Frozen Echo

This Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, my family and I are holed up in a very scenic mountain lodge for a few days. I really like getting away on this weekend. The weeks after the beginning of the new year can be very dreary, with dark gray skies, the coldest weather of the year, and little to look forward to. Some years I have arranged it so poorly that I didn’t have a day off between Christmas and Memorial Day. But with a long, fun weekend in the snow planned mid January, it helps.

Last year, Adam took the boys skiing and snow-boarding. But we had this run where both kids ended up in the ER in a couple week period from snow sports. Thane broke his wrist, which really bummed out the rest of the winter and halted his nascent basketball career. This year, we planned to arrive right before a major winter storm broke (and leave after it does). So while we toyed with snow sports, we didn’t actually buy any lift tickets.

Yesterday, we lounged around the hotel, swam in the heated outdoor pool, and played lots of role-playing games. We took a midday trip on still clear roads to North Conway, where Adam and I enjoyed some time in some art galleries looking for pieces for our attic, while Grey enjoyed the practical joke section of the Five and Dime store there. He fell in love with a coffee shop that specialized in coffee, art, sarcastic sayings and jazz.

Scenic gaming location

Today, after the epic brunch the hotel is famous for, the boys played their role playing game for several hours. They’re deep into an adventure. With all this unexpected time on my hands, I started live-tweeting my reading of Steven’s “A History of Stoneham, Mass” from a beautiful copy given to me by a friend. I also – and this is epic – finished my draft of the book I’ve been working on for over three years. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the finished draft is about 44k words. Apparently that’s not really novel length. So either I’ve written a novelette (no market) a teen novel (not really) or I need to find more story to tell. Or it’s just unpublishable, which is the most likely outcome, but one likes to pretend there’s hope.

The shores of Echo Lake

In the bright light of afternoon, with 17 degree weather, we all put on our warmest layers and buckled on our snowshoes (thanks mom!) for a walking adventure. Although I’ve seen Echo Lake many times and know exactly where it is and it’s very near this resort I’ve stayed in often… I’ve never been. There’s a trail down from the resort, and we broke new snow. It felt like a foot of new powder, although it had switched over to ice pellets by that time. The lake itself was frozen hard – hard enough even for the most cautious of parents to be unafraid of their beloved children walking on it. And from the lake, perhaps no surprise, there is a remarkable echo.

If I didn’t know this was a lake, it would be hard to tell

Snow shoeing is quite a tiring activity. Right now Adam’s asleep, Thane is bopping around and Grey is working on a school project (theoretically). The snow continues to fall outside, and we have nowhere we need to be and nothing we need to do. Bliss indeed!

White Horse Ledge

Awaiting the storm

This morning the skies were blue and the mountains clear. Over morning coffee, the horizons were bounded only by mountains with snowy feet and bare crowns.

By noon, the clouds had covered the sun.

Here at the twilight of the day, the nearest mountains are nearly only memories, or abstract reminders as slightly darker parts of the undifferentiated horizon.

Disappearing mountains

At any moment now, the first of the flakes will begin to fall. Well over a foot will fall before these falling clouds rise again, having dropped the burdens of their great snow-hordes. The vaults of heaven will open and grant us a full share of winter.

We are safe at the footsteps of a mighty cliff, overlooking the Greek-inspired Diana’s Bath and Echo Lake. We have nowhere we need to go in the time before the clouds lift – although if we’re feeling adventurous the best of snow will be available on Attitash & Wildcat. The snow shoes are in the car. The outdoor pool is steaming in the chill. We are fully stocked with books and snacks, and the lodge has a full restaurant (and bar). The role-playing games are in full swing.

Let the snow fall.

2018 in hindsight

Last hurrah for the old attic

I suspect I say this every year, but man. A lot happened for us in 2018. Walking back through my pictures and notes, perhaps one of the biggest changes in our house and life was the transformation of our attic from a partially finished bedroom and unheated office into a palace of delights and things that work. We did a huge attic project, including adding plumbing, electric, HVAC, insulation and flooring (and walling) for a full bathroom, bedroom, closets & walk in closet. We’ve finally gotten the laundry room up and running (a sad & sordid story). But every day I’m delighted by living in such a beautiful space. Due to the eviction of cats and children from the floor, it’s also clean and peaceful. Ahhhhh.

