I’m old enough to have nearly 20 year old friendships… that started in college. Ouch. One of these friends is a true globe-trotter. Spending time together feels a bit like waiting for our orbits to align long enough to get a chance to sit down and share time with each other. He’s ended up in Quebec City for a while, so we decided to take advantage of a few days around April vacation week to drive back up to winter and visit him and his lovely family!
We’re having a delightful time! We’ve rented this loft in the trendy part of the city (which was only slightly more expensive than a hotel room would’ve been). We’ve shared some excellent meals together, and spent much of today navigating mud and seeing the glorious views in this historic city, while enjoying what rumor has it is the first really nice day of spring up here.
The boys are becoming a real delight to travel with. I don’t worry too much about where they are. They’re flexible and fun and insightful. They can read over breakfast with their parents. They’re both really good with the younger kids – it was super sweet to watch Thane playing with a charming 1 year old girl.
A trip where you get to reconnect with the dearest of friends and enjoy your family in the warm sunshine… ah bliss!
As any economist could tell you, there are a lot of ways to measure wealth. There’s your net worth (the value of the things you own compared to the amount of money you owe). There’s your current earnings. There are your projected earnings. (That’s probably a better way of evaluating someone graduating with with a law degree, for example, than net worth is.) I’m sure there are a bajillion other ways: months without income until bankruptcy, ability to survive layoff, projected age to retirement, etc.
As the holidays draw to a close (even if you wait until epiphany, or count orthodox Christmas), I often find myself reflecting on my wall o’ friendship, and procrastinating from taking it down. I’ve noticed the cards seem to come later every year (I’m part of that trend – I think I mailed my last set on the 23rd!), and I get more New Years cards than I used to, but I love looking at them. Sometimes I take them down and read the notes inside them again. Every year I bundle them in a big bundle and save them. They’re in stacks in my attic, right next to the snapshots of my kids and school pictures.
The truth is that, quite unexpectedly, I find myself rich in friendships. I didn’t anticipate that, as a young girl. We moved a lot. I attended 6 schools by 6th grade. (I did that math when I was very young – I think I count church kindergarten in there.) I didn’t exactly have boatloads of friends waiting for my call. My best friend when I was Grey’s age wouldn’t acknowledge me at school. I, um, didn’t blame her. I wasn’t sure I’d admit to being friends with me either, if I was popular. I wasn’t a very easy kid to be friends with, I suspect. I reveled in being weird. It made me sad, sometimes, but there were books. My memories of childhood are mostly happy ones.
But then I stayed in one place for a while, and gradually learned how to not be quite so weird that people wouldn’t want to admit knowing me. (Or rather, how to keep the weirdness but lose the obnoxiousness of it? Maybe?) Then after learning how to be a friend, I got a fresh start. Man, college was the best.
And since I left college I’ve… accumulated friends. We’re still playing weekly (well, kind of weekly) role playing games with a friend whose name was picked off a bulletin board in a gaming store. (The gaming group has survived four children, and we’re delighted that a fifth has joined us. All boys.) I’ve made some relationships in church that are about ready to drive. The process accelerated vastly when I moved to this house, and there were a bunch of us the same age with kids the same age and we really got along. And then one of your friends introduces you to their friends. It’s been astonishing and wonderful.
I was thinking about what that flowering of friendship really means. Sometimes, when I’m staying out too late and consuming less-than-healthfoods with my friends, I wonder if friendship is bad for my health. But studies show that friends reduce your risk of dying prematurely, or that absence of friends increases it.
And then there are the more immediate advantages. I met a mom once or twice in a gathering of moms. In December, her husband was injured in a serious accident that killed the other driver and critically wounded one of his friends. This amazing group of moms banded together to deliver two week’s worth of dinners to her and her family.
The funny thing about being rich in friendship is that the more of it you have, the more of it other people have too. It’s a lot like love that way. Spending it just creates more of it. The modern world seems poorly set up to create deep and lasting friendships (at least judging by the number of lonely people in the world), but the optimist in me thinks that with some sort of catalyst, friendship-creating-reactions can spread. It’s hard to see friendships (especially those tough ones that cross some boundary, like race or generation or political belief) as anything but a net good to society.
