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.

Liberty!
Liberty!

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 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.

All Saints Day

Time for another bullet points update!

1) The dining room is finished!!!

Dining room beforeDining room before

It looks much the same, but feels spacious and warmer
It looks much the same, but feels spacious and warmer

After three months of working nights and weekends (and taking a bunch of Fridays off) the dining room has now been completed. The difference is hard to see on camera, but the extra six inches in the ceiling are remarkable. The room already feels more comfortable (with, you know, actual insulation in the walls…). And it is such an incredible feeling to get both the room and the husband back! Adam did a phenomenal job on the work.

I have put together an (unedited) album of all the stages of the work. You can see it here.

2) We trick-or-treated like bosses

The Chestnut Street crew
The Chestnut Street crew

There’s a chance this year will be the high water mark for trick-or-treating. We started around 5:30 or 6. The oldest kids and grownups didn’t roll back in until well after nine. The candy bags were HEAVY. We fell in love with the house that handed out water bottles. I love these nights when the streets are alive with friends and neighbors. My mother-in-law did an amazing job feeding everyone, manning the door and welcoming the little ones when they returned. It was a great night in which to get an extra hour, so we didn’t pay as high a price for the hijinks as we might!

3) We gave Thane a great 7th birthday party!

They played in a vast melee for HOURS
They played in a vast melee for HOURS
Happy 7th rotation around the sun, sweet child
Happy 7th rotation around the sun, sweet child

Thane said he wanted “a neighbor party”. Usually this means “as long as there are Doritos I’ll be happy”. My incredible mother-in-law made this happen with her usual sang-froid. I ordered a really cool cake from The Mad Cake Genius (I’m still surprised at how affordable her cakes are for the works of art they also are). The kids were insane, like always. The grownups were happy to see each other. They just played, and we just watched (and blew balloons – the true test of friendship). It was so lovely to see the kids being with each other and enjoying each other’s company. Thane thought it was an awesome party, and is so grateful to his friends. In fact, the biggest challenge was that Grey was super jealous of his brother’s awesome party.

4) I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year
Because I’m crazy. I sure am not bored, and November is never a good month for this. But honestly, I love writing. And I have a friend whose writing I really want to read, so I’m dragging her into NaNoWriMo with me, which means I have to actually do it! So, um, please feel free to ask me how I’m doing.

5) It’s been an amazingly busy and rich fall

A cloaked apparition amongst the graves.
A cloaked apparition amongst the graves.
Thane ran hard all year.
Thane ran hard all year.
You can always tell when we did something on Sunday because my jewelry and clothes don't align.
You can always tell when we did something on Sunday because my jewelry and clothes don’t align.

Just looking at my pictures, I am amazed at how much we’ve done this fall. Hikes in the Fells. Family visiting. Birthday parties, hosting and attending. Construction projects. Apple picking. Soccer. Church. There are about two weeks left in the “high season” before things quiet down again.


You can see all the pictures from the second half of October here. The first half of the month can be found here.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Richard’s Faire

My handsome men
My handsome men

Many of you know that I spent four delightful years at Connecticut College, a stone-built NESCAC school that is almost (but not quite) an ivy league school. I got a double major (cum laude, with honors and distinction in my major fields). I started off thinking I’d be a music history major having particularly loved that aspect of my high school symphonic experience. Then I had to take music theory at 8:30 in the morning, and I quickly became an English major along with everyone else at the elite institution who liked to read and didn’t know what they wanted to do.

My senior year, I proposed an honor’s thesis that my English advisor had trouble seeing as an English Honor’s Thesis. (It was about “The Power of Music in Medieval Literature” which I’m astonished someone took the time to steal before I took my website down. The real thesis was “Brenda reads fun books about medieval music yay!”) So I fixed the problem by going through my list of classes and realizing with a few minor additions to my class load I could double major in Medieval Studies and write the thesis I wanted to write.

