Bookends: September 2014

Ah, September! I usually love September, when I dig out my corduroys to combat the returning chill in the air and enjoy the reddish tinge of the sunlight filtering through the leaves of the red maples in my yard. But with its oddly summery weather and upheavals at home, this September has been a strange one. Maybe by November I’ll have figured out what I think about September 2014.

In the meantime, here’s what I managed to finish reading this month:

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Habit Experiment: September Recap, October Kickoff

September Recap

I hung on—just barely—to my goals this month. Here they are, as a reminder:

1) Drive 785 miles or less for the month.

2) Experiment with car-free travel options to local destinations.

As we headed out to hike on Sunday, we realized that we’d only driven 89 miles since last weekend. That was pretty amazing, and is perhaps a sign that we’re getting into the swing of this less-driving thing.

When September began, the odometer read 118,716. As of this morning, it’s at 119,401. We still need to drive to our afternoon activities, which will add another 20 miles, bringing the total for the month to 705. I admit, I was helped a little bit by my mom’s visit since we drove her car to go camping, but even that would only have been another 50 miles round-trip, so I still would have met my goal.

For October, I’m going to increase my goal to 800 driving miles for the month because it’s a longer month and because we’ve got a couple of longer trips planned. We’re already taking the train for one of the trips, and I’m toying with the idea of taking the train for the other, but I doubt I’ll get buy-in for that plan from my spouse. He’s more pragmatic about car-light travel than I am and uses a broader definition of “suffering” than I do.

Oddly enough, even though I’m driving less I’ve not done very well with my exercise this month. I’ve only gotten more than 10,000 steps a handful of days, and I’ve not done any strength-training. And I’ve put on three pounds. We’ll see how I do in October.

Speaking of October…

October’s habit is:

Sleep More

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“Don’t Let Grownups Tell You to Take the Safe Path”

The light was like autumn but the temperature was like summer as we headed through the meadow towards the trailhead.

This was our second time hiking from Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary to Wachusett Mountain. Two years ago, my son spent most of his time in a mei tai carrier on his dad’s front. Today we tackled the hike again, and even though he’s five now, I was unsure enough that my son would be able to hike the whole way that I stuffed the Ergo carrier in our backpack just to be safe.

But I shouldn’t have worried. My kids are, apparently, hiking superstars. Both the nine-year-old and the five-year-old hiked the entire 7.6 miles (plus a bit since we wandered around the summit trying to find some new signage on which one of my photos was supposed to appear).

My daughter was in high spirits the whole time, pointing out the lycopodia that were likely old enough to vote (as she put it), finding pine tree saplings that were the heights of each family member, and making impassioned speeches on behalf of nature and animals. My son joined in on most of the fun, pointing out when the moss on the rocks was especially soft and finding a new-to-us form of lycopodium. He didn’t whine until about the last mile and a half when the exhaustion really started getting to him. We never used the Ergo.

Just as we did last time, we followed a single trail with multiple names (Chapman, Dickens, and Harrington), which is typical of New England paths and roadways. Cut out the “continue on the same road with a different name” instructions and most step-by-step online directions here are only one or two steps long.

The Harrington portion of our particular trail was harrowing, essentially a half-mile-plus rocky scramble to the summit, complicated by my son’s insistence on taking the most difficult way, climbing over steep rocks even where there was an obvious and easy alternate path. On the way back, tired of our constant reminders to be careful, he even made up a song about his preference for the more challenging path. It went like this:

I love the dangerous path!

I love it!

I love it!

Don’t let grownups tell you to take the safe path if you love the dangerous path!

I love the dangerous path!

I love it!

I love it!

Something tells me I’d better keep a close eye on this one.

He fell seven times and got saved from an eighth fall because he was holding my hand at the time. It was a minor miracle that he didn’t shed any blood or sustain any major internal injuries.

Given our long-range goal to through-hike the Appalachian Trail, my spouse and I are heartened that our five-year-old can hike such a long distance, but if he sustains his one-fall-per-mile rate, we’re not sure he’s going to be able to make it 2,185 miles. Hopefully he will become more goat-like in the next few years because we all love hiking and are excited to start backpacking and getting more serious about preparing for a long, long hike.

The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man by Luke Harding

The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man
The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man by Luke Harding
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Patriot Act first passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, I was part of a group that organized panel discussions and protests against the act. The kind of wholesale surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden was exactly the kind of thing, we feared, for which the Patriot Act paved the way. And although the consensus (as far as there is one) seems to be that the post-9/11 surveillance techniques of the NSA over-reach even the provisions of the Patriot Act, the law allowed for just a little hop-skip to the place where we are today. So, while my inclination is to say, “I told you so,” no one really cares what I thought when the act was first passed so why bother saying it?

