Arthur, King of the Britons


, , , , ,

It's a bad sign when waterfowl make themselves at home in your campsite

It’s a bad sign when waterfowl make themselves at home in your campsite

Some people go camping to have fun. Others to spend quality time with their family, relax, enjoy the outdoors, and build really big fires. I – apparently – go camping to see how much suffering I can inflict on my family before they start refusing to go camping with me.

After a five day Memorial Day camping trip last year where it rained every day – except for the last when it snowed – I moved our longest camping trip of the year to the Fourth of July this year. The fourth usually has the best camping weather of the year, with the heat mitigated by the cool breezes over the eponymous lake. After a long cold winter and the buggiest weekend ever for Memorial Day this year, I looked forward to long afternoons on the still waters of the lake baking beneath a New Hampshire sun.

We arrived later than desired to White Lake on Wednesday, but with plenty of daylight and fire-time ahead. The site seemed unusually dark for the time of day and year. Adam started slinging ropes in his inimitable manner. The first knot was not tied when the rumble of thunder drifted across the darkening waters. By the time the guidelines were set, the rain started. Halfway through getting the first of the tarps up, the rain was so fiercely intense that even Adam and I had to give up. We went to Hart’s Turkey Farm, hoping the storm would abate with enough daylight left for tent-pitching, or we might have to (for the first time ever) give in and get a hotel.

My rope-ninja husband managed to get everything strung. We slept contented that night to the staccato fugue of raindrops on a tarp. Thursday started strong. We went swimming in the morning. However the forecast said a major thunder cell would come through at four, and that the rest of the weekend would improve. So we went to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2″ at 5 pm. We emerged to a sultry hot evening that would’v been perfect for swimming. D’oh! We got a chance to roast our hot dogs, but the rain started about bedtime. Once again, the sound of the loons was drowned by the tap tap tapping on tarp tarp tarps.

Friday was a complete loss. When it wasn’t raining, it was because it was pouring. Buckets of water. Multiple emergency alerts on the phone saying things like, “For the love of Pete, you idiots! If you’re camping, stop camping! What part of extreme thunderstorm makes camping sound like a good idea!” We spent the entire day in our tent. With our tarps up I didn’t really consider bugging out, until I started getting texts from a friend back home asking who my next of kin was and whether I preferred cremation or interment. Apparently Stoneham got hit hard. (I’m writing this on the iPad on the way back, so I don’t know what the damage looks like yet.) Happily we missed the hardest punch that Arthur landed, but as I lay there next to a vernal creek flooding its banks, listening to branches creak above me and – yes – the veritable 1812 overture the rain was playing on the tarps I wondered. Just what would it actually take to talk me into getting a hotel room? Pondering this unponderable, I rolled over and zonked out.

Upon waking on Saturday, I felt the expansive five day trip compress before me. We had exactly one full day of non-crap weather in which to do all the summer camping things that needed doing. I stepped out. It was cool and windy. Now, I’ve been training my eldest son in the finer ways of the world. Specifically, I’ve managed to convince him that Mt. Chocorua is taunting him and calling him a weenie and claiming that Grey can’t climb Mt. Chocorua. All this was in preparation for getting some company in my attempt to get Mt. Chocorua to stop calling me a weenie and taunting me all the time. However, I had an unexpected attack of common sense, and realized that my 8 year old actually couldn’t hike Chocorua, especially since I was a little nervous if I could make it.

Instead, the whole family headed North to Pinkerman Notch to make an attempt on Lowe’s Bald Spot. It looked easy on a map – 2.5 miles in and 2.5 back. I strapped on my brand new hiking boots and loaded up a 25 pound pack entirely filled by water bottles and sweaters. Adam and I are planning to backpack the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier this summer. That’s my first backpacking trip since I got my ACL replaced, and so I reckoned I needed to do some training and figure out what my knee will require to be comfortable. The four of us (plus Puppy) set off up the trail.

In my head, I knew that the whining would start about 10 minutes in. I planned on at least 3 times when one or both boys would just sit down and refuse to proceed. We forded rain-flooded streams. We climbed up roots and boulders. We walked across log bridges. The boys? WERE SPECTACULAR. Grey was a gazelle, running like Legolas across boulder-strewn pathways with unconscious ease. Thane was more a Gimli character, if Gimli liked to skip and preferred to find the muddiest, soggiest, wettest path. He had my heart in my throat as he crossed flooded streams. Still it took him nearly 2 miles of hiking before he ended up completely in the drink. Then he complained about the fact he had wet shoes and socks… exactly zero times.

