The end of the season

After a long, cold spring, the summer has finally arrive with heat and humidity. The daylight lingers so long that you forget it’s time for your kids to be asleep. This last week was a week of closings.

Edwin Hubble readies his “Famous American” presentation

School ended on Friday. Today we’ve spent time spelunking through backpacks, throwing away pencils stubs and uncappered markers, while saving previous mementos and projects in folders marked “Thane – Second Grade” and “Grey – Fifth Grade”. Those folders will get no more entries. Monday they begin the adventures of summer camp, and kick off what will be an extremely busy summer for them. (Actually rather more relaxed for Adam and me!)

It was a very good school year for both boys. Thane is desperately in love with his teacher. He learned sign language from her, and felt valued and respected by her. He asked me a few weeks ago if he could fail second grade so he could do it all over again with her. (Sorry kiddo. Your grades are way too good!) I’d definitely been worried about sending Grey to Middle School. But he thrived in his classroom. He loved his teachers, learned a lot and has continued to grow in maturity and capability. Also, I think 5th grade is a fantastic time to learn what a 0 for not turning in your homework does to the ol’ GPA.

I’m always jealous at the end of the school year. The nature of my work is seasonless – the tropics of effort. I can’t help but thinking how lovely it would be to do work which both begins and ends.

This Saturday was also the last day of the soccer season. We require our kids to play at least one sport, and we can’t make baseball work. So that one sport has been soccer since Grey was wee. There have been quite a few years where one pondered whether it was a good idea. Grey used to have to be cajoled onto the field. Thane was apparently working on his PhD in falling down and didn’t like to get sweaty (sorry kid – it’s a requirement!)

Because of church commitments, I haven’t seen my kids play much this year. It feels like I’ve spent six months in non-stop committee meetings trying to find a pastor we want to hire. But I made it to all of this tournament. It’s really Stoneham at it’s best and brightest. The field is covered with children and parents. There’s a vast melting pot of colors, accents and levels of skill. Children in blue jersey as young as four to the teenage refs showcase sportsmanship and teamwork.

In it to win it

Best of all, though, was watching how much my kids have grown and flourished. Grey, the once reluctant player, was masterful in his defense. It was such a joy to watch him stretch his long legs, find his spots, challenge for the ball – and come away with it. In the tournament, he took two hard-hit balls to the his face. Where in prior years this might have been enough to keep him off the pitch entirely, this year he picked himself up and got right back into the scrum. I was incredibly proud of him, and grateful to his coaches.

Good luck getting past him!

Thane was equally wonderfully transformed. His team only had one sub, and was missing some of it’s skilled players, but managed to fight their way to the championship. They played back to back games. I couldn’t believe how well Thane read the field repositioning himself to be in just the right defensive spot. He did a great job stopping attacks and clearing the ball. He was focused, fast and good. I’ve never seen such a look of concentration and passion on his face. They ended up coming up short in the final game with a late goal by the other team. Instead of falling into sorrow, Thane cheerfully pointed out how fantastic it was that they got to play in a championship at all. I was delighted at the attitude!

Proud championship player

It’s not only the school year that is coming to a close. It’s also a chapter of our life on our street. We have an incredible neighborhood, where many of the families know each other very well. We have meals together, our kids play together all the time. We are deeply connected. This has been true for years now. But the time has come when our dearly beloved friend is being transferred to DC. We’ve known this was coming for years, but we’ve all been in denial. It’s getting harder and harder to deny, though, since they leave next week. Nothing will ever be quite the same – it never is. But this will leave a big hole in my life and community.

Love you forever, Stef!

Love you all the time!

Speeding to the finish line

Every year around this time I take a deep breath and figuratively buckle my seat belt. This is always high time for me. In a six week period, every person in my household has a birthday. Two weeks later there’s Mocksgiving. Then Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We also kicked off our soccer season this Sunday, with losses for both the U8 Netherlands team and U10 Brazil team. Perhaps the extra coaching session (called clinic) both our boys are doing this fall will help transform some losses to wins.

The level of play is much higher this year than it was last
The level of play is much higher this year than it was last

I only caught the Netherlands game, since I needed to get to church to kick off the Sunday School year. I’m teaching 2nd through 5th graders this year. I’m particularly lousy at traditional Sunday School arts and crafts curriculum, but am hopeful I make up for it by attempting to teach actual Biblical information. (I had two kids who memorized the books of the Bible last year – one OT and one NT!) But we’ll see if my planned curriculum works for 2nd graders.

After church, I chaired a meeting of the Mission Taskforce, which will be in full swing through the end of the year. We have some interesting work to do, trying to figure out what the next generation of church holds for our congregation.

