For this author, creative endeavors have been sorely tested by motherhood. But also transformed, and in ways she wouldn’t have imagined – couldn’t have, without her life “rewritten” as it has been, by her children. So linger here, to read all things weaverly, writerly and motherly.


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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Post Irate Irene, Love Cell Phone

I appreciate cell phones a little more post-hurricane, my only source of communication, in our pitch-black powerless house. On our vacation – cut short by fear of bridges closing down the day before Irene ripped the electrical wires, meter and all, right off our house – cell phones were purely annoying, starting from the moment we arrived at the family resort.

My expectations for that afternoon were simple; savoring a cup of coffee on our room’s porch overlooking the lake, before leisurely unpacking. Far more leisurely than my frenzied packing, with one child or another at my elbow; Kenny with a new magic trick, pulling a stuffed rabbit out of a black hat he’d taken to wearing. Ryan with a new spear he’d constructed out of paper. What mom doesn’t want to stop in her frenzied packing tracks to admire her children’s ingenuity?

This mom, who had a sticky post-it list of to-dos stuck to the counter. Who, if not interrupted by her children, was stalled in her packing tracks by Gramma’s phone calls because her dryer wouldn’t dry, and she couldn’t get an appliance man to fix it. While I was scheduling a repair appointment, she was on call-waiting to tell me, oh, nevermind, her tanks were just out of gas.

I got one bag packed before she called again to tell me she finally thought of what she wanted for her birthday; I finally reminded her I was packing for our mini- family-four-day vacation (to be cut short by Irate Irene). She had forgotten that we were leaving the following day, felt awful for interrupting my packing, apologized, and quickly hung up. I felt awful for getting snappy; I never did get to hear what she wanted for her birthday.

Upon arrival, while my family resort tradition is to grab quiet time alone in our room, Daddy’s tradition is to take the boys to their favorite place, the Climbing Forest.

I’d barely sat down on the porch with my coffee, when my cell phone rang. I had to get up, go back inside, to dig the obnoxious ringing electronic out of my purse.

It was Daddy. “I’m starving.”

Here’s the thing. We’d ordered lunches to go that morning to eat in the car. I got a hefty sandwich to last me. He’d ordered a tiny container of fruit salad.

“Why didn’t you order something more this morning?”

“I wasn’t hungry then.”

Huh? Logic here?

I put the phone on speaker, to unzip a suitcase. To let him know I was terribly busy.

“The boys are up in the tree,” he added.

Which meant they were somewhere climbing up a fake tree trunk with peek-a-boo windows, to scamper through tunnels where Daddy probably couldn’t even get to them.

“Can you go bring me a hotdog from the stand?” he asked.

I didn’t answer.

“Either that or come watch the boys while I go?”

If you like Chucky Cheese climbing apparatus, then you might enjoy the loud squealing of children transformed into wild monkeys in the Climbing Forest.

I opted for the sunny walk down to the lake for the hotdog.

From our room, I had to trek down a hill, then past rows and rows of vacationers sunning themselves on lounge chairs while reading Ipads or Kindles, past the lake slide so big I was even afraid of it, to the concession stand.

The line was long and winding, even though it was well past lunchtime. I wished I’d changed to shorts; I was still wearing a sweater, dressed for an air-conditioned car my husband likes to keep at freezing temps, with the boys bundled in their blankets in the backseat.

I got my ticket for the hot dog so that I could then stand on another line – in front of a wafting hot grill.

By the time I had Daddy’s order, it was 40 minutes later. I tried to remember the short cut through the main lodge to the Forest, navigating walkways, past a family arguing about what to do next, either the bumper boats, rock climbing wall or fishing, oblivious to the all-too-tame chipmunks flitting at their feet, snatching crumbs to hoard into the numerous lawn holes.

I made it to the Forest.

They weren’t there.

I whipped out the too-precious cell phone. “Where are you?”

“We’re at the bumper cars.”

I tried those once; they’re much more fun after a cocktail.

By the time I got back to our room, I managed to unpack my underwear before the crew came in – only fifteen minutes after my hotdog escapade.

“They want to go swimming now,” Daddy said.

“Where are our suits? Where? Where?” The boys chanted. Every year, they have to go through every activity the first afternoon.

I fished out their suits, ushered them all out the door.

Quiet. Finally. I gazed back out at the lake.  We return to this resort year after year, because it offers us all what we want; the boys and Daddy like to be busy every second, zigzagging from one exciting activity to another. I like to sit. Read a real bound book, made from actual paper. Sometimes I like to just stare at the lake. Like from our porch. Though my coffee was long since cold.

I finally was able to get unpacked one layer of clothing before my cell rang again.

