Signs and Portents

White Lake State Park has history, for my family. This is the 11th year in a row we have visited the loon-infested, bucolic waters of this glacier-dug lake in the shadow of Mt. Chocorua. But we’re hardly the only ones who have history with it. When I post pictures on Facebook, old timers from Stoneham comment how they’ve been going there for decades, and how it was their haunting ground when their kids were young too.

My sons’ favorite poetry book is a local publication called “A Boy’s First Diary“. The author grew up on this street. He talks about dancing with the former owner of our house. Names the wall I’m looking at right now (Dike’s Wall). Talks about sledding down our street. And to my great surprise, included a picture of himself holding a trout and labeled “White Lake State Park”.

But my favorite White Lake history is the living history. Especially on the 4th of July weekend, the old-timers come out. They have ample setups and big families and decorative bunting for their sites. And they have name tags. Sometimes they’re carved in wood. Sometimes they’re painted on cast iron skillets. Sometimes they’re burned into boards. One or two of my favorites are incredibly specific, saying things like “The Campbells: Camping at White Lake since 1972”. I’ve even seen “anniversary” versions hanging from trees, site markers and RV sides, commemorating the 30th year of camping right there.

And of course, I coveted one. I want a sign to hang out on the site marker that declares “I’m so into this, I have a sign made to show you how into it I am”. I may have mentioned this to my husband once or twice. Casually, you know. But even so, when he started getting excited about his secret a few weeks ago, I couldn’t guess what it might be, other than that he was showing it to practically everyone BUT me. Still, he carefully checked my arrival time on Thursday to make sure I’d be here and ready at 6:30 when the delivery driver of my surprise would show up.

Right on time, a man arrived holding an absolutely gorgeous carving of our family crest, done in mahogany and sealed in a marine grade sealant, designed to mark our campground. Adam had googled to find someone who could create such custom work, and it turned out his very first hit was a guy with a CNC machine who lives maybe a mile away. Sign Me Up turned this sign around in 2 weeks (and for a crazy reasonable rate!) – just in time for his daughter’s graduation. And it’s really, really lovely.

I might have taken the sign for a photo shoot
You have to admit it’s rather photogenic

This whole weekend of camping was a delight. The weather was gorgeous. The company excellent. The children well behaved (and read actual real books!!!) My only complaint is that the time I had there was far too short. I have so much more nothing to do.

But as we hung the sign on W6 (one of the best sites in all of White Lake, if you ask me), I was happy for my place in history, and this marker of tradition.


I’ve had SO MUCH FUN with the family crest designed for us by Fealty Designs. We had a stained glass window designed for our home. (It likely originally had one, but the original one probably burned in a major fire 50 years ago. Putting in such a meaningful replacement felt amazing.) If someone has a crest (and the original design files which Julie will provide you), suddenly so many creative things are possible. My favorite part is, much to my surprise, these custom creations (which also support these passionate artisans) are often WAY more affordable than I might have guessed.

With the wedding season coming up – if you’re wondering what to get that couple that already has all the things they need (and especially if you ever have to buy other presents for them in the future) – let me strongly recommend a family crest!

Sign and window

Wilmot Work Weekend

In a historically rainy and cold spring, we’ve had a few glorious days break through. This Saturday was one of them. I’d been hoping for good weather for the work weekend, and it came as requested.

We weren’t quite sure ahead of time what tasks we’d need to do. Every one of us has a tool kit of our own – we bought them for the boys last Christmas, and Thane’s been ardent about filling his out. So the back of the car was filled with tools and overnight bags. Adam and Thane ended up in one of the 60 year old cabins replacing floor boards. I helped sweep and mop the dining hall, and then got the enviable task of washing every single dish in the entire camp while the folks around me deep cleaned the kitchen and washed the windows.