Also there was room cleaning
Also there was room cleaning

Saturday was no less busy than Sunday. I had dueling playdates for the boys (I hosted one, and shipped Grey off to one). Somehow Thane managed to fall, fully clothed into a swimming pool. We found a new bike path, and went for a cool ride along the Mystic River.

We've really enjoyed our bike rides!
We’ve really enjoyed our bike rides!
This is 20 feet in the air
This is 20 feet in the air

I don’t have a thesis statement. This is all just a very long excuse for not posting yesterday! It’s also foreboding. Several of these things are things that will not improve in 2015. They’re seasonal, and the season just kicked off. This is one of my favorite times of year, but it comes with a price tag. Hopefully I’ll find some moments to walk in the quiet forests of fall, with the only sound the shuffling of leaves at my feet and the laughing of my children. Hopefully I’ll find a quiet moment to soak in the essence of New England – only available this time of year. There will be apple picking and trick-or-treating. But there will not be much down time between here and January. So buckle up.

Sunset of summer

I love these guys.
I love these guys.

We mark the beginning and ending of summer the same way: with a camping trip. Although with the same cast of characters, and often in the same location, the two trips feel radically different. The one opens and discovers – checking to see where we are in this stage of our lifes. The other closes and revels – sure-footed patterns and a long lingering last kiss of summer.

I dallied this year when it came to booking the last trip of the year. I wanted to go back to Covered Bridge, which we’d enjoyed last year. Last year I hadn’t been early to book, but there had been many good sites available. But by the time I went to book this year, there were none. Hardly any spots were open in the entire White Mountains. Thus we are forced into innovation. We find ourselves at Campton Camground this time. It is much, much nicer than the execrable Wolfe Point campground in New Brunswick was, but not so nice as Covered Bridge. It’s scenically located between a major road – the noises of which never cease – and a power line clearing. But the sites themselves are quite nice. (The firewood is overpriced, scanty and wet. The bathrooms are ok.)

We found, setting up the tent, that New Brunswick had left quite an impression. Mildew was growing where none had ever grown before, on things that had not ostensibly gotten wet (like our air mattress). It’s a good thing that was not the last camping trip of the year, or some of our gear might have become entirely unusable!

Of note so far:

There was a lot of reading time this trip. Blessed reading time....
There was a lot of reading time this trip. Blessed reading time….

Grey is reading The Hobbit. He is nine, and in fourth grade, and he is reading the author with whom I fell life-changingly in love when I was nine and in fourth grade. I can’t tell you how my heart thrills to watch my son follow the adventures of Bilbo and the dwarves. Tolkien is not so action packed, nor is he always easy. But Grey has embarked on the journey anyway.

Thane is also reading constantly. He’s currently on Book 51 of The Magic Treehouse. He’s read every single one, in order, starting from the first one on our vacation in Cozumel this April. If my math stands, that’s an average of two Magic Treehouse books a week (although he usually goes on binges). The big question, with the end of the series looming, is what to give him next. He’s a good reader, but he’s only going into first grade so probably isn’t ready for, well, Tolkien.

I’m attempting to read the Silmarillion for about the sixth time. I’ve gotten farther than usual, which is a scanty accomplishment. I swear the intro is dryer than the Old Testament, or anything by Chaucer. Adam is reading and thoroughly enjoying Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The night before the mattress went pfllmph
The night before the mattress went pfllmph

Two of our air mattresses went flat last night. We have three – two twins and a queen. Without probable cause, the queen and one twin went phllmph last night. There’s nothing quite like waking in a divot with your spouse falling into the gravitational black hole with you, and your hip on the cold, cold ground to interrupt a night’s sleep. I threw the long-serving air mattresses away. They have done yeomen duty on many a camping trip, but their work was done.

The Flynns
The Flynns

Yesterday’s big adventure was a 4.8 mile hike of Dickey and Welch Mountains. The first twenty minutes were full of complaining, and I was afraid we might not make it this time. We hit a rocky slope with signs that pointed out that we were surrounded by rare and precious plants whick had started their growth as the first colonists landed on Plymouth Rock – and to tread carefully accordingly. About that time, the going got really rocky (ha ha! New Hampshire joke there!) as we scrambled up cliff faces and through precipices. The worse the footing, the more cheerful and enthusiastic the kids were. As we were about to summit Welch Mountain, I was really struggling and the kids were powering on. Thane practically ran down Dickey Mountain – held back only by his parents. Could this perhaps be the last year the hiking will be easier for me than for my young sons?

