1) The room
The morning after we returned, as I lay in bed and before I opened my eyes, I could still see the blue skies and sandy beaches beyond my toes – with my boys lying around reading and playing video games. Tragically at home I usually wake up to see my messy closet. The room we stayed in was one of the “Reef Rooms” (we stayed at the Presidente Intercontinental in Cozumel.) It was graciously appointed and spacious (with tables for games and an epic bathroom!) The best part was being able to open the blinds in the morning, lay in the hammock and watch the nearby ocean. It was glorious.
2) The kids in the pool
While Adam and I much prefer snorkeling in the sea, the kids loved loved loved playing in the pool. They spent hours soaking themselves in the warmed waters of the main pool. (There’s a second adults pool that we obviously didn’t spend much time at…) We brought some dive toys and they dove and swam and splashed and somehow just passed hours in the sun and water. It was fantastic.
3) Reading over breakfast
And after swimming. And before bed. It was so glorious to have readers with us who were just as into their books as we were into ours! Grey read most of the Narnia series. Thane read the first 8 books in the Magic Treehouse. It was a harbinger of great joy ahead, and really awesome right then and there. “One more chapter, mommy! Then we’ll go swimming…”
4) Swimming with the dolphin
The swim with the dolphins at Chankanaab was way more than I would possibly have anticipated. I didn’t think there was any way my six year old would swim out into the deeps and be pushed back to the pier by a dolphin. I didn’t think anyone would be allowed to grab onto a dolphin’s flippers and be dragged back to shore. I was entirely wrong. It was really, really cool.
5) Spending time with the people I love best
I got to help Grey write a book. I did a puzzle with Thane. I laid in the hammock with Adam and watched the stars. I got to spend time focusing on and really seeing the people I love best in the world. It was a really joyous feeling and experience to have!
My backpacking trip this summer to Mt. Rainier was fabulous. Fantabulous. Fantabuloustic. Really, really good. There were really only two things I’d change about it: give me 2 hours at Spray Park before the clouds rolled in, and give me a better camera. The first one is obvious. I had a sinking feeling as I raced up the face of the mountain ahead of a roiling ocean of clouds that I would be thwarted, and I was right. It just means I need to go back.
But my camera? I was in one of the most scenic places in the world. Some of the places I planted my feet can’t be gotten to without either real labor or a helicopter. Some of the things I saw are beyond beautiful. I still walk those paths in my mind when I can’t sleep. But my camera. Well. Let’s just say that Thane’s baby pictures were taken on this camera. He’s in Kindergarten. He’s an OLD Kindergartner. There are baby monitors with more megapixels than that thing. It struggled mightily trying to capture the nasty, back-lit conditions that are the mountain at sunrise. Or sunset. Many of the pictures I took just weren’t as good as they could have been. And the video? So 2007!
Thane dropped that same camera that had recorded his borning cry. (Or actually didn’t. As Adam said at the time, “I don’t want anyone seeing *this* mess!”) It doesn’t turn on. Awwwww, shucks.
So with my birthday coming up, I asked for a camera. I did some research and went to a camera shop, and the guy wrote down what I looked at. I passed off the card to my husband, and looked forward to a Mega-Pixel future. The camera came. I pulled it out with glee and started taking pictures. They, um, didn’t look so hot. And there were no manual functions. I’ve invested a lot of time and love into learning how to really use my camera. I want something that *can* hold my hand, but doesn’t necessarily do so.
I returned the camera.
I went to Hunts Camera in Melrose, the grownup version of a toy store. (With an extra 0 or two added to the end of the price, the way grownup toys are.) The helpful salesman walked through my desires: fits in my pocket (the horror was writ large on his face), manual controls. I’m not too picky. I got my new camera and brought it home and gave it a run.
I really wanted to like it. I really, really, really did! It had a 20x zoom! It was, um, fancy! It has all the controls of my DSLR but in a camera that can fit in my coat pocket, if not so easily my jeans pocket. Yay! I brought it to the soccer field. I brought it to Cape Code. I took pictures hiking.I took pictures apple picking. I took pictures at home. And you know? It drove me nuts. It was hard to focus and slow to turn on. It kept on accidentally turning on when I put it in the case. My kids usually had at least one blurry part of their body. Not only did I not dig it, I didn’t like it. I spent WAY TOO MUCH on it not to like it. With great reluctance, I went back today.