Huge stack of dishes
A partial view of my demense

I spent about 5 hours on the task. First you had to get the dishes out and wash down the cupboard. Then you would stack two minute loads. While prior loads were drying, you’d put away the dryest, oldest rack. I also scoured the dish pit. In this process, I developed very strong feelings and opinions about the dishes. If you want to know, they sum to:

1) No one needs that many saucers. In fact, your average Christian summer camp needs 0 saucers.
2) It was a fascinating collection of coffee mugs. There were two large collections of two mugs from companies – one celebrating a 50th anniversary, and the other with the name in a boring pattern. The rest were “island of misfit” mugs. I carefully rearranged them to put my favorites towards the front and hide the boring (and/or Christmas) mugs in the back.
3) I wish I’d been outside

Three people standing on the WIlmot field in bright sunlight
Growing up fast! (Grey & two of the directors)

I think it was great for the kids to participate in this work. It’s easy as a child not to realize how hard people work to make your life possible. A day of scrubbing the camp to prepare helps open your eyes to the quiet service that makes so much possible.

I also enjoy on these trips the opportunity to talk with the Wilmot directors and staff. It’s astonishing what this camp is doing. They are adding programming every year (this year a fourth week of adventure camp which will be going up to an island in Maine!). They are adding campers every year two. Almost 50% of the kids who will be eating off those clean dishes get financial support from the camp to be there. The camp is incredibly thrifty and resourceful to make so much possible on such a tight budget. I’m always amazed, too, at how much positive impact they make in the life of my kids. Every time my sons go there, they come back more resourceful, kinder, more ethical people. That’s a great prize.

If you are also impressed by what I’m describing, they will use your donations incredibly wisely. You can donate here. If you prefer to imagine exactly what they’ll do, they have a fun Amazon wishlist (select shipping to Robin when checking out).

Five more weeks until the first campers arrive!

Boy reading on a pew
Taking a break from hard labors

Playing hookie

I made a huge mistake in scheduling this year. Despite finally having enough tenure to have breathing room in the “vacation time” arena, when I planned the end of last year and the start of this year, I put all the fun stuff in the summer. I’d had a plan for a trip during April break, but when that didn’t quite work out I ended up not taking more than one day off at a time … between August of 2018 and June of 2019. This is what we call “a big mistake”. There’s no denying that I’ve been pretty crunchy-fried lately. So much to do at work. Lots to do at home. My obligations to my community… it all gets harder when you don’t give yourself periodic breaks.

When I realized this, in an exhausted fog, I immediately did the only sensible thing: I booked a getaway on the next weekend where it was plausible. This was still nearly two months ago, but finally the date came! The leaves are budding, the birds are singing and the vacation time is coming!

Our destination was Provincetown. I was there for an afternoon in September and found myself thinking what a lovely getaway spot it was – and nicely close to Boston! Going so early in May, we found that not everything was open yet (sadly, including the fast ferry). But it also meant the prices for a lovely tiny apartment were low, and everywhere we went all weekend, we could hear the locals and the seasonal crews all greeting each other and catching up after a winter apart.

We walked a lot, ate a lot of food, and did some mostly window shopping. The boys and Adam roleplayed for hours. There was reading time and puzzle time. And we watched The Matrix (Grey didn’t like it). It was absolutely perfect.

My boys in a stone tower
We climbed to the very top of the Pilgrim tower! It was a gorgeous view, and the day was unexpectedly lovely.
Me hugging my sons
I’m still not accepting that Grey is taller than me

Boy looking with binoculars under nautical bell with blue skies
Any blue sky we saw was an unexpected blessing. We’d expected all rain, all weekend

Me, on a stone breakwater
I walked most of the way down this breakwater. I got to watch seagulls breaking clams on the rocks!

Boys eating breakfast
Two boys and their dad playing roleplaying games at a small table
This was the only window where you could see the water, and the boys played a role playing game there the whole weekend

A boy and a very difficult puzzle
Why do I let Thane talk me into these puzzles? I stayed up until 12:30 last night to get it finished enough that he could put in the last pieces this morning

Me and my sons in front of a Cape Cod beach
We visited a few spots on the National Seashore, but it was pretty rainy and cold

Though much is taken, much abides

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

I was running when my watch buzzed with a message from my brother, “Y’all seeing the fire at Notre Dame?”. At first I thought of the Fighting Irish. But the link, which I did not stop my pace to read, was from the BBC in Europe. So the other Notre Dame. I’ve been heart-sore lately.Good exercise on a day when the world was contemplating renouncing the despair of winter for the hopeful enthusiasm of spring was meant to be a brief panacea. I tried to put the fire out of mind (hoping it was minor) and focus on the daffodils.