I heard splashing in the background. “Ryan now is hungry,” my husband screams over the din.

This is an issue, as he has food allergies and can’t just go to the concession stand.

Before I could an suggest they come back to get the snacks themselves, Daddy announced, “They’re already on line at the frog.”

I know this frog. Once you’re on line, squeezed up the steps to slide down its mammoth tongue, there’s no turning back.

I traipsed over to the pool with Ryan’s safe snacks.

Ryan was already getting on line to slide down the frog tongue again.

“He doesn’t look too starving,” I said.

“Well, he said he was starving,” my husband countered.

“You all look well fed to me.” I handed him a Goldfish bag.

I traipsed back to the room, marveling at the chipmunks stopped in the middle of the path to devour dropped junk food. One was so absorbed in his potato chip, I had to step over him.

Exactly fifteen minutes after my Goldfish delivery, all my boys, big and small, showed up back at the cabin.

“What are you doing here?”

“They got cold.”

Now it was getting on to dinner, so my leisurely unpacking became as frenzied as my packing, to still allow time for showering and change out of air-conditioned-car clothes.

Then dinner became another race against time because there was a ventriloquist performance that couldn’t be missed. All my “boys,” big and small, young and older (Daddy) were eager for a seat up close to the stage, especially Kenny who wants to be a magician. They wanted to get there early. I wanted to enjoy my last bit of wine. Enjoy fully, the fact that I was not serving, but being served.

I wasn’t as anxious to see a puppet with a hinged mouth, so I told them to go ahead, I’d catch up. My present “activity” was fully relishing the fact that I’d just finished a meal I hadn’t had to cook myself.

After I’d savored my last sip of wine, I took the long way to the nightclub, down a meandering lakeside path. I was able to steel that small moment I’d anticipated in the simplicity of a cup of coffee and leisurely unpacking. 

This stolen moment was far better. It would turn out to be my only one, as the evening sky was serene, and I had no clue yet of the storm on our horizon. One that would turn the rest of the vacation into one of angst as everyone would be on their cell phones, leaning into them at pool sides and on line at the concession stand, trying to gauge whether or not to cut their vacations short.

But at that moment, walking out onto a dock, I turned off my ringer. I sat down to drop my feet in the water. Night, a wave of the deepest lavender, was cresting over the last of a crimson sun. I stayed until the scalloped outline of darkened trees had unfolded into its lake shadow.

When I turned my phone back on, there were numerous messages. My husband was wondering what had “happened” to me. Another to let me know their exactly location, down by the stage, to the right, by the emergency exit. I was touched then, by how my family was missing me. That I wasn’t finally there just to unpack and traipse.

Then there was just one more message. One a bit panicked. From my mother. “Have you heard about this hurricane??”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I'd Hit Bottom

I’d hit bottom. Literally. Where the stench was beyond that of rancid milk gone sour in a broken over-heated refrigerator.

This was the stench of flesh rotting in an airtight satin-lined coffin six-feet under.

And I’m not bad-scent sensitive; I don’t hang vanilla scented trees in my car, or plug in air fresheners to disguise a-not-so-fresh salmon steak baking in the oven. I don’t light a match before exiting a bathroom.

My mother had lost a brand new pill bottle, and our theory was that it had fallen off her bedside table into her scrap basket, in amongst junk mail and cat hair from when she’d clean the cat’s brush.

A basket which her cleaning lady then dumped into the enormous trash barrel – the “Tipster.” 98-gallon capacity!  Free when you sign up for twelve months of garbage pick up! With a clever latch to keep out even the keenest of raccoons:

That’s not me. I wasn’t smiling.  But  this photo, courtesy of Norsic, Long Island’s Sanitation Professionals, at , gives you a sense of scale.

And the beauty of the Tipster is that my mother can co-mingle her recyclables, one less thing for her to worry about, to be magically separated after the barrel has been emptied onto the adorable “mini packer” gabage truck.

Supposedly however, this Tipster is manufactured out of odor-resistant polyurethane. I guess all depends on how odor-resistant one needs a garbage pail to be, if you’re not actually climbing into it. I had the Tipster on its side, having already pulled out the top layer: bags of wet garbage I’d only just disposed of that morning, of the boys’ uneaten soggy Lucky Charms, except for the marshmallows, my mother’s egg shells, banana peels and the skins of my own peaches. Fresh and unstinky.

Then there was the second layer: a bit more stinky, with used kitty litter bags, but also a reprieve of odorless debris, empty tissue and toothpaste boxes, plastic containers from precooked chickens, newspapers, and a torn up old cat scratching post.

