Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"a" for amazing

Aden had a preliminary 16th birthday party in our AirBnB, a renovated barn in Polson, Montana. Her Aunt Carol made a tasty pasta dinner with meatballs, and her cousin Julia worked with Nana to craft a delicious and allergen-free chocolate cake. At dinner, my dad sat at the head of the picnic table on his reversible walker, and the benches were lined with siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. The assembly sang three different versions of "Happy Birthday:" the basic version, the Finnish / Murdo epic "Happy Birdle-dadle toodle youdle-doodle" (spell-check recognized none of those words), and a downtown Chicago rendition provided by that city's Clavadetscher clan.

After food and singing and the requisite candle extinguishing, Nana handed out the first gifts. As Aunt Pam whispered to me later, "We should have saved the best for last!"  Nonetheless, Aden began her sweet 16 by opening a homemade afghan with hearts, and a special Tiffany necklace.  Nana Ann told us, "That's the first Tiffany jewelry that I ever got from Papa." Dangling from the fine silver chain was a lowercase script letter "a." Aden held it together but I shed a few tears as I fastened the clasp behind her neck.

My dad has been giving my mom Tiffany jewelry for many years. Bracelets and earrings, but mostly necklaces adorned with crosses or symbols for the five children. My sister Karen and I have been fortunate recipients of his Tiffany habit, as well. As I write this, it dawn on me that Rob has recently begun a similar tradition with platinum jewelry for me - since my autoimmune disease I have trouble wearing anything else. Excuse me for a sec while I round up a handkerchief....

In any case, the poignancy of the moment has stayed with me, leaping out at odd moments when Aden reminds me of my Mom. They're both "artistic" and "altruistic,"  "amusing" and "able."  Both ladies have a strong positive "affect" on the lives of others. Both "adore" using Emojis, particularly hearts. Aden and Nana share a good Spanish "accent" and have "academic" leanings.

Before I slide further into maudlin sentiment, let me end on the fine humorous note provided by my brother, Michael.  The head of the Boston Clavs presented their card to Aden, and when she opened it to reveal a $20 bill, Mike leapt into the void. "That's the first twenty I ever gave to your Aunt Pam," he said jovially, "and she kept it."  My dad burst into guffaws, the emotional tension lifted, and we proceeded to karaoke and dancing.

But Mom, every time I see that "a", I think of you.  *Hearts*

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipsing the Eclipse

I went to water the flowers yesterday morning full of excitement for the solar eclipse, ready to start Monday on a positive note. The universe had other ideas.  Upon reaching for the hose, sitting at an odd angle directly above the casement covering to our egress basement windows, I noticed the steady drip, the inches of water in the bottom of the window well, and realized that the hose had been left running all night.  

My eleven-year-old came running at my sharp scream, and realizing that he was the one who had left the water running, turned to me with eyes wide and the words "I'm so....." emerging from his mouth. I had already pushed past him to run to the basement, where the wall dripped from under the window and the carpet stood under water.  Too late, I remembered Daniel spraying the garden and then his brother, running for the house as William emerged from the trampoline to chase him. The hose must have been flung in the exact spot where it could do the most harm, and in the melee, no one thought to turn it off.

More screaming ensued, as the culprit and I used every beach towel in the house to mop up water, dry the windowsill and walls. That basement room has flooded twice before, which is why Rob and I paid thousands of dollars to have new windows put in, and thousands more to replace the concrete behind the house so the water would drain away from the foundation. We had thought of everything - except the errant ways of children. "Ha, ha!" said the universe. "I can take away both the sun and your sense of well-being in one well-planned morning." 

Rob took my desperate phone call as he entered the morning status meeting, and had to deal with my wails as several execs looked on in astonishment. Post-meeting he rushed to meet me at home, where we tore up the carpet and pads, set the carpet to dry, and established fans in the basement bedroom.  We finished just in time to apply our eclipse glasses and watch the sun nearly cover the moon. It was quiet and cool in our backyard as all but a sliver of light died out in an eerie stillness. Despite the awe, it was anticlimactic. The main event of the morning had already occurred, and all I could think was that I needed the sun to come back out and dry my carpet.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Charlottesville and Aspirations

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ---- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
- The Declaration of Independence, The Want, Will and Hope of the People 

36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"37 Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your Go with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version of the Bible

I keep thinking of something my friend, Harvard Professor Dr. Tim McCarthy, said this spring: "There is a paradox of progress and prejudice in our nation's history."  Tim noted the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence, cited above, which were  out of balance with the 18th-century practice of slavery, the eradication of Native Peoples, and the denial of the right to vote for women. Our country aimed high despite its faults, looked for the best it could become as opposed to staying mired in what it was.

