Top of Mind at the tipping point to summer

1) Bike to Work
This week was “Bike to Work Week”. My employer is big into Bike To Work week, and strongly encourages people to participate. It’s also pretty mellow on the “show up exactly at 9 and leave exactly at 5” scale (as long as your work gets done). So with the near-completion of the Stoneham Greenway, all the way through to Winchester Center, I reckoned just maybe it was time to give it a try. I’m pretty scared of biking in traffic. My sister had an extremely serious biking injury when I was in my early teens. Biking in traffic like a grownup seems terrifying. So I posted to an internal group that I was interested in participating (going from my house to Alewife and taking the T in), but asking for good route advice. I got excellent route advice, a t-shirt with a weird Illuminati-biking theme, the loan of front and back headlights, and a colleague who SHOWED UP AT MY HOUSE AT 8:15 to ride in with me and make sure I felt safe. The mind boggles that people could be so awesome, but it turns out that sometimes they are.

Commuting clothes

It took a surprising amount of mental energy. It also took about 2 hours each way, so that’s unlikely to become a regular thing. I thought a lot about what I was going to do, how I was going to do it, and what I’d do if it didn’t work. It was a really novel experience, and I was interested to see how much my mind was engaged and excited by the novelty of it. I was also surprised and pleased that I wasn’t all that physically wiped out by it (except for mebbe that last hill on the way home). I’ve been in better shape lately – we’ve been running a loop with the bikeway as well which is close to 4 miles and I set a personal record best time & personal record longest run last week.

There was this moment, as I spun through brand-new asphalt on the not-quite-yet-finished bikeway where I really really enjoyed the fact that it exists at all. The community came together and made this thing happen, which was not easy. My first post about it was five years ago. Since then there have been Town Hall Meetings, letters to the editor, phone banking, cleanup days and patient and concerted effort to make it happen. It’s astonishing to think that after so long, the efforts of the good-hearted people of Stoneham are bearing fruit, but here they are!

2) Plums
Speaking of bearing fruit, I’ve been more than a little obsessed with my plums this year. The point at which you’re putting a space heater out for a fruit tree, you have crossed some important line. However, I’m happy to say that they’ve made it the furthest this year in the history of this benighted plum. There are hundreds of tiny little fruits. Most are the size of a lentil, but there are one or two that are the size of really small olives.

I’m excited to learn what disaster can kill fruit at this stage! I’ll let you know.

There are a couple hundred plums, but these are the biggest

3) Attic Renovation
I’ve been getting strong pressure from maternal sources to post an update in the attic situation. Here’s the album where you can watch the whole thing progress. We have the electric & plumbing in, as well as a lot of the framing. Almost all the demo is completed (or was, until we increased scope like the home owners we are). The inspection has been done. There’s a bit of waiting for the next step – we need to put in the new windows, but they’re on order and won’t be ready until early June. We also need to get the HVAC in and all hooked up. We opted to go for a bigger unit so we can drop some cool air in summer down to the 2nd floor and actually get it to be a comfortable temperature – sandwiched between two zones. We also had to put in new hard-wired smoke detectors for the whole house to bring it up to code, and bring in a new electric bank. Once we have HVAC & windows in, we’ll do closed cell insulation from the bottom of the walls to the tip top of the roof. We’ll need to vacate the house then for a day. But that’ll be the biggest tipping point – then we can start doing finish type work like, you know, walls & stuff.

I reckon the project will be done by early August, if I’m lucky.

4)Time with my boys
I got to go to Fenway on Thursday night for the makeup game from Patriot’s day. It was so perfect. The weather was ideal. The game was excellent (and we won). It’s an interesting moment when you learn that your child is really good company. We had good conversations, we were game-watching-compatible. On the walk back to where we parked, he didn’t like how someone had bumped up against me, and then protectively took the spot between me and other people. How quickly we go from protecting them to them feeling protective of us. He’s still not bigger than me, but that will not last long.

