Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Twenty Years

Yesterday I returned to work for the first Teacher Workshop day of the new school year. As part of the morning’s traditional schedule, teachers who have worked for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, or more years were recognized. I was called to the front of the gymnasium to receive a little token. I have been a full time English teacher in the district for 20 years.

There have been many times in the last twenty years when I have questioned what I am doing in this life. When my children were young I had doubts about being a working mom and fears that my children needed me at home to grow to be good people. It did not take long for me to have my worries dispelled. My children thrived. My decision to teach full time and to raise my three children with the help of some beautiful people (Janet, Alys, Bob, Denise, Darlene), may not be the right decision for everyone but I have no regrets. My babies (now aged 19, 16, 11) are indeed good people. I am a very proud Mom.

Over the past two decades, I also have second guessed my decision to enter the teaching profession. It has not been an easy career. But if I know anything at all, I know one thing: I am a damn good teacher. I don’t say this from a place of arrogance. I do not believe that every teacher should teach as I do. Rather, I simply recognize that I have made a positive impact of a large number of students in the past 20 years and doing that takes a lot of hard work, a natural set of skills, a patient and accepting personality, and great intuition. I realize I made mistakes along the way. There are bound to be former students who did not have a positive experience in my classroom. I wish I could say otherwise. And I do not know for how many more years I can do this job. I have never planned to be a teacher for the rest of my working life. I take this career one year at a time and I make absolutely no promises. But it was not a mistake for me to become a teacher and it was not a mistake for me to teach 20 years at the same high school. This I know for sure.

Confidence is a beautiful thing. It can take the shape of a sweet 16 year old student whose eyes meet the teacher’s with enthusiasm and an open heart. It can appear in a quick email sent by a college freshman to her former high school English teacher, or it can take the form of that 43 year old teacher who, despite knowing she still has a lot to learn, can still enter a classroom of teenagers with an authentic smile and an honest pledge to continue doing her very best to do right by each of them.

In a Bad Place

For Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Okay. I was in a bad place this morning. At 5:00am, I had not had a shower in three days due to Hurricane Irene having knocked out our power, and I began my day shivering as I poured cold water from a jug over my body while trying to clean off body soap. It was dark as I pulled a dress from my closet, and after balancing a flashlight on my bureau, I did my best to put on some eye makeup. I got the puppy outside, got my bags packed, left a note for my children, and after securing the puppy in her crate, I headed to school for my first Teacher Workshop day of the year.

When I reached the school, I wanted to cry. I was exhausted from two nights of disrupted sleep and anxiety. I didn’t know if it was the start of the school year or the loss of electrical power or other concerns I’ve been fretting about this summer that was causing me duress. All I knew was that I had this feeling of being utterly and completely out of control.

I tried to put everything out of my mind and after getting into my classroom, I pushed my furniture back into its proper places and unpacked school supplies. The mindless work was soothing. Sometimes just the physical act of moving boxes and clearing space does wonders for clearing one’s mind. A few colleagues stepped in to say hello and quickly asked me if I had power at home. They too had gone without power but only for a brief time. They quickly sympathized with me and offered me water, a place to shower, and whatever else I needed.

I continued to be in a daze for most of the day. But by the time the school day ended, I had had several coworkers offer me their homes for a hot shower. There were four big jugs of water for me set near my van in the parking lot. Two people made plans to loan me their generator the next day. I began remembering that despite what I’d felt at first, I was definitely NOT in a bad place. The family I have at school reminded me of what a good place I am in, whether or not I have water or electricity at home.

The Wonder of Women (and our Wardrobes)

For Monday, August 29, 2011

One of my favorite shows when I was little was Wonder Woman. Played by the beautiful Lynda Carter, I absolutely loved the television show. I even used to mimic how quickly Wonder Woman could change from her mousy drab work clothes into her dynamic red, white, and blue figure-hugging Super Hero suit! I used to entertain my friends and my big sister with my routine of removing my eye glasses, undoing my ponytail, and turning into Wonder Woman with one quick spinning act.

This morning at 10:00am it hit me. We’d nearly forgotten that Emma had a 10:40am dentist appointment at an office 40 minutes away. This was an appointment we’d already rescheduled twice. I was bound and determined she was getting there today. Never before have I so quickly seen a teenager dash upstairs to get out of her pajamas and into what was a most fashionable looking outfit! She emerged no more than three minutes later and the two of us jumped into the van and dashed to the dentist. We were just six minutes late. Emma relayed to me how her being a little late had been “No big deal” and then she proudly told me how the two women working on her teeth today had been quite interested in her stylish clothing and they’d talked about her outfit for most of her hour long appointment.

Although this is not something I care to repeat, I have to say that my daughter and I are pretty darn good at being able to throw ourselves together quickly when conditions warrant. Whether we’re off to serve justice or trying to make it to a dentist appointment, Emma and I can quickly twirl ourselves around a few times and don the perfect costume for the occasion. Men may not be able to understand the true value of this feat, but there is a certain level of pride we girls have in that we can manage to look Super Hero Fabulous when we don’t have time to waste.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Loss of Power

For Sunday, August 28, 2011

When they don’t go so far as to harm people or property, storms are pretty cool. The sky darkens, the rain comes in sheets, the wind gusts and makes those big pine trees around our house dance. I love to be reminded of the power of Mother Nature. No matter what people have planned, every so often, She tells us. “NO! Hold on! I’m in charge here!”

I knew we’d lose power during Hurricane Irene which by the time it reached us was now a tropical storm. I was hoping it would not be quite so early in the afternoon, but knowing how frequently we lose electricity here in our neighborhood, I was not very surprised to have it cut out at 1:00pm. We got the flashlights out and within an hour, I enticed Paul to play a board game with me. By hour two, I had everyone playing Monopoly.

We set up the game and ate salsa and tortilla chips. We bought up properties and made trades. We collected rent, passed GO, and collected $200. One moment I was getting sympathy from Emma for barely having $50, then, before long, I had everyone mortgaging properties to pay the cost for landing at my hotels. My luck changed as quickly as the winds had shifted outside in the morning’s hours.

As we went into our fifth hour without power, we began finding our next means of entertainment. Books were chosen, computer games were played while the laptops still held a charge, and we took a few minutes to clean the kitchen counters while we still had daylight. I texted my daughter and my sister to see how they were faring and planned on turning in early. At least I’d be getting adequate amounts of sleep prior to having to return to work on Tuesday!

My sister asked me what we were doing for dinner. I decided to ask Eric if he wanted to fire up the grill. So as he got the charcoal ready, I sliced up potatoes to place in foil with onions and then chopped up peppers, carrots, summer squash, and zucchini to broil in our grill basket. We threw on a couple of steaks and enjoyed the feast as the sun went down.

Emma and Paul started drawing and writing comic strips together. They giggled upstairs and Eric and I read by candlelight while the puppy rested by our feet. I started reading of women in their 40s who had made major changes in their lives in response to grief and was both awed and strangely saddened by their awareness that their journeys had taken them down these unfamiliar paths after September 11, 2001 or the death of a young child. Tragedy does not discriminate. It touches so many and in many different ways.

As the house began to fall silent and everyone began to head to bed because there seemed to be “nothing left to do”, I remembered what I had thought about earlier in the afternoon, that Mother Nature takes charge at times to remind us that She is in charge. The lights will most likely come back on later tonight or tomorrow. The sun will rise and we’ll probably see the sun. A loss of power today (both in terms of electricity and in changing our day’s plans) was by no means a terrible event. No lives were taken, no futures were altered, no tragedies befell us. The only loss of our power had been in the form of electricity. We’d held onto the power to play, to eat, to relax, to cook, to share a dinner, to laugh, and to be reminded of how very lucky we are. As in a game of Monopoly, I know my luck can change anytime, but I will not worry what the weather will bring for tomorrow. I had today. And it was lovely.

