff: I am always writing, and that is nothing new.

But one person in my home does read my blog. And that is my Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter. Home from college one day last spring, she borrowed my computer and stumbled upon my blog. She says she knew it was my blog after reading one post.

"Anyone would recognize you," she said, laughing, "Everything you write is true! This is stuff that really happened!"

And I admit that I do like Daughter reading my blog, especially when she is at college. We have had several nice conversations about issues that come up in the blog community.

When we were up at camp, I was taking lots of photos, mostly photos with people’s faces in them, which I would never put on my blog. I only use faceless photos. I had just taken a nice shot of Daughter on the island, when she covered her face with her hands and said, "Here. Go ahead and take one for your blog." So here is my daughter, posing for the blog.

July 20, 2005

Consuming and Composing Meme

I haven't done a meme in a while, and this one made me hungry. Go see Academic Coach for the story behind the meme.

1) What would you like to eat when you go out with Todd (he's a food critic and it's free meal)?

First, we begin with warm bread baked locally by an Italian family who have been here now for five generations, and who really know how to make delicious bread. The bread will come with a generous bowl of hot tomato dipping oil. Few things in life taste better, when you are really hungry, than a crust of fresh bread dipped into thick spicy tomato oil. The dark red tomato dipping oil is served hot, and you have to stir it occasionally to keep the golden olive oil from separating from the thick tomato sauce.

During this leisurely appetizer, we pause to absorb the atmosphere of the restaurant. The brick walls are centuries old: the big glass windows look out at a courtyard where people can sit in the summer. It's an intimate courtyard, perfect for poetry readings or performances by local musicians. The tables in the restaurant are small and bunched together so that customers sit elbow to elbow.

Next comes the salad. All kinds of greens, with some redleaf lettuce tossed in for sweetness, and locally grown veggies, diced into bite-size pieces. Black olives and hot peppers, of course. The dressing is simple, olive oil and vinegar, so that we can taste the veggies.

The soup is minestrone, a tomato base, thick and flavorful, lots of garlic and onion, with kidney beans, chick peas, and round noodles.

Next comes a big plate, with three different side orders on it. Artichoke hearts with some kind of sauce - oh, we will let the food critic worry about what is in the sauce. Mmmm. So good. Brocolli with garlic sauce, a nicely spicy addition to offset the more bland artichoke hearts. Then a carrot and raisin salad that makes the plate colorful, because the visual is important here.

The next plate served sounds simple: beans and rice. But this place knows how to blend the spices to make beans and rice a gourmet dish.

The best part of a vegan meal, of course, is that if you eat slow enough and savor your food, you somehow still have room for dessert: chocolate ecstasy cake. Yes, it's vegan, and served with hot herbal tea, ecstatic is the right adjective to use for this dining experience.

2) Why is writing important in your life?

Writing is like food, sleep, or sex. It's essential to my life at a very basic level. A need, not a luxury. I've considered myself a writer since I was about seven years old. I've kept a journal since then. I have stacks of old journals.

I have to write. I don't care much whether or not anyone reads what I write, but writing makes my life richer, keeps me in balance, helps me become the person I want to be. Writing is how I think through conflict, how I figure out what I am feeling, how I reflect on my experiences, and how I figure out what I value.

When I write, I can be whoever I want to be at that moment. I can be funny, or angry, or sad. I can be sappy, and corny, and sentimental. I can let all the deep sadness of the world wash over me. I can be a playful little kid, or an old wise person. I can be afraid, and I can be powerful. The words let me choose what role I want to play.

My journals are full of different voices. My blog persona is in there. So are some of my poetry voices. My teacher voice, my parenting voice, my academic voice, my sarcastic voice. I have angry rants, and sometimes touching narratives. Language allows me to accept and express all these different parts of myself.

July 19, 2005

Life with Teenagers: part two

It was another hot humid morning. I had just finished cleaning the kitchen when Boy in Black came down the stairs. He stopped on his way to the refrigerator.