In retrospect, I’m amazed how sanguine my parents were about my employability. I’ve had to answer the question of how a degree in medieval studies led to a successful career in software in Every. Single. Interview I’ve ever had. (The answer is there’s a direct relationship between my degree and my employment, thankyouverymuch. You’d be amazed how often Chaucer comes in handy!)

Anyway, I hated it when people, upon hearing my degree, would say “So you must go to a lot of Renaissance fairs, eh?” Pfft. Those a-historical mishmash of era and location! You say Renaissance, you mean medieval and you dress up sexy fairie! I was, sad to report, a bit of a self-righteous git as a young person. This is surprising, I realize, but true.

Brenda Flynn - ahistorical wench
Brenda Flynn – ahistorical wench

Well, last year we went to King Richard’s Faire in Carver. It was a mismash of Halloween costumes, period-perfect Elizabethan recreations, corsets, fairies and Games of Throne characters. The minstrel’s music bled into the colonial era. There were Vikings with every hand-hewn rivet perfect and a wide variety of add-on ears for the perfect elvish look.

And we had an absolute blast.

It turns out you have more fun when you're not a self-righteous git
It turns out you have more fun when you’re not a self-righteous git

We went back again this year, near my birthday so I could claim extra loot. (I didn’t actually get extra loot but I swear this is the year I get a dress made from my tartan.) We watched the magician and the acrobat and the silk dancers. We ate faux medieval food. We sang songs and watched the joust. (The horsemanship is really quite exciting! Also, it’s really hard to fall from a moving horse in armor and not hurt yourself. They make me nervous every time!) We had a blast. (And it turns out Grey knows the words to far more of our favorite songs than I realized.)

And then there is right now. I’m perched outside Thane’s door, watching the last sliver of the moon through the already bare tree branches as it is eaten by the dragon. I am here so that Thane is not too fearful to sleep, but from the back yard come lifting voices of my husband, brother and son. They are singing and reciting. So far tonight we have had Shel Silverstein and Virgil, The Moon Song and songs of the moon. It was one of those precious moments in parenting when you realize that some small part of your loves has been passed on to your children, when Grey bounded up the stairs to go fetch the small poetry book that had been his grandmother’s and his father’s – to read aloud to us all. “Zoon zoon, cuddle and croon…”

My days are sometimes weary, filled with the busyness of life. There is much of laundry and groceries and soccer and home improvements and church committees. But yet, there are rare moments when voices I love are lifted in song in the fading light of an eclipsing moon. (My husband is reciting Byron now.) That those moments exist is a grace and blessing beyond counting.


Did you see the eclipse? How did you spend your time, while the dragon ate the moon?

These days are just packed!

I’ve tended autobiographical over philosophical lately – my apologies if you prefer the deep posts. I’m still having deep thoughts, but a lot of them are about work. Many others are about church, and are still… unformed and not ready for sharing. That leaves us with summer, kids and home renovation.

The big news of the week was that we have absolutely 0 insulation in our dining room. One of the first things we did when we bought this house was to hire some people to come in and blow in insulation in our hundred year old walls. They carefully peeled up the aluminum siding (you can still see where – it’s like crumpling paper in that you can never quite make it look like it did), drilled holes in the wood and blew in some insulation. They talked about how we must’ve had nothing in our walls, because they put in way more insulation than they expected.

Welp. I don’t know whether somehow they overlooked the dining room – which has been one of the coldest rooms in our house despite its interior position – or if they were complete fraudy fraudsters, but Adam peeled back one of the lathes in the exterior wall to fix something on a window, and noticed a complete lack of insulation.

The wall, looking down. Those are Adam's fingers.
The wall, looking down. Those are Adam’s fingers.

We debated what to do next: literally plaster over the problem, or do a full demo of the exterior walls. I was all for being an ostrich, but Adam knew this would haunt him forever and so proceeded to demo the walls so we could reinsulate. Or, you know, insulate for the first time.

Fun fact! Drilling holes and adding no insulation does not make the room warmer.
Fun fact! Drilling holes in the wall and adding no insulation does not make the room warmer.