Update: With sensitivity to those more harshly affected by Hurricane Irene...I am accessing the internet from work this morning. We have now been without power and water at home since 1pm Sunday afternoon. I have completely rethought the whole "lovely" idea... it's now very OLD. Dear electric company...Please fix our neighborhood's downed power lines.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dear Irene

Dear Irene,

I'm impressed. You've got a lot of people talking this weekend. Some are scurrying to secure their boats on the lake; others are filling bathtubs with water and locating flashlights. There have been long lines at the grocery store and eyes have been glued to televisions watching weather updates. Others are cursing "the hype" and making fun of those who are preparing for the worst.

As for me? I know we'll have a lot of rain and some high winds, but if you could find it in you to allow us to enjoy this storm with power, I'd be most grateful. You see, I could use a good ol' stormy day but I'd prefer to have my oven working so I could bake. I go back to school on Tuesday and I could get the weeks' meals prepped and have an easier time of things as I head back to work. It'd also be nice to have my television so I could cuddle up with my kids or my husband and watch a movie as the rain pounds the deck outside.

I know what you're thinking Irene. You're worried that if you allow us to keep our power on, that I'll do chores or surf the internet. You're thinking that we'll all go to our own rooms and play online games or, heaven forbid, waste time on Facebook. I know this could happen, but Irene, I promise you, if you spare us, I'll make the most of our storm day. If the winds aren't dangerous, I'll even pull everyone outside into the rain and make them dance. And I'll even throw in a game or two of cribbage. Trust me Irene, I can do it. I can have a memorable storm day with my family, with the power on.

I'm prepared for you to ignore my request though. In fact, I've gotten a jump start on the possible power outage. We bought some batteries for those flashlights. We got some bottled water. I'm filling the bathtub. I've located the can opener. I'm even roasting a chicken tonight. Yes, it's 10:30pm and I'm roasting a chicken. Irene, I won't let you make me resort to eating peanut butter sandwiches tomorrow. If you take our power, I'm eating chicken! Or maybe I'll even grill a steak! That's right. I'll brave the wind and the rain and I'll grill a steak! I respect you but I'm not scared of you Irene.

But if you would, please consider sparing us. Let us keep our power. I promise not to ignore you.



Friday, August 26, 2011

Today Crazy is the Only Game in Town

I decided I wouldn't write a blog post tonight. I had come upstairs an hour ago to write but felt uninspired. I could think of several possible stories and even knew I could muddle through a few observations to get something typed up, but I didn't feel like settling.

I went to brush my teeth and turned off the lights. I gave myself permission to crawl into bed and to write a post or two tomorrow instead. After all, my goal of writing 365 posts in 365 days doesn't mean I have to write EVERY day, right? So I made the decision. I would just go to bed. I'd fall into my pillow and let my head rest. No writing tonight.

But then it happened. I opened up my laptop and I started typing. I began writing about not writing. This is NUTS! I'm writing about not writing? This is CRAZY! I said to myself. And then a line I'd heard on tv today came back to me. I had laughed when I'd heard it (my family and I had been watching tv together) and had repeated it several times throughout the day afterward, in later conversations or situations with my husband and know, just to be funny. "This may be crazy, but today crazy is the only game in town".

It got me thinking about a lot more than my writing. Big things. Little things. Love. Hate. Sadness. Happiness. Life. Death. It can all be quite dizzying at times.

What a wild ride we're on. What an absolutely WILD ride. But you know what? Sometimes you just have to let the crazy stuff happen.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cliff Diving with Thelma

After a most responsible morning doing several hours of work on curriculum, I suddenly felt like running away from home. I knew my husband was still tackling his own outlines however, and understood that motivation like that should not be interrupted when due dates are looming. So I asked Emma if she was in the mood to go see a movie or two. She quickly named the movie she'd been wanting to see and after a quick check on movie times I asked her if she could be ready in a half an hour. She said yes. I jumped in the shower, threw myself together, and we flew out the door to make the 4pm show at a cinema 40 minutes away. Before leaving I yelled to Eric that we'd probably hit two features, as there was also a 7pm movie that Emma and I wanted to see too. As I drove to the theater, the two of us sang along to the radio. The impromptu trip had already done its job; I felt happy. I felt free.

We enjoyed the first movie and laughed about our favorite parts as we walked out to the van. We decided to run over to the nearby mall before the 7pm show and found ourselves buying shoes and purses (on sale of course)...and a good pair of jeans. Throwing our bags in the car we joked about how much room we had in the back for more shopping bags and completely agreed that we were such efficient shoppers that we could easily spend $1000 in 20 minutes time if we were given the opportunity (and the cash)! Upon our arrival back at the cinema we giggled wondering if the ticket lady or the concession guys would recognize us returning for a second movie in three hours' time. We lost it when we saw how much extra cheese we'd been given for our nachos and started laughing again at the playing of the same lame movie preview that we'd made fun of earlier. "You know how every time you go to the movies there's one obnoxious set of people in the audience during the previews?" Emma whispered to me. "Today that's US !!" we said in unison before cracking up again.

It had been an unplanned day and night at the movies. It was all rather tame as far as adventures go perhaps, but leaving on a whim had been part of the fun. For me it was a reminder that I need to do this kind of thing more often. I work hard and I should take more breaks and give in to my desire for spontaneity and impulsivity more often. Sometimes my responsible nature interferes with my happiness. I think of schedules and others' wishes for the way the day will go. Today, I did not do that. I put myself first.

Thelma and Louise jumped in the car and drove off into the sunset together...or in this case, to the movie cinema. And what do you know?! We brought ourselves safely and responsibly home afterward. There was no driving off a cliff today, but something tells me, I've found a new partner in crime.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pierre Loves You Too

I had not been awake for long when I knew today was going to be a better day. Despite the fact that this would be Sydney's last day here at home this summer, there was just a feeling that came over me. I did not stop to analyze what it was, exactly; I simply took a big deep breath, and let the serenity wash over me.

I overheard the girls giggling, already awake. Syd came in to whisper that she was taking Emma to volleyball practice. Within minutes, the puppy was jumping at the side of my bed, delighted that I was no longer sleeping. Upon her arrival home, Syd came in to give me a hug. We chatted. Then I got up, started clearing surfaces in the kitchen and dining room, a chore that was overdue since our return from vacation at camp, and continued listening to Sydney as she excitedly told me about her packing and who she had touched base with on this last morning at home before her return to college. When Emma came home we three girls fell into a natural silliness, similar to the one we had last year on the night before Sydney's departure for college. But unlike last year, we weren't teary-eyed. We knew we'd be okay.

The day went at a good pace. When three o'clock rolled around, Sydney and her Dad headed out the door for the trek to her college campus. With the van packed with her belongings, we'd say our goodbyes here at home. Again, there were no tears this year. We were all at peace. We'll miss her but we know she's happy and we're happy too. Life is good.

Tonight as we awaited Eric's return after his long day of driving and unloading Sydney's things, Paul, Emma, and I took a moment to send Sydney a reminder of what she has left behind. Oh sure, she's happy to be back on campus and she's excited about her new classes, and especially to reconnect with friends. But there are some things only a family can offer. So, posing with "Pierre", a moustache adorned watermelon, the subject of our morning silliness, we snapped a picture and sent it along to Sydney.

Sydney, je t'aime.

Get Dad. Let Dad Do It.

For Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Although I will be the first to say loudly that my husband and I are a team when it comes to parenting our three children, and an effective team at that, I have always been "the Mom", the parent who, in this family, usually makes those ultimate decisions on whether or not a sick day is warranted or whether or not it's time to get to the doctor to "have that looked at". But, for some reason, I put it upon my husband to take my son to all of his summer's orthodontist appointments--to learn how to do the daily maintenance of our son's palate expander, to responsibly "turn" a notch in my son's mouth each night.