A commenter on the radio asserted that the U.S. is divided into two camps, those who think Edward Snowden is a hero and a patriot and those who think he’s a traitor. I would argue there’s a third camp of people who know his name but don’t know anything else about him, but the division is the source of the point I’m trying to make. I’ve been inclined to think of Snowden as a hero from the beginning, and I’m even more inclined to think so after reading The Snowden Files. I’m also inclined to ask my many computer-savvy friends for advice on encryption software for my laptop. Not because I’m engaged in illegal activities, but that’s the whole point: the NSA is hoovering up data from everyone, not just from suspected terrorists. If I pissed off someone in the government, I’m sure they could come up with enough evidence from my internet search history and my library records to cobble together a case against me, or against anyone.

The thing I don’t quite understand is why more people—myself included—aren’t totally up-in-arms (figuratively speaking) about Snowden’s revelations. Why are so many of us just going about business as usual? Is it because we assume we have nothing to hide, and so we’re leaving things be and letting it up to the journalists to be targeted as terrorists for reporting government actions that flout our rights under the Constitution? Or is it because we already assumed we had no privacy and so this new information doesn’t really bother us? As one friend puts it, “I assume they already have all of my information anyway.”

But about the book: I enjoyed this book. It was a pleasant (if disturbing) read. I admit, I skimmed the “Shoot the Messenger” chapter in which Harding goes into detail about the inner workings of British government. I am an American, after all, and hearing about what happens in other countries kind of makes me glaze over. I was astounded, however, at the grounding of the flight of the president of Bolivia when he was suspected of smuggling Snowden out of Russia (he didn’t, btw). No wonder some other countries think of the U.S. as a big bully throwing its weight around.

So, my next action is to procure Greenwald’s book about the contents of the Snowden leaks, and to maybe buy myself a typewriter and start visiting people in person rather than calling or e-mailing.

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Feline Farewell

The vet’s estimate was that Maurice had two to four months. Two weeks later I sat with my cat on my lap, sobbing and hugging my crying daughter with my free arm, and whispered in his ear that it was okay to let go, that I loved him and would miss him, but that we would be okay. It was more for me than for him—a mean little voice in my head accused me of anthropomorphizing—but maybe he understood. After more than two hours I finally admitted to myself that I was just imagining that I felt his purr.

On his eighteenth birthday, he had been able to jump up on his favorite chair for the first time in more than a week, and the next day, he ate and purred and seemed almost like the old Moe-man before his last day. When it happened, it happened very much as I’d hoped it would, with Maurice dying at home surrounded by his family.

For all of this, I’m grateful.

In the days since, he seems just around the corner. I reach for his medications and his special food before I remember that he doesn’t need them anymore. I see him curled on our bed in the morning before I realize it’s just a fold of the quilt. I hear his mew before I can remind myself that he’s not here.

I miss the smell of his fur and the way he half-closed his eyes when I would scratch that super-soft spot of fur below his ear. I miss seeing my kids asleep on the bed with Maurice sleeping between them.

I just miss Maurice.

3 months old, Christmas 1996 (with ginger cat Henry in the background)

3 months old, Christmas 1996 (with ginger cat Henry in the background)

In his prime, 2005.

In his prime, 2005.

Not a fan of having a three-year-old to play with, 2008.

Not a fan of having a three-year-old to play with, 2008.

His eighteenth birthday, September 2014.

His eighteenth birthday, September 2014.

September 12, 1996 to September 14, 2014

September 12, 1996, to September 14, 2014

Wordless: Gray Tree Frog



This one’s just changed from the tadpole stage. He’ll turn gray as he gets bigger. (Photo by my daughter at Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton, Massachusetts. She also spotted and caught the little fellow.)

Who Am I?

“Who am I?” I asked myself again and again during the weekend meditation retreat I attended in August.

It was the first time I had been away from my five-year-old son overnight. For two nights I slept in a twin bed in a single dorm room, alone for the first time in nearly a decade.

“Who am I without my children; without my husband?”

For a whole weekend, I had no responsibilities except showing up for my one-hour daily “yogi job” shift, washing dinner dishes or chopping vegetables. With everyone else, I listened to the bells telling us where to go and when, and followed the sound. We were encouraged to seek refuge in the buddha, the dharma, the sangha. I’d been seeking refuge but not in any of those things. For a whole weekend, I was not defined by what I spent my time doing.

“Who am I without my roles: wife, mother, daughter, friend, homeschooler?”

We maintained noble silence, refraining from talking, reading, writing, nonverbal communication, and eye contact until Sunday afternoon. I sat silent in a room with 96 other silent people. I walked the grounds with 96 other silent walkers, silently greeting the same holly leaf every time I returned to the hedge. Pacing slowly across the lawn and back, we looked like disoriented zombies.

“Who am I without my voice?”

I sat in hour after hour of meditation, feeling my presence in the breath tickling the back of my throat, in the movement of my digestive tract. In spite of the pain burning along my spine, I fell asleep sitting up. I had moments-long dreams, strange visions that seemed strangely real, and caught myself before falling over. The breeze from the window raised goosebumps along the left side of my body.

Here I am, I thought. But—

“Who am I?”

In my room, a familiar face looked back at me from the mirror above my sink.

“Who are you?” she asked.

I had no answer.

And that was okay.




The post that helped me actually go to my retreat after I’d signed up for it: