More on Nathaniel Dike

In my last post, I included a picture of the final resting place of young Nathaniel Dike, killed in a firearm accident. One of the joys of small town (or at least, not ginormous town) life is that several members of the Stoneham Historical Commission read my blog. The commission chair, Marcia Wengen, sent me some more information on Nathaniel, which we both thought you might find interesting!

A boy killed by a friend playing with a gun.... a hundred and fifty years ago.
A boy killed by a friend playing with a gun…. a hundred and fifty years ago.

Thought you and your audience might find this obituary for Nathaniel Dike interesting. This accident pre-dated Stoneham newspapers and so my researcher had to look to Boston editions. Interesting that the name of the shooter is withheld, just as it would be today

The style of headstone leads me to believe that he may have been buried elsewhere initially.

The style is suggestive of others stones in the OBG (Old Burying Ground) but there is no record of his removal to Lindenwood.

The Stoneham Cemetery (sometimes referred to as William Street Cemetery and on the grounds of Old Central School) was consecrated in 1844, so I think it unlikely he was moved from the OBG across the street. In the DPW file I found records of Stoneham Cemetery burials moved to Lindenwood (ca. 1899), but alas Nathaniel is not among them.

Nathaniel Dike Obituary
Nathaniel Dike Obituary

Winter notes

So after I posted about the Parker G. Webber house, I learned a bit more about him. Apparently, he also built the barn for the Stoneham Senior Center (previously the alsmhouse and poor farm, previously the site of a wolf attack). We decided to take a walk today, and headed to one of our favorite walking locations – the Lindenwood Cemetery. It occurred to me as we strolled past rabbit tracks and duck tracks in the snow that it was very likely Mr. Webber was buried here in Lindenwood, nearly within sight of the homes he built and lived in for fifty years (apparently with his -gasp- second wife!). And we found him almost immediately!

Does that say Webber?
Does that say Webber?
It felt like running into an old friend
It felt like running into an old friend

It’s hard to feel sad because he was ooooooold, by any standard. It is sad that he has to bury his son. It seems odd timing for the Spanish flu, or late for WWI.

Anyway, we then continued our wandering around the graveyard. It’s not particularly old by New England standards – there’s the really old one that is open once a year that is not this one. It was opened during the Civil War to handle the influx of local heroes coming home in boxes. We found a few more interesting graves I’ve never noticed before. It was a lovely walk!

I recently read something about how astonishingly high the fatalities in the Civil War are.
I recently read something about how astonishingly high the fatalities in the Civil War are.
A boy killed by a friend playing with a gun.... a hundred and fifty years ago.
A boy killed by a friend playing with a gun…. a hundred and fifty years ago.
Who plays Cinderella?
Who names their daughter Cinderella?
Someone is using these markers to help them open nuts. I suspect the nefarious squirrels.
Someone is using these markers to help them open nuts. I suspect the nefarious squirrels.
The local playground, commonly called "Munchkin Park" is dedicated to Clara M. Steele. This is where she remains.
The local playground, commonly called “Munchkin Park” is dedicated to Clara M. Steele. This is where she remains.

Up in the air

Up in the Air

It’s been a long time since I last traveled for business. I was thinking about it the other day, trying to remember my last trip. I think it was all the way back in June, when I flew out to San Francisco and went to a boy scout camp in the redwoods with my then-new colleagues. That may actually have been the last time I was on a plane. It seems a little hard to believe – for several years I’ve been flying every other month or so on average. Sometimes it was all clumped together so that I was hitting Logan every other week. But we drove to Canada for our big summer trip, and didn’t go anywhere over the holidays so… it may have been half a year since I traveled.

I’m traveling now, of course. In that casual miracle of flight, I’m thirty thousand feet over frozen fields. Unlike the April-warmth of Boston right now, these fields are white. Our itinerary brings us over Canada, which is relevant because apparently the inflight internet doesn’t work over Canada, and it’s a bit hard to bring myself to pay $50 for wifi access that won’t work most of the flight, even if I am not the one who is really paying for it. I’m headed to Seattle, and the way the time zones work I’ll have most of a full day’s work still in that office once I land, so perhaps I don’t have to rush. After this trip, there are some more stacked up. Some are already booked (Anaheim later in the month). Some are only possibilities.

