Between fortune and misfortune

I’m away for a week between roles in a cabin in New Hampshire. As you may know, big layoffs happened at my company on Friday. I was not laid off. My previous role was extremely vulnerable – the group I left was one of the hardest hit. And I know a ton of people impacted, so I’ve spent this week not in blissful disconnection, but checking in with the person who worked for me last Friday and is now unemployed, trying to figure out who I still work with and who might need me to keep an eye for roles, etc.

I picked this PARTICULAR cabin in the woods because I wanted to hike two four thousand foot mountains (Waumbek and Cabot), and these are a full three hour drive for Boston, which is a brutal one day trip. So I figured I’d knock them off (they’re not too difficult) while I was up here. But I’ve done … something …. to my knee. I think I have a meniscus tear (in my problem knee) which is causing instability and swelling. I’m having trouble with stairs. Did I still consider solo hiking a pair of 4000 foot mountains alone, in winter, with a bum knee? Of course I did. But the weather is also rather iffy, and that was one strike too many. So instead I went and did a super easy, completely flat 4 miles walk along a rail trail. Laaaaaame. The parking lot was snowy, but that was fine – our car was in the shop due to a rear ending that my husband was subject to, so I rented a 4 wheel drive just so trailheads would be no issue. I got in just fine, and did a lovely walk in which I saw no other living creature. It was gloomy and morose and like hiking in an old oil painting. I loved it. I got back to the car, texted my husband I was safe, and headed to the road to go get some dinner in the building gloom.

A perfectly snowy lake, punctuated with a pine tree to the left. Dark and ominous clouds pile up on the horizon, obscuring anything behind them.
There’s a spectacular view of the Presidentials there. Right behind the clouds.

Less than a foot from the road, I lost traction, and got stuck. “No problem,” I thought “I’ll throw it into 4 wheel drive.” It didn’t work. I dug out the wheels with my hands. Didn’t work. And every attempt to power my way out I slid a little closer to the 8 foot ditch to my right side, where I would definitely be in trouble if I slid all the way in. A light snowfall was poetically falling against the pines, and I finally conceded my better judgement and called AAA. I told them where I was (thank you GPS!) and they patched me through to the towing company which said they’d be here in an hour. So I waited, increasingly hungry and in need of a bathroom, for an hour. At the appointed time, the dispatcher called me back and drawled. “We’ve gone the whole airport road in Jefferson, and we can’t find you at all.” “I’m at the Pondicherry parking lot, just shy of the Mt. Washington Airport” I replied.

There was a long pause.

“Which state are you in?” she asked. I replied, with growing unease “New Hampshire”. “Awww…. honey, we’re out of North Carolina. I’ll, uh, call AAA for you.”

I sat there in my car, waiting for a phone call (which never came), when a car pulled over – an old silver Ford Taurus by the look of it. “Are you stuck?” said the driver? I assured her I was, and darkly updated her on my predicament. “I’m going to call my boyfriend and he’s got a truck. He’ll get you right out of there.” Now normally I like to do things the proper way, but in this case, I said I’d be delighted if her boyfriend might be of assistance. It took maybe 20 minutes for them to assemble the full posse. The ladies in the car stayed with me the whole time. But two trucks, packed to the gills with young men with nascent beards and overflowing slightly dangerous energy, pulled up. In less than five minutes they had me out of that ditch and back in action. I think they were disappointed they didn’t end up needing the chain or shovels that they’d brought for the fun.

But it was 3 hours after I’d first stopped a foot shy of the road. I attempted to pay them, which was a complicated social dance, and then was on my way, chastened, sobered and deeply irritated that even my very safest possible alternative had still ended up being so complicated. I was also very grateful that only time had been lost: I was fine, the car was fine, it was like it had never happened. So I picked up some heat-and-eat from the grocery store right before it closed, came back to my cabin, and decided what I really needed was some comforting reading (Miss Buncle’s Book was just right) and maybe a new plan for roadside assistance.

A snowy lake with not yet buried plants in the foreround, a set of pines in the mid ground, and half-hidden mountains in the background. The sky is dark and broody.
Mood: 19th century oil painting with darkened varnish

Fun is Fun: Lectures and escargot

Activity: MFA lecture and French dinner
Dress code: Academic chic

Our December “Fun is fun” event took a different angle. Adam and I have always been intellectually curious, loved museums, and been game for learning deeply about irrelevant things. (Ask me about the time we hired a tour guide for a day to give us the low-down on the Albigensian Crusade). So I decided for our December “Fun is fun” event we’d go to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I found this particular event (“Complex Relationships: Egypt and Nubia“) by deciding on venue first, and seeing what was on their agenda second. This might have been a special exhibition, costume party, or lecture on pretty much any topic. I AM rather fond of Nubia from the African History class I took in college, but much more interested in the complicated history of Nubian Christianity.