Fun with radiation

We had an interesting spell last year where both children had ER trips in a three week period due to snow sports. My “medical notifications” folder is thick with 6 month late-arriving bills from random radiologists in that period. Grey took a tumble on the slopes which ended up being fine, but which involved the neck. Thane broke his wrist snowboarding. We’re headed out again in a few weeks to the Whites. I’m wondering if we’re going to end up snowboarding/skiing. Or maybe just tubing and snow-shoeing, which are not safe but have slightly lower risks.

Tropical Island paradise

Thane got his wrist brace off just in time for us to go to Cozumel. There was superb snorkeling and the weather (as always) was magnificent. The children also somehow just hit the age where it seemed fine to leave them in the hotel room while we went snorkeling, which meant that Adam and I got a lot more great swims in than we have in the past. Thane made friends with the iguanas, Grey was an all around good sport, and we played a decent number of board games. Alas, no beach vacation is in store for us this year. I’ll just have to gaze longingly at the pictures of previous trips.

First geocache

When we got home, Grey took up geocaching – which is an activity all of us love. Yes, let’s wander through the Fells looking for hidden treasure! Grey also set up his first cache, hidden in public lands near the soon-to-officially-open TriCommunity Bikeway (with all requisite permissions). We’ve hit about 40 caches in total. He often points out to me that he’d spend sooooo much more time geocaching if he had his own smartphone. I guess that’s something for him to look forward to!

Piemas

My parents came out to visit at Piemas time. We were lucky to see them a few times this year, including the week where they were blowing in insulation into the walls of the house which therefore became a death trap and we all (including cats) had to vacate it. Good times. But the pie was great and my mom claims that I’ve probably made more of them than she has! So I’m not complaining. Not too long thereafter my brother accepted a transfer and went from being one town over to living in Omaha. We miss him.

Desperate measures

As the winter posted a hard freeze after some warm weather, I started obsessing full time about my plum tree. There were several months there with multiple updates a week on the plum status. My over-the-topness began with this scene, where my long-suffering and loving husband is rigging up a heat reflector for a space heater for my plum tree so it doesn’t get too cold. I learned a lot this year – my tree blossomed beautifully, set out several hundred small plums and then dropped most of them. There were about 20 that survived that purge. Another 15 or so died off at the size of cherries. Three plums made it to maturity and were integrated into a mixed plum batch of jam. According to my consult with my cousin (whose husband is a orchard keeper), likely I insufficiently watered and fertilized my tree. I can assure you that will not happen again. I’ll come up with new ways to have my crop destroyed. Or possibly I’ll get a bumper crop of hundreds of plums and no way to handle them all. I keep hoping for that particular disaster. Better yet – I specifically bought a damson varietal because I read a book growing up that claimed they made the best jam. Most damsons are purple. The fruit from my tree is definitely greenish/yellow. So either it’s not a damson, or maybe it’s a greengage damson. And I have no idea which.

And yes, my plum woes was of greater interest to me most of the year than many other topics of conversation.

No, he didn’t get to drive it

For April break we sent the kids off to various grandparental residences, where they spent time eating foods we wouldn’t feed them and doing things we wouldn’t let them do and generally being spoiled. And a good time was had by all. Meanwhile, Adam and I got to *go to museums* together and have conversations about something other than whose turn it is to do the dishes. Fantastic.

They hit a home run just as I snapped this

Grey turned into a bona fide teenager this year. His shoes are bigger than his father’s. He’s taller than me. He and I went to a baseball game together and he was protective of me in the jubilant post-game crowds. It’s been amazing. He’s also grown his skills and abilities along with his height. He’s been cooking and baking pretty regularly. He transports himself by bike when the weather allows. He’s thoughtful and intelligent. And he’s started shaving. Heaven save us all.

Camping Trip 1 of many

By my count, I slept in a sleeping bag on 7 different occasions this summer, mostly outdoorish (but sometimes rustic indoors). We did get in our traditional three trips with the boys for Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. Thane said today that he loves camping, and he wishes we did more camping. I’m utterly thrilled that I’ve so thoroughly corrupted him with my insanity. We’ve continued to add to our crazy camping gear, including hammocks for the whole family, new tents and insulated camping mugs.

My beloved congregation

I’m still recovering, I swear, from the pastor search process. This year has been less work, although interesting challenges have arisen for our congregation. I admire and respect the hard work, patience, loving-kindness and humor of my community.

