February 25, 2009

Off to find peace and quiet

During the first week of my sabbatical, I took a trip to Big City Like No Other, where I spent time with Red-haired Niece and Urban Sophisticate Sister, visited museums and wandered around the city, and met up with all kinds of blogging friends.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a week in Midwestern City with the Baseball Team That Always Loses. At Big Creative Writing Conference, I went to sessions, talked to editors, and hung out with other writers. That week was crowded with meals in great restaurants, readings in ballrooms hung with chandeliers, and conversations with friends in coffeeshops and museums. It was a week spent talking about writing and ideas and publications. It saturated even an extrovert like me.

Tomorrow, I'm going to a monastery where I'll have an uninterrupted week of silence. I'll spend it writing. It's not the monastery that I usually go to, but a bigger monastery in Southern State Where it Will be Warm. I don't know what to expect exactly, except for the peace and quiet I always find on retreat. I'm bringing my laptop so that I can work on my manuscript. But I'm leaving my mittens home.

February 24, 2009

Wind chill

On our drive to the lake, my father kept saying how horrified he was at all the houses built right to the edge of the lake. They were whole houses, not just little camps. “It wasn’t like this when I was a kid,” he kept saying.

“What about the restaurant?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s been there forever.”

It’s the restaurant where my wedding reception was held, 25 years ago. And a few years after that, Red-haired Sister married Tie-dye Brother-in-law out on the front lawn that slopes down to the water. Those were summer weddings, of course. I remember that while Red-haired Sister was saying her vows, Urban Sophisticate Sister sneaked around giving guests bubble solution and bubble wands that she’d kept a secret from Red-haired Sister. When the newly married couple turned to walk through the crowd, the air was filled with glistening bubbles.

I used to come sailing on this lake with my father when I was a kid. The sound of a chainsaw or the smell of burning leaves always reminds me of those fall days on the lake. My father told the story of the time he and Trumpet Player were sailing around out in front of the restaurant in a light wind, just tacking back and forth. Finally, they came into the dock and into the bar. The bartender said to them, “I wondered how long it was going to take you to come in and have a drink.”

On an icy day in February, the big windows of the restaurant looked out across a white expanse where snowmobiles zoomed along and ice fishermen carried their equipment to the edge of round holes. My parents and I had come to the restaurant to celebrate my father’s 78th birthday. We were joined by Drumming Grandfather, who was celebrating his 78th birthday the very same week. My father and Drumming Grandfather have known each other since high school; they were in a band together in 1947.

While my parents were looking at the menu (which you’d think they’d know by heart), I couldn’t resist slipping outside to take a few photos. Even though the temperatures had dropped below zero, with winds off the lake that made it feel considerably colder, I decided to dash out without my coat. I sneaked down to the big banquet room, empty on this winter day, and went out the glass door. As it shut behind me, I thought, “Damn. I bet it’s locked.”

Of course it was.

Outside in frigid winds, wearing no coat and no boots, with the entrance locked firmly behind me, I did what any rational person would do. I clambered down the snowy lawn to take photos of the lake. Within minutes, my fingers were red and painful. Shivering, I ran back up the hill to the building. I considered, for just a moment, throwing myself across the front windows, pounding like a crazy person where all the customers would see me. I do love a dramatic scene.

Then I realized that I could climb over the fence, make my way across the snowbanks, and slide into the parking lot at the front of the restaurant. Camera in hand, my face chapped with red, coatless and bootless, I strode into the front door, pretending that really, I had intended to take a nice walk in the winter wind all along.

Wind chill

February 23, 2009

Ah, February

It's always been the longest month for me. Here in the Snowstorm Region, it's about 96 days long. By February, we've had months of snow, and the novelty of winter weather has worn off. We usually have a thaw somewhere in the middle of the month, a few hopeful days of warm weather that makes it feel like spring is coming.

And then, overnight, the temperatures drop, snow falls, and suddenly I'm outside again scraping ice off the windshield, and shivering because I didn't put on a hat, and driving ten miles per hour on treacherous roads. Nights in February are long because they are filled with demons, each emotional scar re-opening on the anniversary of that first sharp pain.