I think my least favorite thing about flying – other than how heavy my bags are to schlep – is the sleep I get the night before. If I am flying out and it requires me to get up even 20 minutes before my regular wakening, I don’t sleep well. I’m convinced I’m going to sleep through my alarm and miss my flight and get fired. Or, you know, minority inconvenience people (almost as dire). So I don’t sleep very well. I think I got only about four hours of sleep last night – which was the second night in a row I was significantly short on sleep. Perhaps instead of working on this flight I’ll exchange my time for some very low quality drowsing. On the plus side, hotel sleep is best sleep. Mmmmm…..

The biggest tumult in my life lately has been at church. Church is an unusual place to experience tumult, especially non-drama related tumult. But it is a hard, hard time in the life of my congregation. To sum up – our pastor of 35 years retired about a year and a half ago. There was a triumphal Easter and a farewell to a pair whom I’ve known and loved since I first arrived in Boston. Then there was this long period before we got to call an interim. It was too long. We felt unfocused and drifting, but I was committed to the process. I know that one doesn’t just say farewell to a relationship like that and snap into a new one, but I hated the lingering. We called an interim, and then had to wait almost another year before Presbytery would clear us to start our mission process and begin the work of discerning our mission and calling our pastor.

Before our prior pastor retired, I’d seen the writing on the wall. (Pro tip: when the pastor who lives in the manse buys a condo in a lovely retirement location, the countdown clock has started.) After over 12 years of constantly serving on a board or two, I took myself off all of them. I didn’t even teach Sunday School. I worshipped, and tried to un-burn myself out, knowing that the afterwards would require a lot of energy and leadership. So when we kicked off the New Beginnings process to help us hear God’s call for us, I threw myself into it, organizing meetings and drafting leaders and setting up small groups.

Towards the end of the year, our interim pastor seemed to start to struggle. He had some personal sorrows in his life that kept him in our prayers and that seemed like a likely culprit. In December, he was uncharacteristically late to start some services. At a funeral of a long time member (much lamented in his loss), long pauses punctuated the eulogy, which seemed unusually sparse in details for a man who had served our congregation so faithfully. Then on Christmas Eve, after the children had told the age-old story of a star and angels and shepherds, the meditation was very strange. It was filled with extremely long pauses. It left a biblical exegesis behind. And it went on far longer than any Christmas Eve sermon with a congregation full of excited kids ever should. I went to sleep that Christmas Eve night with a cold knot of worry in my stomach. I didn’t know what was right and kind to do, but the service was not one I’d care to repeat. My brother ended up filling in for the pastor at the last minute on epiphany Sunday (note: it’s good planning to always have a spare Presbyterian minister in your attic for just such emergencies).

And then, just as the year was starting, we learned our interim pastor has an aggressive brain tumor. Ah. That explained much. We hold him and his family deep in our prayers, but his work is now fighting that and not leading us.

I’ve soldiered on with the New Beginning process, reckoning to figure things out as we go. But this is also the time of year when our boards change members and the members change roles. Some of the lay leadership roles in the church are switching. An interim period is supposed to teach you the strength of your congregation, and it certainly has. This last Sunday, with a guest preacher in the pulpit, we stood to sing “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. On the fourth verse, the organ stopped playing. I figured it was a verse miscount and kept singing, but then… the choir was in motion. One of our older members had collapsed. The notes died on our lips as we called 911. The medical professionals in the congregation (we have a number!) rushed forward. We moved the piano and baptismal font and communion table from the front so the EMTs could bring a stretcher in. The clerk of session rode off with her in a big red ambulance. I watched Grey, sitting next to me, sketching the ambulance on the note pads we keep for the kids. (It seems now that she will be ok.)

At coffee hour we all just looked at each other. We miss our friend who died in December – whose myriad duties we keep discovering. We are shocked and grieved for our interim pastor, and for the dark and difficult road laid out in front of his feet. (And of course, we’re making casseroles, because that’s what we do.) It is a hard time not to have the focusing presence of a pastor.