"Hey," he said, "You cleaned the kitchen. Even the pots and pans."

He looked around the room, taking in the clean, empty counters. "Thanks, Mom."

I thought for a minute I had stepped into some other reality. My seventeen-year-old son was not only noticing the clean kitchen but THANKING me for cleaning it?

Surely, there was some explanation for this. Perhaps all my complaints about how the kids take me for granted had finally sunk in. Maybe my whining had paid off! Perhaps he was suddenly going to start appreciating his mother.

Or maybe aliens had sneaked in during the night and switched my son with some kind of imposter.

I was leaning towards the alien kidnapping theory when it occurred to me to look at the kitchen table, where my husband leaves a list of chores for the kids each morning before he leaves for work. And there I found the explanation for Boy in Black's gratitude. I had just done his chore.

July 18, 2005

Around the Campfire

I cannot remember when I first began playing with fire. Flame has always been a part of my life. Before learning to read, surely, I was poking sticks into fire to see what would happen. When we were camping, my mother was always made the fire for the evening meal. I'd watch her putting on oak twigs or bits of bark, and soon I was gathering dry sticks, adding them to the fire. Eventually, I was old enough to fan the fire or shift the logs so that the flames could breathe.

At camp now, most fires are still built and tended by mother or me, although I have a brother-in-law who does most of the cooking over the fires we build. On an overcast day of misty rain, I will start a fire in the morning and keep it going all day. You don't feel the rain that much under the thick canopy of oak leaves. And a hot fire will burn bright even through a rain if you keep fanning it. A fire on a rainy day will lure family members out of tents, cars, and cabins, where they have been reading books or playing cards.

On a clear night when the dark sky above the bay is filled with stars, everyone gathers around the fire pit. During our July vacation, we had 21 people most nights, all family members. Well, actually, Red-haired Sister brought Russian Girl, a child with a lovely accent, a beautiful smile, and a tragic life story. But in our family, extras are counted in.

When the whole family is at camp, we fight over choice spots at the campfire, with little kids claiming laps and Shaggy Hair Boy complaining loudly that wherever he sits, the smoke is always in his eyes. Usually about ten conversations are going on at once. The women in my family talk fast, with wild hand gestures, swishing hair, and raised voices, adding drama to the simplest tale. When Blonde Sister's three girls get going - these are the nieces with the gorgeous silky hair - everyone just stops and stares at them, unable to compete.

The men in the family, including my own dark-haired sons dressed in black, tend to be quiet and reserved, sort of blending into the background of night until their voices are needed for song. Eventually, someone will suggest a game. My favourite game is the one in which I get to yell out a word, and each team has to sing eight words of a song that includes that word. I usually get picked to yell out the words because I am, sadly, the only person in the family who cannot carry a tune.

Whatever game we play involves all kinds of arguing about the rules. We all shout at each other, passionately arguing about points, even when it is pretty obvious that no one is even keeping track of the points. The arguments include bouts of laughter when someone gets in a particularly good jab. And eventually, we all quiet down, the youngest kids nodding off to sleep, and the teenagers rummage through cars to see what treats we have not eaten yet. The fire burns down to a pile of glowing red logs. My parents are the first to head off to bed, and I am the last. Before I leave for my tent, I pour a bucket of water over the fire and watch the steam rise to the oak branches above.

July 17, 2005

Another photo from camp

I have a whole fleet of canoes, most of them bought at garage sales, although why anyone would ever sell a canoe is absolutely beyond me. A canoe is the most wonderful mode of transportation; taking a minute to pull it up on shore and flip it over is the only maintenance required. It requires no fuel, except for human muscle.

At my parents' camp, where this photo is taken, canoes are perfect for meandering down the creeks that wind through the cattails. Go at dusk, quietly, and you can watch a beaver swimming through the water near his lodge. Go at dawn, and you paddle through the mist, watching the great blue heron leave her nest at the edge of the marsh.