It set us back a week and about $200, but now that room had better be the coziest in the entire house. It’s been caulked and insulated and vapor barriered and dry walled. About an hour ago, Adam and I moved all the leftover drywall, off cuts and insulation to the attic – which is the location of our likely next project. (It was a lot. Also, heavy.)

Very artistic effect.
Very artistic effect.

Now we’re on to the next phase of the project: taping & mudding. (Followed by sanding, sanding and sanding. Also sanding. There are quite a few flaws that have to be addressed.)

While Adam was doing all that, I sometimes helped him when he needed an extra body, but mostly have been doing everything in the house that is not wall-related. On Saturday, I took our two boys plus two boys from the home across the street that is also undergoing extensive renovations (honestly, it’s because our neighborhood is such an amazing place to live that we’d all rather pour money and effort into the houses we have than upgrade to new ones) to Boston to play in a great park. I was thinking how even a year ago, I wouldn’t have dared to go solo with four kids on the T. But these ages – two 6 year olds and two 9 year olds – are so awesome! We had a blast.

The Charles River
The Charles River

It was such a perfect and glorious late August day. The temperature was perfect. The humidity was perfect. The kids were perfect. And the college students had not quite yet descended on the city. We dined that night – outside in the perfect weather – with a good friend who had taken pity on the dining-roomless in the neighborhood.

Other things that happened this weekend included a massive farm share. (I forgot all the melons – and my Farmer Dave bag! – at the pickup. I’m kind of wondering if it was Freudian because what do you do with that many melons?) A bajillion loads of dishes. Most of the laundry. I went shopping for foundationals and ended up with a really cool wizard bathrobe in that super soft material they make things out of this day that feels so great it must cause cancer. A tour of my office (my kids wanted to show off for their friends). Another good friend taking the boys to help prevent video-game related brain-rot. We wrapped it all up with a trip to the beach, where the waves were absolutely amazing and the temperature of both water and air were perfect and they took down the parking cost sign just as we pulled up. I forgot my camera and took no pictures I can share, but here’s one I hope I can engrave in my heart.

Thane is still a little wee for enjoying boogie boarding as much as the rest of us, so he worked for a while on a sand castle, but then got entranced by looking for shells. Good Harbor beach has very few, but what few there were he found. I watched him search, my feet digging into the sandy shore. Just off in the breakers, Adam and Grey were catching wave after wave together, and sharing delighted grins as they fought the waters to get back into position to ride once more. But Thane. He does not walk, that child. He does not run. He dances. He prances. He skips and hops. I watched him move along the shore, eyes sharp for the glint of a buried treasure. He’s stoop to pick it up and then swirl around. He’d sway back and forth as he wandered up the strand. Once his hands were full enough, he’d run back to me. He’d just hit full stride, a satisfied smile on his face from his discovery, when he’d come to a full stop – having spotted something. He’d bend carefully down to pick it up. (Then bend down again to pick up what he dropped the first time he bent down to pick up item A.) Then, treasures obtained, he’d skip across the sand to me, until the next treasure caught his eye in a few paces.

It was so joyful – every movement of his body expressing delight and satisfaction. It was so very Thane. Someday he’ll learn to walk instead of hop, and that day will be a sad one for me.

No greater treasure
No greater treasure

I added more pictures to the renovation album!.

The Bay of Fundy

While my parents and children were off exploring colonial America (and being Very Hot in the process), Adam and I took an alternate track and went up North to the Bay of Fundy.

I struggled quite a bit with what to do this vacation. I knew it would be happening, as it’s a crying shame not to go on vacation with your spouse when your parents are taking your children for a week. For a while I dabbled with the South of France, but after a very lovely month off and tropical island vacation between jobs, that seemed a touch financially irresponsible. (Tragically. Still saving it for next time.) So then I figured we’d go camping in Canada. You know – like the White Mountains only with Tim Hortons. I did not very much research, no prebooking, and very little planning. I knew I wanted to see the Joggins Cliffs. I knew the Bay of Fundy was internationally renowned for have the world’s largest tidal differences. I knew it was a Dark Sky preserve. And I knew it was in Canada. On this vast wealth of knowledge we went on vacation.