My mother’s cleaning lady last came about a week earlier  – my mother’s garbage pickup is only every other week. So the bag I was seeking had to be at the bottom. Where it was stinky. Where chicken carcasses, banana peels, broken eggs, and moldy bread combinations had begun the real process of rotting. It smelled as her refrigerator had when it died during the 90-degree week she’d been away with us in New Hampshire. All contents not only had spoiled, but begun to ooze and meld. The stench had been just this, of what I imagine rotting flesh would smell like. Inside a coffin. Six feet under.

My gagging reflex set in as it had when, even with a mask on, I’d had to wipe up the melted refrigerator mess, so congealed, the original foods were unrecognizable.


Somewhere outside the Tipster, in the sunlight, in the fresh, breathable air, came my son’s voice.

 I don’t always answer to a beck and call from one of my boys. But I needed to breathe. I backed out of the barrel.

It was 90-plus degrees.  Just like the day when I had to clean out the deceased refrigerator.


It was Ryan. “I need a band-aid.”

“It’s not bleeding.” That was the new rule. We were going bankrupt on buying band-aids. There had to be blood.

“It’s a splinter,” he said, holding up his thumb. “It’s not bleeding, but you have to put that stuff on and a band-aid to loosen it up.”

He didn’t seem surprised to find me inside a trash barrel.  Then again, he’s used to my going through our own garbage pails, as I’m constantly throwing out things I shouldn’t, like my husband’s mail left on the counter for a week that suddenly becomes important once I toss it; or a broken toy vehicle that is suddenly missed the day it winds up in the garbage.

There’s something gross on your arm,” Ryan said.

Cat fur!  When Ryan had called me out from the depths of stinky hell I must have hit that precious bedside scrap basket bag!

I crawled back in, eager now.

The bag was there, on the very bottom, filled with the bedside junk mail. Wads of cat hair. I pulled it out.

Ryan watched as I clawed manically through it, tossing out the cat hair.

No pill bottle.

I started to throw all the junk mail back into the bag, to toss back into the marvelous huge- capacity Tipster.  I tried to look at this for what it was, another mini-crisis in the day of a daughter trying to help her elderly mother keep independent. Mostly to find things; credit cards we think are stolen until they’re found in her jewelry drawer. Her medical alert necklace that we had replaced only to find the lost one had slipped into her underwear drawer.

Ryan just stood there. “ You missed some. Fur balls.”

There was a huge wad of cat hair stuck to my arm. I threw it in the bushes.

“Isn’t that littering?”

“Birds like it.”

“Oh, for their nests! We made those mesh things in school, that we filled with bits of yarn and stuff, remember? To hang from trees?”

I didn’t remember.

“ We just didn’t use…well, didn’t think to use cat hair.”

He was just staring at me now, and I knew exactly what I looked like. With my frizzing hair plastered to my cheeks in 90-degree humidity, with cat hair stuck to my arms. And what I smelled like: rotten flesh.

I indulged in a fantasy. I imagined the garbage man coming right then. Taking out his ipod earphones, to better case the situation. Then he would help me put all the garbage back in to the bin like a real gentleman, and the boys would gleefully watch (as they had ever since they were in diapers) as he emptied the Tipster into the Mini-Packer, onto some kind of conveyor belt that seemed magically to sort the stinky from the non-stinky. The embarrassing of used dental floss and Cutips from the less-embarrassing margarine containers.

He wasn’t due until the next day.  There was only Ryan. Staring at me.  I’d reached that pitch I can reach. “How about your trying to help?”

Yuck.” He ran away.

“Go help Gramma find her pills!” I yelled.  We had to leave that day, to drive back home. I had my other life, of our own house, school supplies on sale to be hoarded, and garbage pails that needed emptying.

These were not essential pills that my mother had lost, like her blood pressure of triglyceride-lowering ones. She doesn’t take that many pills actually, besides an enormous number of vitamins.

But these were pills that helped her to sleep. I myself can lose enough sleep to know what it feels like to wake up feeling like crap. I did not know what it felt like to wake up feeling like crap, and also to an aching arthritic body and a stiff artificial hip. And then to have to face getting dressed, a challenge that can seem as arduous and slow as rock climbing.

But Ryan is a good finder. He has found Gramma’s cane every time she misplaced it, and her glasses that usually wind up tangled in her bed. I had high hopes.

And there he was, running back across the yard,  “Mommy, look! “  he cried, waving a pill bottle in the air like a victory flag.

He came running across the lawn, galloping it seemed as if in slow motion, through a brilliant field of daisies, as on those commercials for antidepressants, where, if you haven’t experience the long recitation of hideous side effects, you’re once again serene and carefree.

This is me fictionalizing here.  I wish he had found them.

He didn’t.

My mother tried to assure me that she still had a few left from her last prescription.

