December 31, 2012

Sleepy winter days

Napping in the Christmas Village

We've had a lovely, relaxed week during which we've mostly hung around and done -- well, we've pretty much done nothing at all, unless you consider finishing off leftover holiday food an accomplishment. We've watched movies, played games, read books, ate cookies, sat by the fire, and put together a jigsaw puzzle. We've got a couple feet of snow on the ground, so it's a good time to hibernate. Our cat Rogue, who spends most of her time outside in warmer weather, has chosen the little Christmas village as a fine place for a long winter's nap.



December 28, 2012

Twelve years old

Biker Boy’s birthday comes right after Christmas: this was his first birthday since he’s been in foster care. A storm dumped a couple feet of snow on our region this week, but the plows have been out in full force, and the roads were clear as I drove to the town where he's staying.

We went for pizza, of course: it’s our tradition. Then I took him to the store to pick out a birthday present, and we came back to my house for the rest of the day.

We didn’t really do anything special. We built a fire in the fireplace. We played with the remote control car he’s chosen for his birthday present. We went outside with shovels to clear away the snow the plows had pushed into the driveway. Red-haired Niece and Blonde Niece stopped by to borrow some snowshoes on their way to Pretty Colour Lakes so we talked to them for a few minutes. I had a couple of stitches in my arm that needed to come out today, and Biker Boy watched, fascinated, while Boy-in-Black took them out with scissors and tweezers.

Biker Boy had a new iPod Touch that someone (his foster parents, I'm assuming) had given him for Christmas, and he was eager to figure out how to use it. He gets frustrated easily with technology, but Shaggy Hair Boy came to his rescue and patiently helped him transfer music. That’s when I figured out that we could use the little device for video chatting.

It took us awhile to set up his account, but soon we had it in place. To practice, he went upstairs and I called him from my computer. Sure enough, his face appeared on my screen. “This is awesome,” he said. “I can see you! I can see the Christmas tree!” He was talking so loud that I could have heard him even without the computer.

It was getting dark when I drove him home. Lights were going on in the farmhouses that we passed. The pine trees held big curves of white. Biker Boy held the GPS in his hands, even though I assured him I know the way by now; he’s fascinated with the device.

I felt sad, like I usually do, after I dropped him off, but this time my drive home was interrupted three times by phone calls from him. “Are you home yet?” he kept asking, “I want to Skype with you!”

Once I was back in my living room, I opened my laptop, and soon his face appeared, grinning. “I can see you!” he called out. He began panning the iPod around the room to give me a tour. “Look! Here’s the television! Here’s a chair!”

I’m old enough — and he’s young enough — to be excited by the technology. It’s not the same as having him right across the street, but it will be a nice way to keep in touch while his uncertain future gets sorted out.

December 26, 2012

White Christmas


Help to make season bright

When Dandelion Niece and Taekwondo Nephew arrived on the morning of Christmas Eve, I put them to work immediately — chopping vegetables, ironing the white tablecloths, and carrying chairs in from the garage. We tried to figure out how many people would be here for Christmas dinner. Twenty? Twenty-one?

"We might have to shove the folding table up against the Christmas tree," I said.

"We can use the piano bench if we run out of chairs," said Taekwondo Nephew.

Boy-in-Black, who had taken a break from cleaning to obligingly taste the baked beans, looked up from his bowl. "Maybe more barbecue sauce. Or something spicy." He rooted through the spice drawer, pulling out cayenne and red pepper.

"You didn't bring me a holiday wreath?" I teased Dandelion Niece. "I saw on facebook that you were making them."

"There's a wreath on your door already," she said.

Puzzled, I went over to the front door and opened it. She'd hung a lovely, homemade wreath on the door on her way in. Busy with food preparations, I hadn't even noticed.

Holiday wreath

December 22, 2012

Worst holiday scent ever

Our youngest cat is almost fourteen years old. So I’m guessing it won’t be long before all of our cats die peaceful, natural deaths. And then after that, as God is my witness, I’m never going to let a cat in my house again.

