April 29, 2009

Gone monking

Monastery in April

The last day of classes on our campus was yesterday, which means that the semester is almost over. I’ve so enjoyed my sabbatical – having time to travel and write – that I hate to see it end. So I’m getting in my car and driving away, yet again.

This time, I’m going to the monastery, that cluster of buildings high in the hills in the southwest part of this state. While my colleagues are grading papers and proctoring finals, I’ll be hiking through the sheep pastures, drinking hot tea in the guest cottage, and working on my book. I’m hoping that there will baby sheep to visit and photograph.

April 28, 2009

Summer's coming

Spring semester tends to disintegrate when the sunny weather arrives, melting like a chocolate bar left on the dashboard of a car. Even though I’m on sabbatical, I can tell the semester is ending by listening to the gang of college students in my living room. I’d like to say that they’ve been working hard to finish their courses, but really, I’m not sure which class requires students to play computer games all night. Not that it’s all been computer games, of course. Sometimes it’s poker or Scrabble.

One night I counted six computers in the living room: really, it was a Geek Fest. Much to the amusement of his peers, FirstExtra decided to start teasing me because my computer is a Mac. Once he gets on a roll, he’s hilariously funny, but I can’t print his insulting comments. I don’t want to encourage him. I know he reads my blog because every time I post a naked photo, he says stuff like, “OMG! Why didn’t you warn me? My eyes are burning!”

Boy in Black always says he doesn’t read my blog – unless he’s got a lot of work to do and has a real need to procrastinate – but Blue-eyed Ultimate Player cheerfully admits that he’s even read stuff from the archives. I keep warning him that he’s going to end up on the blog sooner or later if he keeps spending so much time with us. He’s a sophomore from a town called Sandwich, which is such a cool name for a town that I can’t improve it with a pseudonym.

This time of year, academic efforts are pretty half-hearted. “I’ve got a Quantum Mechanics test tomorrow,” Boy in Black will say, “Want to go outside and throw?” Boy in Black’s method of studying for final exams is to sleep on the couch near his textbooks while the alarm on his cell phone goes off – annoyingly – every ten minutes. Blue-eyed Ultimate Player, about to start a project midnight before it was due, told me his strategy was to choose a topic his writing teacher didn’t know anything about. “I was going to write about suicide in the 1930s. Who knows anything about that? I don’t.”

Boy in Black’s injury (originally diagnosed as a pulled groin, now diagnosed as osteitis pubis, or an inflamed pubic bone) is STILL preventing him from playing Ultimate, but that doesn’t stop him from talking about the sport obsessively or practicing his flick. His friends’ method of cheering him up includes a constant stream of groin jokes. There’s a reason I haven’t been putting my kids’ dialogue on my blog these days ….

Now that the warm weather is here, the boys have been wearing new Ultimate shorts – which they ordered in bright colours. Boy in Black’s shorts are pink. Yes, whenever he chooses a colour other than black, pink is his choice. He’s known for the pink bandana he wears to pull his long hair back. Shaggy Hair Boy’s shorts are bright yellow, which teamed with an orange shirt, make him look like an Easter egg, except much skinnier. FirstExtra’s shorts are plaid. Yes. Plaid. With-a-Why's are purple. And Blue-eyed Ultimate Player? I don’t know what he usually wears, but when it got hot here, he put on the pair of blue shorts that are supposed to be my daughter’s. We are pretty communal when it comes to clothing.

Sunday morning, I woke up to find Shaggy Hair Boy, Boy in Black, and Blue-eyed Ultimate Player still awake in the living room, blearily playing some kind of computer game, intently discussing strategy. Despite their claims that they didn’t need sleep, I came back later to find to find them dozing on the couch and chair. My daughter, awake and showered, nudged me and pointed to Blue-eyed Ultimate Player. “Take a photo of him while he’s asleep. Then he’ll be surprised when he shows up on your blog.”

Another extra

April 27, 2009

All it takes is a garden hose

All it takes is a garden hose

The temperature went above 90 degrees today. It felt like summer, except that our trees are still bare. And with no leafy branches to shade the windows of the house, it was ridiculously hot by afternoon. My plan was to lie on the floor and complain about the heat. But then Little Biker Boy wanted to wash his bike so instead we got out the garden hose. The two little neighbor children -- as well as any unsuspecting person who stepped out the backdoor -- were soon soaking wet. I had forgotten how good it feels to get sprayed by a hose on a hot day.