We made the summit we were headed for and tasted the sweet flavor of victory. Also, Hershey’s chocolate with those great peanut-butter filled pretzels. (At least SOME of us did. Others of us had our chocolate cruelly given away.) The path back home, my knee starting to ache with unaccustomed use, melted away in front of us as Thane talked Pokemon and Grey laid out some awesome ideas for a role-playing games he was going to run. It was an awesome hike. Grey, Adam and I all think it was the best part of the trip. (Thane votes for the swimming on Thursday.) Plus, I got the data I needed. I do need two hiking sticks, plus a regular support brace on both knees to feel comfortable backpacking. Also, my new hiking boots are da bomb.

Today, the plan was to go swimming after we broke camp. We were faster than usual about the camp breaking, since Adam got a head start last night. We sunscreened, bathing suited, etc etc. We got to the beach. The wind was blowing hard off the water. The sun was MIA. We spent like 20 minutes attempting to have fun.

But Hurricane Arthur did not defeat us! My streak of sticking out the weather remains unbroken! I admit I’m getting a little nervous, though, about how our bad weather keeps raising the stakes. For Labor Day I’m anticipating either a Category 3 Hurricane, a blizzard. or maybe both!

You can see pictures, mostly of our hike, by clicking here.

Because futbol


, , , ,

Three of the Team Greece players

Three of the Team Greece players

There have been many discussions during this World Cup round whether this is finally the moment where the United States joins the rest of the world in not just FIFA-fever, but in a regular love of the game.

I remember when I watched my first soccer games. There was no soccer in my community or school – it simply wasn’t an option available. But the summer of 1998 I was home for the summer. I was working, but not SO hard. And the World Cup was on tv. I don’t remember any of the games I saw, or the teams. I do remember that it was sponsored by Snickers and there was a Snickers logo right under the score box for every game. I probably ate 10 Snickers during that World Cup, and just watching the game still makes me want a Snickers Bar.

My sons have a different experience of soccer. We’ve tried a number of things: swimming, aikido, dance (ill-fated), basketball. (They both really want to do t-ball, but the times for t-ball are completely unworkable with two working parents.) But they’ve done more soccer than pretty much anything other than aikido. I actually love the games and practices. I love sitting on the sidelines in a camping chair that smells like woodsmoke, next to MY friends, and watching the boys play. I love on gamedays, when all six fields are full of blue and white jerseys and parents and neighbors and friends – with little siblings putting together their own little games on the sidelines. (I’m impressed and grateful to the excellent run Stoneham Soccer Club for the program they’ve put together for our kids.) My sons know soccer better than baseball, football, hockey, basketball or any of the other classical American Sports.

Grey’s team, Greece, coached by our excellent next door neighbor, came in second for U8! I found myself engrossed and full of nerves while I watched these 8 years olds I have come to know and love do actual ball handling and real actual skills and passes. It was amazing to see how much they learned and improved in one year!

And it’s not just the prior generation. I’m a suburban WASP, surrounded by many other folks whose families have lived in the US for generations. And you know what we’re talking about these days? How great it feels to finally leave Ghana behind. How we owe Renaldo a debt of gratitude. How we’re caught between wanting to watch Messe play and not wanting to face him and Argentina on the field. Whether that biting suspension was a bit too much, and how hilarious it is that he fell on the ground and clutched his teeth after the whole biting incident. We’re messing up details and maybe not 100% sure on all our countries/claims, but we’re watching and talking.

I think the time has come for the international game to take its rightful place in the US. I think that we’ll not have to wait another four years – or watch Univision – to watch the game!

What about you? Are you watching the World Cup? Do you find yourself having to Google things in order to follow along with the conversations? Are you feeling inspired to go see your local MLS team?

Stylin' on the sidelines

Stylin’ on the sidelines

Deadliest Catch: Five secrets to winning over a tough team


, , ,

Matt Bradley: problem solver

Matt Bradley: problem solver

The Northwestern has had its share of trouble in Season 10. It almost caught on fire, the steering broke & then half the fresh water was lost due to a leak. The men working 20 hour days doing physical labor were barred from taking showers. Edgar even brushed his teeth using coffee. (“Not half bad!” he opined about the toothpaste/coffee mix.)

But the one hit hardest by this was Matt. Watching how he dealt with his team piling on about his BO was one of the most instructive lessons I’ve ever had in how to deal effectively with a real problem in front of an aggressive group. Watch how he does it.