The mulberry bush

All winter long I read books on foraging. In the spring, I manage to get one or two harvests in. But by the time there is so much to be eaten in late summer I’m drowning in farmshare produce and completely out of my mind with busy-ness and I never go foraging. This year I managed to get a few good trips in, including turning some early stage knotweed into jam. Thane helped me harvest these mulberries, and has declared them by far his favorite fruit. I made mulberry pie and mulberry jam, although the harvests were not vast. I need to find more supplies…

Tubing the Saco

One of my best investments of the year was a higher quality underwater camera. It allowed me to take pictures of tropical reefs, shenanigans in White Lake, and the scenic hours we spent lazily drifting down the Saco.

Camp Wilmot

Grey spent three weeks at Camp Wilmot this summer. Thane spent two. Adam and I spent that off weekend camping in the White Mountains. I think that weekend was a fantastic one for all of us, even though we didn’t spend it together per se. The kids are going back to Camp Wilmot for the maximum possible time, and Grey has stated a policy that he’ll be at Camp Wilmot any time he can be. Sneak peak to 2019 – it turns out they’ve added a fourth week (which how amazing is it to watch a Christian Camp growing and thriving like that??!) So between that and Camp Gramp I will not see my 13 year old for FIVE WEEKS this summer.

Baby’s first Backpacking

In August we headed out to Washington State for Camp Gramp, just as the wildfires washed the west in ash and smoke. I’d spent considerable time trying to find a way to go backpacking for a few days without my husband (since our vacation time isn’t quite synced up). I reached out to a bunch of tour groups etc. but to no avail. So in desperation I looked at my man-shaped teenager and conscripted him for his first ever backpacking trip. It was a short trip, but we had an excellent time! He said he’d go again.

Surreal theater in the smoke

Adam and I then went down to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival, where all our outdoor shows were moved indoors and everyone was respirators. The mountains were obscured and the air was uncomfortably visible. Still, we had a great time seeing some amazing theater. We caught up with an old college friend we hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years and his lovely family. And we ate some superb food.

My little trumpeter

After one more camping trip to White Lake, school started again. Grey entered 7th grade (WAT?!) and Thane started 4th – his last year in elementary school. Thane took up trumpet, to my great pleasure. Then began one of the busiest falls I’ve ever had.

There was a girl’s weekend on the Cape (I only came for one day – after running a 5k in Stoneham)

Amazing ladies

The following weekend I ran a hilly 5k at Camp Wilmot, where I spent Friday with Grey. I was really happy to get to know this place my son loves so much a bit better!

Two 5ks in two weeks!

Then on Saturday I returned home in the afternoon to a 40th birthday party thrown by my husband, where he made all my favorite dishes and invited all my favorite people who all wrote nice things about me and read them out loud. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. Even my sister was there!

Her poem was entitled “The Brendigo”
My crew

The week after THAT I went to a camp in the wilds of Connecticut to do a not-quite-a-LARP called Otherworld, which was profound and amazing.

Excellent looking ranger

The week after that, I got news my nephew had died, which cast a long pall over otherwise happy times. Still, Grey celebrated his birthday (sleepover), we went to King Richard’s Faire, did our annual apple picking, finally moved into the attic and Adam celebrated his birthday (gaming). I snuck in a sleepover for Thane’s birthday before I had to miss Halloween to head off to Singapore for a work trip.

Singapore

Seriously, I barely survived October.

November and December slowed down a bit, and there was so much catching up to be done. Of course through all of that, Adam and I worked two demanding full time jobs (both of us are lucky to have jobs that require us to be at the top of our games!). The kids went to school. And there is always and has ever been laundry to be done.

Here’s my “Best of” photo album. It was an incredible year. Here’s hoping 2019 is as full of as much good, with no bad to leaven it!

Good times!

Singapore: City of Selfies

I won an all expenses paid trip to Singapore. That’s how I’ve been positioning it to myself when it became clear a few weeks ago that I would definitely need to fly out to Singapore for a big presentation I’d been working on. It’s really hard to figure out how long is the right amount of time to go for a work trip like this. On the one hand, it’s 50 hours of travel (a full work week’s worth!) to get here! On the other hand, I only have like a day or two of stuff I need to do here. I settled on pretty much a week – landing in the weekend to get acclimated.

So far I’ve had that weekend part, wandering the city and trying taking a million pictures. I’ve come up with a few observations.

If you’re unfamiliar with Singapore, a quick background might be useful. It’s a former British colony that gained independence in the 60s. It’s a city state – only a few square miles – at the tip of Malaysia. It’s home to about 6 million people, roughly 3 million of whom were born elsewhere. It’s extremely diverse, with key populations coming from China, Malaysia, India & England.

Working on my selfie game

1) The entire city was built for selfies
You know the Sydney Opera House? The Singapore equivalent was built to look like Durian fruit. You can see it across the man-made bay, right next to the iconic Mer-lion. And floating soccer field. But right before the 40 story, three pillared ship-building that hosts the casino. Everywhere you look has beautifully composed views of the city with fascinating architecture. And people have definitely gotten the message, also everywhere you look are hordes of people all taking pictures – mostly selfies. I saw probably 20 people today who’d even hired professional photographers (or had friends with fancy cameras) to follow them through their touristy stuff and take pictures of it. It’s wild.

You know you’re really short on space when…

2) Singapore is basically a spaceship
Imagine if you have a ton of people in a very small, closed environment from many backgrounds. You need to keep them healthy, clothed, fed, exercised and doing the work you need them to do. You also need to give them that human psychological need for greenery, space and outdoors. Well, Singapore is already working under many of those constraints.

World of cacti?

They call it the City in a Garden, and they’re not wrong. Every space that can have greenery crammed in has greenery crammed in. There are trees, vines and flowers at every single opportunity. I spend my day at the Gardens By the Bay which are so clearly nature for people who haven’t ever actually seen nature. As I went from “The world of palms” to the desert cactus exhibit it dawned on me that one of the many kids growing up entirely in Singapore… well, this is what they’d know of nature. All prettiness and near infinite variety, carefully planned and executed. No randomness. No repetition. Entirely unnatural.

They also use every inch. On my drive from the airport my exceptionally informative taxi driver told me that there was a defense troop nearby and that they could clear every single plant off the road in less than 45 minutes to convert it to an emergency runway. Here in Singapore space needs to have one or two or three uses – just like it would on a colony ship. This also might explain why the rules and regulations here are so strict. If you’re going to cram this many people into this little space you need very clear rules governing behavior and interactions, or pandemonium might ensue!

These women in yellow are clearly together

3) People dress to match each other
They’ll all wear the same color (like 6 people!) or the same dress (2 or 3 people). Some of them wear the same dress in complimentary colors (black and white). And it’s not just like bridal parties or something – it was all sorts of people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. I was talking to a native Singaporean colleague about it (she’s spent several years in the US) and she had no idea what I was talking about until we started walking around and she saw it for herself.

4) Jaywalking rules explained
So the typical statement about law abidingness in Singapore is that they’ll ticket you for jaywalking, which sounds ridiculous. In reality, the way the streets are set up it’s both very tempting to jaywalk and rather dangerous to do so. That’s because pedestrians really navigate the city in a series of subterranean mall-tunnel (and sky bridges). So you’ll be on a major thoroughfare with a broad sidewalk that just …. stops right when you get to a big road. If you know what you’re doing, the underground entrance is right behind you, but that’s not intuitive. So you jaywalk, which is bad and unexpected.

You rake your yard, but do you rake your rivers?

Not that the rules aren’t actually pretty strict! I had a “Singapore Moment” shopping in a gift store at a museum. They had tshirts and I wanted to get one for my kids so I picked one up and shook it out to look at it. It wasn’t the right size so I carefully refolded it (the display was extremely neat) and picked up another one. A tap on my shoulder “there are sample t-shirts you can view on that rack”. No picking up tshirts. Got it. This is why the very cute adorable outfit I bought for myself does not fit. Siiiiigh. In the same gift shop I’d gathered a number of things and was clearly making the staff uncomfortable. I thought they were too large to fit into the teeny tiny shopping baskets they had – which was true. But they squirmed and finally came up to me and “offered” a basket and crammed all the stuff in somehow. There is definitely a right way to do things, and woe betide the ignorant!

7-11 has dim sum but zero gum

I’ve put together an album of my hijinks so far here. Tomorrow I have to “go to work” or something, so that’s probably the bulk of my touristing on this trip! The folks in the photos with me are coworkers.

Turning 40

A remarkable thing happened at midnight on Saturday – I left my 30s behind and entered my 40s. At that point, I was sitting around a backyard fire with a bunch of my friends around me, having celebrated for most of the evening together. It was a fantastic day, ending a fantastic decade.

