Saturday, July 31, 2010

Awww-- Do I Have To?

Sometimes it takes a galvanizing event to get you off your butt and to make you do all those little things you've been putting off. Such was the case for us today. After a June and July spent teaching, packing up our rooms for the summer, having the pleasure of both of our moms and Kyle and Josh visit, horseback riding, vacationing in Maine and Minnesota, after all of that, tomorrow August 1, is the day when the god-daughters arrive for a week. We haven't seen the girls in a while, and we're really looking forward to spending some time with them, but the oldest has allergies to dogs and dust mites, among other things, so the focus of today was cleaning and dusting and vacuuming.

When we began it seemed like a huge chore, if not a downright imposition. We have a weekly house cleaner-- and usually we feel that her labor and a swipe-swipe here and there is enough to prepare for most guests, which is why we pay her. Grumbling a bit, we split the house upstairs and down and went to work. Down here, we still had stuff that wasn't put properly away from each of our trips, not to mention two piles of mail from the time we were gone. Then there were things that had been waiting to be hung up, clutter on the deck to be dealt with, an air filter to change, and so on. Once we got going, there were magazines to toss, the front stoop to sweep and outside window sills to wipe. In the end, lots of odd jobs that just never seemed worth doing by themselves got done today.

As a result we are tired but satisfied. Any resentment is long gone-- in fact we're kind of glad we had to do it, AND we're going to have a great time with the girls.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle

I saw the movie Salt today. To tell you the truth, my expectations were sort of low because of the reviews, but I like a kick-ass movie in the summer, and I also like Angelina Jolie, as nutty as she is at times. I was far from disappointed. To me, Salt was the perfect summer action film. The main character, Evelyn Salt, is the child of a champion wrestler and a chess master (c'mon- you know that's awesome), which makes her an unbeatable strategist and fighter (I know, right?). Kind of like Kevin Costner's character in No Way Out, she finds herself in a thorny predicament not of her own making. Even so, over the course of the film, she demonstrates love and loyalty, and she never kills a single person who isn't an enemy of the state with blood on his hands, although she does have to injure and disable a few others who get in her way. I totally have my fingers crossed for a sequel.

Last week we also saw The Kids Are All Right, which is being marketed as a light summer comedy. (Yeah, and Finland is on the way to Orr.) I found this movie very painful to watch, despite (or because of) the fact that it is full of excellent performances: the actors create complex characters in a difficult situation who are hard to sympathize with.

Both movies feature strong women and the men who would walk all over them and take everything that they've worked for, given half a chance. I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that in the end of each the women do prevail, but those meddling guys who think they're so entitled really make me mad.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer Simile

Every summer is busy, but this one seems even more so. Our house guests and trips are like stones across a river: starting in June we hop from one to another until we reach September on the other side.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bears and Wolves, Oh My

We never did get to that bear sanctuary, but we did visit the North American Bear Center as well as the International Wolf Center, both just a mile or so from Ely, MN where we were staying. These centers have bears and wolves on the premises that can not be released into the wild; their mission is to educate and raise awareness about these animals. Since they are located in an area with healthy bear and wolf populations, a large part of their message is dedicated to finding a balanced interaction between humans and these wild predators.

It wasn't long ago that by government mandate wolves were to be eradicated from the continental U.S. People believed that because of competition for game and the threat to livestock and humans that this was a prudent response, and American wolves were nearly wiped out.

Bears have not fared much better. Although not systematically targeted for extinction, in most places, any bear that comes too close to populated places will most likely be shot because of the unpredictable peril it poses.

I left Ely feeling that we people have a lot of work to do to re-establish an equilibrium with these creatures, not to mention the coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, and the surplus deer population that we have.

All of this was on my mind this evening when I read the news about the bear rampage in Yellowstone last night. The details are still emerging, but one man is dead and two people are injured after a bear tore through their tent campsite just 5 miles from the entrance gate to the park. It looks like this is just another tragic consequence of our failure to find a way to dwell peaceably with the other animals in our world.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wrong Way

We were off to a bear sanctuary tonight about an hour from this town in the boundary waters. We had an internet generated map and directions, and I was driving. This is just the type of situation where technology fails me, or I it, depending on your perspective. I glanced at the tiny map quickly and then thrust it into the hands of my navigator. I believed I knew the general direction we were going, and I was happy to leave the specifics to her. The only detail I double checked was how to find the road leading out of town. Off we set on a winding road through national forests, past lakes and over rivers. It was beautiful.