I tried to be pro-active this holiday season and avoid feline mishaps. I don’t think anyone benefits from the tender holiday image of me swearing at the cats while wielding a bottle of Urine-off. So I did what I could.

I even moved our Christmas village – wooden buildings that my parents built and painted almost thirty years ago — out from under the tree and up onto a couple of tables by the window. This maneuver was in response to an ugly incident that happened a couple of years ago when Trouble, our aptly-named male cat, directed a blast of urine at the village. (If the village were on fire and he were a character in an eighteenth-century satire, I suppose his action would have been justified. Alas, it was not.)

This year’s incident happened on my husband’s birthday. With the house decorated for Christmas, our youngest in school, and the older kids at the castle, we planned to spend a romantic day home in front of the fire. I’d finished my grading for the semester, my husband had a couple of days off, and snow was beginning to fall. When we woke up that morning, everything was perfect — except for a strong stench that permeated our home.

“Where’s the smell coming from?” my husband asked, picking up a couch cushion and sniffing it. “It’s somewhere in this room.”

“I can’t find a wet spot,” I said. We both began frantically sniffing everything in the room. It wasn’t any of the pillows. It wasn't the Christmas village. I could smell the odor — the whole room stank— but I couldn’t find the exact spot.

We spent hours crawling around on the floor, smelling for a spot on the carpet, a urine-soaked pillow, anything. At least, it felt like hours. Time goes slowly when your living room reeks. Finally I opened the windows to let in fresh air, even though that made the room frigid. By then, I'd pulled sweatpants and a sweatshirt on over the lingerie I was wearing for the occasion. The day was getting less and less romantic with every passing minute.

We gave up and went out to lunch to get a respite from the awful smell and to stop at the pet store to buy more Urine-off. When we returned, the stench was worse than ever. I began moving things out of the room, just to eliminate them from our investigation: the pillows, the chair, stacks of piano music. We even moved the Christmas tree into the middle of the room to check the carpet underneath.

“Maybe the cat peed in the heat duct?” my husband said. “And it fills the room every time the heat goes on?” He went down into the crawlspace to check out the furnace.

I was sitting on the floor next to the Christmas tree, and I leaned over to breathe in the pine scent of the tree. That’s when I figured it out. That strand of garland? Those low branches? A whole section of the tree reeked.

Trouble had peed on the Christmas tree.

I grabbed my pruning shears and chopped off a branch. “I found it!” I yelled to my husband. When he appeared, I made him smell the branch — and the strand of contaminated garland. I started hacking branches off the tree like crazy.

I kept bringing bit of Christmas tree over to my husband, “See? Smell this!”

“Stop making me smell them,” he said finally. “Really, I believe you.”

I hacked a whole section of branches off the tree and tossed them outside. The room, thankfully, began to smell better. My husband began carrying in all the furniture and pillows we’d tossed tossed into the kitchen during our frantic search. I began to feel optimistic. “I’ll just turn this side of the tree to the wall,” I said. “It’ll look fine.”

I yanked the tree across the room, ornaments bouncing onto the carpet as I spun it into place. Then I reached down to plug in the lights. Only the very bottom stand lit: the rest of the tree was dark. I peered in at the branches as an awful thought crossed my mind. Yep, in my eagerness to hack away urine-soaked branches, I’d clipped the strand of Christmas lights with my pruning shears. Damned cats.

Christmas village

Note: The Christmas village — as seen in photo above — was not harmed in this year's holiday cat pee incident.

December 20, 2012

Bring us a figgy pudding


Most of the audience were in wheelchairs. But I could hear many of them singing the old familiar songs, and they applauded after every song. They even laughed at the corny jokes my husband told as he introduced each number.

Shaggy Hair Boy stayed at the piano, flipping the pages of Christmas music and playing. With-a-Why, Shy Smile, and my husband sang, and sometimes they jingled bells. I stayed in the audience next to my mother-in-law. She doesn’t have enough strength in her arms to clap her hands, but she whispered to me that she was proud.

