TBR List Declutter, Issue 48

Tangent: Missing, After Seven Months in California

Things I miss about Massachusetts:

  • Picking fruit throughout the summer and fall.
  • Snow sparkles.
  • Animal tracks in the snow.
  • The clean, sharp feeling of breathing in really cold air.
  • The first three times shoveling snow each winter.
  • Hiking through deciduous forests.
  • Our twice-monthly ecology classes at the wildlife sanctuary.
  • Being able to identify lots and lots of animals and plants.
  • Being only a seven-hour flight from Europe rather than twelve.
  • Our friends.

Things I don’t miss about Massachusetts:

  • Ticks.
  • Mosquitos.
  • Wearing thermal undergarments for six months of the year.
  • Driving everywhere.
  • Sharing the road with people who are very, very angry.
  • Finishing shoveling snow only to have the plow come by and push a two-foot-high wall of icy slush across the bottom of the driveway.
  • Humidity.

Visual Interest:

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Late afternoon in Cain, Parque Nacional de los Picos de Europa, Spain

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.

Books:

Titles 671-690:

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Bookends: April 2017

April in Massachusetts was a stop-and-start process towards spring. We heard spring peepers peeping, watched the maple trees bloom and then make itty-bitty seeds, and now we’re seeing leaves galore. The lilacs and cherry trees are in blossom, and I can smell flowers on my walks around the neighborhood. And unlike last year, there’s been no late freeze (knock on wood), so it’s likely we’ll have LOCAL PEACHES this year!

What kind of monster looks at bunnies and thinks good things about coyotes?

I also see bunnies, bunnies, and more bunnies, which I bet thrills the coyotes and foxes in the neighborhood. The small-dog owners and keepers of outdoor cats aren’t thrilled about the predators traipsing around, but I’m a fan. Small furry creatures are adorable and I love them, but they spread deer ticks, which are awful already this year, so we can benefit from having a food-chain-related way to keep the furry population in check. I also like hawks and falcons.

Another wonderful thing about April: Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon! To read about my progress during the readathon, check out my wrap-up post.

Here’s some of what I finished reading in April (funny…I felt like I didn’t read much this month, but my list argues against that):

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Bookends: March 2017

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One of the things I love about Massachusetts.

My time in central Massachusetts, experiencing the discourtesy people here call “direct,” has been six years of cultural fatigue. There are things that I love about the area, but the people are consistently prickly. Yes, people can be impolite anywhere and in a surprising variety of ways, but most places I’ve lived and visited, the rudeness has been shocking in part because it happened so infrequently. In Massachusetts, discourteousness is like an element: living here, we swim in rudeness, whether we participate in it or not.

Late in March, my family spent a week in California. From the moment we landed, the difference was obvious. Sure, we lost thirty minutes in the rental car place because the guys working there were inept, but at least they were friendly. Everywhere we went, people smiled, they were cordial, they spoke kindly to one another. I felt little to none of the social anxiety that clings to me in Massachusetts. For the first time in ages, I felt like I could exhale.

Going to San Diego was like jumping from a polluted river into one that ran with fresh, clean water; coming back has been the opposite experience. Just this morning I observed a cashier and her customer openly ridicule another customer for thinking the cashier had given her a friendly look. “She thought since you looked nicely at her that meant it was her turn!” said the first customer, and she and the cashier brayed together as the second customer apologized and got back into line. If the three had been friends, I could understand it as rough but good-natured joshing, but I saw nothing to indicate that these people knew each other.

On the plus side, this kind of interaction makes travel even more appealing. Time to put our passports to work.

Aside from this unpleasant but not unexpected welcome back, March has been wonderful. Not only did I spend a week in a place that felt like home, but I got a lot of reading done, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching my children write and illustrate their own books and stories.

My seven-year-old has moved from filling journals with his stories to typing them out on legal-sized paper on the Smith Corona my dad used in graduate school in the early 1980’s. My son will kneel on a chair at the dining room table, typing for hours and yelling at anyone who tries to interrupt him for something as trivial as dinner or bedtime. All he needs now is a bottle of scotch, an overflowing ashtray, and a fedora.

