Friday, July 31, 2015


How cute is it that Josh and Treat can still spend a good hour playing Tanks on the Wii? As retro as they claim the system to be with its 10-year-old graphics, there they are in the living room targeting and destroying tiny little tanks in a virtual maze like they have since they were 11. "I only wish I could have this as my ringtone!" Josh said about the trumpet fanfare that announces each new level, and he was only being half ironic.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tortilla Espanola

I picked up our vegetable share bright and early this morning; it was before 8 when I repacked the contents of the produce box into a reusable bag and brought it home. Once in our kitchen and confronted with eggs, potatoes, and onions, there was really only one thing to do.

Back when I was in college, I had an acquaintance from my job in the dining hall who had done a semester in Spain. Early one Sunday morning, when we were both working brunch, but before most students were even awake, she took advantage of the slow time to make me breakfast. "This sounds weird, but it's really delicious," she said as she presented me with a potato omelet. Given the pre-scrambled eggs and frozen hash browns she had to work with, it was pretty good.

I thought of her six years later when I was in Spain visiting my sister, who was also doing a semester abroad there. Then we enjoyed Tortilla Espanola everywhere we went. As one of the most popular tapas dishes in the country, you can order it in most places for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack. At the time, I was cooking professionally, and so we purchased a cookbook, in Spanish of course, so that I could authentically recreate all the foods we loved-- tortilla, gazpacho, and fried calamari.

And indeed, for years, those dishes were in heavy rotation at our house: tortilla for brunch, gazpacho for lunch, calamari for an hors-d'oeuvre before dinner. The key to all of them was olive oil, and plenty of it. My friend from college never had a chance, because I doubt there was a drop of olive oil to be had in that pantry.

Not so in my kitchen-- even though it has probably been 10 years or more since the last time I made it, this morning I poured a generous amount of olive oil into my skillet and proceeded to poach a pound of new potatoes and some baby onions until they were tender. In the mean time I scrambled up six eggs that couldn't have been more than 24 hours away from their hens, and when the veggies were ready I strained and added them directly to the eggs. Oh that lovely olive oil will be delicious in other things, but for the little bit I drizzled back in the skillet before dumping the egg-potato-onion mixture in, too.

In five minutes my tortilla was golden brown on the bottom, and so just like the long-ago cookbook directed, I flipped it onto a plate and slid it back into the pan to finish. A few minutes later it was ready, but I let it cool to room temperature before slicing it into wedges and enjoying it with a strong cup of coffee, just like in Spain.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wake Up Call

For at least 25 years, I have risen to the sound of NPR's morning news show on the radio. What can I say? I like being informed by intelligent people with interesting voices as I get ready for the day. That's why it's so alarming that lately the sound of Morning Edition puts me right back to sleep-- it seems like it's all more of the same old news reported in a soothing drone.

Maybe I'll have to switch to Fox News. That might get a rise out of me!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Epilogue: I Scope with Dope

Eighteen years later, we arrived right on time for my fourth colonoscopy yesterday morning, but Dr. H was running, excuse the pun, a little behind. Heidi was allowed to wait with me right up until the time they wheeled me back, and the staff at the GI Unit could not have been any nicer. Without exception, though, they all seemed a little shocked about my intention to go through without any sedative.

"I don't want to influence you," one nurse said, "but these are reallllly good drugs. You're asleep in literally 10 seconds and awake 10 minutes after they're done."

"But what about side effects?" I asked.

She shrugged. "Most people tell me it's like the most refreshing nap ever."

Everyone was like that-- super respectful of my wishes, but very clear that the anesthesia they use today was excellent.

I had never been put under for anything, and I couldn't imagine it, but the last colonoscopy I'd had was a little ouchy at the end. I endured the cramps through gritted teeth, virtuous in the knowledge that I would be dressed and ready to go in a few minutes.

"But Trace," my sister once told me, "if you take the drugs, you don't care if you can't leave right away."

"Well," I told my nurse as he started the IV, "I guess I should have something to compare. I've decided I'll go with the anesthesia."