Not a bad kingdom, if I say so myself.
Not a bad kingdom, if I say so myself.

Today (after a quick detour to Walmart to buy new air mattresses) we lounged in the Mad River. Last year the boys and I had built castles in the river rocks and searched for buried treasure in the mica and quartz that richly line the precious waterways of the Whites. They longed to repeat the adventure, and Adam (who had chosen to take an epic nap instead last year) I think felt a little left out of the fun. So we found a good place to park and a section of the Mad River in full sun to counteract the chill of the running waters, and we built a castle in the creek, destined to last for eternity – or until the spring floods. Injuries being the price you must pay for such adventures, I waited to see who would bear the burden on their flesh. Smart money was on Thane, who can’t walk across a room without tripping. Tragically, it was I who fell before Neptune and paid the toll. I suspect it will be quite a lurid bruise.

If I had to say what I love most about camping, I think it is that it is about the only time in my life when I shouldn’t be doing something else. Right now, at this moment I write, there is nothing more pressing I should be doing than what I am doing: writing to you. There are moments when I can be quiet and look at this glorious nature that finds its way in the small spaces between the road and the electric lines in which to be lovely. I can deeply contemplate the glint of mica in a river rock as I chill my bruised shin in the fast currents of the river. I can stop on my way to the bathrooms at night and look up at the stars as long as my screen-crimped neck will tolerate. I can gaze into the mesmeric flames of the evening campfire and find in it remnants of my wild ancestors’ visions, and pause. And I can give one last deep thought to summer.

For this is high summer for me. It’s not just the meteorological summer of 2015, or the astrological summer. It is the summer of my life. I have grown to full growth. I have planted my own seeds, and am watching them germinate in the lazy warmth of my 30s. In the calendar of my life this is July, not September. But already the days shorten. It requires less imagination to picture dropping Grey off at college, say. I look in the mirror and the effulgence of youth is missing (or requires very flattering lighting).

It is the memory of these days that will warm my winter, when Adam and I have safely brought home the harvest to which we have been entrusted. I will see these moments most clearly, I suspect, when the present day grows dimmer and I begin to live more in memory than in hope. And so I linger in these sun-flocked forests, in the quiet of a warm Sunday afternoon, and drink deeply of the woodsmoke and freely-given snuggles. I take pictures, both on my camera in the camera of my memory. I write the story of those moments here, engraving them in my heart by sharing them. And I savor the sense of warmth, love and joy that sinks into my skin in this September sunset.

You can find pictures of our White Mountain adventures here!

Roller Coaster Ride

It’s taken me years to finally figure out the rhythm and the schedule of the grownup me. It’s hard when you leave behind the beginning and conclusions, the milestones, the counting down of your school life. All of a sudden, there are no logical breaks. You do not get a fresh start every fall. You do not matriculate, commence or otherwise change. It feels as though life is now a blur of barely differentiated days: a gradient instead of an ordinal scale.

But finally, after more than a decade of careful attention, I think I have it figured out. Beginning in January is a long, slow slog up the tracks of the year. We go seven or eight months with only a handful of three day weekends. There’s a particularly appalling stretch from mid-February to the end of May when every single week has five workdays in it. Before I had kids I resented this time of year as boring, undifferentiated, tedious. Now I find it enjoyable in its own right. That slog-uphill time is the time of year when not every weekend is claimed, when I have time to read novels or play video games, when yes-I-can-get-together-this-Friday happens. You spend a weekend doing something that doesn’t Make Great Memories and somehow it doesn’t matter as much. I mean, it’s not like you wasted great weather this weekend.

As the weather warms, the snow melts and May arrives, things start heating up. Suddenly, “it seems like a pity to waste” re-enters the vocabulary on Saturdays. I realize that the next three weekends are fully committed. Whole blocks of the calendar disappear under markings like “Camp Gramp”, “Gen Con” or (this year) “London”. These are, of course, completely awesome things. Summer is the high season for adventures. The pictures pile up on the memory cards, the laundry is carefully calibrated around how many bathing suits my eldest son has (and his !$@#$ summer camp t-shirts that must be worn twice a week) and take-out menus get a good workout. But still, there’s that feeling of space in life. It’s summer. Vacation is coming. This is going to be great!

Sitting in Ashland, sipping my 93rd cup of coffee at Dragonfly while reading “A Civil Campaign” (again), I had this sensation of being on a roller coaster. All winter and spring it had chugged its way up the mountain of tracks as I gazed around at the altitude-revealed scenery. That moment in Asland we were at the very top of the tracks, and only the weight of the cars behind us kept us from our full plummeting speed.

So today… wheeeeee!!!!!