Something to look forward to: Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is April 29! I’m especially excited because this time around, a goal of the readathon is to raise money for Room to Read, a non-profit focusing on literacy and girls’ education across Africa and Asia. To learn more about this part of the readathon and to donate, visit the Dewey’s Room to Read campaign page.

Reading through the night won’t be happening for me on April 29, but I plan to clear my schedule at least for the daylight hours. If I take part, I’ll post about it here and on Instagram.

Until my children finish their masterpieces, I’ve had to content myself with what’s already on the shelves. Here’s some of what I finished reading in March:

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Not From Around Here

“What wad are you in?” asked the constable at our polling place.

“Excuse me?” asked my spouse, leaning in closer.

“Tell me your street name, and I’ll tell you your wad,” said the constable.

“Wad?” asked my spouse.

“Honey,” I whispered, “I think he’s asking what ward we’re in.”

Nearly five years in Massachusetts, and we still need a translator.

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Regional Differences

The front-desk lady at the dance studio made my daughter cry.

I was in the back observing ten minutes of a dance class I’m considering for our son (yes, this is the same son who wears a sports bra; that’s a different post), and my spouse was with our kids in the waiting area. He tells the story like this:

Our daughter asked, “Can I go back and watch the class with my mom?”

The lady answered. “No. That’s just for your mom.”

Our daughter started crying.

“Why did she cry? Was the woman angry with her?” I asked.

“I couldn’t tell,” he said. “She might have been angry, or it might just have been the accent.” Read More

Take a Hike! Wachusett Mountain

Every weekend, my husband says, “Let’s hike up Wachusett Mountain!”

And every weekend I say, “But we have this and this and that to do, and it’s going to be a long hike.” Or I say, “Sure!” and then we don’t get ready to go until noon and the kids are complaining. Either way, we don’t do it.

But then a couple of weeks ago we decided to embrace our nomadic lifestyle rather than fighting against it (more on that later). As part of this change in outlook, we’re taking a carpe diem attitude towards destinations and activities in our immediate area. Which means that this weekend we actually did hike to the summit of Wachusett Mountain.

Now, you folks out West aren’t going to think this is much of a mountain. With a summit of 2,006 feet, it doesn’t really compare to the peaks in Utah or Colorado or the Sierra Nevada. But it’s the highest in our area of Massachusetts, and it’s really nothing to sneeze at.

We began at Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, a Mass Audubon sanctuary that we frequent for their great homeschooling programs and the large number of monarchs they host in their meadow. (“We” is me, my husband, our seven-year-old daughter, and our nearly three-year-old son.)

From the parking lot of the sanctuary, we took the North Meadow Trail and enjoyed the milkweed and the monarchs and cabbage whites and other various postman butterflies we can’t seem to identify until we turned off on to Chapman Trail. Chapman was mostly flat and rocky, as are most New England trails we’ve hiked. The last time we hiked Chapman Trail, it was muddy, muddy, muddy, but our extremely dry summer has left it parched. We still saw a few frogs along the trail—a spring peeper and a bumpy orange toad thing and a frog that might have been a spring peeper or a wood frog but which was too tiny (the size of my daughter’s thumbnail) and too fast to see for sure, and a few green frogs in Black Pond near the sanctuary border.

Black Pond

Most of the trail within the sanctuary borders was easily passable, except for a narrow stretch nearly overgrown with ferns (we called it Fern City because we’re a very creative family). It was easy to walk, but it wouldn’t have been very stroller-friendly. Our three-year-old walked part of it and the rest he spent either on his dad’s shoulders or in a mei tai carrier on his dad’s front (because after seven years of parenting, my husband still refuses to learn how to carry a child on his back).

Fern City

About 1.3 miles from the sanctuary, we passed into Wachusett Mountain State Reservation and Chapman Trail became Dickens Trail and then Harrington Trail. From the border, it was 2.5 miles to the summit.

It was at about this point that my seven-year-old really started complaining. She’d worn her trail sandals without socks, and she was starting to get blisters on her heels. We seriously considered turning back, but I bought us some time with a couple of band-aids while making a mental note to bring moleskin next time we went hiking. Or socks. Or both.

The trails in the state reservation were wider than those in the sanctuary until about a mile from the summit when Harrington Trail changed dramatically. All of a sudden, it turned into a Utah hike.