On Friday we went to a very swank French restaurant in Boston (the meal there may have cost us as much as the rest of the week put together) and walked across a glowing Boston back to where my car was parked at my office in Cambridge. Then Saturday we packed and headed north. The first night we spent in Bangor (which might be the first time I’ve ever used rewards miles for anything). The second day, we listened to podcasts and hit the Bay of Fundy National Park. We went to the middle of nowhere, took a right, and drove for another hour on mosquito-ridden roads to get to Point Wolfe Campground. I’d picked it because it seemed rural, tent-focused, and was right near the bay we’d come so far to see.

It wasn't bad when we were by ourselves, but a bit crowded when four other families were there.
You are seeing four campsites in this picture.

It was also, it turns out, crammed cheek-to-jowl and lit with obnoxious street lights. (Which seriously – National Park in a dark sky reserve with street lights?!?! What are you thinking, people?!) The sites were also often too small for us to pitch our (granted – enormous) tent on. We picked the least bad site and thought dark thoughts about switching campgrounds, although we were too lazy.

We thought it looked like Venus, or some other planet.
We thought it looked like Venus, or some other planet.

That first night we came in was beyond foggy. We kept driving past these viewpoints that claimed to be veiwpoints that were really fog-points. It started raining almost as soon as we entered Canada, and not a day on vacation was without its precipitation. But that first night was the foggiest. We went down the trail in the dying light to the Wolfe Point beach. We walked and walked on slick rocks and red clay and never found the ocean – it was too far out. Our shoes and pants were covered nearly to the knee in the reddest of clay. It was otherworldly in the mist, as we could not even hear the sound of waves and mountains appeared and disappeared to our right and left. As we slept that night, raindrops fell on our head through the thin cover of our tent-sides.

Rocks in the fog
Rocks in the fog

On Monday we went to Cape Enrage. With the timing that evinced my careful preparation and thought, we were there at high tide (which meant we couldn’t see very much). We opted not to do the zip line or rappelling, but we spent a long time sorting through rocks finding all manner of 320 million year old fossils. We thoroughly enjoyed the treasure hunt of finding the fossils. In fact, so much of my photography of this journey was fossil-related I have an entire album of fossils from Cape Enrage and Joggins Cliffs (penultimate day) which you can see here. We also got some dulse. Gamers beware.

Adam examines the cliff faces at Cape Enrage
Adam examines the cliff faces at Cape Enrage

It should be noted that someone (who would that be?) quite literally did not think for a minute about the well known fact that our cell coverage does not extend to Canada. We grabbed 15 minutes of wifi a day by parking outside of the National Park headquarters, and once or twice dining in establishments that offered free wifi. We navigated with actual paper maps and brochures. How very odd it was!

I handed the camera to Adam
Me, sea kayaking in the Bay of Fundy

Tuesday we went sea kayaking. Given that we’d come so far to see these cliffs and tides, this seemed like the thing to do. Fun fact: sea kayaking is quite a workout! We didn’t turn over (there are hardly any waves that we witnessed in the Bay of Fundy, although we saw dolphins twice). We did manage to keep up with all the appallingly energetic Quebecois couples with their teeny French-speaking children who went on the tour with us. Mostly. It was a really lovely trip on what we were assured was a “beautiful warm” day on the Bay of Fundy. By which they mean light rain and mid-60s. Man, those are some muscles I don’t use often. But it was a lot of fun!

The tilted strata were so very clear. Apparently further down the coast than we could go with the tides stand 320 million year old trees where they first grew.
The tilted strata were so very clear. Apparently further down the coast than we could go with the tides stand 320 million year old trees where they first grew.

Wednesday I thought far enough ahead to plan for a day that involved a lot of sitting. It also involved thunder as we drove through Moncton. We arrived at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs after a long drive and several outlandish theories about Nova Scotia (supported by too few data points – eg “Nova Scotia is primarily inhabited by cows”).

