Little darlin’, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter

I’ve written (and thought) a lot about how oppressive this winter has been. My favorite joke last week, you know, when it was snowing, was that today wasn’t actually the 16th of April. It was the 96th of January. Man, did that FEEL true. Every cold, gray morning felt like a soul tax, making it that much harder to get out of bed and do the things that needed to be done – never mind do them with joy and thanksgiving.

But, alleluia! The weather finally broke this weekend. On Friday night, still childless, Adam and I wandered alone in the empty quiet of the Fells in the waning light. It was cold still, but a little like finally being able to scratch an itch that’s been plaguing you, just out of reach. Saturday was so bright and fair. I sat on the front steps of my house in the warm sun – coatless. I drank black coffee from a cheerful mug with a ceramic bird on the handle. I looked at the hyacinth and narcissus in their springtime flush. And I ate a delicious muffin brought to me by a friend. And I was deeply content.

Flowers, coffee, muffin

My children returned to me over this weekend. I picked Thane up, very tired, on Saturday. I missed his sweetness and snuggles. He was still on Pacific time, but brought his A game and hit the soccer fields bright and early at 8 am in the sunshine.

I went to church, and found myself rejoicing in worship and fellowship. It didn’t hurt that I had a very proud moment as a teacher. I work with my kids throughout the year to memorize the books of the Bible. Memorization has fallen out of fashion, but I think it has a valuable role to play in general. In specific, I think that memorizing the books of the Bible (and whether they’re old or new testament, and what kind – prophecy, history, poetry etc.) gives the kids something to hang further knowledge on. If you hear a passage from Isaiah and you’ve never heard of Isaiah, you just gloss it out. If you know where Isaiah is – where it sits in the Bible and that it’s one of the major prophets – maybe you listen just a little bit harder to hear the prophecy. Maybe you remember just a little bit more. Anyway, TWO of my kids today came to class with the books memorized. One had memorized the Old Testament and rattled off the minor prophets like a champ. The other had gotten the New Testament, and sailed through the letters of Paul like they were old friends. I couldn’t have been more proud. (Any implication that I bribe them with gigantic chocolate bars for this feat is absolutely true.) And then we had this fantastic discussion about the Lord’s Prayer, the Catholic version, the various Protestant versions (debts, sins, trespasses?) and the version in Luke. Then THAT led to talking about translation and transcription in the Bible. Finally we ended up talking about what Jesus taught us was important in prayer (in that passage it’s persistence). It was the sort of Sunday morning that pays for a year’s worth of getting up early.

I teach the 2nd through 5th graders

Then to turn your face to the sky, and find it warm and welcoming. I swear it’s a miracle. Adam and I have barely been able to drag ourselves inside. We’ve gone for two hikes. We went for a run. I’ve walked hither and yon. And just now, we set a fire in our firepit, ordered pizza and called to our friends to join us. Sitting under the still-bare branches of winter, but smelling the smoke, seeing the buds, and not freezing to death… it was amazing.

Our friends will play games with us

Suddenly, my dour cynicism is feeling more hopeful. I see myself noticing the good things. ANOTHER new restaurant is opening in town, and it’s calling itself the Nobility Hill Tavern. That’s one of my favorite parts of Stoneham! The blue flowers on the hill across from us are spreading and naturalizing new spots. The Greenway is coming closer to fruition, with just one bridge left between us and Winchester to build. Grey got civic permission to put in his first geocache, which should help to address the dearth thereof in Stoneham. Our attic is making great progress, and the long-awaited improvements might realistically be done before the 4th of July. (Ok, more likely August…) The boys had amazing weeks getting 1:1 time with people who loved them, and my husband and I got to spend wonderful 1:1 time with each other. My life is filled with kind, generous and fun people. This is a totally different perspective than I had in 30 degree weather, assuredly.

So today I celebrate! Huzzah for all that is good in life!

OK, this picture of Grey is admittedly terrifying

Spring is astonishing

I work in technology, and the epicenter of technology is in California. I have thought a lot about living in California, and repeatedly decided that I did NOT want to live in California. Many people transplanted to California talk about how they miss “the seasons”. I mean, paradise is great but it has no variety. I sometimes wonder in the dreariest days of early April (when according to the seasons I learned at the hands of English poets spring should be well along) whether the seasons are all that much to brag about.

May has had it’s fair share of showers

But then, oh glorious May! There is this thing that happens to color and sunlight in May that beggars explanation. It’s as though your eyes put on a saturation lens. Every color – from the blandest grays to the chartreuse grasses and indigo skies – looks more vibrant than you remember the world looking. The phlox is unrealistically pink, and soft to the touch. Fragrances – long forgotten out of doors – waft on the soft winds bringing news of nearby lilacs (my favorite flower). The way the golden light bends over playing children long into the evening hours seems like a double bounty. Not only is it a glorious, beautiful and rich light, but it lingers longer.

