The end of the season

After a long, cold spring, the summer has finally arrive with heat and humidity. The daylight lingers so long that you forget it’s time for your kids to be asleep. This last week was a week of closings.

Edwin Hubble readies his “Famous American” presentation

School ended on Friday. Today we’ve spent time spelunking through backpacks, throwing away pencils stubs and uncappered markers, while saving previous mementos and projects in folders marked “Thane – Second Grade” and “Grey – Fifth Grade”. Those folders will get no more entries. Monday they begin the adventures of summer camp, and kick off what will be an extremely busy summer for them. (Actually rather more relaxed for Adam and me!)

It was a very good school year for both boys. Thane is desperately in love with his teacher. He learned sign language from her, and felt valued and respected by her. He asked me a few weeks ago if he could fail second grade so he could do it all over again with her. (Sorry kiddo. Your grades are way too good!) I’d definitely been worried about sending Grey to Middle School. But he thrived in his classroom. He loved his teachers, learned a lot and has continued to grow in maturity and capability. Also, I think 5th grade is a fantastic time to learn what a 0 for not turning in your homework does to the ol’ GPA.

I’m always jealous at the end of the school year. The nature of my work is seasonless – the tropics of effort. I can’t help but thinking how lovely it would be to do work which both begins and ends.

This Saturday was also the last day of the soccer season. We require our kids to play at least one sport, and we can’t make baseball work. So that one sport has been soccer since Grey was wee. There have been quite a few years where one pondered whether it was a good idea. Grey used to have to be cajoled onto the field. Thane was apparently working on his PhD in falling down and didn’t like to get sweaty (sorry kid – it’s a requirement!)

Because of church commitments, I haven’t seen my kids play much this year. It feels like I’ve spent six months in non-stop committee meetings trying to find a pastor we want to hire. But I made it to all of this tournament. It’s really Stoneham at it’s best and brightest. The field is covered with children and parents. There’s a vast melting pot of colors, accents and levels of skill. Children in blue jersey as young as four to the teenage refs showcase sportsmanship and teamwork.

In it to win it

Best of all, though, was watching how much my kids have grown and flourished. Grey, the once reluctant player, was masterful in his defense. It was such a joy to watch him stretch his long legs, find his spots, challenge for the ball – and come away with it. In the tournament, he took two hard-hit balls to the his face. Where in prior years this might have been enough to keep him off the pitch entirely, this year he picked himself up and got right back into the scrum. I was incredibly proud of him, and grateful to his coaches.

Good luck getting past him!

Thane was equally wonderfully transformed. His team only had one sub, and was missing some of it’s skilled players, but managed to fight their way to the championship. They played back to back games. I couldn’t believe how well Thane read the field repositioning himself to be in just the right defensive spot. He did a great job stopping attacks and clearing the ball. He was focused, fast and good. I’ve never seen such a look of concentration and passion on his face. They ended up coming up short in the final game with a late goal by the other team. Instead of falling into sorrow, Thane cheerfully pointed out how fantastic it was that they got to play in a championship at all. I was delighted at the attitude!

Proud championship player

It’s not only the school year that is coming to a close. It’s also a chapter of our life on our street. We have an incredible neighborhood, where many of the families know each other very well. We have meals together, our kids play together all the time. We are deeply connected. This has been true for years now. But the time has come when our dearly beloved friend is being transferred to DC. We’ve known this was coming for years, but we’ve all been in denial. It’s getting harder and harder to deny, though, since they leave next week. Nothing will ever be quite the same – it never is. But this will leave a big hole in my life and community.

Love you forever, Stef!

Love you all the time!

Confession

I made a mistake this week. It wasn’t a huge mistake, but it was a mistake that had consequences and I had definitely made it. It was defensible. I could’ve explained why it wasn’t really my fault, or turned it around. But in that sinking-stomach moment words inserted themselves into my mind:

L I confess to God Almighty, before the whole company of heaven and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault; wherefore I pray God Almighty to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and bring me to everlasting life. Amen.

C The almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, forgiveness, and remission of all your sins. Amen.

C I confess to God Almighty, before the whole company of heaven and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault; wherefore I pray God Almighty to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and bring me to everlasting life. Amen.

L The almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, forgiveness, and remission of all your sins.

The words that showed up, unbidden, were “by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault”. I owned my mistake, I said I was sorry, I asked for forgiveness, and I promised not to make it again.

And then I thought about the role that confession had played with me in that moment. For those of you who are not born and bred Presbyterian, we have a confession in every worship service. Unlike Catholic confession, this isn’t a 1:1 where we talk about what we’ve done (or not done) and get a penance to help us atone. It’s usually printed in our bulletin and we read it aloud. Then there’s a quiet moment for us to privately share our own personal failings with God. Then the leader reads the “Assurance of Pardon” – we’re forgiven.