Running through the well-kept houses and lawns of wealthy Winchester, I reminded myself how amazing our civilization is. It is so much easier to destroy than build. But there is so much more built than not. What a great weight of effort lay behind every vista. And to the pounding rhythm of my slow pace, the words came back to me: Though much is taken, much abides

I find myself greatly consoled by remembered poetry. You’d think that this would mean I spend more time reading and memorizing poetry, but humans are not so sensible. We do not always invest in the things that offer us the greatest returns. We do not avoid the things that bring us harm. But this poem is not one I’ve read. It is, instead, a poem that a friend has memorized. I remember one bright night, when we were all younger than we are now, when we went together to see a play – a musical. We all agreed that it was quite possibly the worst performance any of us had ever seen. But walking back together through the streets of Boston, through swirling mist and halogen light, he recited all of Ulysses to the city sky. I’ve likely heard him say this poem 20 times in our years of friendship. So it is unsurprising for me to hear it in his voice. My friend’s voice assures me, much abides.

When I returned from my run and saw the pictures of the flames, I thought nothing could survive. What was built over centuries and endured for longer centuries would be wiped out in the slow course of my 5k jog. I was comforted only by the memory of that poetry. “Much abides” I reminded myself. And indeed, from the implausible wall of flames much more was recovered – largely because of human planning, care and expertise – than I dared hope for. The windows remain. The bees remain. The gothic walls and buttresses were designed independent of the roof, so the one could fall while the others held. I read an amazing response (which I cannot now find) by a medievalist who long studied the cathedral at Reims. The scholar talked with great hope about how the Medieval architects had learned so much (from hard experience) about how cathedrals burned that they had built new ones to withstand conflagration. The churches were designed to burn, but yet abide. And looking at what remains in the rubble in Paris, that seems true. How clever we are, we humans, when we put our minds to resilience and preservation. How foresightful we can be, and have been. Much abides.

Today, as I write, it is Holy Saturday. Last night, I went to Good Friday services – my favorite of the year. There’s no sugar coating harsh truths on Friday night. We put ourselves in the place of the false accusers, the cowardly arresters, the sleepy and scared friends who fail at the first test. We speak of beatings and mockery and spears and nails in the flesh. We listen to a dying man make fun of another dying man. There’s no place on Good Friday for looking away or softening. I think it’s no coincidence that rarely are children present that night. (Although I was very, very glad that my youngest son joined me, for the first time. I’m not sure my children will be able to understand my faith if they never worship with me on Good Friday.) On this Friday night – and on the long Saturday that follows – we live in a reality where God himself has died and we cannot see how anything can ever be okay again. Hope is lost, and all that remains is cleaning up and moving on.

Of course, there’s always the rest of that story. I usually practice my Easter hymns on Good Friday (which feels like cheating, but practice you must!) Beyond hope, hope arrives. There is redemption for the failed and weak. There is forgiveness. Although there is also real loss – Judas is never forgiven. I sometimes wonder if he would have been, if he’d chosen repentance over despair.

As we look to rebuild Notre Dame, and the black southern churches destroyed by a hateful arsonist, I am reminded of another phrase caught in my mind lately, from Isaiah:

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Isaiah 58:12

As I looked for the right words to close my thoughts, my pastor posted a poem by her favorite poet, whose title caught my eye. I leave you friends, with a new poem. May it be a consolation. For much abides.

What Abides, What Returns

Readying for Spring

March is a cruel month in New England. It is the time of dirty snow, when winter is old and grey and has entirely worn out it’s welcome, but clings to our shaded areas with a stubborn tenacity. Even today, the second nearly-70 degree spring day this weekend, I gaze over at my nearly-budding plum tree and see a malicious pile of snow in the corner.

But still – the fighter jets just flew past in tight formation, rumbling against blue-and-white sky, readying for the opening day in Fenway Park. The daffodils and hyacinths have pushed past winter’s hoar and into a friendlier light. The forsythias are golden in longer, stronger light and the spring peepers have begun a cacophony as loud as any fighter jet. Not even March can hold on forever.