When we canoe in groups, as my family often does, canoes are perfect for water fights. All of us are good at splashing water by slapping down hard with the paddles. The canoes fill with water – and clumps of weeds when the water fight progresses to a mud fight – but it is easy to just turn them over when the fight is over.

The best part of canoeing is that when you paddle a canoe, you aren't riding high above the water. When you lean to pull your paddle through the muddy marsh water, you are at eye level with turtles and frogs. The water lilies will brush the sides of the canoe as you glide along, and pop back up, undamaged. A water snake will move away lazily, unalarmed. And you can squeeze down the narrowest, shallowest creeks, where no motorboat dare go. It's a wonderful way to explore a marsh.

July 16, 2005

Bras dangling at the hearth

We gathered at dinnertime. Each woman arrived with a salad or dessert or big tray of food. As usual, we had more food than we could possibly eat. Most of us are used to cooking for big families, and nine women could not possibly eat all the food spread out on the kitchen table but we gave it our best try.

It was a Friday night potluck, a gathering of a group of friends that I've called the Shadow Women. We don't see each other much in the summer; most of us take vacations with our families or partners, and it's very hard to schedule a night when we are all at home.

From the outside, it might be hard to see what we all have in common. It's true that we are all from the same age bracket, most of in our forties, with one woman who has celebrated her 50th birthday. But we are at very different points of our lives: one woman has a one-year-old child, while another has a grandchild already. One woman does not have children. Our jobs cover a range, from an artist who works in her home to a woman who works at a high-pressure law firm. I am the only academic in the group.

Most of us have lived in Snowstorm region our whole lives, and there is no question that the landscape is a bond. A recent storm and flood was our first topic of conversation: everyone was excitedly giving details about what they had seen and experienced. We all knew every landmark.

A women-only gathering has a certain energy to it. As much as I love my male friends and my teenage boys, I have to admit I like to sink into the atmosphere of feminine energy. Conversations quickly became intimate. Each woman was trying to catch up with friends, so soon the room was filled with pairs of women, each participating in an intense discussion. I talked with LongBeautifulHair about my marriage, my trip to Oregon, my brother, my male friendships. I talked to Quilt Artist about storytelling, about my writing, about her artwork. I talked to Signing Woman about my children and her stepchildren. I tried to reassure MakesBread that her four-year-old would someday use the bathroom and not prefer a diaper.

Talking intensely, we ate our way through huge mounds of food, and moved eventually from the kitchen to the living room, just to take a break from all that food before it was time to start on the desserts. A serious talk about sex suddenly became raucous. Signing Friend cannot resist a pun, and once she gets started, there is no stopping her. Always this happens. After a couple hours of intense and serious conversations, we end up in a big group discussion that involves all kinds of jokes and laughter, and a certain amount of teasing.

We planned our fall retreat: we go to the mountains for a long weekend every October. (No husbands and children allowed, although we do make an exception for nursing babies and toddlers.) DarkHairedWoman reminisced about the last retreat. She fell asleep early, while the rest of us stayed up to party. When she came into the living room, wondering what she had missed the night before, she was greeted by the sight of all of our bras hanging from the mantel of the fireplace. She says this year she is staying up, no matter how tired she is.

While we talked, the sky outside the windows grew dark. Eventually, we realized it was time to go home - to partners, families, cats, work, or sleep. We lingered at the door, the conversations once again intimate. As I drove home, bringing with me the leftover desserts that the group bestowed on me, I felt relaxed and rejuvenated.

July 15, 2005

Lazy Conversation on a Hot Summer Day

My Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter will be rooming at college next year with a young woman who lives about 100 miles from here. Cool Roommate has already been here several times. She's met all of Daughter's brothers and many of the extras. She'll be coming again on Saturday to spend some time with us. Yesterday, in the midday heat, Daughter was lying on the couch with her laptop, talking to Roommate online.