From here to 2013 is a crazy ride. I’m conducting a wedding on Saturday. Adam goes to Gencon soon. I have approximately 93 batches of jam to make. We’re camping again. School starts. My MIL arrives. My birthday happens. I get started on the labor of love that is my Christmas cards (yes! In September!). Then Grey’s birthday. Somewhere in here we go apple picking and then make at least two batches of apple butter. Two weeks later, Adam’s birthday. A week after that, Thane’s birthday. Three days after that, Halloween. Two weeks after that, Mocksgiving. Two more weeks to Thanksgiving. (Ironically, the only breather in this schedule. Unless I get inspired to go somewhere … which knowing me I probably will.) Then holy-cow-how-is-it-Advent-already? Then Adam’s gone for a week for a work conference. Then Christmas, followed by New Years. And all that stuff? That’s the EVERY YEAR stuff. (Well, except the wedding this weekend.) There are always exceptional and unusual events added into that mix. Zoom! No wonder I feel like my schedule is picking up speed.

I find it funny that this month, of all months, I would decide to start a big new project ( that requires consistent attention. I think I do this every year. It takes me a few months after that ride to get my breath – and my courage back. But then my lizard-brain notices a pattern of several months of under utilization! Obviously circumstances have changed and I now have more disposable time! Let’s come up with some new ideas we want to try, ok? Great idea. My lizard brain has not figured out the pattern that my mammal brain lays out here.

Still, maybe this is the year that, uh, somehow that schedule is not jam packed? Maybe my new writing time plan (on the bus on the way home on a teeny netbook) will somehow mean I actually DO have more disposable time for my new blog? Even if not, in the most hectic days of October I will be able to remind myself that come January it won’t be quite so crazy.

Does your adult life have a consistent seasonal pattern? How much does it line up – or do you make it line up – with that old academic calendar? When are your busy times and your free times, or is it more consistent for you?

Warm thoughts

It’s been a brutal, brutal winter here in New England. You know it’s bad when you wake up, see it’s 18 degrees out, and think, “Hey, not too cold this morning?” It’s significant progress that the drifts along our walkway have been reduced to merely waist high. Here in Massachusetts, nearly 200 roofs have caved in, and more people than you might guess find themselves flinging pantyhose filled with snow melt onto their roofs at 11 pm at night… NOT THAT I KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT. (And it was the side facing away from our neighbors, so you can’t have proof!)

So I thought I’d bring you a warm thought I’ve been holding on to for half a year now.

When we were in Istanbul, we went to a 300 year old turkish bath called Cagaloglu Hamami (C is pronounced as “J” and the “G”s are more or less silent, so it was pronounced “Ja-la-lu” in case you ever go looking for it.)

Now, we were in Istanbul in August. Shockingly, it is HOT in Istanbul in August. Every day it was hovering around 100 degrees (although this wasn’t as bad as you might think, since the hill city on the water got lots of nice cool breezes off the Bosphorus straight and the Golden Horn). So already, before we went in to the shady confines of the baths, we were hot. The baths, like many in Turkey, are completely symmetrical. The men head off in one direction, the women in the other. We paid our money and split off into our different directions, scrubby mitts in hand.

I changed in a courtyard (women only) with a tall fountain in the middle and booths all around. The booths had high windows, doors with old-fashioned keys, dark stained wood, and narrow benches to place clothes on. I walked on impossible wooden shoes, wrapped only in a thin sheet, down to meet my masseuse — an inevitably soft, middle-aged woman who had just come back from a smoke break. She was wearing a black bathing suit and carrying a towel.

She brought me through a transition room to the baths themselves — ancient marble delights with silver taps constantly flowing with cool water. The entire room was made of marble. There were alcoves, a sweat-room, some partial walls for partial privacy, and a dome with pinpricks of light coming through opalescent ancient glass. It was very old luxury, not decrepit, but far from modern. In the middle was a large octagonal slab of marble — each side being just slightly shorter than a tall modern woman. I suspect they were perfectly sized for our less nourished forebears. And on each one of these sides was a woman, with her black-bathing-suited, comfortably-proportioned, middle-aged masseuse. Most of these women were in the same condition they would be for a bath or a shower at home. (What can I say, I fear the search engine traffic if I explain more clearly!)

My lady left me there, in an alcove, looking around in wonder but trying not to stare, with a silver basin in my hand and cool water running behind me. I sat until I got hot. I surreptitiously tried to figure out what to do. I poured a libation over my head. It felt marvelous, sluicing through the heat and making my towel cling cooly.