Just as I took this picture, the Sox hit a home run

In the same vein, every year for Mother’s Day we go to the Arnold Arboretum for the Lilac Festival. And every year for many the boys have climbed these ponderous birch trees with tempting limbs and I’ve taken their pictures there. This year, we arrived to find a denuded slope. I never thought that the grand trees my boys climbed on would not outlast our Mother’s Day tradition. I will admit tears welled in my eyes. I’m grieved for the magnificent trees that were lost (although I’m sure the arborists did everything in their power to save them). But it was this shocking moment to discover that we are all now old enough for things that were traditions to come to final endings. It’s astonishing enough to have sufficient tenure to parenthood to have traditions in the first place. I feel very unready to have traditions end.

Not quite the same thing

5) Finding my feet again
Every year for Mothers Day I write my mother a letter about how things have been in the past year. Last year I wrote a letter that talked about how overwhelmed I was, especially with huge projects like the pastor search and kicking off the attic project. I added a few things to my tally during the course of the year, the largest of which was probably getting a new job. But slowly slowly slowly, since about January, I’ve been unburying myself from the accumulation of things that needed to be done, and shortening that infinite to do list. Clearing out the attic in preparation for our project was a huge one that I suspect added a lot to my anxiety. Things have been getting crossed off. I’m starting to arrive at a point where I almost feel like I can actually rest without guilt, sometimes. Of course, there’s always more to-do list to go, and I haven’t fulfilled every promise I made for “after we hired a pastor”. But I’m closer, and that’s really reassuring.

So that’s what’s up with me. What’s up with you?

Red Sox: In good times and in bad

Red Sox fan - Fenway 2009
Red Sox fan – Fenway 2009

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a baseball season that made me so passionately excited about football as this 2012 Red Sox season. I’ve been a baseball fan since 1995 – a respectable time now. I started as a Mariners fan and – without dropping my hope for the Ms to do well while bowing to the realities of being 3 time zones away – I’ve become an ardent Red Sox fan.

I’m definitely not alone in having come to Red Sox fandom in the last decade. I attended my first game at Fenway in 2000. 2001, for reasons that will be instantly understandable to those of you who live in the Northwest of follow baseball closely, I lived tied to the MLB broadcasts on my computer – up until late at night. After that, though, I started following the Sox. I lived through the devastating heartache of 2003 (there is a great group of guys with whom I can never watch another game after Pedro got lifted…). I actually missed the first three games of the ALCS in 2004 (I was in Vienna and thinking, as I caught the box scores, “Well, at least I’m not missing a *good* post-season.”), but lived through the incredibly late nights and unbelievable comebacks of Game 4 and beyond. I rode the wave of seeming-inevitable excellence through 2007. And like so much of Red Sox nation, I find myself facing down a September where we are – to put it plainly – totally out of it.

Dire days like these, my friends, are when I need to draw on my Mariners roots. There are 29 teams in baseball. This year roughly a third of them will make it to post-season play. Only two of them will stand on the frost-hard field in the chilly air of late October. But all of these teams have fans – not just that ultimate pair or penultimate quad.

Your team does not have to be winning – or even good – to have fun being a fan.

As the 2012 season turned from bad to worse, I opined to a friend that it was years like this that allowed purer motivations to shine. Everyone wants to be part of a winning effort, but disdain and disinterest have followed the Red Sox this year as they have struggled to win as many games as they’ve lost. As fast as people jumped on that bandwagon, so fast are they saying that the Red Sox do not deserve their fandom. Well, I’m not jumping.

