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July 31, 2006

The Fairies of Floyd Fest

pinkgirls2.jpg The “blue girls” did not make a Floyd Fest appearance, as they have in years past, but I did come across two pink fairies-in-training who were kind enough to pose for me, and I did get a fairy blessing from the festival’s resident and larger-than-life "Blue Fairy."

“You have the best job going,” I shouted up to my friend Alina, who several times a year puts on stilts, dresses to the hilt, and makes the rounds, blessing the wishes of festival-goers.
“So be it,” she announced convincingly, while blessing my wish, sprinkling me with fairy dust, and tapping me gently with her wand.

You’d be surprised how many people are uplifted by the Blue Fairy’s ministry. “It’s mostly adults who come up and ask for blessings,” Chris, Alina’s flute playing partner told me while Alina was busy bestowing her good fairy magic. Watching the Blue Fairy at work, I discovered it was true; people of all ages and all walks of life can't resist a fairy, and being in the presence of one brings out the child in just about everyone.

“Oh, wouldn’t it be fun to interview a fairy?” the blogger and closet interview in me later thought. But getting an audience with the Blue Fairy is harder than one might think. Besides the fact that people were practically lining up to make wishes and have them blessed, it’s hard for a tall fairy to stand still in stilts and have a conversation.

Post notes: I did catch up with Chris and Alina, out of costume late Sunday afternoon, and they told me the Blue Fairy had probably blessed about 200 Floyd festers over the weekend. When they aren’t bestowing wishes or traveling the world, Chris and Alina create art, as featured in THIS past Loose Leaf “featured artist” snapshot post. You can view more festival photographs at Blue Ridge Muse and floydvirginia.com. I also plan to post some of my favorites throughout the week.

July 30, 2006

Floyd Fest:Take 5!

marasmx.jpg Floyd Fest is different this year. There is no mud. No rain or fog. No hurricane skirted the site, as it has in the past, and festival goers have had to drop the nickname “Fog Fest,” because there is none.

The crowds are noticeably larger. Is that why I lost my parked car and almost missed my scheduled 3:00 poetry reading under the Poet Tree? My husband, Joe, came to the rescue. Not only had he built the benches for Poet Tree area, but he arrived to the reading from a hula hoop workshop in the African village just in time to recover my poems from our lost-to-me car, and he mustered up a last minute impromptu audience for us from down at Hill Holler Stage.
Mara got acupuncture from The Healing Arts Tent to rev up her bravado. Is that how she was able to stand on the literal soap box like a town crier and belt out poetry to passers-by?

I, on the other hand, sat down to read when it was my turn. Our crowds at the Poet Tree are always modest, but you know, I’m shy and sort of like it that way.

The Poet Tree is popular with the kids. Not because it’s a free speech zone or an open mic. kidspoetreekids.jpgThey don’t come to hear poetry. They do not stand on the soapbox to complain about President Bush, read their own poems, or organize a revolt against public school. They like the Poetree because there are apples in it!

Post Notes: I’m headed out to Floyd Fest again today. I plan on checking my blog comments at the Blue Nova wireless tent on site. The Roanoke Times has a blogger blogging on the event as it's been happening. You can check it out HERE.

July 28, 2006

Remembering Jim and Dan

Joe paddled his kayak back to the house to get sunscreen. I was alone in the middle of the canal, drifting for a moment in my kayak when the realization hit me: It was 5 years ago on the same day that my brother Jimmy died. Like a wound scarred over is tough, I resisted the urge to soften, to dwell on his death and missing him because I’ve done so much of that in the past. It’s painful and doesn’t lead anywhere.
jdcollage2.jpg “Look at me now in a kayak, Jim,” I said to myself. Because he was an avid weather and nature enthusiast, I knew Jim would be as excited as a kid about the Osprey nest I was drifting near. As a single parent who never had any money for vacations, there was so much that he didn’t get to see.

But my wound is not impenetrable. The opening created by my thoughts about Jim grew wider over the next couple of days, especially on the drive home from our beach vacation when I was alone in my car, following Joe in the truck. I can never think about Jim without also thinking about my brother Dan, who died a month after Jim.

Dan was sicker than anyone knew. He planned a road trip to spend time with Jim, thinking in the back of his mind that it might be his last chance to pull something like that off. When Jim died unexpectedly in a machine shop accident two weeks after returning home their road trip, the first thing Dan said was, “It supposed to be me, not Jim.”

I can only imagine what it was like for Dan to experience his brother’s funeral and burial knowing in his heart that he was watching what his own would be like. I remember giving Jim’s eulogy from the pulpit at St. Ann’s chruch and looking out at all my sibling’s faces, especially Dan’s. It was drawn and discolored from the liver illness he was battling. He looked like he was straining to understand how Jim could have died and was hoping I would say something to explain.

I listened to Jack Johnson on the drive home, a musician that my son Josh introduced me to, after I had complained to him repeatedly that I needed some new musical inspiration and didn’t know where to begin. “Wouldn’t Danny love Jack Johnson,” I thought, and with that thought, the way opened for a flood of others that caused my best defenses to crumble.
I was so proud to have turned Danny on to The Dave Matthews Band, because it was usually him introducing me to new great music. One of the last and most vivid memories I have of Dan comes from our last family Labor Day cookout at my sister Kathy’s house. Dan wanted to share his new John Mellencamp CD, so some of us went up to the living room to listen. Kathy and I were dancing to “Your LIfe is Now,” and Dan just got soulful … See the moon roll across the stars See the seasons turn like a heart … Your father's days are lost to you … This is your time here to do what you will do … Your life is now … Dan walked around snapping his fingers, swayed a little, and then stood still with his eyes closed and let the song sink in … Would you teach your children to tell the truth … Would you take the high road if you could choose … Your life is now.

After wiping away my tears, I looked up and saw the most magnificent cloud formation, dark and silver lined by the angle of the sun, hopeful.

“Wouldn’t Jim just love this cloud!” I thought.

Post Note: To learn more about Jim and Dan, go HERE.

