July 30, 2009


At the end of last summer, Boy in Black had to stop playing Ultimate Frisbee – a sport he loves passionately – because of an injury that was diagnosed as a pulled groin. Rest was supposed to heal him, but it didn’t. All winter, Boy in Black went for repeated doctor visits and several rounds of physical therapy. Every time he got a new diagnosis, he’d come home and look up information on the internet. Then he’d go back to the doctors to ask why they hadn’t done this test or that test. (“That kid ought to be in med school,” our family doctor said to me.)

He had an MRI. He had X-rays. He had to keep fighting the insurance company that didn’t want to pay for physical therapy or expensive tests. He took antibiotics at one point with the theory that perhaps an infection was involved. An orthopedic doctor diagnosed the injury as osteitis pubis, an inflamed pubic bone, and sent him for a bone scan that involved him taking radioactive isotopes. But the bone scan came back negative. Four doctors, two physical therapists, and multiple tests could not pinpoint the problem.

Nothing helped. Boy in Black ended up sitting out of Ultimate for his whole junior year of college. He still went to every practice to support his teammates from the sidelines but he simply couldn’t play.

It was difficult to see how down he was. He didn’t complain much – he knew full well what a privileged life he still had, even with the injury. But he spent an awfully lot of time just lying on the couch, watching youtube clips of Ultimate tournaments on his laptop. He still practiced his throws constantly and talked about Ultimate non-stop. He convinced all his siblings and most of our extras to sign up to play on a Summer League team – and said he’d be willing to be captain of the team even if he couldn’t play.

He would hold family meetings to brainstorm ways to solve the problem. “What kind of expert haven’t I seen yet? Should I make an appointment with a urologist?” We spent most of the winter talking about his groin. The serious talk was mixed in with a constant sprinkling of jokes about his "junk." Whenever Boy in Black would come home, I’d look up and say, “How’s your groin today?” All of us – family, extras, his teammates – wanted desperately for him to heal.

Then an older player in the Snowstorm City League recommended his physical therapist. “Your insurance won’t pay for it, but go to him anyhow. He’s really good at figuring things out.”

Smart Physical Therapist listened carefully to his story – and then measured his legs. One seemed to be a little longer than the other. “It’s your SI joint,” the therapist said. “That’s causing the problem.”

“This is going to hurt,” he warned, and then yanked hard on his right leg until Boy in Black could hear it pop.

And that, pretty much, was it. In five minutes, the physical therapist diagnosed and cured an injury that had plagued him for nine months. A few days later, Boy in Black was playing Ultimate again.

He still had some pain and some inflammation so he took it easy at first, but he’s played a little more each week. Last week, he went to a tournament in Country to the North, and he played hard. He’s not 100 percent yet, and he's still going to physical therapy, but he’s healing. He’s looking forward to being back to full strength for his senior year with his college team, a group of guys who elected him to be a captain of the team even when he couldn’t play.

The best part is that he’s so damned happy. It’s great to see him smile again.


The photo was taken by Sunshine, one of his teammates. Ironically, Boy in Black is the kid in the photo wearing the white shirt. He only gets to wear black half the time at a tournament.

July 29, 2009

Quick escape

Quick escape

Other families don’t seem to have this problem, but my household is hard on screen windows. About half of ours are missing. Some were damaged in the early days when I practiced fire drills with my kids, which meant everyone hurriedly pushing out screens to jump out windows. Screens have taken hard use in the name of science as well: I think every one of my kids has done the seventh grade project in which you need to design a parachute that will safely land an egg on the ground.

Part of the problem is that I’m careless with the screen windows. I’m always taking them out to take a photo or throw something out the window, and I end up dropping them. Mostly, though, the fault lies with the screen windows for being poorly made. If seventh graders can design a parachute that will land an egg safely, surely someone could design a screen window that would survive an occasional drop from a second-floor window.

I never think about the missing screen windows until our first heat wave, when the air inside the house resembles a sauna, but only half our windows can be opened to let in the cool night air. Well, we could just open the windows regardless if we wanted to be mauled by swarms of mosquitoes. The good part about all those missing screen windows is that it’s easy to climb in and out of the house.

That’s Shaggy Hair Boy in the photo.