The classic definition of a Salty Tar

You could almost hear the relish in Mike Rowe’s voice as he called Matt’s aroma a “manly musk”. All the fishermen stunk, but Matt stunk worst. Eating dinner, his crew joked about how badly he smelled. They told him, quite literally, that he smelled like shit. Sadly, Discovery has not yet developed Smello-cam, but based on his reactions and the universal comments of his crew, his fragrance was appalling. But what could he do? The remaining freshwater was needed to run the engines. He wasn’t ALLOWED to take a shower. His work required him to work hard, and in working hard he sweated. He had no options for fixing the problem, and so he just grinned back and kept working.

But on deck, the situation got worse. The men of the Northwestern are not ones to delicately pass by the opportunity to discuss your aromatic characteristics in case your feelings get hurt. Every time he walked by they’d tell him how awful he smelled. They left him alone on the crab sorting table with a “crabalanche” in front of him because (they said) he smelled so bad. At one point a look crossed his face as he realized: this was not going away, and this was not going to get better.

Matt stalked off the deck.

Now, Matt has a temper. We’ve seen fistfights before. We’ve also seen our fair share of greenhorns running up to the captain complaining that the crew is not treating them right. (This is often true. See also: poor Myles on the Cape Caution). I wondered what he would do: take a forbidden shower? Show them how much less fun it is to work on a deck one seasoned hand down? Douse himself in cologne? Tell the captain that they need to lay off him, that it’s not his fault? Wipe his body down with a damp towel and hope it improves things enough to stop all the teasing?

He comes back onto the deck, stripped down. He takes off his shirt as he walks to the middle, leaving boxers and his wellingtons. (Still can’t figure out why he left his boots on!) Then, he jumps in the crab tank. In January. On the Bering Sea. In sub-freezing temperatures. In front of all his crewmates. He stayed in long enough to get totally wet, making a huge show of scrubbing his armpits with a bar of soap. As he comes out, his “friends” aim the saltwater hose at him to help him rinse off.

But once that’s done, his teammates thank him for fixing the issue and all the teasing stops.

I’ve never actually seen someone effectively counter that kind of personal, embarrassing, destructive abuse before. And Matt, with his tank-dunking technique, not only completely countered it, he used it as a way to make himself closer and more respected by the very jerks who were tormenting him.

I thought a lot about that last night, and I think I’ve isolated some of the elements that made this most effective.

1) He didn’t deny there was a problem
Matt didn’t try to deflect the issue at all. He owned it. “What day is it? I can say I haven’t taken a shower all year!” He didn’t diminish the concerns of his team, he didn’t remind them they smelled bad too, and he didn’t trot out the excuses for his stench. He just moved on.

2) He correctly judged the point of no return
He didn’t fall all over himself to fix the issue until it was clear that it wouldn’t resolve, and was escalating. He didn’t escalate the issue himself (see also: decking the other guys), but he didn’t start panicking at the first joke about his olfactory objections. He waited until the issue was clear & quantified.

3) He thought “outside the box”
Matt’s solution never crossed my mind. It probably didn’t cross his teammates, either. There was a solution to his problem (which did require great personal sacrifice). He was clearly thinking about it, instead of getting mad or feeling trapped. None of this would be possible without his problem solving creativity.

4) He fixed the problem obviously, and in public
If it had been me, I would have been hiding in my bunk trying to fix the smell. But Matt was smart enough to know it wasn’t just about the smell, it was about the reputation of smell. Even if he’d snuck in a surreptitious shower and fixed the actual issue, I bet he wouldn’t have gotten much credit for it. They either would have continued to tease him about his (now non-existent) smell, or made fun of him for caring that much. Making his ablutions in front of the entire crew was the ONLY way that he could permanently put this issue to bed. It is KEY that Matt did this in front of everyone – with a smile. Not only that, but Matt enhanced his reputation for toughness (a key on the Bering Sea) while erasing his reputation for stench. An illicit shower would have been more thorough, but it would have been massively less effective.

5) He engaged his critics in the fix
It may not have been part of his original plan, but when the guys turned the seawater hose on him, they were buying into his solution. He didn’t duck the stream, or get pissed. He took just long enough in the stream to make the other deck hands feel like he accepted their addition to his solution. As he walked off the deck (freezing cold, holy cow) his teammates were thanking him for solving the problem, grinning and clapping him on the back.