I’ve been proud at how the congregation has responded. I feel like we’re a patch of woolen cloth. With the heat and pressure and friction of the last few months, the loose weave of our relationships is tightening. We’re coming closer to each other, and bonding together. I think that without the clarity of “who should I ask if I should do this” we’re starting to just do the things that need doing. We are a hopeful people. We want to look forward. We do not wish to stop doing things until we get a pastor to do them for us. I want to make sure we hand out the Bibles to the fourth graders. I want to invite Camp Wilmot to come speak to us. So I will just do those things. We are also leaning forward into the New Beginnings process. It’s not a perfect fit for us. We’re a regional, denominational church, and it’s a community based curriculum. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I could get people to come six times for small group meetings – we condensed to three or four. The curriculum uses these old techniques for running meetings that I don’t know how to do (mostly handouts and paper documents). I’ve converted them as we’ve gone to presentations. (Chromecast turns my tv into a great display for that!) I had this cold-water realization the other day that while I know what we’re supposed to do in the next step or two of the New Beginnings process, I don’t really know how it all ties in to the Pastor Nominating Committee etc. That was all pastor-guided. (Fortunately we have Presbytery resources to help there.)

It has been the sort of time where, when you are through it, you look back and see how it strengthened you. When you are in it, you wonder how much more room there is in the strength and resources of the congregation to deal with more blows.

All this has been very much on my mind, for several months now. The future of the church – both our specific congregation and the larger collection of worshippers – is in great flux. We must change to meet the need where it is. Waiting for it to come and meet what we are already doing is not a winning strategy.

It’s been a hard year for my friends, too. One friend’s husband was in a serious car accident. Another friend’s brother just died, and left a devastated family behind. They are not my personal sorrows, but I share them with my friends.

And then, back to the prosaic, our hot water heater went out Saturday morning. And the new water heater we had installed at great expense on Sunday (which is not as nice as the one we had before) will not keep its pilot light lit. Good times. I abandoned my husband to that particular domestic disaster.

So that’s what’s up with me. What’s up with you?

Our house

Our home in the snows of last year
Our home in the snows of last year

When we were in the house hunt, one of the houses we looked at was a house in Woburn that had been built in 1720 or so. It had a weird layout and a rather disastrous crack in the chimney that ran up the center of the house, and we didn’t end up offering on it… but I thought it was awfully cool. Paul Revere would have ridden past that house when it was new built. So when we found this house (with a lovely lack of disastrous masonry), it didn’t seem all *that* old. The decor was dominantly an 80s horror (helloooo shag carpet and paneling!). The date on the paperwork said it was ~1900. I had hoped we might find some cool old treasures when we moved in, but the prior occupants did an exceptionally good job of clearing out the attic and basement. There were no boxes of old letters we might find, and no ghosts have haunted our sleep. (Well, except the ghost of fraudulently uninstalled insulation.)

But as we have very gradually updated rooms, we’ve found these hints of how old our house really is. Most of the walls, under the ugly paneling, are plaster and lathe covered by some truly hideous wallpaper. We had a very brief oral history from the prior owner, which mostly told us the house had been in the same hands for nearly fifty years and they’d raised seven children here. Also, her late husband had done all the “improvements” himself, with his two left hands comprised entirely of thumbs. (Ok, maybe that was my interpretation…)

These eagles are now hidden behind the drywall in Thane's room
These eagles are now hidden behind the drywall in Thane’s room

And then she was gone to Florida, and the history of the house felt like a blank slate.

But as I got a little more involved with Stoneham – as part of the bikeway kerfuffle and got to know the Historical Commission folks. One of them came by one morning with a full writeup on my house. We spent the morning in fascinating discussion of the building.

The Nobility Hill Historic District
The Nobility Hill Historic District

It was built in 1898, and the funds to build it were provided by the guy (Lorenzo Hawkins) who built the beautiful white mansion right up the hill from me. That lovely house is a anchor of the Nobility Hill Historic district (which I learned about at the same time). The house, at nearly 120 years old, has been owned by ten owners, and four of those ten were in the 40s. The builder was a man named Parker G. Webber, who also lived in the house for two years after he built it. It changed hands for $100 in 1944. There was also this really cool list of the occupations and names of the people who lived in the house on various dates. In 1943 the house was occupied by Eleanor Keenan (34, housewife), James Keenan (36, bus driver) and father-in-law Joseph Keenan (69, shoe worker). Likely there were a passel of kids then too.

