So much, so fast, so fun, so hard

Every year during summer vacation I get this sensation of being at the top of a roller coaster that’s about to head down a vertiginous drop. Right now, I’m just about at the point where your stomach is about 10 feet above your head, and simply not falling at the same rate as the rest of you. There’s a lot of track ahead, too. Experience tells me that I’ll be able to get off this ride sometime after Mocksgiving. (In fact, often we have a very slow Thanksgiving break just to recover from autumn!)

Here’s a bit of what’s on my mind –

Ramping up at church
It’s time to kick off a new school year with my 3 – 5th graders. Today two of them got through all the books of the Bible with only minor cobwebs (you forgot Philippians!) This is great for their education and learning, but means I actually need to come up with, you know, some new curriculum to teach them. Since I’m great at scripture and terrible at arts and crafts, this is usually something I do without an external curriculum. So wish me luck. In addition, the various committees I chair have real work to do this fall, and I need to organize us to do it. GO!

While the moussaka bakes

All the fun stuff
I ran a 5k this weekend to raise funds for addition treatment and recovery. I’m running a 5k next weekend to raise funds for scholarships to Camp Wilmot (not too late to donate!) I went to Cape Cod yesterday for a Mom’s group outing. Next weekend is my 40th birthday. The weekend after that I’m going to a LARP in Connecticut, because when you’re old and decrepit like me you should try new things. Then it’s Grey’s birthday, Columbus Day, Adam’s birthday and Thane’s birthday, followed by Halloween. One weekend between when Adam’s off gaming, and then it’s Mocksgiving. WHEN DOES THE LAUNDRY GET DONE?!?!?

The Race for Recovery – I need to start using black and white filters for my post-race pictures

The attic
I have this dawning hope that at some point the attic will actually be, you know, finished. When it is, we need to move upstairs or this will have all been in vain. Stuff needs to be sorted, identified, thrown out, moved, rearranged, thoughtfully placed, cleaned, installed and photographed. This is particularly difficult work for me – I know that all the efforts that have gone before will be highlighted or diminished by these final choices: towels, curtains, rugs. We just decided that the Container Store closets are crap and we’re better off building our own, but uh… that ain’t fast. Or even all that cheap. Hard decisions and careful thinking are required here.

Also, work
This time of year is often one of the heaviest loads in the office. Everyone is back from vacation. You have all sorts of stuff you want to get done in 2018, and diminishing time to do it. Sometimes summer is lazier (it wasn’t this year) and sometimes Christmas is quiet (man, that was not true in 2017) but fall is always busy. No slack there – and possible some travel will be required.

My ladies on the Cape

Wait, I have kids?
Both kids are doing soccer – which is awesome. Thane has just started playing trumpet in band, and I love practicing with him. Grey’s new homework load is the heaviest yet and requires support and encouragement. And my family… well, I almost wrote “appreciates eating healthy home made food” except that’s not true for the kids. They’d much rather eat crap. But they need to sit around the table and eat foods that include kale with us. Speaking of which, my refrigerator currently looks like a refugee camp for produce. We had a “boil water” order in effect on Friday (when I’d normally wash and freeze some of my produce). I’d blame that on why I just stuck it in the ‘fridge, but the real reason is because we had guests. Then Saturday I ran a 5k and took a ferry to the cape. Then today I went to church & taught Sunday School, headed to the Container Store to be disdainful and then watched Blake Bortles beat the Patriots with my friends and then I caught up on the emails I should’ve handled Friday at work and then wrote this blog post. So there’s still accusatory broccoli rabe in my ‘fridge.

Anyway, it’s all going to be amazing and fun and we’ll all enjoy it tremendously and almost certainly survive. But hoo boy, it’s a wild ride!

Teenage Angst at Parties: A How-To Guide run by the Son

We entertain and are entertained pretty often. Grey has had a lot of experience at parties where he is not the primary focus of attention. Following a few parties in which Grey behaved impeccably and carried on some very reputable conversations with adults, he asked to do a guest-blog on my post. The following is his advice to his peers about how to survive social situations “elderly guardians” such as myself inflict upon suffering teens.

Parents/Guardians, call your teens over to read this then vacate the area.

We know what happens. A baby-shower, a office party, a retirement, it’s time for a get together. You go, and you stand around sipping your soda while trying to seem interested in the conversation, after the pause in it you try and add a few words. You get some head nods from condescending adults trying to be nice, and you slowly walk away. You sit down, back-rigid, and pick at your health food while eavesdropping on what’s happening with so-and-so, and who-and-who is having a fight with this-and-this. Some elderly (aka anyone over 30) come over and squeal the typical, “Do you remember me? From that office party like a insert years equal to infinity in teen-time years”, “I remember when you were this tall! *levels hand about waist height*” and the ever so common, “Oh you’ve grown so tall!”.

You. Are. Bored. This is how to fix it, or just barely pacify it.

1. Grab your phone/Ipod/Mp3/etc and listen to music.
This is pretty obvious, but if you grab your music player and make it very obvious that you are listening to music, people will often come over to inquire what you are listening to (Very Important! Make sure it is not rap! Elderly and sometimes even younger couples will not understand or not care!). When you are asked, make sure you gush about it and ask them what music they like. The conversation will probably progress from there.

2. Stick near your guardian.
I know, I know. This sounds terrible, and not very fun, but it has it’s upsides. If you are cynical, sarcastic, or just plain witty, you can usually crack a few jokes and make yourself entertained with whomever your guardian is speaking to. Remember, keep the topic on whatever you are terrible at or amazing at if you are talking about yourself. This will usually open up a few dad jokes, and then progress on. Yes, you will get the elderly woman treatment, but at least you can keep talking about yourself.
Example topics about yourself: Your height, your grades, your skill in ______ sport/s, etc.

3. Bring gags.
Disclosure, not recommended if you are going to a formal party, or if your guardian thinks it’ll be inappropriate.
Bringing gags livens up a party, makes it more casual, and people will usually congratulate you and make it less conformist for you if you do it right. Do not bring any old age gags, inappropriate gags, or gen-z/millennial gags, because these gags will not appeal to a wide audience and could possibly get you in trouble. Remember, everything is key. The performance, the tone, and the audience. For example, I can do a decent Batman voice, so I can bring a Batman mask. This fits in the three categories: Performance: Decent; Tone: Funny and cool; and Audience: Batman has been around since 1939 and has been featured in America, which fits Baby Boomers, Millennial, and Gen-Z Kids. Example of what not to bring: A “Hi, Welcome to Chili’s” vine T-Shirt (They exist, trust me). Performance: Sly (Not great); Tone: Giggly but stupid; Audience: Gen-Z kids, and very late Millennials. This couldn’t appeal to Baby Boomers because they think a vine is something grapes grow on and in an office party, Baby Boomers are most of the people you’ll find. This fits into only one category, tone, and just barely. Not great to bring.

4. Be nice.
It’s annoying and tiring, I get it. I’m going to keep this short and sweet. People will like you better, you’ll leave a good (first, second, third) impression, and you will have more leeway if you do.

So finally, If I’ve missed anything, yell at me on Instagram (@cynicalgrey) or at school next school year. Goodbye, farewell, and amen that I don’t have to go to any parent parties anytime soon.

Leaving behind the rough

This weekend, we got kicked out of our house. Something about it being a formaldehyde-filled death trap. We have finally gotten to the phase of the attic project where the windows are in, the wiring is done, the plumbing is roughed and the walls are where the walls are going to be. So it was time to insulate the attic for the first time in its 120 year old life. As long as you have the walls and ceiling down to studs, it’s a great opportunity to do it right – floorboards to roofline. But you can’t be in the house for 24 hours after they finish (the off gassing can be dangerous). And it took them two *full* days to do our attic – they still need to clean up & do the fireproof spray paint, despite working from 7 – 6 for two days.

During this period, I’d been planning on getting hotel. It’s a bit annoying to get a hotel in your neighborhood (and expensive when that neighborhood happens to be Boston!) Plus with my folks here, I’d definitely need to get two rooms. But when I was complaining to a neighbor, she generously offered us the use of her house while they were on vacation! It was fantastic, although super weird to come home to your street, park your car in your driveway, and then not go home.

We’re three months into the project. It started in early April, and now it’s nearly July. Despite pretty consistent work, I feel like we’re about halfway there. But perhaps we’re at the beginning of the end? And maybe someday soon my bathtub will no longer be on my front porch? That seems like an impossibility. I really do miss my quiet spaces – both the attic as it was and the porch as it was. I’m also tired of my house being a constant mess. I blame that less on construction than kids. When they leave for summer camp, Imma gonna clean this place thoroughly and enjoy the rare sensation of having it stay – mostly – clean.

MJ Clothing in Lowell

We had a lovely weekend. I loved having my mom and dad here. They took the kids off to Great Wolf Lodge for one of the days of this weekend, letting Adam and I have a lovely evening full of a run & a dinner at the Stones. We watched a lot of World Cup, both with and without the kids. I wish I could take a day off and just watch all the matches! Alas, work is very busy. My mom and I went to an African clothing shop run by a friend of mine (MJ Clothing) and I got to help her pick out an African outfit that is going to be tailored for her. When the new shipment of fabrics comes in, I think I’ll get an outfit for me too!

We finished off that fantastic day at a friends house celebrating the start of summer with a BBQ that somehow ended up with Rock Band – the way the best of parties do.

One of my favorite pictures of our pastor emeritus

Today was a pretty special day, too. It was the Pastor Emeritus service for our beloved pastor of 36 years. I really enjoyed getting to sing in the choir today for the celebration. And it was such a joy to get to show off all our progress to the folks who helped set us on the path.

So what’s up with you?

The 200th day of Winter

Winter has lasted several years now. We’re in the impossible part of winter. We’ve had the epicest of cold. We’ve had the snow. We had the ice. We had the ice then snow combo. We had the snow then ice combo. We had the snow then rain then ice combo. We had the sleet. If there’s a way to make a sidewalk impassible and convince you to stay inside, this winter has had it. And it’s only the middle of February. Some of you live in places where daffodils bloom in March. We usually see our very first snowdrops a month from now, around March 15. Daffodils are strictly an April thing. Maybe May. We have plenty of time yet for more combinations of gray skies, slick sidewalks, cutting winds and dreary weekends.

Did I mention the flu? So far, knock on wood, it hasn’t hit too close to home. We all got immunized in October. But it did take out our attic contractor. This particular flu can last up to four weeks, and really knock you out. So it looks like our attic start date will be March at the earliest. On the one hand, that gives us more time to clear out the attic. (Which we then pretty much didn’t do this weekend at all.) On the other hand, that much longer until we’re done! I hope our contractor feels better soon. I hope I finish up the work we need to do soon too!

While I am very whiny about winter, the Olympics are definitely a bright spot. I love the Olympics! I’ve been enjoying the biathlon particularly this year. The opening ceremonies were lovely. The drones were SO COOL. The kids have been watching with me. Grey is particularly interested since his social studies class is doing a fantasy league for the Olympics. He wisely picked Norway. He and his brother have been cheering on his selections enthusiastically. Hopefully I can sneak in some good watching in the coming two weeks!

The walking has been especially nerve-wracking with Thane’s broken wrist. It’s been about a month since he broke it. We’re headed to the doctor on Wednesday, who will hopefully be able to tell us we can lose the cast. Sadly, he missed the entire end of the basketball season. He was really enjoying basketball. Ah well – next year!

Wednesday is also a day of contradictory emotions. We have Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. I’ll probably be more Ashy than mushy. (My Sunday School students pointed out today that they’re both holidays about love! Our love for each other, and Jesus’ love for us. Nicely done, Sunday School kids.) Lent is always an interesting and valuable time of year. I try to make it a bit set apart – to think a bit more deeply and feel a bit more vulnerably.