Sometimes this corporate confession can feel weird. Periodically the imagination of the pastor writing the bulletin fails to describe where my feelings of guilt lie. Sometimes, they nail me to the wall with how right they are. My sons has asked what he should do when he doesn’t feel guilty of the particular thing we’re confessing.

But you know what? Admitting we’re wrong, that we made a mistake, this is a hard thing to do. It feels like it’s getting harder and harder. When’s the last time you heard someone say that they were wrong, and they made a mistake, and ask you for forgiveness? When’s the last time you heard a leader in politics or civics say that they were wrong, and that they made a mistake and we should do something different than they said before? I do not, however, think this is because people have stopped making mistakes.

Maybe what we’ve stopped doing is practicing and admitting we’re wrong. I don’t know of a secular spiritual practice of confession that practices being wrong. And my incredibly informal research has led me to understand confession is not a regular part of most evangelical Christian worship services. It turns out that it’s really hard to do things you don’t practice. Without that litany in my head, would I have been ready to admit my fault? How much harder would it have been? What is the cumulative price we pay for not being in practice admitting we made a mistake?

In one of those fun synergy moments, recently one of my friends at work started up a project designed to address this exact same phenomenon. He’s hosting a Fuck Up Night. The premise is that a group of people get together to hear a handful of entrepreneurs talking about their biggest mistakes – the times where they were wrong and did the wrong thing, “by their own most grievous fault”. The reason this is so valuable is because without understanding what we did wrong last time, we can’t learn and do it better next time. We have to get past pretending it wasn’t a mistake, or trying to shift blame, in order for that learning to happen. (The Failure Institute has a lot of research on that.)

Maybe the vaunted Protestant Work Ethic was less important for economic success than Protestant willingness to admit we’re wrong, in public, in front of everyone, and ask for forgiveness.

I make mistakes all the time. In thought word and deed. By my fault. By my own most grievous fault. By my own most grievous fault. I admit it to God and the whole company of heaven, and to you folks who are reading me right now. And I ask for mercy and forgiveness.

What about you? Do you have a regular practice of admitting you’re wrong? Is a confession a part of your past or present? When is the last time you said out loud that you were wrong and it was your fault? What would happen if you did – at work, in your civic life, or in your relationships?

Daydreams of time

What would you do if you had more leisure time? I’m sitting outside on a glorious Sunday afternoon, cool in the shade and warm in the sun, listening to the sort of rock music meant for summer. I’m edged in a short hour between my Pastor Nominating Committee meeting & follow up emails and when I need to leave to catch a plane for Chicago for work for the next few days.*

Real life: Sunday morning soccer

My life is filled with meaningful and joyful work, almost all of which requires me to sit at a computer. Funny that, isn’t it?

But I’ve lately been having fantasies of what I’d do if I actually had real blocks of unencumbered time in which to do stuff I wanted to do (as opposed to the stuff I already decided to do – I’m a lover of novelty!). I’m quite sure I’d end up filling those hours (if not quite a packed as they are now…)

Real life: Counting the proceeds from our “change drive” for Heifer in my Sunday School class

My fantasy life isn’t what it once was. This may be partially because so many fantasies of youth have come true. I am married to a guy I totally dig, and who seems happy with me. I have two happy, healthy children. I’m working my dream job. I have a D20 tea mug. Hard to improve on this.

But lately I’ve been daydreaming a lot about writing, and history.

Real Life Saturday: foraging in the Fells

Anyway, a recent fantasy has to do with being an author. I have wanted to be an author since I first realized that a) you had to have a job b) writing books was a job. Unfortunately, I have never written a book. This puts a damper on one’s authorship. But I’ve recently come to imagine what series of books I want to write. I always wanted to write fantasy novels a la Tolkien. But it turns out I’m terrible at it. As I’ve sunk into true belonging into this amazing town I live in, though, I’ve discovered all this phenomenal history, and remarkable stories. You’ve heard me talk about this before, but it seems like every few months I find out something new and amazing about the town.

The most recent discovery came when I did a tour of Lindenwood Cemetery only to learn that Stoneham was *apparently* a hotbed of the Spiritualist Movement.

Mind you, not everyone was a fan of spiritualism.