July 27, 2006

In 13 Heaven

13heavensm.jpg 1. I was in 13 heaven this vacation week when I came across several good 13 images to photograph. This one is my favorite. Besides the main sign and the one on the left, there's a 3rd one across the street that isn't visible at this shrunk down size.

2. My one regret was not stopping to take a photo of a field of sunflowers in peak bloom that we saw near the Delaware and Maryland border on our way home.

3. After writing the title above, I got to wondering about what the phrase “7th Heaven” meant. According to the wikipedia, in the Jewish tradition it’s believed to be the highest level of heaven. It's also a T.V. show that I’ve never seen.

4. The last time I was at the ocean (Hunting State Park in South Carolina) I wrote this on my 13 Thursday list: Pelicans always look like cartoon characters to me. When they crash down into the water to catch fish, it looks like slapstick.

5. I didn’t see any pelicans at Bethany Beach, but I saw several Great Blue Herons on the canals and salt marshes. Unlike pelicans, Great Blue Herons are poised and stately. They’re like the blue-blooded aristocrats of big birds.

6. My sister Kathy wrote in a recent comment that she thought heaven would be clutter free. Nancy thanked the Goddess that because I was on vacation I would be spared from watching the news, which, of course, made me want to immediately watch the news to see what else is wrong.

7. We took the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and tunnel to and from Bethany Beach. Driving on large bridges gives me anxiety, but less so if I’m not the one behind the wheel. It seems like it would be scarier to put my life in someone else’s hands, but when it comes to driving, I prefer to.

8. I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that heat rising from the road when driving in summer looks like water from a distance. I imagine it to be a perfect mirage for a thirsty traveler in the dessert.

9. Fun can be exhausting. First there was my son’s wedding and all the company that came for it, then Joe and I went to Bethany Beach for his family reunion, and now Floyd Fest is this weekend!
10. Speaking of fun, did I mention that I actually did get to play Scrabble at the beach after all? Not once, but twice. I played with my husband’s sister’s boyfriend’s daughter who just graduated high school, is a musician, rides horses, loves to dance, and is an all around awesome young woman.

11. Reading the book “Word Freak” about the counter culture of Scrabble tournament players almost makes me want to quit playing Scrabble because I’m never going to take the time to learn how to be really good at the game. But then I read this quote from the book, spoken by the director of the National Scrabble Association, and I felt much better: Scratch the surface of any champion in any individual sport and you’re often going to find an obsessed misfit who’s deficient in many parts of his life because he devotes eight hours a day to it.

12. The following is a colorful description from a Richmond Times story on Floyd Fest that I found at Fragments From Floyd: No doubt about it, rural Floyd County is one of the hippest places in Virginia, with the latest generation of hippies, artists, nature lovers and every sort of laid-back refugee from the urban rat race living shoulder to shoulder with the easygoing local farmers. The place has become part paisley, part pasture; half hemp fashion, half hayfield. And one reason Floyd has gotten so hip is FloydFest, a musical extravaganza held every year in a wide field surrounded by woods and mountains where thousands gather to groove nearly nonstop to the sounds of dozens of bands and singers over several days.

13. HERE is the entry I wrote last year about our Floyd Fest poetry scene. And THIS was my post about Ani DiFranco, who played at the festival (just half-a-dozen miles from our driveway) last year.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here.

July 26, 2006

I’ll Try Anything Once

kayakospreysm.jpg Not really. There are lots of things I don’t plan to ever try, like bungee jumping. I’ve never been skiing and when on my bike, I ride the brakes downhill. But lazily paddling down the Bethany canals in a kayak, I’ve just discovered, is just my speed.

My brother-in-law, Nelson, has been fired up about kayaking for a few years now, as his T-shirt that reads “Kayak Not Prozac” attests to. I’ve been reading about Delane’s kayaking trips over at Life in Mayberry and enjoying his kayaking photographs. The house we’re staying at, here in Bethany Beach has half dozen kayaks under the pilings and is situated right on the canal. How could I not?

Because it was my first time, I didn’t feel confident enough to bring my new camera on the boat, but my husband, Joe, did. After some initial steering confusion, figuring out how my left and right paddle motions moved the boat, I was gliding along in ethereal stillness. The hub-bub of life was reduced down to the gentle splashing of the paddle and the tweet of an occasional bird. Something about it reminded me of ice skating. “How do you stop?” I shouted over to Joe.

The peacefulness was soon interrupted by the nervous squawking of a mother osprey as we passed her giant nest. After that we spotted a great blue heron and then some ducks. I was watching jellyfish through the murky canal water when Joe said, “Look! It’s a message in a bottle.”

It was a clear plastic quart bottle floating on the water with a folded-up piece of paper inside. Being curious by nature, I maneuvered the kayak over to the bottle and swiped it up. After taking off the cap, and just as I was unfolding the paper, Joe said, “It’s probably attached to a crab trap.” I felt a little deflated when I read the note and learned that he was right.

I tried something else this week that I’ve never done before. My husband’s family is from Maryland, where eating crabs is a way of life, and one of the evening’s dinners was crabs. I was shocked when I came upon the scene. A bushel of crabs was dumped all over the table and everyone was going at them, taking them apart with either their hands or with tools. Some were banging the crabs with little hammers, and most everyone was drinking beer. Joe had mentioned something about newspaper on the floor for this meal, come to think of it, but I either thought he was exaggerating or it didn’t sink in. I got teased for wearing white pants.

Ironically, kayaking was just my slow speed, but the crab eating was too slow and too stressful for me, like being made to eat chop suey with chopsticks, which I’m no good at either. “So much work for so little meat,” I said to someone.

“It’s a social activity,” I was told by one of the dozen people gathered around the porch table in front of the mess of crab parts.

I got through one crab with the guided help of a sister-in-law. “Just pull this little zipper-like thing and it opens right up,” she instructed.

