Like that star of the waning summer

We found our way through the Port of Pireus across a short, quiet stretch of water to the island of Aegina. After a perilous taxi ride (no roller coaster has ever terrified me that thoroughly), we arrived in a quiet, pine-shaded compound, with limestone grottos and placid Mediterranean blue waters.After a moment of deep appreciation for the view, we sunscreened up and climbed in. The water was intoxicating in our near private bay, warm and clear and calm.A ten minute walk brings us to the tiny town of Aegina Marina, which is sadly reduced from the days of Adam’s youth, and where ambitious and long abandoned buildings stand as archaeological ruins from the ’80s.As the daylight waned, I spotted a path up the pine slope along our grotto. I resolved to see where it led. The answer was boring (a hotel), but there was this enchanting rock, almost made got by the sun, where I sat for an hour to watch the sun fall beyond the bay and behind the mountains.In the gloaming, I returned to fetch my youngest son, and we watched the light disappear in the West to be to replaced by the great swath of stars. The Milky Way cut a path from Athens towards Africa. Jupiter was bright at our feet, with Scorpio perilous under the tread of that wanderer. It was gorgeous, and glorious and I spent an hour on that warm rock with a cool breeze and the sound of gentle surf below. There are precious moments in life, and that was one.Tomorrow, more swimming. We plan on spending the entire day at the beach. But today? Was perfect.

Time to panic

Guys, I hate to be the one to tell you, but SUMMER IS ALMOST OVER!!! QUICK PANIC!

It’s possible that I’ve counted out the remaining summer weekends on my fingers and come to the conclusion that this weekend needed to be ALL THE SUMMER. This was definitely exacerbated by a realization I had during my “sabbatical” that I only had four summers left with Grey after this one, and I might well never spend another July with him. I am not ready for many (or any) lasts with my children that do not involve diaper pails. My friends will point out that I’m always looking way ahead and anticipating what happens next with my kids. This is true, but in this case it nicely focuses me on what I need to do right now: panic.

So this weekend I tried to cram in as much quality family summer time as humanly possible.

It started on Friday night with some rock climbing. A Very Nice rock climbing gym has recently opened about 3/4 of a mile from our house. Adam and I both did belay classes, and went in together (and with the kids) to get certified and do some climbing. Both kids loved especially climbing with a top rope (obviously they’re not lead climbing). We had a great time just being together and doing that as a family. The kids are excited about going back, and I’m excited about more activities we can do as a family that don’t involve sitting down.

Hanging out as a family

Saturday morning on the early side, we headed up to New Hampshire. Over 20 years ago, Adam and I hiked up to Mt. Major with our fellow college friends during Fall Break. The boys ran up the mountain, in an excess of testosterone. We have never revisited it, until this weekend. It’s a pretty easy hike with a big scenic payoff. There might have been some whining as we climbed to the top of the mountain, but not too much. We celebrated our summiting with a meal at nearby Hart’s Turkey Farm. Mmmm turkey gravy poutine….

Summit time!

But we needed to get back in good time, since some friends had invited us over for dinner! BBQ, of course, being the summer. A neighborhood-favorite game of bottle bash broke out, prior to the consumption of hamburgers. It was great to catch up with some friends! But we had to leave at a moderately reasonable time, due to needing to get up early again today.

You try to hit the bottle with the frisbee

See, it’s already August and we have not yet hit the beach! I mean, our children have been MIA for most of the summer, but basically all remaining summer weekend days are spoken for. So we HAD to hit the beach this weekend, or not at all. And so we did, on a summer morning with perfectly blue skies and relatively warm waters.

Beach bums
Absolutely perfect weather

Now, when not posting breathless updates to my blog, I’m cleaning out the first and second floor hallways. Finally, almost a year after it should have been done, we’re doing the last planned part of the attic project and getting hard wood put into the first and second floor hallways, and pulling the carpet off the stairs. Given that this carpet may well be older than me, it is past due. But I definitely procrastinated on the work of it! Also, once again I failed to take a “before” picture. Why do I continue to be so bad at remembering that?

Anyway, back to panicking!

These days are just packed!

I’ve tended autobiographical over philosophical lately – my apologies if you prefer the deep posts. I’m still having deep thoughts, but a lot of them are about work. Many others are about church, and are still… unformed and not ready for sharing. That leaves us with summer, kids and home renovation.