So here’s the thing about your Bay of Fundy vacation.
1) Be prepared for it to be cold, even during a heat wave in Boston in mid summer.
2) Be prepared for it to be soggy. See also #1.
3) Plan your trip around the tides.

This was my favorite of the fossils we found, with shells embedded throughout it.
This was my favorite of the fossils we found, with shells embedded throughout it.

But in this case, I tragically did not calculate the tides. One great thing I got out of this was a clearer understanding of how tides world. They go low to high every 6 hours and 18 minutes – based on where the moon is as the earth turns plus the fact that the moon is also in motion (that’s the 18 minutes). We got to Joggins 2 hours before high tide, just as the water was getting high enough to prevent us from getting to the coolest stuff. And four hours before it would be any lower than it was that very moment (at 3 pm, a 3 hour drive from our tent). We hunted the shore for neat fossils and found very many indeed – but I was really sad that we’d come so far in order to NOT see the famed standing trees which have stood where they took root for well over 300 million years. Trees that helped Darwin understand evolution. And they remained past a spit of land that the high tide kept from us. So close!

That night, for the first time, we truly enjoyed the dark skies afforded us by being 100 miles from the nearest Starbucks. The Milky Way was as clear as though it was painted across the sky. The stars were close, glorious, beguiling, beloved. We stayed out, necks crooked, enjoying the brilliance of the archaic night sky.

It's quite literally a beach of priceless fossils, where at any moment a rock might fall and our understanding of early life on earth might change.
It’s quite literally a beach of priceless fossils, where at any moment a rock might fall and our understanding of early life on earth might change.

By this time, we’d pretty much exhausted the entertainment options within a 2 mile drive. I mean, there were hiking trails. And, um, er… the Hopewell Rocks. We didn’t see those. It was a beautiful, lovely, restful place. But the combination of an inhospitable campground and not much else to do encouraged us to go home a wee bit earlier than originally planned. On Thursday, we awoke to a novelty. Sunshine.

Point Wolfe, at near low tide
Point Wolfe, at near low tide

We grabbed the advantage to go on a hike. Now, Adam was nervous because the hike said “difficult”. When you take a “difficult” hike in the White Mountains (or even a “moderate”) you’re well advised to name your next-of-kin and carry a body brace in for the very likely event you break a leg falling off a cliff after being struck by lightening. I trusted this was more a “difficult” hike the way every other place I’ve been rated difficult and my confidence was rewarded. We hiked up these rain-forest hills along a bluff and to a spectacular lookout of the Bay. It looks almost cheery in the sunshine!

LOOK! We even vacationed together!
LOOK! We even vacationed together!

Then we crawled in the car and began the 10 hour drive home.

It was a good vacation. It was restful. It opened the clogged arteries of the soul. We had a really good time being together, as we so often do. I crossed off a few bucket list items: sea kayaking, Joggins Cliffs, dulse, dragging my husband to Canada. But it was not a transcendently wonderful vacation in the way the Wonderland Trail, Istanbul, or even Ashland have been.

Next time, I do more research.


I did take many pictures!

1) Pictures of us hitting the beach before Camp Gramp kicked off
2) Pictures of our time in New Brunswick (with narrative comments)
3) Many many pictures of the cool fossils we found (and left behind)

4000 hertz

I'm gonna get you little fishie!
I’m gonna get you little fishie!

Two months ago, I swam in the warm waters of the Caribbean. With my beloved husband, we explored the fine snorkeling and swimming along the interior of Cozumel’s coral reefs. The water was warm. The fish were colorful and plentiful. The place was peaceful. It was bliss.

I had the cheap, disposable underwater camera with me. I dove down to capture a lionfish in the dark of the coral. Perhaps it was this picture I took:

Cozumel reefs
Cozumel reefs

When I came back up, my ear felt full of water. Since I was in the middle of the ocean, I took no notice. But when I got out, later, and toweled off… it still felt full of water. Dinner passed with an earful of water. I googled how to clear my ear before bed, and laid on that side that night expecting to wake with a wet pillow and clear ear. I did not.