According to the turn-by-turn summary, it was over 20 miles before we were supposed to make a right to stay on the same county road. At 21, 22, and 23 miles, we rationalized that perhaps it wasn't a right turn as much as a bear right. The road was empty and no waypoint towns were mentioned on our little map. We wouldn't actually switch route numbers for another 25 miles, so we barreled along our wilderness way, never even passing a place to pause and confirm our direction. At 50 miles, we finally found a gas station and we stopped to fill up and find out if we may have lost our way. As my mom was off asking directions, my iPhone finally got a signal, and I hastily punched in our destination to plan a route from our current location.

My jaw dropped when I saw that we had gone 180 degrees away from the bear preserve. When I checked the little map, I had assumed that we were traveling east, and I mistook our destination for our departure point. It would take two an a half hours to get to the bears, by which time the preserve would be closed. I cringed, sucked in my breath, and informed the other members of our party, egg-faced.

The upside was that we were only 6 miles from Lake Superior. We spent an hour on the coast at a couple of state parks-- walking a breakwater and visiting a light house. It turned out to be a pleasant, but bearless, evening. Later we were telling the tale at dinner, and I was even able to laugh a little, especially imagining what it would have been like had I stubbornly driven onward, stopping only when the road dead-ended on the shores of Gitchigoomie. Maybe a great lake glittering in my path would have convinced me that I had made a mistake. Maybe.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Humingbird Humdinger

This morning at breakfast, the hummingbird show was on again. The plot thickened when there was trouble even at the peaceful feeder from yesterday, so I decided to do some quick research into hummingbird behavior. I found that my assumptions from yesterday were all wrong-- it turns out that aggression is the rule and cooperation the exceptions. At this time of year, those guys are fueling up for their fall migration which includes a 500 mile non-stop leg over the Gulf of Mexico. No one is sure how they even do it-- the energy they need exceeds their body weight!

Golly. I guess in that situation, I might be a little testy about sharing, too.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bird on Bird

We're on our second big trip of the summer, this time traveling in Northern Minnesota. Our first stop has been Itasca State Park, the place where the headwaters of the Mississippi River are. We are staying in a cool log cabin right up the hill from the lake. Around the lodge and visitors' center there are hummingbird feeders everywhere, but unlike many of these plastic hourglass shaped contraptions that I've seen in the yards and gardens near home, droves of hummingbirds actually congregate at these. I've seen more ruby-throats today than in my whole life combined.

At dinner tonight, we were seated by a window overlooking the lake. The sun was setting, and the sky was a lovely golden, but I couldn't keep my eyes off the drama unfolding at the hummingbird feeder right outside. My panfried walleye grew cold as one thumb-sized bird refused to share the nectar. If another hummer landed while he was eating, this teeny meanie would rear back, poke that lilliputian chest out, and blur his emerald wings at the newcomer. If that display of ill will failed to intimidate, he would fly around the feeder and physically chase the other bird off. Then he would retreat to a branch above the feeder, vigilantly guarding it from any other hummingbirds who might try to get a little nourishment. The tiny terrorist was tirelessly aggressive, sometimes scaring his fellow feeders off with just a mean little look.

I wondered if hummingbirds are naturally so selfish, but then I noticed that right around the corner was another feeder where three, four, five, and even six other birds were able to share a meal without any conflict. Who'da thunk that even hummingbirds have bullies?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Oh Fair Summer

Many of my teacher friends in other places are reaching that point in their summer vacation when it's time to prepare for the return to school. For me that seems inconceivable, having only been out for a month so far. We did receive the preservice week meeting schedule via e-mail yesterday, but it's still way too early to look forward to those hours spent in uncomfortable chairs, trying to focus on a two page agenda while your brain spins like a tea cup at the carnival cataloging everything you have to do to get ready for the students arriving in a few days.