If you've never experienced this task, let me briefly explain. Take a look at the photo. The "key", a little wire poker thingamabob, goes into that hole in the middle (which involves having the child lay down under a bright light, mouth open). And then you "turn" it a notch. Well, I think, to be honest, that I was a little intimidated by the task. Despite all the wonders of technology and the obvious advances and improvements made in orthodontics, there's something quite medieval about this contraption and although I did make an attempt on the second night to learn how to do the "turn", I was quite relieved when my son got a little nervous over me doing it and said, "Get Dad. Let Dad do it". I didn't fight that request at all, and so for the rest of the summer, my husband was in charge.

I feel incredibly lucky to have my husband there when I face these parenting moments, these moments when I just can't do it. I've never been one to duck out of my responsibilities but sometimes, especially after a long day at work, there is an extra-curricular meeting (one that reviews sportsmanship at your childrens' games or which rolls out yet another required "training" before your child is allowed to come home with a school laptop) that I just can't bring myself to attend, or maybe I don't have it in me to go driving with that child who just got her permit. Sometimes it is as simple a task as buying sneakers. It's never the same thing and it's rare that I bury my head in the sand, but I'm forever grateful that this husband of mine is here for us all. I just can't imagine doing it on my own. I am in complete awe of those single parent friends of mine who don't have the option. In complete awe...they are amazing individuals.

So we got the news today that along with twice-monthly appointments to the orthodontist, the daily "turning" of Paul's palate expander can come to an end. We'll return in October for one more check and then in October, just in time for his 12th birthday, the braces will go on his teeth. My husband and I will surely both be there to remind our son to brush more carefully, to avoid sticky foods, and to do all of the other necessary things. But I am going to remember and continue to be thankful for the way my husband took charge of this summer's turning of that medieval contraption, and those regular appointments too. I just might owe him the option of skipping one of those extra-curricular meetings too. But I really hope it won't come to that. Let's be honest. Those meetings can be even worse. Much worse.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Forgive Me this Breakdown

I usually pride myself in being a strong woman. I am surely sensitive and emotional yes, and I’m reflective and ponder my insecurities and my life choices, but I usually feel confident that I’ll successfully work through a problem or a situation. This time, however. I just don’t know. There’s something going on that I can’t talk about. I don’t feel that I’m allowed to, or maybe it’s a wall of my own making. I don’t know. I hate secrets, they crush hearts and souls, but I feel the need to keep this one, at least for a little while. Friends, lest this mysterious opening cause you alarm, let me say that there is no need to call on me. I am not dying, well at least not any more quickly than the rest of you, and Eric and my kids are good too. Still...I need help.

I don’t have time on my side. I cannot continue to be in denial or to shrug and suggest that things will get better if I am patient. I need to move NOW, I need to make more of an effort now, but I’m paralyzed. I often believe I am trying, but I don’t think I am doing anything right. I have read research and the advice it offers seems to downplay the reality of what I am going through. I picture following through with the suggestions the experts offer and I just cry. None of this research is helping. None of it.

Then I stop and think, perhaps I cause more pain than I alleviate by crying myself to sleep? As if on cue, I came across this quote today: You can make use of your mistakes, failures, losses, and sufferings. It is not what happens to you so much as what use you make of it. Take your sufferings, difficulties, and hardships and make use of them to help some unfortunate soul who is faced with the same troubles. Then something good will come out of your suffering and the world will be a better place because of it. - H. Den

The quote got me thinking and questioning. Am I wallowing? Or am I trying to figure out how to fix this? I do know that I think too much. I've always been that way. Maybe I need to get out of my own head and push myself to help someone else who may be going through this same problem. That sounds like the right thing to do, anyhow. But then my head drops to the pillow again. And I take a second to throw an internal tantrum and think to myself, “NO! I AM THE ONE WHO NEEDS SOME HELP! ME! ME! ME!” Okay, I am certainly not proud of that childishness, but it’s there to be acknowledged. I do want to be held and to be told that everything is going to be okay, that I am a good person and that my efforts, and all that I am and have done in these 43 years, are either applauded or forgiven.

So today I made a decision to ask for help. I reached out to three people who I admire and love very much and who may be able to understand what I’m going through. I sent them a note. My fingers were trembling but I composed a letter, a little plea for some guidance, and I hit send. God help me. I don’t know what else to do right now.

Maybe I’m not ready. Maybe I’m not in the right condition now to help that “unfortunate soul who is faced with the same troubles”. So I thought I’d start small by offering up this simple reminder. It’ll have to do for now. Life can be awfully tough sometimes. Be a little kinder to those who cross your path today.

Forgive me for this breakdown, but I needed to get this out of my head and out of my heart today. I needed to take a deep breath and take in an ounce of that kindness I could offer to myself. I promise to emerge stronger and ready to help those around me when I catch my breath.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Taking a Seat in the Stands

In three days’ time, my eldest will be headed back to college for her second year. I well remember the anxiety we all felt last year as she packed up her clothes and dorm room necessities. We made last minute trips to pick up toiletries and food she could easily prepare when studying late at night or when cafeteria food wasn’t appealing. I prepared her favorite meals and her “last supper” and we all laughed at how morbid that sounded as we took “last night” pictures together. The kids all enjoyed making s’mores around the backyard fire pit and had a siblings sleepover too. And although we tried to play it cool, we shed some tears too, off and on, the night before she left and the day she left. In fact, after we waved goodbye to Syd and her Dad as they left the driveway, Emma and I took solace. We crawled into my bed and had a good cry. We knew she’d be back, but we both had a sneaking suspicion that things would never quite be the same ever again.

She had a great first year at school however, and after she was settled, I had very few tears. I was happy that she was happy. It made dealing with the idea of her “leaving the nest” that much easier. She was very content and savoring her independence and the new adventures she was having. When she came home on breaks and then left for school again, it seemed we’d been doing this for years, not just for weeks or months. We prided ourselves in being well adjusted.

But now, as she begins to pack for school again, things feel...different. Sydney came home in May, a good month and a half or so before we finished our own school year. She started working full time and upon her arrival home in the evening, she was tired and would often go into her room to nap, talk with friends, or to simply have her alone time. The rest of us carried on as normal. We finished homework, did chores, got meals prepared, and counted the days until our own vacation.

When everyone was done with school, Sydney got her license and became more independent. Suddenly there were solo trips out of town and that solidified for us the fact that this would most likely be her last summer at home. Strangely, we’re okay with that, for we understand her need to spread her wings. And yet, there is this uneasy feeling that perhaps I have a few words left unsaid or some life lessons I should be imparting on my daughter before it’s too late. There are feelings of guilt that maybe we did not make the very most of the time we had, both this summer and in the past 19 years she has been in our life. I know that this kind of thinking is crazy. My husband and I always put family first and being teachers, we had every evening, weekend, school vacation week, and summer off to be with all three of our children. We could not have spent more time with these kids, but I suppose as I see my own parents aging, I know how precious time is, and how quickly life passes us by. I surely know how fast these past 19 and a half years, since I first became a parent, have flown.

I suppose I can only pray that I’ve done a good enough job as a Mom to have given her not only the courage to live her own life so independently, but the wisdom to make that life easier on herself. She’s going to keep stumbling, of that I know for sure. We all do. Knowing that it’s no life worth having if you’re stuck in some protective bubble, I must accept the role I have now, to help her finance school and to cheer her from my assigned seat. It’s not as much fun as it was to be playing in the game with her all those years, side by side, fumbling at times together but always helping one another up and brushing off the dust of our daily lives, but as I was reminded by my daughter tonight when I asked one too many questions, this Mom doesn’t need to be in the middle of everything. That’s not good for either of us.