So my latest brilliant idea is to write a series of mystery novels, loosely set in the history of Stoneham. It would start with the naked sailors & wolf attacks of the early 1700s. It would wind it’s way through the blood and suffering of the Revolutionary War. We’d get Jacob Gould’s murder, of course. The Spiritualists would follow. Perhaps then the Civil War and the Underground Railroad. That would be followed by the pugilists on Spot Pond & the mysterious “Where Shute Fell” marker in the roaring 20s (even the cursory research for this post points out that the marker far predates the prohibition prize fights!). We’d dedicate time to the great Pan Pacific Race, where Stoneham was wrongfully denied it’s place in history by cheating.

I might stop there, coming at that point to close to living remembrance to steal so boldly. Or it might be, in doing the depth and research of learning I would have to do to write these books, I’d uncover even more rich stories in the interstices. I imagine the books being threaded together by the lives of the people who span them. Silas Dean would show up often, in fact or in memory. Elizur Wright might be the hero of the Civil War book. Maybe there’d be two Civil War books – same time, two perspectives. Honestly, I might be a happy woman for decades just doing research until I felt like I knew enough to start writing. (Although given my personality, I’d probably start writing and then get sidetracked on the research.)

Doesn’t that sound like fun? Can’t you see my notebooks spread out before me, a look of concentration on my face? Can’t you imagine me hovering over the library’s microfiche machine? I imagine falling into long digressions with Dolly in the library, following heretofore unknown threads of history. Consider the hikes in the Fells to see _that spot_. The joy of unearthing just the perfect picture from forgotten archives. The maps that would need to be made and adjusted for each one of these moments in time. The cast of characters set and threaded through books.

For example, while I was writing this, Dolly sent me this picture of my neighborhood (Nobility Hill) c. 1900

Then imagine the books actually get published, to some degree of success. (Let’s be clear, this falls well into the realm of utmost fantasy.) Imagine the sectional in the library touting the local author! The tour of local sites by the Historical Commission! A book signing at the Book Oasis (where the patrons thrill to imagine the courage of the Underground Railroad travelers and conductors on the very spot where they now stand)! Imagine my sleepy town rising from the backwater of history to claim its place next to Concord and Lexington. (OK, probably not that much, but maybe people would have heard of it?) Imagine citizens walking past Silas Dean’s house with a sense of awe and ownership.

It’s a pretty good fantasy, as fantasies go.

So, you ask, what would it take to do it? The reason it’s a fantasy is because I have some idea what it takes, and I don’t have it. I’d guess it would take an hour a day, four weekdays a week. Then probably a 3 hour research block + an hour a day writing time on weekends. Obviously there could be breaks & vacations, but I find the momentum & continuity pretty critical to writing a coherent work. That’s time I simply don’t have. Last time I did Nanowrimo, my whole family felt neglected and left out. They’re my first priority, so that just won’t work. Maybe someday I’ll have that extra hour a day I need, but I don’t see that day anytime soon.

Until then, you’ll just have to continue to be my writing outlet, dear friends!
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What about you? What daydreams do you hold on to? What mighta-coulda beens while away your pleasant thoughts?

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*A friend commented how remarkable it was that I always took precisely the 10 – 11 hour on Monday mornings to write my blog post. Let me clarify – I write the post over the weekend and schedule publication. The timing is so that people actually read it, since posting on a weekend is a great way to have a readership of 10.

Nothing new under the sun

It’s Mother’s Day, and I’ve spent it in glorious sloth and catching up on some things that need to be caught up on. Someone praised my blogging on Facebook today, and I’m happy for the compliment. But then I find myself with another week coming, and another post, and not such great ideas.

This year’s lilacs

Or rather, I have some excellent ideas. I’d love to tell you about Mother’s Day, lilacs, and how much I love lilacs. Except I did that back in 2009. (Eight years later, the boys still roll down the hills at the Arnold Arboretum during the Lilac Festival.) Also, please note that in that post I whined about how hard it is to come up with things to write about. I also covered lilacs in 2010, 2011, 2012 and probably every year since then. Maybe I should start thinking of these posts as traditions instead of repetitions?

Yesterday at one point I had on my “Mirkwood National Forest” t shirt, had my “Not all who wander are lost” sticker on my laptop (the other laptop has a custom made “Gates of Moria” sticker and was reading Tolkien.

In an attempt to restore and rejuvenate myself, I’ve reread Tolkien for, I dunno. It might be the 40th time. I have my own “Editor’s Cut” of how to read the books if I’m in a hurry. I read them super slowly this time, to notice things that had previously escaped my attention. I did! It’s such a rich text. I love it more each time. This time I pondered a parallel between Theoden of Rohan and Roland of “The Song of Roland”. Both are killed by their own weapons (horse and horn), arguably because such characters couldn’t be bested by a foe and hold to the story. I also saw more clearly than ever some of the Christian allegory Tolkien claimed he was including. There is much of the Christ story in Gandalf’s death, resurrection, transformation & teaching. But I’ve also covered the topic of Tolkien pretty well.

