Home Alone

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Emilio prepared for saying good-bye to everyone by crying.  “I don’t want to go.  It’s been too short.” Then he got dressed, ate breakfast, and pitched in to help us all get out of our vacation rental by 10:00, after a late night for all of us.

There were more tears this morning, but not Emilio’s.  He’d left with Adrienne and Matt on Friday to go back to Long Island.  David and I were lucky — we got to extend our family vacation into the weekend, with Melia and Michael, Mackenzie and Sam all at the house until this morning.

This was our first family vacation with this iteration of family.  Our week together at a big, comfortable house on Squam Lake was terrific – fun, sweet, funny, scenic, serious, tasty, refreshing, relaxed and energy packed.  There were constant conversations among the family and flow of guests, so many people visiting from so many spokes of the family at one point that a visitor said good-bye to Adrienne as she was going out the door, thinking she was a guest leaving.

There were quiet evenings with only the core nine of us, Emilio asleep and the rest of us reading or talking over a game.  There were late nights with a crowd for dinner and numerous stunner sunsets.  The World Cup final was streamed on three different computers set on tables facing a semi-circle of chairs.  At one point the streaming feed of one computer was 3 seconds behind, creating sequential squealing and groaning across the room, as those watching the on time screens reacted and the rest of the room caught up. Emilio climbed his first mountain (West Rattlesnake) and he and I together picked every accessible ripe blueberry on our corner of the lake, out in the morning to get what had ripened overnight and eat it before the birds.

Now I’m home alone for the first time in 10 days.  “Transitions are hard,” I said last night, thinking about how just now would feel, everyone gone, the house only holding David and me today and for many days to come.  But as I listened to the kids talk about their own transitions, back to our usual geographically scattered state, I thought maybe I have it easiest. I’m already home.

And actually, I’m not home alone.  Long story, but Sam ended up flying back to Tennessee today and will be back up next weekend to get his car.  That meant his puppy Quinoa will be here with me for the week, a particularly adorable part of the family left to make the house seem a bit less empty.

 

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On Top Of What I Looked At

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For 22 years I looked at the Ossipee Mountains on the far horizon across the southwestern coves of Squam Lake.  From the Westwinds Cottages, where our family spent a week every summer, I could see the Ossipees behind the closer height of Red Hill,  a hazy ridge of mountains I’d never climbed.  I knew the Ossipees were a ring of mountains from an ancient volcano, but there were few known trails and no maps, and I was always busy climbing the higher White Mountains to the north.

Yesterday I got to stand on top of the ridge I looked at all those summers and take in a distant view of that southwestern corner of Squam Lake, along with a gloriously expansive view of Lake Winnipesaukee.  The trail to the summit of Mt. Roberts passed over numerous ledges with views of the lakes to the south.

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From the top of Mt. Roberts we followed the High Ridge Trail, which strings many of the peaks together.  It’s an old carriage road, running along the 2,000 foot ridge, and is wide and grassy and some of the best hiking footing I’ve ever experienced.

The trails in the Ossipees have been mapped by the Trail Bandit, a man who started by mapping St. John in the Virgin Islands for hikers, then took on the Ossipees next.  I don’t know what the connection is, but I’m thankful for the work he’s done to make the trails more accessible.  The Lakes Region Conservation Trust has gone even further in making their conservation area in the Ossipees accessible by creating trail maps and kiosks in the Castle in the Clouds area of the Ossipee Mountains, clearly marking 30 miles of trails with blazes and signs.

With a strong wind cooling off the hot sun and flickering light through the leaves of the trees along the trail, it was an ideal day for hiking.  I fell into a smooth rhythm of walking, the flow of a good hike following me long after I got to the end of the trail.  At the summit of Mt. Roberts we chatted with a couple having lunch there.  We talked about hiking lists we’ve completed (the man has done all the 4,000 footers in New England and the woman was working on 52 With A View) and how for the most part none of us are into lists at this point in our lives — too many other things competing for our recreational attention.

But after yesterday, the peaks in the Ossipees is a list I plan to pay more attention to.