S’More creation
The reel

The weekend started heading north as fast as possible after work. Camp Wilmot was hosting a 5k, and Grey had begged to be able to go. My husband was mysteriously hiding in the kitchen and forbidding me to look in. So up north Grey and I went, arriving at Wilmot shortly after dark. We sang songs by the fire in the 100 year old barn, then moved to the equally ancient farmhouse for a ceilidh. That evokes a certain celtic air, but in fact there was rather more Macarena – although we did do one really fun reel! It was about 11 when we went to sleep in the gables of the old farm house. I was amazed at how quiet it was outside. There was no noise of traffic – no matter distance. All you could hear was the rustling leaves.

Camp Wilmot from the other side of White’s Pond
A friendly squirrel

We slept well and woke up sliiiiightly late for breakfast (but not too late!) After breakfast, we were at our leisure for a few hours. As Grey caught up with old friends, I took myself on a tour of the grounds and walked around White’s Pond. It was a remarkably peaceful hour. I was responsible only for myself. There was nothing I needed to be doing, or even could be doing. I could walk at my own pace, take as many pictures as I felt like taking when I felt like taking them. It is a beautiful place – so quiet and peaceful but full of so much vibrancy and life. And it’s a place my children love deeply. Grey waxed rhapsodic about waking to the sound of the loons in pearly gray mornings there.

Ready to run
The runners

I was back in plenty of time to get ready for the race. The weather was perfect – cool without being cold with a bit of a breeze and a bit of a haze. I forgot my arm band, so I handed my phone over to my son to capture the memorable moments. I got off to a fast start – it’s hard to accept being passed up by thirteen year old girls who are singing Moana as they easily swoop by you. But the route was not an easy one. It was picked to be as unhilly as possible, but Camp Wilmot is in a hilly area. So there was a pretty brutal last hill up to the North Wilmot church. Still, thanks to a summer of running about 4.5 miles per run, I didn’t die (or, you know, stop running). I ended up with a pretty darn decent 33:24 finish – 19th of 43 total runners (I thought there were 61 – alas no). I even had some church friends who made the trip up and were cheering for me as I crossed the finish line! It was a pretty affirming way to say goodbye to this decade. But best of all was that through the generosity of my friends, family and especially my church, I raised enough to send a kid to a week of summer camp next summer. Overall, Camp Wilmot raise $5,233.50! I know how important Camp Wilmot is in the life of my kids, and I’m thrilled that more kids will be able to go!

Grey would like you to know that the tennis courts are a lie

We came home immediately after I finished running the race. I went upstairs and gave myself the gift of taking a shower in my brand new shower. The steam unit is CRAZY POWERFUL. It’s a really, really sweet experience and I don’t think I can go back to my old shower. Then I came downstairs, willfully ignoring what was going on around me, and got dressed in a nice dress just because. Finally , Adam told me what the circumstances really were. He’d spent days getting ready to make all my favorite foods, and invited as many of my friends as he could find contact information for. He was expecting 60 people and was wondering if: chili, cornbread, six loaves of bread, cassoulet, beef barley soup, macaroni and cheese, egg salad sandwiches, blue cheese scalloped potatoes, bagels with cream cheese and lox, Doritos, watermelon, massive amounts of Lucky Charms, butter toffee peanuts and a Grey-made chocolate birthday cake were going to be enough food. (Edited to add: also, four pork tenderloins, wilted leaf lettuce salad & a charcuterie plate of my favorite meats and cheeses) (Fun fact: it sure was!) Those are, of course, all my favorite foods. I stuffed myself past stuffing. He did a fantastic job and it was all really delicious.

We all have our own guilty pleasures
Dramatic re-interpretations

The first guest to arrive was, to my great surprise, my sister! She and I don’t get a chance to see each other very often, and it was amazing to have her here! It was also rather fun to watch people do double-takes when they heard my voice from someone who wasn’t me. Heh. We sound a lot alike. I was incredibly touched by the fact that Adam had asked people to bring or send poems/writings about me. They were amazing. Adam’s was an ode to coffee (which I think we can all get behind). One friend wrote a column. There were a significant number of limericks. (Apparently Brenda rhymes with Splenda.) A friend’s daughter drew a picture of “Brenda the Bold”. I woke up this morning and reread them all – my heart is greatly touched.

