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!

Something I’ve never done before

The older you get, the fewer things you get to do for the first time. I wonder how much of the perception of the speed of life has to do with that diminution of novelty. I can see it in even the difference between walking a path for the first time, and walking back along it. Anyway, on Saturday I got to do something new.

On Saturday I learned that some friends were going to a paint and wine night and I managed to cadge an invite. Now, I was a band geek of the first water. When electives were coming around, there was absolutely no doubt which one I was going to sign up for. So I never did art in high school. Or college. Or, well, ever. In fact, my nascent art career was cut short with one of the more bitter regrets of my young life. I begged my parents for art lessons when I was about 9. I remember going to a stationer’s store (I’M SO OLD) and buying the pencils, the sharpener, the paper and the special eraser. I was out of my mind excited. The teenager who showed up was an excellent artist at the high school level. But I was so wound up and energetic that I was hard to teach. She got frustrated with me in that first lesson and never came back. I ended up having been taught one method of drawing fir trees, but with a far more useful life lesson: If you want to learn, you had better make teaching you be a pleasure to your teacher.

Painting with some friends – maybe next time we’ll do an all group outing!

My art skills completely stalled out at that level, and if you ask me to draw today, chances are excellent I’ll make a fir tree for you.

Intimidation factor: high

So when confronted with a blank canvas, I was unsure what the outcome might be. Complete humiliation seemed plausible. Fortunately, middle age also carries with it this glorious lack of caring about complete humiliation. I uncovered the paper plate with my paints. Our instructor was reassuringly clear. Plus, this was just the base layer. At this layer most of my mistakes would be covered later. I slapped on the paint with aplomb.

Base coat

Then things got more complicated. We had to make rocks! Worse yet, rocks that actually looked like rocks. Woe!

Rocks and hard to make clouds

Our last step was buildings. I have some regrets about the choices on the lights, but none about my lantern lit landing on the water, or the expressive stars I added.

I improved the clouds
My masterpiece

It was a really enjoyable experience. It required attention, but it was a different kind of attention than I’m used to having to expend. My hands and mind were busy, but it was rather restful to be busy with skills I knew I didn’t have on an outcome that didn’t need to make it past the garbage can on my porch. (Have no fear – Thane has claimed he wants it for his room so it’s not intended for the bin just yet.) I would totally do that again!

It’s amazing how slightly differently we can all interpret the same thing!

It takes my mind off the near-complete-loss of all plums currently bedeviling my poor tree. Next year…

On a sadder note

Over the Garden Wall

One of the great joys, and small sorrows, of parenting is revealing your favorite things to your children to be embraced or reviled. There’s the magic of having them fall in love with something you fell in love with too. There’s nothing like snuggling with them on the couch watching your favorite movie for the first time, or catching your youngest staying up too late reading a book you also stayed up too late reading. Of course, they don’t always love what you loved. There you just hope that maybe someday they’ll have better taste.

But every once in a while, they introduce you to something that means a lot to THEM and the process works in reverse.

Grey bought a Google Home Mini with the Christmas money his uncle gave him. I’d been reluctant to add that technology to our household mix, but then he put together a six slide presentation on why he should be allowed to keep it. So it stayed. Grey and I have, uh, different taste in music. He really likes rap. So I was very surprised, listening to one of his playlists, to hear him singing joyfully along to a simple piano and vocal piece with the refrain “Potatoes and Molasses“. Very weird.

I asked him what it was from, and he was horrified to discover that I hadn’t seen his possibly favorite ever show, Over the Garden Wall. So over the course of the next few evenings, we watched it together as a family.