July 28, 2009

After the facebook info

On most summer nights there are five or six laptop computers in my living room — accompanied by the lanky bodies of teenage boys. Boy in Black’s summer job is doing research for a physics professor, which means he gets paid to sit on on the couch and write computer programs on his laptop. My daughter does freelance work on her computer, I write on my computer, and my husband checks the stock market online. Mostly, everyone else looks up youtube clips, plays computer games, and checks email.

Yesterday, when we were all sitting around the living room, which is mostly what we do here in the summer, Shaggy Hair Boy reached for one of the laptop computers on the coffeetable and checked his email. “Hey, I got my roommate.” He’ll be heading to Snowstorm University in less than a month.

“Go to facebook,” Quick said.

Within minutes, the roommate’s profile was up on every computer screen in the room. We looked at photos of him — hanging out with his friends, rowing crew, or in his cap and gown at graduation. We read messages his friends had left on his wall. We looked at his list of favorite music, his favorite movies, his favorite television shows.

Later that evening, Shaggy Hair Boy said, “Hey, Roommate left a message on my wall.”

“Write him back,” said my daughter.

“What should I say to him?”

“Ask him where he’s from.”

“We know that — he’s from State Where They Grow Oranges.”

“Ask him what instrument he plays.”

“We know that — there’s a photo of him with a trumpet.”

“Ask him what music he likes.”

“We know that — here’s a list.”

Quick looked over at Shaggy Hair Boy. “Online social networking has really killed small talk, hasn’t it?”

July 27, 2009

All aboard the groove train

All aboard the groove train

With-a-Why and Suburban Nephew, cousins born just a few weeks apart, playing together at Pretty Colour Lakes. Yes, their sneakers got wet. We were taking a walk with my parents, my sister, my niece -- and Red-haired Sister's three dogs. In fact, you can see one of the dogs in this photo.

July 26, 2009


Walking on water

When I look through old photos, I always find cute photos of Shaggy Hair Boy and Blonde Niece playing together. In fact, I have few pictures of Shaggy Hair Boy by himself. Always, Blonde Niece is in the picture with him.

Shaggy Hair Boy and Blonde Niece were born just a few weeks apart. Since Blonde Sister was Shaggy Hair Boy’s babysitter, they spent their childhood together. They’ve always seemed more like twins than cousins. At camp, they would spend hours playing together in an imaginary bakery up on the rocks. They’ve gone through high school together, sitting near each other in class and doing homework together on our couch. At the end of June, they graduated from high school – and shared the award given for Creative Writing.

Next month these cousins will be separated for the first time in their lives. Shaggy Hair Boy will be going to Snowstorm University, living on campus less than a mile away from Boy in Black and playing on the college Ultimate team with his brother. But Blonde Niece will be going off to college in City Where Colonists Threw Tea in the Harbor. She’s going to be to be 300 miles away. It’s going to be a big change for them both.

July 24, 2009

Island mansion

Early morning sail

On the morning sail I took with my father, the river was quiet. The vacationers with their big power boats and jet skis were still sleeping. At the state park that juts out between the bay and the river, we saw just one woman with a coffee mug, emerging from an RV to sit on a sun-warmed rock.

All summer my father has been watching workmen building a summer cottage – or I guess I should say a summer mansion – on an island that sits between the bay and the river. Every single piece of equipment or material needs to be carried out to the island by barge, but that restriction doesn’t seem to be limiting the project much. New additions keep going up: big new docks, for example, a boathouse with a sundeck, or a bridge that connected the island to a smaller island. The main building, with stone steps and a turret, was taking shape as we watched.

“I’d love to see the inside of the building,” I said. But of course, when new neighbors live on an island, it’s hard to just walk over with a tray of brownies.

“I never see the owner,” my father said.

I told him my plan. “I’ll wait until a thunderstorm is coming and go over in a canoe. Then they’ll invite me to stay until the lightning stops.”

I have no doubt that any folks enjoying the view from the verandas of the new place would probably be talking about the sailboat they saw tacking about the bay. My Dad’s wooden sailboat, which he designed and built himself, is very recognizable.