As I'm getting older, I am trying to make peace with February. I used to dig open the scars, pulling off the scabs, scratching into the memories. Now I leave them be. They are part of me. Like the silver stretch marks on my belly, they are a sign of growth. On dark nights, I just touch them gently, or massage oil into them.

Last week, when I talked to my friend Wild Hair about meditation, he suggested that after I meditate, I shouldn't just get up and rush away, but sit for a while with all that has been stirred up in the silence. I'm trying to open myself into the stillness of winter, into the spaces of February, into the richness of all that has happened in my past.



February 22, 2009

Through the pine trees

Through the woods

Red-haired Sister was in town this week, with her two kids and a pack of crazy dogs, spending her time at my parents' house, Blonde Sister's house, and my house. She comes every winter during the week that With-a-Why has off from school. The cousins had fun together -- going to the science museum, doing craft projects, and playing games. And yesterday, a bunch of us went cross-country skiing. We'd had about a foot of snow the night before, so the conditions were perfect.

Well, maybe not perfect. On the sunny parts of the trail, the snow was sticky, and it felt more like walking than skiing. Dandelion Niece had trouble with a right ski that kept falling off. My youngest son forgot his mittens, but Suburban Nephew came to his rescue by producing an extra pair, cutting short my lecture about how a fourteen-year-old should be able to pack his own clothes. My father pointed out virtuously that the conditions would have been perfect a few hours before -- if only we all had gotten up early like he does.

We kept shedding layers of clothes because the sun was so warm. My parents, who ski or snowshoe every day in the winter, somehow got way ahead of us, and I didn't see them until we got back to the car. Yes, that's right. My parents who are in their late seventies were skiing faster than I was. That's the kind of thing that makes me wonder about my athletic prowess.

Despite the fact that the trails weren't very fast, it was a wonderful day to be outside. I could take my mittens off to help my niece with her ski without my fingers turning into an ice sculpture. Suburban Nephew had a camera in his pocket just like I did, and we took the time to take a few photos as we skied along. The pine trees were covered with fresh snow, and when I skied out from under them, I could feel the sun on my face. My sister pointed out that the sky was a deep blue, rather than white or grey: a sign of spring.

February 21, 2009

For the record

For the record

By federal law, all male citizens of this country must register with the Selective Service within thirty days of their eighteenth birthday. Failure to register is a felony.

The hands in this photo belong to Shaggy Hair Boy, who turned eighteen in January. He wrote on his registration card: "I am opposed to war in all forms." Then he signed it, made a photocopy of it, and sent it in.

February 20, 2009

Free to a good home

Surely, you don't mean me

February is never a good month for the creatures in my household. Long stretches of cold weather and too much time trapped inside the house means hissing and snarling and fighting over territory. The humans, at least, stick mostly with swear words and empty threats. The cats? They pee on stuff. This is Gretel, a cat who came to us ten years ago as a stray. She doesn't know why anyone would put HER outside in the snow. Those crazy humans just don't appreciate the smell of cat urine.

And yes, the title is a joke. We aren't really giving her away.

February 19, 2009

Conference mornings


My body isn't used to conference life. I did go to some off-site readings: Peace-loving Feminist read her just-published novel in a bar, and Mentor Poet read his poetry at a small art gallery. And of course, I went to restaurants, enjoying great food and conversations. But I spent an awful lot of time inside a huge old hotel -- sitting in a stiff chair to listen to a speaker, milling about in ballrooms and hallways to find friends, and walking through a book exhibit that featured more than 800 tables and not a single window.

That's why I got up early each morning to take a long walk outside. My roommate -- who is considerably more wholesome than I am -- would put on her running clothes and go for a run. I'd put on my red winter coat and take my camera, and head towards the lake.

Despite the thousands of people at the conference, and the millions who live in the city, the lakeshore was empty most mornings. Perhaps it was the icy wind that kept people away. When I took my mittens off to use my camera, they'd get cold pretty fast. I'd have the whole wide expanse of water to myself as I walked along the concrete piers, planning my day, thinking about all that I'd seen so far, and just enjoying the time alone while behind me, the rest of the city began to wake up.