Matt managed to take a really uncomfortable situation of being ostracized and humiliated for his unavoidable odor, and turn it into a way to bond more deeply with his team and enhance his reputation. I was deeply impressed.

Now, I don’t work crab boats on the Bering Sea, and I’m unlikely to be in the exact same pickle. But I have never been able to figure out how to handle situations where you’re coming under fire for a deeply personal problem with no clear resolution. Matt just gave a masterclass in doing just that.

Preschooler No More


, , , ,

My company hosted its annual convention this past week. In addition to presenting at a session and connecting with my clients, I was also the official event photographer (which was wicked fun, by the way). On Thursday, though, I walked out of the cool, dim & artistically decorated rooms and crossed high bridges between crane-risen buildings back to the parking lot, to head home for a rite of passage. Preschool graduation.

Stoneham YMCA Preschool Class of 2014

Stoneham YMCA Preschool Class of 2014

Now, much fun has been made of the proliferation of graduations. I confess to a bit of mirth on my part at the banner strung between the sensory table and block area proudly pronouncing the “Class of 2014″. But when those small, bright faces in pint-sized blue robes came walking through the room to find their chairs, my heart swelled with the pride of the mother of a graduate. The celebration was short. There were readings by two of the emergent readers (including my sweet Thane). The classes sang the songs with Music Jill that I’ve been hearing so much of lately. They called forth the graduates and presented them with both diplomas and “superlatives”. Thane was “Most Likely to be a Scientist” – a role I was heartily glad to hear for him! (I was betting on “Most Likely to be a Pokemon Trainer”)

Thane delivers the keynote

Thane delivers the keynote

I glanced around the room at the kids I knew from playdates and birthday parties. At the parents who shared the 5:59 pickup time with me, and the ones I’d never seen before. We had been together a long time, those of us in that room. Thane has attended the Stoneham YMCA since he was just over a year old, and many of the kids had been in those infant rooms with him. Now they scatter – some to other school districts, some to other elementaries. A handful will find themselves the smallest members of South School in the Fall.

A rare picture of all four Flynns

A rare picture of all four Flynns

Thane is ready for it. He hasn’t napped in like 3 years, so giving up the enforced nap time will be great for him. He has started to read everything around him. Curious and literal-minded, he asks again and again for definitions he knows, trying to ensure he has them just right. His reading is ready. His math is ready. I think – I fear to say it – but his behavior is ready too. He has become amazing amounts more helpful and cooperative over the last year.

He’ll have two more days in the Orange Room, with the beloved Miss Laureen and Miss Jenn. And on Wednesday, when I drop him off at the Y, it will be downstairs at Summer Camp instead of upstairs. A swimsuit will replace the blanket. He’ll be ready for new adventures. And ready he is.

He's ready.

He’s ready.

For more graduation pictures and videos of the kids singing, you can check out the album!

Two notes from billpaying time


, ,

First – I got a notification from the Y today for the new preschool price list. I stared at it for quite some time. Then I threw it in the trash. I will never pay for preschool again. I am paying my last right now. It is all summer camp and afterschool from here until it’s time for college tuition.


Second – we put a new floor into our kitchen! Very exciting. The former floor was considerably older than me. It was white. It showed everything. Being so old, it also could not actually ever be clean. We put in Pergo floors. I have some more structural fixes to the house (after Adventures in Roofing last year it will be Fixing Rotting Windows II this year) so I didn’t have a huge budget. When I first saw the floor I was admittedly skeptical, but it’s growing on me. Which – once installed – you really had better like it no matter what.

I like it.



What the floor looked like when clean

The big picture view of the white floor


Definitely different. It took some adjusting.

With the furniture restored

Four Flynns in a tent


, ,

Brothers in books

Brothers in books

It’s a great question why any of us choose to have children, in this age. We don’t need them for their labor. We no longer expect children to provide for parents in old age. We aren’t allowed to use them for spare organ parts. Kids are tremendously expensive, and an iffy proposition since it turns out their eventual success is much more about their efforts than ours. Having kids comes along with a burden of bearing others’ judgements, not sleeping in, cleaning up vomit, worrying and making excellent meals that no one will eat. And yet we continue to have children.

If I thought about why I wanted to have children, other than just seeming like the thing I ought to do, I think I wanted children so that someone else would get to enjoy childhood as much as I did. I thought back the the joys of my youth and wanted to offer them to someone else.