I feel the same way about the New Testament.  I believe in the commandment to love and the exhortations to serve in Matthew, despite how I fail again and again in attaining these goals, which seem to fly against my actual nature. I fail completely to love my enemy. Yet my failings do not invalidate Jesus' teachings. The law of love, the attribute of compassion, are aspirations. Though falling short repeatedly, I can't hold myself to a lesser standard.

As both an American and a Christian I am wrestling with the recent events in Charlottesville. Photos of Nazi and Confederate flags held side-by-side, of sieg heils thrown to an evil ghost --- delivered gut punches, roiled my stomach with a combination of disbelief and fury. How do we face the domestic terror inflicted upon an innocent young women and her friends, and upon officers trying to do their job, without losing compassion for the perpetrators? Seething with frustrated anger against the alt-right movement that uses the tired, artificial excuse of skin color as a barrier, against a president who chose not to condemn the violence with speed and conviction, I start to question how I am better than those who marched.

Two days after his initial lukewarm statement finally condemning the violence and hatred of the neo-Nazi and alt-right groups, our president backtracked and tried to lay equal blame on the peaceful counter-protestors. Pundits tried to blame the alt-left for equal proclivity to violence. When I think alt-left, I think Julia Butterfly Hill chained to a redwood tree, think marchers for equality being sprayed with fire hoses. Offering your body as protection for others and sacrificing yourself does not equate with making an attack upon others with a car or Ak-47. Our president is morally deficient, if not bankrupt, and since my government no longer provides me or my family with happiness or safety, I would like to remove it per the Declaration of Independence.

I denounce our president and many in his administration and stand against hate groups, but will try to fight without violence or descent into hatred.  I believe in the aspirational values expressed by our forefathers. Last spring, Dr. McCarthy asked his listeners to "be fierce and generous, speak and listen." These are difficult goals, a high standard. But I find strength in others - much farther along the path than I- who continually turn to love, good works and service, and I hope to evolve and join them in the movement to turn the tide in our country, and myself. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Home again, home again, jiggety jog

We returned at 1:00am on Thursday morning from four days of lake swimming, sibling bonding and cousin love in Polson, MT.  Nana and Papa welcomed us to their house above Flathead Lake and we spent a delirious Sunday morning snapping photos of the seven original Clavadetschers, then spouses and ten of the eleven grandchildren (to be lucky number 13 in spring of 2018!).  Smoky skies couldn't prevent Montana sunshine from penetrating, and the lake blew up celebratory whitecaps behind us.

After brunch the California contingent departed, leaving us with time to paddleboard, ride the golf cart, take a few strokes at the driving range, and prepare a BBQ feast of kebabs and burgers. As the days progressed, the temperature stayed perfect in the mid-80's and our outdoor activities continued unabated. William and Aden swam across the bay with me on Monday morning, though the cold water got to William's ears and Aden had to guide me back across the wavy, cold water. Next day saw William volunteering to paddle for me in slightly calmer seas, and on our last swim, Aden and I had flat water and a guide in cousin Julia.

I first tried the lake swim with Aden and William six years ago, when their little bodies shivered in the cold and the murky lake depths intimidated my daughter, who refused to go farther than fifty meters from the dock. It filled my heart with joy to see Aden (now sixteen and an officially licensed driver!) swimming strong next to me, spotting the dock across the bay with professional open-water aplomb. I was the duckling paddling behind her.

On Tuesday night we celebrated Aden's birthday with the family at a renovated barn where the Chicago Clavs and the Dravenstotts bunked each night. Decorated with splashes of color (sunflowers on the fridge and weeping willows on the loft floors) and highlighted by a disco ball and karaoke machine, the barn provided a perfect spot to snap last group photos, eat cake, and open presents. I haven't seen my father laugh so hard in a long time as he did at my brothers' antics and karaoke rendition of "Pour Some Sugar on Me."  Papa also joined in at our group delivery of John Denver's "Wild Montana Skies," belting out the chorus with the best of the grandchildren. We missed Karen, who knows all the lyrics, and Molly and James, who have the best song delivery, but it was a wildly satisfying night. Aden could not have started her sweet sixteen any better.