February 18, 2009



When I first arrived at my hotel in Windy City, I noticed that that the park across the street was filled with -- well, I wasn't sure what. I could see what seemed to be square objects, each the size of a toolshed, wrapped in tarps that flapped in the wind. During a morning walk, I went over to investigate. The objects turned out to be huge blocks of snow. And a truck was dumping more snow at the end of the sidewalk. Yes, in a total reverse of the snow removal process that I've come to know well in Snowstorm City, this dumptruck was delivering snow to the middle of the city. You just never know what crazy happenings you're going to see in a big city. I love that.

The next time I walked by, artists had arrived with tools and ladders to carve these blocks of snow into sculptures. I stopped to talk to one artist, a bearded man in a flannel shirt, who said the warm sun was a problem. He said that most of the sculptors were waiting for the temperatures to drop. They would stay up most of the night, carving at the snow and filing icy corners. They had a deadline for their art: noon the next day. When I went past later on my way to lunch, I saw a camera crew gathered near the sculptures. A team of huskies was pulling a professionally dressed woman who was trying to balance on a sled while talking cheerfully into a microphone about the sculpture contest.

By the next evening, when I came through with my friends at night, portable spotlights shone on finished sculptures. A small crowd had gathered. On a makeshift half-pipe that was really more like quarter-pipe, local kids were trying snowboarding tricks, their boards clattering as they hit the rails or crashed against fencing. We walked around in the darkness to look at the sculptures, arguing about which one we liked best. One of the snow sculptures — an anatomically correct heart — had not survived the thaw and had crashed to the ground in pieces, ironically, on Valentine’s Day.


February 17, 2009

Naked in the Windy City

We're going to make buttons for the next conference. "I got naked for jo(e)." Or perhaps t-shirts. "I stripped for the blog." Maine Blogger suggested a graphic — butt cheeks that look like mountains, perhaps, or legs curved like tree branches. Really, we want some kind of symbol to encourage community amongst the elite crowd who have posed nude for my camera. Right now, they have only comment boxes in which to draw butt cracks in the sand.

Blogging tradition dictates that my conference roommate pose naked. But Maine Blogger had already posed for me last February. So I enlisted her help in coercing friends to strip for the blog. I have to say that the task was surprisingly easy. Perhaps it was the slumber party atmosphere in our room. (It was the first time Maine Blogger and I had ever roomed together: the first time, in fact, that she'd ever had a conference roommate, unless you count her husband, which I don't. "You will always be my first," she said to me in the airport as we parted.)

So many people are clamoring to pose naked for the blog that we're thinking we might need to have auditions for my next conference, which will be the Friendly Green Conference in June. Friendly Green Folk, perhaps because they do stuff like white water rafting and caving and hiking in the rain, are awfully cooperative when it comes to taking off their clothes.

We had time for two photo shoots. We could have done more, but there was this whole conference going on. I had to keep going to all these readings and booksigning. (Hey, not my fault at all. Tell my friends to stop publishing so damned many books.)

Our first volunteer was Yoga Poet. Well, perhaps volunteer is too strong of a word. But really, she came to our room of her own free will. And I got right to the point, "How about if you get naked, climb onto the desk, and do some kind of yoga pose?" To her credit, she acted like that was a perfectly reasonable request. We caught her at a good time; she was waiting anxiously for a phone call announcing that her next grandchild had been born, and so she was too distracted to protest.

She chose something called paschimothanasana, a seated forward bend. And of course, the pose was incredible because Yoga Poet is not only beautiful, but ridiculously flexible. Seriously, look at that photo and try to make your body bend like that. I tried and my upper body didn't come even close to touching my legs. (And yes, she *is* a grandmother. I'm guessing that photo doesn't match the stereotype of a grandmotherly academic.)