Instead of playing the game with her as her ally or even coaching her from the sidelines, it’s time for me to take my seat in the stands and to let her figure out the complications of it all by herself. If she needs me (maybe if only for some more money, or a few homemade dinners), she’ll know where I’ll be. Yeah, I know. Perhaps it’s time for me to learn how to knit. I’ll be sitting here in the stands for a while. Who knew that the toughest part of parenting would be the part when you’re expected to do as little as possible?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Family Pictures

The morning was spent packing. By 11am, we had cleared the camp and were giving hugs and saying goodbye. Dad, despite suffering from a bad back, insisted on taking our annual family picture before we left. We insisted that he stay on the back deck and snap the shot from there. I adore these yearly snapshots however. It's fun to see our children growing from year to year and to be amazed by how tall our youngest seems, compared to the previous camp family photo. So with a few clicks, the picture was taken and we were on our way. We arrived home a bit after 4pm. After 15 days at the lake, at my family's camp, it was bittersweet to head back. We made our usual stop for lunch, at good ol' Mickey D's, and arrived home with several hours of daylight still remaining, allowing us a chance to water the plants and to take our time getting our van emptied out.

Entering, we immediately noticed tufts of black fur throughout the house. Our cat Boo, who had generously been taken care of by our neighbor Savannah, had obviously been making the most of having the house to himself for two weeks. I found myself vacuuming and Eric found himself tackling a clogged kitchen sink. Emma and Paul settled in and enjoyed having wifi again. Sydney was quickly out the door to spend the evening with her friend Chris. Eric then turned on the tv to catch up on a few shows. Ziva terrorized the cat for a short time then fell asleep under my bed, a secure place for a pup who had not been home for quite some time. As for me? I flopped down on my bed and after a little time catching up on emails, I spent time enjoying pictures taken on our vacation. The laundry, the necessary grocery shopping, and the unpacking could wait until tomorrow.

As anyone who knows me knows, I love taking pictures. I felt a little lost this vacation when my camera lens broke a several days before we headed home. Luckily, my daughters each had their cameras with them. Pictures help me remember those little details of the special times spent with my family. This year's pictures of our time at camp will help me recall those moments of fun and laughter for years to come.

My favorite pictures this year include shots of our puppy Ziva meeting Noah, the puppy who was vacationing next door. The two became fast friends. I also love the shots of my Dad being silly, making us all laugh with his funny faces and stories. I adore the "Gone Fishing" pictures of my son, husband and father. And finally, the picture I snapped of my parents playing a late night game of Scrabble together is precious also.

We had a nice time at camp. But it's good to be home. Long after our vacation tans have faded, these pictures will remain, reminding me of the importance of savoring the good times spent with family.

Packing up the Kayaks

For Friday, August 19, 2011

One of my favorite ways to begin the day when I am at the lake is to pull my kayak from its place on the beach and to head out for a morning trek. I don’t mind company but when no one is up to going with me, that’s perfectly okay. This morning’s trip was a solo one.

Today I started out paddling over to an island that for years has been nicknamed “Anne’s Island”. When I was younger, my friends and I used to make our way over to that island, closest to my camp, at least once a day. For several summers when the water level was low, there was land that connected the otherwise island to the mainland at the point. Being able to walk from my camp to the island required us to pass several camps, to walk on others’ land, but when I was young, those quick moments of trespassing were quickly forgiven, if noticed by the camp owners in the first place. I remember waving and having my camp neighbors smile when they did see me passing by. Nowadays, I stick to taking the kayak to get to my island. The sandbar is long gone anyway, at least at this time of the year.

After circling my island, I paddled over to “John’s island” across the way. Again, I’m not sure why it received that moniker, and believe me, I realize that these little islands are probably given many different names by each family living at the lake. But anyhow, I paddled over to my brother’s island and took in the pretty sight of the solitary tree that lives there.

Finally, I went towards the back cove. There I saw a few vehicles on the road, heading towards town. I thought sadly of how tomorrow morning, there would be our own car traveling there, heading home with the kayak I was in at that very moment, sitting atop the car’s roof. The thought made me sigh. I did my best not to let my eyes fill with tears, but to me the saddest moments of summer come when it’s time to pack up the kayaks.

The very sight of the kayaks atop our car roof as we finish packing our things, as we say goodbye to the lake, always pains me. For following that moment comes saying goodbye to my folks and to yet another two weeks of summer spent at my favorite spot in this entire world.

In Real Life

For Thursday, August 18, 2011

There is something rather funny about how strange an event it is to watch television or to even hear the radio when we’re at camp. At home we love to listen to music or to turn on the tv to watch our favorite shows, but here at camp, the quiet stillness, the sound of the outside is preferred. We all want it quiet enough to hear the family of ducks that have just flown in front of the camp or to hear the loons in the back cove, or to simply break into conversations with each other.

Once in awhile, however, we decide to watch a movie or to listen to a ballgame on the radio. When we do, we all huddle at one end of the living room, sharing a beanbag chair or flopping sideways onto the oversized chair that is just a foot from the tv screen. If Dad joins us, we grab the remote to add the subtitles so we can keep the volume down a bit but so he can still enjoy the movie with us.

The other night we watched one of my favorite movies, Dan in Real Life. The movie takes place at this beautiful bayside home where a large family has gathered---three brothers and a sister with their respective families. There is hustle and bustle of children, cousins, running in and around the home, and playful teasing as the family shares dinner, dishwashing, and laughter, loads of laughter. The scenes are not unlike how our own family times at camp have been over the years, including the Fourth of July group we had this year. The entertainment of family life, whether on the television screen or right in front of our eyes is a welcome respite from the world of schedules and appointments that we will soon return to. If only we saw it in front of our eyes and took notice to treasure it all more often.

Mill Talk

For Wednesday, August 17, 2011

At my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party ten years ago, my siblings and I each took turns getting up to toast Mom and Dad in one way or another. I spoke of their displays of love and sang the song, Something Wonderful from the musical The King and I. When it was my brother Bill’s turn, he made the room laugh with memories and recollections of Dad’s use of “mill talk”, Mom’s phrase for Dad’s tendency to curse when frustrated over the work of one of his projects.

Mom used to tell Dad he had to put a dime in a jar for every swear word he used and I remember sitting at the lunch table some days getting my parents laughing as I’d caught Dad slipping up and saying a few choice words as he described his morning at his job in the mill. “That’s 10 cents. That’s 20 cents”. Dad would pretend to be shocked and he’d play dumb. “I didn’t say anything! What are you counting?” Mom and I would start giggling and Dad would try to conceal his smirk. And yes, he would work harder to keep his language clean, having been reminded there were little ears in the room.

So today, when I woke up to hear Dad trying to warm up the cool camp by lighting a fire in the Franklin stove, I had to smile. Oh, like my Dad, I know my manners and I am most professional on the job and I certainly do not swear in most of my social circles, but at home, my husband and children remind me that although I am not quite as bad as Dad, I do have a tendency to swear whenever I drop a dish, bang my elbow, or have car problems. We “mill talkers” all have our own chosen favorite curse words. I usually blame my own use of swear words on the fact that I teach high school, although I suppose I know the real influence, the early source of my exposure to foul language. It’s too bad that all those years of Mom getting Dad to put a dime in a jar for every utterance of his “mill talk” made such an unexpected, unintended impression on me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Fish Story

I have never been one to go fishing, but I do understand its appeal. Casting into the water, the peaceful surroundings and the quiet meditative patience it requires, sounds wonderful. If it were not for the slimy worms and the necessary unhooking of a smelly fish that goes along with the hobby, I might be apt to go. I love those movies that show a couple in a little fishing boat together. The man is usually fishing happily and his wife is at the other end of the boat, reading a book. As long as you convince me that there are no mosquitos or black flies chewing them, I think that’s a perfect romantic movie scene.

