Sometimes you just gotta Skyrim

So my thirty loyal readers may have noticed I missed last week’s post. This is hardly so surprising, since my cadence lately has been more fortnightly than weekly. (Crazy to think at one point I wrote blog posts daily, or even more than daily! They were shorter, and not amazingly well thought out or written. As opposed to these posts… um, yeah.)

I often have really good excuses of why I’m too busy to do something. Sometimes I go through these periods where my schedule bounces between insane and crazy with only period stops at out-of-control. But I have to be honest with you – last weekend it was the video game Skyrim.

Lots of people are having a hard time right now. Across the Caribbean, there are folks who are struggling to keep body and soul together. Many are leaving homes they may never be able to return to, in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other smaller locales. Houston and Florida are still drying out. The West is burning. The air is unbreathable and the flames have claimed more than 35 lives. We refuse to even admit that global climate change is a problem, so it feels like there’s little hope of fixing it. The Dreamers wonder if they’ll be sent to exile in countries they do not know, whose language they do not speak. And there is fear, anger and hatred on every channel, Facebook check and news article. Heck, even the sports news is bad around here. The US Men’s Soccer team won’t be going to the World Cup, the Red Sox went down early and easily and the Patriots are not looking quite like the machine they once did. Also, football nastily kills or maims the boys who play it for our entertainment, so good luck enjoying that.

I’m a gamer, and we describe the characters we play using attributes. So for instance, your Cleric might have a 16 wisdom, a 13 charisma and a 10 strength. You would roll a 20 sided die to try to do something, and if the number is under your attribute you succeed. If it’s over your attribute, you fail. Sometimes, you get things that temporarily modify your attributes (like poison damage) that make it easier or harder by increasing or decreasing your attributes. So instead of a 16 wisdom, if your character say gets drunk, they might have a -2 modifier that means there wisdom is temporarily only a 14.

That’s a really long digression to say – I feel like everything I’m doing right now has a -3 modifier for the state of the world. Sure, I still usually am fine. But things that used to be easy are harder. And hard things feel almost impossible.

Generally I try to be a good steward of my time. When the weather is beautiful, I try to drag my kids on hikes. I exercise. I read. I make time for friends. I cook meals from my farm share vegetables. I LIKE video games, but I don’t really play video games because I carefully write thought-provoking blogs posts instead.

But man, these last few weeks my coping skills have run out, my well has run dry, and I’ve wanted nothing so much as a problem I can solve with a few fireballs and flame atronach. Grey had a sleepover for his friends last weekend where they mostly played video games together. And honestly? There were a million things I probably should’ve been doing. But what I was doing was getting my character up to level 29. I feel guilty. I actually think video games are a pretty bad way to recharge. A good book, exercise, clean living… much better ideas. But I’ve just run out of the will to keep making these healthy choices as often.

So if you’ll excuse me, I heard from a guy who used to be an adventurer like me (until he took an arrow to the knee) that there’s a dragon near Ivarstead that needs my attention.


How about you? There must be some people out there pleased at the way the world is going – are you one? If you’re not, what are some of the coping skills you’re using to face your every day?

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Is it I, Lord?

Today’s scripture in church was 1 Samuel. If you were a frequent Sunday School go-er, you know this story. Samuel was a late baby. His mother, Hannah, felt her infertility as you only can in a culture that values women for their baby-producing powers. She prayed HARD and promised God that if she only had a baby, she’d give it up to his temple. Well, she had a son and handed him over as soon as he was weaned (likely 2 or 3) to the priest Eli in keeping with her promise.

Two chapters later, we have an old Eli with a young Samuel sleeping nearby. Samuel keeps hearing his name called and keeps going to Eli, thinking Eli has called him. But Eli finally figured out what was going on, “Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy.” (1 Samuel 3:7). Today, the pastor encouraged us to find the Eli’s in our own life, who would help us hear what we are called to do.

But this raised a really great question for me – how the heck do the sages, the mentors, the old men and wise women who populate ever hero’s journey… how do THEY learn how to be the wise folks who stay home, tend fires, and wait for really obnoxious adolescent heroes to come to them? We all know the story of Samuel, but how do you become an Eli?