I googled more. Barotrauma seemed the most likely option. It clears up on it’s own after a few weeks. I slept again on my left side and resolved to see my PCP when I got back if it was no better. By the time I hit cold New England, the sense of water in my ear was gone, but the ringing and deafness remained. I saw my PCP. She shrugged. “Here’s a referral for a specialist if it doesn’t clear up in the next six to eight weeks.” Given permission to ignore it, I ignored the tinnitus and ringing as much as possible – a discordant chord always in my ear. It sounded as though I was always under water. I couldn’t hear very well through my left ear. But the internet and my own doctor agreed it would likely clear up with time.

Spoiler alert - my PCP was WRONG.
Spoiler alert – my PCP was WRONG.

As spring relented into summer, and I hear the loon calls on the shores of White Lake only over that constant hiss, I decided it was time to call the specialist. After confirming no visual structural damage, no pressure issues, no swelling… I was sent into a tiny padded bunker for a hearing test. “Raise your hand when you hear a sound, even if it’s faint.” My right hand ended up raised more than my left. My left ear test ended earlier. I was running late to a meeting when the doctor sat me down. “You have lost all your hearing in your left ear above 4000 hz. (She showed me a graph.) Blah blah blah very unlikely from snorkeling blah blah blah permanent. Blah blah blah probably not but might be a tumor so we’re sending you for an MRI.”

Well. Who knew that snorkeling was so dangerous? Or so safe that you think this hearing loss that I can trace to the moment I emerged from those sparkling waters might be correlation, not causation? The loss I had was permanent, she said. Maybe, if I’d come to her right away, they could’ve treated with steroids. With a few months distance, all she could do was make sure there was no underlying cause that might lead to more hearing loss.

I have lost all my hearing above 4000 hz in my left ear. I have trouble, now, hearing a conversation in a crowd – like an old woman. At least the discordant ringing will likely slowly slowly over great time fade and disappear, she says. Likely. Who needs 4000 hz anyway? That’s higher than a piccolo. Few sounds I want to hear are in that range. And my right ear can still hear it if I’m determined to listen to dog whistles. It chirps sometimes, like a little bird in my ear.

I decided to comply and go in for the MRI. I confess to being slightly non-plussed that they saw me within a week. I prefer to think of this as a little thing. A mild inconvenience. I went into the same MRI tube – not two blocks from my house – that diagnosed my left knee as appallingly damaged instead of sprained. Knowing they were taking pictures of my brain in that dark tube, I walked last summer’s Wonderland Trail trip in my mind’s eye as the beeps and tones of the MRI watched my brain light up.

This is your brain on the Wonderland Trail
This is your brain on the Wonderland Trail

I haven’t heard from my ear doctor yet. I suppose that complaining about how soon they got me in for the MRI I should be relieved at how long it’s taken them to call me back. But, surprisingly, it’s a wee bit stressful when someone MIGHT at any moment call and tell you that you have brain cancer. Usually that call is impossible, but right now… it could happen. (Even though it really won’t happen.) So I wait for them to tell me what I already know – I sacrificed 4000+ hz in my left ear to Neptune, leaving it as an offering among the swirling schools in the bright corals of the bright island of Cozumel.


Here are the pictures from the underwater cameras that urged me to go deeper into the water to capture the glory.

Oh brother, where art thou?

Yesterday, after a few farewell bike laps around White Lake State Park, we crawled into the car and across the mighty Kankamangus (for the second day in a row). The fragrance of lots and lots of soap wafted up from the back seat from a soon-to-be-fourth-grader (can that really be true?) who was disappointed that we would not be at Camp Wilmot at the earliest possible hour for dropping off. He demonstrated considerable maturity by not whining – too much – about that.

We pulled up, and I waited for the faintest hint of uncertainty or doubt to creep in. Gone! For a week! From MEEEEEE!!!!