They sang for an hour, and then it was time for the staff to start wheeling the residents back to the rooms so they could prepare the dining room for the evening meal. When we got home, the boys went immediately to the piano to continue playing and singing. They perform with or without an audience.

Musical duo

December 18, 2012

On stage

On stage

We all went to see the play at the local high school: my kids, my parents, Blonde Sister and her family, a bunch of our extras, even Brooklyn Friend. In fact, we bought 42 tickets altogether over the three nights that the play ran. My husband and I saw it three times.

It was a terrific production, filled with singing and dancing — and clever adlibs when things didn’t go exactly as planned. The cast wore rented costumes in bright colors, and a whole crew of teenagers dressed in black came out between scenes to shift big pieces of the set.

But you’ve probably guessed the big draw. Our youngest son was up on stage.

Longtime readers probably remember my stories about how shy With-a-Why was a child. Throughout first grade, he never said a single word to the teacher. Not one word. And even as a teenager, he often hid behind his long hair.

But music has drawn him gradually out. Piano Teacher was one of the first adults outside of the family that he would talk to. With her encouragement, he played recitals and exams often enough that he was no longer intimidated playing in front of an audience. Playing the piano was a way for a quiet child to express himself.

My father takes credit for discovering that With-a-Why could sing. When he, Shaggy Hair Boy, and With-a-Why got together for jam sessions, he started giving With-a-Why some vocals. Then Choir Teacher convinced him to join the high school choir, invited him into the select Chamber Choir, set him up with voice lessons, and eventually began asking him to sing in front of people.

Music drew him to the high school play, and being in that play was a transformative experience. He even cut his hair for the part — and donated 18 inches of fine, black hair to a charity. The day he returned to school with short hair, Drama Teacher stopped me in the hall to say, “Thank you for cutting his hair!” Then she added, “You should see the attention he’s getting from the girls.” 

Hanging out with the bunch of creative, expressive students who are drawn to drama club turned out to be just what With-a-Why needed. I’ve watched these last couple of months as the last vestiges of his shyness disappeared.

He played Ralph Sheldrake, a fast-talking Big City professional. Not exactly the part I’d give a shy, small-town boy. But onstage, dressed sometimes in a suit and sometimes in a uniform, he delivered his lines with confidence, just like a smooth-talking Ladies' Man. He sang beautifully, and even danced at the end.

“He didn’t seem shy up there at all, did he?” Drama Teacher said to me afterwards. I could tell that she and Choir Teacher, as well as Piano Teacher who had come to watch the show, were all proud of how he’s blossomed. I wanted to put all three teachers up on the stage and give them a round of applause for what a difference they’ve made in one young man’s life.

The young man in the uniform dancing to the left is With-a-Why.

December 16, 2012

White lights

The drive from Biker Boy's foster home to my house takes about 45 minutes. That gave Biker Boy and me time alone to talk in the car this morning. He told me about stuff that had happened to him over the last week, and then he said, "I know about the shooting -- the kids getting killed."

I glanced over at his face. "I wondered how much you knew," I said. He's eleven, so I figured he would have heard the horrifying news.

He said his foster father had talked to him about it. "It's really sad," he said. "But there were good people there too. Like teachers who tried to save kids and hide them and stuff. Just one person who was shooting, but the other grown-ups wanted to stop him."

Unlike most of the adults I've talked to since Friday, he didn't express any shock or disbelief. He didn't say, "I can't believe something like this could happen." He's eleven, but he already knows that unspeakably bad things happen to kids. He's known that since he was small.

We talked as we drove past cornfields and red barns. But once we pulled into my driveway, we agreed to stop talking about topics that made us sad. It was time for a comforting seasonal ritual: getting our Christmas tree.