I waited a long time. I was beginning to be afraid I’d missed something in translation. I tried to slow my breathing, to just enjoy, to not be shocked that in the middle of this Islamic country I was surrounded by women completely at ease with themselves, with their bodies, with other women.

Finally, my black-bathing-suited woman returned. She lead me to my place on the marble slab, holding my hand solicitously — like I hold my sons on the slippery ice. The octagon was warm to the touch. 300 years ago, they had designed these baths to be heated by water and steam running past the marble on the other side. I could not see them, but furnaces were roaring to make this place even hotter than the 100 degree heat outside. I laid down on the warm marble, and she sluiced me again with water.

The massage was an amazing experience. It was actually a bath – as promised. There was soap. She washed my hair. She exfoliated with the scrubby mitt. One woman began singing an old Anatolian song, and the others joined in before trailing off into laughter. At the end of it, I was clean, and covered once more in the cool water before drying off and returning to the busy, narrow streets of Constantine’s city.

I think of those pinpricks of light, in the dome of the baths, now. As I trudge through the weary, narrowed world of February, I remember the surprising sensation of hot marble. I marvel that it is possible to sit, relaxed, sans garments, without fear of chill. With my vistas cut off now — by snow banks and hurry — I think of the far sights of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, towering above the millenia-long important churning waters on the gateway between Asia and Europe, East and West. And I remember that today’s frigid contraction is not forever.

The summer’s wise

Although the calendar informs me that there are several precious days of summer left, my updates are more sporadic than I might wish.

Gloriously summer
Gloriously summer

This summer was an exceptional one. I’m not quite sure how to articulate it, but it seemed like uber-summer — the kind of summer used to define what summer is. (Reminding me, in fact, of last Halloween). Perhaps it’s looking at the world through the eyes of my sons. For Grey, this summer might well define what summer is. It may be the thing he unconsciously expects for the rest of his life. (Note: my uber-summer was the summer I was nine and living in the fields and forests of Washington state. According to my memory, I spent the entire time wandering the woods, catching newts on the pond and watching clouds wend their way above dancing firs.) But this summer was one of those kinds of summers. It started early, in May. The weather turned exceptional after a soggy spell of spring and a less-brutal-than-usual winter. And it stayed exceptional. The summer made you comfortable and secure in its summerness. I forgot entirely about jackets. My sons wandered in sandals alone. The windows were only closed when it was too hot out. There was warm, hot, and omg.

This summer was also full of joyful adventures. We took three 4-day weekends to go camping with the boys. I watched my sons evolve over the course of those trips. I watched Thane learn how to entertain himself (and I learned what to pack so he would). Grey made friends with the kids next door, and ventured past the protective skirt of his parents to roam with the packs of children. (Well, he was more watched than he realized, but he never caught me tailing him. And he never needed me to be tailing him.) Both boys made a lot of progress swimming. (Thane would push himself along with his hands in the shallow water, saying “‘wim! ‘wim!” the last time I took him to the lake.) Heck, the boys even figured out how to sleep on their shared and bouncy air mattress. At the end of the summer, my husband and I sat in front of a roaring fire, our sons sleeping nearby, reading as the sparks flew to the visible milky way above.

There was my whirlwind trip across country with both boys to California. That had some very *important* moments in it, and some valuable ones. Those will prove precious, now and later. But I think my favorite parts were getting to know my young cousin and the brief hours we spent at Yosemite. There was a primal longing for me that was quenched, scratched, call it what you will. It was both deeply desire-inducing and deeply satisfying. It was captured by this moment, I think:

The golden light, the tall trees, the river, the mountains, the children
The golden light, the tall trees, the river, the mountains, the children

Of course, notable among the life-long-memories was the trip to Istanbul. The heat of summer was just one of the flavors of that journey — the clarity of the winds off the swirling straights, the competing calls to prayer from the minarets high on hallowed and historic ground, the delights to be found in aubergine… it was a week never to be forgotten and long to be savored.

Then there were the day to day things that came together to make it just and wholly summer. Every week I had a huge box of produce to find a way to work into my menus. Many a Monday night I stood at the sink peeling peaches, or stirring jam hot on the stove, my hair curling at the nape of my neck. My sons would ask to play in the park on the way home, and I would oblige. In the undimmed sunlight of 6 pm they would run and jump and climb and crawl. On Saturday afternoons, you might find me in conversation with a neighbor on the latest happenings on the street, or watching our children playing together. Most nights we slept with the windows wide to the light and breezes and air of a barely-cool summer.

It has seemed so long and glorious and full. It has been the epitome, the true expression, of what summer can be even in a life fully lived with jobs and kids and church and all those things that keep me on my toes.