What’s up in your long winter?

Contemplations in the season of Advent

I have no thesis or overarching idea. Here are the thought-drabs.

1) Adam starts a new job tomorrow
He’s heading to work at a company that’s LITERALLY across the street from his old company. We’ve performed a massive defrag on our gaming group. There used to be six of us in four careers working at six companies. There are now six of us in two careers working at three companies. We converted two of our non-coders to coders, then aggregated all the dudes into one company. That company now has tremendous coding expertise, as well as some battle-hardened dice-wielders if there’s ever an emergency need for a FATE game.

2) We had the first snowfall of the year
It was tremendously scenic, and perfectly timed. It snowed all day Saturday, just enough to have fun playing in and to be gone by the end of the week.

3) We’re getting ready for the attic project
I spent that entire day Saturday reducing our number of bookcases by 1.5 by committing ruthless triage on our book collection. Now is an excellent time to visit the Book Oasis if you’re interested in: religion, Medieval Sociology, fantasy novels from the ’90s that didn’t stand the test of time (looking at you Stephen R. Lawhead), the collected “Wheel of Time” (I am NEVER rereading that) or a large collection of young adult novels in Spanish. Adam worked on clearing out the attic all week between jobs. There’s still a ton of stuff up there to be dealt with. Theoretically work begins in mid January. We can’t get too destructive until after the Christmas holidays, since we have guests over that period.

4) I may never finish writing my Christmas cards.

5) My laundry is folded all wrong
But it was washed and folded by my eldest son, and not based on any dire threats or massive punishments. Because he discovered doing laundry is the only way in this household to get a “watch crappy tv without guilt” card. And now he’s doing laundry. My youngest son does dishes. I’m enjoying the brief moment of smug feeling.

6) We took the kids to a party where they didn’t know anyone
And they made friends and talked for three hours with some other kids in the corner, looking very intense. Holy hand grenades! They’ve reached the talking phase of friend development!

7) In cleaning the attic, I found an unaccounted for Puppy.
I thought I had them all tracked. The only missing one went missing in a hotel room in Canada. Where the heck does this Puppy come from? I’m contemplating confessing to Thane about the true nature of Puppies – namely that he’s on Puppy #5. (I thought it was #4, but there are two in a drawer (with various not-so-attached body parts) and #3 is missing in Canada. So there must be an extra one in there somewhere.) Thane has started waxing rhapsodic on the nature of Puppies and Puppyworld, a utopian place. I hope he never outgrows his Puppies (who are actually bunny rabbits, FYI).

8) There are currently a LOOOOOOOT of cookies in this house.
Om nom nom.

9) It turns out Christmas is two weeks away
#panic

10) I got an award at work last week, for the Diversity & Inclusion and community building work I do
They don’t tell you who nominated you, so it feels a little like having a secret admirer. You find yourself looking at people and wondering who turned you in, and how you can thank them. Warm fuzzy feelings there!

11) We had all new toilets installed
The one downstairs, that I was talked into by a plumber in a moment of duress, prevented the door from opening and had a mysterious duel-flush mechanism that guests could rarely work out without consternation. This is no good in a powder room. The one upstairs, despite having its inner workings gutted by both my husband and I approximately one bajillion times, had a tendency to run. I had phantom toilet-running episodes, where I’d wake up in the middle of the night and have to check. I still find it hard to develop opinions regarding toilets, but doors not opening and running are definitely on my naughty list.

12) For those not following along on Facebook, I finally had to refuel my car
It was almost a full three months, and about 1500 miles. The gas light hadn’t come on, but a snow storm was coming. I added an additive to prevent the gas from freezing, since it might be spring by the time I have to refill it again. It turns out the gas tank is pressurized (probably to prevent water from coming in) and I had to Google how to open the gas tank on a car I’ve owned since it was hot out. With the real charging station, the electric costs have also come way down, to about $20 a month.

What’s going on with you?

Welcome to Minerva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minerva at home

The 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!