Spring is an excellent time for ambition. Oh, not as great as Fall. There is no better time for the embarking on great adventures than September (as Tolkien well knew). But when you step outside to mow your lawn for the first time in a calendar year and contemplate the land allotted to you, it occurs to you it’s not enough. You should put in a flower bed. You should plant some pansies. Heck, maybe you should buy out your back door neighbor’s yard and add it to your own! (I confess that latter is a fantasy I’ve entertained. Tragically, that neighbor has no interest in selling.)

Spring is the time of year when you make gardening commitments your July self will deeply rue. You know that, of course. Everyone knows spring decisions are unreliable. But you can’t help yourself. You don’t want to help yourself. You want to believe, in spring, that all things really are made new and you yourself are a different person. A greater person than you’ve been before. A person who will weed all year round.

My next door neighbor is just such a person. (If you’re one of the cognoscenti of my street, no this isn’t any of my neighbors you know.) Every year since they moved in they’ve seeded their lawn with new grass seed. They even usually water it (thereby going one up on me and my “only the strong will survive” attitude towards grass seed). But they don’t believe in actually MOWING said lawn. Those newly minted blades of grass poking up through the “one-step” grass seed/fertilizer & soil mixes will be grow unmolested until August, at which point they’ll be crudely mown (by a weed-whacker I believe) for the sole time in the year. (Unless I get sick of it and sneak over and mow it first, which is deeply tempting.) Still every spring, they plant. You can’t fail to admire optimism like that.

Proto plum

I have continued to follow the progress of my plum tree with avid interest. The winter moths have not arrived. I don’t know if that’s “yet” or if they’ve been successfully suppressed. I have found today a tiny, embryonic plum. I haven’t given much thought to the growth patterns of fruit, but since you generally only see the flower and the fruit, I thought the inbetween stages somewhat invisible – the ridiculousness of which belief becomes apparent as quickly as writing it down. They are indeed there, those minute plums. The one I spotted is less than the size of an olive pit – much less. But it is there.

The tragedy of my spring is that I am not overambitious just once (or even twice a year). I suffer from chronic overambition. I would say that this year has been extra super ridiculously busy, but if I’m honest with myself it’s actually only a notch or two busier than usual. A good portion of the extra busyness comes from the Pastor Nominating Committee, which I’m chairing. We’re meeting three times this week. And for a total of about 6 horus. And I have homework on top of that. The efficiency maven in me keeps looking at how we might do this faster & better, but it’s a process that resists shortcuts.

This guy would like you to know he is NOT a spiritualist and does not condone the ridiculous stuff his son gets up to. His son, meanwhile, has his name on the plot in no less than FIVE spots.

I find myself caught between two powerful feelings – on one hand the feeling that this is all to much and I absolutely have to slow down. On the other hand, there’s this pressing and persistent guilt for all the things I have not done, which I have not put my hand to. I do absolutely nothing for the PTO. I would love to do more things with town history, but I’ve never even used the brand new microfiche machine in our library. (Although I’ve dispatched others for information found therein!) I really want to put up a sign marking the Nobility Hill Historic district. Two in fact. I just need designs. And money. Those just need… time. I haven’t seen half my friends in far too long. I turn down party invitations I’d rather attend. I don’t have season tickets to the theater. I don’t practice my trumpet. And I wish I spent more time with my kids. They’re neat people. It’s been ages since I attempted anything complicated in the kitchen. And the prime time of foraging season is here and I have not set foot in the woods.

In my defense, this weekend I did see “Guardians of the Galaxy” (both 1 and 2) with my kids. I finished reading “The Two Towers” for the, uh, I have no idea how many times I’ve read it. But when you have your own personal “director’s cut” (which I *didn’t* read) you may have read it rather often. I did a ton of PNC work. I cleaned up the “clothes to donate” pile. I took a 3 hour tour of Lindenwood Cemetery. (GUYS! Stoneham was a hotbed of spiritualism! The ghost stories just write themselves, really…) We went out to dinner with the gift certificate we were given in gratitude for rescuing a hiker last year. I played two board games. I attended one soccer game (our team won!). I went to church, and the International Potluck afterwards. We saw Gabriel at the theater with the boys (it was excellent!). I mowed the lawn and the space where I want to put the “Nobility Hill” sign. We went for a run. I made dinner & we watched “Bertie & Jeeves”. And then I realized I had no idea what to write for a blog post and went for the extremely creative “well what’s the weather like” prompt.

And honestly, this was not a super duper busy weekend. Not even the fullest spring-intoxication can beguile more commitments out of me!