Afterwards, we gathered around the computer and discussed the photos on the screen. "I'm glad you left the bracelets on — they're lovely." We were still giggling and looking at the nude shots when a knock sounded on the door. It was Artist Friend, who was meeting us for lunch. Have I mentioned before that Artist Friend is a guy? Yoga Poet slipped into the bathroom to put her clothes back on, while my lovely assistant escorted Artist Friend to the chair where he was allowed to sit while we women finished looking at the photos.

"Don't worry, I'm used to this," Artist Friend said, rolling his eyes. Yeah, he and I have been conference friends for years. Nothing surprises him anymore. So he stepped into the cloud of estrogen and obediently sat in the chair while we debated which photo to use.

"The first one – where I'm still wearing the towel – is actually a better photo than the completely naked ones," Yoga Poet said.

"It's the light. The clouds had moved in by the time we were taking the naked ones."

"No, it's the drape of the towel. I like that."

"But this is not a purely aesthetic project," argued Maine Blogger. "There is some value to being totally naked."

"I like the line of your body. There is no space between your upper body and legs."

Our second photo shoot involved Jaybird. That's her last name. Her first name is Nakedasa. Yes, that's what happens when you let friends choose their own pseudonyms.

By then it was Saturday, and we'd all been crazily busy, going to sessions and meeting up with friends and trying to talk to ten people all at once. So it was quite relaxing to gather in a hotel room and lounge on the bed with the camera, discussing lighting and angles, while Jaybird relaxed on a chair in front of the window, stark naked.


Artist Friend again arrived for lunch at just the wrong moment, and we made him first stand outside the room until the photo shoot was done, and then sit in the sequestered chair while we looked at the photos. If he felt excluded — well, it was his own fault. We offered to let him take his clothes off and join the exclusive "I've posed naked for jo(e) club" but he stubbornly refused to remove even his coat. There's a reason that my blog is the number three google hit for "photos of naked middle-aged women." They are the ones who think nothing of stripping for the camera.

The photo of Jaybird was lovely, of course. And it was taken on February 14th, which made it that much more special. I told her she could send it to her sweetheart. With a nice message: "Hi dear! Sorry we couldn't be together on Valentine's Day. But don't worry, I got naked with jo(e) instead."

(Readers who are mystified by this post and want to know the history of the naked photo tradition can check it out here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.)

Les amoureux

Les Amoureux

February 16, 2009

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them

Five days in the City of the Big Shoulders were not enough.

I began Big Creative Writing conference with earnest intentions. I attended helpful conference sessions like "You Will Never Publish Your Book. Ever. So Don't Even Try" and "Even if Your Book Gets Published, No One Will Buy it." I listened while Witty Guy from Georgia read into a microphone snippets from rejection letters he'd gotten, enhanced with snarky comments that made me think he ought to give up on the novel and become a stand-up comedian. I heard some fantastic readings, some by friends and some by writers I have worshipped from afar. In a cavernous hotel room crowded with editors of small presses and piles of books, I talked with people whose names I know mostly from rejection slips. Of course, at least one editor now thinks I'm some kind of crazy stalker because I couldn't resist asking him to pose naked for my blog.

I tried not to do too much of the hero worshipping thing, but I'll admit that on the way to dinner one night, I carried the heavy bookbag of Feminist Poet for seven blocks, stammering and blushing as I tried to make conversation with her. Of course, my priority at the conference was spending time with old friends. I met up with a bunch of Friendly Green Folk, two of whom stripped naked for my camera. I had lunch with Chicago Friend, whom I hadn't seen in two years, and walked around the city with him while he pointed out landmarks and cool architecture.

I wandered through the Art Museum with Artist Friend, trying to catch up on our lives while simultaneously looking at so many amazing works of art that it was quite overwhelming. We ended up sitting on the carpeted floor in a dark alcove, talking quietly, while a performance poet got naked on the screen in front of us. I had a leisurely meal with Wild Hair and Peace-loving Feminist in a Greek Restaurant that Wild Hair used to come to when with his grandfather in the early 1960s. My favorite moment of that meal was when the little girl behind me accidentally knocked a plate onto the floor, where it broke with a loud crash. Everyone around her burst into applause, a response that startled her at first, but turned her look of guilt into happy laughter.