So, do you want more friends? Here are some of the ways I’ve seen people become close friends:
Strike up a conversation in a park. (Seriously.)
Invite someone you like to dinner. Give them a specific set of three different days, and ask if they need any accommodation (food preference, only drive during the day etc.) If they’re interested in being friends, they’ll either accept one of the three days or counter with a different date. (And don’t be too offended if they’re not willing to get closer. Sometimes people don’t have the energy to spend on new friendships.)
Throw a party and mix multiple different “sets” of your friends. One of my bestest friends became my friend because another friend begged an additional invite to a party I held. And this also helps your friends make more friends, which is a kindness.
Put your name on a gaming store wall as adventurer seeking game!
Bring your neighbors cookies. Knock on the door. When they’re on their front porch, strike up a conversation.
Throw a block party.
Get involved in a local project. (I made some great friends by being active regarding the Bikeway!)
Join a workout group. (OK, this one is just theoretical. I’m not a workout group kinda girl.)
Order more Christmas cards, and send them to people you wish you knew better.
Exchange contact information with those parents you end up chatting with when you pick your kids up. Then schedule something with them.
The internet. I made some dear, dear friends online. I still feel much more connected to people on Facebook than one might think!
How about you? What are some of the crazy ways you’ve met people? Are you overwhelmed by an over-full social docket, or is there room for a few more busy Friday nights?
I am not a New Englander. I visited New England once when I was 14. Then again – for colleges – when I was 17. Most of my New England knowledge came from a weird combination of books and stereotypes. (Little Women, Daddy Long-Legs, Hawkeye from M*A*S*H … I would say the LL Bean catalog, but we actually didn’t get it.) Then, I came here for college. Early in the process I was targeting Pennsylvania. My first choice school was Williams, in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. But I found myself, a hot August day, in a double-dorm-room in a hundred-year-old stone building in historic New London with a roommate who was profoundly *from* a town fifteen miles away.
Since then, I have acclimated. I remember the shock and horror with which I discovered Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t carry maple bars. (A fact which still mystifies me – why they’re a regional delicacy of a place with no maple tradition and entirely unknown in Vermont/New Hampshire/Montreal.) I mastered rotaries. I cheered on the Red Sox to their World Series pennants. I learned that “Wooster” and “Worcester” were in fact the same place. I have eaten lobstah in Glostah (Gloucester), listened to the Boston Symphony in Symphony Hall, developed a finely honed snow shoveling methodology, consider stop signs advisory and can’t help raising my fist to the chorus of “SO GOOD!”
But in one way, I remain distinctly un-New England. My junior year of college, I was invited with my college friends on a ski trip. They’d gone the prior year. I don’t remember why I didn’t go (it was probably some rot about seeing my parents more than twice a year). It felt deliciously grownup to be invited. I distinctly recall that we drove the Kankamagus – home to my frequent summer journeys in my adult life – in the crystalline snow of February. I’d never gone skiing before, despite living in close proximity to epic mountains. We rented equipment (I following the advise of my long time boyfriend) and hit the slopes.
Adam gave me a few lessons – which I accomplished well. After an hour or so, he deemed me ready to hit the slopes of Loon and try my first modest trail. The first few minutes of your first skiing ever are more terrifying than exhilarating, and I comforted myself that this was a thing people did. Look at all the people around me, skiing? Seconds in to the trip, I took a turn wrong. My leg did something wrong. I don’t clearly remember too much of what happened next. The ski patrol. The sled. The inability to hold weight on my leg. I limped back to our condo and have never – since that day – gone skiing again. I had torn my ACL – it took months before I could walk without limping. I tore my MCLS also later, and had major knee surgery and still feel my knee as an alertness of the possibility of pain. I will never ski again.