I remember in particular one car trip we took as a family. (My family practically grew up in a car.) My brother was a nascent reader – maybe four or five. My sister and I – eight and six years older – were already well versed in reading. On this particular day we drove through the rolling desert hills of Eastern Washington and told my brother about all the books we were jealous that he’d get to read for the first time: Mrs. Buncle’s Book, The Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare. My entire family breathed a deep sigh of relief when my brother finally picked up books and started reading along with the rest of us. We spent our vacations with book bags larger than our clothing bags. I married a man with the same predilections.

But the last decade or so has been somewhat lacking in the reading department. We’ve had a non-reader as part of our family for the last eight and a half years. Until now.

Last night, we sat around the fire on an incredibly buggy night on the shores of White Lake. (Ask me about how I and my phobia survived my first ever tick bite!) Adam was reading some book of Cthulu horror on his Kindle. I had managed to lure Grey into reading “My Side of the Mountain”. Ah – is there anything sweeter than watching your child devour a book you had loved as a child? He was deep into it, head dancing with dreams of living off the land, just as I did. And Thane was doggedly working his way through beginner books. He read “Are You My Mother” and “Put Me In the Zoo” and slogged his way through a Pokemon book. For an hour or so the four of us sat around the campfire swatting mosquitos and reading.

The joys of slightly older children did not stop there, though. Finally chased into the tent by the ravening hordes of starving, blood-sucking insects, we broke out a board game. On the tent of the floor, we played through an oddly cooperative round of Carcassonne – an actual game that Adam and I play for fun. Thane played a tough game, and Grey actually won. Then we read some more before bed. Thane tired before he finished his book, and I woke up to the sound of him slogging his way through it in the morning light (at a reasonable hour).

This Memorial Day camping trip was wet, but dryer than last year. It was cool, but warmer than last year. (Actually, Friday night was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.) It was irredeemably buggy. But it felt like the dawning of a new age, with the company of these cool kids who like to build forts, imagine themselves as outdoorsmen and sing old folk tunes in front of the fire. They can open the zipper to the tent, go to the bathroom by themselves and be safely out of my sight.

In the buggy, moist air above the loons of White Lake I had that moment of joyful realization: this is why I had children.

You can see all my pictures for May, including video of Thane reading, by clicking here!

Six things my sons have never seen me do (and two they have)


, , ,

I was in the basement the other day, folding Mt. Laundry as usual, when my eye fell on the ironing board in the corner. I wondered when the last time was used it. I gazed at the rather crinkly blouse in my hand, and wondered how long it would be until I used it again. (Certainly not at 11 pm on a Sunday night!) Then it occurred to me that my sons had never seen me use it. Not once. It was unlikely they even knew what it was for.

What other things are there that I know how to do – that I was carefully trained for by patient parents – that my sons have never witnessed in their memory? As I gradually eroded Mt. Laundry, I compiled a list.

Iron clothing
I remember my mother in the living room on a Saturday night, ironing my father’s work shirts: collar, sleeve, fronts & back. I remember being taught how to do it myself – the hiss as you pulled the iron upright, the spurt of steam to ease out a particularly wrinkled patch and the moist warmth of the rapidly cooling cloth as you pulled it onto a hanger to join the rest. My husband wears button up shirts to work every day, but I discovered the wonders of “no iron” shirts. One or two of my shirts ought to be ironed. In response, I never wear those shirts. And even if I unburied that old ironing board and exhumed the iron we bought when I got married… I do my laundry segregated in a laundry room in the basement. (One of the few joys of doing the laundry is you get to watch WHATEVER YOU WANT ALL BY YOURSELF while you fold it.) So my sons would not be introduced to the phenomenon even then.

Clean the house – including vacuuming & dusting
I work full time. Lately, full time has been even fuller than 40 hours a week. I also have a 1 hr each way, each day commute, and I travel for work regularly. Once home, I cook for my family, do aforementioned laundry, schedule our summers, pay the bills, raise two kids, volunteer in my church and enjoy a rich social life. Sometimes I even make it to the gym to work out! About the time Grey turned two, cleaning the house on a glorious Saturday morning, I wondered how much it would take to hire cleaners to come once every two weeks. I have barely turned on a vacuum since that glorious day.