Truthfully, I was kind of expecting a hassle. I took a few hundred pictures on the camera attempting to like it. I even brought my kids with me to the swap – my prior failure before had been that I hadn’t attempted any photography with vibrating subjects who like to perform photobombs. I asked my assistants to be as obnoxious as possible while I attempted to capture their hijinks on camera. They were naturals.
Many props to Hunts – they swapped out my camera without demur or delay. When the camera I wanted was (of course) out of stock, they sent me home with the floor model and a promise to call me when the new one comes in so I can immediately swap it out.
And guys, I love it. Phew. Third time’s the charm!
When you tell people here in New England that you spent your summer vacation backpacking around an iconic mountain, they tend to think you’re hard core. I like to sprinkle in even more shocking details, saying things like “Yeah, nothing makes you appreciate civilization like a bathroom with walls and unlimited free toilet paper!” (I took a picture of each latrine on the mountain. I think I might make a gallery. You’re welcome.) It does feel impressive, from the land of cubicles.
However, when I was actually backpacking the Wonderland Trail – a 92 mile loop around Mt. Rainier that has so much elevation change it’s equivalent to summiting several times – I did not feel hardcore. Let’s start with the fact we were not doing the whole trail. Adam and I scored an amazing itinerary – absolutely my first choice. But it was only less than a third of the total length of the trail. People have run the Wonderland in the 40 hour range. I actually know some of these lunatics personally. Adam and I were on a pace for maybe a 13 – 14 day Wonderland circumnavigation. We’d stop on the trail and meet someone and they’d ask where we came from and were going. They’d give us a look, and lay out an itinerary often twice the length of ours. Any many of them WERE doing the whole trail.
Two particular meetings come to mind: the three young, map-challenged men we met outside of Mystic Lake around noon who thought they were going to Fire Creek (20 miles and 10,000 ft of elevation change). They weren’t running, so there was no way that they were going to make it. Then there was the dad with his two daughters who were doing the whole trail. The young women were having trouble with their boots, and had done 20 miles, with packs, in flipflops. We handed over our blister packs since our feet were holding up fine and they were in dire straights. These things conspire to make you feel like you’re doing the tourist edition of the trail.
Our choice was a good one, however. Adam and I had enough time to linger in some of the loveliest places in the world. We could stop and stare. We could rise when rested, and rest when weary. Our longest day was 10 miles. Our final day out was a mere 2 miles, which eager feet ate up. We never once raced to our goal with nervous eyes measuring the ever decreasing distance between horizon and sun.
The itinerary was this:
Day 1: Sunrise to Berkely Park 2.3 miles
Day 2: Berkely Park to Mystic Lake 10 miles
Day 3: Mystic Lake to Cataract Valley 7 miles
Day 4: Cataract Valley to Eagle’s Roost 5 miles
Day 5: Eagle’s Roost to Mowich Lake (out) 2 miles
Why do I love this? We could have gone to Ashland for the Shakespeare festival, and stayed in fine accommodations with amazing food. (A fact Adam reminded me of not a few times.) We went through considerable expense and difficulty in order to walk 26 miles up and down the side of a mountain, on the week of our 14th anniversary. Why? It’s an answer I struggle to articulate. Because I can’t see these things anywhere else? Because I challenge my mind constantly and my body hardly ever? Because without the discipline of walking, I can never slow my mind down enough to listen? Because carrying everything you need forces you to embrace simplicity and to be grateful for what you have? Because I do not feel happier than I feel when I turn a corner and stare one of my oldest, deepest friends in the face, and see an aspect of that marvelous mountain I have never seen before? Because I enjoy the right kind of suffering? I’m not sure I ever have fully answered the why of loving to backpack, but I can assure you my heart exulted as soon as my boots hit the trail. (My heart promptly started to work overtime as those boots immediately pulled me up the hill to Frozen Lake.)