I digress.

We showed up to the museum right on time, and through some miracle of time and space got STREET PARKING. Astonishing. I went to the main window to pay for our entry – the tickets had been free, although I had to formally sign up for them. But in an amazing loophole, it turns out that the free tickets included entry to the museum. SCORE! Cost of the date so far: $4 in parking.

We thoroughly and deeply enjoyed the lecture and presentation. It was a very cogent and interesting discussion that mixed ancient and modern questions of identity, categorization, the connection between science and labeling things, and what makes Nubian pottery Nubian. The lecture was short – 45 minutes – but really engaging and well delivered and thought provoking. It was so much fun, I was sad when it was over.

After the lecture concluded, we had some time to spend in the MFA which – despite loving museums and living within a 20 minute drive for the last, uh, 20 years, we’ve only been to a handful of times. We barely hit three and a half galleries – our appetite still wet for bizarre and beautiful and interesting artifacts. But it turned out the museum closed at 5. Who knew!? So we headed early for dinner, vowing to return some day with more time.

A rattle in a museum case made of the top of two human skulls connected together, with a fabric element hanging off it
Human skull rattle

I’d tried to pick the closest French restaurant to the MFA, which was in Back Bay. I’d planned on walking – we usually enjoy a nice stroll and parking in Boston isn’t in my list of fun things to do. But it was quite cold and we were underdressed for the weather, so instead we attempted to drive in. I swear we walked nearly as far from the nearest parking garage, and it was very stressful, but it worked! Our table wasn’t ready, so we sat at the bar and listened to the French-speaking bartenders chat as we contemplated the topic we’d just heard the lecture on and agreed that …. we really like attending lectures like this and we need more time at the MFA.

A man sitting at a bar with a cocktail in front of him with a thyme sprig
Waiting for our table

The drinks were excellent, the restaurant was noisy and the menu was adventurous. Note to self: you are an audacious eater, but you do not like liver. We were sated in mind and body when it was time to return back to the suburbs and our distinctly tweed-free lifestyles. But this was a real winner in terms of both the enjoyment in the moment, and the longer term feeding of the mind – it’s the sort of thing you can think about later that helps deepen and richen your experience of the world. I’ll never think of Nubian pottery shards the same way!

A middle aged woman wearing a gray dress with a bright red pendant, eating escargot
I admit it. I adore escargot. And the bread was phenomenal.
A man looking at an art exhibit in a museum
It’s astonishing how many cool and beautiful things there are in the world.

Fun is Fun: November with Bombadil

In the still locked down but waning days of last winter, when pandemic podmates were all digging very deep for new conversation topics, we did an evening on the topic of “What band would you most want to see live” (with time for both fantasy/dead options and currently playing ones). I wanted to see the Ring Cycle in Bayreuth. I forget the two others. But my friend said her #1 wish was to see the band Bombadil play.

In an idle moment a little later, I Googled to see if Bombadil had any upcoming tour dates that we might be able to swing to see them. But alas, the list of tour dates was empty. However, there was the tag line “Email us if you want to host a show or need help with tickets or just have questions about life.” I had many questions about life, but I was wondering … could it work? Were they still a going concern? Could they possibly come here? With little to lose, I dropped an email. And so it came to be that this fall, Bombadil was coming to play the street, making my friend’s dream come true in her own home.

We’d asked the band what they might need for the concert. The answers were a gentle preference for selzer, red wine, and cake with milk. I took responsibility for the cake with milk. The morning of, I cheerfully made about 60 cupcakes in my favorite kinds of cake, and liberally frosted them. As the dark began to fall, I brought them across the street to join the other offerings, and watched the band set up. Friends had come from all over – states away – for this event.

The sense of anticipation when you are mingling with the band while guests arrive and the equipment gets set up was singular. And this night was exceptional. November it might have been, but even in the dark the weather was in the upper 60s with clear skies and gentle breezes. Sure, climate emergency. But on this night it was a glorious feeling of liberty as the walls between inside and outside were literally down. As the hour came, we all gathered with our backs to Nobility Hill. Above us sat a gaggle of teens, sitting close on a blanket. The lights were soft and the moon was rising over my house across the street. And the first chords fell upon hushed and listening ears.