I’m raising New Englanders. Grey and Thane are locals. They were *born* here. They belong here. They are from here in a way I will never be. And New Englanders? LOVE winter sports. There are ice rinks all over the place. It seems like every car has ski racks. To be from the New England suburbs (I don’t pretend that this is not a combination of both location AND privilege, because it certainly is) and not ski, or know how to skate well… not cool. Not cool at all.
So I was *thrilled* when our YMCA afterschool program offered (get this) SKIING LESSONS! I signed up before they even had official signups. They pick the kids up from school and take them directly to Nashoba Valley for ski lessons. The kids return around 7, having had an amazing adventure with their friends. Apparently Grey & Thane have been improving in their three lessons already, and there has been pretty much no whining. (I thought that 18 degree weather and a hard new skills would equal whining. I was wrong.)
I was feeling all satisfied by having done New-England-right by my kids using the proxy of the Y, when somehow word came to my husband? Kids? That there’s an open skate time in the Stoneham Arena on Sunday from 4:00 – 5:30. The kids begged. Adam took them. I had a quiet ninety minutes. They have, by husbandly reports, improved by leaps and bounds.
Truthfully, I confess to be a little bit ashamed of how scared my knee makes me to do things like this. I mean, professional athletes have the same surgery, and they’re back smashing into each other scant months later. (See also: Gronk). But I think I might have a legitimate panic attack if I ever strapped on skis again. Even having my children doing it is easier if I don’t think too hard about it. The slicing and twisting nature of skates (did I mention I’ve only been skating two or three times? I’m a better roller-skater) makes me uneasy. My knee throbs just thinking about it. My failure to responsibly overcome this fear is no testament to me. But I’m extremely grateful that despite my unease, my children are learning to love snow and ice, and to be – well – real New Englanders.
I have just uploaded my January pictures. We had a great adventure in Cambridge at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. I also got some more great blizzard-day pics!
One of my favorite kinds of pampering is to get a massage. It was regular massage which finally put an end to my chronic back pain – I get monthly myofascial and deep tissue massage at Skin to Soul in Stoneham (which I would strongly recommend to anyone local!) Wheen I go on vacation, I really enjoy checking out unique (and reputable) spa locations.
Last week this time I was sitting in a Scandinavian Spa overlooking the St. Lawrence river in Montreal, and thinking about some of the other, really cool experiences I’ve had. I decided to pretend I was a World Traveler and offer to you a guide to some of the most interesting and best experiences I’ve encountered!
Montreal Quebec: Scandinave Baths – Les Bains
The concept of the Scandinavian spa seems masochistic. First, you get really, really hot in a sauna. Then you go jump in an icy lake. Maybe you have to break a hole in the ice to get in. Then you repeat the experience. I’ve never done this before – I kept getting lost at the “icy lake” part. But a visit to the baths on a frigid and windy April day in Quebec seemed like just the thing. I signed my husband and I up for an afternoon massage and carefully read the preparation instructions (bring your own swimsuit!).
The spa (and there are several spread across Canada, in case you’re interested) took that original Scandinavian theme and expanded on it. First, there was the fluffy white bathrobe and high tech locker locks. (Magnetic waterproof bracelets!) Then there were the signs abjuring all to complete silence, or at least muffled whispering. The spa itself was filled with the sound of crashing water from the hot-water-fall. There were three hot spots, two cold spots, and lounges full of medium-temperatures, comfy chairs and dim lighting. There was also a very expensive juice bar, in case you got hungry or thirsty for something other than water.
The three hot spots were a full-swimming-pool-sized hot tub with aforementioned hot-water-fall. You have never seen such an expanse of 120 degree water before! For the non-immersed, there was a Eucalyptus steam sauna, where every ten minutes or so the walls vented fragrant steam. It was HOT. Finally, there was a standard dry sauna. The goal was to stay in the hot rooms until you were entirely too hot. Then – on to the cold! There was a very small pool – even smaller than a hot tub but deeper. And there was an enclosed, motion-activated shower. You popped into one or the other – for just a moment – to cool off your skin. (You were encouraged to get out before your overheated core temperature was affected at all.) Then, you moved to the resting area where there was lounging and a juice bar and comfy chairs to drowse until you got a bit chilly (aka your core body temperature got back to normal) and/or your heartbeat returned to normal, then you did it again.