There are great compensations in losing, my friends. For example, the next time the Red Sox are great (which with Cherington’s moves may be as early as 2014), we will get to be the “We were there when” folks with the 13 year old lucky shirt. Sox fans can actually see the games now. This isn’t a problem in most towns, but there have been years where it was impossible to procure even bad tickets to exciting games in Boston. They still cost an arm and a leg, but at least now if you WANT to get to Fenway, you can go. We are getting to watch some young players come up who will be next year’s super-stars. I remember listening to Kevin Youklis’ very first major league at bat. Some of the kids we’ll see next year will be the next Youklis… and some will be the next Jose Cruz Jr. (My Mariners peeps remember how big he was billed!). We may have the chance to watch a team win against the odds, instead of having the “Best Team Ever” collapse into ignominy. In small market towns, some of the compensation is watching your gifted young players “Make it big” in the big towns. In a town like Boston, it’s getting to poach those self-same players. Regardless, the Red Sox are almost guaranteed to have a shot at the playoffs within a decade.

That isn’t true everywhere. Take, oh, Seattle for instance. There was much ado about the 84 years since the last time the Sox brought home the championship. But Seattle’s team, founded in the 1977 expansion has not only NEVER won a World Series… it’s never BEEN to a World Series. The furthest we’ve ever gotten is the ALCS in 1995. That record-breaking 2001 season ended up flaring out in October. And although the Mariners keep valiantly trying, there is no sense of entitlement in the Emerald City that we’ll ever win it. But still, the fans flock to Safeco and turn on KOMO.

Why?

Because it’s fun to watch and listen to baseball. That’s the point. Your team may lose four games out of five, but man that fifth game King Felix is pitching. Or you have an outfielder like Jay Buhner who just loves to play, and it shows. Or you have an Edgar Martinez, who would still be DH-ing if they’d let him run the bases for his doubles using a wheelchair. Or, in a particular appalling year, you still cheer for your team to win (against all odds), but the fun of watching is seeing all the stars of the game come to your home town to trounce your teams… a little like having the Harlem Globetrotters come. Just because your team is under .500 doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.

So, bring on September. Would I rather we were in the thick of the chase? Of course. Am I looking very much forward to the Pats kickoff in just over a week? HECK YES. But until then, I’ll listen to Joe and Dave, follow the kids called up in September, hear the amazing feats of the opposition and hope that we at least play well in tonight’s loss.

The second age of firsts

Grey at Fenway
Grey at Fenway

Grey is now entering his second great age of firsts. The first, of course, is that period from birth to about two when you get first smiles, first steps, first solids, etc. Then you have the long steep curve of learning until, a scant four years after all the first milestones are met, you start with the second milestones. First day of school, first crush, first real secret, first overnight trip without a relative, etc.

Grey had two big firsts this week, from my point of view. Last night was my husband’s company’s annual summer outing to Fenway park. It transpired that – perhaps – an extra ticket was available. So with a babysitter lined up, we left him to Thane’s tender mercies and brought Grey to his first adventure in Fenway Park. We were in the right field roof, in a terrace. I’d never been up there, but on a very hot and humid solstice, it was breezy and open and lovely. I bought Grey a new t-shirt and he arrived – face-painted with serpents – and I showed him the park and the history and explained the game and the players to him. With intense concentration he learned how to say “Saltalamacchia”. His father, on the other hand, taught him “We want a pitcher, not a belly-itcher” and “We want a catcher, not a belly-scratcher.”

The Sox played the Marlins. Papi hit a grand slam into the bleachers. The Sox trounced the Marlins 15 to 5 with booming hits to all corners and long leisurely innings. The air was warm and fragranced with peanuts, beer, people and the softer fragrances from the not so distant fens.

We stayed through Sweet Caroline – sacred tradition – and turned tired feet home, only crossing our threshold around midnight to find a Wide-Awake Thane. It was a weary household this morning, I assure you.


Grey asks questions during the intermission
Grey asks questions during the intermission

But my church was hosting a concert this evening, and I wanted to go. The performer was Patrick Ball, a gracious and funny man. (If you ever have the chance to see him perform – go!) I wanted to go, and I wanted to take my son with me. So I wrested myself off a gossiping front porch and news of babies to head to my church on a sultry Thursday night. Grey picked our seats in the very front. The wise child had figured out where the fan blew hardest.