But since I don’t go fishing (or reading at the other end of the boat), I fall into the role of being the photographer every so often, when my husband and son choose to go fishing close by. I enjoy sneaking down to the back dock an hour or so after they’ve been out, to snap a couple of pictures. I always start from afar, but once I’ve been detected, I get some posed shots too.

Last night my husband went fishing on his own. My son, uncharacteristically opting to stay to play board games with me and his sisters, stayed behind, but when his Dad returned with a 16 inch salmon, he regretted his choice. I hear they are heading out again tonight. My own Dad is joining them. I’m tempted to tag along, if only to take in the scene. It won’t quite be that romantic movie scene, but if I have the proper equipment, some bug spray, a flashlight, and a book, it’ll be nearly perfect I suspect.

Hey Bro

For Monday, August 15, 2011

I had a nice talk with my brother Kevin yesterday. He called my parents and since they had gone into town, he caught me instead. It’d been awhile since we’d chatted over the phone. Seems the years and our busy schedules, keeping track of our children and our careers had interrupted the regular telephone conversations we used to have. For years, we used to call each other regularly to check in, to share a funny story, or to ask simple if unimportant questions such as, “What is so-and-so’s last name? The one who starred with so-and-so in that movie?” Dumb questions. Dumb jokes. Stupid notes on observations. It never really mattered whether we had a reason to call. We just did. We both moved to the southern part of the state around the same time some 25 years ago, and I suppose we saw one another as each other’s safety net, at least at first. I understand all that occurs to place changes in our lives, but I must admit that I’ve missed those talks on the phone.

It’s a little ironic, however, because I don’t like the telephone very much. When it rings, whether here at camp or at home, I jump a foot. I much prefer someone else to get it, as it is usually for one of the children anyhow. Or else it’s another telemarketer. The days of picking up the phone to hear a friend on the line have given way to email and Facebook messages. Some days, a reunion with a friend is arranged between a combination of emails and text messages as was the case when my friend Ree and I got together last month. When we did see one another in person, it was the first time we’d heard one another's voices in over a year.

I had seen my brother three times this summer. He’d come to watch our daughter’s performance as Cinderella in June and we’d gone to his house to celebrate his daughter Hannah’s high school graduation the following week. We saw one another over the Fourth of July just a week or so after that, when we’d both traveled up to attend our high school class reunions being held the same weekend despite the ten year difference in our graduation years. But the chance telephone chat we had today meant more to me than the other three visits combined. For a little while, it felt like we were each others' safety net once again. That made me feel good and yes, it made me cry.

I like to write and emails, texts, and Facebook discussions are quite convenient and allow us to carry on with our day-to-day schedules without worry of disruption. But I do admit that it was still nice to pick up the phone to hear the sound of my brother’s voice today. When he was about to hang up he said, “Hang in there. I love you”. I was too choked up to respond with anything other than, “Okay”. But I think he must know I’d have said it back if I could have. And maybe, when I gain my composure, I’ll call him and tell him so.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Because It’s Cool

“Anne. I would think that you would write a book someday”. Dad told me yesterday. “You should try to write a book”.

Tonight, when Paul found me writing, he told me, “You should write about me in this one...because I’m cool”.

In the eight months I have been writing these blog posts, I have struggled with various challenges. What to write, when to write, how to write, who to write about, and where to begin (and end) have been some of those thoughts that have made me question my work. But one thing I have not faced as a challenge is the question of why I am writing. Yet, on any given day, I have different explanations for that. There are many reasons for why I am writing.

Dad is wondering why I am writing blog posts and not chapters in a novel, an article in a newspaper, or in the framework of what might become a true life non-fiction work. My father, who is currently reading Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, tells me I could write a book like that. Maybe. It is full of research and I love research. But I come back to what I know to be true about why I am writing these blog posts.

I write to sort things out. I write to quiet my mind. I write to express what I can’t seem to express out loud. I write to celebrate, to ruminate, to investigate, to contemplate. I write to preserve, to unearth, to gain strength, to fall apart. I write to connect and to disconnect. I write to practice and to perfect, to bring order and to accept that it’s okay that life gets messy at times.

I realize that there are many days when I post writing that is poorly crafted. The old me would have crumbled up the piece of paper it was written on, or else I’d have closed the word document without saving it first. This blog has allowed me a chance to do what some of my favorite authors have given as advice to fellow writers. “Write everyday. Just write. EVERYDAY”. So, good or bad, I am doing that.

Perhaps it is strange to some that I am not only writing everyday but that I am publishing my writing everyday on this blog. I never know from day to day who is reading what I am writing, what he or she thinks of it, where or when they read it, how it may be judged, or why he or she took the time to read it in the first place. But I think it’s that mystery and the challenge of my goal for 365 posts in 365 days that makes me continue. Maybe that’s silly but hey, it’s pushing me to write everyday so who cares?! Additionally, forever an actress at heart, I suppose I have also enjoyed the idea of having an audience, even if it’s a small audience or one that I never really see. What is different with publishing my writing is that, although I am possibly again “performing”, I am not hiding behind some character or some song that was crafted by someone else. And although I do not “see” my audience, I find the idea of having a mystery audience rather appealing. Even if no one is actually reading a particular day’s entry, the possibility that someone is, that someone is perhaps even connecting with something I have written, makes me take my writing more seriously. The blog is full of “first draft writings”, but at least I am writing. I’m trying. I’m doing what I love. Everyday.

So good or bad, audience or no audience, non-fiction, novel, or blog, this is all a risky and yet invigorating new adventure for me to be writing everyday. I share segments of my life and its days, my thoughts, my inquiries and my reflections, and I grow more confident in myself as a writer. I think that is rather cool. It’s almost as cool as my son Paul.

A Summer Romance

For Saturday, August 13, 2011

Love was in the air today. After seeing our next door neighbors on the road behind camp, our pup quickly ran over to say hello. Peggy, her daughter Richelle, and Richelle’s new seven month old pup, Noah, were quick to tell Ziva how adorable she is, and before we knew it, entranced by the handsome border collie and pointer mix, our girl was following them home.

We went over to retrieve her but our neighbors, being fellow dog lovers, were happy to have a sweet playmate for their own puppy and invited Ziva to stay for a playdate. After making sure they were not just being polite, I walked back to my camp with an empty leash in my hand.

From my spot on the dock, I watched and listened to our pup and Noah playing happily together around the woods and on the beach. Ziva ran home once to check in with us all, then seeing that she indeed had our permission, she returned to Noah for another hour of playtime. When she returned she had a good long nap inside, tuckered out from her afternoon of sociability.

Towards evening however, Noah barked from next door. That was the only invite Ziva needed to faithfully return to her friend, her new boyfriend, if you will.

An Illustrated Life

For Friday, August 12, 2011

I finished Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis today. The memoir of growing up in revolutionary Iran, Marjane’s early years are presented as an artistic graphic novel or comic book. New to these kinds of books, I found Persepolis incredibly effective in inviting the reader to see the remarkable events that Ms. Satrapi experienced.

As I read the story, I sadly thought of how infrequently we think of the hardships endured by those in countries where war rages or where a simple walk down the street can prove to be a dangerous choice. The book shares the author’s talks with her most open and honest parents, her time away from her family while in Vienna during her turbulent adolescence, her bittersweet homecoming, and of her young adult life and ultimate decision to move away from her homeland.

