A Day's Thoughts

A Day's Thoughts...

It’s been a few days since I’ve faced a blank page. It’s a bit intimidating at first. Like arranging dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in months or years. Feeling unsure of how it might go. Will it be like old times? Will we have anything to talk about? Will it be awkward? Then, with a smile and a “hello,” that time between conversations melts. And when the dinner ends, you’re smiling ear to ear. And by the time you get to the car, a somberness clouds the air, for when will you meet again? Can it be sooner than later?

I traveled to Arizona in early April to catch up with my roommates of thirty years ago. We knew one another from accounting days at Sundstrand. I was a pricing analyst and cost accountant. Jeepers, that’s a funny thing to say. I’m many years – and universes – away from that career! For three solid days, we caught up and covered the gambit from kids to husbands, from cancer to the future. It was as if we were in the middle of a desert flower bloom, an outburst of friendship. And it was absolutely wonderful. We timed our arrivals, them from Chicago and me from Boston, within fifteen minutes of one another. The same with our departures. At the end of the trip, we had lunch at the airport, and then they walked me to my gate before going on to theirs. We said good-byes with smiles. Then they were off down the terminal. The sudden aloneness caught me off guard. Honest to Pete, I felt a piece of me just peeled away as the three of “us” became “them” and “me.” The sudden absence of conversation and laughter hit as though I had been thrown into a cell in solitary confinement. Tears rose.

Often times when I fly, I take a virtual walk through our house and jot down house projects that would open the bottleneck of too much stuff in our house. How to clear the dining room. How to better organize the office. How to make more room on the shelves and hooks of the mudroom. How to make the rec room in the basement a place where my family wants to hang out. A virtual walk-through helps me identify projects without putting my hands on a thing and getting distracted.

Inevitably, a room in the basement rises to the top as to where the cork needs to be popped to let all other projects commence. This room has had many labels since we moved in nearly fourteen years ago. Guest room. Craft room. Library. We had shelving and cupboards installed in 2010. Then in 2012, water got in the basement when we were putting an addition on the house and over half of the storage units had to be ripped out. Since then, finding a label for that room has been tough. It’s the catch-all room. During the holidays and decorating the house, I call it the room-where-all-the-magic-happens. It’s a holding room for all things that need to be taken back to the barn loft – out the basement door, across the backyard, through the main level of the barn, (aka the garage), and up fifteen iron steps to the wilderness. To that place behind a cheap wooden knob-less door. The door that I knock loudly on, ten or more times, to let the little beasts know I’m coming up. The story about loft critters is still brewing.

So on the flight back to Boston from Phoenix, it becomes clear that the project that must be on the priority list is this room. Scarier still was that I needed everyone’s help because the cork was made of questionable stuff. Does 15-year-old Will want to keep Beyblades that his 8-year-old-self played with? Does 13-year-old Liam want the journals that his 8-year-old-self drew pages upon pages of Mario levels? Does Bill like to re-do jigsaw puzzles that he has already put together once? I took a deep breath Saturday morning as I headed out the door and proclaimed, “I need everyone in the basement for an hour this afternoon.” Then I ran. Afraid of the fallout. Fast forward to that dreaded hour… I’m amazed at what we accomplished! I set up three stations: keep it in the house, put it in the loft, or donate it. As we moved through stuff, we had a laugh when memories were dusted off. Seeing what the three of them kept and what they didn’t want was enlightening. (Let me know if you want any jigsaw puzzles!) We gained a 10x10-foot patch of floor space and now have two empty cabinet shelves.

Backpedaling, at Logan airport on my way to Phoenix, I picked up a magazine that grabbed my eye. The headline on the front cover was “GET ORGANIZED!” Yes, all in caps. Anticipating my virtual de-cluttering list, I grabbed it and was a bit stunned when the cashier asked for $13 and change. But there were “100+ IDEAS FOR EVERY ROOM” and “QUICK & EASY CLUTTER CURES” – those were surely worth the money. I read it cover to cover on the flight to Phoenix. And then I cussed a Grandma Murphy little “s” cuss word. There was nothing new. I KNEW IT ALL. And it had been written by twenty- or thirty-somethings who had no real stuff to manage in their lives. And too much time to think about all their imaginary stuff. The little tidbits of “Paper Your Shelves” and “Roll Your Towels” were of no use to me. And the offering of how to avoid stray single socks coming out of the dryer? There is no such fix. Fiction.

And finally, our realities of how long to keep blush in your make-up bag before replacing it were so far apart I wanted to throw the magazine, for my replacement of blush has never been based on time but rather on consequence. The day the plastic case dives out of my hand and crashes on the bathroom floor and the lid and base skid apart as the blush breaks and sends crumbles of soft color flying – that’s when I know it’s time. I have about a week of patience after that for taking the hair band off the case and tapping broken rouge with the brush. And if the drug store isn't in my week's travel circle, I can probably make that bumbled together blush case last another two weeks. Fact.

Forty-eight Hours with Will

A couple of weeks ago, I spent forty-eight hours with Will. On Friday, I took him on a college tour at Tufts University in Medford, MA, then to his State Gymnastics meet the following day.

We aren’t in a serious search phase yet as Will is only a sophomore. Over the coming months, we’re visiting a variety of colleges to see which style of school/campus feels right. For Will to answer the question, “Could I spend four years here?” Tufts is perched on the Somerville/Medford line, but once you are at the center of campus, those towns vanish. The school is small, only 5,000 students; there’s easy access to Boston only five miles away; and a mechanical engineering student gave us the tour. Will and I were both impressed by all three of these things, particularly the fact that an engineering student was quite comfortable with public speaking. In June, we are going to visit Boston University, which has over 16,000 students and is right in Boston. A large urban university with no secluded campus but rather a cluster of big buildings hugging the Charles River and bordered by Commonwealth Avenue on the other side. The thought of a school this size makes me quake, but I’ll try to keep that to myself and let Will come to his own conclusions.

Rarely do I spend a full day with now 15-year-old Will. When he was two, we were a duo. Boston was our backyard, and we often made trips to the Museum of Science. On one visit we were with a group of friends — three moms and three kids. After lunch, the moms took the kids into the women’s bathroom. I hoisted Will up to the sink so he could reach the soap and water. Then we moved to the sensory-shattering hand dryer: the XLERATOR. Will and I stood side by side, he with one hand over an ear and the opposite shoulder scrunched up to his other ear. He dried one hand at a time. The sharp funneled warm wind blew the toddler fat around on top of his soft chubby hand. I looked at my hand as the same funnel-shaped air blew my skin around. Unlike Will’s, my skin appeared to be less connected to my flesh. He and I noticed the difference, and a scientist-mom-friend peeking over our shoulders mentioned something to the effect of age and the loss of collagen and how it would only get worse for me. I wasn’t even 40 yet.

Between the campus tour and the information session at Tufts, we picked up on bits of vocabulary that will become the norm Will’s junior year in high school. We stole looks at one another and nodded or shrugged to convey whether we had any idea what “early action” or “holistic application reading” meant. We were in a learning mode, and by the end of the day, we were both saturated. We agreed that future college visits would be best handled by visiting only one college a day.

We came away with some valuable information from the student tour guide as well as the admissions counselor. When touring colleges, ask what student life is like – do engineering students socialize with students outside of engineering? How many classes are taught by graduate students? When filling out the college applications do not write essays about sports, about your favorite family member, or about losing an iPad in a hurricane – particularly when that hurricane killed people. Counselors want to see a glimpse of you not already outlined on the application; they want to read something about you, not your grandma; they probably won’t want you on their campus if your essay only demonstrates that you are self-centered and immature.

Before heading home, I stopped in the bathroom, and when I went to dry my hands, there it was. Again. The XLERATOR. Like the hundreds of times I’ve dried my hands under wind tunnels like this since that day at the Museum of Science, I see that my skin has loosened so much over the years. With the air hitting right in the center of the back of my hand, the skin blows out into a circle with edges that wall up like a Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I credit my 65-year-old skin, more than a decade beyond my biological age, not only to the natural ticking progression of the years since that day at the museum but also to a lack of hormones over the last ten years. Estrogen… breast cancer feeds on it, and it helps keep skin supple with collagen. My collagen glue has been wiped out with medicine since 2009.

The day after the tour, I drove Will to his State Gymnastics meet. We left the house at 6 a.m. and drove an hour for the 7 a.m. check-in. In the van, Will immediately put his earbuds in and went to a private place to mentally prepare for the meet. I could’ve listened to Christmas music the whole trip if I wanted to, for he had checked out of this ride with me. All the boys who competed that day placed high enough to qualify for Regionals. Will had a couple of slips. A fall on the rings dismount after a clean routine. A fall out of giants on the high bar that broke his momentum for the high-value dismount he had planned. He was gracious in accepting where he placed and making it to Regionals, but in the van I could tell he was disappointed. It’s a game of math for him. He knows precisely what each skill is worth and goes in confident that he can compete all of them. Then, there’s the personal reckoning after the meet.

On the drive home, I saw tightness in his face – his eyes straight forward and his lips pulled taut into a near grimace. He touched the thick callouses on the palms of his hand, thankful that the one spot of new skin he had babied for a week had not ripped off on the parallel bars. We talked a bit about the competition and prepping for the next one. Another chance to put it all out there at Regionals. Practice the next four weeks, five days a week, would polish his routines.

The conversation quieted. Will nodded off. I glanced over to see his eyes gently closed with a child’s eyelashes protecting sleep. And remnants of those beautiful toddler lips, pouty and supple, erasing teenage contemplation.