I can think of many, many stories with these wise, old folk. There’s Gandalf. And Dumbledore. Mr. Miyagi. There’s the Oracle in The Matrix. Uncle Iroh in Avatar. Star Wars has a battle of the mentors: Emperor Palpatine vs. Obi Wan. I bet you can come up with a dozen more. Almost every story that tells the tale of the hero, there’s the sage. The same is true in real life. The advice given to women is business over and over again is to find a mentor or a sponsor.

The other day I heard a story about Millie Bobby Brown (the actress who plays Eleven in Stranger Things). She went to some acting classes and “they” were so blown away by her talent that “they” said in the strongest possible terms that she and her family needed to get to Hollywood, stat. (I mean, “they” were right.) We’ve all heard this tale of the talent discovered (or missed). As kids, we all waited and hoped that someday some mysterious “they” would tap us on the shoulder and tell us that we had heart. Or skill. Or that special something. As I heard the story of Millie, I felt deeply uneasy.

You seem, I’m heading into wise old woman territory, and I’m not sure I know how to do the role. How did that acting person know that this one girl required all the stops to be pulled, and needed to go immediately to Hollywood? How does Mr. Miyagi know how to teach? Where did Uncle Iroh learn the humility to listen to his charge and not explain at great length why he knew better (which he did)? How did Dumbledore control his fears and desires to give Harry enough space to grow into himself without micromanaging? So often these teachers are abandoned and insulted by their charges in fits of pique. The kid goes, learns the hard way, comes back with new humility and the teacher (who was usually deeply hurt) is always gracious and never lashes out or sulks.

I do think that I’m probably the Gandalf-variety mage – meddling, and wants to hang around for the action and not let the kids screw it all up. Please note: Gandalf dies halfway through book one and doesn’t get to come back until book two at which point he’s finally learned to quit meddling so much.

These are very real concerns for me. I’d like to be a sage and mentor to those around me. At work, there are people who have 15 years less experience than I do, who are trying to navigate tricky waters. How do I help them? How do I learn to make it as little as possible about me? (What great sage went on at length about their accomplishments? The crappy ones!) How do I help people at church hear what God is calling them to do? How do I find the greatness in others, and then help them find it?

One last note on Samuel & Eli. If you read the lectionary and the Sunday school stories, you hear about Samuel’s call. What you don’t get is the full picture of Eli. The priesthood in those days was inherited. And Eli’s sons would be priests after him. And they were really bad boys doing bad things and abusing their authority. And Eli? Was an ineffective father. He tried to correct his sons’ behavior, but they were not swayed. So the same wise man who knew that God was calling Samuel couldn’t get through to his own kids about what the Lord expected of them. In fact, the prophecy that God gives Samuel in the dark that night is the destruction of Eli’s family, “His sons blasphemed God and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.'” (1 Samuel 3:13&14)

How do I make sure that, if I cannot be that sage to my own sons as Eli was not, I have put them in those places where the wise ones will see them and know them and guide them, when I cannot?


Have you ever read a great story about becoming an oracle or a sage? What does the journey of the wise one look like? What about in real life? What are some of the ways that we can change our life expectations from hoping someone will notice us, to trying to make sure we notice & help the heroes growing behind us?

Welcome to Minerva

“We” got our first car in 1997. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college when my then boyfriend called me up to tell me his folks had bought him a car, a manual transmission silver Saturn. My mind was *blown*. Who got new cars while in college? Adam named the car Olaf, and refused to let me drive him until we were married. (Since then, I’ve done 99% of the driving when we’re both in the car.) Olaf had canoes strapped to him. He did the trip between Connecticut and Massachusetts many times (at high speeds) the year Adam and I spent engaged and apart. We passed him to my brother when my brother graduated from college, and rumor has it Olaf still lives on in the roads of Minnesota, some 20 years later. (Please note: Olaf was named well before Frozen!)

Our second car was also a Saturn – green with an automatic transmission. In 2002 our commutes pulled us different ways and it was hard with a single car. We loved our Saturn and were sorry to see the rubber bumpers replaced with colored ones, but I’d vowed after a three hour, three mile journey on the tollways of New York not to get another manual. They just don’t make sense in the kind of traffic we live in. This car was named Brunhilde, on the viking theme. (Elsa would’ve been a great name on the Wagnerian theme – phew! Narrowly missed that one!) I was very conscientious in those early days about the traps that women fell into with finance. (I read a lot of Money magazine for a while after a panic-stricken realization I had no idea how insurance worked. It was full of horror stories about women and divorce.) So I proposed that we alternate ownership of the cars, so we’d build equal credit records. Brunhilde was mine. Brunhilde ended life donated to WBUR.