A small number of people gather below to watch a band play on a back porch.
Tilly wandered in and out among the band as they played

I am not sure I’ve ever been happier, for an hour and a half. I think that this depth of joy is only possible by contrast – after sorrow and pandemic and isolation and loss. You don’t understand a perfect moment until you have comparisons for it. And this was a perfect moment. We’d spent the lead up to the concert listening to the music, so when it finally came they were all familiar, I had favorites, and I could sing along with the choruses. Also, I got to actually ask the band what the heck the words to the chorus of “When We are Both Cats” actually are. We held our breath as to whether or not Daniel would fall off the steps where he was precariously perched. And around the circle of light the faces of my friends were glowing with a similar pleasure. It was a sweet loss when the set finally wrapped up, with the tear jerker, “Thank you“. The kids all bought tshirts, I got a vinyl (seriously 45 rpm dudes?!) signed by the band. We had another cupcake. The cables were all rolled up and carried to the van. We reluctantly found our ways back home.

A small group of people outside at night, all watching a band play on a back porch.
The entirety of the assembled.

My heart is still warm, thinking about it. My lips pull up in a smile. It’s a moment I would wrap in honey, capture in amber for a future, colder world to marvel at. It was singular, and I’d almost be afraid to do something similar in case it bled any bit of the perfect color from this picture.

We have come through so much together, friends. And so much remains of sorrow and fear. I don’t need to tell you – you hear tale if it every hour of every day. But there is also this moment, this opportunity for a new and beautiful thing to emerge and be all the lovelier for the dark background it is set against. More things than I believed are still possible. And it gives me hope.

A musician sings passionately into a microphone while playing guitar, under hanging lights in a backyard.
Move aside Pixies in Amsterdam. THIS is now the coolest thing I have ever been a part of.

What a wonderful feeling to feel like everything is right
What a wonderful feeling to know that everything is fine
Keep your family close
Because when you get in trouble they’ll be the last to lose their hope

A middle aged woman with short hair, smiling at the camera. She is wearing a pink and orange dress, a black jacket and a  thick braided chain choker
Not a fake smile

Fun is Fun

I don’t know how the least few years have been for you, but the last, oh, two decades have felt like an ever accelerating roller coaster ride … after you ate the chili dog and large soda. The last three years, in particular, have been grim ones for me and my family. This is a large part of the reason this blog has lain dormant. My mind was more than full of things that are not appropriate to be delved into in public forums, and there was little authentic left over to be broadly discussed (except for cats. Cats are great. Hero and Leander became best friends and are a joy, delight and constant source of mischief.)

But if we were going to survive this all and still like each other at the end, we needed to bolster what was good. And my husband and I realized … we needed to have fun together, or nothing would seem worthwhile.

You remember fun, right? It’s that thing you do where you feel happy, and have good memories and enjoy yourself? You know, like laughing and light-hearted? Yeah. We’d kind of forgotten too.

But in the moment where society started carefully emerging from pandemic isolation – like a groundhogs sensing the coming spring, Adam got us tickets to an Event. The tickets said “Cocktail attire required”. And so we got dressed up and drove into Boston and sashayed around the common in the cold and went to this Beacon Hill mansion and got overpriced cocktails in a glamorous library with other well-dressed patrons and watched a magic show and re-creation seance.

And guys, it was SO MUCH FUN. And as we drove home, glowing with pleasure, we decided that we should do a Fun Thing every month. A thing we wouldn’t otherwise do. Dressing up preferred. I began the hunt for fun things, and here’s how it went.

March – Four Handed Illusion
This is the event that started it all. It’s held in this glorious setting (Although the books in the library are clearly for show and not for reading, which makes me sad). I actually super appreciated the formal nature of the attire – something about having to put on your finest and make an effort makes being a participant in the audience even more fun. Adam and I have both read rather extensively on the Spiritualism movement (for a fun time, ask me about the Mechanical Jesus next time you’re at a cocktail party with me), and the second half séance was a tour de force of just how the Fox sisters did it. I was grinning from ear to ear under my mask the whole time.

Happy people at a magic show

April – Tea at the Boston Public Library
No sooner had I heard that tea at the Boston Public Library was a thing than I knew I had to go. We’ve enjoyed teas across the world (ok, Victoria and London) and there’s something about crustless sandwiches that just makes you put out your pinkie finger while you drink your beverage. Good times are often better when shared with good friends, and we thoroughly enjoyed dragged our camping companions and gaming buddies along with us to a fancy dress occasion. Who knew they looked so good cleaned up? The only regret about this adventure is we had to get back to town in time for the soccer game (Adam coaches) and couldn’t linger in the library.