The Season of Brown

I’m pretty sure we had our last glimpse of winter from a mountaintop on Sunday. Saturday evening, Bill, Liam, and I drove two hours north up to Gilford, NH; we were skiing at Gunstock Mountain early Sunday morning with another family. Our oldest son, Will, had gone to Crotched Mountain, also in New Hampshire, with a friend to ski Saturday afternoon and night.

A drive north to the mountains never disappoints. And the fact that I can drive to the mountains still seems out of alignment with my Midwest born feet. However, on Sunday the lack of snow on that journey north meant one thing. The Season of Brown has arrived. Yet the summit of Gunstock, at 2,300 feet, had gotten four inches of snow a couple days earlier. When Gunstock came into sight, miles away, we recognized it because of the snowy wide strips running vertically down the mountain. The surrounding area was brown, just like the drive up. Aside from the snow at the very top, the trails weren’t covered in winter snow. Most of this was man-made snow — able to cling to the trails because the ground is still cold, the humidity in the atmosphere is just right, and the sun isn’t yet warm enough to melt it.

The snow on the trails was soft not slushy, but it was heading in that direction. It was hard work plowing through thick snow on some of the trails. My first thought was that it felt like skiing through peanut butter. Our friend we were skiing with named it more aptly: mashed potatoes.

Normally, I find a green run and ski it, by myself, from morning til close. Throughout my typical ski day, I build up confidence such that I don’t have to think about this ludicrous thing I’m doing. I get used to one trail’s curves, icy sheets, and gravelly frozen bits. I go slowly and stop often to take in the view. I don’t worry about getting hurt when I’m skiing alone, for I have complete confidence that one of those little five-year-olds who ski with no poles will get help for me if I happen to wipe out and not be able to get up.

But Sunday was different: our two families skied together every run. As we walked to the first chairlift, I coasted on a fine line between terror and peace. Blues and blacks scared me, yet I had a good set of greens under my belt for the season. Much like my snowshoeing expedition a few weeks back, I remembered that while down might be intimidating, I can ski across anything. Or, as an adult woman on the other side of fifty, I would be quite comfortable taking the skis off and walking down the mountain. Or sliding on my butt. I have choices. Our first run down would be a blue. Green is easiest, then blue, then black, then those crazy double blacks. There would be none of the latter that day.

I think the color label on the trail reflects the steepest part of that trail. I could tell on the blue trails that the earth was propped up a bit, pushing me faster than my comfortable green runs. Everyone skied ahead of me, but Bill. He took up his normal residence behind me, like the dad chasing behind his son’s bike the first time he rides solo. Bill did the same in Utah some thirty years ago when we were at a tough mountain, Snowbird, in which the green trails are the narrow mountain roads circling down the mountain. On that trip, Bill coaxed me down a blue run, away from the edge of a mountain. He stood at the top as I took off across the steep hill. I could traverse but not turn at the edge of the trail. Mentally, I couldn’t get past that moment in a turn when both skis point straight down the mountain. I fell instead. Then, I’d scoot around on my butt to go the other direction, stand up, traverse, and fall again. Perhaps I did this five or six times before I simply didn’t get up. Bill came whooshing down the mountain to my side. I was sobbing. His “let me give you a hug” was met with a fierce “a hug won’t get me off this %$#@ mountain!” I don’t remember how I made it down, but I know there was no hug involved. I had a six-inch purple bruise on the back of my thigh that trip from landing on my ski in the same place each time I fell.

As for Sunday’s trip, our friends had skied this mountain all season, so they had each trail’s personality memorized. They gave us a little debriefing before each run. The kicker was the black run with the “head wall.” Think forehead. A steep to vertical cliff landing at the bridge of a less steep nose. Maybe it was only twenty feet down. Maybe it was fifty. Or, was it a football field? I dropped in from one side and traversed across, cutting the edges of my skis into the side of the mountain to hold on. I was doing wide, ugly traverses leaning into the mountain. As I made the first turn —without a fall, I looked down to where the trail was a bit less angry, but still steep as a nose. I recognized Liam’s blue coat and black pants with a white wiggly puff attached to the back. He had his snow pants on backwards that day so all of his previous ski passes that should have been at his belly button were flying on his backside like a rabbit’s tail. He and his buddies decided not to use ski poles that day, and this made it very easy for him to do jumping jacks — with full extension of legs and arms — as he glided down the mountain.

I pulled my focus back to crossing the headwall. My shoulder was practically hugging the mountain. A straight, outstretched arm would’ve touched the ground. If I fell in place without sliding, which would be impossible, but if I did, my side would fall against the mountain. I wouldn’t fall down onto the the mountain for the side of the mountain was next to me. Watching Liam’s wild flying arms, I couldn’t help think that we both looked like hot messes coming down this trail, albeit for different reasons.

We weaved our way across the whole mountain, skiing most every run but the double blacks, and stopped around 2 p.m. After refreshments at the base, we packed up, anchored our ski bags on our backs, balanced our skis over a shoulder, and carried our poles in the other free hand. We landed on the pavement, out of the slush and mud puddles that had bloomed throughout the day. Then onto the gravel parking lot. A skier needs the right equipment for the job — as does a scuba diver or an astronaut. The lightness when removing the hard plastic boots, big helmet, sweaty gloves, and swishy snow pants leaves the released body feeling like it’s floating.

We slung our gear into the van, and in the driver’s seat, I slowly picked a path through the pot-holed lot onto the road. We were turning our backs on the snow. The woods around us had only dirty lumps of snow remaining. The trees weren’t yet budding. The dead leaves from fall sat as they had in late November. Entering the first Season of Brown for 2019 made me want to cry. The second Season of Brown will come again in November, after Halloween and weeks before the sparkle of winter again covers the dormant, dark ground and trees.

Snowshoes

Last weekend, I was on a solo writing retreat in the Berkshires.

Monday, March 4th

After six inches of snow last night, I worked in the morning then midday tested out my new snowshoes, plus accompanying “gators” designed to keep my calves dry and a water supply tucked into a backpack to keep my body hydrated.  Rather than drive somewhere, I decided to trek around the immediate area of where I’m staying.  There are several buildings on this timeshare plot of land, and around the perimeter, trees are dripping with snow. 

Putting snowshoes on feels like tying narrow tennis rackets to the bottoms of my feet.  My normal stride needs to widen to make room for the wider-than-my-feet snowshoes.  After twenty steps, my subconscious spoke, “Howdy, partner!”  The gait I’ve fallen into is reminiscent of a slightly bow-legged cowboy. 

My wander around the backyard is not a race.  I step slowly and methodically through the white canvas.  Whether dropping backwards into the snow to make a snow angel or writing in the snow by shuffling snow boots to draw a letter then taking a giant hop in order to start the next letter, I find the same giddiness in tableau blanc snow as I do in a new journal, an iced-over mud puddle, or a plate of Christmas dinner.  The perfect beginnings of those things tickle me, but once written in, broken through, or bitten into – respectively, they lose their clean, magical awe.

Following the edge of the property, a hill appears to my right.  In no hurry, I march up the hill and the steel grips on the bottom of the shoes hold tight.  Once on top, I see that to continue on my perimeter walk, I need to go down the other side of the hill.  And down looks longer and more challenging than the upward trek had been.  Remembering Bill’s first downhill ski lesson, I called forth his advice: Don’t ski down the mountain.  Ski across it.  Traverse.

I completed a three-point snowshoe turn by planting each foot heavily.  My eyes drew lines like that on a protractor from the point of origin to the arc.  If I made a traverse about ten degrees down the hill from my original path, I wouldn’t make much progress down the incline.  I sighted a thirty degree line that was doable.  Slow, marked steps took this sloth-like winter human down the other side of the hill.  At one of the turns, I had a pang of anxiety that I occasionally have while downhill skiing.  But it was fleeting because I can turn much easier on an incline with grippy snowshoes than I can with slick boards attached to my feet. 

My turn was as tight as that I make at the end of a row of crocheting, where I have to pay attention to which hole I pull that anchoring yarn through – the one that will make for a perfect turn, matching the one before it; that sets me up for gliding, traverse stitches back across the length of a blanket.  In four traverses, I’m at the bottom of the hill standing in a parking lot.  I hear water flowing in front of me and remember that there is a creek along one side of the property.

The juxtaposition of wide frozen chunks hanging over a noisy rippling stream is eye candy to me.  After I absorb it for a couple minutes, I step down to the stream’s frozen edge, tightly hugging the embankment.  I can’t really tell where the creek starts and the land ends.  The hollowness underfoot makes me think that I’m walking on a frozen, perhaps twelve-inch thick, bank of ice.  It’s wide enough that I don’t worry about it breaking; I stay close to the bank’s edge and do not venture out onto the chunk hanging over the mid-stream flowing water. 

I won’t string along the wondering mind; while navigating along a narrow eighteen-inch section of the bank — I fell in. Although it wasn’t so much a fall as an immediate lowering of my body by a few inches when an edge of ice broke under me.  I heard a splash into the six-inch deep water and immediately pulled that foot up, reached for a tree, and pulled my weight off of the crumbling edge.  I scrambled up the bank – a relative term given I was wearing tennis racquets – and was surprised that my feet weren’t soaked.  The loud splash must have been made by the twenty-five-inch long snowshoe quickly dipping into the water. 

Like following huge Hansel and Gretel crumbs, I turned to backtrack my own footprints and went up onto terra firma. Once on solid ground, I looked up and discovered that the most scenic part of this walk was actually at my back where the sun’s winter rays lit the trees and the stream.

Nebraskan Potstickers

I ended last week’s Musing with a photo of the bathtub at our hotel.  That was a great soak.  That particular late afternoon, I conducted the business of making dinner reservations for seventeen from that hot bubbly tub. 