More questionable wallpaper choices
More questionable wallpaper choices

Glancing up and down the list for 1948, I noticed a 96 year old resident in my dear neighbor’s house down the street… a 96 year old named Parker G. Webber. He lived with what must have been a second wife, Alice F. Webber (77, housewife). So fifty years after he built my home, he was living in close sight of it. He must have spent the greater part of his life on this block – perhaps he built most of the houses in it, and not just mine. It’s this wonderful connection to imagine the care that must have crafted my home from a man who was proud enough to live in it and willing to look at his work every single day thereafter.

By the way, the list of occupations is fascinating. There are tree surgeons, a “dier”, a “grinder”, a “burner”, someone mysteriously in the “egg bus.” (A house on Franklin Street has a prestidigitator. Now that would be some exciting history!)

After the visit (well, some time after) I got around to signing up for a Historical Marker for the house ($55 is the bargain of the century, and they’ll help you fill it out). In New England, this isn’t a particularly old building, but 120 years old is not pathetic, either. The commission says anything over 50 years qualifies, and this most certainly beat that. I settled on the name “Parker G. Webber” to grace the sign, in honor of the man who had built the house with such craftsmanship a century and a score ago. The signs are all hand made (and come with the research!), so it took a little while before I got it. But I just found it on my porch this week, and I can’t wait to get it placed in a prominent location on my house!

Thanks for building my home, Parker
Thanks for building my home, Parker

Winter Sports

This is why we don't wait for good weather to get outside
This is why we don’t wait for good weather to get outside

Last year, for a period of about two months, we could not take a walk. Every week we got pounded by another storm. Every week we’d laboriously clear the new fallen snow – moving it on top of the shoulder-high piles of snow that had already fallen. We struggled to make it to work. By the time the last foot fell, I was pretty sure that if another storm came it would be physically impossible to dig ourselves out – there was no where left to put snow. Everywhere we walked, we walked in narrow channels between vast and dirty snow banks. My awesome neighbors had a rotating potluck on storm nights so we could get out of our own walls, but eventually the entire world felt constrained and constricted. The walls seemed to compress under the weight of the frigid winter, as though it might finally crush us.

Family snow portrait
Family snow portrait

But some people seemed less claustrophobic. The skiers were ecstatic at the powder. The cross country folks went places they’d never gone before. The snow-shoers had the Fells to themselves. In the heart of this winter vice, we rented snow shoes to see if we’d like it. It was like taking the first deep breath for weeks, to get out into those woods again. My mother must have heard us gushing, because for Christmas this year we got the great gift of four sets of snow shoes, so we can break down those walls again.


2015 was also the first year that the Y offered ski lessons for the boys after school. They got picked up from the Y and taken to Nashoba Valley, where they were learning to ski like proper New Englanders. We signed them up again this year (with a ski group that doubled in size since last year!).

Then, this summer, came word that Stoneham Town Common would host a free, open to the public ice skating rink. For the price of a pair of skates, we could all glide around the common whenever we wanted, with our friends and families. Plus, Grey has started getting invited to open time at the Stoneham Arena (ice rink) on Fridays by one of his friends. When the local used sporting goods store announced they were going out of business, we quickly procured four pairs of ice skates.

So in the course of one year, we went from people with no winter sport proclivities to folks with snow shoes, ice skates and kids who know how to ski. (That’s what last winter did to us!) And now we find ourselves in our summer stomping grounds in the White Mountains. We have switched our regular tent for an unexpectedly swanky White Mountain Resort. I do not ski. I actually cringe if I start thinking too much about skiing, due to major knee injuries from the first and only time I went skiing. But Adam likes snowboarding, and the kids enjoy the slopes too. (Even if they do seem to be geniuses at losing ski gear.) So I’m enjoying hanging out in the resort and working on my book while the guys are skiing. (Edited: here are a few pictures I took!)