In his faded flannel shirt and ripped jeans, with his white hair sticking out of a hat with an eagle on the brim, my father looks like someone who has lived on the river for years. He has, in fact, spent summers on this river since he was a boy. “You’re the local color,” I said. “Part of the scenery. If I owned that place, I’d be out on the deck taking photos of your boat.”

“People like the look of a sailboat,” he agreed. “For TV golf tournaments, they’ll pay a sailboat to be in the scene. Sometimes you can see a boat with the sails up, but you can tell it’s under power and just going back and forth.”

He looked over at the big house on the island, and the barge going across, filled with construction materials. “Maybe when they have parties, they’ll pay me to sail back and forth.”

July 23, 2009

July 22, 2009


A few weeks ago, Skater Boy was rummaging through the closet in the boys’ bedroom and came upon some plastic snakes. The snakes aren’t particular real-looking, unless you are, say, over forty years old, with the failing eyesight that comes with such an ancient age. Skater Boy thought it would be funny to scatter the snakes around the house, just to see what reaction he would get.

Everyone else in the house – humans and cats alike – ignore the snakes. But my instinctive reaction is to scream. Every. Single. Time.

I keep finding these snakes everywhere. I’ll step out of bed in the morning, walk blurrily to the bathroom, and jump when I see a snake on the floor of the hall. Or I’ll go down to feed the cats late at night, my vision blurry because I’ve just taken out my contacts, and I’ll almost step on a snake at the bottom of the stairs.

“Why do you scream?” my daughter asked. “You always say you aren’t afraid of snakes.”

No, I’m not afraid when I see a snake in my woodpile or in the cattails or someplace where snakes are SUPPOSED to be. But I don’t expect to find snakes in the freezer or on the windowsill or curled up inside the case that holds my glasses. So it’s startling when I do.

One day, I opened my laptop computer — and found a snake on the keyboard. Of course, I screamed. No matter how many fake snakes are floating around the house, you don’t expect to find one when you sit down to work on your computer.

I walked into the living room to glare at the assortment of teenagers who, oddly enough, seem to enjoy the sound of my screaming when it’s not aimed at them.

“Why would you be scared?” Boy in Black said. “You must have known it wasn’t real.”

Shaggy Hair looked at me patiently, “Why would there be a snake inside your computer?”

Boy in Black shook his head. “It’s not even logical.”

I was tempted to get rid of the plastic snakes, but I can’t resist a challenge. I keep thinking that sooner or later, I’ll get used to the sight of a snake in a desk drawer or on the piano bench or inside my sneakers. Surely, I can condition myself not to scream when I catch sight of that shape. Until then ... well, I tell myself it’s good practice in case I ever star in some kind of horror movie.

July 21, 2009

Running through

As I got out of my car yesterday afternoon, the little neighbor boy came up the driveway on his bike. "We had orange soda," he announced. "I'm sticky."

His hands, arms, and face were covered with soda, and he smelled sweet when I hugged him.

We've had such cool rainy weather that it hasn't felt much like summer, but yesterday the sun was shining. A few bees were buzzing around the clover in the lawn, and the road smelled like warm tar. Ponytail came trailing into the yard after her brother, "I'm hot. I wanna go swimming."

The nearest place to swim is several miles away, but I pulled the garden hose out and hung it in a tree so that the kids could go running through the mist. After a few minutes of watching how much fun they were having, I took off my sneakers and joined them.

Running through

July 20, 2009

Lazy afternoon

Lazy afternoon

On sunny days at camp, we spend most afternoons out at an island. Family members splash and swim in the cold river water -- and then drape themselves on the sun-heated rocks to get warm. This scene includes both my parents, a nephew, and three nieces.

July 19, 2009



One evening up at camp, my husband and I took a meandering drive through the upland farm country of red barns and cattle and clapboard houses with sagging front porches. “Stop,” I said before we’d gone very far. “Let me take a photo. This evening light is so nice.”

My husband looked at the old piece of farming equipment by the side of the road. “That? You’re taking a picture of that?”

“Yeah.” I scrambled out of the car, snapped a photo, and jumped back in.

My husband started the car again. “I’m just realizing now how very odd you are.”

As we drove through an intersection of what seemed to be a very small town, with a bar and a church and a couple of odd buildings, we saw a sign that made us both want to stop: “Homemade pies.”