Two women in the middle of a fancy table with their hands resting on two men, nicely dressed to either side. Fanceeee

A number of very fancy small cakes and confections Don’t ask how old I was when I figured out how you actually pronounce petit-fours

May – Sculler’s Jazz Club
What I was going for: speakeasy vibe with dinner. What I got: awkward dinner in a nearly empty restaurant where the only other diners were the band and _extremely_ experimental jazz. This was fun, but probably the biggest mismatch between price and enjoyment we’ve had so far. We went in cold to the ensemble and, uh, they would have benefited from some of our prior knowledge. And the dinner was fine at prices that were exceptional. As I told Adam, if all of our adventures are huge hits, we aren’t being adventurous enough. We were adventurous here, at least!

Two women wearing dresses standing back to back
We took so many pictures while we were all dressed up.
A jazz trumpeter and a drummer under creative lighting with the word "Scullers" in the backdrop.
The band.

June – Belle and Sebastian
This group is a favorite of our pandemic podmates, and when I found out they were heading to Boston, it was a no brainer that we’d be there to greet them. We’d seen the Mountain Goats together in the fall, and it had felt really weird in the masking and “are we supposed to be distancing” space of fall 2021. But Belle and Sebastian was just a fantastic concert in a brand new venue – Roadrunner – in Boston. The floor wasn’t even sticky yet. We danced and sang and had a fantastic time under the black lights.

Partygoers who look blue in a blacklight, with a few pops of neon color
Smurfs or partygoers?
A band playing under about 16 spotlights with the words "Belle and Sebastian" in lights behind them
So cool.

July – New England Revolution
Mixing it up from our concerts and 19th century entertainments, we went to Foxboro (my first time for not a vaccination) in July to catch the New England Revolution home opener. We do really love watching football, and while men’s football isn’t my first choice, we actually were at the very last professional women’s soccer game in Boston and will have to wait a while for it to return. I went to three professional sports events this year: 3 of us for soccer, 2 of us for Mariner’s baseball and 1 ticket for Patriot’s football. I paid the same for all three events.

Three people in a full stadium, wearing masks, watching soccer.
Of the three events, we had the best seats for soccer

August – Roaring 20s Lawn Party at the Crane Estates
On one of the hottest days of a roasting summer, we dressed in our finest and drove up Cape Ann to Ipswitch to the beach… wearing our finest duds and preparing to drink squash and jitterbug to our heart’s content (although I had the foresite to pack swimming suits). And we had a blast, in the pounding heat. Adam did a ton of dancing. We enjoyed the very on point outfits and setups. And when the heat finally overwhelmed us, Nathan and I went down to the water and cooled our hot selves while finding horseshoe crabs and throwing rocks into the water.

Three people dressed in formal attire underneath an umbrella
The “parasol” was critical
A woman, a boy and a man standing next to each other wearing 20s attire
Ah, the old days when I was still taller than Nathan

September – Essex Dinner Train
I admittedly was starting to feel the heat of having to find a cool new thing to do every month. I mean, how do you find cool things to do? Some of the above was serendipity. Much of the rest was Googling. I keep looking for public murder mystery dinners, but to no avail. But I found a ball (tragically sold out) on a dinner train, and figured we could at least do the dinner train. So Adam and I drove down to Essex and then took this dinner train ride. Which was … fine. Perfectly fine. Much better if you were perhaps over 60. Nothing wrong with it, but not on my list of most memorable meals ever.

Two people holding hands at a dinner table, with a train behind them.
It was sitting. With dinner. And moving scenery.

October – Fancy Dress gaming dinner with Paul of Wandering DMs
OK, so this probably doesn’t _actually_ count since I would have done this without the challenge. But October is the busiest month in the Flynniverse. For Adam’s birthday we asked our college friend Paul, who is as close to a professional role player as you get, to run a game for us. Ideally where all of us were formally dressed. I’m happy to report that Tobin brought the evening to a rousing and successful conclusion with a bit of murder and pumpkin-spelunking. Those villagers will never know what hit them.

Three women and three men dressed in evening attire. The women are mostly wearing pastels, and one of the men is in a pepto bismol pink suit.
The pastels were pure, but happy, coincidence.
A table full of papers and  drinks, with six people around it. The people are playing an RPG, and a man in a pink suit is standing at the end of the table.
A formal gaming table.

November … requires a writeup all its own.

But folks, I have a problem. I’m running out of ideas. So please … what should we do? What depths of cultural experience have gone unplumbed? What opportunities to dress up have we missed? How can we be fancy and fun and make memories we’ll never forget? Let me know – no idea too crazy to be considered! Also, what have you done lately? Are you having fun? What’s between you and that epic funness? What amazingly fun things have you done lately that we should put on our agenda?