He nodded. "It makes it easier for the doctor," he said, "if he doesn't have to worry about hurting you."

Just then the anesthesia nurse came in. "You might feel a little burn at the site," she said, "but you'll be asleep in 10 seconds."

I didn't believe it. I watched as she pushed the white fluid from her syringe into the line. (We fondly call it 'milk of amnesia' the other nurse had told me.) I closed my eyes; there was no heat, just a little roaring in my ears and then stars in the dark.

The next thing I heard was, "Everything went great!" and they were wheeling me to a recovery cubicle. And 20 minutes later? I was dressed and on my way, feeling like I'd had the best nap ever.

Now that is a good drug!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Procedure: Part IV

What is phosphos soda, anyway? The night before my procedure I drank four shots of the bitter, salty stuff, at twenty-minute intervals, followed by 32-ounce water chasers. As bad as it was, the taste was not the worst of it. It wasn’t long before any remaining liquid from the past two days was decisively evacuated, and I wished that I’d stayed away from that spicy broth.

Now, watching on TV, I saw just how clean and empty my bowels were. Rippling with peristalsis, the walls of my colon glowed yellow, a fine network of greenish-blue veins visible below the surface. Dr. H narrated our progress as we went, stopping a few minutes in to pinch a little polyp with the forceps. He would send it to the lab for biopsy, but even if it was pre-cancerous, he assured me that it was of no concern. As the serrated teeth of the little alligator-like instrument chewed away at the tiny bump, it bled, bright red washing down the sides of the tunnel, but I couldn’t feel it; there are no nerves inside our intestines. We moved on, and in a moment reached a tight turn. “I’m going to blow some air here to straighten it out,” he told me, “you might feel a little pressure.”

Inflating your intestines turns out to be rather painful, which is why they invented beano and gas-x. I ground my teeth, willing my recalcitrant gut to unbend and let the colonoscopy continue. Finally it opened up like a lazy windsock in a light breeze, and the cramping disappeared. After that, it was a straight shot all the way to my appendix, which resembled Pinocchio’s nose. That was the end of the line, and, with the exception of that one little polyp, there was nothing. The trip out was much quicker, and a lot like watching a tape of what I’d just seen in rewind. One last quick view of my bare butt, and it was all over. “You did great,” Dr. H told me. “See you in three years.”

Back in my recovery cubicle, I got dressed. Yet another nurse was startled that I was all ready to go when she came in to check on me. Before I was discharged, she gave me a run down of what I might expect over the course of the day, “But don’t worry,” she assured me, “it’s fresh air.”

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Procedure: Part III

Finally, after a few questions and a rectal exam, my GP wrote a referral for a gastroenterologist and ordered some blood work. She said everything seemed normal to her, but you couldn’t take any chances with my family history. The gastro guy, Dr. H., was highly recommended, though; “He’s very gentle.” When I saw him ten days later, he told me that the results of all my labs were normal, but a colonoscopy was indicated, anyway. It would be another two-and-a-half weeks before he could fit me in.

A week before I was finally going to get scoped and find out once and for all whether there was anything to worry about, the dark red color appeared again. I examined it closely. It looked suspiciously like the beets I had eaten for dinner the evening before. When I was growing up, my mother never served us beets; I don’t think she likes them. A month or so ago, I’d been to dinner at a friend’s home, and he had served a delicious salad with roasted beets, haricots vertes, and goat cheese. It was so tasty, in fact, that I had made the salad myself, just last night. Hmmm, I wondered. How thoroughly do we digest beets anyway?

In my mind, the mystery was solved, but the colonoscopy was still on the calendar. Two days before it, the preparation began, a clear liquid diet. How bad can that be? I thought. There are many clear liquids, and I was totally up for the challenge. For example, I strained Thai hot and sour soup as a much more flavorful alternative to plain chicken broth, and wine is definitely clear, but after a couple of meals, I found out that the main problem with clear liquids is that they are not satisfying. I wanted solid food. Forty-eight hours on a liquid diet would have been bad enough, but the clear liquids are really only to ease the second part of the preparation: the cleanse.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Procedure: Part II

The next day I made an appointment with my general practitioner. The earliest she could see me was a couple of weeks away. This was in the days before google even existed, much less had become a verb. I used my dial-up service to conduct some internet research. It was limited, but all I read pointed to the same thing. In the absence of trauma, the most likely explanation was some stage of colon cancer. I was not surprised. My father had died of that disease ten years before; I knew I was at risk.