Since returning to the email-filled world, I have found myself as I so often do – lying in a hotel bed in some city, mind racing with the challenges of the day. There are few things I resent more than work dreams. So instead I pick a section of path, in my mind, and walk it as close to memory as I can. I pull out as many of the scenes, unwittingly recorded. The sights, the smells, the creak of the pack, the loam underfoot. I see the avalanche lily, the lupine, the columbine, the Jeffrey’s shooting star. I watch the moon setting over Mt. Rainier behind Mineral Mountain. The hike feeds and nourishes my true self, and gives strength for the labors that are needed.
I’ve thought of a thousand things I want to tell you about my five days of bliss. How much I love my purple hiking shirt. How Adam and I learned just how little water people truly need compared to how much they use. Why Eagle’s Roost is so lovely. What it feels like for me to walk in the dark without my contacts. How beautifully my knee held up in extremis. What five days without any sort of internet access was like. How desperately I need a much better point and shoot camera for my next trip. Perhaps those thoughts will sneak out, but I struggle enough just to tell the primary stories, never mind the quirkier, flashing tales that sneak across my mind and are gone in a twinkling. So you shall have to be content with this:
Hymns play through my mind as I walk, unbidden. There is less atmosphere so high to interfere between me and God.
Before I had children, I thought of January and February as the wasted time. The boring time. The stuck inside time. The vaguely depressed time. Now the first three months of the year represent the only times in my life when the pressure eases back a little. I – sometimes – have weekends when nothing much happens. If you try to do something with me in the summer on a Saturday, chances are good I’ll return with a next-free-date a month in the future. In January, there’s time for reading, relaxing, not-muching. Of course, I respond by being terribly lazy and hanging out on my couch in my jammies. (Ahem.)
Still, it is against my nature not to use the free time for some joyful activities. I have a big one coming up (and am being forced to be slightly less lazy in order to prepare for it), but my camera has evidence of a joyful January together.
For Christmas, my husband got me a course from Nicole’s Classes. I wanted to improve my skills with the camera. I really enjoy taking pictures, but am fully aware that I’m limited by technical capabilities. To sum up: there are many buttons on my camera that I don’t know what they do an am afraid to change in case I can’t figure out how to change them back.
So for the quieter time after Christmas, I decided I would learn how to take pictures better.
The course is a four week course. The first week paid for itself. We learned about lighting: shutter speed, f-stop, ISO and equivalent lighting. Now, I’d learned about ISO before and it was my single and sole method of correcting for lighting. This means that most of my photos, especially the indoor photos, are taken with very high ISO. My MIND WAS BLOWN by the fact there were three other ways I could manage light (short of flash), and I had been using the worst of them previously. Now, I had actually read a few photography books, and I knew I was missing something here, but I had trouble putting it all together. This made it make sense finally. (Bonus! Who knew there was a light meter on my camera letting me know – ahead of time – whether a picture was over or under exposed!)
So for your enjoyment, here is my homework for week 1:
Assignment 1 – Change the Depth of Field (two pictures – one with shallow depth of field and one with deep depth):
Assignment 2 – Daylight vs indoor ISO
Assignment 3 – Slow vs. fast shutter speed (sense of motion vs sense of stillness)
Assignment 4 – we were supposed to follow “a day in the life”. I picked Grey to follow for the day. I will confess that this is over more like 2 days, but I apologize for nothing.
It was midnight when my fellow-Santa and I laid the final touches around the tree. The cookies artistically partially eaten. The massive stuffed animal with the bow. The careful interspersing of presents – the ones from Santa outermost to indicate the jolly old elf had laid them there himself. We were weary from a lovely long day of cleaning, cooking, preparing, and caroling at our church. Our children had fallen asleep in record time. We’d had a lovely chat with some old friends in the neighborhood, and now we were ready for repose. We lingered, looking at the tree lights, looking forward to the morning’s joyous faces.
The next morning at seven, I thought I heard some noise downstairs. “Aha!” I thought. “My children bestir themselves. Perhaps they’ve started to open their stockings! I don’t want to a miss a minute.!” I shook my beloved awake and headed down the stairs, muzzy-minded.
To my shock – my horror – a scene of wrapping mayhem lay below me. My sons were in the midst of a piranhic frenzy of quiet unwrapping. Well over half their gifts lay strewn around in the shards of wrapping paper littering the floor.