April 26, 2009

Suddenly, summer

Suddenly, summer

In Snowstorm Region, we jump right from winter into summer. One day, we’re shoveling snow; the next, we’re searching for bathing suits and sunscreen. This weekend, temperatures rose into the eighties. Like everyone else, my husband and I immediately headed outside to the nearest park, which for us is Pretty Colour Lakes.

In the winter, I can come to the lake and see not another soul. Yesterday, the parking lot was full.

On the beach, whole families were gathered: toddlers with buckets and shovels, parents with books and newspapers, teenagers in bikinis. Stern signs forbid wading or swimming, and most people were happily ignoring the signs. As we walked around the lakes, we kept coming across more people. An elderly man was fishing with his granddaughter. A young couple sat on a bench in the sun, whispering and giggling to each other. Two women were walking a dog who kept leaping into the water and then shaking droplets all over them. Yellow coltsfoot was blooming along the shore.

The bare branches of the trees provided no shade – the leaves are still wrapped in tight buds – so I actually felt hot. It felt wonderful to feel too hot. My feet are cold from about October to March, so it was great to take off my socks and sneakers comfortably. We sat on the rocks near the second lake, and I dipped my feet into the clear water.

My husband and I walked around both lakes before driving off to find something to drink -- I was thirsty for lemonade or root beer, those traditional summer beverages -- and then we returned that evening with all four kids, some sandwiches, and a couple of discs. A wind had risen, but it was a warm wind, and the air moving across my bare arms and legs felt soft.

By this morning, I noticed that the leaves on my lilac bushes were unfolding. The seasons have shifted.

April 25, 2009

Hanging with the Scribbler family

I drove for hours through rain and fog, a mysterious landscape that made it feel like I could be anywhere on earth and possibly on another planet altogether. But then at last, just as the rain was letting up, I arrived at my destination: the home of Phantom Scribbler.

Her kids greeted me at the door with shy smiles and big eyes. I’d never met them before, but I’ve seen photos of them for years, and they were just what I expected: smart, lively, and ridiculously cute. They pulled me into a house overflowing with books, toys, and the warm smell of chocolate cupcakes. I felt at home immediately.

For four years, Phantom and I have been talking about me coming to visit her, and this week we did all the things we always said we would. She fed me vegan chocolate cupcakes — they were still warm when I arrived — with a delicious chocolate glaze. We watched the Muppet Show! That’s right — after all these years, I’m no longer a Muppet Show virgin.

Her kids were so much fun to play with. I started talking to High-Energy Little Boy about Ultimate Frisbee, and he took to the sport with the zeal of a convert, even setting up a field with Playmobil people so that we could discuss the finer points of the game and act out a whole tournament. His obliging father took him out to buy a disc, and I taught him how to throw a flick, no doubt a happy moment for his parents who will now have to endure constant requests to go “throw around” in the backyard. Perhaps the cutest thing was how quickly High-Energy Little Boy picked up the Ultimate jargon: within a day, he was yelling things like, “No Big!” or saying seriously, “Okay, this guy can handle” in a perfect imitation of Boy in Black, a twenty-year-old whom he’s never met.

We had a blogger meet-up within the blogger meet-up on Thursday when we spent the afternoon at the park with Tall Kate and her two kids. Tall Kate was just as friendly and down-to-earth as I thought she’d be. Forsythia was blooming everywhere, bright yellow and cheerful. The kids ran around and played, while we women talked and High-Energy Boy set about Ultimate Frisbee proselytizing to some girls he knew from school.

How relaxing it is to spend time with little kids. We sat at the table and drew on tissues with magic markers, and then hung them in the window because they looked just like stained glass if you kind of squinted when you looked at them. We made tissue paper flowers for imaginary friends. We spent time just staring out the window at the bunny in the side yard.

Little Girl with Big Beautiful Eyes is still young enough to climb on my lap and hug me. High-Energy Boy reminded me so much of my own brother at that age — constantly talking, drumming on the table, narrating events, dancing, singing, always busy and making some kind of noise. That’s what I grew up — I was in my thirties before I could be comfortable with silence — so his energy just delighted me. No one could ever feel lonely with him in the house! I suspect he’ll be an awesome musician when he gets older. And of course, an incredible Ultimate player.