He had a notebook with him (our church provides them at the front door for kids), so I listened to the stories and the harp while I watched him draw. As an aside, he is already a far more accomplished artist than I am. Not than I was at that age – than I am now. Anyway, he would lay his pencil down for the stories and pick them back up for the songs. He would drape my arms around him like a scarf, still young enough to not be ashamed of my touch, or to lean his back against me as the night drew long.

The harper’s last story had the weight of bronze, of meaning, of power to it and settled heavy on us in the audience. Patrick turned his hand to the twinkling brass harp strings one last time. As he glid through an arpeggio, close to the end of the song, one of his harp-strings sprung and snapped in the heat of the night – springing up in curliques. With impeccable timing, he declared that he was now done. He stepped down and gave Grey his broken brass harp string.

There are moments that you hope are prophetic, that point to a future you would like to see. I watched my son, transfixed by words and music and meaning, take a glimmering bronze harp string from a bard directly under the cross – at the spot where my child had himself been baptized. Your breath catches and you wonder if, maybe, perhaps, there is still some magic left within the world after all.

Grey tugged at his shirt. Patrick leaned his head down kindly to listen. Then says, “Sure, go ahead.”

In a loud and ringing voice, my first-born announced, “I have a joke!”

I am caught between mortification and pride. I have no idea where this joke is going. To infinity and beyond? Terrible punch line? Actually funny? No clue. But standing in front of the unmoving audience that just paid to come listen to a professional storyteller, my son bravely stood, remembered his lines, lifted his voice and told a truly Kindergardeneresque joke. You really have to be under the age of 8 to think it’s funny. But with courage, conviction and timing, he delivers it to the (extremely patient) crowd.

So I don’t know? Portent? Talent? What does it all mean? On the way home, he discussed at length that final story, asking questions about it that showed he had thought about every word. He wondered if maybe he could try something different with music? (I will give him this – the guitar teacher is really tough. I struggle with the lessons – I don’t think someone learning how to learn was going to be successful in that context.) What does it all mean? Should I sign him up and help him pursue these interests? Should I step back and let him blaze his path, watching in fascination (and periodic mortification)?

What remarkable people they are, these children of ours. They come from our love, eat at our tables and judge the world based on a normal we define for them. But such paths they walk are mysteries to us all, and every winding step an adventure and a delight to watch.

Thank you, Patrick, for your brazen harp string and stories, and for firing the imagination of my son.

The Bard
The Bard

Late September baseball

After a year where no one followed the Red Sox because there was no way we were going anywhere after our start, and then after no one paid much attention because we were locked into the playoffs, we finally have some interesting baseball to watch. Tonight’s game determines how much more. It could be the last if the Red Sox lose and the Rays win, we could have one more guaranteed game if the Rays and Red Sox both win (making gaming night a challenge – one of my fellow gamers is also a Sox fan so we might compromise with like a tv on sound off or something), or we might have at least 3 more games in Round 1 of the playoffs. As I sit here, all of these possibilities unfold across baseball diamonds up and down the East Coast with home runs, errors, fantastic double plays, rain delays and all the things that make baseball a sport to love.

About this time every year I feel the impulse to write a thank you note, a love note, to baseball. For a little over half the year, baseball gives me something to look forward to, something to talk about. I listen at 9 pm on my way to go grocery shopping, and catch up on the score at the deli counter where the radio is always on. Joe and Dave keep me company while I pay bills in the attic, and Don and Jerry crack jokes during blowouts. I snuggle my son and explain all the mysterious numbers on the screen, pretending not to notice it’s after his bedtime. Baseball and coffee are two of the small, durable pleasures that weave a colorful thread into the utilitarian cloth of my life.

And yes, I love baseball enough to compare it to coffee. That’s how serious our romance is.