The comic strips are amazingly descriptive and share the emotions, the humor, and the darkness of Satrapi’s life journey. Reading and examining her artistry, I could not help but wish I had the same talent, to be able to sketch the various adventures of my own life (or that of others) in such vivid and gripping ways. I immediately began to think of what a challenge it’d be for me to try my hand at just five or ten comic strip frames.

And with that thought, I’ve added a new twist to my traditional fall Memoir unit at school this year. I’ll share some of Satrapi’s chapters with my students and we’ll all undertake the challenge of bringing one of our life’s stories to life through illustration. Some students will balk, others will soar. As for me? I am no artist, but I’ll do my best to save myself from embarrassment.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Baking and Breaking Bread with Nana

Blueberry pancakes. Chicken lasagna. Steak on the grill, green beans, foil potatoes. Peanut butter cookies. Pizza. Orzo salad, ham steak. Pumpkin bread. Corn muffins. Oatmeal cookies. American Chop Suey.

Arriving at camp just five days ago, I’ve made myself at home in the kitchen. Giving my folks a break from having to prepare meals while we’re here visiting, it’s been enjoyable to get up each morning and to plan the noontime meal and the daily desserts. Prepping meals at the kitchen island overlooking the beautiful lake and mountain is a delight. Another plus is using my Nana’s tiny oven which, conveniently, is set at eye level. I lost my Nana, my Mom’s mother, when I was just 11 years old, but she’s remained a part of my life, where there are stories about her and an interesting history of her various belongings, both at my home and here at my parents’ camp. For example, this old Frigid-aire stove of hers has been at our camp for over 30 years and it’s still going strong. How’s that for a company endorsement, huh?!

When the meal is prepped, Nana’s red and white-gray kitchen table and matching chairs proudly take center stage. What the kids would now call “retro”, the set looks brand new, stylish, “fresh”. We gather around the kitchen table, eating food baked in Nana’s oven, and we remember Nana. We take stock of all of our blessings, for the food we have before us and for family, those who have left us and those we are lucky to have breaking bread with us today.

The Banana Snake

For Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Knowing it’d been a lazy rainy day, a day of reading and napping, by the time the evening came I had to get out of the camp for a little exercise. Hooking Ziva to her leash, the two of us set out for a walk. But being a puppy, she was a little nervous on the camp road. Each car that passed us, made my pup tremble. So we turned back to return to our lot. Unhooking her from her leash, we started to roam around the woods at camp. Soon Ziva jumped into the woods only to jump back out with something that I could have sworn was a snake! I tried not to screech and chased a very excited puppy as she made a run for the shoreline with this thing flopping around in her mouth.

Various scenarios flashed through my mind. In one, Ziva brought the snake to me as a gift, dropping it at my feet. In another, I saw Ziva being bit, yelping as she tried to figure out what had hurt her. The one scenario I did not see was the one where I discovered the snake was actually a banana peel, carelessly discarded by one of the kids a few days ago.

Of course I was pretty darn happy to discover the snake... wasn’t. But Ziva, who continued to proudly race around, trying to keep her prize away from me, surely gave me a workout tonight. I surely got that exercise I’d needed as I laughed and darted in and around trees with that silly pup for a good half hour.

This Island of Denial

For Tuesday, August 9, 2011

August can be a tough month. Although 29 of its days are mine, with the start of school usually falling on August 30th, the days can feel bit tainted with urgency. It’s urgent that we make the most of the sunny days before we’re stuck inside a school building all day long, away from still-gorgeous weather. It’s urgent that we get in those last minute doctor appointments before they are required by the kids’ sports’ coaches. It’s urgent that we look at all that we we wanted to accomplish (in terms of house projects, or all that we wanted to do for fun) before our days become scheduled yet again with the school year’s activities.

I think that is why I prefer going to camp in August. When I take two weeks to live at the lake, those urgent matters are suppressed. Doctor appointments? Can’t do ‘em. We’re out of town. Making the most of sunny days? No problem! That’s easy. Without planning, without even trying, we wake up and we’re immediately where we want to be--to swim, to kayak, to float. There’s no wishing for a clear view of the sunset. It’s there. There’s no pushing of the family to leave the house to jump in the car to drive somewhere for water access. We’re already in our bathing suits and we’re already making the most of the sunny days.

And when it rains? We’re still enjoying time together. We’re playing board games and we’re baking cookies and eating dinners, side by side. We’re running outside to play with the puppy, laughing at her antics, and coming in to warm up by the Franklin stove. We’re taking time to read, to talk, to write, to nap.

August may be a tough month for those who aren’t by the lake, who aren’t secluded together as my family is right now, but until I return to the reality of a school year about to begin, I’m happily living at camp, by the water everyday, on this comforting island of denial.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hidden Corners

At camp, it seems that taking pictures of the scenery, the beautiful mountain and lake, not to mention the sunsets, is everyone’s choice of subject. However, a few years ago, my daughter Sydney, a fellow lover of photography, began snapping pictures of spots around camp that had rarely been photographed before. I remember looking at her pictures and thinking, “Wow. These are great. I am so glad we have a record of all this now”.

Inspired by Sydney, I have found myself doing the same thing in recent years, taking pictures of the seemingly hidden corners of camp that the camera rarely sees. Today I made my way into my Dad’s workshop and seeing the old blue vice on the work table, I smiled. It was one of the tools I used to find very fascinating to play with when I was a young child. I have no idea how many little toys I would grip inside or later, how many pieces of paper I’d slip in to “notarize” when playing one of my many imaginative games.

Above Dad’s workbench are dozens of peanut butter jars with their caps nailed to the beams. Inside are nails and screws of varying sizes. These jars also abound inside the garage at my Dad’s house and even in our own cellar back at home, but the sight of them is an instant reminder of my Dad and his many projects here at camp.

Outside, I found another staple of Dad’s work at camp, his big red wheelbarrow with the boat’s gas can inside. Lugging the heavy gas can to and from the boat can take its toll, so the old wheelbarrow does its part to make the job easier. That wheelbarrow has been around at camp for years and years.

It’s funny how seeing Dad’s tools here and there, (there are so many more I could speak of), always makes me smile. Having pictures of Dad’s workshop and his tools is comforting to me. I think the tools serve as symbols of the intelligent, crafty, hardworking man my Dad is, but in all honesty, it’s not like I need pictures to remind me of that.

A Rainy Sunday at Camp

Crafted for Sunday, August 7, 2011

When my sister came to spend three weeks with my parents at camp last month, I heard of the perfect sunny weather she was enjoying. In fact, I believe there was only one day of rain and by the time that arrived, it was greatly welcomed. I knew that our two weeks of vacation weather at camp would most likely not be as perfect, but taking the first part of August to be at the lake never disappoints me.

We’ve had years when our weather at camp was near perfect also, yet we’ve also had weeks of cool rainy weather. Those are the weeks when, if you do see the sun, you’re in your bathing suit and out in the water so quickly, afraid you’ll miss what seems to be an event that occurs only once every 10 years as in that story by Vonnegut. But even those weeks aren’t terrible. I cannot think of a lovelier place to be than here when you can see storms coming from across lake. hear the trees’ branches blowing in the wind, and see the waves crashing on the beach. Different weather brings a different feeling to being at camp. I love sunny days but the cooler, rainy times bring their own experiences and their own love.

Our first two days of our camp vacation this year were bright and sunny. Today, the sun valiantly tried to burn through, but other than making a few momentary appearances, the clouds won out, giving us our first overcast afternoon at camp. At first, everyone took to their book, newspaper, or magazine. Later a few board games were played and before long, a few of us took a leisurely Sunday afternoon nap. As evening approached I made pizza and we all enjoyed the peanut butter cookies I’d been inspired to bake earlier in the day. Sure, I’m hoping for sun tomorrow, but if there was a better place to have spent a cloudy afternoon and evening, I am glad I didn’t hear of it today.