“Here, want my chair,” I said when a newcomer walked through the screen door. I made my escape with another sister in-law into the kitchen where she fried us up some mushrooms and steak. Later, I said to my husband, “I think eating crabs that way is overrated and an elaborate excuse to drink beer, just to get some carbohydrate with the fish.

July 25, 2006

Beach Meditation

bb.jpg Birds travel in flocks, cows graze in herds, and people hang out in throngs. A throng is what I would call the turnout of people at the beach today, the first truly sunny day since we arrived. The crowd of people and activity is dizzying.

“All these people … and imagine; every person has to have one of everything,” I say to my husband, Joe.

“One chair, one pail, one shovel, one boogie board, one blender, one bed, one butter dish, and a spare butter dish …” he trails off on a roll.

“It’s overwhelming,” I say, while visualizing every person with the miles of the stuff they each own.

“Look at the water and the horizon,” Joe suggests. “It will put things in perspective.”

I do. It glistens like glass, crashes and breaks, draws in swimmers and then spits them out like seeds. Untiring and untamed, the longer I stare at the ocean, the more all else seems like an illusion.

“You have to look beyond the clutter in front to get to the hidden magic. You know, like what you have to do to see computer generated art,” I say to Joe.

After that, we both gaze out into the horizon like two Buddhas seeking nirvana.

July 24, 2006

The Beach Life

wordfreaksm.jpgThe book I’m reading at the beach this weekend, “Word Freak” by Stephen Fatsis, is about the subculture world of Scrabble tournaments and the eccentric people who participate in them.

So far I’ve learned that the game was invented by an unemployed New York architect during the Depression, that “Scrabble players do it on the tile,” and that I’m never going to be good enough to play in Scrabble tournament.

I brought a board to the beach, but because I haven’t found anyone willing to play, it doesn’t look like I’ll to get a chance to take out the Scrabble "S" tile I’ve been carrying around in my wallet, dropped by the girls playing on my porch last week.

Reading on the beach is broken up with a walk to the corner French fry stand. There’s so much to notice on the way. A sea of umbrellas in a crayon box full of colors makes my senses swim. A small one engine plane, taking advantage of the empty canvas of sky, is pulling an advertisement sign. I’m impressed with the industrious sand constructions up and down the beach. Some children have disappeared into holes that they’ve dug; others build upwards with sand castles.

Back at our base of beach operation, a sunscreen Nazi mom is chasing her kids around with a tube, ready to slather them. Joe is a little grumpy because he’s trying to write a school paper. It’s hard for him to see his computer screen in broad daylight, and he doesn’t really want to be working at all. “I’m one of those people who would laugh at someone who brought a computer to the beach,” he complains. He thinks he looks stupid under my purple rayon sari that is blocking the glare of the sun, so I make him a sign on notebook paper, “Doing Homework,” and set it next to him. But soon, he abandons his work and we both drift off to the hypnotic lilt of waves, and the drone of people's voices, punctuated by the occasional exclamation of a gull.

July 23, 2006

The Red Flag

bethanysm2.jpg I woke up with a headache. My husband is on his laptop writing a school paper on “The Absence of the Father,” and I just spent half-an-hour on mine trying all possible variations of my recently changed email password, to no avail.

At Bethany Beach for my husband’s family reunion, we’re staying in a family member’s boyfriend’s house. It’s along a canal that is fed by a salt pond, about a quarter mile from the ocean. From the window, if I sit up straight, I can see the canal and have been hoping to spot a great heron, but it’s unlikely to happen this morning. Because of my headache and the time I wasted trying to access my email account, I’m slouching.

Last night, it was our turn to cook for 15 people (with more to be arriving today). Eight pounds of fish, mostly salmon, went well with the garden produce I brought. After dinner, a group of us road the trolley downtown, where a band was playing under the gazebo on the boardwalk, and I had gelato (Italian ice cream) for the first time.

Now it’s nearly 10 a.m. and I’m wondering just how long we can hole up in our beach suite before the red flag goes up and we’re mistaken for anti-social computer nerds.

July 22, 2006

Winding Down at Bethany Beach


The sky is littered with kites. I count 8 of them. Seagulls fly in between them, flaunting their freedom. Two women are drinking from lime-green plastic martini cups. A group of 4 are playing bocce ball.

Sometimes the surf here on the coast of Delaware is so rough that you can’t swim beyond the breakers. It’s not like the beach I grew up with. There are no rocks. No dogs. It’s 7:00 p.m. and the beach is still crowded. Brightly colored bathing suits and tops catch my eye, a shocking pink bikini, Hawaiin printed shirts, a neon day-glo pair of lifeguard shorts.

My favorite kite is a royal blue dragon with wings dipped in fiery orange. Its long tail, made to look feathered, shimmers as it soars. Over and over it takes off and climbs, only to dive and crash into the sand, causing the children at the end of its string to cry out.

The stress of the 6 hour road trip I made the day before is finally becoming a faint memory. I take a deep breath and let go of all my worries. The only thing I have to concern myself with here is how to keep the pages of my book from flapping in the wind, enough so that I can read.

July 20, 2006

13 Thursday: Open for Business

cafe132.jpg 1. My brother Joey is addicted to scratch tickets. I thought it was strange how often he stopped to buy them when he was here for my son’s wedding, but then I realized that it wasn’t that much different than me stopping several times a day to see if I have any blog comments.

2. On a hot night I feel like I’m sleeping on a grille, flipping myself over and over and from side to side so as not to get overdone.

3. I wrote the above in my sleep.

4. This past Saturday night I was really wishing that the Café Del Sol had a web camera. I was unable to attend our July Spoken Word Open Mic because I was doing foster respite care. It’s the first one I’ve missed since we started them and with only 3 from our writer’s workshop attending, I was worried that we wouldn’t have enough readers. I called Mara at the Café towards the end of the evening and she said there had been 10 readers and a packed house. Progress!
5. New bloggers in town? I thought about posting the photo to the right with that caption. In reality it’s my brother-in-law, mother, brother Joey, and sister Sherry in town for my son’s wedding and sitting in the very seats that we bloggers usually do when we get together for our regional meet-ups. There was no meet-up this month because our host, David St. Lawrence, who has several new blogs and a new job as the director of the Jacksonville Center for the Arts, was busy.