I pruned the plum tree yesterday. That’s such hard work. You know you have to cut it down, for it’s own good. But you don’t want to. You’ve been cheering for every branch. I severely hacked back one of the branches that overhung the stairs (although I fear it’s going to inspire riotous new growth). There were also two fungally infected spots – one of which was a minor branch and one which was a medium one. I made more cuts based on health and my convenience than based on a proper pruning. But there are a good many incipient blossoms, and this year I have the fertilizer stakes in. I will ensure it gets well watered (I think my biggest mistake from last year). This year, you just watch, will be the year of plum jam.

I feel more than a touch repetitive when I tell you that life has been busy. On the spider-plot of the areas in which my life is usually busy, right now it’s dominated by work – of which there is much, and what I’m doing requires tremendous energy and leaves me tired at the cessation of my labors. I’ve been having headaches often lately. I think I may have cracked that one, though. I had a cold and sinus involvement which led to me taking a lot of cold medicine that included Tylenol. (Transcontinental flights with colds = All The Meds.) Then I kept getting headaches (and taking Tylenol) sometimes even from the moment I got up. I read through the internets (I was pretty sure it wasn’t one of the more serious causes) and discovered the concept of a rebound headache. I lowered my coffee, stopped taking all pain meds despite pounding headaches, and tried to get a bit more exercise. And it seems to have worked! No headaches for a week now!


Spring’s most perfect day

In other news, Grey has signed up for travel soccer. He had a great season doing indoor soccer this winter, during which time he enjoyed playing with his teammates, brought his skills up to a new level, got in good shape, and lost pretty much every single game. Builds character. For those of you who are not soccer moms, the hierarchy of soccer excellence goes like this:

Town soccer: 1 practice, 1 game a week. Entirely for fun. Don’t have to travel anywhere. Low pressure.
Travel soccer: 2 practices, 1 game a week. Have to do tryouts to get in. Increasingly competitive based on which team you make.
Club soccer: Soccer is now your life.

We’ve always been in the Town Soccer zone, and our sons have shown no interest in travel – until now. I often miss Grey’s games, but I got to go see him this Saturday on Spring’s most glorious day. I loved watching him run – the way his long legs effortlessly ate up the field as he moved. I loved watching him attack the ball, and how he’d position himself on the field, constantly adjusting to where the ball and other players were. He looked very right and in his element out there, which is not what I had expected based on his early years playing.

Does anyone with a background in physics know what happened next?

But we just added together 1 & 2 (it’s an and, not an or). So for the remainder of the year he’ll be playing games both days of the weekend, and will have three practices a week.


Yesterday, Facebook showed me an “On this day” update from a year ago. This was when we started the demolition for our attic project. Every night when I get to go up to that beautiful, bright, clean, airy space I can’t believe my good fortune. I think it will take a long time for it to get old.

Dare I say my favorite spot?

We went up to Conway in January, and spent some time looking at art galleries with an eye to the perfect pieces for our pristinely white walls. We found one superb piece that I enjoy every time I see it. It’s this beautiful, very New England scene (very wintery, really). It’s this lovely circle picture, done with photosensitive paper. It seems like a real place, lovingly remembered.

I especially love the stars

So what’s new with you lately? Have you seen any art? Spent any glorious spring days outside? Read any good books? Tell me!

My ballot: Stoneham Election April 2, 2019

I regret that I have not had the time this year to write up an in-depth review of the candidates. But I’ve had a number of people asking who I’m voting for, and I’m generally excited and enthusiastic about the candidates for whom I’ll cast my vote on Tuesday (April 2nd at Town Hall in Stoneham!). So with no further ado…

Here’s the sample ballot, for your reference. I’m only highlighting my choices in contested races.

Select Board (pick two)
Heidi Bilbo (loved her “Hate has no home here” campaign)
George Seibold

School Committee
Rachel Meredith-Warren (I think she’s amazing)

Housing Authority
Michelle Meagher

Board of Assessors
Eric Josephson (I’ve seen his resume and he’s deeply qualified – we’ll be lucky to have him)

Question 1
Yes, I think if we want a thriving Main Street, we need to offer flexibility to proprietors