It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York City. New York City is itself a detective story.–Agatha Christie

It’s 55 degrees in Duluth today, fallen leaves are starting to cover the ground, the kids and I have been back to school for two weeks now, and we’ve started to close the windows at night.

So maybe it’s time to wrap up the recounting of my summer vacation?

When last I left you, we were Smithsonian- and museum-izing our way across the capital, remarking that it might be August in D.C., but it pretty much felt only a tidge more hot and muggy than Duluth’s anomalous summer had. The added benefit of D.C. is that places are air-conditioned (it’s the rare Duluth home that has any sort of AC), so we were able to bask in climate-controlled air even at night as we slept.

The next leg of our trip headed us out of Maryland and up to Connecticut where…gasp…gulp…we were going to stay for four nights in the home of

a fellow blogger.

Someone I’d never met before.

Someone who eased back on her blogging and commenting a few years ago, to the point that our communications have been 100% Facebook-based in recent times. And when I posted a query on FB a few months ago, asking for tips about where to stay in NYC relatively-cheaply, she commented, joking, “Well, we’ll be on vacation in August, so you could come stay in our house. We’re only an hour by train from the city.”

A few weeks later, after I’d spent some hours looking at our options of places to stay in NYC and realizing that even two nights would be cost prohibitive for a family of four living on one teacher’s salary, I messaged Joking Blogger Cum Facebook Friend and asked, “Any chance you were serious about offering up a place to stay?” As it turned out, her family would still be at home during our time frame, but she–warmly, generously, astonishingly–invited us to come stay anyhow. Noting that things might be a bit cramped with our family of four plus her family of four, she wrote with her typical easy attitude, “We’ll just put you in the living room. No problem.”

In all our subsequent messages, her kindness and helpful spirit confirmed for me that this community of blog writers and readers comprises a host of amazing human beings, the kind who reaffirm all sorts of things that occasionally need reaffirming. Like, you know, that people can knock the breath out of you by being terrific.

It was a full day’s driving to get from Maryland up to Generous Blogger’s home outside New Haven. Her entire family greeted us with natural warmth and charm, which is saying something, as her kids are teenagers. But every last one of them is good natured and upbeat and happy to chat. Better yet, they all really like each other. It was, therefore, great fun to head out to New Haven with them that night to partake of the famed New Haven pizza that Byron remembered having 15 years ago and had never gotten over.

The next day, we took the train from CT into Grand Central Station. Having spent so much time in museums in D.C., the plan for New York was to stay away from museums and just hit the place as full-on stare-at-the-place tourists. Allegra’s had a dream of visiting NYC for about half her vast twelve years, and she wanted to see the streets that so many of the characters in her books moved through, to pick up the vibe of the city that appears in movies and tv shows, to take a gander at the buildings that have housed so many luminaries throughout history.

Paco just wanted to go to FAO Schwarz and see the big piano (which, in reality, he found to be a big old “blah”).

Our first stop as tourists was to head to Times Square, a place I hadn’t been since I was 17. As is true of everywhere in the city, it sure looks better than it did a few decades ago. Quite pleasantly, Times Square wasn’t actually all that crowded, and it was much less dingy and menacing-feeling than it had been in the ’80s when I rubbernecked there as a teenager.

After a fair bit of walking around, we got two-day tickets to ride the double-decker on-and-off buses that tote tourists around the city. For us, at the point we were at in our trip overall, it was bliss to sit and listen to well-informed explanations of the neighborhoods, boroughs, and architecture. Truly, I had never gotten an overview of the city in such a way before, and it was revelatory.

At one point, the bus sat idling next to The Dakota building, and the guide pointed out where John Lennon had been shot. As was the case throughout the entire journey, Allegra took in the information and then turned to ask, “Wait. What? Wasn’t he one of the Beatles? And he was shot?”

Yup. We explained that bit of tragedy, and then Allegra noted, “Goll. This whole trip is like an Assassination Tour. Lincoln, JFK, Robert Kennedy, the attempt on Reagan, Martin Luther King Junior…and now John Lennon? Who else has been assassinated?”