An ode to the transforming effect of coffee on me

I think it’s natural at moments like this to take stock of your life and ask yourself whether you are living your one and only life in the way you intend. This weekend felt pretty amazing that way. I’m physically healthy and strong. I’m raising my children to be people I enjoy spending time with, to have strong moral and philosophical cores. I know how to nurture myself in nature. I have an amazing relationship with a remarkable man who shows his love for me in thought, word and deed. And caffeine. And I’m surrounded by an astonishing number of people who care about me. I really can’t imagine what more I could ask for in life.

My sister and me

Thank you to all of you who came, or sent notes, or sponsored my run, or wished me a happy birthday. It mattered a lot to me, and I’m very grateful. If we missed someone in this, forgive us! Finally, if you were there and you have pictures, please add them to my album!

Not going to rush to take this down!

Land of Ashes

[Written Friday morning 8/17]

It’s cool this morning in Ashland – 70 dry degrees under the shade of the old ponderosa pines whose roots reach deep into the cheerfully burbling Lithia Creek. I’ve loved Lithia Park, and it’s eponymous creek, since I was a girl in the first flush of my coming of age (perhaps 15?), and thought the college boys here were very grown indeed. I fell head over heels in love in 1992 with the romantic lead of “As You Like It” (the ever dreamy Ted Deasy), and have returned often enough to watch him begin taking the elder’s parts, as I have begun paying for my own tickets. (It’s a sorrow to me that he is not here this season!)

Ashland has lived up to it’s name in this week, with the sun blood red at noon with the smoke from a hundred encircling fires. As the air thickens, the theater goers are shifted from the grand outdoor Elizabethan theater to the surprisingly nice for a high school Ashland high school theater. But you cannot watch the stars rise above the flags for comedy, tragedy and history from the high school. Walking down uncommonly empty streets, faces are obscured by masks. It’s been nearly a month of unhealthy air here, and the stitch-ladies have begun turning their handicraft to N95 masks. I see more and more of them that appear attractive, artistic… permanent. Even the bright waters of Lithia seems murky with ash and fire-trace.

We saw no plays here

But while the very air we breathe may be turning against us, the actual art of Ashland is as superb as I have ever seen. I’m extraordinarily fortunate in finding a mate who likes theater as much as I do (I swear I don’t drag him – I proposed we go backpacking). So in the four days we are here, we will be seeing seven plays. We’re through five of them on this cool Friday morning, and my belief in the importance of art to show what it is you would rather not see has been swollen, like my heart.

Sense & Sensibility
I’ve never been a great lover of the Austin era romances. I’ve read a few of them, and enjoyed them, but never with the passionate ferver others express. My favorite version of Sense and Sensibility was actually a sci-fi sendup when the unsuitability of the young ladies had to do with their telekenetic and other powers. But this play was masterfully frenetic. It was almost tiring to watch the energy and enthusiasms of the young ladies and young men and gossips – the still patience of that eldest Miss Dashwood stood in most abrupt counterpoint to the chaos around her. It was a costume drama and a continual joy to the eyes. And at the end, when all the wheel of fortune ends it’s turning for the afternoon, there were tears standing in our eyes.

Book of Will
This was our first shift from the grand Elizabethan theater to the tiled halls of Ashland High, but as soon as the actor took the long trumpet in hand to herald the coming play, I was drawn completely in. This may be one of the most loving plays I have ever seen – showing long and happy marriages. It was a story of how it came to be that we still have the words of the Bard, against all odds and habit of the era. It was a good reminder of how much we owe to our forebears for their preservation of what is good and lovely. It was also very much a story of loss, and of the meaning of life. Will himself was years dead at the time of the telling, and the King’s Men (who knew his words) were also dying. The characters wrestled with questions of living now versus creating legacy, of what is owed to the honored dead, and of how to claim the very value of our days, especially when those days grow scarcer. It’s hard to say, but this might be my favorite of the plays.

Snow in Midsummer
There’s nothing quite like a good ghost story, and this one was very fine. It was a very modern retelling of an ancient Chinese story. What would happen if the honorable dead had the ability to demand justice from those who have killed them, and those who benefited from that killing? It was a very keen play, cutting to the heart of expectations, first impressions, and questions of justice versus love. It also spoke to the great modern themes of the changing climate of the world, the inequality of resources and justice, and the Chinese practice of harvesting organs from executed criminals. This is the sort of story that stays with you, and haunts your quiet thoughts.