There will be time enough for that delightful multitasking in another five weeks, because on the ferris wheel of vacation time, we're still going up. In a day or two we'll stop and dangle our feet high above the summer-- the entire season spread out beneath us, our car gently rocking in the late July breeze. If we crane our necks, we might see those who got on before us climbing out, and then we'll start to descend slowly, eventually following them to the exit.

But for now, I'm just going to enjoy the ride.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Put Your Potatoes In

My mother and your mother 
were hanging out clothes.
My mother punched your mother 
right in the nose.
What color blood came out?

We were talking this morning of the choosing rhymes we used to use when we were kids to pick the person who had to be IT in our games of tag and hide and seek. In addition to eeny meeny miney moe, the one above was a good one, as was Bubble gum bubble gum in a dish, how many pieces do you wish? and Engine engine number nine going down Chicago line. And who can forget the classic one potato, two potato? I still think of my fists as potatoes sometimes, and there was a practical elegance to bopping your chin with your fist when you were the counter.

Most rhymes ended with my mother told me to pick the very best one, and you are NOT it. Hmmm. I'm not the very best one, but I'm not IT either-- oh the inner conflict such a procedure created. To be honest, I always liked it best when we agreed to end the choosing quickly-- rather than eliminating the safe players one agonizing kid at a time, we chose who was IT in the first round, and then we just played the game.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Generation Gap

I have a mobile phone, and I don't hesitate to use it, but I'm still one of those people who my friends and family are never sure they can reach that way. Texting is better than voice, but sometimes I don't have service, or it's on vibe, or I don't hear the ring-- you know how it can be. My phone is definitely not a life line to me; the rollover minutes on our family plan are always in the triple digits, and I never come close to the 200 text messages I pay for, either.

This summer, as an early 15th birthday gift, we added Josh to our plan and got him a phone. We agreed to pay the basic monthly charge and for 200 text messages, so he chose a phone, and we had it shipped to him. It arrived today, and this evening we received our first text from him... im kinda worried that i might go over the 200 text limit already

What?! In a few hours?! Of course I've heard all the news reports about teens and texting, but I never would have predicted such a thing with a kid I know so well. So yep, despite spending most of my working days with adolescents, this middle school teacher was blind-sided. Sigh.

I have to give Josh credit, though. By telling us right away, I was able to switch him to an unlimited plan before the messages even posted to our account. It turned out to be a true act of 21st century responsibility. He's still going to have to come up with the extra 15 bucks a month, though.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What a Rush

Throughout your life you develop gold standards. For me, the best mountains are the Alps, the best decade was the 70s, the best birthday cake is tarta baba with lots of lemon glaze, and the best falls are definitely Niagara.

It was 25 years ago that I first saw Niagara Falls. I was on the kind of wonderful road trip you take when you're relatively young-- it lasted weeks, and we went from Washington DC to Hamilton NY to Ann Arbor MI to Hustisford WI. In addition to the thousand and a half miles of North America we traversed, there was a wedding, a reunion of college buddies, and an island cottage along the way, but it all paled in comparison to Niagara Falls. The roar and the spray and the prisms of light stayed with me long after I returned home.

Since then I have had the good fortune to visit Niagara a half dozen times or more and they never disappoint. It doesn't matter if there's a crowd or that the water flowing over them is less than half its natural capacity, and never mind that the honeymoon thing is sort of baffling; I am even able to disregard the tacky merchandising that inevitably goes along with any stop there, because the falls themselves




Tuesday, July 20, 2010

No Complaints

I prepared my first meal with the majority of ingredients from my garden tonight. A nice vegetable stew with tomatoes, anaheim peppers, eggplant, squash, and okra-- seasoned with onion, garlic, and basil, and served over brown rice, it was a fine meal.

This is the time of the year when everything seems to explode in growth. Having been away from home for ten days and leaving town for another nine tomorrow, the progress of all the plants astonished and gladdened me when I went to check this morning. Our flowers have spread to fill their bed; our cucumbers, pumpkins and zucchini finally look as if they will amount to something, and aside from the vegetables I picked today, there are hundreds of green tomatoes on schedule to ripen in, well, just about nine or ten days (thank you, tomato goddess).