6. There are some people I like to follow around with a pen because they say such interesting things. In reference to the Café Del Sol’s phone number, 745-ACUP, posted in big letters on the side of their building, Doug Thompson recently remarked that people passing by would think the café was either a coffee shop or a lingerie shop. So should this photo be called “window shopping” or “peeping tom?”

7. Wedding party reception tables always remind me of the Last Supper.
8. Leaving comments on other blogs is like how we wave to each other from our cars on the back roads in Floyd. Sometimes we have so much to say that we pull over.

9. We seem to have a new breed of hardy mice living amongst us. It started when they set up house in our grille over the winter and lived off the dog food. Now I’m not sure if the poison I put out is killing them or luring them into the house.

10. I’ve lived in Virginia for 20 years. It took me nearly 15 years of living here to like country music. Here’s how it happened.

11. I like the Dixie Chicks’ music and admire them as people. Last year they suffered a negative backlash when lead singer Natalie Maines said she was embarrassed that President Bush came from Texas. When asked recently if she was concerned about the response to her continued criticism of him, she said, “Well, these days there's no danger in that …” You can read the whole interview HERE.

12. Earlier in the summer, I got a phone invitation from my friend Rain’s husband, inviting me to her birthday bash at Over the Moon café and art gallery. When I finally met up with him at the party, I said, “What did you mean on the phone when you said “No holds barred? Just what did you have in mind?” He looked perplexed and then figured it out, “I said NO HOST BAR, Colleen!” We both cracked up.

13. There’s an ocean in my near future. Posting here may be choppy while I navigate my way there.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here.

July 19, 2006

A Bold Bloom

Roadside Mullein

at midsummer’s peak

stands erect

in shameless bloom

like a flag of male assuredness

making claim to the season’s

fertile gifts

~The Blue Ridge
Parkway 7/17/06

July 18, 2006

The Many Moods of Summer

1. Loneliness
2. The Promise
3. Blue Ridge Rest Stop
4. The Love Seat
5. Bad Hair Day

1. Great Oaks Country Club Pool on a Sunday
2. Pretty soon there will be so many red ones I won't know what to do with them all.
3. Pit stop after the Winery. No, we're not drunk.
4. This is were I sit everyone for a photo shoot in my yard. It's my sister Sherry and her husband, Nelson.
5. I can never get my sunflowers to pose.

July 17, 2006

Sibling Grief: A New Book

siblijglossjpg.jpg I’ve been trying to understand the unfathomable depth of blood ties that rose up in me and my family members when Jim and Dan died. In looking closer at the sibling relationship, I realized that siblings, who have the same mother and father, are closer biologically than any other relationship. The only way to be closer is to be a twin. ~ From “The Jim and Dan Stories”

When I lost my 2 brothers in 2001, I was overwhelmed with grief. I might have wondered if the degree and length of it was normal if it wasn’t for the fact that I had 6 other siblings who were obviously as stricken as I was.

Losing a parent is painful, but it’s something we expect to eventually have to deal with. Losing a child is unthinkable, and every one understands the heartbreak of losing a mate. Why did losing my adult brothers, who didn’t even live in the same state as I did, feel like an amputation, as though I had literally lost a part of me? I suspected that there was more to sibling loss than our culture lets on.

In my search to better understand the unique aspects of sibling grief, I found “The Sibling Connection,” an online site hosted by Pleasant Gill White, Ph.D. Ms. Gill is not only a counselor who specializes in grief and loss, she is also a survivor of sibling loss herself. When she was 15 years old she lost her 13 year old sister.

Within minutes of reading the information shared on The Sibling Connection, I better understood the magnitude of the sibling bond and felt supported in my grief: When someone has been a part of your life since birth, your identity is based on having them there. They form a part of the field or background from which you live your life, and as such, they are essential. They make up part of the unbroken wholeness that defines who you are. This relates to the concept of birth order. When the first child is born, he or she develops certain characteristics and talents. Other siblings will most likely choose other characteristics to develop in order to differentiate themselves from each other ... siblings actually loan each other their strengths …

The Sibling Connection provided me with my first introduction into “bibliotherapy,” using books on grief to access one’s own feelings. Because the site included a list of grief and loss books, I emailed Ms. White and then sent her a copy of the book I wrote about losing my brothers, “The Jim and Dan Stories.” She reviewed the book for her January 2004 online newsletter and listed it on her site.

Last week I received this in an email: Do you remember me? I am Pleasant Gill White from the Sibling Connection. I wanted you to know that your book inspired me to write one of my own. It is called Sibling Grief: Healing after the Death of a Sister or Brother ...

After we re-established our connection, she sent me a copy of her new book, which arrived today. Not many books can cause me to cry on the first page of the introduction, but this one did: My sister did not know that she was dying and we were not supposed to tell her. But one dark night, as I sat in a chair, leaning on her hospital bed, I thought she was asleep. Out of the silence, she began to speak. “Promise me you will keep on singing,” she said quietly. “Promise me you will go to college,” Ms. White wrote.

And this insight on page two is worth the price of admission: In some ways our siblings never age. If they die when we are adults, we feel the loss of the child they once were. If they die when we are children, we grow up and feel the loss of the adult they would have become. It’s true that when my emotions about Jim and Dan surface, I’m often grieving the loss of our childhood together and them as the children I remember so well.

After they died, I was profoundly changed, but I didn’t look any different to others. I experienced not only an identity crisis, but a sense of alienation in my own community because no one in my immediate surroundings, apart from my husband and sons, knew my brothers. Here’s what Ms. White has to say about the feelings of alienation that may come with the loss of a sibling: When adults lose a sibling, they often feel abandoned by society. The sympathy goes to their parents, but brothers and sisters are supposed to "get over it" quickly so they can comfort the parents or replace the lost sibling. This is one of the reasons why adult sibling loss falls into the category of "disenfranchised grief". Bereaved individuals are encouraged to feel guilty for grieving too long.