As the days passed, I studied the toilet every time I had a bowel movement, and I was relieved to see no tint to the water. I hoped it was a false alarm, but I knew that the amount of blood I had seen was a possible indicator that anything wrong could be quite advanced.

Confronted by my own mortality, it was hard not to be a little morbid sometimes. Songs on the radio seemed like excellent choices for a memorial service, especially I Will Remember You by Sarah MacLachlan and I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly. “And she planned it herself?” my mourners would marvel. “Wow, I just couldn’t have done it.” It was hard not to be optimistic, too, to be sure it was nothing, mostly because something like that couldn’t happen to me, and plus, I was only 35.

The two weeks crawled by. I stayed busy doing crossword puzzles. I couldn’t get enough of them; there was something soothing about challenges with definite answers. I had decided not to tell my family, because I didn’t want them to worry. I didn’t mention it at work; it seemed a little too personal, and D and I didn’t really talk about it either, although later, she told me that she wrote a long list of all the things that she wouldn’t miss about me.

I’m sure that list came in handy a few months later when we broke up.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Procedure: Part I

In honor of my upcoming "procedure" I present the following never-before-published piece about my first colonoscopy. It was written in 2008, although the procedure itself took place in 1997.

The dark pink asterisk of my own a**hole rushed toward me on the monitor, and before I had time to consider what would happen next, it did, and the screen was filled with the slick and shiny tunnel of my colon. A camera, a light, suction, and forceps? All in there? I lay on my left side, loosely covered with a pink blanket, my hospital gown open in the back for obvious reasons, an IV in my right arm. “How are you, Hon?” a nurse asked me. She was concerned because I had refused the sedative for this procedure. At first I’d said no because I didn’t want the IV, but they made me have it anyway, so that they could push the drugs if I needed them.

“You have to lie very still, and there may be some discomfort,” a different nurse had told me earlier. “We’ll want to be ready if you experience too much pain.” She snapped the tourniquet, wrapped it around my arm, and tore into the sterile packaging on the stainless steel tray. I looked the other way, cringed when she said, “A little stick here,” and turned back in time to see two latex fingers pressing on a bloody gauze pad. Some surgical tape and she was finished.

“What’s the recovery time?” I asked. “How long until I can leave?”

“That depends. With the sedative, we’ll keep you a few hours until you’re alert; without it, you can leave right away.”

That settled it for me, no drugs. The preparation for this procedure had started two days earlier, and had been unpleasant enough, but the real journey had begun six weeks ago, with a routine trip to the bathroom. Turning to flush, I was startled by a distinct crimson cast to the water at the bottom of the pot. It looked like blood—a lot of blood. I felt fine though; there was no pain, no other symptoms. I hesitated before I flushed, unsure of what to do. Wait and see? Call 911? Get a second opinion?

“D!” I called. “You gotta look at something gross.”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Writing to Go

My writing group decided to try our hands at travel writing this time. Here's mine:

One of Chris Van Allsburg’s latest books is called Queen of the Falls. It tells the true story of Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive. The year was 1901, and Taylor was a 62-year-old widow who figured she had nothing to lose and financial security to gain by taking this daring plunge. She poses unsmiling in the photographs of the time, standing grimly next to her custom-built barrel. In one, a tiny ginger and white cat perches on the huge cask beside her; she had sent him over the falls before her to see if he would survive. When Annie’s turn came, on October 24, her 63rd birthday, she slid into the barrel, which was fitted with a mattress, and had a friend screw the lid down and pump out most of the air to create a vacuum seal. Then it was over the side of the row boat and into the roiling waters of the Niagara River. In less than 20 minutes she was swept over the Horseshoe Falls and into history.