Now, I know *how* to clean a house. I can mop. I can vacuum. I can dust, and wash windows. I can polish. I’m not amazingly great at it, nor is it a great source of pride to me. But my sons have never seen me spend a Saturday morning truly cleaning the house. Magic fairies (we call them “the ladies” which is questionably accurate) come and make the house smell great and change our sheets and scrub the floors. I threaten the kids to pick up their room with the reminder that “the ladies” are coming and anything left on the floor will inevitably get put into a random bin. I think that – unlike ironing a shirt – cleaning a house is actually an important skill for a kid to have, so I’m trying to figure out how I’ll teach them this vestigial skill of mine before they become responsible for their own houses.

Lest this list get to be a list of ways in which I am not a housewife, I thought I’d add in one other thing that I would like to do, and don’t. Since I tore my meniscus night on four years ago, I’ve noticed I’m very physically careful. I have a back which is a challenge, and a zombie left knee, and I’m often sore and achy. And so… I don’t jump. I just don’t. I don’t hop or leap or generally move quickly. I’m active – I hike and climb. You wouldn’t think of me as a sedentary person – but I wouldn’t (for example) jump on the trampolines at Skyzone, and I often bow out of activities that require cutting and dodging. I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever rediscover my courage and flexibility, or if this will become who I am.

Sew a button – or anything
In Jr. High and High School, we were fortunate to have vocational education. There was a well appointed “Home Ec” classroom and quite an extensive shop with gear for woodworking, machinery, CAD and other practical applications. (Fun fact: my computers credit in high school was actually in CAD drafting.) In a sign that the ’50s were still going strong in that neck of the woods at that time, by default in Jr. High the girls would get one semester of Shop with Mr. Jones and three semesters of Home Ec with Mrs. Muir. I suffered through my required first semester of Home Ec, learning how to bake a biscuit and sewing an apron (seriously – an apron!?!?). I learned enough to sew a seam, thread a bobbin, put on a button and read a pattern. But although I cook often and regularly, clothing now does not reward the effort of sewing. It costs considerably more to buy fabric and sew it yourself than to go to Kohl’s and get something.

I particularly thought of this because Thane made a puppet in Cozumel and LOVED sewing it. Loved it. I think he’d really enjoy learning some sewing, but I’ll extremely ill-suited to teaching him. Also, let us speak of gender neutral options that exist in sewing kits. (HINT: THEY DON’T!)

After my first semester of home ec and my first semester of shop, I knew which one I preferred. There could not be a RULE that said girls couldn’t do shop instead of Home Ec and so I happily spent 8th grade as the one girl in a class of 26 guys learning how to put together a lawnmower engine and turning a bowl on a lathe.

Sit down & write a letter to my mom
I have loved writing letters for my whole life. I still do. I have boxes full of papers and envelopes, and stacks of pencils. I have written hundreds of letters in my life – to my uncle, or my penpal on the Island of Sumatra that I once met in Olympia and wrote to for years. I wrote letters in codes. I wrote them backwards. I wrote them and then cut them up to be a puzzle. I wrote to people I knew well and people I’d never met.

I remember my mother writing letters too. She wrote to her mother, mostly. I remember the envelopes with the return address from Zaire and lovely block pattern that were filled with regular missives – daughter to mother – and the return envelopes that came with beautiful cursive addresses.

But. Well. My mom reads my blog, right? And sometimes I call her on my way home. Periodically I send her emails or comment on her G+ postings. Once a year – on Mother’s Day – I write her a letter. (HINT HINT SIBLINGS!) But to my sons, that letter is indistinguishable from goofing off on Facebook, or being at work, or playing Minecraft. It’s just mom on her computer, again.

Chop wood
For a period growing up, our home was heated by wood. (This was true of many homes around us, and remains true for some.) My father, the archetypal good Boy Scout, knew all about the cutting, splitting, stacking and seasoning of firewood, as well as the tending of fires. I learned this art on hot August afternoons where there was no where I’d rather NOT be than in the “back forty” splitting, stacking & hauling with wood chips in my hair and splinters in my fingers. We’d get a cord or two of logs delivered off a local logging truck – which were were NOT allowed to play on lest they shifted. Then we’d gradually cut our way through them, trying to make sure no one got crushed or chain-sawed up or had an axe head fly off at them.

The Easter I was 13, my grandfather gave me my very own axe. (A Boy Scout axe, light and sharp, with a blue handle and gilt writing.) I know how to aim an axe, how to heft it. How to condense the space between your hands as the head flies towards to wood. I know where not to stand when someone else is splitting. I know what to do when the axe gets stuck. I know when you’ll need a splitting maul instead, and how to construct a woodstack that will be a pride to you among your neighbors. (Actually, I’m not really sure we ever got that right. I for one did not care about the opinion of my neighbors on my wood stacking abilities.)