Autumn is my favorite season. The crispness and urgency of the beauty catch me up short. The leaves (after a brief, drought-driven flirtation with color) have only now started to consider the possibilities inherent in changing their green gowns for gold and crimson. I traded out Thane’s 2T summer wardrobe for a 3T winter wardrobe this evening. It seems selfish to hope that autumn is as gloriously autumnal as summer was graciously warm. But oh! I do hope.

I rarely cite song lyrics, because I mostly listen to 16th century polyphony and that makes for really obscure allusions, but one of the few pieces of music from the last 50 years that I do know is the King Singers’ cover of “The Summer Knows”. It summarizes well the intentional seduction of such a warm and easy summer:

The summer smiles, the summer knows
And unashamed, she sheds her clothes
The summer smoothes the restless sky
And lovingly she warms the sand on which you lie.

The summer knows, the summer’s wise
She sees the doubts within your eyes
And so she takes her summer time
Tells the moon to wait and the sun to linger
Twists the world ’round her summer finger
Lets you see the wonder of it all.

And if you’ve learned your lessons well
There’s little more for her to tell
One last caress, it’s time to dress for fall.

And if you’ve learned your lesson well
There’s little more for her to dwell.
One last caress, it’s time to dress for fall.

The changing of the seasons

One of the things I don’t like about myself is how far ahead I get. There are advantages, of course. I usually plan in sufficient time. I am seldom taken unawares by the next step. But in children and summer, you give up a lot by pushing to be further along than you need to be. So I pause and take seriously this feeling in the air, to make sure it is not just because I am pushing.

But no. I came back from Istanbul, the heat of summer in the Mediterranean, to discover one flamboyantly yellow birch on my commute home. It has since been joined by several maples in scarlet on quiet roads. Being that it’s mid-August, I suspect drought has advanced the season, and not just my perspective. But still. The days are hot and humid, but shorter. Night arrives earlier, and lacks the sultriness of July. A tell-tale crispness creeps over the window panes in the early morning hours. We are, by no means, into autumn, but we can see it on the horizon.

Summer child
Summer child

As for the other season? I am passing out of the baby time of life. I nursed a child for the last time nearly a year ago. One dark night when I laid Thane into his crib… that was the last night. And tomorrow? Tomorrow they are bringing my baby a bed, with no sides. He will lie unrestrained and tiny on rocket-ship sheets with a blanket and a pillow — faithful Puppy still firmly at hand, golden curls pressed against the unfamiliar mattress.

And it’s not just the bed. It’s been a while since I’ve given you a proper Thane update, but oh! What a big boy he is. At the farmshare pickup after Istanbul, I ran into a friend from church. “It was fun to see your family all in tie-dye,” she said, “But who was the curly-headed kid? And did you bring Thane with you?” She wasn’t being sarcastic, or joking. She literally didn’t recognize my Thane. He does so many big boy things. He climbs, jumps and runs. He’s very good at puzzles. He sits and reads books. He organizes his cars by colors and carries them throughout the house, lining them up. He speaks in full sentences now: “I found it!” “Car mine!” “Yummy pancakes” “Cereal and milk, please” “No, thank you”. He even comes up with new sentences. For example, the other day in the car when I started in on the “ABC” song, he said, “No! Daddy ABC!”

He can recite his numbers to ten. He sings about 90% of the ABC song. He knows “Ring Around the Rosy” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and sings them to himself. He tells knock knock jokes (endlessly!) at dinner. He can correctly identify all the basic colors.

He eats cereal in a bowl with milk. He snitches his father’s ice tea. He climbs into his high chair and car seat for himself. He follows instructions (when he chooses to). He will come lay his head on your knee and say “Nuggle”. He has two kinds of kisses: real kisses and “all tongue” kisses, and thinks it’s hilarious when he can give you one of the latter. Whenever he sees a cell phone, he demands to speak to “Gamma! Gamma! Gamma!” He can correctly identify our two cats by name.

He pours sand on himself first thing when he gets to a sandbox. I’ve brought him home and put him on the changing table, and had rivers of sand fall out of his pockets. He can tell you when he wants a new diaper. I’ve started him sitting on his potty chair, to begin that years-long process.

In a word, he’s not a baby anymore. He’s a toddler, a child, a boy, a curly-haired blue-eyed delight… many things, but not a baby. That season has passed.

Too big for his crib
Too big for his crib

Summer is a-comin in

It’s hot out. 90 degrees. My company just sent out a notification that we’re in voluntary energy reduction to try to prevent rolling blackouts. That’s how you know it’s summer… when the electrical grid is struggling to keep up and you’re glad that your California-raised mother taught you how to keep a house reasonably cool without AC.