Daughter: it is still really hot here
Roommate: here too
Roommate: you planning to actually do anything today?
Daughter: my mom made me a sandwich and i'm eating it
Daughter: does that count?
Roommate: did you ask her to make it?
Daughter: yes
Roommate: that's taking initiative!
Roommate: that counts

I think Cool Roommate will fit in with my family just fine.

July 14, 2005

Camp scene

From this dock, my Dad will often say, you could sail around the world.

My parents' land is a peninsula, tucked into a protected marsh, full of cattails and turtles and water snakes. The land you see across the bay is an island, and on the other side of that island is the river, deep and cold and clear.

When we want to swim, we usually pile into boats, go out to the river, choose an uninhabited island, and jump right in. But if we didn't stop at an island, if we sailed far enough, we could eventually sail out into the ocean, and all the way around the world.

My Dad's boat is not really big enough for that, of course. It's a seventeen foot wooden boat that he designed and built himself. It's designed for this particular bay, actually, not the open sea. But I think my Dad likes to think that from this dock, anything is possible.

Life with Teenagers

Another hot, humid week. I get tired of lying on the floor complaining about heat and try to take some action to do something with my kids. But alas! My fourteen-year-old, that is, the infamous Shaggy Hair Boy, has little interest in bonding with his mother.


Me: Hey, let's go to the beach at Pretty Colour Lake and take a swim.
Shaggy Hair: No, that would be boring.
Me: Boring? You used to beg me to go swimming! You love Pretty Colour Lake.
Shaggy Hair: It's too hot. I don't feel like going.
Me: You want to just stay home and talk on the telephone?
Shaggy Hair: Yes.


Me: Hey, it's another hot humid day. Let's not just lie on the floor and whine. Let's go to the beach at Pretty Colour Lake and go swimming. Wouldn't that be fun?
Shaggy Hair: No, that would be boring. Just. Plain. Boring.
Me: You don't feel like swimming in this heat?
Shaggy Hair: No. Not at all.


Shaggy Hair: Hey, Mom, have you seen my bathing suit? Pretty-Girl-With-Great-Singing-Voice-Who-Has-a-Big-Crush-on-Shaggy-Hair just called. Her Mom is taking us to the beach at Pretty Colour Lake.
Me: What? I thought that the beach was boring. Just. Plain. Boring.
Shaggy Hair: Where is the sunscreen?
Me: I've been trying to get you to go to the beach ALL WEEK.
Shaggy Hair: Can you put sunscreen on my back? PrettySingingCrushGirl will be here any moment.
Me: I wanted to go to the beach. I've been wanting to go all week.
Shaggy Hair: Well, now you can't.
Me: I can't? Even in a separate car?
Shaggy Hair: No. That would be following me around. That. Is. Not. Allowed.

Me: What? How unfair is that?
Boy in Black: He's right, Mom.
FilmGuy: He's got a point.
Daughter: Just accept it.
Me: Fine.

Minutes Later

Me: Hey, With-a-Why, want to go spray the hose on ourselves or something?
With-a-Why: No.
Me: Why not?
With-a-Why: That would be boring.

July 13, 2005

Island Food

It's got to be portable. A watermelon, which can be tossed into the bilge of a small boat and then wedged between rocks in the river to get chilled, makes the ideal island food. We trust no food to the canoes: the watermelon and ice chest go ahead with the small aluminum motor boats or my Dad's sailboat. When we first arrive at the island, everyone is eager to jump into the cold river water, swim from shoal to shoal, wash their hair in the waves. But no one in my family can go more than an hour or two without food. It's not long before the teenagers start saying they are hungry.

So my mother and I each grab a sharp knife and start cutting things up. Family members circle around us, some sitting on towels, some just standing about on the grey rock, tanned arms and hands reaching into the human cluster to grab chunks of food. We numbered 21 last week, kids and grown-ups combined, which makes for 42 hands and arms eagerly grasping for food.