Hero and Leander

Two towns there were, that with one sea were wall’d.
Built near, and opposite; this Sestus call’d,
Abydus that ; the Love his bow bent high,
And at both Cities let one arrow fly,
That two (a Virgin and a Youth) inflam’d:
The youth was sweetly-grac’d Leander nam’d,
The virgin Hero ; Sestus she renowns,
Abydus he, in birth; of both which towns
Both were the beauty-circled stars ; and both
Grac’d with like looks, as with one love and troth.
– Musaeus Grammaticus

First meeting
First meeting

The last twelve months has seen us bid farewell to our feline companions of the last decade, renowned Tiberius of doughty strength, ineffable charm and unquenchable mischief and lovely Data, the sweetest cat ever to be worn as a scarf. Thus ended our second generation of cats – the first being Justice and Magic. But for us, a house without cats is only a house. It is the tread of paws which transforms it into a home. We gave Data a due period of mourning. We completed our adventures and camping – brainstorming cat names as we drove the sylvan road from Frankfurt to Strasbourg.

We had many pairs of names for boys: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Two girls were much harder, perhaps Tigris and Euphrates? Boy/girl we were spoiled for options: Tristan and Isolde? Abelard and Heloise?

Driving back from camping for Labor Day, Adam spent the entire trip filling out online profiles for adopting cats. When we adopted Data and Tiberius, there were probably 40+ adoptable cats in the shelter. But we were finding that there was no “stock” of cats, and they were getting adopted wildly quickly. We got a call on a way to the adoption appointment on Sunday night not to bother – there were no adoptable animals. But there were, she gave us insight, a bunch of them going through the process of being checked, neutered, etc. And we should watch the listings. On Monday late night, 10 adoptable cats were added. I fretted – Tuesday we had soccer and bass lessons and I didn’t know how we could go. But then the rains came and the field was flooded and the bass instructor got food poisoning and all of a sudden signs pointed to cat. By the time we got to the shelter at 6:15, there were only five of those ten cats remaining, and only three within the criteria we were looking for.

Sterling, now known as Leander
Sterling, now known as Leander

The first cat we met was a handsome long-haired tuxedo called Sterling. He fearlessly permitted himself to be picked up and handled, and purred under adoring fingers giving him pets and scritches. He was five months old, and just a wee little kitten. Data was a tiny light cat at the end, and this little critter was half his weight. Sterling had extremely long and dramatic whiskers, ridiculously hirsute (or firsute?) and hairy ears and the most adorable socks – the ones on his back legs being extremely decorative. We learned that he was out of Virginia – and just a baby with no history. We pretended not to have decided that we were adopting him when we put him back, but it was all pretense.

Violet, aka Hero
Violet, aka Hero

The second cat was a tortie – mostly black with orange highlights except for the very tip of her five-month-old tail which is vibrant orange. Violet, as she was called, was lithe and powerful like a tigress, and ardent in her affections to the hands which stroked chin and shoulders. She’d been returned along with another cat after a week, with no reason given, so we don’t even know where she hailed from. She is DEFINITELY trouble, but that is the nature of a cat. She’s also sweet and affectionate and snuggly and has cat ADHD (in my very professional diagnosis).

Feline mischief, right here
Feline mischief, right here

They were not bonded, nor did they come from the same place. (Massachusetts usually imports stray animals from parts of the country with lower spay/neuter rates.) But they were both charming, friendly, affectionate and definitely coming home with us.

Very Dignified Cat
Very Dignified Cat

We’ve had them for a few days (each in a different attic room, slowly getting used to each other and each other’s smells). And so far they are very much kittens with so much kitten energy. They’re affectionate and funny and noisy and all over the place. They do have some epic zoomies. We’re totally in love, and can’t wait until we can unleash them on the house, and looking forward to many fine years of their soft and silly company.

Floof tail
Floof tail

Data “Android” Flynn

These two loved to snuggle each other

Nine years ago, we brought home a pair of 8 year old cats from a shelter. Older cats are hard to adopt, but this particular pair was the most engaging, sweetest and most fun set of cats we’d ever met. I thought at the time that we would have them for a shorter period than if we got young cats. I remember thinking that they’d be coming to the end of their predicted life spans when my eldest son was in high school. This is unimaginable when you have a little kid – an impossibly distant future. But…. Grey is a rising junior. Here we are.

Data actually liked to be worn like a scarf. He’d jump on your shoulder.