This is where I said, “This is supposed to be the trail?”

It became much more rocky and steep, making it necessary to climb and scramble over boulders. We had been hiking at a pretty leisurely pace and I’d barely broken a sweat despite my rather excessive hiking get-up (long-sleeved shirt, long pants, wide-brimmed hat…all to protect against sun and ticks and poison ivy), but this last little bit of uphill scrambling left me pretty drenched.

When we made it to the top, we were greeted by a welcome breeze and beautiful vista. We walked up to the observation deck from which we could see the Berkshires to the west, Mt Monadnock in New Hampshire to the north, and the Boston skyline way off to the east.

New Hampshire

Boston

The Berkshires (somewhere over there).

We had a snack, enjoyed the view, and I stole my son’s socks and put them on his sister’s feet (he wasn’t doing much walking anyway), and then we headed back.

The trip back was faster and much less whiney. The trip up to the summit had taken three hours. (Yes, it took us three hours to hike 3.8 miles.) The trip back took just under two hours. We know this because our daughter timed our adventure with the purple stop watch she wore around her neck. Her dad said she looked like Flavor Flav.

This was early (just 13 minutes) into our hike.

We ran out of water and we nearly ran out of snacks. My legs were shaking from all of the downhill rock-hopping we’d done, we all had to use the restroom because there were none at the summit* and we’re not big on peeing in the wilderness, especially as well traveled a wilderness as the trail to the summit of Wachusett Mountain is.  We got into the car tired and hungry but proud of ourselves for finally making the 7.6-mile round trip.

I’m not sure, however, how long it’s going to be before we can convince our daughter to hike with us again. Looks like it might be a few more years before we’ll tackle an Appalachian Trail thru hike.

*UPDATE: When we hiked back up in September 2015, we confirmed that there are, in fact, port-a-johns at the back of the parking lot at the summit. I am told, however, that they are put up in spring and taken down in autumn and that the date isn’t the same every year, so if you hike in October, you might get to the top and find no port-a-johns. And of course, if you have a child who refuses to pee while inside a plastic box, there are still effectively no bathrooms at the summit.

On Love and Marriage

We lived in California when same-sex marriage first became legal in Massachusetts. I remember seeing  Rev. William Sinkford, then president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, on television performing the first legal same-sex wedding ceremonies. I remember feeling incredible pride that I was a UU.

When we moved to Massachusetts this past summer, New York had just legalized same-sex marriage and the article I read mentioned that it had been legal in Massachusetts for eight years.

“Oh, yeah,” I thought, remembering seeing Rev. Sinkford on TV all of those years back. “This is the first time I’ve lived in a state where same-sex marriage was legal. Neat.”

Then a couple of months ago, my daughter’s flute teacher referred to her wife. It was in the context of her wife having pneumonia, which wasn’t cool at all, but her using the word “wife” had a powerful positive effect on me.

My thoughts ran something along the lines of, “I am a wife. I love being a wife. I have a husband. I love having a husband. She’s a wife. She loves being a wife. She has a wife. She loves having a wife.”

All of my adult life I’ve had friends who were in long-term, committed, same-sex relationships, marriages in all senses but the legal one. This was the first time I had shared the language of marriage with someone who was part of one of these relationships.

I was surprised at just how joyous I felt—and feel—about sharing marriage with my friends who were previously denied this right. I’ve never been a big fan of weddings (I once—to my shame—stepped aside and let the bouquet drop on the floor rather than catch it when the bride threw it). I can’t stand Pachelbel’s Canon, feel unaccountably annoyed when I hear that bit from 1st Corinthians, and just generally think a lot of the talk about marriage is corny and cliched.

But marriage equality may have pushed me over to the romantic side just a tad.

I love love. I love seeing people in love. I love being married, and I find that I love seeing happy married people, especially those who’ve not been allowed to marry in the past. It’s like a brand-new celebration! And I feel practically giddy talking about who’s taking whose last name (which is another major point of sharing as my husband and I chose to be unconventional with our name-sharing: we both hyphenated our last names).

I feel almost embarrassed at the intensity of the glee that I feel about marriage equality. I want to hug and congratulate every same-sex married couple that I see. I don’t, though, because that would be way too corny for me. And besides that kind of weird.