A large component of Ms. White’s book deals with using creativity as means of healing. Although I never related to the standard stages of grief that I read in other books, I resonated with Ms. White’s “Five Healing Tasks,” which are: 1. Learning about sibling loss and the grief process. 2. Allowing yourself to grieve. 3. Connecting to other bereaved siblings. 4. Telling your story. 5. Finding meaning in the loss.

A sampling of intriguing headings found in the book include: Bridging the two worlds, My scrapbook Life, How children grieve, Sibling rivalry beyond death, Seeking a new identity, The energy of grief, and The best gift.

Drawing on hours of research, counseling others, and personal experience, Ms. White’s contribution to sibling loss is a valuable and insightful life’s work. Like her online site, her book offers a wide range of resources, personal stories, and even poetry. I highly recommend it for anyone who has lost a sibling, and I thank her for writing it.

Post note: To read more post on sibling loss click and scroll HERE.

July 16, 2006

Girls Will Be Girls

marawrecksboardz.jpg Mara accidentally dropped the dictionary in the middle of the Scrabble board 40 minutes into the game. It wasn’t the paperback Scrabble dictionary, but my bigger American Heritage one. Leigh joked that Mara should forfeit a turn for causing such a mess.

“Don’t eat those blueberries on the couch!” I shouted to one of the little girls who came over that morning with Mara and Leigh and was playing in my living room. “They make stains!” I cringed at the thought.

As we painstakingly recreated the Scrabble board, we overheard the girls (Mara’s daughter Kyla, her friend Skyler, and Leigh’s little sister Molly) talking to my husband, Joe. “Girls are smarter,” we heard Skyler say, “cause we do more stuff.”

“And we’re flexible at thinking,” Molly added.

We big girls, gathered around the kitchen table, weren't sure we were hearing right. “Why are girls smarter?” Mara shouted into the living room.

“Because there’s more girls in history,” Kyla weighed in.

Knowing there was a time when some women writers and artists used male pseudonyms to have their art taken seriously, and that women weren’t even allowed to vote until 1920, Mara whispered (so as not to burst Kyla’s bubble), “Well, it’s nice that she thinks that.”
Leigh was giving me a tour of her tattoos when Joe, on the way out the door, bid us farewell. Was he feeling overpowered by feminine energy, I couldn’t help but wonder?

Loudly, I protested as I picked 6 one point vowels and 1 consonant from the maroon drawstring bag through out the entire game . “But in a way,” looking at the bright side, “bad letters let you off the hook, because you’re not attached to them,” I said letting go of the possibility that I could win the game. About this time, Leigh was getting good letters and was feeling the pressure to use them well.

After the little girls got finished play-acting cats, ate snacks, and jumped on the trampoline, they played their own unique version of Scrabble on the porch picnic table. Apparently, their rules allowed from them to play with nine letters and the words they made didn’t have to touch each other. As a second generation of Scrabble players, they were serious about their play. Even so, the big girls did most of the clean up.

The games came to a close, and before they all headed out to Kyla’s Karate Class, Mara could be heard saying to me, “Hey, you’re not allowed to complain about your letters and win the game.

July 15, 2006

The Ups and Downs of Life

What goes up
Must come down
What goes around
Comes around

Mara and Leigh came over to play Scrabble yesterday. Leigh’s little sister, Mara’s daughter, and friend were with them. More than Scrabble was played.

What do you like to play?

July 14, 2006

The Blue View

bluview3.jpgOn the way to the Chateau Morrisette Winery, we snapped a photo of the usual suspects at the Saddle Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway where my husband and I got married 10 years ago. Besides me, the line-up consisted of my brother-in-law Nelson, my mother, my sister Sherry, and my brother Joey, all in town for my son Dylan’s wedding.

At the Winery, I bought 5 cases of “Our Dog Blue,” a popular semi-sweet white wine, requested by my husband Joe's mother, who would also be in town to attend the wedding. The Our Dog Blue bottles are cobalt with an image of the Winery’s black dog mascot jumping over the moon on the label. Joe’s mom and her friends back in Delaware love Our Dog Blue inside and out.
There really is a black dog that hangs out at the Winery. His name is Nicholas, and he belongs to Winery owner, David Morrisette. My husband, Joe, got to meet Nicholas in 1998 when Joe was part of the timber framing crew that built and raised the winery’s new building. According to a story in the Roanoke Times New River Current, the gift shop, which has a wine tasting area and room for wine production, is 54 feet tall and more than 30,000 square feet. (A football field is 48,000 feet, the Times pointed out). Built with recycled timber from rivers and old buildings, it might be the largest reclaimed timber structure ever built, the Current reported. ourdogblue.jpg

A photo similar to the one posted below of Joe hanging from the construction rafters appeared with the story. He would probably like readers then and now to know that there is a lot of time spent waiting for the cranes to raise the large timbers that interlock together like toy Lincoln Logs and that he is not a slacker, as the photo might suggest.

When Joe and I got married, our wedding reception was held in the older vine-covered winery building that now houses only the restaurant. It was the last wedding reception that the winery hosted, which I hope had nothing to do with the fact that over 100 people stood in a circle on their front lawn, giving Joe and me their blessings. We partied and danced, in what was then the wine tasting room, with the full moon shining in through the skylights. When people see the wedding photo taken on the Winery porch of Joe and I in all in white with a blazing sunset behind us, many of them ask if we got married in the Caribbean islands.
The Winery holds Black Dog Blues and Jazz Festivals throughout the summer and fall, and, according to a newsletter that I recently received in the mail, Nicholas has retired from his position as the black dog mascot.

I hope he got a good dog biscuit pension.

July 13, 2006

13 Things: I’m Just Saying

13hand2.jpg1. I don’t understand certain meats. There’s rump roast, pot roast, chuck roast, and roast beef. I’ve always been confused about what to buy and then, how to cook it.

2. I feel the same way about coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker and when it comes to making it, I’m developmentally delayed. I still remember when people either drank instant coffee or had to percolate it. I recently bought a Mr. Coffee maker because I had a lot of company in town for my son Dylan’s recent wedding. His older brother, Josh, gave me a lesson because I had no idea how to use it.

3. Sadly, listening to music is becoming like meat and coffee to me. It’s not as easy as putting on an album, playing tape, or even a CD anymore. Josh brought his IPOD home and turned me onto some new music. “But how do you get the music in it?” was all I wanted to know. I wish learning to download music onto an IPOD was as easy as learning to make coffee.

4. My son Dylan was born more hairy than his brother Josh. One of the funny stories Josh told during his Best Man’s wedding day toast was about the time when little Dylan came to me teary eyed, “Mum, Josh says I’m a werewolf cause I got fur!” he cried.

5. Josh was honored to be asked to be Dylan’s Best Man, even though he knew part of the reason he got chosen was because all of Dylan’s friends were too shy to do the toast.

6. Josh, who is not shy, didn’t get to make a wedding appearance in his gorilla costume, as he had planned, but he did go to town with the suit on and drank a cup of coffee at the Black Water Loft.

7. This is what Josh wrote for a web page profile describing what kind of music he likes: I like ninja surf rock, spy theme song music, any music that sounds like your underwater, especially music that sounds like ninjas are fighting spies underwater. I like car chase spy hunter type music, underground hip-hop, hip-hop in other languages, dancing with Rachel Reeser, music that sounds like you just broke up with your girlfriend, and all types of reggae music.

8. I love the hula hoop but not the twist. I love the Macarena but not following the dance steps that go with it.
9. The pictures I took of the wedding rehearsal dinner on Friday and the cook-out on Sunday all came out great, but the ones I took on the actual wedding day on Saturday were mostly all blurry. (I just had to get that off my chest). When Dylan and Alexis posed for a picture, I said, “Say Cruise” instead of “Say Cheese.” They’re going on one for their honeymoon.

10. In order to get her youngest son, Patrick, to smile for the camera, my sister Tricia used to have to say “Say Underwear.” That would put a big grin on Patrick’s face every time.

11. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there’s a black snake in town, the phoebe birds that have nested on our porch rafters are learning to fly, and a bee got caught in one of the metal tubes of our wind chimes and now it's buzzing like a continuous Buddhist chant.

13. Last but not least; check out these amazing painted hands, which came via my niece Beth and inspired my 13 Thursday photo this week, HERE.

Post Notes: Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. Also, it's my sister Kathy's first 13 Thursday and her entry is all about her recent trip here to Virginia for my son's wedding. Go say hello HERE.

July 12, 2006

Summer Slug

handhay2.jpg My ambition rises
in a sluggish summer day
to the number of
squash bugs
in my garden

Death by squish
is not for the squeamish
but I’m the mother of butternut
Out of my way!

July 11, 2006

And The Winners Are …

1. Most Confident
2. Most Improved
3. Most Daring
4. Most Studious
5. Most Stylish
6. Most Improvised
7. Most Patient Audience

July 10, 2006

Weekend Wedding Highlights

My son Dylan and Alexis are married! Alexis’ sister was the Maid of Honor and my son Josh was the Best Man.
This is my husband Joe’s sister, Maryanne, and me at the rehearsal dinner. Notice the framed picture behind us.
Why do they always have to play the twist at wedding receptions? My sister Kathy and her granddaughter Samantha didn’t mind.
Josh is vying for the hula hoop contest title at the family cook-out that Joe and I hosted the next day.
It’s Josh’s birthday! We all helped him make a wish for the Red Sox to win the World Series this year.
Then everyone did their own thing.
My sister, Sherry, loves blueberries! Is this why Josh got a carrot cake for his birthday instead of his traditional blueberry pie?

Post Notes:
Congratulations to Dylan and Alexis! Happy Birthday Josh! More wedding photos can be viewed at my niece Chrissie’s site, HERE.

July 9, 2006

The Family Laundry

Older son in town for younger brother's wedding does laundry. Gorilla suit. To be continued ...

July 8, 2006

Me and D

meanddbaby.jpg One of the ways I prepare myself to go through life passages is to look through my old photo albums and other memorabilia. I don’t decide to do it. It happens naturally.

My youngest son, Dylan, who is 24 years old, is getting married this weekend, which is why I’ve recently been immersed in a nostalgic review of his life. Looking at his baby book, a chronicle of written entries and photos, has especially stirred up a mix of emotions in me.

After his high school graduation, Dylan lived on a wooded section of our 3 acres in a cabin that he helped his step-dad, Joe, build. He enrolled part time in a community college to study electrical wiring, and worked in the building trade with his father, learning all aspects of the business. At one point, he struck out on his own and for a couple of years had a job at a local nursery, managing greenhouses and driving a forklift. During this time, he also worked for me as an hourly worker who provided care to a developmentally disabled man who lived with us. He was the best hourly worked I had. meandd3a.jpg

With my older son, Josh, my motherly tears of separation flowed in 1998 when I dropped him off at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. With Dylan, it happened when he moved to Roanoke to live with his girlfriend. After a teary kiss good-bye, I watched him walk off with his knapsack, looking like a vagabond teenager with everything he owned on his back. The pride I felt at his metamorphosis into a young man was equal to the sadness I felt at losing my little boy. Apparently, all those clichés about “the baby of the family” leaving home are true. When he got out of view, I broke down and cried.

Re-reading Dylan’s baby book this week, I’ve been struck by how the seed of who he is today was planted in him from day one. According to the record, at nine months old, Dylan played with our vacuum cleaner for more than a half an hour, pushing buttons and trying to figure out how it works. Like his older brother, Josh, he loved hammers, but “Dylan had to have two, one for each hand,” the baby book record reminded me.

“You’re crazy about outlets, cords, and machinery,” I wrote when Dylan was 1 ½. And by the time he was nearing 2, I made this entry, “Dylan doesn’t climb out of his crib like most two year olds; he takes the screws out and loosens the side rail to make his descent.”