Olaf was replaced by Hrothgar – a 2007 Blue Toyota Matrix. That was my Beowulf phase – we named the car Hrothgar (or Hrothcar if I was feeling punny) about the same time we named our youngest son Thane. Same inspiration. Hrothgar was bigger than our Saturns (we were sad when they went away!) and was more of a “family” car. We brought Thane home from the hospital in it. We took it on our first ever camping trip in White Lake State Park. (In cleaning the car out, I found an old Mapquest-style printed set of directions to our home away from home!) Hrothgar was Adam’s in name, but the last few years I’ve been the primary driver. In an otherwise reliable workhorse of a car, the lack of audio line in or Bluetooth has driven us both crazy. Also heated seats. Today, Hrothgar drove off with new plates under the guidance of a friend of mine, after 93,000 miles of service. It’s good to know that a car that still has some working years in it will get that time on the road.

It was really the camping that made us need a bigger car. I wanted one with great gas mileage, so I test drove quite a few and ended up with a 2011 Kia Sorento. (The gas mileage ended up being a disappointment.) I was reading Herodotus in the Humanities Book Club at the time, and so we named our new car. It’s still our “big car”, and hopefully will be for quite some time (significantly to exceed three years, please…) It does have heated seats and Bluetooth. The only real annoyances are that it doesn’t have a thermometer (so annoying – I never even thought to check!) and the tan seats were a grave mistake. The car just hit 60,000 miles on our drive down to King Richard’s Faire, so I think it has quite a few good years left!

The time came, and then passed, when I’d budgeted for another new, smaller “commuter” car to replace Hrothgar. I dreaded the buying process. I dreaded the picking process. I’d driven my parents Ford C-Max (Rosie!) quite a few times on my trips home and I’d liked it a lot. The second car is definitely a commuter. It’s purpose is to schlep my husband or me the 11 miles between Stoneham and Cambridge, with heated seats and easy podcast syncing. So when we decided not to go camping Labor Day weekend (a mistake I still regret), I decided to use my time and attention on his task I knew would take both when it was needed. And I decided to focus on the C-Max, which was basically designed for the kind of commuter traffic we do constantly!

I put down a deposit on Minerva, a blue 2017 Ford C-Max Energi. She’s named after Minerve, the small fortified village in France we visited which is itself named after Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. (There was likely a temple there in the Roman era.) The “Energi” part of the C-Max is pretty cool. The car is an electric hybrid, or a plug-in hybrid. It has a fully electric motor with an approximate 20 mile range. (Remember? Cambridge is 11 miles from home. And my workplace has an EV charging station!) I have no range anxiety, though, since it also has a full gas/hybrid engine. When fully charged and gassed up, the car has an over 600 mile range. It also has pretty much no trunk space, but you can’t have everything. So I’m trying to find an electrician who knows how to install a charging station (I bet our next “big” car will be at least partially electric too!) and currently classily charging the car through a cord strung through the window. I discovered there are no EV charging stations in Stoneham, and have already dropped a “friendly observation” to an elected official or two. Minerva is used. I don’t understand the mindset that turns in a same-model-year car with 1300 miles on it, but someone did. And I benefited from a nice used car discount (and that crazy person also installed remote starter, so there’s that!) It was a bit of an adventure for the dealership to get the title (I guess it actually got lost in the snail-mail – who does that?!) which accounts for the delay. But it’s mine now!

Twenty years, and we’re on our fifth car. It does feel rather monumental!

Minerva at home

The Summer of their Years

As we close the book on the summer, I can’t help but think that this will be The Summer. I’m sure you had a summer like that – a summer you look back to in your childhood. It stands out golden and long and joyful, and is the marker for what summer should be. My Summer was when I was 9, and it included a pond and a raft, waves of grasshoppers that would explode from every footstep I took and journeys through the wild woods behind my house.