In Lincoln, New Hampshire, very few restaurants take reservations.  Instead, you can call ahead and put your name on the list.  It would seem they equate this with you walking in and saying “I need a table for eight” to which they reply that there is an hour wait.  So if you call at five, you may be told that the soonest you can be seated is six.  Basically, by putting your name on their list, you wait in the comfort of your own space until 5:45 rather than lolling around at the entrance of the restaurant or standing at a crowded bar dodging elbows for forty-five minutes. 

We were traveling with gymnastics families, so at its peak, we had twenty-four in our community.  Ordering pizza in was the best bet for this group at the beginning of the week.  A couple nights later, the majority of us decided to eat out.  I volunteered to put our name on the list for 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. at a highly recommended local hamburger joint.  One table for eight adults and one for nine kids.  I called at 4:00, knowing from an attempted booking the day before that if I waited until 5:00 to call, we wouldn’t be seated until 7:30 or 8:00.  Which might mean 8:30.  At four o’clock on the dot, I called only to learn that I couldn’t put my name on the list for a specific time; rather, I had to call at just the right time to hit that elusive target time I wanted our groups to be seated.

From the bubbles, I called every fifteen minutes, changing the pitch and pace of my voice each time until I nailed the time.  Still the semi-reservation was complicated… No guarantee that groups would be seated at the same time or near one another, and we might still be split up into smaller groups.  With so many conditions, our group re-grouped.  Six adults went out for dinner.  I think that’s a good number to do dinner with under these “call-ahead” conditions.  Kids happily ate in and the adults had a just-long-enough wait sitting on a cozy couch before being seated.  In the end, six friends squeezed into a booth and laughed most of the evening between bites of brie & bacon or teriyaki burgers.

The next night we were in need of dinner for twelve.  Friends staying at a different location suggested Chinese and that they would pick it up and bring it to our room at the hotel.  I volunteered to organize.  Remembering the hotel had given us a list of local restaurants when we checked in, I found Imperial Palace on the list, plopped it into a Google search, and then sent the menu link to all families.  They texted their selections, and I called in the sixteen items, paid for the order with my credit card, and retreated to the tub again to sooth sore muscles.  I had a half hour.  I needed that half hour.

My phone rang several minutes into the soak.  It was Bill.  “We think you placed the order at a restaurant in Lincoln, Nebraska!”

I hit “Recents” on my phone and re-dialed the Imperial Palace.

“Where are you located?”

“Lincoln.”

“What state?”

“Nebraska.”

“Oh no!  I’m the one who placed that big order twenty minutes ago!  I’m in Lincoln, NEW HAMPSHIRE!!”

“Hold on… STOP THAT ORDER!” he shouted to his kitchen. 

I braced myself for his response to me.

“No worries. It’s happened before.  I’ll credit your card.”

How kind this man was not to yell at me.  His response really could have taken the evening a whole other direction. 

From the tub, I sent a short cuss text to Bill, confirming my error.

Then, I texted confirmation of my error to all the parents, including our friends out driving around between Chinese restaurants.  I begged for someone else to take over the ordering responsibilities.  An organized dad called the Imperial Palace in Lincoln, New Hampshire and placed the same order.  I got out of the tub, leaving behind one of the most unpleasant baths ever.  Dinner arrived an hour-and-a-half after the Nebraska order had been placed.

Fortunately, I was with friends.  Forgiving friends.  Humorous friends.  Friends who will long remember ordering Chinese from Lincoln, Nebraska.  One cleverly texted me a photo of the ever elusive Nebraskan potsticker.

Years ago, when the question “why” spilled so easily from preschoolers in my life – my own and the children of friends and family – I would stop the repetitive questions for which I didn’t know the answer with one simple repetitive answer: “because the sky is blue.”  I stole that response from someone else I met along the way.  These now-teenagers still remember my response and have used it with the young “why”-asking children in their own lives.

“Because the sky is blue” gave me an idea.  Rather than linger over this imperfect ordering fiasco, I’ve found a new philosophical answer to an often asked question in our house: “Where is …?”  If I don’t know where the object is, my answer shall be “Lincoln, Nebraska.” This answer shall also apply to those grown-ups who are looking for the location of the next gymnastics meet.  Or the nearest Chinese restaurant. Lincoln, Nebraska.

On Skis

The Malcolms have been in New Hampshire scooting around in calf-high hard plastic boots with slick one-by-fours snapped onto the bottom.  Some of us point them down the mountain and ski.  Personally, I traverse across the mountain and brake.  If the run is gentle, I straighten them out a bit, aim downhill, and work on that parallel sway I see others doing on the steep bits. 

But generally, I grip the side of the mountain with the sharp edges of my skis.  If the pace quickens too rapidly, I turn harder and carve lines into the snow pack with the edges of my skis and conquer the mountain by stopping.  With this maneuver, I imagine I leave giant fans imprinted on the snow behind me, like the tail of a fancy goldfish. 

Daily the view changes.  One day was full of blue sky and sun.  Another, day-long huge snowflakes fell against the evergreens making it feel like I was skiing in a snow globe.  Another, high clouds and strong winds left me not looking around but rather head down into the wind as I worked my way down the mountain.  Yesterday, at the 3,064-foot summit of Loon Mountain, I looked down into the soft, hazy clouds hovering in the space between the mountains.  I looked down into the clouds.

For a flat-lander who grew up at around 500-foot elevation, the thoughts of a being atop a mountain summit, skiing down the side of a mountain, and looking down into clouds… well, I’m intermittently rattled and awed.  On every run, I pull over to the side of the ski trails a half dozen times to look at the mountainous horizon.  From the lower half of Loon Mountain, I see tract buildings on the side of a mountain below and in front of me.  It’s a bit unsettling, for they look like they are pitched forward, about to fall into the valley.    

The ski trails are crowded here with skiers like us on February break from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York. Wisely, New Hampshire and Vermont hold off their schools’ winter break until next week.  Then they can have the mountains to themselves mid-week.  The skiers rather than the mountain have been my biggest challenge this week.  The skier with the right-of-way is the one downhill; logical as we don’t have rearview mirrors.  This is a fine rule for adept skiers who can pick a line through and around those in front of them.  I generally don’t need to worry about passing other skiers, until I come up on a new skier.  My muscles stiffen when I see a skier making unpredictable, wide traverses, and slow turns.  I’m not sure where to pass them, so instead, I stalk them down the trail until it widens enough for me to comfortably make a move.  I’m the same obstacle to those behind me.

From the summit of Loon Mountain, white capped, 6,288-foot high Mt. Washington in the distance. Mt. Washington’s conditions today: 8 degrees F with 53 mph wind. Not gusting… solid 53 mph wind speed.

From the summit of Loon Mountain, white capped, 6,288-foot high Mt. Washington in the distance. Mt. Washington’s conditions today: 8 degrees F with 53 mph wind. Not gusting… solid 53 mph wind speed.

The longest green trail I skied this trip runs from the summit all the way to the bottom of the mountain.  Green trails, being the easiest and just above the bunny hill, is where relatively new skiers and no-thrill skiers such as myself practice our craft.  Plus, the snowboarders.  I can’t move beyond thinking that people with both legs attached to a wide surfboard on the snow have much less control than those of us attached to two skinny sticks.  The sound of a snowboarder behind me is unnerving.  Boarders have only two edges to carve and do so by manipulating their full body weight between the two.  Often, they travel in groups – this sounds like a grinding stampede coming down the mountain. 

Skiers and snowboarders in New England are more skilled with edges than people who learn to ski out west, for we have ice.  Skiing out west feels like a nonstop trip on marshmallows.  New Englanders are used to the feel and to the sound of grinding edges on patches of ice.  I asked Liam what he thought that scrape sounded like.  “Coffee grinder?”  A good analogy.  As for me, fingernails on a chalkboard.  I end each ice grinding of my skis with a little shudder.  Assuming I see the ice before I hit it, I run my skis across the mountain, dig in the edges, and scrape-slide down until I hit snow.  When a snowboarder hits ice behind me, it sounds like a Mac truck with an engaged snow plow sliding down a giant chalk board.  I grit my teeth and wait for impact.  I narrow my traverse trying to leave as much free trail as possible for this runaway semi.

While I often stop to the side of the trail to admire the view, I do the same to let traffic – boarders and skiers – go by me.  Much like getting onto a busy highway, I watch for a gap, preferably re-entering when the uphill trail is absolutely clear.  I like to have the mountain to myself.  To practice clinging to the side of it and building thunder thighs while doing so. 

By the end of the week, my thighs are my superpower and a hot bath soothes the pain.

Dichotomy of Place

I’ve been out of the loop for a couple weeks! Two weeks ago, I finished Round 2 of my manuscript and sent it off to the professor I met at the New York State Writers Institute for her to read a second time.

Then, last week I stepped off the carousel in Massachusetts and jumped on another one in Iowa to help my mom and my family. Mom was in the hospital for a week with a nasty infection in her colon. She’s home and on the mend, and I’m back on the carousel in Massachusetts.

However, my marbles aren't back in order yet. I'm struggling a bit with dichotomy of place. I spent a week waking up to wide horizon sunrises — and on one particularly cold morning, this spectacular double sunrise.

Then, early Sunday morning, I saw the hot pink morning ball breaking through a cloud on the horizon of Lake Michigan, the Chicago skyline sleepily nestled in the foreground. With a strong tailwind, that flight out of O’Hare was the shortest ever back to Boston, an hour and forty minutes.