When we get back it will be canning time. Nice.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trail Markers

After 12 hours on the road, we are home from our vacation in Maine. Something I love about hiking up there are the cairns that mark the trails on the granite ledges at the top of the mountains in Acadia National Park. I admire the elegant and functional transaction between humans and nature that these deliberately stacked sets of stones represent, and I'm glad for their guidance as well. Furthermore, unlike a modern GPS device, they offer their navigational advice in silence. Much appreciated, cairns.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Persistence of Memory

We’re listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on this trip. All of us have read it, but for different reasons we want to re-visit the book. Personally, my motivation is two-fold: One of my brightest students last year read it over and over, assuring me that it was the best book of the series (if not the best ever written!).

The other reason is that when Deathly Hallows was released, I pounded through the book in a little less than 24 hours. At our house we had two copies, one each, and we spent the entire weekend reading and talking and reading. Three years later I find that I don’t have a very good memory of the book.

When I was a teenager, it used to amaze and amuse me how little recall my mother had of the plots of novels we knew she had read. My brother and sister and I mocked her mercilessly for her chronic case of literary amnesia. Of course at that time my brain was like a sponge, and it was easy to remember even the smallest things in minute detail. How could we know that it wouldn’t last?

Like everything about growing older, no matter how much you’ve seen it happen to others or even have come to expect it for yourself, such signs of aging seems incredible when they actually happen to you. Thus the Harry Potter audio book—it’s almost as if I’m experiencing it for the first time, and you know what? My student has an excellent point—it’s a good book.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dog Years

I read a novel in verse a few years ago called Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow. Near the beginning he writes:

Everyone has a dog story to tell...
Each dog marks a section of our lives, and
in the end, we feed them to the dark,
burying them there while we carry on.

Today is my dog's birthday-- she's seven. Seven in people years, seven times seven in dog years. According to that common calculation, she is now older than I am.

Happy Birthday, Isabel.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pancake Madness

Probably the most popular food item on our vacation has been, not lobster, but pancakes. We found a product called The Batter Blaster at the local Walmart. It is organic pancake mix in a whipped-cream-style can. The boys loved it for the wacky novelty of such a thing, so much so that they have each been motivated to cook their own pancakes for breakfast every morning. Of course they started with wild Maine blueberries, but soon they branched out to chocolate chip, then peanut butter. After that there have been all manor of flap jacks flipped around here this week.

I believe it's possible that The Batter Blaster is kind of a gateway food. Think about it-- once they're hooked on it, all someone has to do is slip them some real homemade pancake batter. Soon they'll be jonesing for pancakes seriously enough to start stirrring up their own batter, and after that it won't be long until they're cooking breakfast for everyone.

Yeah, that's it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action

It rained again up here yesterday, so we took the boys to see Despicable Me at a local cinema. It was definitely a retro experience, a lot like I remember the movies of my childhood. The theater itself was a simple cinder block structure, hung with some heavy velveteen drapes on the wall. The floor was poured concrete and the seats were no frills-- sensible upholstery over modest padding. They did not go all the way down to the screen, thus preventing that unpleasant neck-craning that is sometimes unavoidable if you arrive late to a popular show. It only cost us $27.50 for all five tickets-- twenty dollars cheaper than it would have been at home. The concession stand was also quite reasonable-- six bucks bought a small drink, a small popcorn, and a box of candy. The small drink really was small, too, far less than the 32 ounces they customarily serve in the theaters near us.

We sat back and watched the trailers, and then just as the feature attraction was to start, the lights came up and the manager announced from the rear of the theater that there was "a situation." We exchanged bemused looks. It turned out that 50 kids from a Y Camp were on their way to see the movie, too, and the manager wondered if folks would be willing to move forward to free fifty seats together. "The kids will really appreciate it," she said. Our audience was quite willing to oblige, so they held the movie, and the kids were seated in a little more than five minutes.