It was hard not to think of that story as I stood at the edge of that same precipice on a rainy day in late June. I had been to Niagara Falls many times before but this was the first time for my mother, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and niece. We had chosen to start our visit on the Canadian side. Many people claim it superior to its American counterpart, but I do not share that opinion. If anything, that vantage offers a better view of the American Falls along with the Horseshoe cataract that both nations share, but from either side of the river you can get close enough to feel the roar of the water in your chest as it blasts toward the brink at 25 miles per hour and then plunges into the gorge at 2 ½ times that speed.

On this day, our wait on the Rainbow Bridge to pass through immigration and customs was a little less than 30 minutes, and my brother-in-law took advantage of the time to shoot several photos from the pedestrian walkway overlooking the falls. “It feels like a different country already,” my mother noted as we turned onto Niagara Parkway. I knew what she meant. The squat, mid-20th century architecture of the NY side had been replaced by a lighter, more international style of building, including several sky-scrapers. The parkway along the river is broad, and framed by wide sidewalks with green grass and curved flower beds beyond. It is more like a riverside promenade than the sprawling park with its meandering pathways and shade trees on the US side.

We found convenient parking in a lot just across from the visitors’ center and joined the throngs of other tourists heading for Niagara Falls. The rain held off, but the mist from the falls seemed to rise right into the low clouds above us, and the water was emerald green in the filtered light of the overcast day. We started our walk just upriver from the top of the falls, and traveled with the current until we reached an overlook directly above the edge. There the water poured over with such momentum that although the sharp rim was visible, it was submerged by at least three feet, and it was hard to believe that this was not even the fullest force of the falls. Since 1895, water has been diverted from the river to provide power to much of western New York and Ontario. These days, anywhere from 60-75% of the water flowing toward the falls is channeled underground to one of five hydroelectric power plants nearby.

Across the way, the yellow slickers of all those folks visiting the Cave of the Winds bobbed on the redwood decks at the foot of Bridal Veil Falls. Below us, at the foot of the falls, The Maid of the Mist intrepidly motored her way into the flume, her blue-coated patrons crowded on the bow eager to snap that perfect, postcard-worthy shot.

We heard many different languages from our fellow visitors, adding to the international vibe, and as we ambled along we found ourselves engaged in a good-natured ballet of selfies. One person would step out from the railing as another glided in; people would bow and spin to avoid photo bombing: all of us wanted a picture that conveyed the illusion that we were alone there, and yet? It wouldn’t have been the same without the rest of us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


I was organizing the apps on my phone this morning when I found one I had forgotten I had. Trailers provides instant access to hundreds of movie previews for upcoming films. Of course I took a look at what was trending, and I amused myself for perhaps 10 minutes watching a bunch of trailers.

Tonight at dinner I confessed that guilty pleasure to Heidi and Josh, describing the trailers I had seen in detail, and we spent a lively 20 minutes discussing them.

It reminded me of when I was a kid and I had the reputation of being quite the opposite of Reader's Digest: instead of condensing to recap a movie or TV show, my version would often take waaaaay longer than the original.

What can I say? If a picture is worth a thousand words, well, then, you do the math. I only wanted to be thorough and to do justice to art that had moved me. Well, that, and I did have a bit of a sequencing problem. I was famous for pausing several times through any summary. "But, wait, before that... " and back I would go to that relevant bit of information I had forgotten to share. 

As an educator today, I know that what I was doing back then was using all the tools of comprehension and processing-- summarizing, analyzing, connecting, evaluating, and questioning.

I'm sure that didn't make me any less aggravating to my audience, though.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Loves Company

Despite my high hopes, my garden is not thriving this summer. Everything is small and droopy-- with the exception of the butternut squash vine-- for the third year running, that particular plant is growing gangbusters. This morning I did my best to pep up the flagging veggies by weeding and feeding. At 8:30 on a Tuesday, though, I didn't have any company in the community and so I had to trek over to the other side of the lot to turn the water on. In general? I always appreciate seeing all the other plots and how they are growing, and today was no exception:

Everybody else's gardens suck, too.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Live Fast

Monday is the day our cleaning lady comes, and so we walked down to the movie theater this afternoon to allow her to work in peace. The documentary about Amy Winehouse was playing right then, and since it was something we wanted to see, that all worked out. At 1 PM on a Monday, I was surprised that the auditorium was not empty; in fact there were probably 20 of us there to watch the ultimately tragic story of an undeniably talented young woman.