Unable to remember Presidents Garfield and McKinley without Wikipedia nearby, I only responded, “Well, there was an archduke named Ferdinand who was killed. But let’s not talk about that now. Can we just look at the park instead?”

Satisfied temporarily, Allegra kicked back until we neared Battery Park and reached the moment of deciding if we’d take the free Staten Island Ferry out to look at the Statue of Liberty or if we’d pay a bunch of money and go to Ellis Island.

Insider Parenting Advice: when your middle schooler gets strongly excited to visit Ellis Island because “I’m a social studies girl! I love immigrant stories!”, well, you cough up the money and go stand where millions of pre-Americans did before you.

On the ferry, I had a moment of seeing post-9/11 New York in fairly stark fashion:

At the museum on Ellis Island, we listened to the audio tour about all the tests hopeful immigrants were put through upon arrival, from eye to literacy exams. Staring at the room where so many tired people carrying children and bags stood, waiting and wondering if they’d ever step onto the fabled “streets of gold,” was–as I recalled from my childhood visit when I was about my kids’ ages–very affecting.

As we boarded the return ferry, I held forth about the beauty that is Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Between that book and The Diary of Anne Frank, Allegra’s got her first couple book report selections lined up for 7th grade.

She spent the ride back to the city reading through the Ellis Island brochure.

After our first day in the city, it was a blessed relief to get back to Generous Blogger’s house in Connecticut and have her ask,  “Any chance you want a nightcap?”

Scotch it was.

The next day would be our second and last day of heading in to NYC, so we started off by eating fluffy bagels as big as our faces. Then we went to the Top of the Rock (30 Rockefeller Center) and gazed out at the Empire State Building and the entire city skyline.

Our afternoon was devoted to riding the on-and-off bus around the Uptown Loop, so we saw Harlem and brownstones and the facades of famous museums before hopping off at the end of the day and walking through a corner of Central Park. I was blown away. I know I’ve been in the park before (when I was 2, we lived for a summer in Manhattan), but I hadn’t experienced it as an adult. Lawsy Moses, but that place is gorgeous. Paco was particularly taken with the plein air painter:

To the last one of us, we were all particularly taken with all the everything that is New York City.

Rounding out that big day in the city was a gift, awaiting us on our bed in the living room of the Connecticut house: a bottle of scotch.

The next day, our last day before turning the nose of the car westward, would be low-key, with us driving along the Connecticut shore and dipping into Rhode Island (so’s to add another state to the kids’ Life Lists of States).

We went to Mystic, CT, for lunch, and ate at a place recommended by Jane and Michael Stern in their Road Food series.

Paco discovered his like of a corn fritter dipped in maple syrup:

We discovered the state border, going and coming:

We got out of the car and blinked our eyes at the Atlantic:

We did a double take at and a drive through of the gorgeousness of the cemetery in Stonington, CT:

Then we were done. Ready to call it Go Home time. It took us four days of driving to get back to Minnesota. After seeing so much and staring at so much over the course of the previous weeks, it was a welcome break to stop and spend a night in Ohio with our friends Gil, Claudia, and Leo. Gil and Byron worked together at a couple environmental education centers back in the ’90s. Now Gil works at his family’s cheese factory; Claudia, his Austrian wife, is a horse trainer. Leo, age two, works full time as an examiner of wheeled things.

Not only were easy conversation, good food, and the joy of being together a boon, so was the swimming pool–just what we needed after weeks of asphalt and glass cases:

Before leaving Ohio the next day, we went into Cleveland to tour Gil’s family’s cheese factory. Not only did we rock the look–it was fascinating to see the internal workings of how to make mozzarella, string cheese, ricotta…

Finally, twenty days after we left home, we pulled up and parked the car next to our garage. Immediately, I started dead-heading flowers and pulling weeds; we spent the night yanking out dirty clothes and running loads of laundry; we took stock of our food supplies; we did all the reorienting that is part of transitioning back into regular life.