Somehow, I just can't see that happening at home.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


The bread machine I mentioned a couple of days ago has been getting quite a workout. We've had fresh bread every day of our vacation. Back in the 90's, these appliances were super popular and those cube-shaped loaves they turn out were everywhere. Was it the Atkins craze or just staleness that pushed them to the back of the cupboard, like many a crockpot before them? Who can say, but today bread machines are like dodo birds. All of that is prehistory to the teenagers in our family, and judging by their initial fascination with the contraption, I'd say bread machines may be poised for a comeback.

I don't really remember being impressed by the quality of the bread they made back then, and the convenience didn't lure me in, either. I never owned one of the devices. In fact, I was only humoring Josh the other day when we purchased the ingredients for his bread, but I was interested and attentive as he poured them (in the order they were listed, as directed) into the square bucket and snapped it into place before pressing a bunch of beeping buttons, closing the lid, and walking away. And a few hours later, the loaf of garlic herb bread that we sliced and dunked into our soup was pretty good. The next day, I read the other recipes myself, and it has been I who has been dumping and pressing and cooling and wrapping the freshly baked bread cubes ever since.

There is something profoundly gratifying about baking a good loaf of bread. It is sort of magical to take such common ingredients and turn them into food so nourishing and so sustaining. In that respect and to my surprise, the bread machine has not made the experience any less satisfying-- fresh baked bread is fresh baked bread. Whole wheat with raisins, walnuts, and pecans, anyone?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Small Blue Thing

Consider the wild Maine blueberry-- so small, so full of flavor and antioxidants. They are in season right now, countless tiny clusters of them ripe beside the trails and along the granite ledges, inviting hikers to pick and eat the sun-warmed fruit as we climb or descend. Each berry a sweet little burst of tart juice-- they make you stop; they keep you going.

I'm sure no one is keeping track of such things but me, so I'll crow just a little: this is my 500th blog post without missing a single day. Yay for writing!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pleasant Company

Our godson, Josh, has been spending three or more weeks with us each summer since he was six. At that time, his mom was a single parent working hard and long, and as much as she missed him, those weeks were fun for Josh and a break for her. Over the years we’ve traveled to Maine and California, done Niagara Falls a couple of times, and camped out on Lake Erie. When he was younger, we used to enroll him in a summer program, too. He played soccer, went to roller blade camp, learned to sail, and took art and photography courses. We always try to have a lot of fun whenever he’s around.

Things have changed for his family—his mom has married a great guy and Josh has a younger sister and brother now. At 14, the time he spends with us now is summer tradition, but it’s also a chance for him to be the only child he was for the first 10 years of his life. There are other boys in our family close to his age, but he spends a good amount of his visits in the company of two women n their 40s. We worry that he’ll be bored with us, but so far it’s always worked out.

Take yesterday, for example: we’ve arrived in Maine a couple of days ahead of the other half of our group, which includes the other boys, so the three of us were on our own on a rainy Sunday. The night before, we had established that despite the big flat-screen TV in our rented house, television reception was limited—although we did all enjoy the broadcast of the graduation ceremony for the 15 8th graders at the local grade school. (Yes, we really watched it on public access; it was just the thing after 12 hours in the car and a nice lobster dinner.)

When Josh got up, he surprised us by tuning the radio to a classical music station, which we ended up listening to all day. “The radio is a lot like the TV,” he said, “not many choices.” He had noticed a breadmaker in the kitchen and pulled out the recipe book tucked neatly beneath it and decided to make garlic herb bread to go with the corn chowder we planned for dinner. When there was a break in the weather, we all headed down to our rocky beach, and 84 pieces of sea glass later we declared Josh King of the Beachcombers. And at the end of the day, while the bread baked and the soup simmered, he and Heidi sat side by side knotting colorful embroidery floss into friendship bracelets.

If these don’t seem to be the typical activities of your average baseball playin’ cross-country runnin’ teenaged boy, you must admire a kid so comfortable in his own skin he'll do whatever seems fun at the moment with whomever might be around.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


It's a truism to say that these days it's not enough to work hard, everyone has to play hard, too, especially when on vacation. Rain on the first day of your long-planned trip might be viewed as terrible luck, then. No hiking, no biking, no kayaking, it's even too soggy for shopping the charming streets of that nearby town.

