Sunday, June 26, 2011


Every year the fair comes to our town, just like in Charlotte's Web.  There are some differences: there aren't any animals.  The pickup trucks parked in the dirt are  - most of them - built after 1990.  But the smells, the sounds, the expression on kids' faces - these are lasting images of the fair that I don't imagine have changed much since the 1940s.

This year we were minus a boy - T spent the weekend with his grandparents, one boy alone with all that love - his birthday gift.  Back in New Hampshire, two kids and two parents equals an easy outing; I'm always shocked by the difference it makes, having a one-on-one ratio.  I took L to the bungy jumping trampoline thingy while M took B on the rearing motorcycles.  Well, tried to take B - who was having none of it.  Four rides attempted, four rides that had to be stopped so hysterical B could be plucked from the carousel horse/miniature train/motorcycle/honking car.  He did make it through the fun house, though there a few tense moments in the clanging forest of metal bars and I had to carry him through the great spinning wheel.  And he found the huge yellow slide to be just fine, as long as he could ride in Daddy's lap.

L had no fear and would ride even the teenagers' toys if he were tall enough.  My favorite part of the fair is watching him on the bungy jumping trampoline thingy.  He leaps, he does splits in the air, he somersaults forwards and backwards.  Last year the power cut out partway through his turn and he was stuck up there for about 20 minutes; by the time he was released he'd drawn a crowd of spectators who clapped and cheered at his flips.  My seven-year-old boy, who knows all the words to both Simple Gifts and We Will Rock You and can make surly carnival workers grin with his own joy at being high in the air.  And upside down.

While L was reaching greater and greater heights a little boy ran by with hands linked to a much older brother who had a giant, plastic blown-up hammer under his arm.  The hammer was stored under rickety metal steps while the two scrambled into the Tilt 'O Whirl ride.  The little brother - made powerful by a superman cape hung from the back of his shirt - got to choose the best cup. His face told the world: this is the best. night. ever.  The fair season is short - get a piece of errant cotton candy caught in your eye and you'll miss it.  It won't be very many years until M and I can sit on a bench and send the boys on ahead to win their own giant hammers and make themselves dizzy on gravity-defying rides.  I bet we'll follow along behind, though.  I bet we'll make a few tries for our own goofy hammers.

Two kids are easier than three but I missed my three last night.  I hoped they missed each other, too, even just a little.

Twain once said “To a man with a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail” I spent a few years of my life-- the ones right out of school--fumbling and flailing while trying to make sense of the world on my own. There was a time when I was too shy or maybe too defensive to let myself experience what was around me, blinded by what I thought to be true. Instead I chose to play it safe and, ever the conservative, I made my way somehow.

This past week we made the journey to the middle school gym, along with friends and family to celebrate the last day of classes with our eighth graders. Come this fall they will be attending the high school, though it seems like just yesterday they were starting kindergarten. This particular evening was a chance for us to relive memories of the past year and rejoice in friendships and all that they have learned. The principal spoke about his experience with this set of kids and he likened their time in middle school to a roller coaster; which seemed very apt given that their class trip was to an amusement park and for some it was their first experience riding on one. Once you do it’s easy to understand how slow it can be to ascend before hurriedly plummeting to the depths. It’s enough to make your head spin. True, middle school can also have that effect on some. Mr. N also talked about the tools they were given these past few years, and how these skills would serve them well as freshman. My hope for all of the graduates is to possess the ability to differentiate between those tools. To know when to use self restraint and when to indulge, to know that language has a hierarchy and when to show some control in word choice and when to let it all fly. To have the realization that there is always a choice; an advanced technology is not always necessary, a simple one can often do a better job. To quote that old scholar Albus Dumbledore: “There may come a time when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy.”