Of course, the best part of the visit was simply having time with Phantom Scribbler. Her husband — who is so gentle and patient with the kids that it made me smile to watch — took them out one afternoon to visit his parents. We two women sat at the kitchen table, drinking hot tea and eating homemade vegan chocolate cupcakes, and mostly just talking, talking, talking. A great way to spend an afternoon.

April 21, 2009

Shh .. it's a secret

The younger kids are back in school this week. My husband and daughter are back at work. Boy in Black, FirstExtra, and Blue-eyed Ultimate Player are finishing up spring semester at college.

But I'm still on sabbatical. At least for a few more weeks.

So I've packed my camera. I've tossed some clothes in the car. I've grabbed some food to snack on and some CDs to listen to while I drive. I am sneaking away, all by myself.

April 20, 2009

End of experiment

Because I’m heading out of town in the morning, I stopped tonight to pick up my cell phone. My parents have had it for a whole week. They’ve gotten cell phone advice from just about everyone in the family, as well as several of my readers and some random strangers.

Have I mentioned before how obnoxious the ringtone on my phone is? It’s Shaggy Hair Boy making some kind of noise that’s worse than a smoke alarm going off. So the first thing my father said to me was, "We can change the ringtone, right?"

They hadn’t grasped the concept of voicemail so I clicked speaker phone and showed them how to retrieve the messages family members had left.

The first voice was Urban Sophisticate Sister, checking in from her apartment in Big City Like No Other: “Hey, I’m just calling to see how the great cell phone experiment is going. Unlike most people with cell phones, you clearly don’t have the knack of carrying it with you. But perhaps you’ve figured out how to check messages and you will get this message and return my call.”

I erased that message and played the next one. It was her again. “Hey, I’m just calling to see how the cell phone thing is going. Clearly, you don’t have the hang of carrying it with you. But maybe you’ve figured out how to check the voice mail and you can call me back.”

“Wow,” my father said. “You sound alike.”

That’s when I realized. The second message wasn’t my sister – it was me. Saying almost the same words, with the same inflections.


April 19, 2009



Behind my parents’ backyard, bulldozers have knocking down trees and ripping up fields. Trucks roll in and out every day, bringing workers and materials to construct a big medical complex, complete with parking lots and a curving drive.

On Easter, when we went out for our usual walk after a big meal, we found ourselves climbing a pile of stones and dirt that rose taller than the highway. The old apple orchard is gone completely. The deer have disappeared as well, my father reports. He hasn’t seen any tracks or scat.

The familiar landscape – the apple trees I walked through on a June day 23 years ago when I was in labor with my daughter, the trails where I went cross-country skiing as a teenager, the meadows where Outdoor Girl and I used to horseback ride, the tangled vines and trees and hidden places where we played as children – has been transformed into a long expanse of mud.

In the mud

That's Dandelion Niece in the photo.

April 18, 2009

The great cell phone experiment

They’ve been debating making the switch, and this week they tried it out. My parents are thinking of giving up their landline and getting a cellphone.

It’s a dramatic move for them, and they aren’t making the decision hastily. My father first sent an email out to the extended family, asking for everyone’s advice. A flurry of emails explored their options thoroughly. My father was born in 1931 so he’s got a learning curve with new technology.

Then I suggested that they take my cell phone for a week to try it out. “Do you have the manual?” my father asked.

By the next night, he had called every family member on my contact list. I think he was taking notes as he did so. “Are you inside your house? I’m going to try speaker phone. Do I sound any different? I talked to Red-haired Daughter last night, cell-to-cell at 7:34 pm and got very clear reception.”

My father has some problems with his hearing — some say it’s from years of playing as a musician, but I think the job he had setting up pins in a bowling alley when he was teenager may have done some damage as well. So he likes the speaker phone button, which he can use to make our voices louder.

My mother adapts to new technology easily, so she didn’t feel the need to call around the country, but my father needed empirical evidence. He waited until my daughter arrived on the west coast this week (she’s at a musical festival called Coachella) so that he could try calling someone that far away.