Well, at least that was the concept. In reality, it’s difficult to manage two not-strong-yet skiers simultaneously. Right now I have on my left a sweet little Thane-boy narrating the creation of Lego elements telling the story of Lloyd Alexander’s “Book of Three”, which he’s reading at the moment. Adam and Grey are skiing together. They’ll switch off in a little bit.

Brunch was tasty AND scenic
Brunch was tasty AND scenic

I’m enjoying the hygge of a mountain lodge. The scenery here is downright spectacular. The food is unexpectedly excellent. Last night, all the boys were asleep by 8:30. If the time spent skiing hadn’t gotten them to bed early, the hour the kids spent in the heated-to-99-degree pool while having a snowball fight would’ve helped them nod off. I wasn’t tired, though, so I got to spend two hours in front of the roaring fireplace working on my novel and listening to the guy behind me hold court for two hours. (I’m not sure anyone else in his party got a single word in that entire time.)

Of course, the hilarious thing is that this winter has so far been record-shatteringly warm. That ice rink on the common will open nearly a month after it was scheduled to. There hasn’t been enough snow to snow shoe on yet this year. In a Murphy’s Law moment, some of the heaviest snow of the year so far fell JUST as we were driving up here. I had an hour of white-knuckle driving of the highest degree. We haven’t gotten to try the rink yet. A repeat of last year is statistically unlikely, but it’s possible that this winter will be the inverse of last year’s unusual weather. (Of course, we’ll all remind you that the snow started after the Superbowl last year – it hadn’t kicked off by now.)

But when the snow comes, if the snow comes, we’ll be ready to enjoy it!

PS – Here’s a video Adam took of just how white-knuckle the driving was!

The measure of wealth

As any economist could tell you, there are a lot of ways to measure wealth. There’s your net worth (the value of the things you own compared to the amount of money you owe). There’s your current earnings. There are your projected earnings. (That’s probably a better way of evaluating someone graduating with with a law degree, for example, than net worth is.) I’m sure there are a bajillion other ways: months without income until bankruptcy, ability to survive layoff, projected age to retirement, etc.

Another form of wealth
Another form of wealth

As the holidays draw to a close (even if you wait until epiphany, or count orthodox Christmas), I often find myself reflecting on my wall o’ friendship, and procrastinating from taking it down. I’ve noticed the cards seem to come later every year (I’m part of that trend – I think I mailed my last set on the 23rd!), and I get more New Years cards than I used to, but I love looking at them. Sometimes I take them down and read the notes inside them again. Every year I bundle them in a big bundle and save them. They’re in stacks in my attic, right next to the snapshots of my kids and school pictures.

The truth is that, quite unexpectedly, I find myself rich in friendships. I didn’t anticipate that, as a young girl. We moved a lot. I attended 6 schools by 6th grade. (I did that math when I was very young – I think I count church kindergarten in there.) I didn’t exactly have boatloads of friends waiting for my call. My best friend when I was Grey’s age wouldn’t acknowledge me at school. I, um, didn’t blame her. I wasn’t sure I’d admit to being friends with me either, if I was popular. I wasn’t a very easy kid to be friends with, I suspect. I reveled in being weird. It made me sad, sometimes, but there were books. My memories of childhood are mostly happy ones.

But then I stayed in one place for a while, and gradually learned how to not be quite so weird that people wouldn’t want to admit knowing me. (Or rather, how to keep the weirdness but lose the obnoxiousness of it? Maybe?) Then after learning how to be a friend, I got a fresh start. Man, college was the best.

The moon is hatching, and we're earth's last best hope.
The moon is hatching, and we’re earth’s last best hope.

And since I left college I’ve… accumulated friends. We’re still playing weekly (well, kind of weekly) role playing games with a friend whose name was picked off a bulletin board in a gaming store. (The gaming group has survived four children, and we’re delighted that a fifth has joined us. All boys.) I’ve made some relationships in church that are about ready to drive. The process accelerated vastly when I moved to this house, and there were a bunch of us the same age with kids the same age and we really got along. And then one of your friends introduces you to their friends. It’s been astonishing and wonderful.