Tonight it will be all over. Or there will be one more do or die game. Or we will advance. This season we will end with a whimper, or a bang, or triumphal victory. Exhausted men will grind through with passion, obligation, ambition and long practice to ignominy or ecstasy.

No one alive knows which. And that, my friends, is why I love this game.

Truck day cometh

This time of year, my thoughts always trend the same direction. I turn on the radio in the Febrarian gloom, headed back from a late-running meeting at church. I’m greeted by the latest and greatest in politics, politics, disasters, the economy, politics and boring stuff. Oh! How I wish! How I wish a turn of the dial would bring me instead to my darling, my baseball. Ah, to be in the fifth inning and relax into the voices of Joe and the has-totally-grown-on-me Dave O’Brien. I needn’t hover, finger over the power button, in case the next story is about some horror my young son will question me about in detail.

Baseball is the most perfect of all radio forms. It’s interesting enough to engage the attention when there’s nothing important happening, but not so interesting you miss your exit (usually). The rhythms and patterns are utterly familiar and evoke the sense of warmth and the slow evenings of summer. It happens often enough that many of the times I wish it was on it is on. (I admit to lusting after satellite radio ONLY for baseball even more often!) There are no horrors lurking in the broadcast, no tragedies hiding under the rain tarp. Some of the most fun times are the worst games, when the broadcasters have completely given up on covering the action in any more than a perfunctory manner and have started riffing.

For all it’s reliable consistency, which is a joy, there’s always the possibility of the unbelievable. Ellsbury stealing home. A pitcher cracks a grand slam in a NL game. The tumult, the “what just happened?”, the impossible coming to pass, the million ways you can say “He’s pitching a no-hitter” without actually SAYING “He’s pitching a no-hitter”.

I can’t wait.

But, the winter passes! The frigid north once again turns its face towards the sun. Truck Day is February 12th!. The names will be different, the faces, the clutch hitters, the streaky ones. I’ll have to sit down sometime in April and figure out who the heck is playing this year. But it comes!

The Best Team Won

Thane discovers the leaves
Thane discovers the leaves

I had one of those weekends that should’ve been awesome. Saturday we drove to New Hampshire, as planned, to the Fall Festival at the Shaker Museum. We did have fun, but it was about 15 degrees colder (and windy!) than it had been at home. The Festival was rather smaller than I expected. Our tour guide seemed to have a highly unsympathetic view of the Shakers, and spent most of the time on various scandals within the order instead of the cool things about it. Still, there were great points. Grey spun a piece of yarn from wool he helped card. Thane danced to a live band singing “Mountain Dew” (yet another sign that Shaker influence had, er, waned). Grey and daddy rolled down a tall hill they climbed together. Thane investigated bright autumn leaves. The wild apple cider was tart and brilliant.

Grey climbed and rolled down the hill behind us
Grey climbed and rolled down the hill behind us

Then to the State Park. All I can say about that is apparently “closing the weekend of Columbus Day” means closing BEFORE the weekend, not after it’s done. No poking sticks into a fire for us.

Grey didn’t vomit Sunday at church, and we were given some awesome beef barley stew. (I kept saying that I’d gotten pregnant just for the care packages. I didn’t even have to get knocked up this time!) I even found some time to sit on the couch and watch the Red Sox vs. the Angels while Adam played baseball in the backyard with our eldest. I watched the Sox come within one strike of getting to game four… twice. I watched Papelbon give up his first post-season hit, and do his first postseason blown save to end the Red Sox year. Next year, it’s entirely possible that there will be only one man left from that miracle bunch of idiots in 2004: our own Greek God of Walks. But some of the players suffered who may leave have been my favorites: Jason Varitek. David Ortiz. Tim Wakefield (who’s been playing for the Sox since I was in high school) can hardly walk. Maybe Mike Lowell? Getting swept sucked, and it’s a long way until March.

Then I made dinner, which turned out ok, and bread pudding, which turned out ok. Followed by bills, which turned out ok.