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Sisters

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I feel lucky to have three sisters, and even luckier to have just spent three days at the beach with them.  The one day of clouds didn’t seem to matter in balance with the glorious sunshine and clear air of the other days.  The cottage Chris was renting looks over the marshes of the South River and it’s a short walk to the beach.  We were surrounded by the best of being on the water — the snaking blue of a tidal river contrasted by green marsh grass, and the hiss and tumble of waves breaking white on the sand.

Spending time with my sisters walking along the beach and the river, sitting on the deck or the porch talking, cooking and eating and cleaning up, playing Catch Phrase and talking about books and movies and memories and writing, I experience only the blessings of having sisters I’m close to and can connect with.

But I guess I didn’t always feel this way, or was willing to explore other experiences of my sisters, or was just expressing the usual adolescent angst when I wrote the poem below. It was among the treasures in the album and box of old photos and papers my parents gave me last weekend.  If I remember correctly, I wrote this in junior high school.  Maybe I’ll write an update today.

To My Lovely Sisters

Down by the telephone
Lovely and fair
Sits Chrisie my sister
Covered with hair

From the tip of her nose
To the crown of her head
It hides all her beauty
And makes her look dead

And up in the bedroom
As fair as the first
Sits my next sister
Jeanne the cursed

She yells and she screams
Til her throat must be sore
And continues to prove
She’s an obstinate bore

And then there’s dear Meggie
As fair as the rest
Who’ll run from her work
At that she is best

She cherishes her candy
Which she eats all alone
And if someone takes some
She lets forth her loud groan

And then there is me, too
Of all I’m the best
I’m kind and I’m loving
And never a pest

So now you have met
All my great sisters three
But kindest and loveliest
Is the great me.

Posted in Family, Poetry | 1 Comment

Whipped Cream

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Coming up on the porch of the cottage my sister Chris is renting on the beach this week, I noticed there were four gift-wrapped packages, sitting on top of boxes, on a bench.  My parents were both sitting in porch chairs, and smiled at my sister Meg and me when they saw us.

“Those are for you,” my mother said, and Meg and I saw there was a gift for each of us four sisters.  Jeanne is visiting for the week, and we were all together over the weekend to celebrate both of my parents turning 90 this summer.  It had already been a great weekend, with all of my sisters and their husbands and most of the next generation there too.  Now we had gifts to open?

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Meg opened hers first, and I could see it was an album with old photos and papers from her childhood.  I opened mine eagerly.  There was my birth certificate.  There was a photo of my mother holding me as a baby, Jeanne and Chris, both older than me, standing next to her.  There were photos of my grandparents on both sides, photos of great grandparents I never met, photos of my sisters and me dressed up as young children and photos of us all goofing for the camera as teenagers.

Best of all were the pieces of writing my parents had chosen to include, from when I was a child.  In the boxes under the albums were more papers for us all to sort through and decide what to keep.  There are blank pages at the end of each album, so we can fill in with what we want from the boxes — report cards (my grades in high school weren’t as good as I’d remembered), newspaper articles, award documents, SAT scores?  I went through the box this morning, and there are treasures there, especially the writing I did in grade school.

But my parents had already picked out the best piece for the album.  It’s dated March 2, 1962 (I would have been nine years old), and was obviously written as a school assignment.

“Whipped Cream” is the title.  “Last Monday night we had whipped cream on our dessert.  My mother told my sister and father not to use much whipped cream.  After all that talk my mother took the most.”

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“More Alone, Less Pathetic”

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My first 36 hours in Portland, Oregon I wasn’t impressed.  When I arrived Tuesday afternoon the city was wrapped in a gray mist.  After checking in to my hotel, I went out for a run and to explore the city.  It was damp and dreary and looked more grimy than fun and funky, which was what I’d expected, after all the wonderful things I’ve heard about Portland.  I ran along the west side of the Willamette River, crossed a pedestrian and biking bridge to run along the east side, then looped over the Hawthorne Bridge to get back to the hotel.  Sure, there were lots of groovy things to see, as I’d expected, and the anything-goes fashion that rules in Portland was interesting to observe, but many of the weirdly-clad people I saw in the park along the river seemed to be living on the street and they looked cold.  And gray, like everything else.