What’s funny is that my father rarely makes a phone call. I’ve talked to him more this week on the phone than I have in my whole life. I could tell when he’d get to a new section of the manual because he’d call and tell me about some feature of the phone. (“Did you know it’s like an answering machine too? It can record messages!”)

My parents won’t have trouble sharing a phone because I predict they will use it much like a landline. It’ll stay on the desk until it rings. They are surprisingly pleased with the obnoxious ring on my phone (it’s a recording of Shaggy Hair Boy that sounds something like a smoke alarm going off) because it’s a noise that can be heard throughout the house. I don’t foresee my mother calling me from the grocery store any time soon. But my parents do spend a lot of time at their camp in the summer, and it’ll be nice to know they can contact family members in the case of an emergency. And now, if I need to know how to use any feature on my phone, I can just call my Dad. Because he’s read the manual.

Feel free to chime in if you have any thoughts/experiences with giving up a landline and going to a cell phone ....



April 17, 2009


Yesterday afternoon, Blonde Niece and I took Little Biker Boy and Ponytail to Pretty Colour Lakes, the state park near my house. Little Biker Boy had never seen the lakes before, and he was excited about going there. Even though the park is only a few miles away, the kids managed to ask, “Are we there yet?” about fifteen times before we pulled into the parking lot.

We went to the playground, where the kids climbed, jumped, and slid on the equipment. We walked around the lake on a mulch-covered trail and climbed on cedar trunks that leaned out across the water. At the beach, the kids couldn’t resist running and splashing in the water, even though it was icy cold. By the time we got back in the car, Blonde Niece and I were exhausted, although the kids still seemed full of energy. We stopped for chocolate ice cones at the place near Blonde Niece’s home. On the way home, Little Biker Boy said to me, “This has been a good day.”


April 15, 2009


It was dark outside, and cold. My kids and extras had stopped for subs and were at the table, eating them. My husband left on a trip with With-a-Why yesterday morning, and I was waiting for a phone call that said he had arrived safely.

Suddenly we heard a pounding on the front door.

When I opened the door, I saw Little Biker Boy, the eight-year-old from down the street. Despite the cold, he was barefoot and naked except for a pair of boxer shorts. He flung himself into our house, sobbing and screaming.

I knew before he told me. His mother’s boyfriend, in a drunken rage, was attacking her.

We’ve been worrying this would happen. I had suspected the man was abusive, but I didn’t have proof.

Boy in Black grabbed the phone, dialed 911, and handed it over to me. My daughter pried the screaming child away from me and took him into the kitchen. Shaggy Hair Boy locked the doors.

“Does he have a weapon?” the voice on the line kept asking. “Can you find out whether or not he has a weapon?”

Biker Boy’s fifteen-year-old half- brother showed up a few minutes later, panicked and hurt. Abusive Man had ripped out his earring and punched him in the face. Little Biker Boy kept wanting to go out the front door, so I told Quick and Shaggy Hair to take him upstairs. Quick found some clothes for him.

The kids’ mother came running up our lawn – so frantic that I couldn’t get her to calm down or stay inside. I asked her whether or not the boyfriend had a gun. “He’s had too many felonies – he’s not allowed to have a gun.” Her two youngest kids, five-year-old Ponytail and the toddler were still inside the trailer. With their drunken, raging father.

Finally, patrol cars arrived. Three of them, moving quickly and silently past us. Six cops surrounded Abusive Man, who was outside on the lawn at that point, still screaming obscenities. They had to use a taser to get him down and cuffed. An ambulance full of paramedics arrived. Once a patrol car had gone by, with the screaming, violent man inside, I walked with the kids and their mother back to their home.

The two youngest kids were not physically harmed. The other kids were bruised and scared. The mother kept telling the paramedics that she was okay, although today it’s clear that her foot is badly hurt. The cops took statements. Well past midnight, we calmed the kids down and got them to sleep. Today I told the story to a caseworker from Child Protective.

I don’t know what will happen next. Two misdemeanor charges won’t hold Abusive Man in jail for that long. I know that women very often take back the men who abuse them, but now the community is involved – we have been witness to the abuse. I hope that somehow we can protect those children.

I debated whether or not I should write about this on my blog. But I’ve written before about abuse, and the poetry workshops and readings I’ve done for the Women’s Shelter here. It’s important to tell these stories. The shame and secrecy that surrounds the victims of domestic violence can be toxic. Silence does not solve problems like abuse.