This summer, Grey was 11 and Thane was 8. And if this summer wasn’t peak-childhood-summer, I don’t know what could be.

We did a bit of pre-season summering with our first camping trip of the year, to the Waterville Valley Campground. It was a superbly relaxing weekend. We didn’t go very far or do very much, and were contented to hang out in hammocks and read books and be together. It was a superb camping trip, and we resolved in the future to carefully plan more nothing for our camping trips.

The summit of our one hike

The summer started a bit quietly. School ended in mid June. We spent the last few weeks of June saying goodbye to our dear and beloved friends, as they prepared to move. We spent absolutely as much time together as possible, including heading up to New Hampshire together to celebrate about five of the kids’ birthdays. I armed them all with NERF for some epic neighborhood battles.

Last hurrahs

It was a strangely empty neighborhood we left for our longest camping trip of the year, the 4th of July trip, to our ancestral camping grounds at White Lake State Park. We’ve been there every summer since Thane was a 9 month old, and it never ceases to be a favorite of all of ours. You can take a hike, hang in a hammock, go down to the beach, ride bikes or forage for the sweet fern which grows nearby. In keeping with the traditions of our camping trip, there was extreme weather. In this case, we upped our game to include tornado warning, which sent us to a favorite local watering hole. In this case, the correlation between the soccer game we wanted to watch and the necessity to shelter in place was very serendipitous. We returned to a campsite that hadn’t been evacuated, but which had been clearly flash-flooded. Since we include moderate flooding in all our camping plans, this was accepted as nothing more than expected excitement.

Waiting out the storm
After the rains left

We’d only be home a few days from the camping trip when the second annual Flynn’s Fiery Feast came up. It was a particularly peripatetic adventure, since the weather was gorgeous… between storm cells. So we kept moving the people and the stuff in and out, and in and out. Everyone was remarkably good sports about the whole thing.

The very next day, it was time to drive to New Hampshire again (a theme in my summer) to drop an extremely confident eldest son off at his third (or fourth?) year at Camp Wilmot. We spent a special week at home with our littlest one, and got exactly one letter from our eldest telling us what we’d forgotten to pack him. The next Sunday found me driving that oh-so-familiar stretch of 93 to drop Thane off for his first year. He sent three letters in six days, earning the “Mailman” award at camp. When Erin and I picked up our collected progeny, Thane told me that as much as Grey loved Camp Wilmot, he (Thane) loved it more.

Week one Wilmotters
The week 2 Camp Wilmotters, minus M. whom we couldn’t find

We picked the kids up from New Hampshire on Saturday. On Sunday, we drove up to New Hampshire for a tubing trip on the Saco (rescheduled from the 4th weekend when the river was at flood stage). We had a great time throwing frisbees and floating, with the exception of the section where Thane and I managed to get totally tangled up, lose our tubes and I permanently lost my favorite hair thingy. Woe! Thane is not a huge fan of tubing after that, sadly.

How can you not love this?

They had a whole five days between that tubing trip to recover before it was time for my company summer outing at Six Flags. It rained, but that just meant that there were ZERO lines for the biggest baddest rides. Thane is now tall enough for Superman (the biggest of the Six Flags roller coasters, and a legitimately big one). They have no fear, those children. It was neat to be able to do it with friends, as well!

The rain was our friend

The day after our Six Flags adventure, we flew to Barcelona and spent a totally jetlagged day there, as well as most of a second, walking the green and joyful espalandes of Las Ramblas. Thane chased the pigeons, we ate ice cream and caught Pokemon and lost ourselves in the rambling alleys of the Gothic Quarter.

Thane and the pigeons had a special relationship
The Gothic Quarter

The next day we went up to Montjuic on the Funicular, and spent time going deep on the history of that grim fortress – first built to protect the city and then used to terrorize it. We walked in the gulleys where hundreds were executed, and watched the flags flying with philosophical questions.

Thought provoking art installation
Montjuic parapets

The next day we took the train from Barcelona to Carcassonne. As we sped through the Mediterranean countryside, the boys opened their dice bags and continued the role-playing games that have threaded through all the fun times of our journey. Carcassonne city was glorious. We stayed in the newer section (you know, like 1600) in this Roaring 20s era hotel near the train station. We’d walk through the high end shops and cross the bridge to go up to the medieval city itself. It was truly remarkable, even knowing that it had been restored a mere shmere 130 or so years ago. You could lay your hands against stones that had been placed there by the Romans as they spread across Europe. But there was this whole lack of self-consciousness of the weight of history that only the Europeans can really pull off. Even the medieval city felt lived in, as though it was home to real people.