And Sunday is the equinox, the longest day of the year! Last night I was coming home from the Plato book club discussion at about 9:30, listening to the Celtics on the radio as I drove through Boston. On the horizon, that late at night, there was still the touch of color from a sunset that has not quite succumbed to night.

It’s so amazingly liberating to bare skin. There is a phenomenal feeling to the hot sun against your skin, melting away the shell of winter. There’s the omnipresent buzz of summer: of lawnmowers and chainsaws and insects and leafblowers and circular saws slicing out new porches for backyard barbecues. There’s the nightly throwing-open of windows, to invite in the sounds and smells and relative coolness of the brief dark of night, which inevitably leads to you being awoken at 5 am by a rousing chorus of birdsong in the dawn.

And there’s the food — the amazing bounty of the land. December knows nothing like a June strawberry, and February has forgotten the explosion of taste that comes with a sunwarmed raspberry eaten straight off the bush in the backyard. The winter-dulled palate is amazed by the variety, abundance and excellence of everything, until it becomes sated and blase by the oppressive humidity of August.

But now, in June, this liberation is new and freeing. The blow-up pool in the back yard doesn’t have that patina that such pools so quickly obtain. The stack of swim diapers is high. The jug of bubble-stuff nearly unmolested. We have forgotten the sensations of sunburn and bugbite, and see only the brightness, and the undimmed memory that with heat comes leisure. (I confess that I wonder if my sons will have any such associations — my sister recently “booked” her summer and realized that her kids only get about 4 weeks of Doing-Nothingage, which I recall being the dominant component of my summers when I was their age.)

There is swimming ahead, and parks. There are camping and hikes. There are roadtrips across haze-shrouded hills when the black asphalt waves in the heat. There’s whitewater river rafting (for reals!), ocean-cool downs and back yard BBQs.

And as quickly as it comes, I know, it fades again into the joyful and exuberant solemnity of autumn. But that is beyond tomorrow, and next week, and next month. It is a full season away. Today, my friends, we celebrate summer.

How fast the time flies

I remember the longest hour that ever existed. It was in Mr. Johnson’s math class — geometry, I think. I remember having the time to notice every single thing about that hour — the droning buzz of chainsaws from the nearby hill being logged, the way the sunlight was golden on the fading azaleas in the interstices of the school, the hum of the overhead projector with the thick black pen markings disappearing into scroll-like rolls, the drone of his voice explaining arcane mathematical phenomenon I did not then and have not now mastered, the coldness of the computer room behind the math room with all the proud ’80s era Macintosh computers sitting under dust covers (it was the mid-90s). There was no whirling of time, no speeding by of concepts or ideas, no blurring together of moments. Every single long second, all (60 x 60 x 1) of them had my complete and full attention, without the distraction of, you know, things of interest. I’m not sure why that was the longest hour of my life, but I do believe it was.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed a phenomenon I had been warned about. Time is clearly speeding up. This makes sense, from one point of view. If you consider each hour as a percentage of your time alive and aware, as you grow older it becomes a smaller and smaller percentage. Perhaps that 16 year old me in that corner-classroom was the optimum point between awareness of time and watch-ownership, and percentage of life an hour represented. In truth, I’ve heard that time stretches out when you are confronted with novelty, because your brain has to explicitly save more of it. For example, you’re unlikely to remember every minute of your commute home tonight. Your brain doesn’t need to save that information: it’s just like yesterday’s version and likely very similar to tomorrow’s. So why bother? The first time you scuba dive, however, every single sensation and view you experience is unlike all others you’ve experienced and your brain saves far more of the information. It’s why a new road you’ve never driven that takes 20 minutes is so much longer than your 20 minute commute, or at least feels that way.

Into my fourth decade, I encounter fewer and fewer novelties in my daily living. My brain relies on the tropes, stereotypes and previous experiences. Whole days, I have no doubt, go by without creating a single memory that will endure past the year. No wonder time seems faster, when I remember less of it.

All this is an extremely long lead in to a statement I never thought I’d say in my entire life in New England. But here it is. Where did the winter go? See, I’m totally used to summer flying by in a flurry of sunscreen and “just keep driving” fantasies as I head on Northward roads towards a climate controlled office. Spring is inevitably fleeting. Fall has the enduring quality, but still slips through my fingers like ribbon on a birthday present being opened with eager hands. The five minutes of Christmas when I deeply breathe of the scent of balsam and stare at twinkling lights persists, but the remainder of the month is gone. However, I can usually rely on January, February and March to provide me with the unchanging interminability of misery that is winter. Ah, winter! The one time of the year that you aren’t pressed on all sides by missed opportunities! Winter! The season when you go to work thinking that at least you’re not missing out on anything fun. Winter, that usually returns three or four times after you dare to hope it’s left for good! Winter, when it is what it is and you can’t complain but you do anyway.

This year, through phenomenon unknowable, winter went really fast. I can’t blame the kids — this is Grey’s 4th winter and Thane’s 2nd. I had a mix of old job, time off and new job (which the novelty of the latter should’ve slowed time down, according to my above hypothesis). It wasn’t a supremely easy winter. I shoveled a fair amount of snow. Granted, Spring did come a bit early and it was one of the warmest Springs on record. I’m sure that plays a role. But in previous winters I remember dramatically complaining that my marrow had frozen and there was insufficient heat in the fast-fleeting summer to melt it before the dreaded chill arrived again. This winter, my marrow was barely refrigerated.

With such a scientifically minded readership, I’m sure none of you will go thinking I’m jinxing Spring by talking about it – as though it’s a no-hitter. I, personally, am often bemused by just how superstitious I really am. But it’s almost May. I’m headed to FRANCE next weekend, for reals. It’s a matter of weeks until our first camping trip of the year. The leaves on the tree out my kitchen window are in full spring color and bloom, fast approaching full size! Could even the most powerful of jinxes bring winter back now? I think not.

So here it is, spring. And here comes summer, hazy, turgid and fleeting as it is. May I find enough novelty, enough observation and enough patience to make many memories that endure for colder winters ahead.

Father and brother
Father and brother


Grandfather and grandson
Grandfather and grandson

Why the summers seem so short

This year I think I’ve figured out why summers seem half as short as any other season. The simple fact is: they are shorter.

Consider. Summer officially starts June 20th or thereabouts. June 20th is reasonable for summer starting. By the end of June, we’re pretty reliably above freezing and most of the snow has melted. Then you have July, which is really summer. (Except this year, when it was May Take II.) For me, the first week of August we have our big vacation of the year where I go home and hike Mt. Rainier and relax while my kids are entertained by my parents. I come back August 10thish a bit more tan and a bit more relaxed. But as soon as the tires of my Jetblue redeye touch down at Logan, I’m into planning for fall.

It’s not summer that’s weird. It’s fall that’s weird. No other season requires so much advance planning. I don’t plan for summer. I don’t plan for spring. I plan for Christmas, but not for winter. But well in advance of the calendar start of fall (September 20th or thereabouts), I’m planning.

Part of this is due to my own unique circumstances. Let’s look at my autumnal schedule, shall we?

*September 23rd – my birthday (generally ignored)
*October 6th – Grey’s birthday (big deal)
October 12th – my FIL’s birthday (we miss you Mike)
October 16th – my sister’s birthday (I sometimes scrape up a card)
*October 21st – my husband’s birthday (err… I usually buy something for him off his Amazon wishlist)
*October 28th – Thane’s birthday (what am I going to do for his first?)
October 29th – my niece’s birthday (make with the loot already!)
*November 14th (this year) – Mocksgiving (huge big hosting deal that requires lots of forethought)

Items with an asterisk require me to do party planning if a party is going to happen (which is a longer and longer shot with the grownup birthdays).

Add to that the typical things that need doing in fall — a new wardrobe for the kids, a new Saturday activity for Grey (we’ve settled on aikido), starting preschool, prepping the house for winter (cleaning gutters, furnace maintenance, mulching, etc.), Halloween, Thanksgiving and all that.

Finally, toss in a good measure of church starting back up. Now church doesn’t close down, but we have a more moderate schedule over the summer. Our committees meet less often. We don’t have quite as many events. There’s no Sunday School (we do have a kids’ event). There’s less extra work. But there’s a lot to be done for fall: the Fall lunch, the pumpkin party, lining up teachers to teach, ordering curriculum, the Sunday School launch party… all sorts of seasonal things. (Many of which I should probably start thinking about since the loss of a member has made us very shorthanded for some.)

Well, of course I had better start planning for fall by the middle of August! But what this means is that the amount of time I’m in summer and thinking of summer is about 6 weeks — from the end of June to the middle of August. Although there’s another 6 weeks of summer left on the calendar, my mind is already engaged with the fun season of autumn and has left summer behind.

Hmmm… I’m not actually sure I’m glad I wrote out all the things I need to do in Fall. Because right after I get those done we’re in Christmas. Ah well. As one of my professors used to always say (which, to be fair, drove me absolutely bonkers in college), “Life is rich and full.”