Here’s what he looked like when that time came last year:

Profoundly uncertain

This year, though, he was a pro. A returning camper. One in the know, as it were. He was excited about the BBQ chicken, the staying up late, the polar bear dances and did I mention the BBQ chicken? He bounded out of the car as soon as I put it in park and disappeared. Not only was he back on familiar turf, but he had the additional advantage of having no fewer than FOUR of his friends from school there to join him.

No uncertainty here! (Doesn't it look like Thane is big enough to go too? He's not.)
No uncertainty here! (Doesn’t it look like Thane is big enough to go too? He’s not.)

To my great consternation I dropped him off wearing the same t-shirt he wore EVERY DAY last year. I admit to great curiosity about whether he’ll change it at all this year.

Grey handily passed his deep end test, and practically pushed us out of the grounds. “BYE MOM!” No hugs – the guys are watching. He vibrated with enjoyment and independence. We headed back to camp ground one fewer than our accustomed four.

Thane is handling only childhood with aplomb, so far. We watched the Women’s World Cup awesomeness at a local establishment, and he watched the whole thing high up on a stool with us. (Which – aside – that was SO MUCH FUN!)

You can see pictures of our camping adventures here!

When you get caught between the moon and New York City

I got sent this week to New York City for three days of training for a new job.* I’d had more time than I expected between roles, so I had plenty of time to get well rested, ready, tanned, relaxed etc. By the time it was actually time to get onto the Acela and head south, I was READY TO WORK ALREADY. I really like taking the train (well, the Acela especially). It’s like air travel in not having to worry about anything, but unlike air travel it’s not a complete pain in the rear. You can even do things like stand up and move around and feel your feet.

We passed New London, home to my alma mater, just as the sun set.

Looking downstream on the Thames. Conn is upstream.
Looking downstream on the Thames. Conn is upstream.

But by the time I hit New York any thoughts of walking from Penn Station had fled. When the taxi pulled up to my hotel I told him I was looking for a HOTEL not a night club. “This is it!” he said. (He was, tragically, correct.) I walked into a lobby that was my antithesis. Loud music. Shockingly stylish, young people. The hipsterish of hipster beards. A freaking bouncer at whose “discretion” you would or would not be permitted into the on premesis night clubs. (Hint: I would pass pretty much zero nightclub bouncer tests. Ever.) There was a second floor pool – open air – that had a clear bottom so from the lobby you could see the perfectly toned figure of the incredibly courageous swimmers above.

You know how people say things like, “This is a no judgement zone”? I’d inadvertently stumbled into what could only be described as a Judgement Zone. I talked myself into this being a place for the testing and competition of difficult and hard won skills (fashion being both of those). That’s fine and all, but I’m not going to sign up for beginning tennis lessons in sight of the Wimbleton crowd, and so I didn’t really want to walk the gauntlet of carefully studied loveliness in order to hit the sheets.

I slinked (slunk?) up to my room, and proceeded to be – ahem – entertained by my neighbors for several hours.

The morning shone brighter, I’m happy to say. The beautiful people were all apparently hung over. The hotel is apparently near the YouTube studios. There was a cloud of young girls near the doors pretty much every afternoon. I stumbled upon them just as the objects of their affection emerged – bad skin and bodyguards – to watch them collectively lose their cool and take 10000001 selfies. Rumor has it that said object was actually a YouTube star. WHO KNEW. I don’t think it was Stampy Longhead who is my son’s YouTube hero.

Tuesday I got sprung from training a bit early. I’d thought we were going to have a mixer that evening (I was wrong) so I found myself with a night in New York, at liberty! It was too late to get to the Cloisters in time. I thought about the Museum of Fine Art, but it was honestly a really long walk and a few of us were meeting for drinks later in the evening. I would have ditched them to go catch an opera at the Met, but I hadn’t packed a gown – or even a dress. So instead I went walking and found the entrance to the High Line. I walked the full length of it (twice, since I went there and back again).