Then she called that night to say that bottle now was gone; but she knew where it was. It had fallen off that same bedside table, but rolled under the bed – where she couldn’t reach it, as she can no longer get herself back up once she is down on her knees. Her cleaning lady was due the next morning. She would have to wait until then to get them. So at least for one night, we would both be tossing, sleepless, under the same moonless sky.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Challenge: Sell a Woolly Scarf in Tropical 90-degree Heat

Sandra's Fiberworks was on display at the annual Huntington Historical Society fine arts and craft show – in blistering 90-plus degree heat. I swear, every show I've done this summer has been a tropical day. I might as well have been trying to sell woolly scarves in Costa Rica. Who wants to touch fiber stuff when it's going to stick to them? Yes, there have been some lovely cool summer days, but I haven't been able to hit any of those as a vendor. I'm done with summer shows, will focus on fall and holidays.

BUT I did do well at this last show, had a couple of popular sellers. One man bought one of these shoulder wraps, along with a matching rope necklace for his lady (I don't get many male buyers):

These lightweight, pliable summer scarves also did well, as they add a touch of elegance, and do not stick to you in the tropics:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Feeding the Fish

Our neighbors were on vacation. I had to go next door to feed their betta fish.

Kenny couldn’t wait to tag along. You’d think we’d never had a betta ourselves, one Kenny hadn’t been nearly as excited to feed. Pets can be like toys; you like them better when they belong to someone else.

Our neighbor’s house had been updated, and the front door keyhole was just like the updated one had been at our NH cottage rental on our own vacation – with a little swinging door over the keyhole itself. And it was just as hard to unlock.

“What if we can’t get in?” Kenny said. “The fish will starve. It could die…”

I was a little panicked myself.  What if their one and only pet did die on our watch?

Actually, except for a single fish. these are not pet people.

At least Mary isn’t. Her daughter had been eager to see our new gerbils. “I really, really, really love my fish, but I really, really, really want a dog." Ana had been peering at the gerbils gnawing on a toilet paper tube.  “But my mom won’t let me. My mom said a dog will poop on the rug. And she’s afraid of cats, I don’t know why…” 

“Gerbils poop too,” Kenny had said.

They do poop. A lot. But hard little round nuggets that I can sweep up, after their exercise workouts on our kitchen floor.

I’d been in our neighbor’s house before, but nothing like being in someone else’s house when they’re not home, when there’s that space to notice details you might not otherwise.

There wasn’t much to notice. The house was spotless. Clutterless. I saw why Ana’s mother wouldn’t want a dog pooping on their living room rug – it was cream-colored.  To match the cream-colored couch. 

A trio of framed reproductions of perfectly shaped green leaves, (ones too perfect to ever actually exist in nature) hung above the fireplace. A birch wooden bowl of birch wooden fruit on the coffee table was the only other detail of even mild note.

The fish was in the kitchen, in a girlish pink plastic tank, on the corner of the granite counter. A completely cleared-of-clutter counter; I don’t even remember seeing a toaster. Certainly no pile of worn school folders, stained cookbooks, clutter baskets and messy penholders you’d find on my own counters.

There was not a handprint to be had on the stainless steel double-door refrigerator that Kenny peered into like a mirror. “Don’t touch,” I said as I remind him in museums.

“Why don’t we have one of these? Look, it even has an ice maker.”

“Ice makers break. And besides I wouldn’t let you touch it.” Then I’d have to wash it. Just as I never get around to washing our windows, the ones he draws on with window markers.

“Their house is big,” Kenny said. “It’s bigger than ours.”

“It’s the same size,” I said, though I certainly couldn’t compare the square footage. And why should I sound defensive? I couldn’t care less whether they had a bigger house.  I just didn’t say what I knew, that it seemed bigger because it was pristine and entirely uncluttered. Not a Lego, dirty napkin, book or reams of scrap paper on their coffee table.

Granted, I’m sure Mary was like me, preferred to return to a clean house after vacations. But our house, even when clean, is still cluttered. Cleaning the clutter, I admit, can be simply rearranging it into a neat pile, like my folders on our ungranite, old Formica counters.

This could never be a gerbil house. Not with these new wood floors, as reflective as the stainless steel refrigerator. Their tiny toes might actually leave hairline scratches. This was a fish house only.

The fish didn’t look too good. He sat on the bottom. His head was hanging out of the princess castle.

“He’s dead,” Kenny said.

Even after I turned on the tank light, he just lay there. That’s how our own betta had died, in his little hut.

He moved! He’d just been sleeping. I don’t remember our own betta ever sleeping that soundly.