Domestic violence happens every day, in communities all over the country, all over the world. Sometimes there’s not much a neighbor can do -- provide a safe haven, maybe, or be ready to make a phone call. The cycle of abuse is pretty difficult to end. And I don’t know what the answer is. It feels pretty hopeless sometimes. Somehow, I think we need as communities to figure out new ways to break those cycles. We need to work on this together, all of us. In the meantime, all I can do is listen and observe and bear witness.

April 13, 2009

Fun with peeps

Another Easter tradition

Of course, dyeing eggs wasn’t the only fun Easter activity we did here this weekend. We also upheld the time-honored tradition of torturing marshmellow Peeps. I’ve always hated those nasty yellow chicks. When I was little, they would get tangled in the green plastic hay that filled our Easter baskets, and often, I’d get a half-eaten Peeps stuck in my long hair.

We put a Peep in the microwave to watch it expand and explode. Sadly, the explosion was gradual and didn’t make a noise. Like any responsible pyromaniac, I taught the neighbor kids how to set the Peeps on fire. When the smoke alarms in the house all started going off, the kids screamed and we threw the burning Peeps out the back door. That was Little Biker Boy’s favourite part.

Ponytail actually took a bite of one of the burned Peeps. Instinctively I started to say, “Ew, don’t eat that,” and then I remembered – they are supposed to be edible.

Up and down the road

Up and down the road

My own kids are too old to get excited about dyeing Easter eggs. But the two little neighbor kids who live just down the street are five and eight, just the right age, so on Saturday, they came over to help to dye eggs at my house. We did three dozen eggs altogether, and I think it’s the longest I’ve ever seen Little Biker Boy sit still. He and Ponytail scribbled furiously on each egg with crayon before dropping it into a mug of dye, and they mixed the mugs of dye so many times that by the end, the eggs were coming out a lovely shade of brown.

It was a sunny afternoon, perfect for a walk, so I asked the kids if they wanted to give the eggs out to our neighbors. We live on a deadend road just outside Traintrack Village, and the houses are spread pretty far apart, but many of the neighbors know the kids because they are always out playing in the road. I found a couple of baskets to put the eggs in, and we went from house to house, letting the neighbors choose an egg from each basket.

Even though the wind was cold, the sun was shining the whole time and I even saw a few daffodils beginning to open on one lawn. Most of our neighbors seemed happy to take a few minutes and chat on this spring day. I heard about home improvement projects, plans for summer vacations, and who was coming for Easter dinner. The woman on the corner was baking pies. The young couple in the new house are expecting a baby at the end of the summer. Little Biker Boy kept running ahead, and I had to keep giving him etiquette tips, and we lost a few eggs when Ponytail swung her basket too enthusiastically, but mostly, we had a pleasant afternoon walking about in the sunshine.

April 12, 2009

Dyeing eggs with the neighbor kids

Dyeing eggs with the little neighbor kids

Shiny! New!

Nothing like a computer crisis to bring up deep philosophical questions: am I too dependent on technology? How did I ever function without a computer? Why didn’t I take my computer in to the repair shop when I kept seeing the spinning wheel of death? How come I always wait until too late? How crazy is it that I can’t even look at photographs without my computer? And mostly ... why didn’t I back everything up?

It could have been worse. During spring semester last year, one of my students had a similar computer crisis. LooksLikeHanson opened his computer that morning, and it had simply died. He lost everything. The story filled me with horror. “I’ve got twenty years of writing on my hard drive,” I told my students. “And all my teaching stuff – syllabi, assignments, reports.” Sure, I’d backed up some stuff on CDs but I didn’t do that very often because it was a hassle.

Following the advice of my students, I went out that week and bought an external hard drive. So when my computer died last week, most of my text files were backed up. When I checked, I’d last backed up my manuscript at the end of March, which meant I’d only lose about a week’s worth of work.

But I’ve also taken photographs every day for more than two years. And they weren’t backed up. There’s so many of them, and the files are so big, that I simply didn’t bother. I’m a writer, not a photographer, so I figured it wouldn’t matter if I lost all my photographs. They are snapshots, mostly, not serious photography. Some are saved on the internet – the photos I post to my Flickr account, for example, or the ones that I post to Kodak.com for family members to see. And I’ve printed out photos of my kids. But still.