Thank you to our hosts of late summer: Bill and Connie, Ann and Jules. We could not be more fulfilled or restored.  In the last weekend of reflection before the whirlwind of school descends, we'll review photos and send thank-yous and be grateful for the many fun times we've had.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Travel Vertigo

At home briefly between adventures, I woke up one morning with vertigo. Lurching from the bed to the bathroom door, then to the sink, I looked at my haggard reflection and thought, really? I don't have time for this. A long list of at-home chores beckoned: mow the lawn, dead-head the flowers, find the kids something to eat, do ten loads of laundry. It seems that all of the travel had left me both literally and figuratively dizzy.  I called the chiropractor as soon as it opened and squeezed in a visit. Turns out I had "positional vertigo," which he corrected as best he could. In my mind, it's travel vertigo, caused by airplanes and strange beds, foreign pillows and a tinge of stress.

From water polo and beach going in Orange County to surviving Hurricane Ridge under Niagara Falls, we're in "drive" mode. Arriving at Denver International Airport just after noon on Thursday, we went directly to middle school check-in so that Daniel could get his locker location and school ID. As we went from station to station, paying for track, lunch, and school activities, the volunteers kept asking our group if we had more people to check in. "Just the one," we replied, and explained that the whole family had come straight from the plane. Daniel had his crew with him as he set up locker shelves and practiced his new combo.

Despite setbacks, I'm so grateful for the blessings of vacation time and resources. Our summer travel has provided opportunities to dine with my sister and  Aunt Jennifer in Orange County, and then to create beautiful memories with both sets of grandparents and a plenitude of cousins from Ohio to Montana. Family takes precedence over early school registration, meeting the August budget, work schedules and convenience, because our reunions provide opportunity to weave more memories into our life-quilts and find hope for the future in the babies' faces. (Not to mention time to celebrate the miraculous and oh-so-surprising Clavadetscher twins expected in Spring of 2018.)

So I'm grateful, dizzy, tired and pretending blissful ignorance of upcoming deadlines and schedule changes. When the climate shifts and renders southern locations unlivable, my fondest hope is that all the Clavadetscher - Dravenstotts will relocate to a green and cool locale, and spend our days in reunion. Until then, despite vertigo, I'm thankful for the travel.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Back in the Buckeye State

Cicadas buzz like a horde of mini helicopters over the trees in a nearby wood while clover and Queen Anne's lace flower loudly from sides of highways and culverts. The mildly humid air closes around us laden with the green smells of wet grass and nameless wild undergrowth. The Ashland Times-Gazette, only six pages long, covers troubling stories in brief or not at all, a welcome change from constant bombardment of news bytes at home. Removed from crowds and traffic, besieged only by jays and chickadees catcalling from the oak tree, my pulse has slowed and my spirit rests. With the worst of temperature and humidity at bay, Ohio beckons like a resort.

Today the males and Connie are off to Cedar Point, an Ohio amusement park that entranced the boys when we visited two years ago but which represents too many people, lines, and hours in the sun for me and Aden. We stayed home to walk, catch up on emails, websites and blogs, and possibly to shop for her new school backpack in local stores (only Ashland University bookstore and Fin, Feather and Fur Outfitters as alternatives to WalMart).

Connie pointed out that I have infrequently updated my blog this summer, an unsettling truth. I don't know where to lay the blame for my writing collapse; is it early Alzheimer's? heat distress? a too-busy summer schedule? or possibly just lack of structure and motivation? Over the last three summers I have at least taken one writing class for my MA at Regis. The need to complete my homework provided motivation to write, which expanded to blog entries. With the degree complete, I find myself temporarily bereft of motivation.

The kids will be back in school in less than two weeks and I'm hopeful that extra time and energy will be spared for further writing endeavors. If I died tomorrow, my only regret would be that I did not write more. It seems that I should remedy that before the regret takes root. For now, I'll put it on the calendar during the first week of school along with all of the doctor's appointments that I postponed, and I'll enjoy our last summer day in Ashland.