Once we were in the house, I made Biker Boy a cup of cocoa. Brooklyn Friend had come in for the weekend and she was already drinking a cup of hot tea. While we waited for my husband to get home from the gym, we ate cookies and moved furniture to make room for the Christmas tree. With-a-Why stopped texting his girlfriend long enough to play the piano — songs from the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

We went to the same Christmas tree stand we always go to. The family who owns it are super nice. I like to walk through the rows of freshly cut trees, smelling them. Biker Boy likes to run up to each tree and yell, "This one! Can we buy this one?" and then change his mind two seconds later.

The teenage boy who came over to help us was patient and cheerful. When Biker Boy finally chose a tree, he showed him the machine that you push the tree through: the tree ends up magically tied up with twine.

Back at the house, we ate pizza (it's a tradition) and built a fire (another tradition). My daughter and Sailor Boy came over to help decorate — or rather watch while Biker Boy and I decorated the tree. Shaggy Hair Boy played Christmas music on the piano. We ended the day with a feast of Italian food that my husband picked up from a local restaurant.

It was dark by the time we got back on the highway to take Biker Boy back to his foster home. "You did a great job picking out the tree," I told him.

He leaned back against the car seat sleepily. "Yep. I did." Trimming the tree

December 13, 2012

That glorious song of old

At a holiday party on Saturday night, I wandered into the kitchen, where the best conversations always take place. Sure enough, a bunch of my friends were gathered by the stove, chomping on Christmas cookies while they talked. A long-time friend, Warm Smile, was explaining the Secret Santa tradition her extended family — about 30 relatives in all — chooses to do each holiday season instead of traditional gift-giving.

“My sister-in-law takes all of our names and pairs us up. So we get a buddy,” she said. “This year, for example, I’m paired with my nephew.”

The pairings are top secret. No one is supposed to know who your partner is. “But we talk to each other — each pair — and we tell our partners what kind of charitable contribution to make,” she said. 

“So you don’t buy gifts?” asked Christmas Sweater, helping herself to some taco dip.

“Nope,” Warm Smile said. “And the rule is that you can’t just donate money to the Sierra Club or some organization. It has to be a gift of time.”

For instance, an aunt could be paired with a teenage nephew. She could tell him that she worried about families who go hungry. He could respond by agreeing to volunteer in a local soup kitchen or help out with a canned food drive. Then he could tell her that he wanted to do something about the environment. She could agree to volunteer to be on a committee at her church that’s looking to install solar panels on the roof. 

“We talk over options until we figure something out,” she said.

“Does it all remain a secret?” I asked. “I think I’d want to know what everyone was doing.”

 “Oh, we all tell my sister-in-law, and then she publishes a family newsletter. It’s fun to see what everyone did,” Warm Smile said. “It’s really so much rewarding than opening presents.”

December 11, 2012

How the internet got me to bake cupcakes

Tiramisu cupcakes

Saturday was #DigiBakeDay. That meant that a bunch of my friends on twitter baked together. Well, not actually together. We decided we’d bake in our own homes but post photos of what we were baking to the internet. The online twitter baking party included hourly writing prompts that asked us to share memories and recipes. Somehow the prompt about heart-warming memories inspired jokes about cookies that looked like body parts. Ah, it’s the internet. Go figure.

I planned to participate by talking, rather than baking. That is, after all, my usual role. I tend to sit in other people’s kitchens, entertaining them while they bake, and then offering magnanimously to test the products. I figured my usual lazy approach would be even easier in virtual reality. I could just go on twitter and type stuff about baking, rather than actually getting out flour and sugar. 

Besides, I had student portfolios to grade. Twitter seemed an acceptable mode of procrastination -– I’m just going on the computer for a moment, I’d tell myself – whereas starting a baking project in the kitchen would be admitting that I’d abandoned the grading task altogether. The other good part about virtual baking, I figured, is that I wouldn’t have to clean afterwards.

When it came right down to it. I really couldn’t get into some big baking project anyhow. I had to leave the house midday to go to a piano recital that featured Piano Teacher wearing a Santa Hat, a whole bunch of aspiring little kid pianists dressed in their holiday best, and Shaggy Hair Boy as the guest pianist at the end.