Unlike my normal landings at Boston’s Logan Airport, when I avert my eyes from the view, I glued my eyes to the window, forcing myself to watch and to hold confidence in the pilot as we glided what looked like only a few feet over the water. I held tight convincing myself that a smooth landing strip would soon appear and catch the jet's tires.

The abruptness of this change in location — from calling one place “home” and then having less than a two-hour flight out of the Midwest to “home” 1,600 miles away — has left me reeling a bit, looking for firm footing on “place.”

So, stringing a line of words together to form a sentence is a challenge. Let alone a few paragraphs. Perhaps next week.

All is well... I’m home.

Organizing Codfish

Flitting. Random. Chaotic. Yet, relatable.

These are words that describe the second half of my manuscript.  I’m looking for a quote to open that section, and there isn’t much in the way of positivity about those first three words! 

I want to prepare new readers for this second jauntily meshed together section. “It’s all right.  These essays don’t flow together.  Take it easy – don’t look for a theme.  Just take them as there are… independently written essays about random topics from life in North England.”

And that, my friend, is a huge leap of faith to ask the professor emeritus of writing to take as she embarks on reading my manuscript for the second time.  The professor’s main over-arching idea in her response to my manuscript the first time she read it was that there was no over-arching organization allowing the general story to come to a designed conclusion or culmination of events. 

Yup.  That’s dead on. 

I’m still hoping that a newly written preface explaining this bundle of essays, plus a reordering of the essays, will help this time around.  I’m also looking for a quote for each section of my book, which is currently titled Cornfields & Codfish - Musings.  For “Cornfields,” which includes reflective pieces about Iowa, I found this:

“To understand where you are going

you must understand where you come from.”

– Celtic Proverb

Yup. That’s dead on.

Then… there’s “Codfish.”  Let’s just say that the organization of “Cornfields” - about life twenty years ago – flows better than those in “Codfish.”  I have an idea why.  We’re still living the stories of New England.  They happen haphazardly one after another.  They aren’t ready to be drawn into a straight line. There are too many holes in our narrative.  Maybe in another twenty years, but not now.

This afternoon, I found a potential quote for “Codfish”:

“We live in a rainbow of chaos.”

- Paul Cezanne, French Post-Impressionist painter

Yup.  That’s dead on.

(By the way, have you seen the cover photo for my book? Thanks to Iowa photographer Angie Carlson’s artistic eye for The Cover Photo!)

Three Tines

When we were at Mom and Dad’s in Iowa over the holidays, I was struck by the use of tines – three different sets in the course of 24 hours.

While Bill and I were out one day visiting friends, Mom spread peanut butter over buttery crackers, sandwiched them together, then dipped them into almond bark that she had melted in a double-boiler.  It looked like white chocolate.  She laid them out on two big pans so the sweet chocolaty coating would harden. 

Later that afternoon when I got back, I rallied my nieces into helping with the final dipping of the day: round pretzels into brown chocolate almond bark.  The pretzels were wide enough for a fork to go through the holes in the middle, so after a dunking the tines would haul them out of the melting pot.  With a few tap, tap, taps on the side of the double-boiler, the excess chocolate would drop off and then the circle was dropped on to parchment that covered the big pans.  It was a loud endeavor.  The sound of the tapping reminded me, unfortunately, of the tapping of the toilet brush on the side of the bowl after I cleaned it.  My nieces loaded up the forks with three or four pretzels to make the dipping go a bit quicker, resulting in fewer taps. 

The next morning, I went out to help Dad feed the cattle.  Twenty-some calves from last spring are on the feedlot at Mom and Dad’s.  They were brought here from my brother’s place, a mile away, to be weaned.  I was home when they were first brought over in November, and I saw their first feeding.  Dad scattered hay along the 25-foot-ish feed bunk to draw them in.  At first they looked like petulant two-year-olds refusing to eat in this confusing environment sans their mothers’ milk.  Slowly, they stuck their heads down and latched onto some hay.  Dad sprinkled a little corn in to entice them. 

On this most recent visit in December, their timidity had completely vanished, and I smiled at the noise a bunch of calves could make eating shelled corn and protein pellets!  I remember a lot of the sights and smells from growing up on the farm, but those big calves crunching away seemed new to me and made me smile.

I filled several five-gallon pails with shelled corn, and Dad spread them along the bunk, followed by a five-gallon pail of protein pellets.  The dust that the corn kicked up as it poured out of the bin was familiar and intense.  It introduced a memory of “all things corn” growing up: harvesting it in the fall, grinding it in the winter, shelling it another time, and finally scooping up ground corn and dumping it in mounds in the manger to feed the cattle when we milked dairy cows.  Twice a day, every day.  Fifteen years for me; many more for Mom and Dad.

After we fed the cattle, Dad checked the shed where the cattle went to get out of the wind and the cold.  It needed to be bedded again, for the straw spread out a few days ago had been tamped down into the manure.  The barn and shed shared a wall.  I crawled to the top of the stack of small bales in the corner of the barn and gently dropped the bales down to Dad.  The stack went up to about two feet from the roof of the barn, probably five or six bales high – about fifteen feet.  The dusty smell and grasp of twine holding the bales together felt recent.  Much more recent than the span of years it had been since I tossed my first straw bale.

Dad tossed the six bales through the wide opening that was a half-wall high between the barn and the shed.  We hopped over the wall and grabbed pitch forks.  I'll leave it to you to envision what "hopping over a wall looks like" when a 75-year-old and 52-year-old complete this feat. As we pulled the twine strings off the bales, they fell apart in six-inch sections.  To spread the straw evenly, I stuck my fork into one section at a time and shook it vigorously around me.  The movement was an old one; it put my shoulder muscles into an action that felt new.  I loved this part of growing up.  Taking a section at a time and spreading it out.  While I’m sure my company was pleasant for Dad, I’m not sure my contribution in the shed had much of an impact.  He had four bales spread when I was midway through my second.

A couple early mornings I went with Dad to feed the cattle at my brother’s place.  My brother had foot surgery a few weeks ago, so getting up and down, in and out of the skid loader was on hold for him until his foot healed.  I took up my spot as gate girl, one that I’m very familiar with, and watched the lights on the skid loader disappear in the pre-dawn light over the rise along the fence line as Dad went to get a bucket full of silage.  When I saw the headlights, I opened the gate wide and stood in the opening until Dad was close.  A couple months ago, the cows had gotten out and now there were a couple wild old girls who hovered at the gate entrance whenever it was opened.  Dad took four loads of silage into the field and dumped them into old inverted tractor tires that served as feed bunks.  Four loads is key in defining the importance of a gate-girl or boy: If Dad did this himself, it would’ve meant getting on and off the skid loader sixteen times to open and close the gate.  Gate-girl is not a glamorous job but very helpful – more than that of straw-girl.

One morning, my brother jumped onto the second skid loader to take a big round bale of stalks in to bed the area where the cows were fed.  He would catch heck from Dad for doing it, but he did it never-the-less.  These bales were taller than me and held together with nylon string netting. My brother drove the skid loader up to the tine attachment suited for moving bales, loaded a bale, and headed out to spread it.  Dad helped him get the string off the bale, which took a bit of doing – moving the bale this way and that to get to all the string off.  Then, with the same expertise as Dad’s spreading of straw with a pitch fork, my brother toggled the lever in the skid loader to spread the cornstalks out.  He drove slowly as he bounced the bucket, covering the exact area where the ground was soft from the cows feeding there.  

I could do tines in chocolate easily, and I had a good attempt at the pitch fork tines, but I’ll leave the skid loader tines to someone else.  While I watch the gate.


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The Address Book

The countdown to Christmas: Six days as of today, December 19th.

I’m trying to revive an old tradition this year: Sending Christmas cards. When Bill and I were first married, this was one of my favorite holiday activities. Hand writing addresses, writing a Christmas letter, buying beautiful Christmas cards, writing a personal note and signing each one. I had a lot more free time back then to do all of that, plus scurry around looking for addresses.

Two years ago, I had Christmas cards made and threw most of them away the following summer. I sent a few to friends who I thought would get a kick out of getting Christmas cards in July. I’m torn by the process. I love beautiful Christmas cards; yet I want to send people we haven’t seen in a long time a photo; I like to write a Christmas letter, but I’ve gotten a bad vibe about those for a few years; I want to write a personal note on each card...

With time to wait for Will while he and a friend were at a movie Sunday night, I packed my backpack with all things related to Christmas cards and found a Panera near the movie theater. I had my two address books and my phone with me so I could address the envelopes. With my phone, I had a tool that I did not have the last time I did this: the ability to text. I sent several quick requests “What’s your address?” I was about to send one woman that message when my phone pinged with a text from her with the very same question!

One address book is from the 80s and 90s. The second is from the first decade of the new millennium. And contacts in my phone may or may not include addresses, unless the residence is on one of the carpool circuits. And even then, some of those houses are programmed into my internal map by visual location rather than street address.

I started with the oldest address book. The tabs where the letters should be are so worn that I cannot read most of them. I start with the A’s and flip through page after page first looking for people who live in England. Even though it would be a Christmas miracle if any of the cards I put in the mail on the 17th might arrive before the 25th, those are the envelopes I address first. Page after page I turn and run my finger down the entries. And the joy of writing Christmas cards is dampened by echoes of loss over the last thirty years.