STOP! STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP! I sat on the stairs, weak-kneed, as they looked up at me with confused faces. “This,” I said to my similarly week-kneed husband, “May be funny later. Maybe.”
After a good number of deep breaths, a pot of coffee and a very long explanation to the children that we open presents TOGETHER like we have every Christmas for their entire LIVES, I satisfied myself that there was an excellent chance that Grey really believed he was being kind in letting us sleep in. We talked through the presents they had already opened, and slowly enjoyed the rest together. We did enjoy ourselves, once our hearts got back to a normal tempo.
I only wish I’d had the presence of mind to take a picture of the carnage, with the sweet, innocent confused faces wreaking it.
Twelve hours later, my brother, mother and father had all arrived in my house, bringing loot and Christmas cheer with them. As I worked on the roast lamb, I became increasingly uneasy with my menu. The lamb, with carrots, celery and parsnips, had seemed a quintessentially British dish, well served with Yorkshire Pudding and Christmas Pudding. But there was tomato sauce. The veggies were cubed small. And spice numbers 5 and 6 were turmeric and saffron. These are not British spices. On further review, the dish was downright Indian. So I scrapped the Yorkshire pudding and substituted rice, and I’m delighted to report it was absolutely the right call. (And a delicious recipe to boot!)
I likely warned my family 10 times that night that I would not be offended if the Christmas pudding turned out to be inedible. It seemed unlikely to be good. 4 cups of raisins and only one each of flour and sugar? Dates and citrons? Suet? This incredible double boiling maneuver – done twice? I’d be lucky if anyone ate two spoonsful. The hard sauce – equal parts butter and powdered sugar – might be eaten straight. But I doubted even it could rescue this unlikely looking concoction. I poured the brandy on with liberal hand and set the pudding to blue flame, lasting far longer than I thought it would and bathing the wide eyes of my son in eerie light.
IT WAS DELICIOUS.
And so has this time with my sons and my husband, my mother and father and brother been. I hope you, too, have had a joyful and restful holiday!
The house is full of little boys yelling out “Wow! Cool!” and “Sticker help, mom!” Grey is on bag six of seven of the Lego Vampyre Castle, and Thane has completed “Spider-Man’s Doc Ock Ambush”, “Genosian Starfighter”, “Space Police” and is attempting to open “Droid Escape”. Suffice it to say, we’re having an amazingly awesome Christmas morning.
As I waited for the kids to fall asleep last night, I pulled some pictures off the camera. These include Grey’s Christmas concert and Christmas Eve at Grandma’s house with Cousin Alec!
I’m not a huge puzzle-doer. Years have elapsed without my doing a single puzzle. But this time of year, I get the urge to do puzzles. It comes back to family. You see, this is the time of year when I have multiple, unscheduled days with people to whom I am related. My sons are no longer in need of constant babysitting, nor have that toddler’s impulse to destroy all that is laid before them. (Although they are forces for chaos and entropy – you should see what happens to a formerly clean room SECONDS after they enter it.)
My family, during my teenage to young adult years, would often do a big puzzle when we all came home from our far-flung lives. There was the massive medieval sayings puzzle (still a favorite!), the three golden magi puzzle (so much of the same color!) and others lost to the mists of time. The glorious thing about a puzzle during the holidays is what it does for the family. Done right, the puzzle is in a place where people pass and invites them to linger. One person sits down to see if they can finish the horse’s head, another person joins them. They sit together, in companionable silence, or chatting. There’s no pressure to “make conversation”, but the conversation likely ebbs and flows. They are not trapped behind a screen or page – mentally isolated from the others around them. But neither are they thrust into the chaos of the activities that swirl around the holidays. And when the holiday is finished – if the puzzle is too – there is a shared sense of purpose, activity and accomplishment. And there are a wealth of small, shared minutes together.
I realized this, of course, when I had a baby and such an activity became impossible. Sitting quietly became an aspiration. Small pieces that could be lost? Inviting tragedy. I longed for the chatting and conversation and the careful piecing of puzzles.
My brother was born on December 20th. My grandmother came to stay that Christmas during my mother’s wait. Family legend is that when my mother went in to labor, she refused to go to the hospital until the puzzle was done so that my grandmother wouldn’t fret. As a consequence, the delivering doctor barely beat my brother to the hospital. (Hey mom – what puzzle was that? Did you save it?)