I cut up the entire watermelon. Slice after slice, it disappears. My mother cuts up hunks of cheese. Every piece disappears. I grab the jar of peanut butter and begin putting peanut butter on crackers, setting them on top of the ice chest. Tanned fingers grab them before I even set them down. My mother cuts up a long stick of pepperoni. She opens cans of sardines. I pull a bag of cherries from the ice chest. Fistfuls move past my line of vision.

In the midst of this feeding frenzy, working fast to cut up food, all I can see are tanned legs and arms, hands reaching towards me. I do not take the time to see who is who but just put food into any outstretched hand. Soon all eight sleeves of crackers are gone. I find some apples and start cutting them up.

We always warn guests about meal times: if you don't move fast, you will get nothing to eat. Even the most shy person learns quickly not to hang back. Politeness will get you nowhere in my family; you learn to be assertive or starve.

We never have leftovers. Ever. And luckily, there is nothing to clean up either. We stuff leftover plastic wrap from the cheese and such into a paper bag. Another paper bag is filled with compost such as watermelon rinds. We toss the knives back into the ice chest. Sticky children, dripping with watermelon juice, their faces stained from grape juice, can be tossed into the river. The picnic lunch is over. The group will be satisfied for an hour or so, until it is time to pile into the boats and return to camp for an after-swim snack.

July 12, 2005

No More Stones, No More Drugs

Spouse came home from the doctor's today with a good report. It looks like the kidney stone episode is officially over. He's no longer in pain, no longer on mind-altering drugs, and the whole thing is becoming a dim memory. I expected the stones to look like the kind of thing I would pick up and skip across a pond, but really they looked more like grains of sand. Funny that something so small could cause so much pain.

It is rather unsettling to see someone you love writhing in intense pain. I've had only one experience with intense physical pain; six years ago I broke my leg in two places. This kidney stone episode was Spouse's first experience with intense physical pain, and he didn't much like it.

The other new thing for me - once the pain medication took effect and Spouse was no longer writhing in pain - was getting to experience my husband in a drugged state. I've known him since 1978 (we met in high school), and I've never seen him drunk or stoned because he has never been drunk or stoned. I am always a little curious to see how a person acts on drugs because it kind of amplifies their personality. Spouse, I was pleased to discover, is the sort of happy drunk who rambles on and on about how wonderful is wife is. This made me optimistic about any future episodes in which I will need to be his caretaker.

It's in the 90s here, another hot humid day, so I've decided to set up the massage table in our bedroom. (We have a portable massage table but the room is too small to leave it set up.) Massage is one thing that works well in this kind of heat. Hot humid weather relaxes the muscles, makes them easy to work on. I think after the sort of hellish night we had in the emergency room on Sunday, it is time to get those medical images out of our heads -- and celebrate the body.

Postcard from Pilgrim/Heretic!

Pilgrim/Heretic had promised to send some postcards to the regulars at the virtual bar she runs. And it seems that some of the regulars are getting a little competitive about who would get their postcard first and who would post it first.

For the record, Phantom Scribbler won the contest. I am posting my postcard almost a day later. But it was hardly a fair contest. I live in a rural area in the middle of nowhere, which means mail takes forever. And Phantom had only to push aside two tiny little kids to get to her scanner, while I had to push my way through a whole crowd of hulking teenagers to get to mine.

Anyhow, the photos are of the ancient bridges from the little town in the mountains where Pilgrim got married. Puente Mosquea. Puente Mocha. Puente Nuevo.

I love getting stuff in the mail from blogging friends. It's nice to hold something in my hand as proof that you all really do exist. Thank you Pilgrim!