My knowledge of Amy Winehouse was restricted to facial recognition, her song Rehab, which was the punchline of many jokes about her, and the fact that she died at the age of 27, but not of an overdose. I was unprepared for the charisma that the video footage revealed; I didn't think I would like her. Nothing is ever simple, though, and this movie portrays the complexities of talent, success, and the desire for fun and pleasure, especially in someone so young. I think Tony Bennett said it best near the end of the movie. "Life teaches you how to live it if you live long enough."

As Winehouse sang Valerie and the end credits rolled, I leaned over to Heidi. "That's going to win the Oscar," I whispered.

"How do you know?" she whispered back.

The screen went blank and the lights came up. "Look-- not a single person left, yet."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mad Skills

I went over to play a little more Settlers of Catan with Riley and Treat this afternoon. We had loosely arranged our game on Friday, barring any unexpected conflict, and with temperatures expected to hit the high 90s today, an inside activity seemed prudent.

We texted back and forth this morning to figure out where to play-- I have the game, they had the numbers, so it was a bit of a toss-up. In the end, I also had the car, so I drove up there to play.

When I arrived Emily was making herself lunch and Bill was nowhere to be found. "Neither of my parents want to play," Treat reported.

"Whaaaaat?" I said. "C'mon, Emily, all the cool people are doing it..."

She continued to grate cheese on her pasta, unfazed.

"You know you've always wanted to try it! Here's your chance!" I tried. "It's really fun! You'll like it!"

She shrugged. "Okay. Why not?"

I turned triumphantly to my nephews. "See what a little peer pressure can accomplish, boys? I haven't spent 22 years in middle school for nuthin!"

Saturday, July 18, 2015

As the Turnip Turns

We got a load of turnips from our farm share the other week, and since then they have been languishing on the counter waiting to be prepared. I knew I wanted to pickle them, lacto-ferment them to be exact, with some beets and Mediterranean flavors, but until this evening the chore was not at the top of my to-do list. After a trip to the grocery store, though, I had the beets and I had the time, too, and so I set to prepping the vegetables for their bath in the brine.

As soon as paring knife touched turnip, I was transported to June 1990. It was my first day working as a cook in the flight kitchen of United Airlines. A child of the airline industry, I had been working in kitchens for 4 years, and when I saw the ad in the paper it seemed like a natural fit. Sure, I was dismissive of the quality of food I might be cooking, but the flight benefits and regular hours were definitely tempting. Imagine my surprise then, when at my interview I had to take a pencil and paper test about cooking techniques. I thought it went pretty well, but after the interview, when the executive chef, Hans, hired me, he explicitly told me that I was lucky to get the job. Evidently, my knowledge was spotty, but my attitude was spot on.

So there I was, on my first day, standing in a cavernous warehouse-sized space behind a row of 10 stainless steel benches and in front of a bank of 8 convection ovens, two 100-gallon steam kettles, three flat tops, and a 12 burner range. Hamid was my trainer and my first task was to carve 100 turnip tournees. He quickly demonstrated with his beak-nose paring knife-- in six quick cuts, he had a perfect little football of a turnip. And when I finished those? I was to move on to potatoes and carrots. These were for the business class meals on the British Airways 747 flight to London. United had the charter for all the BA food out of Dulles, and every morsel of it, along with all the United transAtlantic meals, and transcontinental business and first meals, was prepared from scratch.

