With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Road Trippin'

It's Fall Break for our kids and we're launched on our annual road trip. As Rob and William watched “This is Spinal Tap” on synchronized laptops, Aden and I got slap-happy driving through desolate Nevada landscapes. We skirted Area 51 and Death Valley, deserted areas with nary a cow nor human in sight. The high point of our journey was the large blue – lettered sign noting “Litter Barrel – 1,000 feet.”  

When we stopped to change drivers in Tonopah, Nevada, we were besieged by friendly people who were no doubt desperate to see a new face. “Come to my family’s restaurant – it’s just down the road apiece” said a man with two mohawked boys in tow. We looked where he beckoned – back the way we had come – and wrinkled our brows trying to remember if we had passed any building that looked remotely like a restaurant.

We were all a bit freaked out by the Clown Motel, semi-shuttered and painted clown faces fading into evil semi-grimaces, and the two abandoned motels on the other side of the road. These abandoned buildings gave Tonopah an eerie tint, and Rob sped up as we eagerly looked toward the west end of town. The friendly policeman who pulled us over merely gave us a warning; he understood the impulse to get the hell out of Dodge.

At Yosemite’s western edge in early afternoon, we gave thanks for tall trees, granite mountains, and crowds of people. Rob and I indulged in “do you remembers” and we laughed at the kids’ pronunciation of Hetch-Hetchy, Tuolomne Meadows, and Wawona. The drive on Tioga Road into Yosemite Valley was suitably awesome, as recent rains had filled the rivers and allowed waterfalls to flow in all their beauty. 

 Rock climbers on the face of El Capitan amazed the kids, who craned their necks and pointed shaky fingers at the ant-like figures on the fearsome face. Heading back to the car, we ran into a group of young people from Colorado, in Yosemite for the first time. When I mentioned that Rob and I used to hike here, they asked for recommendations. I promoted the Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point hikes, noting that I trekked the last one in winter. The twenty-something young man who blurted “You’re a badass!!” made my week, especially since the kids were watching.


As we walked away, I demurely told the kids, "that was a long time ago," and Aden said wisely, "Once you've attained bad-assery, it stays with you forever." So true. It's good to be on a road-trip :-).

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Toilet - Cell Etiquette

Cell phone use in bathrooms occurs all the time. In the privacy of our home, the boys disappear in the bathroom to play video games under the guise of a lengthy number two. I have been known to delete spam email from the comfort of the porcelain throne, and have talked to family members (only family members, I swear! ) while in that intimate setting.  Cell phones have replaced baskets of cheesy, newsy magazines as reading material of choice in bathrooms around the country.

I'm still disconcerted, however, by people conversing on cells in public restrooms. Don't the people on the other end of the line hear the multiple flushes? I was recently horrified when the woman in the stall next to me paused in her conversation, said "Just a moment," and made her conversation partner wait while she flushed and self-adjusted. She resumed the conversation while alternately washing on3 hand and then the other. I should be grateful she washed her hands, but still question the sterility of the cell phone.

Cell phones are so ubiquitous that middle and high school students show increased heart rates when made to leave phones in their lockers. Adults who returned their Samsung Galaxy Note7 phones report issues of detachment and isolation. As a semi-technophobe and relative dinosaur who didn't get an iPhone until last year, I admit to succumbing to cell phone domination. Any spare moment can be used for Words with Friends, deleting spam email, sending emojis to Mom, or just checking weather, heart rate, number of steps taken, solar power output - you name it, it's on the phone. I can't help but wonder, when will the backlash begin?  I think maybe, just perhaps, we should start it in the bathroom.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Vocab Hubris

Last week my eighth-grader asked me to review his vocab words with him. Of course we have to use the iPhone flashcard app instead of actual paper, so it takes me almost as long to figure out how to quiz the boy as it takes to read through the words.One of his words was "perseverate," which means "continuation of something (as repetition of a word) usually to an exceptional degree or beyond a desired point" (Merriam Webster online). Lightning struck: I finally had to admit that "perseverate" is a real word.

My entire life, I've been convinced that "perseverate" is a poor speller's way of writing or saying "persevere," one of my favorite words. Persevere means "to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult" (Merriam Webster online). I picture myself or my family "persevering" in the face of difficulties and I smile, flex my biceps, and stride off onto the nearest mountain. Who doesn't love that word?

"Perseverate," on the other hand, has a negative connotation. Continuing an effort beyond the desire point reads more like flogging a dead horse than achieving a goal. Over the years, when family members, TV anchorpeople, or even my kids' GT teacher used that word I smiled, chuckled in an inwardly superior fashion, and heroically refrained from correcting the error. 

As I reflect on my grievous history, I realize that  subconscious reasoning underlies my obtuseness. Looking closely at my habits, I find a great deal of perseverating that I would rather call perseverance. Training for a marathon through severe knee pain and alarming weight loss? Perseverating. Running said marathon despite stomach illness? Perseverating. Lysol wiping the kitchen counter until my fingers crack from dryness? Definitely perseverating.