We started off with one cycle, then got a massage, and then I did two more cycles. That all took like four hours. Four hours of quiet. Of just sitting and not doing anything. Four hours of not really focusing your eyes because it was steamy and not really having to stay awake if you found staying awake hard. I took a nap snuggled up on one of the chairs with my husband.
It was great.
It brought to mind another hot-tub/massage experience, though. This one as culturally different as possible. The Scandinavian Baths were all high tech and high price. I joked to Adam that we were soaking above our class, and in truth I felt surrounded by the monied elite (which was probably exactly the image the spa wants to cultivate). One of my very favorite places to visit is Wellspring. Based in the foothills of Mt. Rainier – just a hop and skip down the road from the National Park Entrance – is an organically grown haven. It started with a woman and a dream. Sunny learned massage. She built a massage cottage, and a hot tub. It burned down. She built it again. And another. And other cabins for people to sit in with each other and nature. Trails grew out of her hideaway. Labrynths were made. Her latest great moment is the discovery and appreciation of a natural grotto, which Sunny has carefully cultivated with a near-druidic eye to be a place of celebration.
Surrounded by peace and joy, and then there are the hot tubs and the massages! When I go home, I sign my husband and I up for a pair of massages. The best of the hot tubs overlooks a superb Northwest forest hillside, with a rippling brook in front and a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees up to the sky. It is perfectly private there, and the hot tub is quiet. We take turns soaking and looking and being while the other person is getting their massage (and their catch up session with Sunny!) It is entirely wholesome and relaxing and joyful – and full of the spirit of the Northwest.
My sister and husband honeymooned there. I’d love to pass a night there, but it seems a little silly when my parents live 12 miles away. Maybe some day!
The last, and most culturally distinct, of the great Spas I Have Known, were the Turkish Baths at Cagaloglu (pronounced Ja-la-lu). These held on to a cultural tradition going back to early Roman times of communal bath-houses where the purposes was to get clean. It was a three hundred year old bath house, made in marble with ancient steam pipes heating vast slabs (slightly too short for modern women).
I wrote about it in great detail, but I often find my my leaning back to the silver ewers and taps, the hot marble, the provocatively protected skylights and the old Anatolian women scrubbing my back.
So to summarize: I recommend you visit them all. Tell them I said “hi” and I’ll be back as soon as I can!
Also, just for my husband, I give you this. My eldest son declares this his favorite movie, above even Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Star Wars. We don’t waste weekends around here!
Through October, November and December as my life sped up to warp speed, I consoled myself with my previously spotted annual pattern recognition of busy times and less busy times. “Just make it to January” I encouraged myself, doing the laundry at 11 pm on a Saturday night. “Once you get to January, you’re good!”
January came. I was really busy. “You’re just catching up on all the stuff that got put off in December.” I don’t even remember February. And March felt like a desperate sprinting finish to a marathon, with Easter and vacation a firm deadline that made it impossible to have any task slip at work or at home. I had birthday parties, Vinterfest parties, dinner parties, Burns Night parties, Pie parties. We took the kids to Scooby Doo Live: the Musical. I traveled to Atlanta (family), New York (work), Minnesota (work) and Tampa (work).* I rearranged the dining room. I played three hard pieces on trumpet for Easter. I signed the kids up for: swimming lessons (2), basketball (1) and science class (1). I did the taxes, rethought my pie crust recipe, wrote my best blog post ever (by volume), and managed a rocky production go-live (for work) from the hallway of the YMCA while Grey learned to dribble. It’s just been BUSY.
But on Sunday, after the high of the hallelujas and the truly awesome final high C I hit on the postlude, my beloved husband and I threw stuff in suitcases, packed approximately 93 digital devices (we used to pack 93 books, but now we have digital devices with the books on them!), and started driving North.
Long time readers have likely picked up my vacation patterns, and notice a discrepancy. We usually take zero time off this time of year, until camping heats up in May. Then we take a romantic, exciting vacation in August while the kids are at Camp Gramp. So why am I taking an exciting, romantic vacation in April this year? It just so happens that Camp Gramp and Gencon line up this year. I’m quite certain that my husband loves me more than Gencon, but I also know that it would make him sad to miss it. So when I realized my folks were also coming out for my mom’s spring break, well…. I snuck in our romantic vacation this week. (Of course, it would be longer if the coming weekend was not Helgacon – another, smaller convention – but at least that gives me some time with my own family.)
We weighed three options for our vacations: trip to Europe, beach vacation in Caribbean, less expensive vacation somewhere we could drive to. After reviewing all options, and recalling that we are (financially) putting a nice new car on top of our house (in the form of a new roof) this year, we opted for a taste of Europe in Canada.
So here we are in Montreal! We got this really amazing loft hotel thingy, with a full kitchen, comfy chairs and couches, a full size table (for gaming!), and a really excellent spa tub. We walked the city length and breadth on Monday before the weather turned bitter. Our peregrinations brought us to Chez Geeks where we stocked up on some games to see us through (see above picture – those are all new!). Then we had chocolate crepes for lunch. Any lunch served flambee is a good lunch, in my humble opinion. Books, bathtub, pizza. Relaxing.
Yesterday we went to the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, which might be one of my least favorite museums ever.** We also went to the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was lovely. There was a fantastic paper shop, and then we sat in an ornately decorated Chinese tea shop and had tea served to us while we both wrote on our beautiful papers. For dinner, we went to an Alsatian restaurant and I got escargot and duck confit. Mmmmmmmmm……
Today is lightly scheduled. One nice part of a close-to-home vacation is that the opportunity cost of hanging out in your glorious hotel loft is much smaller. So the only key thing on the docket is a trip to the Scandinavian baths. I’m wondering how many vacations I can have unique spa experiences in. I doubt this will top the Turkish baths, but I figure I have to give it a shot, right? Also, probably fondue for lunch. Or maybe crepes. Or crepes and fondue.
When we return, I have this fond hope that maybe, MAYBE, it will actually be that quieter time. You know, where I can blog more than once a week and hang out with my beloved sons? Yeah, we’ll see about that!
*Two of those three trips were around major storms where the question of whether we would make it back or have to tough it out a few extra days was a real one. I was very happy to make it back both times!
**I emerged from it – no easy feat, given it’s labyrinthine structure and lack of guidance – cognizant that I was absolutely no more informed regarding: Quebec separatism, the linguistic ebb and flow of the province, the fur trade, the Iroquois wars, the building of the great underwater wall in the St. Lawrence, impact of the War of 1812, why Montreal has a huge statue that I like to call the “Lord Nelson fanboy plinth”, Canadian relations with the US, construction of the transcontinental railroad, the use of First Nations Tribes in building skyscrapers, how the St. Lawrence waterway was opened for commerce, or any other topic that might be vaguely interesting. The mandatory (you could not get to the museum without going through it) introductory frenetic video actually said something “Oops! Iroquois!” at one point and showed a big wall going up. GAH! However, it was very well marked which elements of the 150 year old foundation were original and which were changes. I kept thinking to myself, “This is only 30 years older than my house….”
9:45 pm. Dinner included escargot and duck confit. The waitress had trouble coming up with the right English words to describe the menu. Yes… I and my beloved and cherished husband are in Montreal for a week celebrating the fact that my parents are taking care of my children for a week. Bliss!!!
But although I could tell you about Montreal so far, I’ll save that for another day. Like maybe tomorrow. Instead, I’ve been using my lounging-around-in-leather-armchairs time to catch up on a few (hundred) pictures! I promise that I’ll include more verbiage, er, sometime this week. But for now, here are all the times in the last month I’ve bothered pulling out my nice camera, heavily influenced by wanting to play with the 35mm lens I got for Christmas!
So first, here are a bunch of pictures and videos, mostly of my boys playing games and with minis. (Mostly because the boys were sitting stillish, and I wanted to try out the focal ranges with the minis.) It also includes PIEMAS!
Then, we have Easter. The first set is a neighborhood egg hunt. The next set is the actual celebration of Easter in our church. (Well, to be precise, the leading up to the celebration of Easter. Once the service got started I was awfully busy with the trumpeting.)
My eldest son snitched the “Essential Calvin and Hobbes” from next to my bed when he was five years old. I caught him poring over the adventures of the older boy and his striped companion, and loomed over him with mixed feelings. On the one hand, yay love of reading! On the other hand, Calvin is not an ideal role model. On the third tail I’ve always promised myself that – like my parents – I would only make access harder to books that really do damage. I simply hadn’t planned on my non-censorious resolve being tested before my son started first grade.
But there was my spiky-haired son, putting on his best space alien accent and saying “Dat darn Kalfin! He stole ma space chip!” I forked over the complete collection.
When you think about Calvin (as a grownup who may or may not spend too much time thinking about Calvin and Hobbes), you think of a kid who drives his parents nuts, does poorly in school and has behavior problems. But when you return with fresh eyes and see what Calvin DOES in the panorama of his time and tale, you begin to wish your son was – and could be – more like Calvin. Calvin has *time* and freedom. He wanders the woods with only a fearsome predator for company. He has long leisurely afternoons for the creation of mutant snow goons. He exercises his vast and untrammeled imagination in a whole panoply of joyful childish pursuits, many of which my poor son is forebarred from by shifting culture and a mother who works. There is no circumstance under which my seven year old would spend a whole afternoon playing with a little creek running through mud. He doesn’t have that much free time, and I am more constrained to periodically check on him.
But Calvin is teaching Grey what it could mean to be a little boy, and fires his imagination. Grey considers his circumstance, and finds his own way to be, well, an Evil Mastermind (of the amusing, kind, relatively-well-behaved type).
This Calvinic mischief was brought to mind the other night. Grey has a tremendous advantage over Calvin. Although entirely lacking in feline company, Grey has instead a little brother who is his willing and eager minion in acts of creative mischief. How joyful are those two boys in their shared universe! Anyway, the other night the boys were doing their usual delaying song and dance regarding sleep. Basically, it was part of our intricate tradition of them not going to sleep when I’ve told them to go to sleep already. At one point they came downstairs and demanded that I set up a tent for them to sleep in. (In truth, my actual challenges getting Grey to sleep are worthy of a serious post. But it’s funny in small moments.) This demand arrived at the point at which I had HAD ENOUGH ALREADY JUST GO TO BED AND IF YOU DON’T YOU’LL BE SLEEPING IN THE BASEMENT NEXT TO THE WORM BIN!
There was thumping upstairs after my chastened (so I thought) sons went back, but no more demands were lobbied by the prepubescent set, so I declared myself satisfied.
When we went in to kiss them good night, however, an astonishing feat of architecture met our eyes. Sadly, I could find no angle of photography that would take in the full glory but imagine this.
You walk into the room, and the wall appears suddenly several feet nearer, and covered in blue stars. You realize that blessed children have stood Thane’s mattress on it’s side. (I swear this is why I won’t buy either of them a proper bed.)
You are convinced that shortly your children will be squashed by said mattress and tiptoeing up you check out the situation. The brothers – the Lego Mastermind and his brother the Builder Minion, have used the kiddie chairs in the room to ensure their sleep remains unsquished. They lie in opposite sides of the “fort”, in a stuffed-animal-and-blanket filled enclosure.
Isn’t this what childhood is all about, my friends? The problem solving? The rule-breaking ingenuity? The ability to sleep on a pile of stuffed animals right next to your brother? Perhaps Calvin taught my son a bit of what was possible. I can’t regret it. And I can’t wait until Thane is old enough to read it too.