July 11, 2005

Rambling Thoughts from the Emergency Room

Perhaps it is because I am the caretaker type, but I have actually spent quite a bit of time in emergency rooms, hospitals, and nursing homes. Always, eventually, the scenario comes down to the same thing: the person I am with gets enough pain medication and dozes off. By then of course, it is close to dawn. I go off to find a vending machine or telephone. I never remember to bring a sweatshirt, so I borrow a white blanket, which I wear draped around me. Because I have a horrible sense of direction and because I am desperately tired, I get lost trying to find my way back to the room, and end up wandering the hospital in the middle of the night in a dazed stupor, trailing a white blanket like I am some kind of ghost.

The hospital setting brings back all kinds of unsettling memories. Wandering around bleeding and crying and feeling utterly alone the long night of a traumatic car accident. Trying to get information from doctors about whether or not my aunt was dying. Talking to my father-in-law as he was admitted, gasping for air, just before he died of lung cancer. Bringing my kids and my brother's stepkids to visit my sister-in-law in the hospital day after day when she would not get better. Trying to find my grandmother in the intensive care unit and realizing I could barely recognize the contorted and bloated body in the bed.

The worst part of an emergency room, though, is seeing so many people in pain. I don't mean the physical pain. Almost every person I saw last night, many of them quite old, was alone. The woman in the next bed kept calling, "Someone help me." The overworked nurse was doing her best to chat with every person in every bed, but clearly there was no way she could give emotional support to that many patients. Especially when the cops started bringing in the drunk and unruly patients.

When I was taking care of my aunt in a nursing home during the months before she died, I got to know many of the other patients. Because I was a regular, none of the staff minded me talking to other patients. I could jump in to help move a woman who was being washed. I learned how to help change a catheter tube. I would talk to the women who wandered the halls.

But in an emergency room, every bed has curtains around it. I could talk to the woman in the next bed, but I could hardly pitch in and start helping. My palms were tingling, but I could not go over and start doing reiki on someone when I didn't know what she was being treated for. Standing by and just watching all that pain and loneliness was difficult for a caretaker like me. Because I have a big support system of family and friends, it is hard for me to imagine what it must feel like to be alone like that.

I tried to get a little sleep by getting into my usual hospital position: sitting in the stiff hospital chair, leaning my head against the bed, and letting my hair shield me from the light. My hair smelled like campfire smoke (I never did get that shower), and that was comforting. My husband, in his drugged state, was sort of rambling about stuff. He kept saying to me, "You are good at this. You know how to take care of sick people."

And I guess, thinking about it, that he is right. I get angry at myself sometimes for being such a caretaker, but it's also one of my strengths. It's not such a bad way to be. I don't always remember that.

Back at home, almost ....

After nine days of camping, I was looking forward to two things: taking a hot shower and sleeping in a bed with sheets and a mattress. I came home yesterday evening rested and relaxed, ready to enjoy the luxuries of home. It didn't take us long to unpack: Boy in Black put the tents in the garage, I unloaded the food from the ice chest, and Spouse began sorting the piles of laundry. We were looking forward to a relaxing evening.

Spouse started off for the video rental store, with the idea that we could have a romantic evening at home watching a movie. He returned in moments, writhing in pain. I never did get a chance to take that shower. We ended up spending a long sleepless night in the emergency room, where tests confirmed the presence of kidney stones. Twelve hours later, we've returned home with lots of pain medication for Spouse. It looks like a tough couple days ahead for him. And I am back to being an overtired zombie ....

July 07, 2005

July 02, 2005

Off to camp

It will be cool under the oak trees. Always, there is a breeze off the river. My husband will take the hammock, the youngest kids will go off into the woods, and the teen-age girls will set up down by the dock with magazines and suntan lotion. Every kid will have a cousin to play with. Boy in Black will get a group to play frisbee golf or bocce. I'll find a place on the grass where I can take a nap or write in my journal.

No computer. No telephone. No housework. No mailbox.

The best part of a week at camp is simply that there is nothing I have to do. Nothing at all. My mother, Blonde Brother-in-law, and Red-haired Sister take charge of the meals. My mother assigns chores to my kids. The small tent I share with my husband takes minutes to set up, and then I am free to do whatever I want.