I had intended to get together with Cool Blogging Friends who live in Midwestern City With Such Great Restaurants, but my efforts were hampered by the exorbitant prices Fancy Conference Hotel was charging for internet access and by a conference that offered about a Dozen Exciting Opportunities in every time slot from 8 am until midnight. In what is possibly the lamest blogging move ever, I didn't even meet up with bloggers who were at the very same conference. The one blogger I did get to spend time with was Maine Blogger Who Coined the Term Canine Naturalist. That's because we were sharing a room. No, she didn't bring the dog.

Every night Maine Blogger would tell me hysterically funny stories about all the crazy people she'd met that day. Like a good blogger, she lapses into pseudonyms without even trying. The man who chatted with her on the airplane remained The Guy Who Sat Next to Me on the Plane for the entire conference: he'll have to publish a damned good book before he gets a new pseudonym. Because Maine Blogger is the editor of a journal, she had to spend much of the conference handcuffed to a table in the book exhibit, where she was able to observe the eccentric behavior of Hungover Writers Who Have Had Way Too Much Coffee and Not Enough Sleep. She herself is an efficient and organized person who made so many strange phone calls to the front desk ("Could you tell me how many bars there are in the building?" and "I have a complaint about the little black book by the phone.") that we are lucky we didn't get kicked out of our room. Athough, come to think of it, that would have made for a good story.

City with lifted head singing

February 10, 2009

Flying away

I'm off to Big Midwestern City With a Lake Front, an Art Institute, and a Baseball Team that Always Loses. I'll be attending a creative writing conference, which means that I'll be going to all kinds of readings and booksignings. I'll be meeting up with friends, of course, and going to the art museum, and making the most of this winter break. After these quiet weeks of staying home and writing, I'm looking forward to the whirl of activity. I'm an extrovert, which means that a conference can totally energize me. I don't expect to be online much for the rest of the week, but I'll return with photos, hopefully, and stories.

February 09, 2009

The cat days of February

The stretches of subzero weather we get this time of year can make everyone in the household miserable, including the cats. Trapped inside, they hiss at each other and fight over territory. On Friday one of the cats peed on our couch -- yes, right on the cushions that we sit on. This incident led to much yelling and swearing on my part while I was taking the cushions apart to clean them and setting them near the fire to dry thoroughly. Shaggy Hair Boy, who somehow found the incident funny, managed to prevent me from killing the cat responsible.

For most of Saturday, I muttered darkly about giving the cats away to anyone who would take them. And as long as I was yelling at the cats, I decided to rant and rave to the kids to about what a mess the house was. Usually I can just ignore a counter full of dirty dishes, but a cat piss incident just puts me over the top.

Snowboarding yesterday, far away from the messy house and the cats, was just what I needed. The conditions weren't perfect; some slopes were icy, while others were soft. But still, it felt wonderful to spend the day outside in the sunshine and warm air. I drove home, with Blonde Niece in the seat next to me choosing the music, through farm fields where the rows of corn stubble was beginning to show through melting snow.

Just after strapping in

View from the top of a ski slope.

February 08, 2009

I get knocked down, I get up again

I get knocked down, I get up again

A skier putting his skis back on after a fall. A friend of mine always says that if you never fall, that means you aren't pushing yourself enough.



Temperatures soared into the 40s yesterday, a surge of spring-like weather that was a welcome change from the subzero temperatures we'd been having. Despite more than a foot of snow in the backyard, Shaggy Hair Boy and Boy in Black decided to start practicing their Ultimate Frisbee moves. Boy in Black has been out with an injury -- a pulled groin -- so he's taking it slow, gradually getting himself back into shape for the spring season. Shaggy Hair Boy discovered that the soft snow made ideal conditions for practicing the layout, a move in which you slam your body against the ground in order to catch a disc.

February 06, 2009

Playing on the bridge

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the library with the two little neighbor kids. It's only a mile away, and they usually walk with their mother and baby brother, but even a mile is too far in subzero weather if you aren't dressed properly. So we went in my car, leaving their mother home to have some quiet time with the baby.