We followed the arrow up a hill and around a curve, and then peered into a scene that looked like something out of a book. A bunch of kids in simple, homemade clothing were playing with a tire swing in the shade of some big maple trees. A girl in a plain blue dress looked at us curiously as we turned down the lane, and two big dogs came barking. A wooden sign at the beginning of the lane proclaimed, “REPENT. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND.”

The sign said “Saturdays only” so we returned that Saturday morning, hoping to make ourselves heroes to the rest of the family back at camp by bringing everyone homemade pies. Our tires crunched on the gravel driveway as we pulled up to the old farmhouse. The farmyard was filled with broken cars, which shattered my theory about what religious sect the family belonged to. Through the window on the porch, I could see a big family, eating breakfast. I couldn’t count how many children: nine, maybe, or ten.

A big man with a beard, a straw hat, and overalls came out to greet us. Three small boys sidled out to the porch as he talked. The most surprising thing about the man were the number of tattoos covering his heavily muscled arms: he clearly believed in using every single piece of skin available. “Sorry,” he said. “We don’t have pies this week. She’s taking a break.”

A teenager girl in simple blue dress appeared in the doorway. “She said a couple of weeks.”

We never did meet the woman who was the maker of the pies. She stayed in the kitchen, a shadowy figure who could be heard talking to younger children and rattling dishes. The dogs came rushing out, and the little boys pushed them back into the house. The man gave us a spiel about how great the pies were, which made me hungrier. We drove off at last, empty-handed, with nothing to show for our drive but a story.

But clouds got in my way

But clouds got in my way

July 17, 2009



It was after midnight. I had just fallen into a deep sleep when I heard my daughter’s voice. “Mom. Com’ere.”

She pulled me out of the dark bedroom into the hallway, where Shaggy Hair Boy and With-a-Why were sitting in the light that spilled from the bathroom. When I peered around the doorway, I saw Boy in Black, his back against the tub, holding a stray kitten.

“We have to keep her away from the other cats,” Shaggy Hair Boy whispered. “They’re hissing.”

“I think she might be injured,” said Boy in Black. “She isn’t putting weight on this paw.”

“Look how skinny she is,” my daughter said. “She ate a whole can of cat food.”

Whenever Boy in Black stopped petting her, the kitten would meow. So he kept petting her, even as he talked, his big hands with their long fingers moving across her fragile body.

The kids had moved a litter box into the bathroom, along with food and water. They were going to keep her there overnight, away from our six cats. It sounded like a good plan so I went back to bed, leaving them with the newest stray.

When the alarm went off that morning, my husband found Boy in Black asleep on the floor of the bathroom. He’d brought in a blanket and pillow, and the stray kitten was curled up in his arms, asleep.

With six cats already in the house, we can’t keep her: we’d never make it through the winter, when the cats are all trapped inside the house, hissing at each other and peeing on stuff to mark territory. She’s living on our back step right now, but we need to find her a home before the cold weather comes this fall. So spread the word if you live in Snowstorm Region: anyone want a very cute, affectionate cat?

July 16, 2009

Going to town


My parents’ camp hasn’t changed much since I was a kid. The big marsh filled with cattails, the rock cliffs, and the old oak trees stay the same year after year. What changes mostly are the people: babies turning into toddlers, little kids turning into teenagers, and young adults like me suddenly realizing that I’m approaching fifty.

Even the little town near camp hasn’t changed a whole lot. The main street is a short road filled with bars, restaurants, and shops that sell gaudy tourist trinkets, with docks on either end of the road. When I was little, we kids used to get very excited about “going to town.” A short evening car ride would take us into the street jammed with neon lights and tanned tourists in white shorts. We’d stand in line to buy ice cream cones and then go to the town dock to look at the boats.

Then we might walk to the candy shop to buy saltwater taffy or fudge or perhaps a brown paper “surprise bag.” The owner of the store would say things like, “Be careful when you open that surprise bag. There could be a rat in there.” I was actually pretty old before I figured out that he was joking.

A walk to town usually ended up with a drive around the loop that brought us past an old church, a small hospital, and a park with a big pavilion that overlooked the river. Standing on the rock cliffs, we’d look across to an island that holds a castle – yes, a real stone castle like the type you’d see in Europe – that was built by a wealthy businessman many years ago.