You get the point. I'm astonished by my decades-long refusal to recognize a word that applies to me, and surprised that I finally admitted its existence. Does this indicate maturity? Humility? A willingness to change? Or just a recognition that the suffix "ate" creates an entirely different word.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Back to Boston

My apologies for not posting - I've been re-tracing family history in Boston. Our first day in the city united Aden and me with my brothers, niece and a subset of nephews. We walked the Freedom Trail from the Common to Quincy Market, where the boys breakfasted on blue slushies and the girls split a caramel candy apple with sprinkles.

After a quick descent through the North End and ascending Beacon Hill, the boys raced scooters and the older people strolled down the sunny Esplanade, wiping away the Indian summer sweat. At length, brother Michael and his boys turned back toward the Common and the girls, John and I walked across the Mass Ave Bridge to Cambridge. The girls took in the pillars of MIT and then the leafy splendor of the Harvard Yard, marred as always by renovation and ‘keep off the grass’ signs. I showed them my freshman dorm, where I spent many an early morning sobbing in lengthy showers, hiding my homesickness in a haze of communal steam.

We had frozen yogurt at a quiet table in front of Lehman Hall where tour groups flooded the spaces around us and a young couple spoke French at an adjoining table. The stores and technologies have changed – almost completely – in the twenty- three years since I lived in a Cambridge dorm. The girls declined our invitation to purchase Harvard gear as I told them to seek college admittance elsewhere.

Saturday night reunited us with two of my college roommates and their families at the beach house in Scituate. The ghosts of dinners past entered with Tara’s parents, who made a brief journey from their home down the road to look in on the girls they welcomed and fed on long-weekend Sundays and holidays.The seven-layer dips we finished before the other guests could have a taste, the big dinners that sat heavily on us at swim team weigh-ins the next day, the travails of finding our way out to West Roxbury in the days before cell phones and traveling expertise - all fodder for "do you remembers?" and "I can't believe it" conversations.

Sunday morning’s alarm pierced through the shriek of wind and rain, a remnant of Hurricane Matthew that dampened the day of my niece, Mae's, baptism. The weather demanded coarse blue raincoats over the carefully packed and ironed church dresses. At the back of the church, we watched bemused as cousins drew pictures, arm-wrestled and pew-hopped through the service. Little Tommy ate his grandmother’s necklace and the priest enthusiastically led his flock in their praise of the “Lawd.”

As the full congregation filed out, we gathered around the baptismal font. Karen called my parents to Skype them through the service as the Julia and Aden snapped photos. John and I flanked Mike, Pam and the baby as her godparents. All of the 23 cousins filed through to mark Mae with the sign of the cross or a gentle kiss, which benedictions she received in squirming impatience. When Father Chris decorated Mae with cold holy water she “screamed all the demons out.”

Inconvenient emotions settled like clouds of gnats that we hastily waved away, longing to center ourselves in the moment of joy but unable to squelch the sorrow of absence and the recognition that this would be the last Boston baptism. Wild, specific tangents unsettled us: my four-year-old nephew watching the mouth of the priest as he pressed his hands together and sought anxiously to pray the Our Father correctly. My parents on Skype, sobbing quietly from a distance of 3,000 miles. 


We’re often with people we love, but rarely with all the people that we love. Each time we share a meal and memory, laughter and like-mindedness, it’s a sharp prick of miracle, which leaves the faint ache of loss as it fades. The seasons pass, we seem to shed our past selves with the rain or the wind or the tidal flux, and yet they collect inside us and refuse to flee.  

Monday, October 3, 2016

Reclaiming Peace

It's windy today and the yellowing trees toss and wave like Broncos fans bemoaning an interception. Our internal affairs mirror the outside drama: my oldest got up at 4:30am to swim, wailing of a sleepless night; my middle child's bus was twenty minutes late, resulting in anxious text messages with frowning emojis; and our youngest staggered out of bed complaining of an upset stomach.

It's strange how a series of events can erode even a deep sense of peace. I swam in the outdoor pool from 5 - 6am while Aden's team took up the indoor space. The dark skies were unbroken by moon or stars, the pool only lit by random floodlights. No radio interrupted the stillness, and only two other swimmers parted the waters. Occasionally a maple leaf darted and danced into the pool - or my shoulder - on its way to winter sleep. As I paddled and kicked through three 800's, I meditated on the teens inside, the torn fibers of my bicep tendon, the small tear in the rotator cuff. There was no pain, only a detailed recognition.

After I dropped my daughter at high school I had to merge onto southbound I 25, where the traffic tore at my sense of peace within minutes. That was followed by a series of unpleasant emails which required even more distasteful phone calls to the bank and insurance companies, and the shards of peace broke and fell onto the unclean kitchen floor. After a morning full of errands and phone calls, I am only beginning to breathe again, trying to recall through my writing that sense of peace I felt so early this morning. It's still there, underlying everything. I'll do my best to find it, iron it out, and wrap myself inside.