July 27, 2010

Off to see some geysers

Because we've had three adult children living at home this summer, my husband and I have been able to travel whenever we wanted. With-a-Why has been happy to hang out with his older three siblings and the gang of extras. Shaggy Hair Boy has been driving him to his piano lessons, picking up the CSA vegetables every Tuesday, and running other necessary errands. My daughter and Boy in Black are pretty responsible about taking care of the household, even if their rules might be slightly different than mine would be. It’s been an odd sense of freedom after all these years, to know that I can just pack my suitcase and leave, without worrying about who will feed the cats or mow the lawn.

This week I’ve been home just long enough to catch up on emails, do some laundry, and then pack my suitcase again. Tomorrow, my husband and I leave for a week-long vacation, just the two of us. We’re visiting the oldest of the national parks, a place we’ve never been before. The park features an active volcano, but not much internet access, so I’ll post photos when I return.

July 25, 2010

Sailboats, art, and cool water

On my last afternoon in Big City With Cool Lakefront, I met Lucy Pigpuppet, a blogger I’ve known for years, even though this was our first time meeting in person. She turned out to be just as friendly and fun as I expected. (And yeah, the pseudonym is her choice, not mine.) We walked to the yacht club where sailboats from all over the country were gathered for some race. The rigging of the sailboats chimed as their crews climbed about, getting the boats ready. A big sign near the entrance warned that the yacht club was closed to non-members, but no one stopped us as we strode about the docks.

“If anyone asks, we’re just going to our boat,” Lucy said.
“I feel like I’m wearing an invisibility cloak,” I said.

When the blazing sun at the water’s edge grew too hot, we sought the shade of a lakeside park. Then we stepped into the air-conditioned art museum and spent several hours happily wandering about, looking at paintings and sculptures and furniture. Lucy’s approach to an art museum is as random as mine: we both agreed that it wasn’t even worth the bother to grab a map, since it was more fun to just meander from collection to collection, trying to make sense of everything we saw and reading signs when the mood struck us, until we were both in an over-stimulated art museum daze.

The afternoon went by too quickly, and soon it was time to go back out into the heat and walk back towards her train and my hotel. On a shortcut through the park, we came across a canal of cold water, where some families with little kids were sitting with their feet in the water. “That’s a great idea,” I said.

I took off my socks and sneakers: the cold water felt great on my tired feet. We sat on the edge, our feet dangling in the water. After the crowded sidewalks of the city and the rooms full of bright objects at the art museum, the quiet spot hedged by trees and hidden by a wall seemed just right.

At the end of a hot day in the city

Please note the skirt. Lucy Pigpuppet remained fully clothed for this blogger meet-up. Rumors that I’m always making bloggers get naked for my camera are completely unfounded.

July 23, 2010


Cooling off

As I wandered about the city on a humid summer day, I could feel the heat rising from the pavement. Most of the people I walked past seemed to be moving in slow motion, everyone sweating and cursing the heat. On the corner, an enterprising teenager with a cooler was selling bottles of cold water.

Then I came across a water fountain that was filled with children. They were running into the water, splashing through puddles, screaming at each other, ducking under the streams of water, and squealing with excitement as the cold water hit their faces. It's amazing how a little cold water can raise the energy level. I couldn’t resist standing in the spray to cool off myself, hoping some of that high energy would hit me.


July 22, 2010

At the waterfront

City morning

I spent yesterday morning wandering around the waterfront of Big Midwestern City with the Baseball Team that Always Loses. Little stores on the pier were just opening, but already I could smell fried dough and sausages as I walked by. A group of school kids in matching t-shirts were gathered for a training session: they were about to go out on the four-masted schooner tied to the dock. I was tempted to start talking to the guy in charge of the group, to see if I could join, but I couldn’t bring myself to chat with a grown man wearing a pirate hat.

I’m here in the city with my husband, who is attending a conference. I had planned to spend part of each day getting some writing done in a quiet hotel room, but so far the weather has been so glorious that instead I’ve been wandering about the city. And as I watched boats coming and going from the pier, I began thinking that maybe I should be out on the water instead of inside with a computer.

Heading out for a sail

July 20, 2010

After the art show

On the pier

The art show was held in an old mansion in Little Town on Big River. The building included a room full of looms for weaving and a pottery studio out back. We milled about looking at the paintings that hung on the wall, sipping wine and cold water. Several old women were busy at the looms, weaving bright yarns together. Every guest was given a slip of paper and asked to vote for the “People’s Choice.” My father won the award for his painting of haystacks, although he says he only won it because he had so many family members at the show.