The kitchen was a classic European brigade set-up. In addition to our German-born executive chef, we also had two French-born and one Chinese-American sous-chefs, a Thai lead cook nick-named Jimmy. Then there was Hamid, who was Iraqi, Derrick (Jamaican), Roger (French), Park and Houng (Korean), Suzy and Rudi (Indonesian), Miguel (Filipino), and Sherri and George, who were American-born, like me. All the meals we were responsible for were cooked according to classic French recipes created at UAL headquarters in Chicago-- meat, sauce, starch, and buttered vegetable.

Hamid went off to make 200 omelets or something and left me with a pile of vegetables and a gallon of water to toss the finished tournees in. I got out the smallest, sharpest knife from my roll and picked up a turnip. He had quartered his first, and I did the same, but after that I was lost. I tentatively made a couple cuts, but ended up with a chunky-diamond like thing. Even so, I threw it in the water, hoping it might pass. I struggled on like that, sweating in my new white coat and unfamiliar paper tocque, until at last Derrick came by and without a word turned one of the turnip quarters and handed me his paring knife.

It took me 40 turnips and until lunch time to get 100 usable tournees. By the end of the task, I realized that to be successful, you had to look past the side right in front of you and cut without hesitation.

That was my last professional cooking job, but even though I left the field to become a teacher a year later, it's a lesson that has had many applications over the years.

Friday, July 17, 2015

If Only She Could've Helped Blow Out the Candles

We took Isabel hiking for her birthday today. The weather was overcast and muggy, but not too hot, so we headed up to Great Falls a little after noon. We meandered up and down the trails, along the top of the gorge, and through the woods for about three miles. There was a bit of scrambling in some rocky spots, but for a 12-year-old dog, our girl did pretty well: tail up and trotting all the way. She slept soundly the whole trip home, but she was wide awake this evening when we went over to Bill and Emily's for Victor's birthday party, eager to see her cousin, Sonic, and one of her favorite cats, Trixie. She is never happier than when the pack is all together, and when we sang happy birthday to Victor in our traditional round, I think Isabel suspected it was for her, too.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summer Past

Today was one of those rare Virginia summer days without humidity or even temperatures above 82. In celebration, we turned off the a/c and threw open all the windows and doors. A cool northerly breeze freshened the house while we were off riding our bikes, but this evening finds our place a bit warmer than usual. Even so, there is something about the sounds of my neighbors returning home from work and the the smell of the fresh cut grass coming in through the screens that reminds me of a time when not many of us had air conditioning. Then, there was less of a division between inside and outside, and we knew that nightfall would bring crickets for sure, and maybe even some cooler air.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Someone to Lava

One of Annabelle's favorite things to do when she was visiting this time was to pull out the ukulele (or banjo) and strum. I tried to show her a few notes and chords, and while she got the gist, she still preferred to make her own kind of music. "I need an instrument," she declared more than once. I knew what she meant.

Imagine our delight, then, Annabelle's and mine, when we went to see Inside Out on Monday and found the Pixar short before the movie to be an animated version of a ukulele song. It didn't sound that complicated to my novice ears, either, and so when we got home I looked up the chords and pulled out the uke. In no time the four of us were singing as I strummed:

(F) I have a dream, I (C) hope will come true
That (G7) you're here with me, and (C) I'm here with you
(F) I wish that the earth, sea, (C) the sky up above
Will (F) send me (G7) someone to (C) la-va.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Is there a Teacher in the House?

Richard and Annabelle have been a little obsessed with the 200 water balloons we threw in our cart at the craft store the other day. Once I taught Annabelle to to tie them, dozens of blown-up balloons have populated the house, some with names, many with faces, still others hog-tied into bouquets.

What we hadn't used them for, until this morning, was water bombs, but at 9 AM I made good on my final promise of their visit and filled 30 balloons with water while the kids changed into their suits. We agreed on the rules in advance: stay within the boundary, no throwing from a range less than four feet, and no head-shots. In addition, the minute somebody cried, the battle was over, and everyone had to pick up the pieces.