At breakfast each morning, we will eat blueberry pancakes and argue about which island we want to go to that day. Blonde Sister always wants an island in the bay because it is warmer. The teenagers like Wassail Island because it's got a small cliff that is perfect for jumping off -- and shoals to swim to. My Dad will argue for an island out near the channel, in the deep cold water where we can watch ships go by. My favorite island is Third Brother Island. The sail there is gorgeous: we go past an island full of great blue heron nests.

Eventually, some one will make a decision, and we will pile into the boats: the sailboat, the old aluminum motorboats, the canoes. We'll spend the day at an island, swimming, eating, playing in the water. We'll come back late in the afternoon, tired and tanned. Family members will gather at the picnic table to eat snacks; I come from a family of skinny people who eat constantly. And I'll go off with my journal, to lie on the ground, write or sleep.

Lazy summer days of doing nothing much at all. That's the week I've got coming up. I'll go sailing with my Dad. Canoeing with my Mom. I'll take some walks with my husband. We'll take at least one big family hike. Maybe I'll will even talk to my brother. Mostly, though, I'll just enjoy a whole week outside, near the marsh that I love, getting long nights of sleep in the fresh air, eating food cooked over a campfire, swimming in the river, and feeling my body relax.

I always come home from camp feeling rested, relaxed, and peaceful, ready to tackle anything. It's one thing I've always been able to count on.

July 01, 2005

The Seven Question Quiz

Bitch, Ph.D. tagged me for this meme. I don't think it even has a name.

1. What were three of the stupidest things you have done in your life?

Hey, I just wrote a post about how I don't like lying in bed thinking about all the stupid things I've ever done. So I am going to have to change this. You really don't want to hear about the time I jumped down the stairs the day after moving into my new house and broke my leg in two places, do you?

Smartest things: Having children. Giving up alcohol. Getting an education.

2. At the current moment, who has the most influence in your life?

Who? Well, it's an interconnected group of all kinds of people: family, friends, and writers. My life is crowded with people who influence me. All four of my kids would be pretty high on the list.

3. If you were given a time machine that functioned, and you were allowed to only pick up to five people to dine with, who would you pick?

Oh, come on. If I got my hands on a time machine, you think a dinner party would be my goal? Ha! Yeah, I have seen Star Trek re-runs and epsiodes of Dr. who, and I understand how dangerous it is to make changes in the time line and fool around with the space time continuum, but I'd have a hard time not resisting.

I don't think I'd go back and change anything in my personal life. Because right now I like who I am. I'm willing to keep everything in my past. But as far as the dominant culture in this culture goes ..... let's just say that if I get my hands on a time machine, George W. Bush's name will no longer be in any history book.

4. If you had three wishes that were not supernatural, what would they be?

I wish every person on the planet felt loved.
I wish we did a better job of loving the planet.
Yeah, and I'd eliminate sexism, classicism, racism, homophobia, all the isms.

No, those things are not supernatural. I think they are do-able goals.

5. Someone is visiting your hometown/place where you live at the moment. Name two things you regret your city not having, and two things people should avoid.

Two things we need: Sidewalk cafes where people crowd around tiny round tables, chatting in French and eating crusty baguettes. The Seine. See, it would be much more fun to have my friends over if I lived in Paris.

Two things to avoid: Well, don't visit in the summer if you don't like mosquitoes. And yeah, don't visit in February if you are driving, because you will get snowed in. Unless you want to get snowed in and spend a week or so trapped in a small house with a whole bunch of crazy kids, building snow forts and having snowball fights and hanging out by the fire.

6. Name one event that has changed your life.

Are we looking for something personal here? A traumatic car accident in December of 1991 changed my life dramatically. In ways both good and bad, although I am beginning to think maybe the good will outweigh the bad in the long run.

7. Tag 5 people.

Yeah, I am too tired to run around tagging people. Can I get five volunteers?