I was thinking about what that flowering of friendship really means. Sometimes, when I’m staying out too late and consuming less-than-healthfoods with my friends, I wonder if friendship is bad for my health. But studies show that friends reduce your risk of dying prematurely, or that absence of friends increases it.

And then there are the more immediate advantages. I met a mom once or twice in a gathering of moms. In December, her husband was injured in a serious accident that killed the other driver and critically wounded one of his friends. This amazing group of moms banded together to deliver two week’s worth of dinners to her and her family.

A friendship catalyst
A friendship catalyst

The funny thing about being rich in friendship is that the more of it you have, the more of it other people have too. It’s a lot like love that way. Spending it just creates more of it. The modern world seems poorly set up to create deep and lasting friendships (at least judging by the number of lonely people in the world), but the optimist in me thinks that with some sort of catalyst, friendship-creating-reactions can spread. It’s hard to see friendships (especially those tough ones that cross some boundary, like race or generation or political belief) as anything but a net good to society.

So, do you want more friends? Here are some of the ways I’ve seen people become close friends:

  • Strike up a conversation in a park. (Seriously.)
  • Invite someone you like to dinner. Give them a specific set of three different days, and ask if they need any accommodation (food preference, only drive during the day etc.) If they’re interested in being friends, they’ll either accept one of the three days or counter with a different date. (And don’t be too offended if they’re not willing to get closer. Sometimes people don’t have the energy to spend on new friendships.)
  • Throw a party and mix multiple different “sets” of your friends. One of my bestest friends became my friend because another friend begged an additional invite to a party I held. And this also helps your friends make more friends, which is a kindness.
  • Put your name on a gaming store wall as adventurer seeking game!
  • Bring your neighbors cookies. Knock on the door. When they’re on their front porch, strike up a conversation.
  • Throw a block party.
  • Get involved in a local project. (I made some great friends by being active regarding the Bikeway!)
  • Join a workout group. (OK, this one is just theoretical. I’m not a workout group kinda girl.)
  • Order more Christmas cards, and send them to people you wish you knew better.
  • Exchange contact information with those parents you end up chatting with when you pick your kids up. Then schedule something with them.
  • The internet. I made some dear, dear friends online. I still feel much more connected to people on Facebook than one might think!

    How about you? What are some of the crazy ways you’ve met people? Are you overwhelmed by an over-full social docket, or is there room for a few more busy Friday nights?

  • Hygge

    I read an article in that beautiful late-December period when the media writes thoughtful, long-form articles about things that aren’t breaking news. The article described hygge. The word is a Danish one, pronounced “hoo-geh” (according to my Danish friend) and it means well-being, or maybe coziness. It’s a concept or value that the Danes consider a key part of their culture. In reading through what it means, I realized that it is both a value that I treasure and a place where I fall far short.

    Cozy time by the Christmas tree
    Cozy time by the Christmas tree

    What is hygge to me? We don’t have a fireplace, which is tragic. Fireplaces are practically automatic hygge. Hygge is sitting on the couches and reading books together on library/pizza night. Hygge is a lit Christmas tree. Hygge is sitting on the front porch and working on my book. Hygge is hanging around someone’s kitchen with my neighbor-friends and catching each other up on our lives. Hygge is sitting with my son at Kushala Sip. Hygge is lighting the candles on either side as we sing “Silent Night” together on Christmas Eve. Hygge is when you can’t move because you have a cat on your lap. Hygge is when you’re in the kitchen, light on your feet, making food to feed your friends. I think that any time that is improved by lighting a candle is hyggeligt (rough translation: hygge-time!).

    While I was working on my novel (update: still in progress, added a few thousand words this holiday), my beloved husband expressed that he missed spending time with me. Specifically – although he didn’t use this word – he missed the cozy time we might spend together watching a show or playing a game. I found writing to be a solitary, consuming task and my partner in life missed me when I was being solitary. He missed being hygge together.