This Thanksgiving, I thought it was TIME. My four year old, who might be the Destroyer of Puzzles, is actually a great puzzle aficionado. (He calls himself the Puzzle Master.) Indeed – he’s a bigger contributor to even a 1000 piece puzzle than you might consider likely for a preschooler. At Thanksgiving I reviewed the scant grownup puzzle options in the cupboard. There was a 600 piece mosaic puzzle, a thousand piece snowman and a 400 piece satellite photo of our neighborhood. I’d been looking forward to doing the neighborhood one, and figured I could have some fun roping my neighbors into joining me, so pulled it out.
OMG. It was the hardest puzzle ever. The colors were practically identical. The pieces were barely differentiated in shape. It was the Bataan death march of puzzles. We had many “false positives” that were extensive to unwind, and nearly went blind peering over the puzzle. Adam and I stayed up WAY TOO LATE one night to finally finish it. Such a sense of accomplishment! We took pictures. Which was good – Grey accidentally destroyed it the next morning looking at it.
This Christmas, I planned ahead and bought a (hopefully much easier) thousand piece Christmas scene. We’ve set it up just off the living room next to the “gold tree” with floor pillows. The family wanders past and does a section, then wanders off to play. My sweet Thane – prince of puzzles and shapes – sits next to me and pieces together the scenes. He needs help organizing the pieces to get sections together, but his sense of shape, color and fit is astonishing. We sit next to the glimmering tree and sing Christmas songs together, chatting.
The cycle is renewed, the wheel turns, and the new generation takes up the strains of the old.
So I’ve been terribly remiss getting my pictures up and on the computer. With very little preamble, let me present to you:
– Pictures from Justice’s funeral
– Many neighborhood babies
– Mr. Toothless
– Adam’s birthday game night
– Thane’s fourth birthday
– Leaf raking
– A trip to Plimouth Plantation (taken today, in unseasonably delightful weather)
I love graveyards. I always have. I remember being 6 and visiting the graveyard in Bonners Ferry and thinking how pretty it was, and if I died soon I hoped they’d bury me there. I used to go hang out in the Mineral Cemetery to watch the stars on bright, clear nights. My husband proposed to me in the tiny graveyard we’d walked to on the night we met. I walked around the Wyoming Cemetery in Melrose the night I was in labor with Grey, and through Stoneham’s Lindenwood Cemetery the night I gave birth to Thane. I am often in graveyards, when I play taps for veterans funerals. I find graveyards lovely, peaceful, thought-provoking and restful.
On Saturday, we arranged with Coelynn McIninch to do our every-four-years formal family portraits. Coe had taken the Camp Gramp portraits two years ago, and I’d liked her work a lot, so it was logical to ask her to come and shoot us. But it was 4 pm on a Saturday afternoon in September, with fast-fading light. It was overcast, and a bit chilly. I’d _planned_ on going to the Middlesex Fells for the pictures, but suddenly that seemed a long way away. “Why don’t we just go to the graveyard?” my husband inquired, reading my mind. And so we went.
I should also mention that we are very respectful of graves, and we teach our sons to be as well. I never forget that a place of peace of me is a place of sorrow for others.*
Folks, the pictures are AMAZING. It was very, very difficult (nigh impossible!) to keep Thane looking forward and smiling, but she did it. Grey is adorably snaggle-toothed… I’m shocked that the front tooth has held on another few days! There were some pictures of us getting wiggles out, or being silly, or just being a family with a six year old and three year old (for a few more days!) I’m super pleased with all of them – both silly** and serious – and the hard part will be to decide which ones make it on the wall and in our Christmas cards!
That’s right, folks. The last game of the regular season is on the radio, so it is clearly time to think of Christmas cards!
I’m tempted not to share, if only so those of you who actually get Christmas cards from me are surprised, but that seems too mean.
*There was a guy there who was learning how to drive a clutch on the cemetery hills – loudly – and someone must have called the police because two cruisers pulled in just as we pulled out. I admit to being rather glad we were safely off by then!
**The ones where the boys are being zombies and eating Adam’s brains are AWESOME. I love the “Tomb of the Living Dead” some teenager scrawled on that wall years ago.