He took a long time to wake up, and as we waited for him to eat a couple of food balls, I glanced out at their backyard. Pristine. The mahogany deck was freshly stained; I’d seen Mary out there that spring, on her hands and knees, brushing on the stain herself. All the chairs were pushed in nicely around the big deck table. The centerpiece, a lush pink geranium in a blue-glazed pot, bloomed brilliantly.

“Wish we had a big house,” Kenny said as we relocked the door.

“Our house is big enough. It just seems smaller because your stuff is all over the place.”

Thankfully, the house was easier to lock than unlock. Walking down their steps, I couldn’t help envying the pots of petunias on their porch. How does anyone get things grow like that? The white Adirondack chairs were clean. And white.

I found some solace in our neighbor’s taste not being mine. But walking back to our own very unpristine house, I was bothered – as soon as I walked up the front steps. The morning sun shone at that precise angle to highlight the cobwebs in all their dewy splendor; I hadn’t swept the porch all summer. There was one sad ivy plant, and it was only there because it was sick; I didn’t want its disease to spread to my other houseplants.

Before we’d left to feed the fish, I’d thought I’d been leaving behind a clean house.  Now I knew it depended on your definition of clean; yes, I had vacuumed and dusted just the day before.  And rearranged, if not gotten rid of, actual clutter. But the boys’ “stuff” was everywhere already; Legos dumped again, making it easier for them to seek out tiny pieces they can’t find just by digging through the box. Scraps of paper littered the living room floor, as Ryan had been cutting and taping paper spear heads.

And dirt. Damn. I really hate when the sun falls so precisely, to highlight even the dust along the baseboards.

I glanced out our window at our own backyard deck. No nice large table with pushed-in chairs. Just a second-hand glass one. With no chairs.

Though I noticed the table now had a centerpiece. No flowering pot, but I appreciated it all the same, if not more, as it was the ingenuity of my boys:

And if our house were pristine, I would have to wash the windows, as I have seen Mary doing, sometimes first thing in the morning, maybe even before her first coffee. I would have to wash away Kenny's scrawled purple dragons and silly faces. And if I had stainless steel appliances, I would not have the heart to wipe away those small handprints – truly more splendorous than even the dewiest of cobwebs.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Time to CHECK OUT!

“Where can I pack this?” Ryan held up a tiny Blue Jay feather.

I was sweeping up the Carefresh cage bedding littering the carpet, marveling at how we’d actually transported our new gerbils in their ten gallon tank, all the way to New Hampshire. I was already covered in sweat, and it was only 9 am. Now checkout of our rental house was in one hour.

I’d tried to get the boys to pack up their own stuff. I’d asked Kenny to scoop up the Star War Legos, thousands of them it seemed, that he’d dumped in the middle of the living room rug. He’d put away one or two, before becoming involved in building a ship.

At the time of Ryan’s actual discovery of the Blue Jay feather, we’d marveled at its striking beauty. Not now.

“Pack it wherever you’ll remember it,” I said to him, and moved on, picking up cheese-stick wrappings. “What is it you can’t actually throw these things in the garbage?”

“But where? I need a special bag.”

“You have a bag.” Ryan loved bags. He’d bought his kid’s messenger one, for all his paraphernalia, Pokemon cards, and special vacation finds. “It has that nice little clear pocket on the outside,” I added. “Perfect for a feather.”

“It will get lost. I need a Ziploc bag. Do they have those here?” He headed for the kitchen to rummage through the drawers.

He came back with a gallon-size freezer bag.

I told him he didn’t need a gallon-size freezer bag for an itsy bitsy feather.

“Then what then?”

Besides Legos, cheese stick wrappers and gerbil debris, there were trails of potato chip and cookies crumbs, and the blue ice I had tried to scrub off the cream carpet, only to leave a bigger bluer stain. Every year, we wound up in this same frenzied state on these checkout mornings, when it always seemed a tropical 100 degrees. I’d sweat through my underwear so it was stuck up my butt. “All right. But go now and clear all that wood off the deck. ”

I knew this was a mute demand, as Ryan is a collector, hoarder really, and every twig he’d brought back from his forest forays was “special.”

Ryan looked stricken. “What do you mean?”

“I mean go put it all back in the woods where it came from.”

“I love those sticks.”

I paused in my manic sweeping. “Ryan. You can’t take them home.”

“But they’re special.”

“One. You can take one stick home. That’s it.”

He skipped out the door happily.

Kenny was quietly making his ship. At least he wasn’t bothering me.

I went to get a status on Gramma who hadn’t even emerged for breakfast yet. Packing for Gramma didn’t just mean a suitcase. It meant a lot of recycled paper gift bags for last minute pairs of shoes and enormous vitamin bottles.