But this Valentine’s Day, even though I’m refraining from hugging people I hardly know, I wanted at least to share with all of you how happy I am to live in a state where all people who love each other can be wives and have wives, be husbands and have husbands, and be married, just like I am so thrilled to be every single day, even after more than 12 years.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you!

Uninhabitable

Tonight, we had our first snow.

Now, I’ve lived in snowy places. Ohio. That was snowy. Salt Lake City. Heck, they had their first snow weeks ago. Even in North Carolina we had an ice storm that knocked out the electricity for an entire week, and two years before that, we had the Snow of the Century, which dumped 24 inches of snow in less than 24 hours on a state that has one snow plow and uses sand instead of salt.

But I’m really nervous about the New England winter. For one, it’s colder here. And there’s more snowfall. And the roads are crazy in the best of conditions.

And everyone keeps telling me how awful the winters are here. In Salt Lake City, everyone around me couldn’t wait for it to snow so they could hit the slopes. Here, even the skiers and snowshoers go on and on about how long and cold and snowy the winter is.

Even children’s books aren’t pulling any punches about New England winters. I was brushing my teeth the other night while my husband read my daughter’s cod book to her.

Yes, my daughter has a book about cod. It’s called The Cod’s Tale and it’s by Mark Kurlansky. Both of my kids love this book.

Cover of "The Cod's Tale"

Cover of The Cod's Tale

So, I was brushing my teeth and listening to my husband read aloud the section entitled “Winter in Massachusetts.”

“During their first two years in America, many Pilgrims starved to death,” my husband read. “Winter in Massachusetts was snowy and so cold that some Europeans believed this new land was uninhabitable [emphasis mine].”

Tell you what: this did not ease my fears.

So, I’m bracing myself for a crazy winter. Cod got the Pilgrims through, but in the intervening 400 years, they’ve been so overfished in the North  Atlantic, I don’t think I can depend on cod to see us through winter in this uninhabitable land.

Maybe falafel. And central heating.

Goodbye, Salamanders! See You Tomorrow!

So, we went camping. And we made it back. And the children loved it.

Our tent. Luckily it wasn’t windy because we have no clue how to put on the guylines.

“I loved camping!” my daughter proclaimed while we were at the coffee shop waiting for our supplemental breakfast to be served (cold bagels and frosted mini wheats weren’t really my kids’ thing, and we needed eggs, pancakes, and—in my daughter’s case—hot dogs).

“What did you like about camping?” I asked.

“No, Mom; I loved it!” she corrected.

“OK, what did you love about it?”

“I liked finding things,” she said, referring to the scavenger hunt we’d done the night before.

The campout was through the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The campout was listed under their homeschooling programs, but we were the only homeschooling family there. In fact, the two other moms there were sixth-grade public school teachers. I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to make the acquaintance of new homeschooling families, but I appreciated that the teachers didn’t talk to me about homeschooling. I get really, really tired of talking about socialization.

Chris holding a monarch butterfly larva on a milkweed leaf.

My daughter took a real shine to our guide, Chris, and I could only hope that she really was delighted at my daughter’s attentions and not just being polite.

“Wow, you sure know a lot about animals!” Chris exclaimed after my daughter directed her in the proper method of returning a worm to its home (put the rock down first, then place the worm next to it and let it find its own way, so you don’t smash it with the rock). My daughter had already explained to Chris why monarch butterflies aren’t tasty to birds, why viceroy butterflies mimic monarchs, and that salamanders need to keep their skin moist in order to breathe.

My daughter reads animal books and encyclopedias cover-to-cover, over and over and over again. She was thrilled to have someone who spoke about animals with the same passion and level of detail as she does. At one point, she was hiking back with me while Chris was up ahead leading the group.

“Mom, I’m going to go up and walk with that lady,” my daughter announced, already moving past me along the trail. “She’ll tell me more new things.”

My daughter was afraid of the campfire and, although she loved the s’mores, was terrified of toasting her own marshmallow. My son liked the fire, but was incredibly disturbed by the sticky, gooey marshmallow on his hands. He cried until I washed his hands and cried harder when I suggested he just lick the marshmallow off of his fingers.

