May 26, 2014

Memorial Day weekend at camp

Spring evening at camp

For Memorial Day weekend we gathered, like we always do, at my parents' camp on the river. My parents went up first, of course. My mother is eighty now, but she still likes to do all the work at camp herself: before we even showed up, she had mowed the whole huge lawn, which serves as parking lot, Frisbee field and campsite for all of our tents. Shaggy Hair Boy and Smiley Girl brought their new puppy, plus the dog they’re taking care of for the summer. With-a-Why packed his bag, as usual, with games instead of clothes: his favorite thing at camp is a good game of chess or Go in the shade of the oak trees.

Red-haired Niece, her boyfriend, and Boy-in-Black went up a day early to work on a secret project: they ripped out the seats of Blond Brother-in-law’s boat, rebuilt them, and painted them. Normally, this is the kind of work Blond Brother-in-law would do himself, but he’s had a tough year: he just went through his fifth round of chemo. He made it up to camp, though, and was able to admire their handiwork, and he was even feeling strong enough today to take back his usual job of grilling our food for lunch.

On a spring weekend at camp, we spend most of our time just sitting around and talking, with occasional games of bocce. This year, we had something exciting to talk about: Schoolteacher Niece and her husband have a baby daughter! She was born on Friday, and she has a pseudonym already: Little Ray of Sunshine. It’s a nickname that readers of the Betsy-Tacy books will recognize. Her grandmother and aunts spent Sunday showing us the baby pictures on their phones. We're all thrilled to have a new baby in the family, and we fully expect that she'll be joining us at camp in July.

May 23, 2014

Back yard visitors

Visitors in the back yard

I love the wildflowers in our back lawn in spring, and the way the deer come through to graze. But I think we've hit the point where we really need to mow the grass.

May 22, 2014

Naked beneath the storm clouds

Storm clouds coming

All my friends know that sooner or later, they are going to have to pose naked for my blog. It’s just a question of when. I’ve learned to snap the photo as soon as a woman is ready, as soon as that window of opportunity opens. So when a longtime friend said to me the other day, “I think I’m ready to pose for you,” I grabbed my camera immediately. And then thought to myself, “Okay, this is going to be a challenge.”

We were at a monastery. It was Sunday morning, which meant the usually quiet grounds were filled with townspeople who had driven up for Sunday Mass. Townspeople and monks milled about in the bookstore, enjoying the after-Mass coffee hour. Children and parents wandered outdoors along the fences to look at the baby sheep. After a long day of rain, the sun kept appearing briefly, and most of the retreatants wanted to be outside, to enjoy that bit of summer.

“Here?” I asked my friend. “You want me to take the photo here?”

She nodded. “Yeah, I thought it would be cool to have the chapel steeple in the photo. Or maybe the barn. Or some sheep.”

We’d just spent the weekend talking about big life changes so I knew why this was the right moment. And I knew, too, that the monastery — this place of sanctuary and healing — was an important part of her spiritual journey journey. So her impulse seemed right. We just had to figure out how to take the photo without sending a bunch of elderly monks into shock.

“I could bring a book as a prop,” my friend said helpfully. That seemed right — she’s always reading — but I didn’t think the simple presence of a book would be enough to make stripping naked by the chapel a socially acceptable thing to do.

Eventually, we climbed a path to a high pasture, where we could look down at the barn and the chapel. “I don’t think they turn the electricity on very often,” Reading Woman said as she slid her body through the wires of the fence. Nothing sizzled as she went through, so I followed, saying a prayer that this wouldn’t be the moment when Brother Tractor chose to throw the switch.

We wanted sheep in the photo, but the sight of a naked woman doing yoga made them run the other way. The sun didn’t cooperate either: it hid behind a cloud. Reading Woman sat down patiently in the pasture, avoiding the patches of sheep manure, and picked up her book. When the sun finally came out, she looked up at the sky, at the storm clouds retreating, and I snapped the photo.

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

May 19, 2014

Baby sheep and sunshine

Baby of the flock

The Benedictine monastery is high in the hills, surrounded by farmland and woods that roll down into a valley, above a sleepy river edged with piles of stone. Usually my friends and I go on retreat during April, during lambing season, but this year, our schedules didn't coincide and we arrived in mid-May.

The baby sheep have already grown plump and woolly. They're out in the pastures with their mothers, running and playing and bleating loudly every time they get too far from Mom. One little lamb kept leaping onto her mother's back whenever I walked near. The trees and bushes on the monastery property have flowered. We gathered lilacs to bring with us into the old stone farmhouse where we were staying.

The first day of our retreat, we stayed inside to talk, drink tea, and listen to the rain that drummed against the glass. But by that evening, the sun had appeared to dry the grasses and muddy paths. We ate dinner up at the Women's Guesthouse at the top of the hill and as we walked back down, we had a view of a brilliant blue sky, with sun warming the sheep pastures and clouds sweeping across the sky.

May 15, 2014

They keep growing up

Last weekend, two more members of the family graduated from college: Drama Niece (who really should be called Journalist Niece now since she doesn’t perform on stage as often as she used to) and Smiley Girl, who is engaged to my son Shaggy Hair Boy. That meant a party on Saturday, and a party on Sunday. Taekwondo Nephew and Dandelion Niece drove in to help celebrate, and that meant the whole gang gathered here Friday and Saturday night. We ate food, played the game Scattergories, and mostly, just sat around and talked. That’s pretty much what my family does.

Last night Quick, who is here for a week from his grad school in the south, stopped by, and Film Guy was home for the weekend as well. It’s still hard for me to believe that like my kids, most of my extras are grown up now as well, working on PhDs or holding down jobs. When they’re all here — playing a game around the table, cracking jokes and teasing each other as they play — it feels like they never left.

May 08, 2014

Newest member of the family

My son Shaggy Hair Boy and his fiancee Smiley Girl have decided to start their family. No, not a human baby. They've adopted a very cute Wheaten Terrier puppy named Omi.

Smiley Girl graduates from college this Saturday, and Shaggy Hair Boy finishes his Master's degree this summer. They've got an apartment, a puppy, and a piano. All the essentials of life.

May 06, 2014

At my fingertips

So, yep. It’s finally happened. I have a smartphone. 

Announcing this to my friends was pretty anti-climatic. About half of them said things like, “What? You didn’t already have one? But you’re on twitter all the time!” And the other half said, “What? Why would you need one?”

I’ve been thinking about getting a smartphone for years. It was a student who finally convinced me that I should.

We were having a class discussion about whether or not smartphones were affecting teenagers’ ability to learn social skills and that grew into a broader discussion about the pros and cons of smartphones. I asked my students to write a few paragraphs about the topic. I gave them a bunch of prompts and then at the end, I said, kind of jokingly, “The important question, though is this -- should I get a smartphone?”

My students took the question seriously and wrote thoughtful responses. Several said that I didn’t need to worry about the smartphone hurting the development of my social skills since I was already a grown-up who knew how to talk to people. Several said they had confidence in my ability to put limits on my own technology use. Others pointed out that I would love the convenience of the smartphone when I’m traveling.

One student wrote, “Your students all have smartphones. And it’s important to you that you understand what’s going on with us – and what our generation is doing. So you need to get one too.” I decided he was right.