Sharing the Dock

Crafted for Saturday, August 6, 2011

As much as I relish my solitude on the dock, I am always happy to share it with family and friends when they come to visit us at camp. The tiny 8’ x 12’ dock can get a little crowded at times, but there’s a certain joy that comes with each splash from a little grand-niece or grand-nephew who has finally grown brave enough to jump into the water.

Today my nephew Jason arrived for the afternoon with his wife Michele and his two younger children. The kids, age 6 and 3, thoroughly enjoyed their time on the beach and in the water. Having two older cousins to play with (my own kids Emma and Paul) and a four month old puppy had them smiling and giggling in no time. What became apparent in no time, however, is that Alyssa and Jack are now old enough to give their parents some freedom to swim or to sun; they are now old enough to play independently with my own children. With the four children playing hide and seek, swinging, and picking blueberries together, it was rewarding today to have “dock time” with Jason and Michele, two of my all-time favorite people.

We took time to gab and to simply enjoy one another’s company. It was especially nice when my husband, who cannot be in the sun for too long without burning, surprised us by bringing a plate of nachos and french bread with olive oil with pepper to us. (He probably did not appreciate my calling him ‘cabana boy’ for the rest of the afternoon, however, but it was fun).

On the dock we talked about kids-- young and old, (we both have older daughters in college). We also discussed our careers, our homes, friendships, and fashion. The natural give-and-take of conversation, the seriousness of some topics mixed with the funny, humorous stories, made for a good afternoon. As we raise our families, it’s tough to get together more than a few times a year, so these afternoons of sharing the dock are enjoyed to their fullest.

A Few Hours Til Sunset

Crafted for Friday, August 5, 2011

When I was a little girl, in the summertime, it was a daily practice for my Mom and I to wait for my Dad so we could head up to camp when he arrived home from work at the end of his work day. Back then we did not regularly sleep at camp due to my Dad’s schedule, but we would go up for overnights on weekends. Still, just knowing we could go to camp for a meal outside on the deck and to enjoy a swim was something I always looked forward to.

The few hours we’d spend at camp each evening was surely restorative for my Dad. Always happy to take me for a boat ride, Dad and I would head out on the little green boat. I was especially touched, years later, to see he’d named the boat “Anne”, painting my name in big black letters on both sides at its front.

Other times, I was happy to play on my own. While Mom and Dad sat and talked together or watched the loons from the deck chairs, I’d swing on the little swing Dad built for me underneath the deck. Or wearing my straw cowboy hat, I’d play on the little wooden hobby horse he built and set on the beach for me. Nearing sunset, the lake, the beach, and the skies would glow. It was always my favorite time of day. It still is.

I’ve often thought of these times at camp with my Mom and Dad, these few evening hours of serenity we shared at the end of Dad’s work days. I think of how good it was for us all, and how the setting of camp, just 10 minutes from our home in town, was the perfect place for Dad to “get away” from work, a perfect place for him to unwind and to simply appreciate his life with his family. How blessed we all were to have this time together. It’s no wonder to me that the few hours before sunset in the summertime remain so magical to me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Heading to Camp!

Today I am packing. I'll spend two weeks with my husband and kids, and with my parents at our family's camp on the lake. Although I am going to keep writing each day, I will be "unplugged" and won't be posting to my blog until I get back into town on occasion. Still, by December 28th, 2011, I do hope to have stuck to my goal of having 365 posts in 365 days. For today's post, I thought I'd share some of what I LOVE about being at camp.

Knowing that I could be here all day otherwise, I'll start with a list of 43 items, one for each summer I have spent at camp. As I make this list, however, I give myself the option to come back and add more later...

1. The lake. Waking up each morning, coming out to the front of the camp and seeing water.
2. The mountain. Although it's hidden by clouds some days, there's nothing more beautiful than the majestic view of Katahdin.
3. Morning hugs from Mom and Dad. Seriously?! How lucky am I to have both of my parents, now in their 80s, lovingly greeting me each day?
4. Dad (aka Grampy) making us blueberry pancakes some mornings, and always pretending to have dropped mine on the floor.
5. Having the biggest decision of the day being which bathing suit to wear.
6. Going for morning walks/runs on the camp road and waving to neighbors as they pass by.
7. Visiting "Frog Cemetery" and placing a few wild flowers on the gravesite.
8. Skipping rocks at the causeway and taking pictures of the birch trees there.
9. Hearing the click of the swing, one of Emma's favorite spots.
10. Watching Paul climb the big rocks.
11. Snuggling up on the couch to read.
12. Playing board games at the kitchen table.
13. Challenging Dad to games of cribbage.
14. Trips to town to attend Mass and seeing people you know from way back when across the church.
15. Kayaking--in the morning, in the bright afternoon sun, at sunset.
16. The sunsets.
17. Realizing other family have arrived for a few hours' visit. Entertaining nieces and nephews, big and small.
18. Talking with my brother John and enjoying his teasing.
19. Taking the back path to the "other dock" to visit the boat.
20. Going on a boat ride with Dad and/or Eric to the lake store to buy ice cream or bringing the kids to the rope swing!
21. Visiting the Boom House.
22. Exploring islands with the kids.
23. Swimming...every day.
24. Making s'mores at camp fires on the beach.
25. Reliving my adventures with "THE BAT".
26. Laughing and giggling with Mom.
27. Slathering on lotion and going to bed after a full day in the sun.
28. Thunderstorms!!
29. Visiting the graves of Scamp and Henry.
30. Hiking in Baxter State Park.
31. Taking an evening to get dressed up and heading out to dinner at the old "Big Moose Inn".
32. Finding an old sweatshirt in a drawer of "camp clothes" to wear on a chilly day.
33. Watching Eric and Dad take on a project together.
34. Making dinner and baking desserts in the tiny oven that is at eye level.
35. Seeing all the furniture, books, and other accessories that have been at camp since my childhood.
36. The creak of its door and the warmth of the pot bellied Franklin stove on chilly mornings.
37. Having a childhood friend bring her family to camp, seeing the kids enjoying it as we always used to, and stopping to realize how quickly time goes by.
38. Counting ducklings.
39. Getting so close to a loon in a quiet kayak that you swear it's going to let you pat its head.
40. Hanging laundry on the big clothesline out back and hoping you won't break the line.
41. Seeing planes fly over head and wondering if that's Bruce or Jeff.
42. Playing horse shoes with Dad and twilight games of wiffle ball with the kids.
43. Grabbing a towel and a book or magazine and.... BEING ON THE DOCK.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Need for Nancy

Those who know me are well aware that one of my greatest passions in life is theater, musical theater to be exact. I've been on stage for 37 years, doing various shows since I was just six years old. I love performing, losing myself in a character, and I find I do that best when I get to sing. I've been thinking tonight of the various roles I've been privileged to play on stage and of which was my favorite. In third place? The character of matchmaker Dolly Levi. I was lucky enough to play this lead in the musical Hello Dolly at two different times in my life, once at age 17 and again at age 42. Each were unforgettable experiences. In second place? The Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. I remember fighting for the role at auditions. The musical director was thinking of having me go for Glinda the Good Witch. I remember saying, "No! I want the Wicked Witch! Please let me cackle for you!" It was my cackle, I am sure, that won me the role, albeit a non-singing part. I lied about being afraid of heights, knowing I'd be hoisted above the stage to play the role. I will never forget "scaring" all the child actors, wearing the green make-up, disappearing in puffs of smoke and through a trap door when I "melted". It was such fun!