Ah, the things that I learned to do that are of a time past. I doubt I will ever regularly iron my husband’s shirts during M*A*S*H episodes, sew a summer dress, heat my house with wood or spend an hour every week to write my mother a letter and put it in the mail. (I may eventually have to clean my house again, and I hope some day I’ll get to jump!)

But while my housewifery is clearly being called into questions, there are a few arcane arts I preserve. I often feel – when I do these things – like an archivist or a wizard. I think very much of my ancestors while I do these things. I remember their hands at work at these same tasks.

Bake bread & pies
There was a period of my life when my mother decided to bake all our bread. This was particularly true when she was struggling with her carpal tunnel syndrome. She said that working the dough made her hands feel better. I remember the countertop kneading, the distinctive slap as she’d shape the loaves. I certainly remember how delicious they were. (She usually made 2 small loaves, one of which was mine by right and tradition.) I mastered my mother’s recipe (although I make it much more rarely since my husband bakes bread for us weekly!) and still enjoy that same slap on the loaf!

I also learned to make her pies, although in all truth I have never mastered quite that pinch of the crust that she makes look so effortless. Also, it took me like 9 years to get my crusts to come out round instead of square.

My sons have stood in the kitchen and watched me in my apron – flour on the tip of my nose – wresting with dough. Just like I watched my mom. But better yet, they have also watched their father do the same!

Put up a batch of jam
I usually do this after they’re in bed, truthfully. But they have watched me transform a bushel of apples to gleaming jars of apple butter. I picked the crabapples during their soccer practice which I turned into delicate pink crabapple jelly. I remember my great grandmother’s crabapple jelly, made from the tree in our back yard. Every time I hear the “pop”! of a jar lid, I remember. And hopefully my boys with find the sound a keen source of memory too – connecting them through shared memory across generations.

So, what do you no longer do? What do your children not realize you even know how to do? And what relics of bygone eras do you hold firmly to

The end and the beginning


, , , ,

Settle down and get comfortable – this is a long tale.

Rod, ready for Easter a few years ago

Rod, ready for Easter a few years ago

I usually give something up for Lent that I’ll really miss and look forward to getting back on Easter. For a middle Protestant with no tradition of Lenten giving-up, that seems like a neat part of the tradition. It reinforces the hard waiting and the joyful return. (Although after the year I gave up coffee, Adam asked me never to do THAT again. I had to agree. There’s hard and there’s almost missing your tax return date because you can’t fathom doing taxes without coffee to help you.)

At a graduation party for a dear friend.

At a graduation party for a dear friend.

This year, though, I approach Easter with both joyful anticipation and great reluctance.

You see, the week AFTER Easter will be the last week that my pastor will be my pastor. Rod, and his lovely wife, have been a more-than-weekly part of my life since the day I became an adult. With my history, I more or less know what month that happened. In August of 2000 – two months after I graduated – I married Adam. I was 21. He brought me home to a lovely, sunlit apartment in Roslindale that I had not seen before I crossed its threshold with the 23 year old I’d only had a few hours to call “husband”. We only spent a few hours in the apartment before we took a flight out of Logan to Greece, where we’d honeymoon. When we returned on a Saturday a week or so later, we were tired. Now I am Presbyterian. I was born in the mission field to missionary Presbyterian parents. I was baptized in a Presbyterian Church by a fire-speaking pastor on an equitorial Sunday. I have attended Presbyterian Churches my whole life. My summer camps that weren’t orchestral were Presbyterian. My sister, brother, mother, father and I are all ordained Presbyterian elders/deacons (actually I’m the only one)/ministers. So while I was LITERALLY in the honeymoon phase of my marriage, I wanted to start the married habit of attending church with my beloved new husband. And I wanted a Presbyterian church. But they are few and hard to find in New England, so that groggy Sunday after we landed I took the path of least resistance and we went to the Presbyterian Church 20 miles away that had been near Adam’s LAST apartment.

A much younger Rod & Brenda on a Spring day more than 10 years ago.

A much younger Rod & Brenda on a Spring day more than 10 years ago.

I settled into the pews, fresh in my matronness and ring sparkly on my left finger, and the sermon was GOOD. And we were warmly welcomed. And there was a coffee hour in the finest of Presbyterian traditions. And it felt very right. And so the next week I also forgot to look up a closer church. And the week after.