When Tech Guy from the local computer repair shop called me back, he didn’t even try to convince me that I should pay him all kinds of money to fix my laptop. He said, simply, “You need to buy a new computer.”

But then he told me the good news: we could probably recover all the data from the hard drive.

And we did. So now I’m back online, with a MacBook that has a special program that automatically backs up my data to my wireless external hard drive whenever I’m at home. I’ve had to re-install many of my applications and hunt through my journal to find passwords for stuff I did years ago, but most of my data survived the Computer Crisis of 2009. Reunited with all my photographs, I spent a happy 24 hours sorting them into categories with the updated iPhoto program. My old computer was so slow that looking at photos was almost painful. On the new computer, I just click and they appear. And they look so much nicer on my new screen that has no weird spots or faded areas on it.

Yeah, the harsh reality will be the bill that will come at the end of the month, but still … I have a shiny new computer! And that's a happy ending.

April 08, 2009


I was just talking the other night to a friend about how dependent on my computer I've become.

It's how I correspond with friends. It's where I do my writing. It's where I look at the photos I take.

I go to the computer to look up interesting facts that I can't quite remember. I use the computer to interact with colleagues when planning conference presentations. It's often where I read the news or find out about current events.

And everything is on my computer: my writing, my teaching stuff, my photos, my address book. Some of that stuff is backed up on an external hard drive; some of it isn't.

Many of you will understand the feeling of panic I had yesterday when I opened my laptop and found myself staring at a blank screen. None of the tips the tech support guy gave me over the phone worked. Instead, I had to drop the computer off at the shop; I'm waiting now to hear whether or not I lost everything on the hard drive.

In the meantime, I'll be taking a little vacation from the internet. And keeping my fingers crossed.

April 06, 2009

Senior variety show

You shoulda put a ring on it

Kids with dancing talent become choreographers and make their friends perform on stage after just a few weeks of practice. Singers take the microphone for a moment of fame. Musicians form bands, or duos at least. Kids get pulled into skits whether they have any dramatic talent or not. Parents and grandparents in the audience clap enthusiastically, even as they wonder about the pop-culture references that they didn’t quite get.

The high school tradition of holding a variety show to display the talents of graduating seniors came about sometime in the 1960s, during the heyday of television variety shows. By the time I graduated from high school in 1979, we seniors were borrowing heavily from Saturday Night Live for our skits and jokes, much to the dismay of the teachers who tried to censor some of our best lines. This senior class (which includes Shaggy Hair Boy, Skater Boy, Quick, and Blonde Niece) borrowed from reality TV shows and youtube to spice up their acts.

Some things haven’t changed. The Senior Girls skit was a high energy act filled with singing and dancing, and a crowded stage of young women. The Senior Guys skit was a laid-back circle of guys – and the skit was a running joke about how the guys didn't actually have a skit. That is ALWAYS the theme of the Guys' skit. In keeping with tradition, several skits mocked the teachers in school, especially everyone’s favorite teachers. The skits also made fun of cheerleaders, jocks, dorks, and pretty much every group of students. Shaggy Hair, Quick, and Kid Down the Street dressed as nerds for a funny skit that included math pick-up lines that they had written while studying Calculus. The corny lines included phrases like “let me take an approximation of your curves” and “you’re deriving me crazy.”

Heckling from the audience was encouraged. One kid did a Hulk impersonation, dramatically ripping off a t-shirt to reveal a green-painted chest, and because this got applause, he appeared in another skit a few acts later, ripping apart another t-shirt. Gender-swapping always gets cheers and wolf whistles with a high school audience. In one skit, Shaggy Hair appeared in a skirt, his long hair flowing down his back. (He said that the tank top he borrowed from his sister was “confusing” to put on, and he had to find a girl to help him every time.) Two boys wearing spandex joined a female classmate in a hilarious version of the “Single Ladies” dance, a tune which is now regrettably stuck in my head.

Mostly, the stage was filled with kids just having fun, goofing off in front of a packed auditorium of peers and parents. In one skit, a bunch of the kids wore capes and superhero costumes. In another, Quick led a whole classroom of kids in a Stomp-like drumming extravaganza, that began with a kid tapping his pencil on the desk and ended with everyone running round, leaping up onto desks, and banging everything from garbage cans to desktops.