"I think my grandchildren stacked the ballot box," he said. It's true that he's probably the only artist in the show who brought 17 family members to the opening reception.

Because it had been hot all week long, we were drawn to the water edge after we left the show. The deep cold water of Big River that Runs Between Two Countries looked tempting. On the big pier, the family gathered, and it was only a matter of time before everyone began stripping off clothes and leaping into the water.


The top photo shows various members of my extended family: That’s Boy in Black on the far left, who clearly has already been in the water, and you can probably spot Shaggy Hair’s ponytail. The oldest couple – right in the middle of the photo – are my parents. The woman in the blue dress jumping in the bottom photo is my sister.

July 19, 2010

So many songs about rainbows

Saturday morning, when I came downstairs, the kitchen was clean, just the way I’d left it the night before. The living room was clean. There was no one sleeping on the couch, no empty glasses on the counter, no laptops strewn about. It felt wrong.

My three oldest kids and some of our extras spent the weekend at an Ultimate tournament in Country to the North. That left just my husband, With-a-Why, and me home in a quiet house for three days.

“Do you think With-a-Why is going to be lonely?” my husband asked me. “He’s used to the whole gang being here.”

“Maybe we should take him out for ice cream,” I said. “We could go to the duck pond.”

“Um, he’s fifteen now,” my husband said.

I keep forgetting that. My youngest son is a teenager now, lanky and tall with long hair that hangs in his face. In my mind, he’s still a little kid.

Luckily, not everyone thinks that way. Quick, one of our college-age extras, has never treated With-a-Why like a little kid, but rather a peer his own age. He showed up Saturday afternoon, and the two sat and played chess for several hours. That night, my husband suggested we go to the movies, and the three of us went to a movie that involved a complicated plot and lots of men with guns. I think it might be the first time we’ve gone out with just the three of us.

Yesterday afternoon, I walked around Pretty Colour Lake with an out-of-town friend and his two young kids. We did the same kind of things I used to do with my own kids – balancing on a log over a stream, skipping stones into the lake, swimming at the beach, and having a picnic on the sand. The shallow water in that small beach is fun for little kids but not so much for anyone taller.

I thought back to the many times I’d sat on that beach with my own kids when they were little, watching toddlers playing in the sand or splashing in the water, and it felt like a sudden shock to realize suddenly that those years are over, that my kids are mostly adults.

Earlier this summer, when I was driving With-a-Why home from a piano lesson, he was singing a song from the Peter Cincotti CD that he’d been listening to. It’s a song I was listening to on the way to Bison City the week I helped my grad school daughter move from one apartment to another. The Rainbow Connection is most famously sung by Kermit the Frog, but in my son’s voice, the lyrics seemed especially haunting. The end of the song was playing in my head last night as I fell asleep, thinking about all the precious things I keep trying to hold onto in this summer that is going by so quickly.

“Have you been half asleep
And have you heard voices
I've heard them calling my name
Are these the sweet sounds that called
The young sailors
I think they're one and the same
I've heard it too many times to ignore it
There's something that I'm supposed to be

Someday we’ll find it
The Rainbow Connection
The lovers, the dreamers, and me.”

July 16, 2010

Much more than a hunch

I’ve just returned from a wonderful four days with the famous Phantom Scribbler and her family. During my visit, Phantom cooked me delicious vegan food, including a whole batch of the chocolate cupcakes with chocolate glaze that are now a tradition. Her husband took the kids out one day and we two women pretty much talked non-stop, except for when I was eating cupcakes.(One of Phantom’s best traits is her ability to listen patiently to whatever drama is going on inside my head and to make sense of it. And of course, she makes the most amazing cupcakes.)

We went to the beach twice: I’d forgotten how much fun it is to play with little kids in a warm, shallow lake. Well, to be honest, being at the beach with my own kids when they were little wasn’t that much fun because I had to watch them constantly to make sure no one drowned. I can remember that the monologue inside my head would sound something like this, “One-two-three-four. All here. One-two-three-four. No one drowned yet. One-two-three-four. Still alive. One-two-three-four. Is it time to go home yet? One-two-three-four. Damn, I can’t wait until these kids learn how to swim.” Staring at the four kids, counting them again and again, worrying that one would drown if I wasn't vigilant, was exhausting.

However, being at the beach with someone else’s kids is great fun. Phantom Scribbler took the parental role of staring at the two kids constantly to make sure no one drowned while I just swam around, pretending to be a sea monster, and then a dolphin, and then a polar bear. I should add that when it comes to water charades, the youngest Scribbler beat me hands down with her wonderful imitation of a penguin.