We have attended that church through three different houses in three different towns. We have taught Sunday School and confirmation there. We have baptized our sons there. We have made life-long friends. We have taken solemn vows to love and teach the vibrant rainbow-line of squirmy children on the stairs at word for children. We have buried friends, and comforted the grieving. It is our church, our home, our family.

At Grey's baptism

At Grey’s baptism

For the fourteen years that span my adult life, there has been one person standing in that pulpit – Rod. That pulpit-relationship is where it begins, of course. Rod is one of the finest preachers I have had the chance to listen to. (And remember, I have attended services every week of my life.) He finds that difficult line between offering a challenge that makes me think differently, and sometimes change how I behave, but without go so far to challenge that in fear or recoil I stop listening. His sermons are academic enough to keep me interested, but relevant enough to speak to my heart as well as my mind.

This might be my favorite picture of Rod. Apparently that t-shirt is an original.

This might be my favorite picture of Rod. Apparently that t-shirt is an original.

But the relationship – the friendship – goes far past the pulpit. Rod, his wife (who prefers her privacy) and I have shared dinner together. We’ve played music together. (He plays a mean piano – you should try to lure it out of him.) We’ve caroled together and sung rousing renditions of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to folks whose illness or debility means they have trouble leaving their homes. We’ve done skits together. We’ve attended countless committee meetings. We’ve sung hymns through late nights in long Presbytery meetings which have decided small steps in the question of whether the Presbyterian Church would be one that welcomes all people.

When the time came for me to give birth to my second child, Adam and I were in a bind. We have no family in New England. Michael was terribly sick with the lingering aftereffects of cancer – he would die only a few months later – and Laureen could not come to us. My parents were working and tied down in Seattle. We were only just coming to know our neighbors. Who would stay with Grey while I delivered our second son? A friend got the first call and overnight shift, but on the second shift, we called Rod. He came and stayed with Grey – a familiar and friendly presence. He even did the dishes. With both my sons, he was the first to come and visit the new life in the hospital room. Friends who saw the pictures asked, “Is that your dad?” No, it’s my pastor.

Rod with a new-born Thane, only hours old.

Rod with a new-born Thane, only hours old.

So as I count up to Easter, with joy, I also count down to farewell, with very mixed feelings. I will miss Rod and his wife very, very much. In our church, when a pastor leaves, it is a real leave-taking. He will never lead another service from that pulpit, or chair another committee meeting. They are moving – not so far away that we’ll NEVER see them, but far enough that it will be rare.

On Maundy Thursday, Thane took communion with us for the first time. I finagled it so I could kneel before him to serve it. But then I also served Rod, who had blessed our cup and our bread. Then he turned and served me. And I was breathless with tears at the sacrament – a first and a last so close together.

Rod at word for children

Rod at word for children

Rod and his wife go forward to a new stage of their lives. I have told them that I’m a little jealous. They have finished with the stages of “should” and “ought” and “supposed to” and “had better”. They are now in the only stage of life where your labors are determined by what you would do, what you are called to do, what you want to do – and what you can do. A part of me feels like a parent with a graduating high school senior. I send them away from me and will miss them horribly, but would not wish them back to their old roles. The time for moving on is here.

So, Rod and Cathy, go into the world in peace and continue the service. What does our God ask of us but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God? May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all: today, tomorrow and always.



For any who have also loved Rod, we’ll be giving him a rousing BPC farewell with a huge International Dinner at 6 pm on Saturday, April 26 2014. The next day, Sunday April 27th, will be his final service with us and will be followed by a massive coffee hour I’m hosting. So come.



I’ve thought a lot about little Gabriel with the story of Jeremiah Oliver ( It does not reassure me that Gabriel is well and taken care of, somewhere. I think I’ll always wonder.

Originally posted on My Truant Pen:

Spending my lunches at daycare (theoretically nursing Thane, but in reality just giving both of my boys big hugs and playing with them) has reminded me of Grey’s first year, when I did the same thing. There was a little boy at daycare name Gabriel. (Long “a”, like “Gah-briel” not “Gay-briel”)

Gabriel was about three at the time. The age Grey is now. He had big, dark eyes and curly dark hair. He also had behavior problems and didn’t talk. He would throw violent, inarticulate fits. He grew to really like me, and I to like him. He would stand next to me when I nursed Grey, and I would talk to him. I would ask him questions and, unfamiliar with child development, be contented with the few words he gave back to me. His face lit up when he saw me. I was afraid for him. Rubertina does her…

View original 383 more words


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 538 other followers