All the seasonal piano music put me in the holiday spirit. The little kids played their songs with great enthusiasm. Then Shaggy Hair Boy sat down at the piano. He told the audience that he wanted to play something in honor of Dave Brubeck, who had died a few days earlier. Then he began with Take Five and continued with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen in 5/4 time. His medley of holiday songs included a jazzed up version of Feliz Navidad, which he put in just to tease Piano Teacher since she says it’s a song she hates. He ended with Jingle Bell Rock.

I stopped at the Castle on my way home. That’s the nickname for the little house that my daughter, her boyfriend Sailor Boy, and my son Boy-in-Black share. I don’t know why they call it that: the house looks nothing like a castle. They showed me the last of the cupcakes that Sailor Boy and Shaggy Hair Boy had made the day before: fancy tiramisu cupcakes.

“They took HOURS to make,” Shaggy Hair Boy said dramatically. I didn’t eat the cupcakes because they definitely weren’t vegan, but I took a photo to post on twitter in honor of #DigiBakeDay.

When I came home from the recital, I opened up my laptop computer to see that all my twitter friends were posting photos of cookies. By then I was pretty hungry. With-a-Why came home from his play rehearsal saying that he was hungry too. But he and his girlfriend said they didn’t have time to bake: they were settled on the couch with books and computers, doing homework. 

That’s when I gave into the twitter pressure. Everyone on the internet was eating homemade holiday treats! Everyone except me! So I abandoned my grading, mixed up some vegan chocolate cupcakes, and soon the house smelled good.

“Are you going to put icing on them?” With-a-Why asked as I pulled the pan of cupcakes out of the oven. He likes them plain.

“I guess not,” I said. I didn’t have the patience to wait for the cupcakes to cool. We began eating them just as they were, warm and unfrosted. By the time my husband came home — he’d had to work on a Saturday on account of his computer deciding to crash — the cupcakes were gone. The afternoon was gone too, and it was time for me to change my clothes quickly for the holiday party we were going to.

“The house smells good,” my husband said as we left.

“Yeah, it was #DigiBakeDay,” I said. “A whole day of holiday baking with my friends.”

As the car headed towards our friends’ house, I said, “Oh, we ought to stop at the store and buy some kind of dessert to bring to this party.”

He looked over. “Didn’t you say you spent the day baking?”

 I shrugged. “It wasn’t that kind of baking day.”

December 08, 2012

What I learned this semester

On the last day of class, I gave each of my first year students an index card and asked them to write one thing they learned during their first semester in college. Then I shuffled the cards and read them aloud.

I learned how to finish homework in 15 minutes at 4 am.

Humans who dye their hair are putting themselves at a higher risk for cancer.

Procrastination comes in many forms, none of which are any more help than the other.

Sunscreen (because of the oxybenzone) does more harm to your body than sunshine could.

I learned to get all my ideas down on paper before micro-editing.

The green roof on our new building is one of the most advanced green roofs ever built.

Bill McKibben is the man.

I learned that I am easily distracted. Very easily distracted.

Having no parents around to tell you not to do things is fun, but bad … but still fun.

No good story begins with, “This one time when I was eating a salad…”

I learned that writing what you are passionate about is not as hard as it seems.

I learned that we can save the world …. jo(e) just needs to be dictator first.

Joss Whedon’s Firefly portrays a plausible prediction of humanity’s future.

I learned more than I ever wanted to know about every type of renewable energy. 

Mosses are non-vascular. I learned how to organize my life on my own really quick.

In a 2007 study of 33 major brands of lipstick, scientists discovered that 61% of the lipsticks contained lead.

Politicians care more about getting elected than what’s happening to the planet.

Be careful who you trust.

I learned that I don’t like living in the city.

That the safe limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 ppm. We passed that already.

I learned how to write a biology lab report.

There are zombie wasps. Really.

I am nowhere near as smart as I was in high school.

That I love biology.

It’s best not to go shopping when there’s a holiday sale.

I learned that I go a little crazy and become a complete bitch when I am under a lot of pressure. And that I should not ever share a room with someone.