The big news of the week was that we have absolutely 0 insulation in our dining room. One of the first things we did when we bought this house was to hire some people to come in and blow in insulation in our hundred year old walls. They carefully peeled up the aluminum siding (you can still see where – it’s like crumpling paper in that you can never quite make it look like it did), drilled holes in the wood and blew in some insulation. They talked about how we must’ve had nothing in our walls, because they put in way more insulation than they expected.

Welp. I don’t know whether somehow they overlooked the dining room – which has been one of the coldest rooms in our house despite its interior position – or if they were complete fraudy fraudsters, but Adam peeled back one of the lathes in the exterior wall to fix something on a window, and noticed a complete lack of insulation.

The wall, looking down. Those are Adam's fingers.
The wall, looking down. Those are Adam’s fingers.

We debated what to do next: literally plaster over the problem, or do a full demo of the exterior walls. I was all for being an ostrich, but Adam knew this would haunt him forever and so proceeded to demo the walls so we could reinsulate. Or, you know, insulate for the first time.

Fun fact! Drilling holes and adding no insulation does not make the room warmer.
Fun fact! Drilling holes in the wall and adding no insulation does not make the room warmer.

It set us back a week and about $200, but now that room had better be the coziest in the entire house. It’s been caulked and insulated and vapor barriered and dry walled. About an hour ago, Adam and I moved all the leftover drywall, off cuts and insulation to the attic – which is the location of our likely next project. (It was a lot. Also, heavy.)

Very artistic effect.
Very artistic effect.

Now we’re on to the next phase of the project: taping & mudding. (Followed by sanding, sanding and sanding. Also sanding. There are quite a few flaws that have to be addressed.)

While Adam was doing all that, I sometimes helped him when he needed an extra body, but mostly have been doing everything in the house that is not wall-related. On Saturday, I took our two boys plus two boys from the home across the street that is also undergoing extensive renovations (honestly, it’s because our neighborhood is such an amazing place to live that we’d all rather pour money and effort into the houses we have than upgrade to new ones) to Boston to play in a great park. I was thinking how even a year ago, I wouldn’t have dared to go solo with four kids on the T. But these ages – two 6 year olds and two 9 year olds – are so awesome! We had a blast.

The Charles River
The Charles River

It was such a perfect and glorious late August day. The temperature was perfect. The humidity was perfect. The kids were perfect. And the college students had not quite yet descended on the city. We dined that night – outside in the perfect weather – with a good friend who had taken pity on the dining-roomless in the neighborhood.

Other things that happened this weekend included a massive farm share. (I forgot all the melons – and my Farmer Dave bag! – at the pickup. I’m kind of wondering if it was Freudian because what do you do with that many melons?) A bajillion loads of dishes. Most of the laundry. I went shopping for foundationals and ended up with a really cool wizard bathrobe in that super soft material they make things out of this day that feels so great it must cause cancer. A tour of my office (my kids wanted to show off for their friends). Another good friend taking the boys to help prevent video-game related brain-rot. We wrapped it all up with a trip to the beach, where the waves were absolutely amazing and the temperature of both water and air were perfect and they took down the parking cost sign just as we pulled up. I forgot my camera and took no pictures I can share, but here’s one I hope I can engrave in my heart.

Thane is still a little wee for enjoying boogie boarding as much as the rest of us, so he worked for a while on a sand castle, but then got entranced by looking for shells. Good Harbor beach has very few, but what few there were he found. I watched him search, my feet digging into the sandy shore. Just off in the breakers, Adam and Grey were catching wave after wave together, and sharing delighted grins as they fought the waters to get back into position to ride once more. But Thane. He does not walk, that child. He does not run. He dances. He prances. He skips and hops. I watched him move along the shore, eyes sharp for the glint of a buried treasure. He’s stoop to pick it up and then swirl around. He’d sway back and forth as he wandered up the strand. Once his hands were full enough, he’d run back to me. He’d just hit full stride, a satisfied smile on his face from his discovery, when he’d come to a full stop – having spotted something. He’d bend carefully down to pick it up. (Then bend down again to pick up what he dropped the first time he bent down to pick up item A.) Then, treasures obtained, he’d skip across the sand to me, until the next treasure caught his eye in a few paces.

It was so joyful – every movement of his body expressing delight and satisfaction. It was so very Thane. Someday he’ll learn to walk instead of hop, and that day will be a sad one for me.

No greater treasure
No greater treasure

I added more pictures to the renovation album!.