I knocked on her door. She opened it a crack. She didn’t want me to see what I saw, her bureau covered with those vitamin bottles, and other loose things, hairbrushes, books, lipsticks. . . She knew I yearned to sweep them all quickly into one of those gift bags.

“We have to leave in a half hour,” I announced in the most casual, gentle voice I could muster. My sweat-soaked underwear felt like a most uncomfortable thong. A butt flosser.

“So what if we’re an half hour late.” She shut her door. She hates when I rush her, especially for doctor appointments.

I went outside to empty the trash bag. Ryan’s forest collection was still on the deck. “What’s this?”

Ryan was admiring a stick. “I did go pack my one really special one. I just….” He shook his head. “I’m going to miss all these….”

Daddy magically appeared. He’d been packing the cars; we had two cars this year, since he’d come separately midweek, so decisions had to be made about what would go where. Especially since his car was spotless, unlike my far more kid-friendly minivan: no old melted candy canes now melding with pooling sticky fruit roll-ups stuck to Daddy’s seats. And no doubt, no tree branches.

“Come on Ryan, let’s do this now, get all this back where it belongs, in the woods.” Bless his fatherly influence, as only he can motivate Ryan at home, in that manly tone, to drag big heavy garbage cans out to the curb.

I went to check on the status of that actual car packing. In my van, I found Ryan’s “one” stick: not even a branch. A tree trunk really, that he’d strategically slid under the back seats, to where its leafy head would stick out right between Gramma’s legs, in the front seat.

Then I looked at how much room was left. Only the front seat.

My husband was a fast packer, but perhaps not the most efficient – besides my mother’s bag, we still had to find space for out pets’ ten-gallon tank.

“Where are the gerbils going to go?” I asked him, when they came back from dumping the wood.

He shrugged, brushing birch bark off his shorts. “In the front seat?”

“And where then will Gramma sit?”

For the trip home, the boys wanted to ride with Daddy because he had the iPad, and Gramma would ride with me. And the gerbils. There wasn’t even room on the backseats, where he’d piled the bags of dirty bed sheets, and thrown water gear, inner tubes and forgotten sodden towels found down at the beach.

“You have to take the gerbils then,” I said.

“I’m not having rodents in my car.”

“Well, then, you take my mother.”

“They’re not just rodents, Daddy, they’re gerbils.” Ryan said.

Kenny was suddenly there, the least frenzied of us all. He’d brought out his Lego ship to show off. “Yeah, they’re not even just gerbils. They’re Rosey and Boch.”

This had become a family meeting.

Except for Gramma who was calling from her window; she was locked in her bedroom again.

Thanks to the newly updated upscale rustic doorknobs, Gramma kept getting locked into rooms. Even the boys had trouble, due to how hard these knobs actually were to turn. Even harder for my poor mother with her arthritic hands. She’d finally put first aide tape over all the openings. That had worked! Until now. The tape probably finally had snapped when she’d shut her door in my face.

My husband was ok with my mother when she wasn’t telling him what to do, or what not to eat. And when she wasn’t suggesting he might move into the fast lane to pass those slower vacation trailers.

Still, he was considering the alternative. “Will they make a mess, like in the living room?”

“That wasn’t a ‘mess,’ just some of their bedding spilled when I was changing it….”

He looked skeptical; rightly so perhaps, as whenever I myself drive his car, I leave my hallmarks of empty coffee cups, napkins, and muffin crumbs.

So after freeing Gramma, he chose to reorganize my van to make room for both her and the gerbils.

We did actually get off only a half hour late. And Gramma and I enjoyed the quiet of our mother/daughter ride back home, having space to admire the mountains, a space otherwise that would have been hijacked by two boys whining because they didn’t have an iPad.

In the backseat instead, we had the company of the gerbils, quiet except for their incessant cardboard gnawing, probably as much from frayed nerves as instinct; I worried their tiny brains were rattling in their tiny skulls with each bump in the road.

They made the trip ok, though hovered in their hut looking a bit glassy-eyed and shaken.

And once home, I found a stack of tiny pinecones Ryan unpacked into a neat pile on his desk. I hadn’t known about them, and they were a pleasant surprise, tightly curled and green, as in retrospect, those frenzied life moments can be quite memorable.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

New! Triangle Cuff

I guess you can call it a cuff...anyway, a bracelet of sorts, made from a single triangle I wove on my
 smallest triangle loom.
 The bead is a gorgeous ceramic one,
 painted an earthy green.

The cuff is secured by velcro, making it adjustable. Hopefully the beginning of a new handwoven jewelry line.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Granite Counters and Old Clocks

“Whose is that?” We all asked, thinking one of our cell phones was ringing.

Not my cell, its ring a xylophone. My husband’s is hard rock. Gramma’s cell phone, uncharged all week, is probably dead.