Bears don’t actually hibernate. They go into torpor.

A locotrophozoa has a lophophore, and a trochophore has a larva stage.

Missing the bus sucks.

I learned that there is a clear difference between primary and secondary forests.

I learned that being really tired all the time is normal in college.

I learned that it’s important to lean on new and old friends to get through things.

Snowstorm City isn’t as cold as everyone said it would be.

I learned that studying 15 minutes before a test is not enough.

December 05, 2012


Birthday present

For holidays and birthdays, Shaggy Hair Boy and Smiley Girl usually make each other presents rather than buy them. Homemade presents are more meaningful, and they want to take an eco-friendly approach. And also, neither one of them has any money.

Shaggy Hair Boy had heard Smiley Girl talk about these glass jars that they used to have at a restaurant in her hometown. The jars had handles on them – that’s what made them cool – and they were sold, filled with spices, at the front counter. But the restaurant has since switched to plastic jars, and they no longer sell the eco-friendly glass ones. So Shaggy Hair Boy decided to try to find a jar to give to Smiley Girl for her 21st birthday.

First, he checked ebay. But no one was selling the jars. It’s a small restaurant so that’s not a surprise. But he kept looking, and soon he found a cooking blog that showed the jars. He emailed the woman listed as the contact, who told him that the jars were no longer being sold. That started a chain of emails. “I wanted one for a birthday present for my girlfriend,” he told the woman.

“I might have one in my kitchen still,” she said. “I could wash that out.” And that’s what happened. This woman (a total stranger) washed out the jar that she had in her kitchen, wrapped it carefully, marked the package as “fragile” and sent it to my son. She said in her note that she was a romantic and the mother of three sons. She added, “I hope you are putting a ring in the jar.” 

"I'm a romantic as well," Shaggy Hair Boy wrote back. He told her that he and Smiley Girl will need to wait another year or so before getting engaged since they are both still in college. Then he finished making the gift. He bought a bag of starburst candies and figured out he could fit 66 into the jar. He wrote down 66 happy memories (or things he loved about his girlfriend), each one on a little slip of paper, and then wrapped each candy with a memory, before putting them in the jar.

The gift was a success. Smiley Girl was happy and surprised to get the jar, and she loved the little memory-wrapped candies. Shaggy Hair Boy sent a report back to the woman who had given him the jar. He added at the end: “Thank you so much for lending me your jar and maybe one day I'll lend this jar to someone else. You are sincerely the nicest stranger I have ever met.”

The woman emailed back that his sweet note had made her day. She loved the idea of him paying the favor forward someday. She added at the end, “Tell your mother that she raised a wonderful son. We mothers like to hear that.” So Shaggy Hair Boy forwarded the email to me. And Smiley Girl took a photo of the gift.

December 03, 2012

Dressed in holiday style

Ice skating downtown

"Let's pick an evening and go downtown to see the Christmas tree," my father said. I smiled when he said that because he sounded so much like my grandmother, who always loved to go downtown at Christmas time. When I was a kid, she used to take my siblings and me on a shopping trip downtown every December. In those days, the big department stores used to have windows filled with holiday decorations.

So tonight I drove my parents into Snowstorm City. Little trees along the sidewalks were wrapped in white lights, and some of the brick buildings were decorated with red and green lights shaped like poinsettas. The big tree stood near the skating rink, where about a dozen folks skated in a circle. Many of the skaters seemed to be struggling just to stay upright, but they were having fun despite their lack of expertise. Two little girls clinging to the railing were laughing even as they kept falling.

We walked around to admire the decorations, and we stopped at a craft store whose front window was filled with blown-glass balls hanging from the ceiling with ribbons. The woman behind the counter overheard me telling my mother the story of what Shaggy Hair Boy had gotten his girlfriend for her birthday, and she chimed into the conversation to say, "Oh, he's soooo sweet." We browsed through crafts made by local artists, ate some cookies from the plate set out near the window, and then walked back out into the night air.