It took me a great many years to see the power tools wield both figuratively and literally. I am constantly amazed at the effect the right pan, pot, or cutting implement can have when I bake. I try to be resourceful and substitute when I don’t have when the recipe calls for, but sometimes sticking to the printed sheet in front of me gets the best results. On Monday I had the chance to see for myself the beauty of Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures when I visited the MFA in Boston. In each room of the gallery there were quotes from the artist on the wall. One sentiment that really struck me was when he spoke about hitting the glass to shape it as he knew he should, but it wasn’t until he worked with the fire and flames, using them as a tool as well, that he began to create such beautiful works. Touring the
rooms I was gripped by the desire to touch everything, yet knowing one wrong move could send it all crashing to the floor. Chihuly addressed the issue of fragileness at the beginning of the exhibit when he referenced a time when he purposely threw his works into the river to test their resiliency. They surprised him by being stronger than he imagined. As my son walked across the stage to receive his diploma in the midst of his friends and classmates, I could see how these kids were stronger than we think, yet at the same time as fragile as a teacup. With every teenager there are moments of striking out with mean words, hands and fists, and the next moment wishing desperately for the comforting arms of a hug. No matter how old he gets, T will always be my child and that gives me the right to hug him whenever I please.

It’s sometimes hard for me to acknowledge how much he’s grown. At the end of the celebration I realized that the next time we are gathered together it will be for his graduation from high school. And then the whole world will be opening up to him. I can see myself helping him pack, making sure the car is chock full with bits of this and that he will need in his new life, including a hammer to hang a photograph or two on the wall. He could probably use an old shoe, but this way the nail is sure to go in straight.

Next Week's Word: Tobacco

Monday, June 20, 2011


Today was a gathering to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of two dear friends. Amidst the salads, sandwiches, cheese, crackers and cans of seltzer we chatted with those we hadn’t seen in quite some time and were introduced to others we hadn’t yet met. It was a lively, festive affair, made more perfect by the beautiful weather.

As a surprise, the feted couple came out wearing their attire from that beloved day decades earlier. Though the pants were updated, the shirt, belt, dress and veil were all original and making an appearance after years of being tucked away. When the couple began to dance there was a look that passed between them, one that said “This moment is the one we’ve been working towards. How happy I am to share it with you.” And that’s true of all of us. All of the tragedies, dire health issues, moments of anger and betrayal are included in what we stand upon to gaze at the future. Reaching out to hold on to that hand when the tsunami of heartbreak hits is what makes it possible for us to go on. And every day that we last as a couple or a family is a testament to the love that we have for each other.

As the evening progressed there was bocci to be played, bubbles to be blown and extreme jungle crochet for the brave and daring in the crowd. After a bit a friend decided it was time for her to be heading home. Though the fire had yet to be lit, she insisted she wouldn’t miss it.  “S’mores,” she said “are overrated.” I told her she might have to taste my s’more whoopie pies someday--with graham cookies, marshmallow icing and a pile of hot fudge hidden between. “In the south,” she said “they call them Moon Pies and I had one once.” Then she emphatically pronounced, “It was a bitter disappointment.” Fortunately the day with our friends was anything but.

Finally the three of us made our way home on the tiny dirt roads, and a feeling of summer enveloped us. We stopped for deer crossing our path and marveled at their beauty; fireflies greeted us when we
reached our driveway, as if welcoming us back.  Though the afternoon couldn’t have been more perfect, I look forward to tomorrow. M and I will be celebrating 17 years since the day we met. If we can just hold each other tight enough through good times and the bad, it will be our 40th before you know it.

This is not a good day to write about "bitter." The sun, it shines. The breeze, it plays with hair and keeps bugs from landing long enough to bite or sting. The garden, it reveals a tomato blossom. The grass, it gets cut. The children, oh the children - they play together for HOURS with minimal argument about which super powers are displayed by which boy. The weeds, they get whacked. The groceries, they do not get shopped for; the day is too sweet for me to travel to the store for an extended period of air conditioning. The husband, he has been mine for twelve years. My world, it is pretty damn close to perfect.

Even this is a relief: it's the last day Carly the horse needs her pills. Have you ever tried feeding pills to a smart horse? Geesh. But she ingested enough medicine over the week that her leg is no longer twice its usual size and now Molly the pony no longer needs to be tied to a tree during meal time to keep her away from Carly's tainted bucket. Molly is a hoover - no worries when she needs meds in her food, she'll eat them because they're there, no matter the bitter taste.