We went blueberry picking one afternoon at a farm where the blueberry patch had gone wild. We had to fight our way through tall weeds just to get a handful of berries. The adventure would have been more successful if we’d brought a machete, but it did make us appreciate the berries we did get. “Be careful!” Scribbler Son would say as I’d pick three berries and hand them off to Scribbler Daughter. “We can’t afford to lose a single precious berry!” And at least we knew the berries were organic: no way was anyone spraying that patch or caring for it in anyway.

The other highlight of the week? We watched the Brady Bunch. Yes. The Scribbler kids are highly versed in Brady Bunch trivia, despite the fact that the show was aired decades before either of them were born, and they own DVDs of all five seasons. I watched the Brady Bunch on television every Friday night throughout my elementary school years — pretty much everyone my age did — but I don’t think I’ve seen the show in more than 30 years. So I kept asking the Scribbler kids to show me episodes I remembered, and they would obligingly pop in the right disc. Then we’d all analyze the show as it played.

Just hearing the music brought back memories of sitting on the green wool rug in my parents’ house, with all my siblings and extras like Kindergarten Friend, eagerly waiting for the next episode of that exciting show. I felt a little shocked at how many details I remembered after all these years. And I guess I was equally shocked at the stuff I didn’t remember — like what dreadful parents Mike and Carol Brady were, meting out totally inappropriate punishments: “Yes, you accidentally broke a vase: that means you can’t go on the overnight camping trip you’ve been looking forward to for months.” For some reason, both parents would go into stern-lecture moralizing mode if one of the kids broke something, even if was an accident. Lying about stuff and making mean remarks was totally acceptable behavior, but breaking something was this huge sin. The plot of the show seemed to revolve mostly around kids breaking stuff, everyone lying about everything, and Jan’s self-esteem. Oh, and Marcia? She’s still a bitch. That hadn’t changed.

I had to listen to music all the way home in the car just to keep the Brady Bunch theme song out of my head, but otherwise, I’d say it was a pretty successful visit. I just wish Phantom Scribbler lived a few hundred miles closer ….

In the blueberry bushes

That's the youngest Scribbler in the crazy blueberry patch.

July 11, 2010



During last week’s heat wave, my extended family gathered at camp, where the deep shade of the oak trees and the breeze off the river kept things much cooler than they were at home. Still, we all spent more time than usual in the water.

One day right after breakfast, I went out for a sail with my parents and my nephew. The air was already so warm that we ended the sail by stopping at an island and jumping into the river for a morning swim.

July 06, 2010

Gone camping

My extended family is gathered at my parents' camp this week, with five tents, three canoes, two motor boats, two sailboats, and lots of food. It's been sunny and hot so far, so we've been spending time in the water or playing games in the shade. I'm putting up this quick blog post from Sailor Boy's computer, via his wireless card, but I'll be offline for the rest of the week.

July 02, 2010

More naked women

The tradition of posting naked photos of women on my blog began about four years ago, when I shared a conference hotel room with Ecowoman. We decided to pretend that the bathtub in the hotel room was a lovely hot tub, and she posed with a glass of ginger ale that we decided would look like champagne. We didn’t fool anyone – it looked like a hotel bathroom – but that photo began the naked blogging tradition. Naturally, on this trip, when Ecowoman and I actually were in a hot tub with a bunch of naked women, I had to climb out and snap a photo.

Sunshine and mountains

We’d all been talking about my naked photo project, which has taken on a life of its own. Wherever I go now, people I’ve just met want to talk about the naked photos, and women begin telling stories about their bodies. I feel bonded with the women I’ve taken photos of. There’s an intimacy about it: we talk as she takes off her clothes, and I give helpful pointers like, “Shake your hair back. You have such gorgeous hair,” or “Move to your right. It looks like that tree is growing out of your head.”

Then I put the photos on my computer (my eyes are not good enough to look at anything in the back of the camera) and we look at them together, with the woman getting veto power over the photos. This process can be less serious than you might think. The camera can play odd tricks. “Oh, yeah,” said Lilting Voice when she looked at one picture. “I just love the way the lupines frame my butt crack. Very artistic.” (No, that photo will not be appearing on my blog. Like I said, every woman gets veto power over the shots.)

Usually, as we look at the photos, the woman will point out things she likes about her body. And give the history of her scars, both visible and not. Other women will gather around to help make the final selection and chime in. It’s affirming somehow to see a photo of yourself, and have a bunch of women pointing out how beautiful you are.