The frigid weather this week has been difficult on both humans and animals. Staying inside all the time makes everyone miserable. It felt good to get out of the house, even if it was just to the little Traintrack Village Library. On the way home, Little Biker Boy said, "Hey, aren't we near where the Green Bridge is?"

Everyone calls it the Green Bridge even though it's so rusted that it's not very green anymore. A pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks, it looks like a big cage made of chain link fencing. A train was coming along the tracks just as we pulled in. The kids ran up and down the ramps, their breath coming out in big dragon puffs, and yelled and waved to the train that went by underneath. The metal grates clanged under our feet, and the train beneath the bridge rumbled.

That's what I love about spending time with little kids: something simple like the Green Bridge becomes fun. Ponytail's cheeks were bright red, and she was laughing as she ran, her hair coming down into her face in wisps. Little Biker Boy kept saying, "Didn't I have a good idea?" They stood on the top of a ramp to watch the sun setting over the train yard, and then we climbed back into the warm car, filled with icy fresh air.


February 05, 2009

25 Things About Me

This meme has been going around facebook ... and the blogosphere as well. I've been tagged for it about 25 times so I'm giving in and doing it.

1. I have a scar on my left arm from the time I ran into a dog on my bicycle.
2. I can sing "Silent Night" in Hawaiian. That's because the elementary school I attended had these nuns who were from Hawaii.
3. My early feminist influences were, in fact, nuns -- strong, independent women who had no husbands to defer to. I don't know whether or not they understand that they were modeling feminist behavior.
4. I bought my first "real" camera last summer -- a Nikon D60.
5. When I was in first grade, and the teacher asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, I said, "A writer and a teacher."
6. I am a writer and a teacher.
7. My mother's closest friend when I was a kid worked for a local non-profit environmental group as the editor of their publication. During the late 80s, I was editor of that same publication.
8. I once broke a window by throwing a bag of frozen peas at it.
9. When I was little, my father's nickname for me was "Mouse" because I was shy and quiet.
10. As an adult, I am an extrovert. Aunt Seashell always said that I take after the Irish politicians in the family. I know how to work a room.
10. I get my love of reading and writing from my mother.
11. When I was in college, I used to tape letters from my mother to the door of my dorm room because all my friends wanted to read them.
12. I don't play a musical instrument. I wish I did.
13. I'm not much for following rules -- unless they are accompanied by logical reasons.
14. I love to dance. I am one of those people willing to be the first person on the empty dance floor.
15. I don't dance particularly well. But I am not self-conscious about that. I figure that everyone on the dance floor is busy worrying about how they look, and the presence of someone dancing crazily, but not particularly gracefully, will make them feel more comfortable. I am good at talking other people into dancing.
16. I am Irish and Italian and German. In that order.
17. I have never had short hair. I like the feel of long hair.
18. I like going to art museums. And science museums. Well, pretty much any kind of museum. Whenever I travel to a city for a conference, the first thing I look up is where the museums are.
19. When I lived in London as a college student, I lived in a building that was filled with families from Saudi Arabia. I made friends with some of the women and the kids, even though they spoke no English.
20. I still remember some words in Arabic.
21. I drink several cups of herbal tea every day.
22. I love the smell of coffee, but I don't drink it.
23. I read a lot of books on spirituality, personal growth, and psychological principles. Human behavior fascinates me.
24. I have this idea that reading books like that will make me a better person. Still waiting for that to happen.
25. I prefer even numbers to odd numbers so it annoys me that this list is supposed to end on an odd number.
26. See, even numbers just feel more complete.

Ink spell

Lost in the pages

Shaggy Hair Boy reading on the comfy couch, amidst the noise and confusion of the household.

February 04, 2009


On the brick wall above our heads, quilts hung, filled with rich purples and oranges and greens — works of art created by my friend Quilt Artist. Other quilts were piled on wooden chairs, their secrets hidden inside folds. The big front window was dark and covered with frost, but inside the small restaurant, women kept holding up patterns of colour and meaning.

“We have a relationship with fabric that begins moments after we’re born,” said the woman next to me.