Monday, I took a vacation day. Grey’s preschool was closed. Adam was off work. I packed us into the car for the second time this weekend to Experience Autumn on a bright, brisk day. We went to Honeypot Farms in Stowe. It was a zoo. You were hemmed in at every corner, denuded of your cash and caught in a crush of crowds. I don’t know how else they could’ve managed the hordes that had descended, but it was much less bucolic reconnecting with nature and much more standing-in-line. Plus, we hadn’t brought a singe Thane-conveyance-device so we had to carry him the entire time. But. Yet. The skies were brilliant blue. We ate Empire apples picked with our own hands in the shade of the trees which had borne them. We had cider donuts crisp from the cooking. Grey saw a pig for the first time. It was not without consolation.

Both Thane and Grey love apples
Both Thane and Grey love apples

When we came home, I’d had dinner cooking, so I let Adam (who was feeling run down) veg while I took the boys to the park. They were FANTASTIC. Grey played wonderful imaginary games with other kids and ran around and was chased by dinosaurs and swam in the imaginary ocean. But on the way home, he refused to come. When I insisted it was time to go home, he pitched one of his most epic fits to date. I actually had to call daddy to please come rescue me and carry him home. I put him to bed without dinner because I couldn’t get him to stop swinging at me. I’m quite sure he was tired past bearing and hungry – those were my fault. But it devolved so fast, I didn’t see it coming. You always wonder, thinking back, how you could’ve used humor or something and made it work out. He was so wonderful and then he was such a stinker.

Dinner, which I prepared with great hope ahead of time, was so-so. After the boys were in bed, I celebrated by losing at Odin’s Ravens.

After that, I realized it was my father-in-law’s birthday and called my mother-in-law to let her know I was thinking of her as she suffers through missing him.

I spent the time after that holding Thane while he screamed for 1/2 hour until either the Tylenol took or the constipation eased.

I woke up this morning to a dark, cold world.

Moments of glory, joy and memory all packed around by the dismal and drear. I suppose that’s the way life goes.

Insert thoughtful educated post here

Let’s see here. I’ve done the milestone “see how big they’re getting now!” post. I’ve done the “here’s what I’ve done with the house” lately post. I’ve done a Domestic Diva post. I haven’t had any adventures in the last two weeks, unless you consider getting lost in Boston adventurous. That means I’m due for a “Deep Thoughts” post. (Sorry to pull back the curtain.)

Just one problem.

Right. No deep thoughts.

I’ve been contemplating this issue all day, trying on topics to see which ones would work. I’ve listening to Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga lately on audiobook and just came to the stunning revelation that Sergyar was named for Prince Serg. But aside from a psuedo-English-major essay on how Miles Vorkosigan is a namer as defined in Madeleine L’Engle’s books, I don’t think I have a lot to contribute on the topic.

I have been programming in a new language at work, but I’m still at the confused stage, so I don’t think I have anything valuable to add. Plus, a readership nourished on cute kid stories probably doesn’t want to hear my rant about WHY we can’t just have one standard universal data typing scheme so I don’t have to remember if it’s a float or number or numeric or if it’s a varchar or char or character or string or text.

I have played several new board games lately. I enjoyed Pillars of the Earth even though I lost badly. I think Roll Through the Ages is one of the best-designed two-player games I’ve played possibly ever and am sad that my six consecutive victories makes it unlikely I’ll be able to con my husband into it again soon. I liked St. Petersburg, but need to play it again to completely master the intricacies.

I just discovered to my shock and dismay that the Red Sox traded Justin Masterson while I was on Mt. Rainier and unable to use my psychic powers to protect him.

Let’s not even get in to politics, eh?

So here you have it. I have managed to write a 350 word post about how I have nothing to write about. I’ll attempt to salvage my bloggy-honor by promising that next week will be a meaningful post. And maybe I’ll do something interesting in the next 24 hours that I can tell you about tomorrow.