When I presented 2 year old Dylan with his first watercolor paint box, he mixed all the colors into brown and was more interested in the scissors because they were a tool. His brother had a cast of teddy bear characters that he involved in elaborate play, but Dylan never got attached to one. What I remember about Dylan’s one teddy bear was the time he put it in the corner of his crib to use like a stepping stool so that he could reach his hanging mobile to examine it.
You might be thinking right now that my son Dylan is a macho alpha male. Not true. Although, he was capable of displaying his temper, as this entry verifies – “Dylan expresses his anger well (too well)! He says “I’m going to kick you, I don’t like you, or BAD BOY, mommy” when I do something he doesn’t like” – and even though he was nicknamed “Pootsa” by his father in reference to his habit of whining, Dylan was one of the most sensitive and gentlest children I’ve known.

With a sweet tooth to match his sweet singing voice, he asked to have a puppy, was gentle with babies, and couldn’t bear to see me cry (which is why I waited till he was out of view the day he moved out before I let myself break down). When he was old enough to play Monopoly with me and his brother, he was the one who would slip me money if I was losing the game. Another recorded example of his generosity was when, as a nursing toddler, he offered me a sip of milk from my own breast!

Unlike Josh, his artistic older brother who radiated a large presence as he went about pursuing his grand plans, Dylan’s energy was more cautious and subtle. Quieter than his brother, he was the kind of kid who would play with a rope for an hour (eventually figuring out how to make a pulley). What was obvious in Josh was less so in Dylan, and so it was harder to see back then what his life passions would be. When I asked him the classic question “What do you want to be when you grow up, Dylan?” his only answer for a long time was “a sniper.” I had thought his habit of dropping paper clips through the floor boards of his room into mine, and his delight at hiding in the bushes and pelting me with berries when I was working in the garden was his sense of humor, but he saw it as a career.
My son Dylan, nicknamed "Dilly boy" or "Dilly bar" as a child, has become the capable man he was destined to be. He’s a good friend, a good worker, and has always been a good boyfriend, husband, and dad just waiting to happen.

I couldn’t be prouder.

Congratulations to Dylan, Alexis, and her daughter Kaylee, who are about to be one united family. See some wedding photos HERE.

July 6, 2006

13 Hot Flashes of Summer

13hot.jpg 1. I can boil eggs every morning to exact perfection without using a timer or looking at a clock, and can fill the teakettle with the precise amount of water for one cup of tea, but if someone else is around, my perfect timing goes to hell.

2. “If we all got more erotic, we wouldn’t be so neurotic” was a bumper sticker slogan that my husband and I once came up with.

3. I didn’t get morning sickness when I was pregnant with my sons, but I did feel queasy sometimes. I haven’t had any mid-life hot flashes yet, but I have had a few warm flushes.

4. At this point in my life, sometimes an “afternoon delight” means a nap.

5. But not always. This is probably the hottest thing I’ve ever said on this blog: “Anyone can do me. I can do myself. The question is can you undo me?” Found HERE.

6. I was clipping the rose bushes when I saw my husband riding the mower with an open face sandwich spread out in one hand. That was funny enough, but what he did next was even funnier. He parked the mower near the garden, picked some fresh lettuce, and put it on his sandwich before heading off to mow.

7. I recently failed the comment word verification 3 times. I wonder how many times you can get it wrong before they assume you’re a robot spammer and bump you off.

8. Having a blog is getting more and more like having a pet. With the amount of spam I’m getting lately, if I’m gone for several hours, when I come home I might have 100 spam comments to junk, which makes me wonder who will I get to watch the blog when I go on vacation?

9. Is “pest” an alternative plural of “pets” when you have too many of them?

10. I’ve been known to OOH and AHH and get giddy while watching fireworks, which on one occasion caused my son to say, “Mom, you’re just like Gidget.”

11. I like to adlib names for fireworks as they go off. A few of my past favorites have been: Pistachio Afro; Snap, Crackle, and Pop; Tinkerbelle’s Migraine; Mary Poppin's parasol; The Big Bang Theory; Bling Bling; Red Zinnia in a blender; and The Electric Kool-aid Acid Blot Test.

12. In the spirit of the 4th of July, my sister Kathy posted a video of Bruce Springsteen singing Pete Seeger’s 1965 Bring ‘Em Home… They (the politicians) want to test their grand theories with the blood of you and me… we’ll give no more brave young lives for the gleam in someone’s eyes… if you love this land of the free…bring ‘em home. Hear the rest HERE.

13. Too hot for you? If an image that exudes cool refreshment can actually cool you down, THIS would be the one to do it.

Post Notes: Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. The answers to yesterday’s flower line-up are as follows: Lily, garlic pod (allium), rhododendron bud, balloon flower, and bee balm. Kenju knew them all.

July 5, 2006

The Faces of Summer

How many
do you know
on a first name basis?
Are you sure these are flowers
and not fireworks? (I'll post the answers at the end of the day.)

July 4, 2006

Boston Tea Party Re-revisited

firework.jpg I probably won’t be seeing fireworks this year because I’m busy getting ready for my youngest son Dylan’s wedding this weekend, but I saw enough of them last year while in Hull, Massachusetts, visiting my family to satisfy me for two years. Below is an encore post from then:

Here, in the South Shore of Boston, every other person is proudly donned in some sort of Red Sox apparel, forks are called “fawks,” cars are “cahs,” and it’s common to spend over $1,000 a month for a 2 bedroom apartment. Here, navigating a traffic rotary, a circular grassy intersection where all points on the compass meet, is like square dancing in a foreign country where the dances aren’t called but your expected to know the moves, and when former Cambridge resident Ben Affleck gets married, it makes the front page of the Boston Herald.

Here, in Hull, where my parents live 4 houses down from Nantasket Beach, you can see as many as 3 lighthouses on a clear day, and after sunset on the July 4th weekend something reminiscent of the Boston Tea Party occurs.