The “ring” was a kind of chime, so I even checked the old wall clock, a brass melded confusion of tarnished rabbit, deer and pheasant hunting trophies (as well as a gun), the actual chimes elaborate pinecones. Not a clock I’d care to hang on my own wall, but I appreciated it for having survived to the status of relic, one of the last in this updated rental lake house, besides the brass angry goose on the mantel, and an amateur oil painting of flat mountains – relics I love in old woodsy cottages, and that in each lake rental we try every year, become harder and harder to find.

The clock has been stuck at ten of four, probably for generations:

The source of the chiming turned out to be the washing machine. A new frontloading cute digital one, with a matching cute little dryer, in the newly renovated laundry room. With enough settings so precise, even a tissue might survive on the ultra-super-extra-fine delicate cycle.

“They’ll break,” Ryan said of the machines. “Too fancy. The more buttons, the better it will be to break. And they’ll have to call the fix-it man too.”

He was parroting me as I parroted our appliance repairman who had said that about our own machines that are always breaking down; far too many settings, he told me. The fewer the “dials,” the less apt washers and dryers are to sputter during the spin cycle, refuse to drain etc.

“And who needs grand counters in a forest house?” said Kenny, now the one to parrot Mommy.

“Granite,” I said. We don’t have granite counters in our own bathrooms, let alone in some rustic summer cottage. You should see the showerhead – with little pressure, it is more like the “rain shower” at the spa where Keith and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. 

The new owner’s little framed note on the table anticipates more exciting updates, like the ripping out of the kitchen cabinets that had been hand-carved by the original owner sixty years earlier. As well, the note trumpets the new plumbing system; not sure why, as the toilets flush so quietly and slowly, you hold your breath hoping all will be sucked down.

I didn’t realize how much I was complaining until I heard myself in my parroting children. But I do yearn for the woodsy lakeside rental I summered in growing up; buckling linoleum floors, peeling Formica counters, mismatched furniture and chipped coffee mugs. No cream-colored rug to fret over if your son dripped blue Italian ice on it.  No hand-painted-made-in-Italy rock-heavy bowls that are a better fit as mini wading pools for our gerbils than for cereal. 

And no machines – my mother rinsed out underwear and T-shirts in the kitchen sink, to hang dry on a line stretched between two birch trees. Once a week, we ventured into town to the laundry mat, and to the local market where I was treated to Bazooka bubble gum, a comic book and maybe a plastic boat to sail on the lake.

I think about returning to that house. But I’m sure it has changed too.  I’m sure the old squeaky screen doors and buckling floors have been replaced. As well as the faded curtains decorated with bears and pine trees. There’s probably a big screen TV as there is here. Maybe even granite counters. And machines.

Maybe what I’m really yearning for is another time, not another place. The aura of another era, when it was me who was growing up, not my children. When there weren’t all the things I needed to do, or the worries, or even plans for a day. When there really was just the moment at hand – the seeking out of salamanders under damp logs, sitting in the sandy shallow area feeding the sunfish, picking a tightly-shut water lily to float in a cereal bowl, and to watch miraculously it seemed, flower overnight.

I was as young then as my boys are now, but their own moments can seem a far cry from my own; I wish they didn’t wake to a television they want to turn on in the morning. That they could know those woodsy scents that aren’t disguised by freshly stained wainscotting. That they could know the quiet of a lake, not the hammering and sawing, as other homeowners are busy updating their own cottages.

And that they could know what it was like to be entirely disconnected, when we didn’t even have a cord phone. They are growing up as connected as I am now, looking out at the lake, tapping on a laptop.

But as different as those moments may be, I’m beginning to realize that the immediacy is the same: the sudden enchantment of the tiny “purple” pinecone Ryan finds and can’t wait to show me. He runs through the woods behind the house, hauling back logs with heads like lizards’.  Kenny can spend more than one long moment following the path of a “very hairy poisonous” caterpillar along the dock. Ryan can run up to me, dripping wet from the lake, to announce that the president should know that he has discovered a new species: a “Fast Dragon,” about five inches long, blue, and if you blink, "one minute he’s right there, the next, across the whole lake." 

And finally, there is my own moment: of sitting on the dock with my feet dangling in the water, only to look down into the old tired eyes of a very large snapping turtle who had been gently nibbling my toes.

So I can take back home with me my turtle tale. But as I write, the digital washing machine is stuck on spin. And chiming merrily.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Strong Currents

My mother had finally decided to go for a swim.

I had assured her that the dock had three convenient steps down into the shallow sandy area. She has always been a strong swimmer; back home, she used to swim every day, even in the frigid October ocean. But now she is beginning to have trouble getting in and out of chairs, let alone in and out of a lake. We’re renting a house for a week on Lake Sunapee. 