    There are of course precious moments in life that aren’t hygge. This weekend we went for a glorious hike along the turgid banks of the Saugus river, finding signs of beaver in the glazed snow. It as astonishingly lovely and refreshing… but not hygge. There are great adventures we pursue. I find, as I prepare to return to work, that the appeal of a difficult task to be well done with hard work is considerable. I like to work hard on things where my hard work leads to a great thing. That’s great – but not hygge. Most of camping is not hygge, but there’s that moment sitting around the fire when the entire world is about 10 feet in the radius of flickering orange tongues of flame, and the call of the loon wafting over the right shoulder that captures the very heart of the feeling.

    Fire's burning - gather round
    Fire’s burning – gather round

    In thinking about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that many of my most precious moments are these moments. They’re when I feel connected to my loved ones, myself… and even my God. They make my heart well over with joy. And yet I’ve taken them only as they come, taking them as a gift of chance. As I grow older, I look with greater skepticism on waiting for life to shower me with bounty. I prefer to create environments where the fruits I would grow can flourish.

    So… I don’t have a SMART* New Year’s Resolution this year. Instead I have an atmospheric one. I would like to create more opportunities for hyggeligt with the people I like best. That will, ideally, show itself as more reading on the couch, more sitting together to watch the snow fall, more lying in bed next to my husband and listening to the rain fall.

    What do you find hygge? And what are your plans for the new year?

    *Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely – if you really want to change something about yourself, finding an expression of your intention that matches those criteria significantly increases your odds of being successful.

    Sound the trumpet

    Trumpet and reading
    Trumpet and reading

    Many of you know that the most important part of my life in junior high and high school was trumpet. One day early in sixth grade, in a wooden band room in a mountain town, most of the sixth graders in town lined up to try out and pick instruments. There was a guy from the band instrument company there with samples and paperwork. (I remember him distinctly – he’d lost his vocal cords and had a voice box which was both gross and fascinating to my young self.) My school was pre-feminist. There were still strong gender lines – for example the default schedule was by gender and put kids in either home economics or shop based on whether they were a girl or a boy. The gender lines held strong and true in band. Girls played flute, clarinet or maybe saxophone. Boys played trumpet, trombone, drums and maybe saxophone.

    But I picked trumpet. It was likely – I can hardly remember – an iconoclastic move on my part. I wanted to be different. I did not want to conform to the strong expectations laid upon me. I probably also liked trumpet – I can’t remember? But my sister had played trombone so I couldn’t play that, but I wanted to play a brass instrumet. Trumpet it was.

    A boy and his new trumpet. OMG.
    Grey’s moment picking his trumpet

    This was one of the most important decisions of my life. The boys made my life pure misery. I got back in the only way an undersized girl could – by kicking their rear ends in trumpet. I got invited to play in a small youth symphony (the school superintendents wife is an orchestra conductor, and their daughter who was like five years older than me drove me to the rehearsals an hour away). I loved it. I thrived on it. By the time I graduated I was playing in an excellent youth symphony (that produced many professional musicians among my friends). It was the great passion of my youth, and a kindling of life-long pleasure. I still play my trumpet, primarily at church these days.

    My attempts to raise brilliantly musical children were not successful. Piano lessons were met with indifference. Guitar lessons led to some of our biggest blowouts. I knew that winds – introduced last in life due to the physical requirements of playing them – were my sons’ last chance to open the door I’d so enjoyed, but given our track record I tried to keep my expectations low.

    The whole band thing was a complete pain to arrange. The band practice for the fourth graders is at 4 pm at the school. School gets out at 2:40. The absolute only way this could work was for us to arrange school afterschool on Mondays (the one day a week they have practice), so Grey’s week is now completely mixed for where he is when and we have two pickups this day. But by gum, I was going to give him every chance.

    Grey's first day on trumpet.
    Grey’s first day on trumpet.

    He started really strongly. I was super pleased he picked trumpet because it was a place where I could really help him. He asked me to give him lessons, and when he did I gave him my complete 100% attention and praise for every piece of minor progress. I think it actually helped that I’m pretty good, since I could tease out the scraps of what he was doing right from the blatty noise of a kid learning trumpet.

    After a few weeks, when he was doing really well, he started agitating for “his own” trumpet. I recalled that process from my own youth. I first rented a trumpet, then got a very cheap very bad trumpet from the Sears catalog – of all things. Then my parents bought me a good “starter” trumpet. Then (and I still don’t know how they managed to afford this) they bought me the slightly used silver Bach Stradivarius that is still one of my prized possessions.