December 02, 2012

Smashing ice

To the waterfall

“Maybe you can help him look at this,” Biker Boy’s foster mother said, handing me a photo album. “It’s making him anxious.”

Biker Boy, who had gone running off to find his sneakers, stopped in his tracks. He didn’t say anything, just turned and looked at me. I knew right away what the book was, and I tucked it into my bag.

“We’ll take a look,” I promised her. Then I looked up at Biker Boy. “But first, let’s go run around outside somewhere. Get your coat.”

I got to Biker Boy’s foster home early this morning, in hopes that we could go hiking before the rain started. Temperatures were still above freezing, and most of last week’s snow had melted, leaving pockets of white in the woods. I’d looked up some new hiking trails on the computer before I’d left home, but Biker Boy said, “We need to go to the waterfall again. It’s a tradition.”

He is a boy who loves traditions. We stopped to buy snacks (another tradition) and then I took a detour to look at one of the kettle lakes. It was a pretty lake, small enough for just canoes or rowboats. We passed several hand-painted signs advertising Christmas tree farms, and then we passed hillsides filled with Christmas trees, rows and rows of them spreading in all directions. We crossed the railroad track several times, with Biker Boy looking anxiously each way for trains before we drove over it.

When we got to the trailhead for the waterfall hike, we were the only car. “We have the whole place to ourselves,” I told Biker Boy. We both paused to listen to the stream rushing down over rocks.

“IT’S ALL OURS!” he yelled. He ran ahead on the trail, eager to lead the way. When we reached the waterfall, we could see chunks of ice that had melted and fallen into piles at the base of each little ledge. The rocks were slippery this week, and we both kept sliding back as we scrambled up and over them.

I handed Biker Boy my mittens so he could pick up the chunks of ice. “Go ahead and throw them,” I said. “It’s just ice and rock. You can’t hurt anything.”

He grinned and began throwing the chunks of ice. They smashed against the rock with a satisfying sound that echoed throughout the valley. After a few minutes, I took a second pair of gloves out of my camera bag and joined him: the thinner pieces of ice were the most fun because they crackled as they crashed.

The rain began while we were still climbing around the waterfall. The rocks and dead leaves were slippery, and we were soon covered with mud from sliding down on our butts. We’d hoped to find a trail to get to the top of the falls, but I think we went the wrong way. I probably should have looked at the trail map a little closer.

“I don’t know if hunting is allowed in these woods,” I said to Biker Boy as we started back to the car, “but we’re off the trail so we better sing just in case.” So we sang Christmas carols in the rain as we trudged back to the trailhead. I think any hunter could have heard us coming from miles away.

By then it was lunchtime. Pizza is another tradition, and it’s an easy one to keep. Every little town in this part of the country has a pizza place. We found a pizza parlor with a friendly owner, an electric fireplace, and vinyl booths that could accommodate two hikers whose clothes were wet. Once we were done eating, I pulled from the album from my bag -- a book put together by a couple could potentially adopt him. “Want to look at this now?” I asked. He nodded.

We looked at the photos of the people, their pets, and their house. We read the carefully typed words that revealed so much longing, and Biker Boy pointed out the details that he liked the best. Adoption is a slow process, and this is just the very beginning. Biker Boy and the team of people working with him know that there are many hurdles to overcome before he ends up in a family.

“Where’s their town? How far away from you?” asked Biker Boy.

“It’s about 40 minutes from my house,” I said. “Don’t worry, I could visit you there. It’s near a big lake – there are lots of beautiful places on the shore of that lake.”

“What if I go live far away?” he asked. “What if I go live in Miami?”

“I will take an airplane to visit you,” I said. “And we’ll go look at alligators.”

The pizza ovens made the little diner warm, the rain made a splattering sound on the windows, and we both felt sleepy. We split another piece of pizza, just because it tasted so good, and we put the album away. There was, really, no way to predict the future.

“Just keep an open mind,” I said to him. “There are good people in the world.”

“I know,” he said. “You and I – we’re good people.”

“That’s right,” I told him. “We are.”