It was late afternoon, and the boys were still in the water, Ryan having monopolized the one kayak. Kenny had tried it once, futilely stabbing at the water with the two-ended paddle. “I’m scared,” he had proclaimed, and that was the end of that. He resumed seeking out the “electric eel” he claimed to have seen hiding amongst the lake weeds.

My mother changed into her suit.We commenced a treacherous trek down what otherwise is a relatively small hill, as she tentatively navigated the uneven stone path with her cane. Her other arm was hooked firmly through mine.

I was focused on her feet except to glance up, to check on the boys.

I thought it was Ryan back in the kayak.

It wasn’t. It was my six year old who was rightly afraid of going in over his head. Kenny. Without a life preserver. 

Or even the paddle.

I started yelling down the hill. So the whole damn lake could hear me.

He was already drifting away. Lake Sunapee is a big lake, and even in the coves, the currents can be strong.  He was quickly being carried out of the cove.

Ryan was standing on the dock. He looked up at me. “Mom?” he called in a tiny, nervous voice.

Then it was Kenny’s voice that was echoing across the cove. “I’m scared!” came his call, distant and mournful as a loon’s.

Damn it Kenny!” I try not to use that word around them. Except when the basement flooded. But my son was drifting away. He could drown. And my mother, leaning heavily, dependently, on me, could fall.

Sandwich-generation moment. Up close. Clear as the “poisonous” caterpillar Kenny had found on the dock and examined under his bug magnifying glass.

“Go, “ my mother said.  “Let’s move it – get me to that tree.”

A big sturdy pine was only a couple of steps ahead. She reached for it. I ran.

I had to swim out quite a ways to reach Kenny. And to reprimand him. I was glad I was too busy to have witnessed my mother teetering  down the rest of the hill alone.

Part II: Getting into the water:

No problem. My mother easily made it down those three convenient little dock steps.

But she no longer feels safe going in over her head, and the sandy footing gave way to slippery rocks. She was quickly ready to get out.

Which shouldn’t have been any more of a problem than getting in. She could use her cane and support herself, and me on the other side, back up the steps.

“That won’t work,” she said adamantly. “It’s better if I do it this way.” She sat on the top step. Sat down.

Her idea was to “scoot” in reverse on her bottom down the length of the dock. “This is what I did when I fell.”

When she fell? But she hadn’t fallen. And when she had, scooting had only gotten her across her bedroom floor – she’d still had to call 911 for someone to get her up.

I thought about mentioning this fact. What was the point? She was resolved. She was already sitting down. And scooting.

We all watched. Ryan was back in the kayak and pretending to be engaged in paddling, but he was gazing at his grandmother with huge curiosity. Kenny had retreated to a rock under a big leafy tree where he could stare unabashed.

It takes a very long time for a very elderly lady to scoot along on her bottom.

What felt like hours later, she had made it to the end of the dock. Her plan was to push herself up the one step to the stone path. “Now just give me your hand…” she said.

We argued. I couldn’t just give her my hand. I needed to heave her up from behind. She argued back that she was too heavy. She insisted that I give a hand.

Kenny came out from under his tree. “Gramma?”

“Not now Kenny. “ My patience for the afternoon was gone. Evaporated into the steamy afternoon air.

“But Gramma?”

“Yes, Kenny?”  she said sweetly, as if he’d just come over to ask her to play a game of double solitaire or to look at his latest drawing of the adventures of “Mr. Fluffy.”

“Gramma, a person can’t give a hand. It would be all bloody. And they don’t sell hands in stores.”

This made her laugh hard. She laughed and laughed, sprawled out on the dock, and I laughed. At the whole situation. We were both laughing, lapsing into a state of hysteria as we can do now, as when after her last fall, she was discharged from the hospital in lemon-yellow socks.

Kenny looked hurt and annoyed.  He retreated back to his tree. “Just don’t get bitten, Gramma, by that caterpillar  I saw on the dock. It could kill you.”

This made her laugh even harder.

But the laughter had softened her resolve enough so that she considered now my suggestion of lifting her up. “You won’t be as heavy if you can scoot yourself up to that second step,” I said.

Which she did so she was then in a sitting position. So that I actually could “give” her a hand and heave her upright.

Ryan returned to kayaking. Kenny came out from under his tree to search for the very hairy caterpillar that he was convinced was poisonous. I have learned to revel in moments of such resurrected calm. Like the calm of lake first thing in the morning.  Before the wind can whip up those currents. When the only ripples might be cast by those delicate water bugs just skimming the glass surface. The “water spiders” as Kenny calls them, that give us hope in the miraculous, as they seem able actually to walk on water.

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