So which role is my favorite? Well, for various reasons, it's the role of Nancy in Oliver! , a musical retelling of Charles Dickens' novel, Oliver Twist. I played this role in 2002 and both of my daughters starred as orphans in the opening scene. It's probably no coincidence that each of them shares my passion for musical theater. They may have been young, but my girls easily recognized how happy I was to play this role.

In Oliver!, Nancy is the street girl with the heart of gold. Nancy defends her lot, calling it "A Fine Life", but it's her sadness, her maternal instincts, and her attempts at joy as she dances on tables and drinks in her scenes with the townspeople in "Omm Pah Pah" that haunt my memory. However, of all of Nancy's scenes, it's those with her abusive man, Bill Sykes, that truly made me fall hard for this role. Literally. When Nancy begins to sing the song, "As Long As He Needs Me", she has just been violently back-handed by Bill Sikes because she didn't want to go along with his criminal plan.

Nancy picks herself up off the floor and with tears in her eyes, she begins her ballad. "As long as he needs me. Oh yes he does need me. In spite of what you see, I'm sure that he needs me....The way I feel inside... The love I have to hide... But hell, I got my pride as long as he needs me". The song is that of an abused victim justifying her love for her man. "He doesn't say the things he should. He acts the way he thinks he should. But all the same, I'll play the game his way. As long as he needs me, I know where I must be. I'll cling on steadfastly as long as he needs me. As long as life is long. I'll love him... right or wrong. And somehow I'll be strong, as long as he needs me"

After several phrases, the sadness of the song sinks in. Nancy comes to realize that, in her loneliness and in her station in life, there is no turning back. She will sing of her love and loyalty to her abusive bully of a boyfriend until it's the death of her. "I won't betray his trust, though people say I must. I've got to stay true just as long as he needs me". Coming as no real surprise near the end of the play, Bill confronts Nancy when he incorrectly believes she has betrayed him. Screaming under the London Bridge, Nancy's pleas end as Bill stabs and kills her.

Everything about this role was amazing--adopting the cockney accent, the dancing and singing in the bar room scene, being knocked to the ground, and a death scene?! Come on! What fun! But it's truly the song, the singing of "As Long As He Needs Me", that has been my proudest moment as an musical theater actress. Belting that song in Deertrees Theater, looking into the theater lights above me, and taking ownership of that moment as Nancy was incredibly powerful. I remember coming back to myself at one point in the song and thinking, "Don't ever forget this moment, this feeling, Anne. This is where you belong. This is happiness".

Yeah. I've got to get myself back on stage. I need another Nancy moment.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Work and Magic of Marriage

I woke up and wasn't feeling all that great this morning. Luckily I was able to take it easy today, however, it's a very weird feeling when children become so independent that they truly don't seem to need you anymore. My three children are old enough to go an entire day or more without requiring me or my husband. I find myself thinking, "I could make dinner but I don't HAVE to". So as I took time to rest on the couch, I got thinking of a certain conversation from a few months back.

Over the holidays, when my parents came to spend Christmas with us, Dad and I got talking. He reflected upon how in life, we fall in love and we go from "one" to "two" and get married. (Or maybe he said we go from "two" to "one" when we get married? Either way, I understood what he meant). He said how we then start a family, and then there's "three" or "four", or in the case of my parents, a total of "seven" after the birth of my parents' five children.

He continued. He said how each child grows up and moves away, as each should, to build his or her own marriage and family. Soon the number multiplies with son and daughter-in-laws and grandchildren, but the number also dwindles when you think of who then lives at home. As lovely as it is to have a family grow, soon it's just the couple again. I, of course, thought of how he and my Mom were reaching the milestone of having been married to one another for 60 years. SIXTY YEARS!

Dad's point was the importance of keeping a marriage strong. I agree. I know how important it is for my husband and I to be good parents; it is what we work our hardest to achieve, but our marriage, the friendship between us, cannot be neglected in the process of raising our children. Sometimes, times get tough. The stress of work, money, the necessities of home, or children can frazzle us. It's easy to feel defeated at times or to become exhausted by life's numerous responsibilities. That's when insecurity sets in or arguments arise. The pressure of what needs to get done or the frustration over life's hardships can be trying. Life constantly can throw new challenges at a marriage. And when one's health or employment changes, that's a huge hurdle.

Now, I know that not every marriage can last. I would never pretend to profess that I know what is right for couples who have had to face divorce. I have a lot of respect for couples who raise their families responsibly, even when a marriage must dissolve. But I also applaud couples who work hard to not lose sight of the importance of building upon the friendship and the love within their marriages. It takes strict vigilance, I believe, to keep a marriage strong. And that vigilance must be there for each person in the marriage. There has to exist a level of dedication, of reflection, or selflessness. Even if you find that special someone, you can't stop working when you want a marriage to stay fresh and fun. Marriage, in my experience anyway, is not easy. There are times, many times, when being married makes life easier perhaps, but the give and take of a marriage requires full attention. And of course, it helps immensely to maintain perspective. Whether through a sense of humor, through one's faith, or with the help of others, having a solid foundation in a marriage gives stability for those unavoidable storms that blow in unexpectedly over the years. Of course, it makes a huge difference if your spouse feels the same way about the work of a marriage. It always "takes two".

In November, Eric and I will celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. I've been thinking of our life together a lot recently. We married young. We've both worked so very hard to keep our family happy and healthy. We have given so much of ourselves to the roles of Mom and Dad. But even though we do get stressed at times, each of us has remained dedicated to being each other's best friend, partner, love. Sure, he can really tick me off at times and I know I do the same for him, but we still make one another laugh. We still have each other's backs. And beyond our obvious friendship, there's an intense passion between us that has been there for 28 years, since our early days of dating. Call it magic, call it a spark. Call it whatever you want, but it's always been there.

So, I know that I can afford to take a day when I am not feeling well, and relax. I know that my children will not starve as I nap and I also know that although my children DO need me still, there will come a day when they will each be completely independent and building families of their own. Eric and I, in the meantime, will continue to sacrifice to provide for our family, and that will perhaps sometimes shake us, but we will still work hard to give our children the best gift we could ever give them: parents who show them what it truly takes to be married to the love of your life. Parents who genuinely like spending time together. Parents who honestly can't get enough of one another.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Six Women. One Cool Guy.

Tonight Eric and I drove to Brunswick to meet some old friends. The friends are five girls, well, women, who graduated from high school with Eric back in 1983. The five women have been meeting each summer for several years when one of the five, who lives several states away, returns "home". Last year, Eric and I were invited to join them. We'd had such a good time that we were delighted to be called back for another mini-reunion this summer too.

I went to school with this group but I was three years behind them, a freshman when they were all seniors. However, they were always so very accepting of me, very sweet and friendly. I always looked up to them. I suppose, even as a grown adult, I still do. They are beautiful, intelligent, fun, funny, talented, and amazingly strong women, each in their own right. I was always touched by how kind they were to me when I first started dating Eric, and even now, 28 years later, it's simply nice to spend time with them, listening to their stories, their memories of their time together in high school.

A few other men who graduated in 1983 were invited to tag along this year but they did not make it. (Maybe their plans changed but in any case, it was their loss). Eric was happy to go again this year. Despite a couple of very full days at amusement parks with our children, he didn't want to miss the gathering! Tonight as everyone gabbed, I took stock of the group. I got thinking of how cool it is that my husband can sit with a table of women for several hours and enjoy the conversation and this simple time with them. He's always been most appreciative of this group of friends and he thinks very highly of these women also. Eric, simply, is honored to know them all.

Eric has always been comfortable in his own skin, never one to wonder what another might think when he's there hanging with six women like he was doing tonight. He was quick to say he'd hoped Patti's husband could have stuck around for dinner with us all, but when he didn't, Eric was content. When you're married to a man who thinks highly of women such as those in this group, you KNOW you've landed a good guy.