Also, the cassoulet was unbelievable.

The city had walls connecting it to the river
The keep
The small well in the city

Our greatest highlight of the Carcassonne portion of our visit was the day we spent with James MacDonald visiting Lastour and Minerve, and coming to come to intimately know the Cathars and the Crusaders who persecuted them. Climbing up to the remarkable towers at Lastours was unbelievable. It looked like a Byronic play backdrop. Minerve seemed barely changed at all from the siege of 1220, except for the Victorian bridge that now spanned the chasms. Between them we visited a neolithic tomb. There are some days where you can feel yourself accruing the value of your life. Days where you find the very meaning that you have longed and yearned for. This day was all that – to gaze on these places and walk their worn steps. It was remarkable.

How could this possibly be real?
High above the modern era
Thousands of years ago, this was wrought by human hands
Long imagined city, visited

Adam and I passed our 17th anniversary in the warmth of Barcelona, before we headed back to the states from a truly remarkable week in the 13th century. (And a scant week before terrorists plowed through the crowds we’d just been part of in Las Ramblas.)

Barcelona cathedral

Once again, we gave the boys a gracious allowance of a week before the next thing. Although this particular week, we sent them to boating camp on Spot Pond where they spent six or so hours a day on the water honing their sailing and kayaking skills. I counted, and the children kayaked on three distinct bodies of water this summer, in three different states. I kayaked in zero bodies of water. I think this shows that my children are living more wisely than I am.

My folks departed Boston ASAP on Friday night after they finished boating camp for parts west, racing the sun across the country to be in Idaho Falls in totality to witness the complete eclipse. On the way they passed through Niagara Falls, Minnesota with their cousins, Wall Drug, the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, the Hiawatha Trail (where they went on a 17 mile bike ride) and Yellowstone. They also kayaked on Mineral Lake at the end of their journey.

Niagara
Wall Drug
Mt. Rushmore
Eclipse
Hiawatha Trail
Kayaking on Mineral Lake

They got back from this adventure about 3 days before school started. (Meanwhile, I was hiking Chocorua.)

We were supposed to go camping Labor Day weekend. I regret that we didn’t. It is not restful to be home, I swear. But we were so worn out from all our wanderings that we just stayed at home and took a deep breath in preparation for our busiest season, the fall.

But truly, if that doesn’t count as the best summer of your childhood (maybe your life?) then, well, I’m not really sure what it is you are hoping for. It was a glimmering, golden, busy, joy-filled, friend-filled, nature-filled, history-filled, ice-cream-filled summer, and I will treasure it forever.

Conquering Chocorua

Carter Ledge Trail crosses a small brook and soon ascends a steep gravelly slope with poor footing, then turns sharply right and up at a gravelly slide with a view of Mt. Chocorua; this turn is easily missed, especially on the descent. Continuing to climb steeply… The trail passes through a sag then climbs, steeply at times, up the slope of Third Sister, with several excellent outlooks, but with some ledges that can be dangerous in wet or icy conditions. Higher up is a particularly tricky scramble across a potentially slippery, downward sloping ledge (especially difficult on the descent)… White Mountain Guide 30th edition p.385

If only I’d seen this

About the time we hit that gravelly slide bit (on the descent, of course), we’d already been on the trail for about 8 hours. I’d noticed the beautiful way the light slanted through the jack pines that we were just about to lose it behind Chocorua, on whose summit we’d so recently stood. I figured that it was probably a bad idea to point this out to Erin, who was clinging to the ragged edges of sanity after the “slippery, downward sloping ledge” bit. It had rained torrentially the night before and was very humid, turning all the granite rock faces to a slip-slide zone. But I picked up the pace just a bit anyway.

Note how ominously close that sun is to the horizon – that’s also where we’d been a few hours prior

My fears were justified. We reached the blessed safety of our car at just the tipping point between when ruining your night vision with a flashlight would’ve been worth it. Every muscle in our body screamed. Successive adrenaline jolts were wearing off, and we scarfed a bag of M&Ms by the fistful. Erin is an extremely polite and well mannered person. So when she turned to me to express feelings on the hike all she said was “I am NEVER hiking that mountain again.”