We’ve had a lot of drizzly, dull days since Thanksgiving. The sun only peeks out in between swarms of gray clouds. Following in bleakness, the flags have been at half-mast for what seems like weeks. They hang heavy, wet, and limp, perhaps they are too low to catch the winds that pass over the tops of the poles. The iconic white, wooden New England church in our town that burned down on October 23rd still lies in rubble covering a full lot. Our real Christmas tree started reaching its dry prickly fingers to the floor within a week of putting it up. It must’ve been cut down in October before being trucked to the local Christmas tree lot. Its lifeless branches remind me of the feet of dead chicken. If you’ve ever butchered chickens, you know what I mean. Glass ornaments shatter as the tree slouches and shrugs them off.

Initially, the pages of my address book only added to this environmental bleakness, showing me loss over the last few decades. I see names of my grandmothers, two great aunts, many elderly friends, and a few young people. As I become more grown up, losses become more common. They feel like a tearing pain that simply won’t stop. I think the saving grace is knowing I’m not alone. Like generation after generation, to feel this intensely means to have had much. This isn’t new in the world, just another stage of adulthood.

Bitterness makes the sweet sweeter. The sweet life as vibrant as it is all around us, as well as the sweetness of what we’ve experienced in the past with family and friends. As much as the beauty of the Christmas ornaments on the tree remind me of past events and people, those names written in gray pencil lead in my address book are the same. To have two old address books and a phone filled with names of friends and family… how lucky.

And that’s where I am today. Each name that I cared enough about to jot down in the address book is a gift. Some people I knew better than others. My grandmothers’, mom and dad’s, and siblings’ addresses and phone numbers were etched firmly in my memory. Some people were good friends for a time, then by the patter of life, I saw them less and then through distance, heard from them less. Some I see maybe once a year, some more often. Some every few years, or less.

While I feel a ping of hurt seeing names of people who have passed away, at the turn of a page, I laugh at an entry jotted down so I would remember how I met the person: “At the train table in the library.” That mom and I never met up again, but it’s good to know that in the hour we spent with our toddlers at the library over ten years ago that we connected enough to exchange information. That day she was a gift to me – more important than a yellow sticky with a name and a number; I wrote her down in my address book.

I feel the very same about my Linda Malcolm-the-writer’s address book. Our physical paths may frequently or very rarely cross, but I’m so thankful that you are in my address book. You are a powerful gift of light this holiday season.

Blessings to you and yours, now and always.

Fresh Air Macbeth

Every day, Liam sets his alarm for 6 a.m. then moves to the couch to finish his night’s sleep. Sometimes he hits snooze and his alarm goes off again at 6:10 a.m. Will’s alarm goes off at 6:23 a.m. And today, my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. There’s no need for Bill to set an alarm given all of this daily, early morning ruckus.

This morning, I turned the Christmas tree lights on, watered the tree, made a cup of coffee, and decided I had time to sit and drink it. I went to the couch to find that Liam’s lanky legs had taken up two of the three cushions. I wiggled into the third. Most of him was under the plush blanket, but his head and feet stuck out either end. The distance from his head to his feet didn’t correlate. Surely there must be two boys under there and I’m seeing the head of one and the feet of another? How did these legs sprout like this? From September to the end of October, he grew an inch. We are getting closer and closer to seeing eye to eye – physically, not theoretically.

Liam’s eyes were closed. “Mom, can I have a bagel?” Yes, he must be growing; he’s asking for food in his sleep. He’s in 7th grade and will be thirteen in January. In the last couple of months, he has headed for bed without being asked to and without asking me to tuck him in. And, what is it that I’m feeling? A liberating sadness. Simultaneous polar opposite feelings are exhausting.

As his body stretches up, his humor bone is expanding with him. Liam’s word plays suck me in, and his dry one-liners catch us out.

Every turn of the season between summer and fall, the change from humid to dry air brings nosebleeds to the Malcolms. Liam was hit particularly hard this year. One late Sunday afternoon in October, the boys and I were headed to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston to see Shakespeare's Macbeth performed outside. A fog artist had set up five fog exhibits in Boston, and one was at the arboretum. The fog was set to roll continuously down a hill that was the stage – a fabulous setting for Macbeth.

That morning Liam had a torrential nosebleed, which he handled quite well, Kleenex after Kleenex, as he stood over the garbage can. Consequently, for the trip to the Arboretum, along with our chairs, blankets, snow pants, and hot cocoa, I packed an easily accessible lump of tissues.

We parked then walked nearly a mile to find a spot on the lawn by the hill. We set up camp, sat down on our beach chairs, and Liam’s nose took its cue for another gusher. Calmly, Liam accepted and exchanged tissues. I was trying to keep the blood-stained tissues out of sight from the crowd around us. From Liam’s nose, I whisked them quickly into a grocery bag. Liam looked at me as he sat patiently waiting for it to stop.

“It wouldn’t be Macbeth without a little blood, Mom.”

Indeed.

Too Many Toothpaste Choices

Some pieces of writing brew for weeks and months. This one has been simmering for years. It came to a head on November 15th at a supermarket in the toothpaste aisle. I was in a gargantuan supermarket with a bustling lunch area, warehouse high ceilings, and aisle after aisle of saleable goods. I only go to this store once every few weeks when I get my hair done. It’s two minutes away from the salon. I go for a quick lunch. And to grab a few things on our grocery list. On the 15th, I failed that last step.

When I got home from this megastore, I told Bill that we should go there, together, some time when we have time to explore the store, together, then cook a meal, together, in the evening. That’s the mindset with which this store needs to be approached. As a team. An adventure. An outing. A date with my husband. Not to quickly pick up a few things I need at home. On the 15th, I went into that supermarket to pick up ten items. I left after finding three.

There were too many aisles to search. Too much ruckus from echoes bouncing to the 100-foot high ceiling and back to my ears. Too many choices on the shelves. And on this day, the toothpaste aisle did me in. I have a basic opinion about toothpaste: every adult human wants to keep their teeth as long as possible and to have fresh breath, and one toothpaste can accommodate those basic needs.

This mantra flows when I’m in the drugstore shopping for toothpaste. Crest whitening. Crest with Scope. Crest whitening with Scope. Crest Pro-Active. Crest Complete. Complete sounds good, proactive even – and complete should include whitening. I see Crest for sensitive teeth and my general opinion widens about toothpaste. There could be two kinds: One complete, and one complete with an ingredient for sensitive teeth. I contemplate which one to get for our family. I’m a Crest loyalist. But beyond that? I want it all. All. In. One. I maneuver those drugstore shelves and depart with two tubes of toothpaste with Scope on the logo. I don’t know what else the toothpaste was capable of – visually, I’ve narrowed the choice to Crest and to a box with Scope on the label. No true reason for selecting one with the Scope other than it’s a second tier of easy visual selection.

In the supermarket on the 15th, toothpaste was on my short list. I found the long aisle with toothpaste stacked on shelves up and down both sides. My eagle-eye spotted the Crest logo five feet ahead of me on the left. I pulled my cart as far to the right as possible and stood back to peruse the shelves for the words Scope.

In disbelief, my laser scan measured Crest shelves five-feet high and ten-feet wide. I scanned again to reaffirm the measurement. Was this like the ceiling that I felt was 100-foot high but in reality was only 50 feet high? The second scan proved to be an accurate measurement of 5’ x 10.’ Bigger than a standard 4’ x 8’ piece of plywood. Two of me lying on the floor head to toe would span the entire length. My senses were on fire with overload of choice. The Crest tubes leapt off the shelves and danced in my eyesight. Heart pounding, I broke the trance with a head shake and continued down the aisle to the nearest check out. Without toothpaste. Without six other items on my list.

The word “choice” baffles. It’s not always a positive word. I want to live in a place with freedom of basic unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To have the choice of making major life decisions in whichever way I wish. To have freedom of choice. However, when it comes to small stuff like toothpaste, the market is clobbering me with too many itty-bitty choices.

Even the two local supermarkets where we normally shop for standard supplies are feeling too big. Fortunately, I can write my list based on the layout of the stores and make my way through each of those buildings grabbing items pretty quickly from their appointed spots. And skipping the thousands of items not on my habitual list.

One afternoon the week after Thanksgiving, I needed a few staples, plus food for dinner. My heart skipped a beat thinking back to the megastore experience. On that day, I couldn’t even do the local supermarket. I needed a small space. I wanted to go to the place that feels to me much how I envision Linus’ security blanket feels to him. I picked up Liam from school, and we went to our small, local family-owned grocery store. I’m guessing the total square footage is maybe less than a quarter of our local supermarket. Pushing a mini-sized grocery cart, I felt a coziness when I walked through the door.

Normally, we go to this store for the fresh stuff: fruit, vegetables, meat, breads, and desserts. However, on this day, Liam and I shopped every aisle. After picking up fresh fruit, that smelled and looked just-picked, I went to the back of the produce section to the dairy case. I have a quirky habit at this store when I open the door to get a gallon of milk. I inhale. Then I smile. For every single time I open that door, I either get a whiff of cut-up fresh fruit or of pleasant disinfectant cleaner. Never is there the lingering smell of spoiled milk that I’ve come to accept at the supermarkets.

From the milk, Liam and I scooted through the dry goods aisle for Goldfish crackers, Cheezits, and Wheat Thins. There may have been only two flavors of each, which was fine. We are the original-flavor-cracker-eating kind of family. I grabbed one roll of paper towels, and we rounded that short aisle and approached the meat counter where I was greeted by one of the butchers.

“How are you today? What can I get you?” And he handpicked and packed the steak tips, the marinated chicken, and the boneless pork chops for me. Same thing at the deli counter. And in the bakery. Liam picked out a package of hamburger buns from the choice of two brands on the shelf.

We pushed our cart up to Shirley’s checkout lane; if Shirley is working, I’ll wait in her line so we can visit as she scans and bags for us. Once bagged, we pushed our cart out to the parking lot where just twenty cars can park.