You know what? It was really fantastic. The kids kept warning me every episode that it was “dark”. It was serious, with real emotions and important themes and the opportunity for real loss. But it was also silly, surreal, sweet and unexpected. It had beautiful pieces of music interspersed. I think my favorite moment was the Beast’s Song, which I recognized from Engelbird Humperdink’s opera Hansel und Gretel. Do you have any idea how few subtle references there are in popular culture to obscure Germanic operas? And that one was so spot on, thematically, that it pointed to an incredible attention and care that the makers of the show lavished on it. I so deeply appreciate discovering my children love something that has depth, meaning and craft to it. This is literature in cartoon form – nodding backwards as it walks new ground forward.

I also really liked how the show modeled being brothers. (Mild spoilers.) The two key characters are step brothers. The little brother is annoying, for sure. The older brother is supercilious. But the love the two of them have for each other is plain in every scene and interaction. They’re never cruel to each other, and are very patient even when the sunny, goofy character of the youngest puts them in true peril. It’s a lovely model for my two, as they think about how they want to deal with each other.

It was a lovely thing – to have my kids pleased and proud to show me something that they loved. We got to be together. We got to point out to each other things we’d missed – those small details that can tie together a complicated story.

What’s something the next generation has introduced you to that you’ve discovered you really like afterwards? What are some of those moments of reversal for you?

Gone to Melville Castle

Last Saturday, our wheels cut through the early morning mists on a journey North through just-coloring leaves towards our summer haunts in Lincoln New Hampshire for the New Hampshire Scottish Highland Games. As we sped away, I turned on a playlist of ALL THINGS SCOTTISH, landing as I always do on “All the Best from Scotland v2“. (No, I do not have and have never heard volume 1.)

This album has been, uh, enjoyed by my family often, and Adam and I certainly know all the words. And as we passed red-limned swamps and yet-green-groves, Melville Castle came on. Since there’s an off chance that you are unfamiliar with this apex of Scottish accomplishment, here’s a version for you to listen to:

Anyway, as the song went on, a small – anonymous – voice from the back seat joined in the chorus. When the song ended, he asked for it again. And again. When the album was allowed to continue, a wistful voice said that it couldn’t wait until it could hear it again – a wish soon to be granted.

We arrived at the games – a chaotic and crowded enterprise with pipe bands to the right of you, Red Hot Chili Pipers to the left of you and Haggis straight ahead. (Yes, I did have haggis for lunch.)

IMGP5124

No one would dare make fun of these guys for wearing pink and skirts.
No one would dare make fun of these guys for wearing pink and skirts.

I explained my Scottish heritage to my sons. I told them the rated-G version of what it meant to be a Johnstone of Clan Johnstone. (“Now what’s your clan crest again?!”) Then I took them to the Clan Johnstone tent where their great-uncle was presiding as Clan President (US) over the annual Clan Gathering. Accidentally showing up just during the clan meeting, my eldest son (the one with the Johnstone in his name) proposed that there should be awards such as best video game player (he would win) and best pie maker (an apparent shoe-in for his mother).

The boys with their Great-Uncle
The boys with their Great-Uncle

We wandered the booths, bought shortbread, watched the world championship caber toss, and saw more people in tartans than I thought possible. (I mean, I don’t have a tartan skirt and I really want one and am a Johnstone of Clan Johnstone! How do so many people gear themselves up so well and so expensively?!) My sons did this super cool bungy jump flip thingy. And a few hours later, we left the buzz of the bagpipes behind and returned home.

Not Scottish, but fun!
Not Scottish, but fun!

My son demanded “Melville Castle” on his DS. While I was at it, could I please add the depression era anthem “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound”:

These two songs have been ringing through my house ever since. Two young voices in my backseat, this morning, were arguing through the lyrics of Melville Castle (is it ‘what will all the lassies dae‘ or ‘what will all the lassies say’? and singing together.


So music, this folk music – the kind sung by people you know who are like you – has been much on my mind lately. On Wednesday, word came through my Facebook feed (is it heretical of me to admit that I really love Facebook, and how it has helped me preserve relationships that otherwise would have long since withered?) that one of my old Tacoma Youth Symphony alumn friends was in the region, and playing house concerts.