    I set him a goal. He’s excellent at pursuing goals. If he practiced 50 times, I’d buy him a trumpet. Thinking about Christmas which was about 6 weeks away, I added that if he practiced 30 times before Christmas that would count too. My hope was to get him in the habit of practicing, and to get him past the period where he couldn’t actually play anything with the motivation of this carrot. That second goal required him to practice all but about 5 days between the setting of it and Christmas.

    Grey's practice log - he practiced 30 times in exactly one month.
    Grey’s practice log – he practiced 30 times in exactly one month.

    He practiced *every day*. Some days he practiced twice. (I didn’t set the bar too high for how long he would practice – even five minutes counted but practices had to be separated by time.) He got extremely good for a 10 year old who’s had the trumpet for two months. And last weekend I found myself at a local music store, proudly forking over the cash for the “good starter trumpet” variety of instrument.

    Proud owner of a new trumpet
    Proud owner of a new trumpet

    I’m trying REALLY HARD not to put too much on this. But I’m incredibly proud of my son for what he’s done so far.

    Here he is playing Jingle Bells.

    A theme from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is his favorite piece to play.

    Good King Wenceslas is a good addition to the young trumpter’s repertoire.

    The warm woods

    The December weather was astonishingly temperate
    The December weather was astonishingly temperate

    The weather this winter has been exceedingly unwinterlike. It’s barely dropped below freezing since the thaw finally came last winter. The powerful El Nino that holds us in its thrall is bringing late September temperatures to a December-dark world. So much so that our activities last weekend were a hike and a bike ride. I had thought we’d put the bikes away for the year, but I was wrong!

    The hike was more adventurous than anticipated. We started at about 2 pm, with about two hours of good daylight, with an unambitious course. I wanted to visit Doleful Pond, mostly because it’s named Doleful Pond. I also wanted to see the remnants of the old trolly line decaying above Doleful Pond. That section of the Fells is criss-crossed by unmarked trails. It’s easily the most-lostest section of the Fells. But I had not one but two maps! We would prevail! Grey stopped and sketched an interesting section of trees.

    The artist at work
    The artist at work

    As we course corrected (despite my preparations, we had managed to be on the wrong trail. Sigh.) I saw a woman being held up by a man and limping badly. I called out to them and we booked it down the hill to see if they needed help. They did. She had badly broken ankle. We were 3/4s of a mile from any road access. I called 911 and then took off with Grey to guide the emergency responders to her location. Adam kept the backpack and got her foot elevated and worked to keep her from going into shock while we got help. Grey and I made excellent time to the trail head – but it served to make it clear to me that there was no way we were getting her out that way. (I actually slipped on some of the trail and have a livid bruise to show for it now). We met the fire crew and paramedics at the Bear Hill entrance. We drove partway up something that was generously marked as a road but that quickly became impassible to even to their manly 4 wheel drive. (Even under the circumstances I thought it was pretty cool to ride in a fire pickup through the Fells!)

    A strange procession
    A strange procession

    We didn’t get nearly far enough. I led the crew the rest of the way to her on foot. I hadn’t realized just how much of first responding was improvising. As the paramedics stabilized her ankle, my maps became invaluable as we tried to find a better way to carry her out. That was my biggest lesson: maps can be the most critical first aid tool you have. They finally got her on a backboard and carried her out of the woods, and our stories diverged again.

    Watching nervously
    Watching nervously

    The boys did an amazing job. They were both upset by her injury. But Thane was excellent in the role of comforter and care-taker. Grey’s feet had wings as he went with me to find help. I was really grateful, in a strange way, for this chance to show them how it is we should respond when need arises for helpers to help. I also felt really, really glad for the comprehensiveness of our first aid kit and hiking gear. It was a great reminder why we never go into the woods without it.

    We walked out – never having seen Doleful Pond – just as the sun was setting.

    She’s been in my prayers since. I hope that maybe the bone wasn’t broken at all? I hope her healing is fast, and that we run into her again on some trail in the Fells.