Sometimes, I buy toothpaste at this store. I couldn’t say which kind of Crest, just one of the three tubes on the shelf. Here, I do not have too much choice. Just two or three options. And a little bit of community. And that’s refreshing.


Faithful Morning Light

It’s black Friday. Will is skiing with friends; Bill and Liam are home making bread; and I’m in the library. I’m thankful yesterday was Thanksgiving, for I’ve brought a mug of green tea and the first sip has scalded the taste buds on my tongue. And that’s where we seem to be many days, scrounging around for the good amidst the bad and the ugly. I want to associate the word “relentless” with the “good” for a bit.

With a little prompting by a message delivered at church a week ago, I sat down with a blank page the night before Thanksgiving and began the list of things I’m grateful for by taking a spin through photos on my phone. What a great place to start, for I rarely take a photo of something I’m NOT thankful for!

A lover of writing lists, this one is particularly rewarding because there are no restricting rules for writing it and no actions required after writing it. I can even lose it and simply write another one; it doesn’t need to be the same. The beauty of this list is in the reflecting and initial writing, rather than the rereading.

I managed to come up with a full notebook page of hand-written good stuff. It meant walking away from the TV, social media, newspaper – and those other lists with the prefix “to-do.”

I have been revising my manuscript more than writing lately. I have a deadline of the end of November to send the manuscript for a reread by a professor/editor I met at the Writers Institute over the summer. The biggest challenge has been to organize my musings so that they will make sense to a new reader. I do not write based on a calendar with a topic slated in for each week, reflecting a natural arc or flow or theme. Scattered, random, and sprinkled are the more positive ways I would describe my writing process. Disorganized, strewed, diffused would be those adjectives on the polar opposite of my description. I’m looking for a meeting place in the middle of the two.

However, today I’m not working on the manuscript, rather I’m in my corner office and reflecting on a corner in Mom and Dad’s basement.

When I walk up the steps to the quiet room in the library, it feels like a grand cape of the every-day-non-writer Linda flies off and glides to the floor. It lays there with all that is “that me” until I depart the room a couple hours later. Similarly, Linda Malcolm the writer doesn’t think too much about the quiet room when I’m not in there. However, I noticed the quiet room recently when I was on my way to the post office, which is next door to the library. Early morning sun was shining on both buildings and my eye gazed at my corner office. The whole annex on the right-hand side of the building.

Pivot to scene two. A week ago, I went to Iowa for a pre-Thanksgiving trip by myself to see my family. Mom had Thanksgiving dinner early with all my siblings and their families. After the clean-up, the dishwasher sprung a leak and flooded the kitchen floor, then seeped through the beams to the basement where we soaked up and DryVac-ed up a small pond. If this little event hadn't occurred, I may not have noticed this corner.

Scenes from childhood live like apparitions. The feeling of a time and place is familiar but rarely tangible. Yet this… Oh my… This. These are the shelves that kept us fed with fruit and vegetables in the winters. With the same canned fruits and vegetables. Peaches, green beans, applesauce, Bing cherries, peaches, tomatoes. I caught these quiet shelves early in the morning, lit by the sun coming in the basement window across the room. Each jar points back to the growing season, to Mom’s work in canning, as well as ahead to dinners throughout the winter and early spring. Perhaps there are more pints than quarts now, but that is the only difference I see from these shelves to those of some thirty years ago.

Of all the scribbling on that list, these corners fall under the unwritten item that draws them together today. Faithful morning light.

The Cover Photo!

I bumped into an Iowan a few weeks ago. We had never met and didn’t recognize one another’s family names, even though we grew up only fifteen miles apart, with one town separating her hometown and mine.

Today, Angie Carlyle lives in western Iowa. Included among her many titles are beekeeper and photographer. We had the pleasure of chatting back and forth over a few days. Her talent with a camera is what prompted our conversations.

I spend some time every week putzing around on Facebook looking for groups who might someday be interested in what I write. “I Grew Up in Iowa” is one such group, and it’s there where I found Angie’s work.

When I visit Mom and Dad, there are a couple of times a day I disappear outside with my phone to take photos – at sunrise or about an hour before sunset. The latter being my favorite, for the light at that time is like truth serum pouring over trees, fields, buildings, equipment, dirt, and flowers. There are no purer nor more vibrant colors than from that last powerful light of the day.

I’m certain that’s why Angie’s work caught my eye. She sees Iowa light the way I do. Anyone can take pictures of silos, barns, horses, and hydrants, but when a photographer can capture those back road images in the richness of the right light, the result conveys a stunning portrayal of the spirit of place. Those images seize moments full of ambiance, character, and tone. They present a motionless scene peppered with ethereal life.

Here’s a sample of her work – mocked up with my working book cover! I’m delighted to have met this fellow Iowan and so grateful for her talents. Her cover photo and my essays make for a great team.

Now, go for a late afternoon stroll through Iowa via Angie’s camera lens on her Facebook page, Iowa Back Road Images. Enjoy her photos as you indulge in the magic of Iowa light!

Nearly All Go for Fall

With nearly my whole being, I’m welcoming cool temps and cool breezes. Frosty shadowed mornings and orange leaves spotlighted with the morning sun. A light sweater over a summer short-sleeved shirt. The comfort of my hair insulating my neck rather than pulled up in a summer ponytail.

By the end of October, I’ll have little pots of thick hand cream and lip balm placed within reach of the day’s journey. Reminders of the dryness of fall rustle in the leaves on the sidewalks and on the catching of skin when putting more knits on my body.

“I think I have dust in my gills.” That’s Liam’s interpretation of this change. Time for more tea and hot cocoa to help clear the dust of cool fall afternoons and dry nights. Bill and I smiled when Liam started drinking English tea last winter. Based strictly on the English population I’ve met, including Bill’s mum, who was a kind of English tea goddess, English breakfast tea is usually consumed with milk or with milk and sugar, only occasionally, black. Liam started his tea odyssey with sugar and... half and half. No half and half in the house? No tea for Liam, thank you. As much as I enjoy half and half in my coffee, I cringe when I make Liam’s tea with this thick dairy product.

We had our first frost over the weekend. Soon there will be fires in the fireplace. Once Bill gets on that kick, there will be a fire every night. Before the snow flies, we want to rent a log splitter and take care of chunked up logs from a tree we had taken down this summer. Then there’s the creosote that needs to be swept away before the first fire.

Chili, stew, and roast beast are on the horizon. More slow-cooking, less grilling.

The October mammogram has come and gone with an all-clear.

Yes, the stage is nearly set to snuggle into my favorite season. If only my feet were as ready as the rest of me. It was 44 degrees this morning. As I looked through the mudroom for proper shoes, my feet screamed like a toddler. “I want to wear sandals!” Not this morning. “I’m not going if I can’t wear my sandals!!!” No. “But I don’t know what other shoes match my outfit! And, I don’t want to wear socks. Definitely, no socks. I. Want. Sandals!”

We agree on shoes with no socks. The toes wriggled about all morning inside the confines of their enclosures. They’re happy now that I’m at the library. I kicked off the shoes and brought out a pair of short socks from my backpack. The library runs cool, so I always have an extra sweater and socks with me.

Shoes with no socks seem OK. Socks only seem OK. I’m taking baby steps toward the season in which both are essential.

Stopping to See the Berries

As much as I like to claim a love for change, I’m a creature of habit. The change of seasons makes me giddy. A friend once pointed out that those aren’t really changes because they happen every year. Consistently.

Since 2010, I’ve done Pilates once or twice a week. Stretching my wings keeps the on-going shrinking effect of radiation from affecting my range of motion on the left side. At the end of class, we do a “mermaid” which is an arm-overhead side stretch while seated on the floor. Then we add “thread-the-needle” taking that arm from overhead and weaving it through the hole under the other armThat's firmly planted in place with a hand on the floor. Then, the finale and my favorite: we bring the arm back overhead and then twist back and reach in the opposite direction of thread the needle. It’s my quiet way of cursing cancer, sticking out my tongue while proving I have full range of motion on the left side. Actually, there’s no cursing, only thankfulness for that movement that I can so easily do.

There are sixteen to twenty people in each Pilates class, and quite a few of us are regulars who have been with our instructor for a long time. Pilates is about strengthening the core, moving small muscles, and stretching the body. Small, mindful moves with a bit of fierceness unseen to casual observers. You need to be on the mat to see and feel the intensity of the sport. Hmmm. It’s not a sport per se… but that’s what fell out of my fingers, so I’ll leave it at that.

Last Monday, I left the class standing upright and smiling. People waiting for the class after ours often comment about how happy people look as they walk out of our Pilates class. I left the building with a friend, and we walked to the intersection where we always end our five minute in-transit chats. From there, I turned and headed down the sidewalk toward where my van was parked on the street.

It was a wet day. Rain from earlier puddled on the sidewalk. Sticks were on the sidewalk. Mud was on the edges of the sidewalk. These visual observations were in my peripheral thoughts. Commanding my attention were wandering thoughts – cranking back up was the what-next-in-the-day pattern. My head was down and my shoulders were beginning to lean forward with it. I caught myself. “For crying out loud, stand up straight, and look up!”

When my self-talk starts with “For crying out loud…” I listen. I elongated from the waist up, looked to the left, and saw light red berries right at eye level.

I grabbed my phone and took a photo, thinking how nice it would be if they were a more brilliant red. I looked closer, pulled my glasses down, and saw they had raindrops hanging from them.

Like a dog onto a scent and needing to take a million sniffs, I leaned into the bush, making sure not to touch it. “Holy cow, that’s amazing!”