Tiberius left us in October of last year. We learned, in that moment, just who was responsible for 99.9% of all the cat related hijinks in the house. We THOUGHT with two cats we probably had two culprits, but noooo. It was entirely Tiberius. With only Data, butter could be safely left on the counter, we never were startled by a cat leaping out of an unsecured trash can, and you could plate dinner without leaving an armed guard or two and still find it on your plate.

Kitty snuggle piles

But Data, like Tiberius, was approaching 17 – quite an advanced age for a cat. Despite being teeny to start with, he was losing weight every vet visit. His kidney numbers weren’t great. He had to have a thyroid cream put on his ear. But for the last year, no lap went unclaimed. I started calling him “Fur and purr” – so insubstantial but omnipresent and loving.

This last week, though, he started refusing food. Including tuna. I may not be a vet, but I know that a cat who will not eat tuna is a cat who is done living. I took Data in to the vet who said that he basically had no more kidneys whatsoever, and that his numbers were literally higher than the test could measure. He also looked very uncomfortable – hunched up. He started hiding, and could only endure about 10 minutes of lap-petting before he went back into a hidey hole. He was telling us in clear terms that it was time. I asked the vet to take some palliative measures (rehydration, anti-nausea meds) and called Lap of Love to see when they could come. Data purred past his last breath.

Watch cat

His parting was easy and painless, if not quite as funny as Tiberius’ (who literally died with a Dorito in his mouth). Unfortunately, both boys were away, so it was just Adam and I saying goodbye. Data was the sweetest, snuggliest, softest cat it has ever been my privilege to live with. He had a kind heart, and was very simple: he just wanted to love and be loved.

Take us with you!

With no children and no cats, the house is very quiet. I find for myself, cats are what transforms a house into a home. My nest is not yet empty, but my children are fledglings. We are unanimous on one thing: we definitely want more cats. I’m not really even sure how long we’ll hold out before we welcome new furry friends into our house. I can only hope and wish that we may again experience the joy and pleasure like Data and Tiberius brought to us.

Farewell, Fur and Purr. You are already deeply missed.

Beloved

Malta

January hit hard this year. We had locked down from Thanksgiving onward, due to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, which looked like a hockey stick in the charts – erasing previously visible peaks and trough with it’s through-the-roofness. So the holidays were lonely and quiet. In January, we had to even stop seeing the one family we’ve been able to spend time with through the whole pandemic. And the dark cold of New England winter – always a challenging time – felt downright impossibly claustrophobic. But a ray of light beckoned: if we could thread the needs of infection, we planned on doing something so impossible in the COVID era it seems beyond the realm of fantasy: travel to the Mediterranean island of Malta.

A view out a plane window of sunset over the Maine coast
The view out the window
Drawing/painting of view out the window
My view of the view

A thousand things had to go right for this to work. We couldn’t get COVID. My parents couldn’t get COVID. No one could get a close exposure. The days leading up to my folks arrival and our departure felt impossibly fraught. I was terrified to take a test and have all hopes dashed, but the uncertainty begged for the reassurance of a negative test. But through a miracle, I found myself on a Friday night lifting into the oncoming night, sunset scattered behind us. I had bought an absolutely ridiculous journal for the trip – leather bound, and closed with a long strap and a charm, with extremely heavy watercolor paper. It’s the kind of journal that’s too nice to write in – and it came with a gorgeous box and amusingly a perfectly sized tiny backpack. Through the trip I journaled and drew on alternating pages.

A beautiful island as seen from an airplane, with blue waters surrounding it and blue skies above with a few puffy white clouds
Our first view of the Maltese archipelago

It was not as bad as I feared, flying transcontinental in a mask. We were tired, pulling the redeye, and it was so strange to find ourselves amidst other people and in places we’d never seen before. We found ourselves finally at the three room apartment we had rented, which was in the old city of Valetta and dated back an unkonwn number of centuries, but was likely at least 500 years old. The sandstone steps were well worn in the middle, and each room, though small, occupied an entire floor. The mandatory balcony looked out onto a street of stairs, and every morning at 9 am an old woman would lean outside her balcony and smoke a cigarette above the day’s drying laundry.