Ryan McKasson was a violist when we played through Sibelius and Rimsky-Korsakov together in the first flowering of youth. We probably played together for four or five years. So when my Friday was inexplicably free, and my babysitter (God bless having a babysitter!) was available, and … I found myself in a house in Lexington with the lights on, original art on the walls, an expensive grand piano and cheap folding chairs. Ryan recognized me, remembering my instrument if nothing else. We chatted briefly, and then the sparks flew.

Is there a better way to listen to music than in a small group of music lovers, in the aging house of retiring patrons of the arts? I watched the shy boy I once kind of knew strike like flint against the steel of his pianist friend, challenging with fiery eyes to go one farther and one better. Physics cannot explain how fast those 20 fingers flew across string and ivory. I was rapt, and entranced. (As an aside, Ryan is one of the best all-over performers I’ve seen. If you ever have a chance to watch him play, do so. And try to figure out a way to stay late for the after-concert-session that is apparently an inevitability.)

Ryan's skill was only exceeded by his passion
Ryan’s skill was only exceeded by his passion

There were a few moments, in this modern-day-salon, where I thought about the choices of my life. I come from a corporate job, a skilled craftsman in the new economy. I sit in a cube from 9 am to 5 pm writing emails and connecting threads of different thoughts to weave into a complete cloth of strategic understanding. But perhaps I could have been a musician, an artist. Perhaps I could have chosen to write books or perform trumpet, or teach. I did not. Even in the rosin-dusted air, although I am wistful for my choices, I do not regret them. While there is no art without the artist, there must also be an audience or there will be neither art nor artist. The Tacoma Youth Symphony made my high school years joyous, but it also taught me to be the audience and patron. I gladly and cheerfully accept my role, and would love to practice it even more actively!


You can see pictures from the Highland Games, plus a few more fall pictures here.

Grey’s art

About the time your child is two, you desperately long for the day when they want to talk to you and what they have to talk about is *interesting*. Rumor has it this is a short phase, between the obsessive talk of the preschooler and the reticence of the older kid.

Grey has definitely entered the time of life where he has things to tell me that I want to know, don’t know, and don’t have anything to do with the how long he’d have to save his allowance to afford Ghost Roaster. We have some really good and really interesting conversations now.

Not only is Grey fun to talk to, but he’s started creating art that is interesting to me. Now, I’m his mom so I’m sure that threshold of interest is lower. But he brought home his “Goal for Second Grade” paper this year. What do you think his goal is?

Snarf and Arf? Really?
2nd grade goals

You know what? I think his goal is AWESOME. And I think he might be able to do it. He draws constantly. He has a box of index cards he uses to create card games with his friends. (Think Pokemon.) His homework is full of doodles. Every day he comes home with pages of drawings. I’ve always tried to be careful to edit the boys’ papers, and only keep a few from each age and stage. But I’m having real trouble throwing anything of his away. So instead, I’m scanning and saving many of them.

I have the inevitable blogger’s challenge of the imperatives of content. So I thought I’d share some of Grey’s recent drawings with you (with his permission – I asked). I’m curious whether you enjoy seeing these, or whether I should just keep these on the kitchen bulletin board.

Grey and his brother invented caffeinated "Moo Coo Milk" - chocolate milk with caffeine. Grey's working on branding here.
Grey and his brother invented caffeinated “Moo Cool Milk” – chocolate milk. Grey’s working on branding here.
I like the dramatic tension of this. I just need to inform Grey that tacos are rarely what is left to accidentally burn.
I like the dramatic tension of this. I just need to inform Grey that tacos are rarely what is left to accidentally burn.
Grey has been playing some light Fate RPGs with his dad. He's branched out in to some dungeon design of his own.
Grey has been playing some light Fate RPGs with his dad. He’s branched out in to some dungeon design of his own.
This is a rare story where he writes, then he shows. I love how meta it is!
This is a rare story where he writes, then he shows. I love how meta it is!