Recovering from an all day cook-out and pool party held at my brother Joey’s house, my brother John, visiting from Minneapolis, and I were taking it easy at my mother’s house. He was reading a book on the front porch and I was watching a movie when the familiar boom of fireworks began. Thinking it was kids setting off bottle rockets, I casually finished the movie before becoming curious enough about the continuous uproar to follow it down to the beach. I was completely unprepared for what I found.

Fireworks are illegal for Massachusetts citizens to possess, let alone to set off. In the past, Hullonians watched official firework displays, set off from offshore barges or from the local playground field. But then, even those were deemed by the powers that be unsafe or too costly, and so, being the freedom-loving and independent Yankees they are, Hullonians took matters into their own hands. Here’s what I saw on the beach…

Spectacular fireworks, as professional as the ones that small towns display, were going off continuously and in both directions for as far as the eye could see. There were Revolutionary War-like bonfire encampments from horizon to horizon along the 5 mile stretch of beach. Groups of people were gathered and some were still coming out of their houses, as though an invasion from Mars might be occurring.

I arrived at the beach and my brother, John, was already there. “Have you ever seen anything like this in your entire life?!” he shouted over the noise. It was hard to know where to look with so many showers of exploding colors going off simultaneously. Not only were they going off along the length of Nantasket Beach, but we could see them from as far away as Boston and Revere Beach to the left, and Scituate to the right.

The anarchy went on for a couple of hours. All the police could do was occasionally walk the beach, making sure that no one was igniting the smuggled-in fireworks close to beachfront houses.

The funny part was that both John and I were on the beach until 7:00 p.m. before the fireworks started, and there was no bonfire preparation going on, no sign of what was coming. The next morning the beach was immaculate, as if the whole thing never happened.

We didn’t expect to see firework photos or read about the display in the newspapers the next day, and we didn’t. “The only evidence of it that you might eventually read about is how much it cost the town to clean-up,” my brother John suggested.

“Prohibition never works. It just fuels the fire,” I answered.

July 3, 2006

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

silverlining3sm.jpg My brother Jim, who was a lover of storms, was more at home with the elements than he was with people. As the stories progressed, his essence began to emerge as the mysterious changing qualities of the moon. Dan was compassionate and generous. His bright light was personified by the sun. A silver and gold thread began to shine through the dullness of my grief and weave itself through the stories. The mythical presence of Jim and Dan, expressed through dreams, symbols, and the coincidences that my family and I shared, supported me in my grief and became the signposts out of it. ~ From “The Jim and Dan Stories”

“Two words,” I said to my husband as we were walking through the front door of Sal’s Restaurant, ready for a late supper.

“Cue cards,” I blurted out.

It was 9:00, and we had just come from the Radford University grief and loss class that is using my book, “The Jim and Dan Stories,” as part of their curriculum. I was the guest speaker, and Joe was telling me what a good job I had done. For once I didn’t deflect his feedback.

It was the 3rd time I had spoken to a class of Radford University counseling students in the last 2 years, and so I suppose my improved public speaking abilities could be due to the fact that I’m finally getting the hang of it, but it was also the first time I used noted index cards, and I think they helped immensely.

In “The Jim and Dan Stories,” I mentioned my ongoing fear of public speaking, so this group of 16 who had all read the book, smiled knowingly when I shuffled my index cards and began our hour-and-a-half together by saying, “I write better than I talk.”

Having my husband, a former counseling student who enjoys speaking to groups, by my side gave me an added boost of confidence. Although he injected less than he has in the past, he was able to overview the direction of the presentation, gauge the responses of students, and remind me to slow down when necessary. He also logged onto my webpage and blog and displayed them on a screen for everyone to see.

The evening included a show-and-tell of newspaper articles about the book, photographs, a scrapbook, and emails and letters from readers. My index card notes of talking points included headings such as; How the Book Came About, The Shadow Epilogue, The Turning Point in My Grief Process, What has happened since Writing the Book, The Hull Village Reunion, and Grieving My Father's Death. When my mind either went blank or became overloaded with what I wanted to say, I could glance down at my index cards and stick to my own script. Other times, I could refer back to them, after having veered off into a class-led discussion.

In the chance that the students might be hesitant to be vocal, I came equipped with a short series of questions that past readers had asked and a few questions that I like to ask readers, but I didn’t need to use them. The class, mostly women of various ages, was welcoming, intimate, and engaging.

In closing, I read “The Black Feather,” an account of a recent transpersonal experience related to my father’s death in November. By the look of the wet eyes in the room and by the feel of the hugs at the end of the evening, I knew it was a worthwhile shared experience, one that I would find myself thinking about later. joegriefandlossclasssm.jpg

On my way out of the building, a woman who had been in the class but had not spoken a word approached me shyly and asked, “Just how did you conquer your fear of public speaking? I’m not even able to speak up in class.”

I’m still working on it,” I answered. “The more I do it, the easier it gets. But it’s never easy, even with cue cards,” I told her.

Outside, I emerged, feeling like I had passed a milestone. Looking up, I noticed that the sky was filled with an amazing formation of large clouds. Seeing them, outlined by the gold of the setting sun, I instantly thought of my brother Jim, the weatherman, and my golden-hearted brother Dan. The clouds were like a “thumbs up” from them and a visual validation of something I had just said in the class. Death doesn’t only take away. Because Jim and Dan lived and because I wrote about them, so much love and insight has been given, received, and shared.

July 1, 2006

Back to the Garden

Look who crawled under the netting to the blueberry patch; my 6’ 2" 26 year old son, Josh. He inherited his father’s dislike of mayonnaise and his mother’s love of blueberries.
When he was a little boy he used to set up battles between blueberries and grapes. The blueberries always lost because he ate them.
This time of year, I spend at least an hour each day in the garden. On weekends, my husband joins me. We get paid well for our labor with the green currency of Swiss chard, broccoli, lettuce, and kale.
In August, we’ll strike it rich with the gold of corn and Yukon potatoes.