Then on Wednesday the sun came out, I had a tasty and inexpensive lunch from one of the many food carts that line the streets and cluster on a few blocks, sat with my colleagues in a sunny park to eat amid a pleasant bustle, underscored by music from buskers, and I changed my mind.  Portland is lovely and funky and fun.

After an invigorating day discussing prevention of sexual violence as a member of the Advisory Council of the National Resource Center on Sexual Violence (the meeting that brought me to Portland) a group of us went to a restaurant where I could be sure my chicken was “happy”.  The vegetables were all locally sourced, the cocktails creatively concocted, the food plentiful, delicious and artfully presented, and the atmosphere was open and friendly.  The restaurant seemed like the perfect Portland spot to me — unpretentious, generous, genuine and decidedly not stuffy.

Yesterday morning I went for another run, this time heading further north on the west side of the river, along the Greenway Trail.  It was beautiful, a path right over the water, condos with gardens and balconies spilling flowers along the bank, big ships and city activity on the river and bridges spanning overhead. Turning back toward the hotel, I had to stop at a railroad crossing and wait ten minutes for a train to go by.  Watching the cars trudge past was a moving art show, with all the different forms and shapes of the train cars and cargo, and frequent, colorful graffiti.

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“More Alone, Less Pathetic” was written on one car in plain white letters.  Is someone learning better how to be more centered in her or himself?  I hope so because that’s always a good thing.  I took it as a good sign.

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Telling Our Own Stories

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Regular readers of this blog know that I’m quite open about the struggles I face that arise from my own direct experiences.  If anxiety or grief or sadness comes from something that’s happened to me I’ll reveal what that something is.  It’s my story.  But sometimes I reference having a hard time without being specific about what exactly is going on, because what’s going on isn’t my story to tell –  I’m reacting to something that’s happening to someone I care about.  If it’s not my story, I don’t feel entitled to tell it.

One thing that’s been hard for me (and many others) for the past several years, and even more so the last 18 months, has been my sister Chris’ journey through a recurrence of breast cancer, and a spread of the metastatic disease.  Now it feels exactly right to write about it so I can direct you to Chris’ own story.  Over the past 10 months Chris has been writing a remarkable collection of essays about what it’s like to live with metastatic cancer and she’s eager to get these essays out into the world for others to read.  Today she launched a blog as way to share her story and her essays with as many readers as possible, so head to A Cancer Journey With Chris.  She has the first of the essays up and background of her cancer journey.  There’s more to come from her, so bookmark her blog, pass on the link, and stay tuned.

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Views Far and Near

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Yesterday was finally the day I got to linger and enjoy looking far into the distance from the top of Mt. Moosilauke.  The summit is broad and open, and sitting to the west of most of the White Mountains, has spectacular views of the Franconia Ridge and all the mountains beyond.  Every other time I’ve hiked to the top of Mt. Moosilauke there has been some sort of unfavorable weather to deal with — mist or scattered rain or snow, and most often hard wind that makes it too cold to stay at the top for long.

Yesterday was warm, sunny and bright, with little wind and no bugs.  This was the Moosilauke hike I’ve been waiting for.  I hiked with a group of friends and we spent a long time at the summit, enjoying the view, the fair weather and the satisfying stretch of our muscles after our first serious hike of the season.

But even when the views were near rather than far yesterday it was beautiful.  The rivers and brooks we crossed and hiked along were running clear over speckled rocks, glinting in the sun, and there were beautiful flowers along the trail — trout lily, tiny white violets and trillium. There was also a broad bush with lacy white blossoms we couldn’t identify.  When I look at the ridges of the White Mountains from any summit I can name the peaks.  When I look at flowers in the woods I want to be able to name them too, so I looked up the flowering bush — hobblebush viburnum.

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I’ve been thinking about view and perspective a good bit the last week, because I’m taking a break from working on the memoir.  Having spent three months working through several drafts, I can’t see it as a whole piece right now.  I can edit individual sections and see where a word or phrase or sentence needs to change.  But I’ve gotten too close to be able to see how the pieces work together and whether those pieces make sense as a book.  Time to step away for a bit and see if I can come back to it with a wider view.

Getting to the top of Mt. Moosilauke on a sunny day, enjoying the trailside flowers and tumbling water along the way, was a good lesson in perspective.

 

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