Complaining about being busy is boring. Being busy is also boring.

My life is pretty awesome. The most I have to complain about is too much awesomesauce. There’s chocolate cake to celebrate tonight. And at any moment now I’m going to log off and start playing Civ VI like I intended to three hours ago.

May your remembrances of mothers and mothering bring you joy today. For those of you who do not have your mothers, may you find consolation either in memory, or in the memory of those who have served as loving influences in your life!

Spring is astonishing

I work in technology, and the epicenter of technology is in California. I have thought a lot about living in California, and repeatedly decided that I did NOT want to live in California. Many people transplanted to California talk about how they miss “the seasons”. I mean, paradise is great but it has no variety. I sometimes wonder in the dreariest days of early April (when according to the seasons I learned at the hands of English poets spring should be well along) whether the seasons are all that much to brag about.

May has had it’s fair share of showers

But then, oh glorious May! There is this thing that happens to color and sunlight in May that beggars explanation. It’s as though your eyes put on a saturation lens. Every color – from the blandest grays to the chartreuse grasses and indigo skies – looks more vibrant than you remember the world looking. The phlox is unrealistically pink, and soft to the touch. Fragrances – long forgotten out of doors – waft on the soft winds bringing news of nearby lilacs (my favorite flower). The way the golden light bends over playing children long into the evening hours seems like a double bounty. Not only is it a glorious, beautiful and rich light, but it lingers longer.

Spring is an excellent time for ambition. Oh, not as great as Fall. There is no better time for the embarking on great adventures than September (as Tolkien well knew). But when you step outside to mow your lawn for the first time in a calendar year and contemplate the land allotted to you, it occurs to you it’s not enough. You should put in a flower bed. You should plant some pansies. Heck, maybe you should buy out your back door neighbor’s yard and add it to your own! (I confess that latter is a fantasy I’ve entertained. Tragically, that neighbor has no interest in selling.)

Spring is the time of year when you make gardening commitments your July self will deeply rue. You know that, of course. Everyone knows spring decisions are unreliable. But you can’t help yourself. You don’t want to help yourself. You want to believe, in spring, that all things really are made new and you yourself are a different person. A greater person than you’ve been before. A person who will weed all year round.

My next door neighbor is just such a person. (If you’re one of the cognoscenti of my street, no this isn’t any of my neighbors you know.) Every year since they moved in they’ve seeded their lawn with new grass seed. They even usually water it (thereby going one up on me and my “only the strong will survive” attitude towards grass seed). But they don’t believe in actually MOWING said lawn. Those newly minted blades of grass poking up through the “one-step” grass seed/fertilizer & soil mixes will be grow unmolested until August, at which point they’ll be crudely mown (by a weed-whacker I believe) for the sole time in the year. (Unless I get sick of it and sneak over and mow it first, which is deeply tempting.) Still every spring, they plant. You can’t fail to admire optimism like that.

Proto plum

I have continued to follow the progress of my plum tree with avid interest. The winter moths have not arrived. I don’t know if that’s “yet” or if they’ve been successfully suppressed. I have found today a tiny, embryonic plum. I haven’t given much thought to the growth patterns of fruit, but since you generally only see the flower and the fruit, I thought the inbetween stages somewhat invisible – the ridiculousness of which belief becomes apparent as quickly as writing it down. They are indeed there, those minute plums. The one I spotted is less than the size of an olive pit – much less. But it is there.

The tragedy of my spring is that I am not overambitious just once (or even twice a year). I suffer from chronic overambition. I would say that this year has been extra super ridiculously busy, but if I’m honest with myself it’s actually only a notch or two busier than usual. A good portion of the extra busyness comes from the Pastor Nominating Committee, which I’m chairing. We’re meeting three times this week. And for a total of about 6 horus. And I have homework on top of that. The efficiency maven in me keeps looking at how we might do this faster & better, but it’s a process that resists shortcuts.

This guy would like you to know he is NOT a spiritualist and does not condone the ridiculous stuff his son gets up to. His son, meanwhile, has his name on the plot in no less than FIVE spots.

I find myself caught between two powerful feelings – on one hand the feeling that this is all to much and I absolutely have to slow down. On the other hand, there’s this pressing and persistent guilt for all the things I have not done, which I have not put my hand to. I do absolutely nothing for the PTO. I would love to do more things with town history, but I’ve never even used the brand new microfiche machine in our library. (Although I’ve dispatched others for information found therein!) I really want to put up a sign marking the Nobility Hill Historic district. Two in fact. I just need designs. And money. Those just need… time. I haven’t seen half my friends in far too long. I turn down party invitations I’d rather attend. I don’t have season tickets to the theater. I don’t practice my trumpet. And I wish I spent more time with my kids. They’re neat people. It’s been ages since I attempted anything complicated in the kitchen. And the prime time of foraging season is here and I have not set foot in the woods.