Not the steepest, scariest part of the trail

It’s possible I’d slightly undersold the experience. You see, I’ve wanted to hike to the top of Chocorua REALLY BADLY for about the last six years. I made an attempt six years ago (on a shredded knee, right before surgery) but had gotten turned back. It’s logistically challenging. It’s definitely a full day hike. The kids definitely aren’t up for it. And it’s several hours drive from my house. Also, you really really shouldn’t do it alone. This made it hard for me to “convince” my husband he wanted to do it, or to figure out how to do it at all. But this summer, a window opened. The kids were off at Camp Gramp chasing the eclipse. Adam was at Gencon. And I had a summer weekend all to myself. Sometime this spring Erin and I were talking about hiking and the high pressures of modern life and I said, “Hey, you wanna come on this hike with me? We’d get a hotel, make a weekend out of it, and really relax.”

My usual view of Chocorua from White Lake State Park

The last few times I’ve gazed at Chocorua’s lovely & taunting profile I’ve taunted back “This time I’m going to get you!” But for having been on my bucket list for years, I’d spent remarkably little time thinking through which trails I wanted to take. We’d been using a hike book the last 6 or 7 years, but Irene did a number on several off the local trails and we’d gotten in a bit of trouble, so I stopped at EMS to try to buy a new copy. They were fresh out! But hey, if I wanted a “Paddling the Ohio” copy no problem. I figured I’d stop at the Ranger Station to get a copy there. But traffic was awful and I hit the ranger station after 5 when it was closed. But hey, I had a recent map of Chocorua! Erin and I reviewed the route that night.

Not enough information

We had two cars and wanted to do a circle route. I picked one of the shortest loops that seemed to also include the most viewpoints. “So we’ll go up the Hammond Trail, pick up the Liberty Trail across the summit, and then come down the Carter Ledge Trail to White Ledge Campground, which has plenty of parking. It’s about 10 miles. Sound good?”

I mean, ten miles eeeeeeaaaaasssssy right? AHAHAHAHAHAH!

Chocorua is on the left here. We’d be coming down where the white cliffs are to the right.

Well, it was absolutely gorgeous. The pull up was long and hard and humid. The ground was steaming. The leaves were steaming. We were definitely steaming. It had rained so hard the night before, but it was still warm – touching 80. We’d brought lots of water – nearly 5 liters – as well as a UV water purifier that I’ve wanted for years but never splurged on. (See also: stop at EMS) But we were losing water at a great rate, which was ironic given that vast muddy puddles littered the trail. The rocks couldn’t dry off in the humidity, so stayed slick the whole day. And we needed to climb 3,200 feet. Then summit about three different peaks in a row. Then descend that 3,200 feet.

The wild blueberries were superb and I grazed continually as I hiked!

We ran out of water with about 3 miles to go. Fortunately, I did have my schmancy fancy new water purified and got us a critical additional liter for the last two fast miles out. Did I mention on that descending Carter Ledge Trail we saw not a single other human? We were definitely going the wrong direction, and were very likely the only people on that trail. We couldn’t call mountain rescue if we got in trouble, either, since Erin’s brother would’ve been the one to answer our call and that might’ve been mortally embarrassing.

The view of Chocorua from Middle Sister

This climb was one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done. Every single stabilization muscle was spent. The big muscles of my legs screamed. Bands of pain radiated across both knees with every step up and down. The next day, I could hardly walk up or down a staircase. The biggest surprise was how incredibly sore my arms and core muscles were. We did a LOT of climbing and used a lot of arm strength to get ourselves up and down. I’m not sure any part of my body didn’t hurt. Erin had some blisters she didn’t even know she had because their pain signals were hidden in the overall pain-signals from all other parts of her body.

But oh my friends, what a triumph it was. What a great blessing it is to push yourself to and past your limits, and emerge victorious from the battle. I live so much in my mind, that to spend 10 hours being very much within my body was a great gift. It was truly everything I wanted – and more. Now to figure out how to talk Erin into making this an annual event….

See more pictures here!