Sad to say, but I’m on my way

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A fortnight ago I picked my careful way through icing puddles to the nail salon. I drove, even though it is two blocks away and I had time, because the sidewalks are nigh impassible. I asked for a pedicure, and picked a completely unprofessional, unseasonable, inappropriate robin’s egg blue. I watched ice skating and slalom while my toes were transformed. I carefully covered them in layers of thick socks and sturdy shoes for my homeward journey. It seemed impossible to me, in that moment, that there would ever again be a time when my toes would willingly encounter non climate controlled air.

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A week ago found me rising at 3:30 in the morning, and pouring my dressed-before-bed children into a taxi, which wound in the predawn darkness to the airport. (Which airport was absolutely chock-full of other parents with other tired children.) My sons both blew my mind with their exceptionally awesome behavior on the first flight to Houston and the second, down to the small island of Cozumel – just across the channel from the playground of Cancun. The island is very small – a teardrop off the cheek of the Yucatan. We stood in unaccustomed heat in an outdoor line. The returning travelers looked tanned, relaxed and sad to be leaving. The pale and pasty newcomers, waiting for immigration, had anticipation writ large across our tired & dark-eyed features.

It was nine years ago that I last came to Cozumel. I was gravid in pregnancy, and longed for the weightless relief of warm waters. I noticed the changes as we took the short taxi ride from the airport to the resort (a new one – I discovered the one I’ve been to twice before is in the midst of a major remodel, which explains why it had no rooms available).

We are at the Presidente Intercontinental. Even the driveway made me feel like I was about to experience something rather more luxurious than my standard expectation – which was true. Our room is small, with two full beds and a fine carpeting of Legos (to make it feel like home). Strangely, there was no lamp on the balcony (the phrase “you get what you pay for” usually refers to what happens when you cheap out. In this case, a more-expensive-than-I-would-have-liked vacation has come along with excellent service and facilities, and within moments sent two guys to figure out how to get a light on the balcony.) But I have watched warm pacific waters through a peek-a-boo curtain of palms every day here.

I have taken somewhere between a bajillion and a quadrillion pictures (discovering that the lighting conditions on tropical beaches are actually quite challenging for people pictures and also that my children have come to see me as unwelcome paparazzi when I have a camera in hand). The resort has a fantastic child care offering (paid for as part of the overall price, which I appreciated), so all the days but two Adam and I have gotten to snorkel together, as we have on romantic vacations since we got married. We visited Mayan ruins and watched the wild, unchecked waves of the Caribbean. We saw many, many, many iguanas. The boys played in the sand, learned to love the pool, learned to swim way way way better and learned absolutely nothing about effective bargaining techniques. (Ask me about the shark tooth necklaces!)

Today we coaxed Grey, who had spent days snorkeling in the pool and avoiding the ocean, to join us for a snorkel. I was entirely prepared for it to be beyond his courage. It can be intimidating, seeing the vast seascapes of the ocean unfold as an unknowable world before you, the colors fading in distance. When we encountered a barracuda in the first five minutes, I was entirely prepared for a hasty retreat. As we, holding his hands, pulled him further away from shore and towards the coral-encroached sunken ship, I could hardly believe his courage held. But it did. We saw so much together. It was a moment past what I could have hoped for, where the vistas of his dreamscapes expanded. He also devoured, in a heart-warmingly familiar way, “The Westing Game” For a day or two there, any question pointed his direction was answered with an “mm-hmmm”. I loved seeing his sun-burnt nose stuck in a book. For all he was an early reader, I have had trouble moving him into chapter books. He prefers the easy familiarity of comic books. I hope that an affair or two with a good novel might change that.

Thane is, as ever, indomitable. Fearless in the water, he started the week nearly drowning himself. A pool noodle added just enough buoyancy for him to not drown mostly. Towards the end of the week, we just put him in a life jacket and let him go in the pool. (Actually, his wonderful caretaker Keri thought of that first. The Kids Club here isn’t just Screens R Us. She takes them to see the iguana habitats, and to go swim at the pool. Thane refused to join us twice today because she was helping him sew a very cool alligator puppet.) He also loved hanging out on the beach (I wonder how long it will take before he has no sand in his hair?) He and Grey have been amazing brothers this week. I just loved seeing his excited face and bouncing eyes above his third cup of strawberry yogurt every morning – so full of joy and wonder and gratitude.

While I was writing this on the porch, a fire dance broke out on the beach below. So cool!
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I’ll post again once I go through the pictures. When Adam and I came here last, we had a film camera. This time we took pictures on: my good camera, my old point-and-shoot, Adam’s phone, my phone, my iPad. It’s funny how many changes a decade can bring.