Love’s Labors Lost
After dining with a long-lost college friend, we once again negotiated the process of getting and claiming our tickets for the Elizabethan in the high school instead. It was easier once we remembered we had a car. I’m very fond of Shakespeare’s comedies. Love’s Labors Lost seemed to echo the last two plays, with it’s sudden turn towards sorrow which questions the meaning and worth of all the drollery that makes the early acts such a frolic. In this one, I particularly noticed the costumes, going from white innocent frills throught the red of charming, lustful deceipts to the black of full mourning. The play is both a laugh at and a lamentation for youth. How very very young and innocent those kings and princesses are in the beginning. How sorrowful it is to see such folly vanish as it’s brought of age – and yet how hopeful at the same time.

Manahatta
Thursday was our light day, with only one play (and that one only 90 minutes long!). But it was a remarkable 90 minutes. Our culture is full of the trope of cowboys and indians, the winning of the west, the conquering of savagery by civilization. But from the eyes of the conquered, killed and often-displaced the story looks very different. This play was a heart-piercing dual story of the theft of the homes and lives of the Lenape people to claim the island of Manahatta for the Dutch. The wall for which Wall Street was named was built to keep them from their own homes. The second layer of the story, seamlessly interwoven, tells the tale of a Lenape woman with the highest credentials returning to Wall Street as part of the derivatives group in Lehman brothers. We watch again, in eerie echoes, as home foreclosures chase out native folks from their homes as inexorably as did colonists a few centuries before. It was devastating. It is also strange to see presented as historic remembrance things that I easily remember as they were happening. I was no child in 2008, and I remember how it felt to wonder just how far the normal order of the world would slip (as I do now).

Before each performance, for the first time ever, the company has remembered that these theaters sit on grounds once belonging to the Shasta and Takelma people. I understood better why a company that has memorized the lines from this remarkable production would be conscience-bound to confess this.

The Way the Mountains Moved
Not every play can be the best you’ve ever seen, although the OSF sure tries. This one was well acted and well executed but perhaps overly ambitious. In telling too many stories, it failed to tell any enough. It threw together the wild mix of manifest destiny Utah with Mormons, escaped slaves, 19th century naturalists, Mexican war veterans, Native Americans and pioneers. I had high hopes, but this one was not my favorite.

Henry V
This is my favorite Shakespeare play, and this was a masterful performance. I’ve never seen a Henry so vulnerable and human. His night-before fire visits, when he talks about how the King is also just a man, really resonated with the sound of truth. It made his Crispin Crispian speech all the better, when you know that he’s fighting his own feelings, doubts and fears in order to make such a bold stand. I wish I’d gotten to see the full cycle of Hal plays with this lead actor – he was superb!

Taken all together, my heart, mind & conscience have been moved by my time here. We’ve been debating the role of art for a few hundred years now (if not longer). I find as most precious this kind of art – that makes me see things I cannot myself see from where I stand. It teaches me something of what I do not know. I have never found another place that does such art as well (or even nearly as well) as Ashland does it. I wish you could all be here, and watch these plays with me, and be moved.

Dreams can come true

Hiking the Fells with Baby Grey

I’ve been hiking with Grey since he was born. Pretty literally. Here’s a picture of us together in the Fells about 6 days after he was born. (For the record, too soon. I overextended myself pretty significantly on that hike.)

Six days old

I remember walking with him in the woods and imagining that day, someday, when his feet wouldn’t drag behind mine and I wouldn’t have to slow down. I knew that it was likely that in a twinkling, he’d go from being behind me to being ahead of me – fleet feet dancing lightly up trails that made me feel the gravity of my years. Many’s the hike I’ve dragged my children on when I told myself this impossible story – that some day they would be stronger, faster and more enduring than me.

Grey has had this phenomenal weekend. Saturday was supposed to be dedicated to cleaning out the attic. It’s amazing what sort of neat stuff you do when you’re procrastinating, isn’t it? Instead, we played a video game together as a family (Ultimate Chicken Horse – I was the hapless sheep and terrible at it). Then Adam and I found the *perfect* countertop, which happens to require us to find a brand new flooring tile because it works with the backsplash and beadboard beautifully, but doesn’t go at all with the flooring. This is something of a miracle, because neither Adam nor I have been able to stand a single one of each other’s selections until we got this one, and we both really like this one.

We’re thinking the darker gray in the countertop for the flooring.