A picture from inside a dark room of the balcony across the street, with an old woman hanging out the window smoking above a line of clothes drying
The 9 am view

What we wanted from Malta was novelty and change. Having looked so often at the same four walls, I yearned for something new to think about, to talk about, to imagine. I wanted to unlock doors of the mind that did not spring from the hallways of my everyday life. And so we did – carefully. We ate outside all but one meal, despite the cold, and did few things indoors. Masks and vaccines were rigorously enforced. But they did not inhibit our enjoyment a bit! Mostly what we did was appreciate the history and culture of the island. We didn’t see EVERY museum in Malta, but we did go to: The Archaeological Museum, the neolithic Hypogeum, the War Museum at St. Elmo, the medieval walled city of M’Dina (with the cathedral museum and a preserved ducal palace) and the catacombs of Rabat, the upper and lower Bukkarra gardens, the best Turkish hammam (only?) in Malta, the neolithic Tarxien temples, the Citadel in Gozo and the old prison and smaller Archaeological museum, the cliffs of the northern coast, the Roman era salt flats, Ġgantija (the oldest freestanding building in the world – older than the pyramids), the armory museum, a boat tour of the harbor, a horseback ride at sunset, the astonishingly ornate Co-Cathedral and the firing of the signal cannon.

An incredibly ornate interior of a vast church
This was so incredibly ornate that it was almost impossible to take it all in. Even the floor was comprised of detailed worked stone in pictures – mostly of sailing ships and skeletons.
A picture inside the catacombs. You can see tombs, and the light through multiple arches.
The catacombs were labyrinthine and there were stories about how people got lost in them when they were used as WW2 bomb shelters – which felt very believable
Grey stones piled into tall walls, with a gorgeous blue sky and green grass - very lush.
We were there to look at neolithic ruins, but the glory of green and blue and warm sun was equally captivating

We also attended a baroque concert and TWO amazing jazz trumpet sets in alleyway bars that made me feel MUCH cooler than I actually am. And everywhere we went there was emblazoned – in ironwork, or masonry, or marquetry, or paint – the Maltese cross.

A woman painting a concert scene - you can see her drawing and the harpischold
I loved the live drawing of the concert.
Adrian – the trumpet player – WAILED

As I wrote in many post cards: I have good news. The rest of the world did not disappear while we were all responsibly locked down. The sun has not hidden itself forever from a cold and weary world. There are new things to be seen, foods to be tasted, experiences yet to be had. Welcome back to the world.

A woman at sunset with a spiky plant and an old walled city behind her
Sunset in Valetta

If you really want to, you can see all 1000+ of our photos here.

Slow River Studios: Creative Kickstart

I’m at about the 18 month mark of my artistic journey, from my very first drawings in my very first sketchbook. I’ve really enjoyed the discovery: I love watercolors, like drawing, and lack the exactitude and patience needed to do lettering arts (I have bought like 10 books and every time I try to do it I’m like … this is boring. Let’s watercolor instead.) But I felt like I was getting to the edge of what I could learn by myself, from books and via Skillshare online classes. It was a wonderful stroke of luck when one of my friends sent me a gift certificate to Slow River Studio. Browsing through the classes was a little like that feeling you got when the college released the course catalog for the next year, and you found yourself dreaming of that Thursday night “Death, Dying and the Dead” seminar and the sticky noting the fascinating classes (before you realized that you a) didn’t have the prereq and b) they all conflicted with your required courses … pretty sure I ignored at least a) when I did sign up for DD&D). I finally settled on spending Wednesday evenings in Essex doing “Creative Kickstart”.

It was a six week class, and I both really enjoyed it and feel like I learned a few things. I also feel like I did my first ever piece of art that had a thing to say (other than “mountains mountains mountains mountains TREE!”). Here’s what we did (click on each for a bigger version and page through):

(I’m trying a new format with the gallery!)

Here’s the 98355 poem:
9 Mineral Lake: Old Mill Pond, Loggers Long Gone, Farm Bred Trout
8 Mt. Rainier: Active volcano, Ancient Ice, New-born Stone, Dangerous beauty
3 Sky: Cerulean, Above Clouds
5 Hill Road: The winding road to civilization
5 Towards Round Top: Gateway to the Wild Lands

Tiberius Milkstache Flynn

Just over eight years ago, Grey did 170 chores in order to earn the right to get a cat. This cat was preordained to be Data, for reasons that made sense to an 8 year old. When we went to find Data in the shelter, we looked at all the pretty cats and the young cats, but the ones that grabbed our heart were the friendly cats. It was a pair of brothers – 8 years old and therefore very hard to adopt. One was all black – he became Data. One was a veritable tank of a cat – hefty and friendly and assertive of his desires. Sticking with the incredibly subtle Star Trek theme, we named him after a fellow confident pudge – James Tiberius Kirk. He also looked a bit like a Roman emperor on a bender. So Tiberius he was. (You can read the welcome-home post here.)

A black and orange cat curled together
Yin and Yang

We had not had Tiberius home for a month when we discovered that although he scarfed his food, he also immediately barfed it back up. He was in liver failure and only the application of vast wads of cash (and feedings through a neck tube every four hours) kept him alive. Eight years ago last week, he was within 12 hours of me deciding that he wasn’t going to make it. But then he perked up, started holding down food, and healed. And earned the nickname “Tube-erous” for his feeding tube.