Now that my kids are older and obsessed with playing Ultimate every spare minute, my husband and I found ourselves alone as we drove into town one night last week. I imagine that in the next stage of our life, we’ll be taking grandchildren to the ice cream shop and then walking down to the docks in the cool evening air.

July 15, 2009

About to take the plunge

Getting ready to take the plunge

That's my mother with her youngest granddaughter, both about to leap into the deep river water. Despite the sun, the wind was cool that day, and I think they were just getting up the nerve to jump in. No matter how icy the water is, my mother will never admit that it's cold. She always says, "It's refreshing" or "It's delightful."

July 13, 2009

Morning at camp

During the night, I woke to crashing thunder and great flashes of lightning. On the river, the storms can be terrific. In the morning, after the rain had stopped, my mother and Blond Brother-in-law pulled our chairs into the clearing to dry them, hanging out towels that had been left out in the storm. Blond Brother-in-law went to town on an errand and returned with the newspaper. By then, other family members were stumbling out of their tents, claiming chairs in the sun and fighting over sections of the newspaper.

Morning at camp

That's my mother, standing.

Summer Days

Summer days

My father floats on the yellow raft with four of his grandchildren: Shaggy Hair Boy, With-a-Why, Suburban Nephew, and Dandelion Niece. That's his sailboat anchored in the background.

July 04, 2009

Gone camping

Longtime readers know that it's a tradition for my extended family to gather up at my parents' camp during early July. We'll spend the week swimming and sailing, playing Ultimate and bocce, eating and talking. At night, we'll sit around the campfire and slap at mosquitoes. I'll be offline, of course, since my tent doesn't have wireless. But I'll return with stories and photos.

July 03, 2009

In the mountains

Famous landscape

My husband and I spent several days of our vacation hiking in national parks – or natural areas just outside national parks. He had looked up hiking trails ahead of time, choosing obscure trails that wouldn’t be crowded. They certainly weren’t crowded. Usually, we’d be the only car at the trailhead, and I wasn’t always sure the path we'd found was a trailhead. I’m used to the mountains in my state, where the trailheads have brown signs and places to register before you start on the hike.

I kept leaving notes on the dashboard of our car, noting the time we’d left, the number in our party (2), and our destination. My husband thought that was a little paranoid. On the other hand, he was a bit paranoid about the wildlife.

Him: Ew. What’s that?
Me: Bear scat.
Him: But it looks … new.
Me: Yeah.
Him: What if we run into a bear? Shouldn’t we know what to do?
Me: Some bears, you’re supposed to stay quiet, some you make noise.
Me: I don’t know.
Him: We should have a plan. In case this bear comes back.
Me: Well, you could drop the backpack. It’s got food in it.
Him: What? I’m like … walking bear bait?
Me: I think for rattlesnakes, you stay still.
Him: Rattlesnakes?
Me: They can only strike as far as half the length of their bodies.
Him: Great. I’ll just measure the coils.
Me: It’s humbling, isn’t it? Nice not be the top predator in the woods.
Him: I’m going to write that on your tombstone.

We disagreed about what constitutes a hike. I call pretty much any walk in the woods a hike, especially if we are moving up the side of a mountain. My husband doesn’t think a walk qualifies as a hike unless you’re drenched in sweat, about to drop from heat exhaustion, and ready to kill yourself if you see yet another set of switchbacks.

Of course, no matter how strenuous the hike was, it was always great to make it to the summit, to sit on a rock and just gaze out at the view. Sometimes we’d hang out long enough to see a few other hikers straggle onto the rocks. These other hikers were always more prepared then us. Here we’d be, in the middle of nowhere, hours from the nearest road, and they’d pull out sandwiches and drinks and potato chips that somehow had remained uncrushed on the hike. My husband and I would watch enviously, as we sat on our rock with water and trail mix, and vow next time that we’d be more prepared. Then we’d start down the trail so that the other hikers wouldn’t notice us salivating.