Given to me by a saffron-robed Tibetan monk wearing stylish sneakers. Apparently he had a vision of the donation I would give him in return. He was slightly wrong.
Given to me by a saffron-robed Tibetan monk wearing stylish sneakers on the High Line. Apparently he had a vision of the donation I would give him in return. He was slightly wrong.

I think it says a lot about me and my affinity for cities that the minute you put me in one of the world’s great metropolises I’m looking for the grass and flowers. I believe this is an unfathomable position for many of the folks I found myself with, but I really don’t love cities. New York, center of fashion that it is, I like even less than your average city. I’ll confess that I’m rather fond of both Boston and Seattle, which are more people-sized cities and in which I feel less conspicuously Not From Here.

I’m back on the train tonight**, Atlantic shore in sunset on my right instead of left. It will probably be full dark when I cross the mighty Thames, as the gloaming is already well advanced. Tomorrow I get to try my commute for the first time, find my desk, meet my team. I anticipate a bit of a challenging period for me, blog-wise, while my creative and mental energies are full of a new role, new company, new industry and less full of noticing the small life moments that are usually the _thrilling_ fodder for my blog. I’m sure we’ll muddle through, you and I!

The only time I didn't have "When you get caught between the Moon and NYC" stuck in my head was when I was walking on Bleeker Street.
The only time I didn’t have “When you get caught between the Moon and NYC” stuck in my head was when I was walking on Bleeker Street.

*This is pretty much all I’ll be saying about the new job, as has generally been the case with my employers. In the event I need to refer to it in the future, I will probably creatively call it something like New Job, or Job. If you happen to know what it is, I appreciate you failing to mention that here. But you can rest assured it represents a really good thing for me and my family.
**Reminder that I often write my posts ahead of time and schedule them!

Five Cozumel moments worth remembering

1) The room
The morning after we returned, as I lay in bed and before I opened my eyes, I could still see the blue skies and sandy beaches beyond my toes – with my boys lying around reading and playing video games. Tragically at home I usually wake up to see my messy closet. The room we stayed in was one of the “Reef Rooms” (we stayed at the Presidente Intercontinental in Cozumel.) It was graciously appointed and spacious (with tables for games and an epic bathroom!) The best part was being able to open the blinds in the morning, lay in the hammock and watch the nearby ocean. It was glorious.

This was what I woke up to every morning.
This was what I woke up to every morning.

2) The kids in the pool
While Adam and I much prefer snorkeling in the sea, the kids loved loved loved playing in the pool. They spent hours soaking themselves in the warmed waters of the main pool. (There’s a second adults pool that we obviously didn’t spend much time at…) We brought some dive toys and they dove and swam and splashed and somehow just passed hours in the sun and water. It was fantastic.

The kids in the pool
The kids in the pool

3) Reading over breakfast
And after swimming. And before bed. It was so glorious to have readers with us who were just as into their books as we were into ours! Grey read most of the Narnia series. Thane read the first 8 books in the Magic Treehouse. It was a harbinger of great joy ahead, and really awesome right then and there. “One more chapter, mommy! Then we’ll go swimming…”

Reading over breakfast was my favorite
Reading over breakfast was my favorite

4) Swimming with the dolphin
The swim with the dolphins at Chankanaab was way more than I would possibly have anticipated. I didn’t think there was any way my six year old would swim out into the deeps and be pushed back to the pier by a dolphin. I didn’t think anyone would be allowed to grab onto a dolphin’s flippers and be dragged back to shore. I was entirely wrong. It was really, really cool.

Swimming with Merina
Swimming with Merina

5) Spending time with the people I love best
I got to help Grey write a book. I did a puzzle with Thane. I laid in the hammock with Adam and watched the stars. I got to spend time focusing on and really seeing the people I love best in the world. It was a really joyous feeling and experience to have!

My beloved family
My beloved family

You can see pictures of our Trip to Cozumel, or of our swim with Merina!

BONUS:
Check out the sea lion show at Chankanaab!

http://youtu.be/cFZkTnDhNeM