It was fun to watch kids I’ve known for years cavort about the stage. And we got some glimpses of talent as well. Skater Boy and Quick did a White Stripes medley that sounded terrific. Skater Boy is such a quiet, laid-back kid that it always surprises me to see how much stage presence he has. Of course, Quick can play the drums way better than Meg White. His drum solo drew huge applause. The night ended with Quick's touching and very professional rendition of “Clare De Lune” on the piano as the seniors walked up the aisles, arms around each other, to sit on the stage and watch slides. They will be together for just a few more months.

The teenage boy in the photo is about to perform a dance to "Single Ladies."

April 04, 2009

Puttin' on my top hat

Born in early 1931, my father grew up in the era of movie-going. Every Saturday afternoon, he and his mother went to a neighborhood theater in Snowstorm City. My mother, who grew up outside of Big City Like No Other, would walk to the theater with her older sister and their friends. The theater would show two movies, usually, and a newsreel.

That’s what people did in those days, to take their minds of economic hardships, the harsh realities of life. In dark theaters, they watched their favorite movie stars sing and dance in glamorous costumes.

This winter, my parents decided to expose their grandchildren to some of the old movies by instituting movie night at their house. I was out of town for the first movie night, but I went over with my kids on the night they showed Top Hat with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The plot was even more ridiculous that I had remembered, but there was lots of singing and dancing, beautiful costumes and funny dialogue. I sat on the couch between my daughter and Shaggy Hair Boy, snuggling under a quilt, and eating popcorn as we watched Ginger Rogers twirl around in dress that swirled with her. Then we gathered in the kitchen for cider and dessert.

On the way out to the car, I started tapdancing on the frozen ground, twirling around as if I were wearing a filmy, floaty dress instead of a winter coat and hiking boots. Those old movies have that effect on me.

April 02, 2009

Rows and rows of books


When I was a kid, my mother would bring us to the library every Tuesday. We kids would run into the brick building ahead of my mother, and whatever argument we’d gotten into in the car would disappear as soon as we went through the door. You spoke in whispers in the library. In the hushed atmosphere, I’d go over eagerly to the shelves and shelves of books. I can remember having fantasies about getting snowed into the library, with all those books just waiting to be read.

My mother would go off to find books for herself, which gave me time to browse through the kids’ books and make the agonizing choices. An old favorite? Or do I take a chance on a new book? I’d take an armful of books over to the wooden bench and set them on the wooden slanted shelf so I could look through them. We were each allowed to take two books home.

How exciting Tuesday evenings would be. I’d read my own two books first, of course, and then I’d find the books my siblings had taken out, and read them. If it was summer, I’d stay up all night reading. For the rest of the week, I’d keep rereading my books until Tuesday came, and we could go back to the library again.

As an adult, I tend to buy books rather than use the local library. That explains why our house and both my offices are so cluttered with books. But still, I love the library. Just walking into the little library in Traintrack Village makes me think of Francie Nolan from A Tree Grow in Brooklyn, who was going to read all the books in alphabetical order, and Betsy from the Betsy-Tacy books, who went to the library on Saturdays because she knew she was going to be a writer.

Sometimes I take the little neighbor kids to the library, but I’ve also gone there during my sabbatical to write. I carry in my laptop, smile at the woman behind the desk, and then sneak down the rows of books until I find the chair hidden in the northwest corner of the building. It’s an overstuffed chair, next to the window, where I can sit and write without interruption. The lack of wireless helps immensely. And those rows of books keep me focused.


That's Ponytail, the five-year-old neighbor girl, in the photo.

April 01, 2009

Sun worship

Sun worship

During the heat of the summer, I’m not the kind of person who cares much for sitting in the sun. I’m much more likely to be lying in the deep shade of an oak tree, with a book and a cold drink. Or splashing about in river water.

But in April, after months of snow and ice and slush that accumulates on the floor of my car, I savor every bit of sun. Even through jeans and a fleece, the warmth soaks into me, touching the bones inside me that were cold all winter long.

(Mother took this photo of me at Pretty Colour Lake – after I handed her my camera and told her to take it. She’s a great person to take a walk with because she doesn’t angry when I keep stopping to take photos. She has even been known to encourage such behavior.)