A black and an orange cat in a box
Tiberius ADORES Amazon boxes

These two cats have spent the last eight years knocking things off counters, eating any unguarded food, learning to open cat food containers (and trash cans, and cupboards), and walking through my unfinished watercolors. They sleep together in ying-yang patterns on the chairs. At this very moment, Data has decided that there is enough room on my lap for a laptop AND a lap cat. He is sitting on my arms. The guys have been the friendliest, snuggliest cats in the world. They want nothing more than to snuggle (and steal your Cheetos). They’ll flop on their backs and show you their bellies – and will actually not claw you to death should you succumb to temptation and put your face in their fuzz. They are really people-cats, and want to be with you and get scritches. (Now Data is grooming Tiberius). They lay on legs. They stand in front of tvs. They join us at the dinner table, because they are part of the family.

A cat in a santa hat
He loved to explore

Two weeks ago, Tiberius started yowling. We took him to the vet, who found a grapefruit-sized tumor in his increasingly emaciated belly, and gave him two weeks to live. He is a sixteen year old cat. Options for surgery or treatment seemed cruel rather than kind. So he’s had two good weeks with anti-nausea drugs (probably the longest our floor has gone without cat vomit) and pain medications. And he’s definitely fallen off in that time. Not that Adam didn’t JUST pull him out of the trash can, but he’s spending most of his day sleeping and he’s light as a feather. Most of his weight is now tumor, and he trembles when he jumps from the kitchen table to the sink to see if anyone HAPPENED to leave anything tasty there. We won’t let him fall all the way to suffering. On Friday, we’ll say our last farewells and bury him beneath the plum tree, to the left of the pawpaw planting.

Two cats snuggling on a couch
They were snuggly with everyone

I am so grateful that we had the company of both these cats during the long internment of the pandemic. Their sweet affection has warmed fearful days. Their purring company drives fears away. Their soft fur has been a consolation to young and old in this household. Their mischief – considerable as it is – has been both exasperating and charming. I so wish for more time, but mostly I’m so grateful for the time we have had together.

Goodbye, buddy.

A cat tail sticking out of a catfood container
Mr. Trouble

Whatsover is good: Camp Wilmot 5k

https://www.campwilmot.org/donate

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. – Philippians 4:8

I don’t know if this rings true for you, but lately it seems like every topic of conversation, every news article, every new thing I’ve learned is something awful. Ranging in severity from the bad behavior of celebrities I like to the climate cataclysm already breaking over our heads (and of course, let’s not forget COVID), it feels like everything is awful and nothing is good.

My interpretation of the Barn and Farmhouse

So when I am able to find something that is truly good and really meaningful – and also beautiful – there’s hardly a greater gift that I could be given. My kids got to spend three magical weeks at Camp Wilmot again this summer. Despite screen deprivation, they love to go. They spend three weeks in nature being active and creative. They build meaningful relationships with others, and are nurtured and loved by some of the most kind and caring people I have ever met. There is silliness and smores and stars and songs. They come back inspired, and better people. Of all the influences in my children’s life, Camp Wilmot is one of the most profound and positive.

Peace Like a River at Blueberry Beach

They’re not alone. Camp Wilmot is small, but reaches over a hundred children in its ministry. Over half the children do not attend church anywhere – this Camp is what they experience of God’s love as shown by Christians. A very large percentage of the campers are also only able to attend due to the generosity of donors who set up Camperships. This camp MATTERS to these kids, these counselors, these directors – and the parents who love them. It creates loves, and hope. It is a beacon in a dark time.

Next Saturday, I’m headed to Camp Wilmot to go run in the 5k to raise funds for a campership. I would be incredibly grateful if you would be willing to support me (and this awesome ministry, and my kids who love it with their whole hearts) with a financial donation at https://www.campwilmot.org/donate . Or come join in the fun! Register and run too!

Grey leading Bible study at Camp Wilmot

Over the coming year I’ll probably be talking a lot more about Camp Wilmot. As I come out of my rest period in my life of faith, I cannot imagine a more worthwhile work than to help this camp thrive in this generation and the next. Please be patient with me if I talk about it. And if you feel inspired, like I am, please join in community. Join the 5k. Sign up for the newsletter. Adopt a cabin. (Sponsors weekends was fuuuuuuun!) Rent the site in the winter. Sponsor a kid to attend. Pay attention to this beautiful, true thing among us.