We prepare our return back to our land of cloudy skies and gales. I confess to being unenthused by piled snow, chill drafts and stinging cheeks. I prefer the nuisance of sunscreen. But I feel thawed, rested, invigorated. I have connected strongly and deeply with the people I love most in this world. I have visited the Summerlands from the heart of winter, and won a respite from the seasons. I’ve seen lionfish and stars and smiles. I return to my labors with a lighter heart and darker skin.

Imperative basil

If I ever form a rock band – which is less preposterous now than it once was – I think I will name it Imperative Basil.

Imperative. Basil.

My farm share pick up is on Fridays. In theory, this is a great idea. I’ll have all weekend – luxurious laid-out hours – to process mother nature’s bounty. A few weeks ago a note came through from our CSA saying that extra bundles of basil were for sale! $14 for 10 bundles. I thought about my great success canning pepperonata last year, and my favorite pesto/mozzarella/pepperonata sandwiches, and thought… pesto! I’ll make pesto! And I signed up for ten bunches.

A week passed.

Then I went to pick up my ten bunches. They were not ten REGULAR sized bunches. Oh no. There were ten VAST bunches. And the temperature was over 90 in my kitchen. The delicate basil had a life-span measured in hours, not days.

I managed to clear out enough room in the ‘fridge for the yards of basil. But I didn’t have lemon juice, nor did I have enough parmesan. Saturday morning, I slept in. When I got up, I had just enough time to get to the grocery store before Adam had to leave for aikido… if I didn’t stop for coffee or breakfast.

You have never in your life seen such a grumpy grocerier than I was that morning.

The next four hours of my life were spent in pesto making. There were three double batches. Twelve cups of pressed basil needed to be washed and stemmed. Pecans roasted. Jars readied. I stewed in the 90 degree heat. Adding insult to injury, I misread the pesto recipe for the first batch and added the amount of salt that was supposed to go into the WATER for the PASTA to the pesto. Doubled. Still, I labored on.

At about 2:30, the final jar of pesto was put into the freezer. Twenty one jars comprised 84 ounces. I had saved the basil. Alleluia.

Now, to save the afternoon. My plan had been to go to the beach after aikido, which I reckoned to last until 3. But at 1, my husband limped home. And by limped, I mean, limped. With only two weeks left to his aikido career, my husband managed to do something to his hamstring that involved horrible popping sounds. So there we had the oppressive heat, the imperative basil, the injured husband and the beach plans.

I corralled my children. I packed the fun bag. My husband limped around packing the food bag. I cajoled and threatened until people were covered in sunscreen – hard to rub in through the sheen of sweat. I put my children in the car. As I closed the door, I heard the rumble of thunder.

“By JOVE!” I exclaimed in fury!

My husband, bless him, pointed out it might be fun to watch the thunderstorms roll into the Atlantic from Gloucester, so we went North anyway. We drove through a deluge, with waves parting in front of the wheels of the car and lightening strikes to the East and West – the sun dimmed to twilight under the heavy burden of the falling rain. When we pulled into Good Harbor beach, they waved us through without payment. We’d driven past the bulk of the storm – assuming it to be hard on our heels – but the beachgoers were flocking out as the first drops fell.

We sprinted to the beach and tossed the children in the water, the cold and hot air like layers on a cake, the winds picking up. And we danced in the water, jumped through the waves, dove in, sluiced off, and laughed – knowing at any moment the storm would come.

Then we made the most awesome set of sand castles across a rill trickling through the saturated sand. Grey worked on the Fortress of Europe. Adam – across the channel – constructed the Fortress of Asia. I played Venetian and provided buildings to both sides, counting my profit. Thane dug holes and chased seagulls.

Then we had some lunch. I sat on a beach chair, cool winds to my back and warm sands underfoot, eating a salami sandwich on homemade bread when I was viciously, viciously attached by a seagull with bad aim. I retained my sandwich, but incurred an injury on my pointer finger. So far, I am happy to report, I have not died of mysterious seagull diseases, but in case my life is actually a Chekhov novel, beware.

The rain? It never came. The band of storms passed to the south. We stayed until we were played out, and headed home sandy and tired. When we got home, the breezes were cool and bracing.

We made it.

And in the winter I will remember – as I taste the oh-so-salty tang of farm-share, home made pesto – the heat and the joy and the luck of my summer.