What to do? Today I opt for a rocking chair on the sheltered back porch of our clapboard cape, looking out over Eastern Bay. Someone thoughtfully placed a foot rail about 18 inches above the wide planks of the floor, and the soft, steady rain has chased the mosquitoes away. The mist over the water keeps shifting-- now I see the cove across the way, now not. When visible, the landscape on the other side is all shrouded gray and jagged pine. A loon traces the shore line, diving and surfacing, and a few other birds brave the wet weather, chirping loudly as they dash from the shelter of one tree to the next, and behind it all the sound of falling rain.

The sun is supposed to shine tomorrow, but today is fine, too.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fingers Crossed

I like to travel and to spend time in other places, but I hate to leave home. I understand the paradox, but it doesn't make it any easier-- our departure is always an ordeal. Today we leave for ten days away-- once the door is locked and we're on the road, all will be well... it's just getting over the threshold that will be a challenge.

Wish us luck.

Friday, July 9, 2010

This Writer Reads

 Last winter I read The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo. It was an exquisite little book, all fine writing and character development. Last month, when I was re-shelving my classroom library after the renovation, I found Tiger Rising by her, a book I didn't even realize I owned. I read it the weekend after school got out, and again I was captivated by the jewel-like quality of her writing, the characters so finely wrought.

Because of Winn-Dixie has long been a favorite of my students, but I'd never read it; I finished it yesterday, and The Tale of Despereaux is next. This morning I visited Kate DiCamillo's website. There is a wonderful little essay about writing there, where she says this:

The world, under the microscope of your attention, opens up like a beautiful, strange flower and gives itself back to you in ways you could never imagine. What stories are hiding behind the faces of the people who you walk past everyday? What love? What hopes? What despair?

(You should read the whole thing-- it's worth it.)

During the school year I teach my students to approach their independent reading with the eyes of a writer, and I do the assignments with them, but many times they are no more than exercises. That is not so as I read DiCamillo's work; she has earned the admiration of my inner reader and inspired the writer in me, too.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


We took our nephews to see Winter's Bone the other day. The film won a Sundance Festival award and has been hailed as a feminist masterpiece by certain critics, with a stark Greek-tragedy-like plot. Clearly it is dramatically different than most summer fare, and I wanted to see it. Two of our four boys will be 18 next week, the other two will both be 15 by the end of September. The main character of the movie is a 17-year-old girl living in the Ozarks, and although she faces a lot of adversity that our guys hopefully never will, I hoped that her age and strength might be enough of a connection to draw them in.

I thought the movie was excellent, but the boys' reactions fell on a continuum from oldest to youngest: Eric thought the movie was pretty good; Riley thought it was "really fucking bleak;" Treat commented on the visual monochromaticism and "never said I didn't like it," and Josh wondered what the point was-- "Not a lot happened in it," he said.

Yeah... I'm still glad we saw it together.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Does it Bite?

We watched Shutter Island last night. A fan of both Scorcese and DiCaprio, I was looking forward to seeing this film. There were warning signs that I might be disappointed-- not only did it receive lukewarm reviews and earn a lackluster box office, but the producers postponed its release from Oscar contention time to late February. Still, I was hopeful.

Sadly, I found the movie to be a foggy, gray mess. A main character is agitated by confusing experiences-- this main theme of the relationship between identity, reality, and perception has been more handily addressed in many movies, for example The Sixth Sense, Blade Runner, and The Matrix.

Tonight we had dinner with a close family member who has Alzheimer's Disease. His grasp on the present becomes more and more tenuous each time we meet. At 86, he is well cared for and generally happy, although he is confused and agitated sometimes. It's hard to know how to react: should we be bothered by how he jumbles the past and present, upset at how he asks the same things over and over again, disturbed that he forgets what has recently occurred? Or should we simply try to make him as comfortable with his perceptions as possible?

In those movies, it is the revelation and subsequent understanding of the discrepancy between reality and their own perception that is devastating to the people caught in that situation. In both Shutter Island and The Matrix, characters make the choice to remain delusional rather than to face the bleakness of their "real" lives.