Self-portrait

I feel like I need a massage, a shower, and about twelve hours of sleep to recover from our one night outdoors. But walking across the dewy grass and watching the sun rise over the trees on the other side of the meadow, I felt the closest to belonging here that I have since we moved to Massachusetts three months ago.

And because there was no rain overnight, this campout marks the first time I have ever, ever camped when it hasn’t precipitated. Once it even snowed.

Did you know that sheep love watermelon rinds? And that they drool copiously while eating them?

“Can we go camping again next summer?” my daughter asked on the drive home.

Sure, honey. We might even go camping once more this fall before the freezing temps hit and after we find out what to do if there’s a thunderstorm while we’re in a tent held up with metal tubing. And once we find a campsite near really good restaurants so the only thing we need to cook outside are s’mores.

The pond where we saw two beaver tail slaps at dusk.

Why Put a New Address on That Same Old Loneliness?

jeans for men

Image via Wikipedia

On the way up to Maine this weekend (my first time in Maine), I was feeling intractably out-of-place, sort of fundamentally alienated, when we came upon Portland. It seemed like a cute little city. I looked up the population in our road atlas.

“Just over 62,000,” I reported to my husband. “That might be a nice-sized city for us. Maybe we should live there next.”

I’ve always moved from place to place. As a child, I didn’t have a say in it. As an adult, I have more of a say (except maybe for this last time when circumstances pretty much gave us the boot out of Utah), but I keep trying on new places like I’m shopping for a pair of jeans. I try one pair after another, looking for one that fits or at least that feels right on me. Even when I find some that seem to fit, they inevitably stretch or I lose or gain a couple of pounds or have a baby and change shape in some subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) way, and I find myself questing again.

When I was a kid, my mom used to buy the Levi’s Shrink-to-Fit jeans. She’d put them on wet and wear them around the house until they shrunk to her particular shape. Looking online as an adult, I find articles that suggest that, with a little time, these jeans can be the best-fitting jeans of one’s life.

This seems like a reasonable idea, but I’m still hesitant. It’s quite a commitment, wearing wet jeans all day, dyeing anything I sit on (or anything that sits on me) indigo blue. And what if I put in all of this effort and they still don’t fit? I’m back to square one plus I’ve had all of that extra discomfort and wasted time. Although according to what I’ve read, I could just wet them and wear them again until they feel right.

I have a great deal of trepidation and longing around finding a place where I fit in (we’re back to talking about geographical locations again, in case you hadn’t caught up yet). I’ve known for years that this moving around habit I have is just a distraction and that this sense of alienation isn’t dependent on geographical location. Perhaps my perseverance is misplaced and rather than continuing to try new places, I should just give one place a try for a long-ish time. But it feels like such a risk to stay in one spot and wait for the fit to come with time. What if it never feels right? When do I decide to cut my losses and get out?

Driving across Nebraska, I looked out the window and saw houses in what seemed to me to be the middle of nowhere. Even in the middle of nowhere, there were people. I was perplexed by the idea that there are people who call this place home. Maybe they were born here, or maybe they’ve moved from somewhere else, but for whatever reason, they’ve thrown their lot in with Nebraska.

I’ve never had that. I’ve never had a place I’m from, and while it feels dangerous to put down stakes, you’ve got to die somewhere, right? Why not Nebraska, or Ohio or Massachusetts or Nova Scotia or Alaska? Or Bhutan or Fiji or Russia?

In Maine we saw friends we’ve not seen since we moved from California and met their friends and family for the first time. I’m sure I was a real treat to be around in this existential funk. At least I didn’t drink too much. Instead, I did my best to just let myself feel uncomfortable. I noticed the beauty of the water, the smell of the sea on the breeze, and the little frogs that I hope I didn’t smash as they hopped across the road in the glare of my headlights. I noticed these things and did my best to let them be foreign and to let myself be foreign among them.

It was a nice trip.

On the way home, just as we crossed into Massachusetts, a song by Magnolia Electric Company/Songs:Ohia came on and asked, “Why put a new address on that same old loneliness?”

Good question.

I can’t outrun it, so I might as well just hang out. Maybe it will be gone once my jeans dry. If I can wait that long.