Thane was a very effective goalie!

One last word on spring. I’ve often contemplated the shift in metaphor that separates us from our forepoets. Both Homer and Keats – worlds & thousands of years apart – have seen real live sheep in the flesh. They know what they are to the touch. What a clean pelt feels like. How a contented sheep sounds. These are things that thousands of years of history have in common with each other. And they are things which have abruptly been removed from the common experience – or at best made isolated and rare. The rich metaphors are drying out in a world that no longer does the things we’ve always done.

But the seasons still remain. The stars have faded (when is the last time you glanced out and the sky was clear enough you could see the Milky Way?). The livestock are gone from our lives. We neither sow nor spin nor shear nor reap (the latter being especially true for my neighbor). So what remains as connection is all the more precious. The seasons remain. The daffodils still bloom, as once they did. Our hearts are “pricked” and we long to go on “pilgrimages”, just as Chaucer said. Even as much falls away, or becomes an intellectual adventure, we still share those seasons with those who came before us.

And that, my friends, is why I will not move to California.

Goslings are cute. Geese are jerks.

Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art winter

Hope in trying times

So, in case you hadn’t heard, New England has become Narnia under the reign of the White Witch: always winter, never Christmas. Tomorrow is supposed to start out in the low teens and there’s a major nor’easter heading our way for Wednesday, which at least will cover up our dirty old snow with nice clean snow.

But… it’s actually been a few weeks since our last major pummeling. Granted those weeks have been icy cold, but the spots that sit in sunlight have shed their coats of ice. (Meanwhile, the shady places where people shoveled snow to are still glacial wonderlands.) Today, a few days into the theoretical spring, it got up to 50. All across New England we contemplated shorts and tank tops in celebration.

The Flynn family made our way the library this morning – on foot. We usually go on Monday nights, but Grey had finished book 1 of a series and was dying for book 2 (which tragically is not out yet). Still, it was a strange novelty to walk across sandy, beach-like sidewalks with hardly any ice patches the two blocks to Andrew Carnegie’s gift to Stoneham. After we restocked the boys, I thought I might show them that there were actually *other* parts of the library than the kids’ section. We found one particular spot, and Grey begged to let us stop and read there. “Don’t throw me into the Briar patch!” I thought. He settled down with a graphic novel. Thane, our new reader, pulled out a Suess, and Adam and I paged through a book of Maurice Sendak’s art.

When Grey finished his book, we headed further. The next sunny, cozy patch also tripped up my eldest. I was a little less of a pushover this time – the little one had been very patient, but he was ready for action! So Adam and Thane went back home while Grey and I read in sunbeams.

Apparently this one is about zombie goldfish.

We made it home eventually. There was lunch, and Fate, and reading, and laundry. It started to rain, which made me happy because liquid water, but sad because hiking. Then it stopped raining which made me happy, because hiking.

Although the paths were muddy and the wind was cold and there were almost no hints that it was not just a thawing patch in January, it was glorious. We walked and climbed and joked and looked and felt the sun on our face. We got a tiny bit lost. We found the Panther Caves and talked about the Mountain Lion that might be hiding there and came up with six names for Mountain Lions where there should only be five. (Mountain Lion, Panther, Jaguar, Cougar, Catamount, Puma – we know we are wrong)

It was glorious.

Having been watching the new Cosmos with the boys, I became obsessed with finding a Tardigrade and seeing one for real life. So I swiped some vernal pond water and moss to see if I couldn’t find this mythical, ancient beast. After some dinner (mmmm Five Guys), we pulled out a long-disused microscope. Adam and I made slides out of plastic packaging, using an aluminum plate to spot interesting stuff while the boys had a soap-fight in the bath. (Note to self: they’re never actually old enough to leave alone in the bathtub.)

Prepping the slide
Prepping the slide

We didn’t find a water bear, but we did score a little devilishly fast water flea, a microscopic worm, a beetle, new moss roots, a weird looking seed and a something that had tiny creepy ticks embedded in it. In the immortal words of Calvin, “There’s treasure everywhere.” Adam and I came to the very scientific conclusion that we need a better microscope because we want one.

So there it was. A Saturday perfect in its Saturdayness, full of all the things you think you are going to do with your children before you actually have children. Better yet, for me it was bookended with breakfast in bed (my husband is kind and loving) and practice on both trumpet and guitar. There are many days that are much harder, when you feel the color seep out of your life and perspective – turning it to a black and white version of a WWII prison camp movie. This week was a hard one for me, for many boring reasons. Next week will hopefully be better, but not warmer. But today? Today was glorious.

Porch time

It’s the middle of April – exactly – today. It’s a time of year where New Englanders start to believe that maybe there are only one or two good snowstorms between them and the three weeks of beach weather we call summer. Friday was the Sox home opener.

I’m sitting – in short sleeves – on my front steps (glare making it hard to read the screen) watching my eldest playing in a gaggle of kids across the street while listening to the Red Sox (winning!) while Thane sleeps. Ah, bliss!

It’s been such an unseasonably warm winter and spring that the oddness of this near 80 degree weather is masked. I mean, we’ve already had 80 degree days this year… why should it be weird to have one before Patriot’s Day (the Boston Marathon day, tomorrow, a state holiday). But oh it is odd. It is an extreme weather event, this winter and spring heat. It’s a rather lovely one, but a touch ominous for all that. Still, I could lament, or I could enjoy. Enjoying seems like a better plan.


My husband was out of town this weekend at Helgacon. I haven’t heard the report on how the Cthulu game went, but it seems like “A good time was had by all”. I’m sort of bummed I wasn’t there, but my mother-in-law is in town which makes things easier. The nice weather has heralded neighbor time (before they’re all gone for their summer activities), and we had an impromptu bbq last and heading into temperate dark. I followed up with a few board games with a neighbor, and conversations. It’s so lovely to feel the leisure of warm weather.

Yesterday we went to IKEa – a marathon adventure. No life-changing purchases: bookshelves and duvet covers and white tapers and enough meatballs to feed an army.

Mmmmm the lassitude of the afternoon keeps stealing any attempt I might make at a thesis statement. Suffice it to say: life is busy, warmth and friendship are a joy.

Procrastination vs. Planning

So this year, the result of doing taxes is likely to be me sitting down and writing a very large check to the US government. If I’m lucky, it won’t involve a penalty for having to write TOO large a check. Back in the old days when I used to get refunds, I’d be waiting at the mail for my last W2 so I could get my taxes done by February 4th. Now, though, well….. let’s just say that several weekends have come and gone where I probably should’ve done the taxes and didn’t. Finally, though, we’re in April. (For all the weather doesn’t indicate that.) Time to be done and get it off my list and my conscience. So I sat down at my official tax and bill doing computer, read several websites, IM’d with my mom, found some baseball on MLB.com (Orioles vs. Rays – not sure who I’m cheering for), fixed my MLB.com account and then finally meandered over to log in to the tax web site.

Hmmmm… what’s my password? Maybe this one? Or that one? Or possibly the other one? And then I got a nasty note, “You’ve made 3 unsuccessful attempts to sign in. Your account has been locked for security reasons. Please try again in 20 minutes.”

Greeeeeaaaaaat.

So that’s what I’m doing right now. Burning 20 minutes (since I’ve already read all my websites) until I can try and log in again in order to have the fun! and excitement! of doing my taxes. You see where you rate.

Lessee… what’s up.

Well, today was the opening day for the Red Sox. I would probably be more ebullient about this, except they got creamed by the Rangers, which was not in our opening day plan. One game in, and Red Sox nation is already panicking because two of our best pitchers had bad outings. It’s great to be a Red Sox fan, when you can start whining while the winter snow is still on the ground!

Speaking of, we got real actual snow last night. I walked out and immediately experienced some nasty PTSD – Post-traumatic Snow Disorder. It’s widespread in New England this “spring”. I’m so ready for summer!

Still, it was beautiful coming home tonight. The snow reduces the visual noise, making heterogeneous locations momentarily homogeneous. The snow had melted on the branches of the trees, turning the trunks of winter-worn maples bright black against the white snow and steel sky. The tone of the light has changed from wan to bright, bringing a strange dissonance to the scene. And the trees are this wonderful pregnant grey, with a faint shimmer of red like a blush on a maiden’s cheek.

OK! Long enough! They let me log in! Now to really go do the taxes. Right after I check to see if any of my favorite blogs have updated in the last 10 minutes….

In the last 48 hours

I’ve made five pies, hosted about 25 people for Piemas, gone on the first walk of the spring, had five people spend the night, and woke up in the morning to discover my entry area redone.

Exciting! It would be even more fun if I didn’t have a nasty cold. I just hope that I didn’t share it with anyone. I washed my hands a gazillion times and covered all my everythings, so here’s hoping!

Anyway, you don’t get a real blog post. Instead, you get a picture post. In this month’s thrilling installment we have:

– Awesome cardboards spaceships at the table
– Silly boys on laundry baskets
– Thane playing Angry Birds with grandma
– Grey hanging around with some rapscallion
– Jessica, also associated with said rapscallion, and the combinations reading books
– Piemas
– A family portrait (because the last picture of all four of us was taken last spring)
– Surprise!
– Playing with the light settings
– First playground of the spring

March2011