The three of us had fun splatting balloons at each other's feet, although Richard did score a drenching hit on my back, and happily, none of us cried. When it was all over, picking up might have been a bit contentious were it not for my advance planning-- all of our balloons were color coded. Richard had blue and green, Annabelle pink and purple, and I orange and yellow, so there could be no excuse for leaving any latex behind.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities and Knights

For many years my nephews and I have whiled away many a summer vacation hour playing a board game called The Settlers of Catan. Involving resources, trading, expansion, strategy and luck, the boys and I have enjoyed it since Treat and Josh were nine, and Riley and Eric were 12. Back then, those younger boys played their hearts out to beat the older guys, and sometimes I was glad that I was playing, too, so I didn't have to take sides.

This summer, it was time to initiate Richard into the tradition, and so Treat and I played a basic game with him a few days ago. Richard has a strategic mind, and although he lost, he did quite well for a newbie, and we have had had many discussions since about different game plans.

This afternoon, at Richard's request, the three of us took on the most complicated expansion version of the game. It was hard and a little stressful with the addition of Barbarians who relentlessly march on the island to pillage the cities we are trying to establish. The approach that was so successful for Richard in the first game turned out to be somewhat of a handicap to him in this one, and he became a little discouraged. Treat, on the other hand, embraced the complexity and had a great game.

Oh, I enjoyed the game, but I found myself once again torn between two boys, both so eager to do well, that I was sorry there could only be one winner, even if it turned out to be me.

(Which it didn't, by the way. Treat won the day, but Richard was downright chivalrous in defeat.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

Richard and Annabelle were sleepy this evening as we made our way home from Treat's birthday party. It had been another fun day packed with tie-dying, a pirate cruise on the Potomac, dinner at a restaurant, and then cake and presents back at Bill and Emily's, and it was close to 9 as we pulled into the parking lot.

A few blinks of light up near the woods caught Richard's eye, and in a flash he was on the hunt. I fetched a mason jar and mesh top from the house and the three of us set off across the grassy hills of the complex in search of fireflies. It was a little too late to catch very many, but we stayed at it because no one was ready to come in. 

"Can we do this again tomorrow night?" Annabelle asked when we got home. 

"Yes," I nodded as we opened the lid and watched all of our tiny captives crawl to the lip of the jar and then, in a blur of wings and a wink of light, regain their freedom.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Makin' Lemonade

We dragged Richard off to the farmer's market this morning: believe it or not, an almost 10-year-old boy thought he would rather stay home and play video games. Once we were there, though, he certainly made the best of it-- we were down 2 cucumbers, a pint of cherry tomatoes, half a basket of blackberries, 2 apple cider donuts, and a cup of nutella ice cream before we even made it back to the car!

Friday, July 10, 2015


"Oh no!" I said when I read the email message.

"What?" Annabelle asked with alarm.

"Somebody found a lost cat near the pool," I told her. "Heidi, have you seen Penelope lately?"

"How do you know that?" Annabelle said.

I read her the message: "Found a female cat this afternoon near the pool. She is about 4 years old and super friendly. If anyone knows of someone missing their cat, please ask them to call me at ***-***-****.

"Penelope is not four years old," Heidi said.

"And she definitely isn't super-friendly," Richard and Annabelle said together.

All true, and sure enough, our stand-offish 14-year-old cat was hiding under the bed.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Fresh and Local

This summer, as years past, we have a CSA farm share. Once a week we pick up a dozen eggs and a box of vegetables produced at an organic farm just a couple of hours south of here. As in most small agricultural enterprises, what we get relies upon the weather and varies quite a bit from year to year.

Last year, for example we got so many cucumbers that I started making old-fashioned lacto-fermented pickles. The results were like those giant dills we used to fish out of huge barrels at the deli counter with tongs and place in wax paper bags at the grocery store when I was a kid. 

As yummy as they were, I still cringed this morning when at least a quarter of our share was cucumbers. That was until Richard reminded me how much he loves cucumbers. In fact, he ate a big bowl of sliced cukes for breakfast, and believe it or not, 12 hours later? We are fresh out! 

Now if only he would start on the zucchini and turnips...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Christmas in July

At last two exciting gifts from this past Christmas were able to be properly used together.