And more mountains

July 02, 2009

Playing statue

On my second day in Famous City With Space Needle, Ecowoman had to go to work. I told her not to worry, that someone I had met online was going to come pick me up, and I was pretty sure she wasn’t an axe murderer. “And if she’s a stalker, I’m still okay,” I said cheerfully, “because I’ve given her your address and not mine.”

Jane Dark and I had a wonderful day. We began by wandering around a beautiful Japanese garden, relaxing on a bench to talk, and then watching some little kids feed the most aggressive koi fish I’ve ever seen. Really, the koi fish were almost as creepy as rabbits.

On the campus of University Rub-a-dub, we went into a special room of the library and got to look at some amazing book art by artists like Julie Chen. They even let me touch the pages! I’m so used to getting yelled at in museums that I was thrilled to get to handle these gorgeous books. Our tour of campus included a room that looked like Hogwarts’ great hall, except it was filled with Americans students instead of British wizards and witches.

After our lunch with Rokeya, we looked at our watches and realized that we were running out of time. I don’t know where the day had gone, except that I had already gotten Jane lost at least once. People get lost when they are with me. It’s a special talent I have.

Jane had planned an ambitious naked photo shoot: “Okay, we’ll go out in kayaks, and I’ll just slip off my dress without anyone noticing, and I’ll pose with the skyline of the city in the distance. And you just balance in the other kayak and take the shot.”

I could see this easily turning into some kind of comedy routine that would end with my camera at the bottom of the sea. But alas, we didn’t have enough time.

“Well, it should be an outdoor shot,” I said. “But maybe we could do it on land.”

“Here’s a private spot,” said Jane.

“Just pretend you’re a statue. You know, like in Europe how the formal gardens always have statues in them?”

She tossed off her dress and sandals, and I snapped the photo. Now all we need is a sculptor.

Playing statue

(Readers who 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 and here and here and here and here.)

Dancing bloggers

Dancing bloggers

I met so many bloggers at the Friendly Green Conference that I've lost track of them all. Then when I went to University Rub-a-dub, I found two bloggers dancing on the edge of a fountain. Jane Dark and Rokeya took me to a place that served tasty vegetarian food and we talked about all kinds of stuff over lunch. It’s always great to hear the voices of people whose blogs you’ve read for years, especially when they turn out to be as smart and articulate and cool as you thought they were going to be. After lunch, one of them posed naked for my blog. But that’s another post ….

July 01, 2009

Naked in the garden

Naked in the garden

In City Where Jimi Hendrix Was Born, I stayed for a couple days with my friend Ecowoman. Longtime readers will remember her as the woman who inspired the tradition of naked blogging. Her cute little house is tucked into a garden of purple and yellow blossoms. When I arrived, bits of colored glass were twirling in the breeze near the front door, catching the afternoon night. I felt like I was in a movie as I walked into a house filled with pillows and colorful treasures.

Ecowoman buys old framed photos at yard sales, and then hangs them up, even though they are people she’s never met. They are mixed in with all her other pictures. When I was looking at the photos, she would say things like, “Yeah, that’s me and my mother. Here are my parents when they were young. Oh, that one? Yard sale family.”

Naturally, she and I talked over the Friendly Green Conference in great detail, and then went on to talk about stuff going on in our lives. She kept threatening to do a make-over of me. Apparently dressing like a teenage boy does not make me the height of fashion.

"You're meeting your husband for a romantic vacation and THAT'S what you're wearing?"

"We're going hiking," I protested. "And we'll be naked the rest of the time."

We sat at her table in the sun and ate fresh baguettes with deli foods. All during my stay, she kept taking care of me. “Are you hungry? Now, here are some clean towels. Can I get you anything else?”

“You don’t have to keep waiting on me,” I protested. “I’m a grown-up.”

“You’re in my house,” she said. “That makes you eight.”

We hadn’t planned, actually, for Ecowoman to make another naked appearance on the blog, but early one morning, I found her dancing naked in her backyard. I think she had papers to grade. Nothing inspires nudity like a stack of papers to grade.

Naturally, I ran for my camera.

“This setting is perfect,” I said, “but take off your hat so I can see that gorgeous hair.” At the sight of my camera, she stopped the wild frolicking and posed demurely, looking up to smell one of the flowers in her garden.

Then she pulled out her bicycle, put on some clothes, and rode off to catch the boat she rides to work.