In my defense, this weekend I did see “Guardians of the Galaxy” (both 1 and 2) with my kids. I finished reading “The Two Towers” for the, uh, I have no idea how many times I’ve read it. But when you have your own personal “director’s cut” (which I *didn’t* read) you may have read it rather often. I did a ton of PNC work. I cleaned up the “clothes to donate” pile. I took a 3 hour tour of Lindenwood Cemetery. (GUYS! Stoneham was a hotbed of spiritualism! The ghost stories just write themselves, really…) We went out to dinner with the gift certificate we were given in gratitude for rescuing a hiker last year. I played two board games. I attended one soccer game (our team won!). I went to church, and the International Potluck afterwards. We saw Gabriel at the theater with the boys (it was excellent!). I mowed the lawn and the space where I want to put the “Nobility Hill” sign. We went for a run. I made dinner & we watched “Bertie & Jeeves”. And then I realized I had no idea what to write for a blog post and went for the extremely creative “well what’s the weather like” prompt.

And honestly, this was not a super duper busy weekend. Not even the fullest spring-intoxication can beguile more commitments out of me!

Thane was a very effective goalie!

One last word on spring. I’ve often contemplated the shift in metaphor that separates us from our forepoets. Both Homer and Keats – worlds & thousands of years apart – have seen real live sheep in the flesh. They know what they are to the touch. What a clean pelt feels like. How a contented sheep sounds. These are things that thousands of years of history have in common with each other. And they are things which have abruptly been removed from the common experience – or at best made isolated and rare. The rich metaphors are drying out in a world that no longer does the things we’ve always done.

But the seasons still remain. The stars have faded (when is the last time you glanced out and the sky was clear enough you could see the Milky Way?). The livestock are gone from our lives. We neither sow nor spin nor shear nor reap (the latter being especially true for my neighbor). So what remains as connection is all the more precious. The seasons remain. The daffodils still bloom, as once they did. Our hearts are “pricked” and we long to go on “pilgrimages”, just as Chaucer said. Even as much falls away, or becomes an intellectual adventure, we still share those seasons with those who came before us.

And that, my friends, is why I will not move to California.

Goslings are cute. Geese are jerks.

The City of New Orleans

Back in September, at “The Event”, I bid on one item in the silent auction we hosted, the trip to New Orleans. I was super excited, but knew I didn’t want to go WITH children. February break, when the kids be at their grandparents, was unfortunately Marti Gras. (There were blackout dates on the hotel, alas.) So as April break arrived, I welcomed my mother-in-law and said a quick farewell as we hied ourselves down to The Crescent City.

The heart of the tourism zone

We had a great time. We got half our to-do list done the first day. We had begnets for breakfast, with accompanying live jazz. We hit the largest historical museum. We had foot massages. (Well, we did that pretty much every day!) We did the cocktail tour (of which I remember the beginning better than the end… for some reason…) The best part of the cocktail tour was the set of scientists we were doing it with who were there for a Physical Anthropology Conference and were fascinating conversationalists. The worst part of the cocktail tour was absinthe. UUUUUGH.

But it looks cool!

The French Quarter was a noisy, tumultuous crazy place. I found myself slightly off-put by just how pleased everyone seemed with the moral decrepitude. Also, the concept of to-go beer is surprisingly disconcerting. We liked it best in the morning – and there were some great museums. I loved the Pharmacy Museum, and the Insectarium was well done. The leaf-cutter ants were the coolest part!

Many of those implements were terrifying!

Food and drink are a huge part of the appeal of the Crescent City. While I think they were well done, Adam doesn’t eat seafood and I don’t like spicy food. I think the best of it was a miss for us. My favorite were the Cajun Eggrolls at the Huck Finn Cafe. We went to one of New Orleans top restaurants, the Commander’s Palace where I had a soft-shelled crab. I was upset when I realized that after the glorious diversity of New Orleans, I didn’t see a single person of color in the entire restaurant, as server or patron. There were probably 300 people there. That was not a statistically plausible outcome, even correcting for income inequality. That realization made my bread pudding souffle taste much less sweet.

You just eat the whole thing

Three days was a short trip, but we were both in dire need of rest. The lovely weather, down time and amazing things to see were just what the doctor ordered – and not a creepy 19th century doctor either!