After we got back, we decided to go for a hike. Thane really didn’t want to go, but we dragged him anyway. Grey was happy to come, and wore the really neat wool nurse’s cloak that his great grandmother (or great aunt – something like that – Laureen can you tell the story in the comments?) wore when people wore woolen cloaks with brass buttons. He was awesome on the hike, and the only thing he complained about was his brother’s complaining.

It’s a super cool cloak

The he came home and finished Raymond Chandler’s novel “The Lady in the Lake” which he clearly enjoyed very much. “Man,” he said, “All the characters seem to really dislike the private eye. Pretty much every single one of them has called him a bad name!” Adam replied, “Dick is the slang term for a Private Investigator. It doesn’t mean jerk.” “Oooooh that makes a lot more sense.” We finished the night up watching some Star Trek Deep Space 9.

Today, he cheerfully went to church and cheerfully participated in a lovely service. Then after we got home, he was struck by a brilliant idea. He wanted to go geocaching. And for once, his brilliant idea was brilliant. Honestly, I’ve wanted to do geocaching for years! It’s exactly the kind of thing I always hoped my kids would get into. Grey watched a Youtube video on the fundamentals of geocaching. He proposed a token to leave behind (a sticker of our family crest). He identified the best app, which he asked me to download. He found the nearby caches, and pointed out two that were in easy striking distance. And then he very politely asked me if I would go geocaching with him (since I’m the one with a smart phone). The weather was fairish today, and he’d also been talking about how much he really wanted to go ride a bike, so I suggested that we ride our bikes to the Fells (it’s less than a mile) and proceed on foot from there.

And we did!!

I’ve been wanting to bike to the Fells for YEARS. If this was my childhood, that’s what would’ve happened all the time. It’s so nearby, and so amazing that it’s within easy biking distance. And it is – less than 10 minutes each way. That’s nearly what it would take to drive it, and way faster than walking it.

The bounty of the first cache

Once in the Fells, I followed his lead in finding the caches. His joy and satisfaction and enthusiasm on finding his first ever cache just radiated from him. He was extremely diligent in logging the visit in the logbook, and putting the cache back just as he found it. The whole time he was just projecting happiness.

First cache

His appetite whetted, he begged for just one more. Now I had serious attic-cleaning duties to attend to. But when my child begs me to hike longer, um, it’s possible I don’t have as much willpower as it would take to be like “No, I need to go clean up the curtains I bought 10 years ago and never got around to hanging.” So we headed further into the Fells, finding ourselves on a trail I swear I’ve never seen before and as previously mentioned I’ve been hiking there for over a decade. The second cache we found ourselves at the base of an 80 foot cliff with the sinking realization that the cache was at the top of said cliff. I put my foot down on scaling the cliff (How old I have gotten! But I’ve seen first responders try to get into the Fells and I don’t want to do that again.) So we took the long way around.

And then it happened. He was twenty feet up the trail from me, with wings on his feet and light in his eyes, bouncing up rocky slopes like a gazelle. He called back over his shoulder “Can we pick up the pace? Like a light jog or something?” And I realized that my “someday” was in fact “today”. Today was the day when he was faster than me – when he would fly up trails and leave me to admire him from behind. Today was that day I’d dreamed about so many years.

Widow and widower maker

We didn’t find the second cache, despite much hunting and searching at the top of the hill. It must be lost. But we did find a third cache. With the winds on Friday, one needs to be careful in the forests. Many trees are down today that were standing on Thursday. The third cache was in the shadow of the most astonishing widow-maker I’ve ever seen. There’s a dead tree resting on a dead tree, lodged in what I sincerely hope is a living tree. It gave me the chance to tell him about his great-great grandfather who died from the unhappy fall of such a widow-maker.

The second cache

To cap off the weekend of being perfect, after dinner he went into the kitchen and made us a chocolate cake from scratch. It’s delicious – moist, light and airy. It’s some of the best chocolate cake I had. Then he posed for a picture, mimicing the exact picture from last year which I have on our calendar for this month. And then we watched some M*A*S*H episodes to honor the memory of David Ogden Spiers.

Evil cake genius

Parenting is hard work. So many nights checking homework, insisting on chores and fighting to make sure everyone does what needs to be done. So many days getting the call from the nurse that you kid needs to be picked up. There are a thousand and one hard things about being a parent. But then every so often you have an amazing weekend with your kid and you realize that wow. You really like your child. This was that moment for me.