I don’t quilt myself, but my friend Quilt Artist had invited me to this gathering because she knew I’d want to hear the stories that went with the quilts. I drank hot herbal tea, warming my hands on the cup, as I listened. One woman talked about the symbols in quilts, how people say they were used by slaves traveling the Underground Railroad.

One woman held up the quilt that she worked on in a hospital room while her father was dying and her grandson was being born. The colours represented things that her father loved: green for the pine trees of the mountains, blue for sky, white for the snow on the mountaintops. Another woman showed quilts she’d made at different points of her emotional journey: a quilt she worked on when she was dealing with the sexual abuse of her childhood, a quilt she made for her daughter when she was a baby. Another woman held up a quilt that had been worked on by five generations of women.

As we talked, sharing bits of our lives, Quilt Artist was busy sewing, as usual, snapping threads off with her teeth between sentences. “Quilting parties gave women a chance to get together and talk like this,” Purple Fleece Woman said. The woman next to her laughed. “They still do.” She talked about her quilting group, a diverse group of women who meet every Saturday morning to sew together.

I filled my arms with a quilt that was worn and frayed near the edges, a hand-sewn quilt that had been much loved. I loved looking at the quilts on the walls, which were amazing works of art, but I think I liked most the quilts that were meant to be handled, works of art that you could wrap yourself in on a cold winter night.

February 03, 2009

In my living room

In my living room

Longtime readers will remember that I have an orange tree in my living room, a tree planted from seed by Shaggy Hair Boy when he was small. It's got glossy green leaves and awkward branches that stick out in all directions, and I have to keep pruning it when the branches scrape the ceiling. I find paper airplanes stuck in the branches sometimes, and Boy in Black is always knocking leaves off when he practices with his light saber.

Yes, there are times when I wonder, "Why the hell do we have this tree in our living room?" Our living area is already crowded -- with a piano, a keyboard, a drum set, seven guitars, and several amps. We have an oak bench that is usually piled with laptops and books and sheet music. We barely have room for the couch. But still, the tree is a living thing, part of the household, and most days, I like having all that glossy green to remind me that spring will eventually come.

This year, in a surprise move, the orange tree started bearing fruit. Not just one orange, but clusters of fruit, green balls that dangled like ornaments at Christmas time. They've been dropping prematurely and aren't really big enough to be very juicy, but they are turning colour after they drop, giving us a glimpse of orange on a winter day.

February 02, 2009

Beneath the chairlift


The ski patrol are easy to spot, even from a distance, because they wear red jackets with white crosses on the back. They use red toboggans to carry injured skiers or boarders down the slope. Whenever I’m in the chairlift and see the ski patrol pulling a toboggan or kneeling on the ground, their skis stuck upright in the snow, I lean as far as I can to see if I can catch a glimpse of the coat or hat, anything that could identify the person whose been hurt.

“It’s not one of us,” With-a-Why will say. “It’s a yellow coat.”

I can breathe then, even as I say a prayer that whoever got injured is not hurt badly, that it’s something that will heal quickly.

Dramatic fall

Dramatic fall

February 01, 2009

Above freezing

On bitterly cold days at the ski slope, I dress in so many layers that I barely talk to anyone else when we’re outside. The only people I can recognize are the ones I know so well that I've memorized their clothing. On the chairlift, I sit huddled against the metal back of the chair, afraid to move lest the fleece covering my face slip and expose a bit of skin.

Warm days like today are a luxury. How wonderful to pull off a mitten to adjust a binding and not have to calculate how long it would be before my fingers would turn blue and fall off. On the chairlift, I actually removed BOTH mittens to so that I could snap a few photos with the little point-and-shoot camera I had in the pocket of my coat. I ran into an old friend and recognized her right away, because her face was uncovered.

All over the mountain, I could see the affect of the sunny weather. Icicles hung from the roof of the ski lodge. Kids threw snowballs at each other. People with bare faces smiled at each other and called to friends.. Groups stood around talking and joking, instead of just skiing or boarding down the mountain as fast they could. On warm days, skiing and snowboarding become social sports.




A child learning to ski, safely tied to his parent as they go down the slope.