Life is tidal - the joy of one weekend is not likely to last the entire month. Storm clouds will return, both inside and outside. Tempers will flare. Children will resort to physical violence, mild only because of their smallish size. But for today the boys are all on the same side fighting a battle I can only catch quick glimpses of. Animals are healthy. The air is sweet.

Next Week's Word: Hammer

Sunday, June 12, 2011


 My children - more than the sum of their parts.  Love you, babies.

Summers when I was a child consisted of Books (obviously!), Berries, Bikes, Bugs and Board Games. We often played for pennies--uncles, aunts and cousins all vying to win the pot--but there was always ice cream. Always.  It came in a huge container brought by the Schwann man. And occasionally I got to pick the flavor.

Word for next week: Bitter

Monday, June 6, 2011


To the excited boy who stopped at my desk,

You were so enthusiastic when you asked if I wanted to hear the semaphore alphabet. Please forgive me for thinking that what you meant was somehow associated with trains. Thomas the tank engine was a favorite around our house many years ago, so this inclination and assumption was a natural one for me. But once you started saying, “Alpha, Bravo, Charlie” I suddenly remembered these words being recited by a friend when we were in college. The chance to fly a plan was somewhat of an obsession and learning to communicate this way was considered a necessity. I was also assigned the job of Listener back then. Before every test I coached and directed, which meant that afterwards I shared in the sweet victory of the (hopefully) many correct answers on the examinations. I never actually got to fly in one of those little planes, still I often think about what it must have been like to be so close to the clouds.

The next few letters you uttered came as a surprise to me, obviously they had not lodged in my brain as thoroughly as the “A, B and C” had done. As you continued, there was a look of intense concentration on your face, though I knew you had it in you to finish. When you came to “M” I chuckled, realizing it must have been an obvious choice for the person creating the alphabet, at least as far as my friends and family are concerned. “Q, R and S” presented you with a bit of a problem, or this is what I surmised when you slowed down and calmed yourself by putting your fingers behind your two front teeth. All the better to help you think.

When you got to “W” a great big smile crossed my face. I don’t think you noticed, perhaps you thought it was me cheering you on to the big finish. Once the word “Whisky” left your mouth I could only drink in that serendipitous moment. It felt warm and smooth going down, as it often does when the exact right people, time and place collide. I had been presented with a gift, as surely as if you had wrapped it up and tied it with a beautiful bow.

The last three letters seemed easy. You finished with a grand flourish and then left my desk, moving on to whatever grabbed your attention next. A few weeks ago you counted for me in Greek, this week was an entertaining alphabet, who knows what type of recitation will soon follow?

Thank you for making my Library such an interesting place to be and for showing me (again) how lucky I am to be a Children’s Librarian. Where else could I possibly have this much fun?

Whiskey and I have failed to achieve any type of beautiful friendship. We're not enemies. But we have different goals. I'm a wine woman, with an occasional taste for beer; more rarely I'll have a refreshing, slightly sweet cocktail, especially if I'm on a restaurant patio with friends who share my sense of humor. Whiskey has always struck me as an indoor drink, the kind of drink you have in the winter to warm up your core, often drunk off a sticky surface in a dim bar. Whiskey reminds me of bonfires barely kept in check by scruffy men with long sticks. Whiskey makes me think of tragedy; when disaster strikes a man down, you don't revive him with a fruity sip of Chardonnay. My own meager disappointments, however, respond well to a delicate Pinot. Brave people with more to lose drink whiskey - comfortable people drink margaritas. I err on the side of comfort, or maybe willful blindness. Don't fall to the floor in a faint in my house; the dogs - greyhounds, about the quarter of the heft needed for rescue dog status - are not prepared with barrels around their necks. We may have a few drips of whiskey left in a bottle high on a back shelf, but reaching it will take desperation and step ladders. Best to laugh with us, sip with us, nibble your almost well-paired cheese and stay upright. A toast, to bull-headed well-being.

Next Week's Word: Child