Annabelle's mermaid tale and Heidi's underwater camera were reunited in the pool this afternoon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

No End in Sight

We saw the latest installment of the Terminator movies yesterday, and despite lukewarm reviews, I was not disappointed.

When the previews for Genisys started showing up a few months ago, Heidi and I knew there was only one thing to do, especially since Josh had never seen a single film from the series: movie marathon!

Okay, it was more like a double feature, since, in my opinion the first two are the only ones worth considering, but it was still a fun weekend activity. And those two movies really have held up, even with the 1984 and 1995 special effects.

So, could you enjoy the latest installment without being familiar with the earlier chapters? I think so, but you would be missing a lot of fun references and part of the mind-bending conundrums that this particular time-travel story raises. Will there be a sequel? Well, it's not a spoiler at all to quote the final lines of the film: "The future is not set."

Monday, July 6, 2015

Rested and Ready

Neither week end nor holiday, today, 16 days after school ended, marked our first *real* day of summer vacation at home. Despite tidying up, making several phone calls, running a couple of errands, going to the movies, working out, and spending time at the pool, I was at loose ends.

"I can never retire," I told Heidi as the two of us were treading water this evening. "I'll be too bored!"

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Postcard from the Bike Trail

When we were in Buffalo, I rode my bike almost every day. Some might judge the terrain there uninspiring-- flat streets, square green yards, and cookie-cutter architecture, but that easy-riding was just what I needed to get back to an activity I love and have neglected for the last year or so. The weather was a plus, too: never did the temperature top 81.

So this afternoon I took advantage of our unseasonably cool weather and set off for a thirty minute ride. I didn't want to overdo my first home workout, but hills and humidity immediately conspired to make me question my judgment. I kept pedaling, though, past townhomes, apartments, condos, hotels, community gardens, a power station, parks and rec centers.

20 minutes later the guy passed out on the discarded leather love seat by the dumpster marked my turnaround point, and so I rode on home, glad that I had gotten out there.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

E Pluribus Unum

What better way to celebrate the strength of our nation than to go to a movie by a Mexican-American director, play a Japanese board game, eat Vietnamese summer rolls, and watch a display of fireworks that were hand-made in China?

Happy Birthday America!

Friday, July 3, 2015

All for One

In the summer of '75 I saw my first PG-rated movie. The film was Jaws: "You're going to jump the first time you see the shark," my cousin warned us, and I was hooked. I couldn't wait to be terrified of the ocean.

I almost didn't see it at all, though. That year, I turned thirteen, my brother was eleven, and my sister, just nine. In our family, seniority didn't count for anything (probably because my parents were both younger children). For example, the three of us had the same bed time, no matter what, until I left for boarding school. Any adjustment for me, as I got older, applied to the two of them as well. And when we were left home alone? Their mantra was clear: "You are not the boss of us!"

But that summer, I had to put my foot down. How was it possibly fair that we should all be able to go to see a movie that wasn't rated G when I was so much older than they were? When my argument fell on my mother's deaf ears I tried a tearful tantrum, but in response she gave me a choice. Either we all went, or none of us did.


the three of us all jumped the first time we saw that shark.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

All Ye Faithful

I glanced out the kitchen window the other night and noticed two very bright objects gleaming in the western sky. While there are many drawbacks to the constant accessability to screens of all kinds, being able to find out what something is right away does not rank among them to me. Hence I pulled out my trusty smart phone and launched the astronomy app that, living in such an urban area as I do, I rarely have use for. Venus and Jupiter were clearly visible on both the virtual horizon and the real one in front of me. Later I would find out that around 2000 years ago such a conjunction of those planets, along with the star Regulus, was called the Star of Bethlehem.

"Look! There's Venus and Jupiter!" I said to Heidi's mom.

"How do you know that?" she replied skeptically.

"Because I looked it up," I answered, hoping that my annoyance was not audible.

"Hmm," she said and continued her business. It wasn't long before Heidi came into the kitchen.

"Look! There's Venus and Jupiter!" I told her.

"How do you know?" she said.

I sighed with frustration.

"No really," she continued, "I want to know how you know, so I can know, too."

I happily explained.