“Yeah, there’s dew on them! Cool!” said a man passing by.

Each berry looked like it had been glazed by hand in a thick, glossy syrup.

And with an even tighter look, the bottom of the berry melted into the drop of water. The clinging water was nearly as large as the berry. Looking through the drop, the green leaves showed through crystals.

In a bit of euphoria over this tiny, magnificent discovery, I didn’t want to break my gaze. Surely, I was seeing a moment that wasn’t easily repeatable. And one that would be gone with a strong gust of wind or a bump from a passing shoulder. Six inches from my face, this was as close to “now” as I could ever imagine. Right now.

I didn’t stand there for an hour or even ten minutes. The moment from seeing the branch of berries to the discovery of green crystals shining through a drop of water on the bottom of two berries was tight. The linger over the discovery of the latter was longer. And I was thoroughly there. Right there.

Like a bee that’s collected as much pollen as possible in it baskets on its hind legs, I only moved away when I was full. Fully consumed in “now.”

And, it hadn’t taken hours from my day. Just a few minutes.

A Hitch in My Giddy-Up

I’ve been counting a lot lately. It’s proven to be challenging. Very challenging.

On June 20th, I got a hitch in my giddy-up. I was on the treadmill watching my hero walking the next row over and listening to the chatting and heavy breathing going on around me. I had the treadmill cranked up a notch so I was jogging for forty-five seconds – as timed by the clock on the treadmill. When I decreased the speed to return to a brisk walk, my right hip popped, and the gait of my pace changed to brisk limping.

Figuring it was just a pulled muscle that needed to heal, I stayed off the treadmill and rested my body for a few days. Then a couple weeks. July 20th came and went as did August 20th. The come-and-go pain came and stayed after hiking waterfalls in western Massachusetts on August 19th. The physical pain had also become a mental pain. Was this cancer in my hip?

The week after the boys were back in school, I went to my doctor and told her I was there for two reasons: to take care of the physical pain and, more immediately, to confirm that it wasn’t originating from something more complicated. I’m impressed by the medical practitioners out here. My doctors treat mental and physical symptoms equally. Three days later, I was lying on a table at an orthopedic clinic having my hips x-rayed.

After taking the x-rays, the lab tech took me to an exam room and said she’d get the pictures up on the screen for the doctor. My hip bones popped up on the screen, and she left the room – leaving me to look at them. Up close. Eyeing every shade of gray, light gray, dark gray. And, on that right bone were a couple spots of random gray that were not on the left side. In the ten minutes that I sat waiting for the ortho doc to come in, I had cancer all over again. A self-diagnosis. It let a wild animal loose inside my body, running around in a cage unable to escape.

With crazed eyes, I met my bow-tie-wearing ortho doc. He sat facing me, with his back to the screen, and asked me to explain what was going on. I only wanted him to turn around and look at my hip x-ray. After my introductory remarks spoken succinctly and with a bit of a shaky voice, I told him my history of cancer and that first I just needed to know if that’s what this pain was from.

Nope. None. My bones look great. No arthritis either. I was cured of that ten-minute bout of self-diagnosed, make-believe cancer. I felt like a rag doll. That same feeling that tailed me so often during cancer treatment in ’09 and ’10: anxiety, calm, anxiety, calm.

I never thought being diagnosed with bursitis in my hip would feel so amazing! I chose physical therapy over cortisone shots. Which brings me back to the issue with counting: I have ten leg and hip exercises to do twice daily at home. My physical therapist started with just 30 reps on each leg the first week. Now, I’m up to three sets of 30.

The pain is easing over time – despite my inability to count to 30 in my head. This is the slowest task I’ve had to complete in many moons. My brain wants to solve other issues while I’m stretching a muscle. It’s behaving like a child hyped-up on sugar on Halloween night.

The nimbleness of brain movement is like walking on a non-stop treadmill where each step is a new idea, a new task. Something that I don’t want to forget. Something that I forgot but now again remember. And don’t want to forget again.

Honestly, shouldn’t I have absolute control to stop this pace so that I can simply count to 30, thirty times in fifteen minutes, as I stretch? I’ve resorted to physical cues of lifting a finger to signify each set of ten. Three fingers up equal the last set of ten. Assuming I remember to lift a finger at the appropriate time.

So, can you hold one nice stretch and count to 30 in your head, release it, and do that two more times in a row? I’m guessing your brain will take you on quite a ride with this monotonous, silent task. It will surely find something more exciting to do than count non-stop to 30.

A cortisone shot might have been easier. However, the exercise is probably just as good for my brain as it is for my hip.

The Parking Ticket

My best piece of writing last week was a letter that I sent based on principle. Nearly two weeks ago, a bright orange parking violation envelope was left on my van that was parked in front of the library. I had exceeded an hour in one spot. I should have parked on a side street in the two hour spot, but no. I was selfish and carrying a heavy backpack, so I grabbed the spot right out front.

The neon orange paper burned my eyes from its spot on the kitchen counter. For days I debated. Pay $25 and be done with it, or write to the parking clerk asking for forgiveness -- or a hearing. Finally, a week later, I knew the answer. I couldn’t write a check. I wrote a letter intermittently over six hours while my computer sat on the kitchen counter as I made dinner and entertained my 12-year-old on an electronics-free evening – that’s a whole other story about self-induced pain.

First, I thought it appropriate that the clerk knew who I was – and indeed, that I admitted to violating a parking regulation:

I am a resident of our town and a writer; I work in the library two or three times a week. Normally, I park on a side street. The day I received the citation, I parked in front of the library, knowing it would be a short visit. When I left the library, I decided to walk to a restaurant on Main Street for lunch, rather than drive a block. It was one of the first days the humidity had broken, so I lightened my load, putting my computer and backpack in my car. Then, I walked to lunch.

There is no doubt I violated the parking limitation. However, I feel it’s important to make you aware of the fact that I am a citizen of this town and working in this town. I am not a commuter trying to save money by parking for free on the side streets, rather than at the train station.

I spend hundreds of dollars in our town every month. I start my mornings by parking near the coffee shop, buying breakfast and coffee, and grabbing a table in the coffee shop to work an hour before the library opens. Then I drive to the side street adjacent to the library, park, and work in the library for a couple of hours. Then, I drive and park again for lunch at one of the restaurants on Main Street.

I had established who I was… now, exactly what did I want? I decided to move from me to us – citizens who need longer than an hour to park on Main Street.

Rarely do I run to a box store, like Target; instead, I pop into the local drug store or Ace Hardware in town. For gifts, my first stop is the gift shop in town. I’m in our small grocery store two or three times a week. I mail my manuscripts and personal correspondence from the Post Office on Main Street. My whole family goes to the eye doctor on Main Street. Our pediatrician, my dentist, and our lawyer are in the downtown area.

So you see, to be ticketed for parking downtown is a bit of a slap in the face to me. Normally, I drive from one parking space to another, in observance of the parking time limits – in a distance that I could easily walk. For the downtown businesses to succeed, particularly restaurants, there needs to be extended parking. And what about other residents like me, who are using the services and supporting the businesses week after week, and month after month? A resident sticker, perhaps, in return for the vehicle excise taxes we pay?

At this point, I was sure I would be called in for a hearing as I heard belligerence in my voice.

I’m not including payment for the ticket. Please contact me with how you wish to proceed. Preferably, this fee will be waived. If I need to come in for a hearing, so be it.

I took the letter to the van with me Friday morning as I left the house to take Will to school. I asked Will what homework he had to do over the weekend, and I couldn’t believe his answer: to write an argumentative essay directed to an official to change a law. No. Lie. I told him to gently rip open the envelope and read my letter. We exchanged “that’s creepy!” looks.

Resisting the temptation to have the taped-shut envelope certified, I dropped it into the outgoing mail slot at the post office. It was good to have that glowering orange paper out of the house for the weekend.

On Tuesday afternoon, my phone ran. “Parking Clerk” was the caller.

“Linda?” it was an aged male voice. “This is Mr. Mah-nah-lah.”

“Who?”

“Mr. Nah-mah-lah, parking clerk.”

"Oh, hello.” I took a deep breath.

“Well, it looks like the heat got the best of you this summer, huh? And since you did admit to parking too long, I’m going to give you a break this time.” These words were spoken in what seemed to be a blend of accents and speech patterns... I think Bostonian, Italian, and elderly man.

I concentrated hard on listening to the meaning behind the words. From my carefully thought out argumentative essay, how the heck did he read that this was my worst New England summer? Had beads of sweat dripped onto the letter?

“Oh, well, thank you!” There was no point arguing the big points of my letter. I would be happy not paying $25 and letting someone else argue the need for better parking in town.

“You’re welcome! I tell you what, you can just give me a cookie!”

I giggled. “Oh, OK! I’ll leave it on my windshield next time I’m at the library!” I giggled, again.

He giggled, “Oh, you can just give it to the librarians and tell them it’s for Mr. Nah-lah-mah!”

I’m moving in one of those crazy surreal spaces again. I don’t know the man’s name, and yes, now I need to take a cookie to the library.

“Well, thank you so much!” I hung up.

Out of my concise one-page letter about the parking situation, he stated so aptly that the heat got the best of me this summer. My high school Sunday school teacher, Marge, might have called this a “God-thing.”

On principle, what kind of cookie do I take to the library? Liam suggested the smallest one possible. I didn’t want to spend a nickel on this ticket. I would dig to the back of the fridge to find the outdated pre-packaged cookie dough, pop the squares of dough into the oven – and then leave the cookies out overnight to harden. But at 9:30 p.m, I had no energy to bake.