Maybe reality is a little over-rated. Even the most functional of us spend time in our own little worlds, and as long as we can avoid cognitive dissonance, what's the harm in it? Who's to say that it is an illusion at all?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Blue

When I was a little girl growing up in the garden state, there were certain summer mornings when my mom would call us from work to say that she was coming home so that we could go to the beach. Sometimes on our way home from the shore we would stop at a pick-your-own blueberry place where we could pick (and eat) as much as we wished. Then there would be blueberry pancakes, muffins, pies, and jam, not to mention plastic containers full of frozen blue marbles that would last in the freezer until a time when those hot and sandy days of summer were only a happy memory.

Monday, July 5, 2010


In the wake of the firework perils of yesterday's post, this morning I woke to a gruesome story on NPR about table saws... an average of ten Americans amputate one or more of their fingers every day on this ordinary power tool.

Yikes! That every day sort of danger is terrifying. I take back what I said about being hard to scare; we were just telling the wrong kind of stories around the campfire.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


While at the ranch we spent a couple of evenings sitting around our campfire telling scary stories, but it turns out that it's pretty hard to scare three teen-aged boys and a couple of forty-something ladies, so on the second night we had a few fireworks, too. They were really no more than glorified sparklers that we bought from a pair of wacky church ladies manning a tent in the Walmart parking lot in Luray. Even so, I confess to being a little intimidated, if not scared, by these incendiary devices, and I cautioned the boys more than once about their use.

When I was a kid, somebody always knew somebody else who knew somebody who had blown a few fingers off with fireworks. Urban legend or not, to me playing with firecrackers was like eating your Halloween candy without your parents checking it-- there could be a razor blade in your apple or LSD in your peanut butter cup.

The other night our pyrotechnics sparkled and burned bright and beautiful and without a hitch, but the same cannot be said for everyone this holiday. Here's a headline from the Washington Post: Police: NY Man Blows Arm Off With Party Fireworks.

See? It can happen.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


This afternoon we saw one of those empty-headed movies that can be an entertaining way to wile away a too hot day. It lived up to our expectation of mindless diversion with the exception of misrepresenting Gandhi as a warrior's philosopher. To be honest that bothered me a little bit, but I soon forgot my concerns in the dazzle of all those white teeth and detonations. Ah, summer vacation.

Friday, July 2, 2010


So often after I visit a place I develop an intense curiosity about it. As a teacher, I know how important it is for students to be able to make a personal connection to instructional material, how such a tie makes it easier to learn and retain skills and information. As an adult, I see this principle in action in myself. Researching activities and destinations for a future vacation in a place I've never visited is too abstract; the information slides from my brain like butter on hot teflon-- no more than a skim coat of retention. Once on site, though, I'm motivated to voraciously consume any material I can get my hands on, but it is usually unsatisfying, perhaps because I am distracted by actually being on vacation and all. Back at home, I spend lots of time researching the place I just left, a bittersweet experience because I'm essentially discovering every cool thing I missed on my visit.

Take my recent trip to Fort Valley, VA for example. I stayed for a couple of nights at a ranch there and took a trail ride through George Washington National Forest. It was beautiful-- the mountains of western Virginia at their summer finest-- all dappled light and fragrant hayseed fern, elder berry, hemlock, and mountain laurel-- and so much less inhabited than this urban area where I reside. Our bunk house cabin may have been a little rustic, but there were bull frogs and river otters just outside our door, not to mention all the stars in the sky which were only obscured by the blazing camp fire we had each night.

Once home, though, I found that this valley within a valley was not only the site of three iron forges destroyed by the Union Army because of the Confederate canon balls they were churning out, but also the location of the very first CCC installation, Camp Roosevelt, built in 1933. AND it is named Fort Valley because it was George Washington's fall back plan. The first access road was built so that the Continental Army could retreat to this naturally fortified place for a last stand against Cornwallis. Fortunately, the Battle of Yorktown made Fort Valley a footnote to history, but now that I know a little more about the place, I can't wait to go back.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I continue to be fascinated by facebook: fortunately not in the spending-too-much-time-sharing-too-much-information way, but rather in the I-can't-believe-I'm-back-in-touch-with-that-person way.

Also in the look-how-many-people-wished-me-a-happy-birthday way. That's kind of cool.