When Rock Climber volunteered to have her photo taken (well, volunteer might be too strong of a word), I decided it was time for an action shot. I’d noticed that on our hikes, she was always eager to keep moving. “Let’s just see what’s around the next bend,” she kept saying. So I wanted a photo in which she was moving.

We found the swing that has hung from the tree since Lilting Voice’s childhood; Rock Climber stripped off her clothes and swung back and forth in the afternoon mix of sun and shade. “This is cool,” she said, looking up into the canopy. “I don’t think I’ve ever swung naked before.” The peaceful shot I took was just before she asked me to give her a push and the swing started careening wildly, almost crashing her naked against the rough bark of the tree. Eh, what’s a photo shoot without a little danger?


The nine friends on this retreat ranged in age from early 30s to early 60s, and I think we older women ended up being good role models for the younger ones. That is, even Delightful, the youngest woman of the group, eventually consented to stripping off her clothes and posing on a rock in the sunshine. What’s funny is how much she and Lilting Voice look alike in the photos: swaying with lupines suits them both.

Swaying in the lupines

As one of my readers pointed out in the comments on the last post, there’s something healthy about seeing the naked bodies of normal women, different ages and different shapes, beautiful with stretch marks, wrinkles, and scars. Taking the photos outdoors on this trip added an element, as we were all talking about our connections to the landscapes we love, just as we were falling in love with the mountains we were hiking through every day.

I of course always assure my friends that the photos are top secret, their anonymity carefully guarded. But Yoga Woman told us the story about her grown daughter, who is part of a group of mothers who write poetry. They were talking about a fundraising calendar of naked women photos and were looking at the photos on my blog as an example of tasteful nude pictures. Her daughter was admiring a photo of a naked woman in a yoga position when suddenly she recognized the hair, the bracelets. “Oh, MY GOD! That’s my mother!”

July 01, 2010

Dancing naked in the lupines

Lupine dance

Usually when I’m taking naked photos of women, we’re in a hotel room, with little to work with except whatever natural light comes through the window. It’s the sterile conference hotel environment, actually, that has encouraged me to continue the naked photo tradition: for just a few minutes, we step out of the realm of abstract ideas and windowless conference rooms, and we talk about the body, tell the stories of our bodies. It's the stories, and not the photos, that I'm mostly interested in.

On this retreat with eight of my conference friends, there was really no need to for me to take naked photos. Instead of an urban hotel, we were gathered at a remote location in the mountains. We talked while we were chopping onions and basil, while eating fresh strawberries soaked in balsamic vinegar and sugar, while brushing each other’s hair, while walking along mountain trails, or while soaking naked in an outdoor hot tub. In this intimate atmosphere, we told our stories — choices we’d made about our bodies and about our connections to the places we loved.

But still, I told them all, I felt obligated to take some naked photos anyhow. My readers expected it. And besides, it was a tradition. I am a great respecter of tradition. This remote location seemed a great place for some outdoor naked shots.

“Who wants to dance naked amongst the lupine?” I asked. I’d already taken dozens of pictures of the gorgeous purple flowers that grew on these mountains.

“I’ll do it,” said Lilting Voice, stripping off her shorts and shirt. She’d spent her childhood summers in this spot, and her tour of her family’s land had included all kinds of stories about her extended family. She’d had a lifetime of dancing amongst the purple flowers that I’d been admiring all weekend. She’d taught us earlier how to recognize and avoid the stinging nettle – and which fern we could rub on our skin if we did get stung.

So that’s where I took her photo: dancing in the morning sun amongst the purple lupine in the meadow, swaying back and forth above the elk prints in the mud.

Dancing amongst the lupines

(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 and here and here and here and here.)



The first morning in Far-Away Mountains, I woke up early, since my body was still on eastern standard time. I put on my sneakers, grabbed my camera, and went out quietly out the front door to explore. A mist was just clearing from the meadow, and grasses brushed the hems of my sweatpants until they were wet.

I followed a dirt road that wound through the woods, past a little pond and then a woodpile. The ferns and skunk cabbage were huge, and I’ve never seen such lush mosses. Some trees were completely covered in green, as if they’d been gift-wrapped by a leprechaun.

By the time I got back to the ranch, the sun was shining through the mist, and the clouds were parting to show the mountains. Lilting Voice was making coffee, and the scent greeted me as I entered the kitchen where my friends gathered gradually, everyone hungry for breakfast and conversation.

Morning has broken