This morning, I parked at the local grocery store and ran out in the rain to buy a big chocolate chip cookie. It cost $1.50. And it was hard as a rock. Then I drove to the coffee shop. Then to the library. The cookie is in a brown paper bag at the circulation desk. Waiting for the parking clerk.

P.S. For the record, as I write this on Tuesday, it’s 77 degrees with 88% humidity. And tropical depression Florence is dumping on us – which makes the current weather hot, humid and rainy -- as opposed to hot, humid, and sunny.

Praying for my knees to stop sweating for the season.

NYS Summer Writers Institute Recap

Eleven days ago, my time at the Writers Institute at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, ended.  It’s hard to encapsulate those two weeks.  My elevator pitch for those who ask how it went:  It was delightfully selfish to be immersed in writing, reading, and thinking for two weeks.  

On Day 12, I wrote this…”I have lived in a condo with two poets and two fiction writers. Never have I felt the comfort of shutting a door to my room as what I do here. Whenever I want to read or write, I shut my door. At home when I do this, I put a note on the door: "I am writing, please do not disturb. Love, Mom" I very rarely do this because it feels so heartless and unnatural, to bow out of house-life like that; hence my emphasis on "Love" with a hand-drawn heart next to it. Here, I open the door when I'm done cocooning. And my cocooning is never taken personally, for I live with four others who are also working on their butterfly wings.”

Most of my mornings were guided by the library opening its doors at 9 a.m.  On the 4th of July I met another student at the locked doors.  He looked at me and said, “It’s closed for some reason?”  I shared the same baffled expression as he had voiced.  I can’t remember where I went, but I do remember standing at the big double doors feeling cheated.  Seven percent of my writing mornings on the third floor, the quiet floor, had been stripped away.  

Libraries should open earlier. I spend many waking hours waiting for the library to open, wondering what to do before that nine o’clock hour.  Staying quiet in the house while my three boys sleep.  Some days, I can’t keep the pot on simmer from sunrise to the unlocking click of the library doors. This wait feels like boiling potatoes and constantly adjusting the lid and the fire so they don’t boil over and make a mess on the stove. In the stillness of early morning, my blood accelerates with each sip of coffee, and the words roll in my head.  I’m such a habitual library writer that I rarely try to write at home in the morning.  I wait for that perfect three or four-hour stint in the quiet room at my library.  

At 7:30 this morning (Tuesday), I feel like a human statue in NYC Times Square that must scratch an itch.  I announce to Bill and Liam that I’m going to write in the office; Will is still in bed.  Then, I post my signs on the two doors.  Our office is a through-way between the dining room and the hallway to the kitchen.  Once inside I need blinders to create a tunnel vision that blocks the over-stuffed shelves, the laundry on the chair, and the piles of paperwork.  The conditions are not optimal.

Afternoons at the Institute meant one of two things: Three days a week, I went with my fellow non-fiction writers to a three-hour workshop to critique one another’s work with our professor.  The other two days, I went with my fellow writers of all genres - poetry, fiction, and non-fiction -- around 75 of us in total, to an hour-long Q&A session with a visiting writer.

At the first of the six workshops, I learned a new verb: “workshopped.” I belong to two critique groups near Boston where we “critique” one another's work, but in a collegiate setting, we “workshopped” each other's writing.  Before each class, we read three sets of manuscripts and commented on them – that could mean up to 90 pages of reading and note-making before each workshop.  In class, for a half hour or so, each writer’s work was workshopped by the students and then by the professor. 

My takeaways: I pulled my submissions for this workshop out of a line of writing that I send to you every week, and for someone who has never read my essays, I need to add specific details about the characters I mention, as well as the farm equipment I describe, aka: in the mouse story, I mention a “combine” with no explanation of what it is other than “big equipment."  Phillip Lopate thought my writing reads like a column in a regional newspaper, and in our conference after class, he encouraged me to submit my essays to regional Midwest papers and to magazines or the “back cover” short article.

On my 52nd birthday and my last day at the Institute, I met with Lorrie Goldensohn, the poet/writer who reviewed my 200-page manuscript.  She earned her Doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Iowa and was an Assistant Professor in writing, most recently at Vassar College, before she retired in 2000. She has a background in writing and in the Midwest!  I came away from our two-hour meeting with fresh ideas.  Where my strengths are in relating place, people, and processes.  Where I need to pump up the essays a bit before I publish a book.  Where omission of autobiographical information leaves gaping holes.  

While I’ve been attacking this project as a collection of essays, Goldensohn suggested I read memoirs to see how other writers create a whole picture of themselves and establish a readily identifiable voice.  She asked me what I read.  Do you know that the only authors I could come up with were Shel Silverstein, David Shannon, Mick Inkpen, and JK Rowling?  I just said I didn’t read much.  If I want to improve as a writer, I need to read more.  And to do so as a _writer_.

I left the Institute with new perspectives, paths of opportunity, solid publishing ideas, and renewed optimism.  

Yet, the libraries still don’t open until 9:00 a.m.

Here in our office, the cow clock has just mooed the 9:00 a.m. hour -- as the robot stood guard.

Blogs and Fairy Tales

Last week when I was in Saratoga Springs for the New York State Summer Writers Workshop, Phillip Lopate quietly mentioned that for a year he wrote a weekly blog in the American Scholar journal.  He quietly mentions everything so I thought I might have misheard this.  Phillip Lopate said he wrote a blog?  He used first person “I” and the word “blog” in the same sentence?  Mind you, I am pretty sure he said “wrote a blog”; pray God, he didn’t say, “I’m a blogger.”  First and foremost, Phil is a writer and must stay true to that for the earth to continue its orderly revolution around the sun.

Late last Thursday night back in my dorm room, after the 8 p.m. reading and reception that lasted until 10:30, I googled Phillip Lopate.  And sure enough, there is a hit for Phillip Lopate and American Scholar.  I recognize it.  I had seen it in prior searches but had assumed that the American Scholar had only mentioned Lopate in an article.  I didn’t click on this hit when I saw it earlier.  There’s just enough dirt left under my fingernails and farmer’s tan on my arms to give the American Scholar a curt turn of the head.  Accompanied by an eyebrow raise and eyeball bulge, not to be confused with an eyeball roll.  

I landed on the last entry he wrote from that year-long commitment: On Keeping a Blog -- A Farewell.  I was relieved to see that his sentiment about that genre mirrored much of my own.  I would never blog.  No, for I may send weekly emails, and I may post my weekly writing on my website, but I shudder when I am placed anywhere near the word “blogger.”  Admittedly, that reflex has settled a bit over the last couple years, for I know it’s hard to put a finger on what I do.  I spent nine years trying to identify myself, and for the brevity of what I write and the frequency I ship it, I could certainly be labeled a… well, you know.

Within Phil’s only blog post I’ve read thus far, one name he used for such writing was essayette.  What a precise word.  And, it’s so freshly minted that my spell check is having fits with it. I love when that happens – I prefer it to happen with one of my own creations, but I get the same devious smile on my face with this one as well.  

I have privately, thoroughly defined these terms – blog, blogging, and blogger, such that I can use the format of the genre without being fully committed to what I perceive to be its true definition.  First, the format of a blog is to post something short on a website and send a note to subscribers telling them it’s there.  Yes, that fits me and the musings I write.  However, my tribe of subscribers is quite ornery.  I’ve sent many of them personal musings via email for nine years, and now, to get them to go to my new beautiful website to read each week’s musing is impossible.  They have no problem opening my emails, but they see that click to “Read More” on my website as an invitation down a rabbit hole.  And they are people with real lives who do not have the time to scoot down a rabbit shoot.  I love their orneriness.  Their allegiance and feedback have been gold coins in my coffer for many years; they can do whatever they like – preferable that doesn’t include clicking “unsubscribe.”  I love them all equally, but if someone who has been a quiet reader lets me know that a specific musing spoke to them, their confession gives strong credence to my occupation.

Second, blogging.  Very close to the definition of blog.  If I wrote the definition, it would be to create a blog. And then you would have to scurry back to blog to see what that meant. 

Then comes blogger. 

Marketing guru Seth Godin calls for people to ship.  Don’t wait for perfection. Ship.  Ship into the world and good things will happen. Through the genre of blog, I do just that – a weekly shipment of what I write.  And there’s the key difference between me and this outlet.  I do not self-identify with the noun “blogger."  I am a writer.  I do not make a living blogging.  (Sadly, I do not make a living writing either, but that’s a story for a different time.)  I have refused from day one to run an ad on my website to make money.  I refuse to bastardize my site and interrupt my words with attempts at profit.  If someone takes the time to come to my site and read, so shall it be.  Without interruption or pop-ups that reflect what they last searched for on google or some bandit ad in the middle of a musing. 

I see now, after reading Phillip Lopate’s blog post on the American Scholar’s website, that I’ve been too narrowly defining blogs.  Lopate’s essayette was published without the interruptions I mention above.  I have some reading to catch up on in back issues of the American Scholar.

Call me what you like.  Whether through age or practice, I’m pretty thick-skinned.  And ornery.  So if you say, “I read your blog post today!” I will process, “I read your essayette today!”  And hopefully, we’ll both be content – you with what you read and me with the fact that you took the time to read it.

P.S. Sometimes I imagine getting characters together in a particular setting just to watch and to listen to the interaction; then I start willing it to happen with specific details that must play out.  This morning, Phil Lopate is on the ranger with my dad checking fence lines in the timber where the cows graze – and the ranger is powered by an electric golf cart motor so that my dad can hear Phil and actually converse.  And, Dad has his hearing aids in.  They are talking about common sense. And cows.  I’ve always loved fairy tales.