Under all the bustle, though,

we felt a thrumming of gratitude

for all that we’d seen and done and absorbed

together.

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“How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like kleenex?”–Julia Child

We may have a whole lot of Kleenex-tasting bread in the U.S., and I may feel shouty and stabby when well-off white men start making assertions about “legitimate rape,” and I might have to jam my tongue between my front teeth and hold it there when I see adult women wearing Winnie the Pooh sweatshirts non-ironically,

but every now and then I can holler, loudly and proudly and freely, that there are at least a few great things in the United States. Our bread, legislators, and fashion may have never been touched by the shadow of Quality, but damn if we don’t have some fine museums. Equally–more–importantly, our road trip this summer reminded me how heartily I value the value that there is greatness when museums are free to the public.

I refer, specifically, to The Smithsonian. Made up of 19 museums, most of them in Washington D.C., The Smithsonian is open 364 days a year, and admission is free every last one of them. There’s something smart and noble about this. It sends a message to the public at large that they matter; they have a right; they should come; this stuff is important.

My only regret about our time in D.C. is that we only had a week and, therefore, couldn’t see them all. However, we did manage to hit five of the Smithsonians (plus a few for-pay museums, too). We all enjoyed the American History Museum the most, starting with this display of the actual Woolworth’s counter where the Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-ins took place in 1960. Those brave four college students who were refused service and, in response, launched a rule-changing movement of passive resistance (after six months of protest, the counter was de-segregated) actually sat their forceful rear ends right here, in these actual seats. On the day of our visit, a few bystanders later reported to their spouses that they had witnessed a teary Midwestern woman explaining the counter’s history to her nine-year-old and twelve-year-old children.

How embarrassing for her.

We then headed into the “American Stories” exhibit, which uses more than one hundred items to create a sense of how objects can tell the story of a country’s history. Dorothy’s ruby red slippers are there. So are Anton Apolo Ohno’s speed skates. So is this guy (speaking of things to delight the Wild Paco):

While I love Kermit as much as the next Rabid Muppet Fan, I have to admit that my very favorite item in the “American Stories” exhibit was this:

Before reading this plaque, I’d had no idea that crawling was ever discouraged as a bad habit. Here I’d thought for decades that colonial women had such clean floors thanks to their creeping broods of babies keeping the joint well dusted! How wrong I was.

I also really liked this creeping baby because–obviously–the point of her is not that she’s creeping but that she’s CREEPY AS HELL.

I actually had to deter Paco from coming over to see the creeping creepy baby, lest he never sleep again. Pointing at a random wall, I yelled,  “Look, Paco! It’s Fozzy Bear nailing Miss Piggy!”

Once he recovered from that Mama-Manufactured trauma, we headed into the “Within These Walls” exhibit, which the museum describes thusly:

“At the center of this gallery is a partially reconstructed house that stood for 200 years at 16 Elm Street in Ipswich, Massachusetts, about 30 miles north of Boston. The house and the exhibition that surrounds it tell the stories of five families who lived there over the years and made history in their kitchens and parlors, through everyday choices and personal acts of courage and sacrifice.”

To be able to walk around the house and stare inside the rooms while reading about the families who had lived there was, well, my idea of Heaven. If only there’d been beer and a huge steak, it would’ve been perfect. I could pretty much stare at a house and read about its previous inhabitants all day long, or at least until Fozzy’s done nailing Miss Piggy. Whichever comes first.

My attention was snagged by the display of lace-making technique; the wife in one of the earliest families in the house supplemented income by making lace.

All those wooden pegs make my head hurt. Kind of makes milking a cow seem like a walk to the barn in comparison, eh?

An absolute highlight of the American History Museum–an exhibit I remember seeing when I was about Allegra’s age–is the display of all the First Ladies’ inaugural gowns and various party dresses. While I recoiled with faintly-remembered horror at the sight of Roslyn Carter’s ’70s Indian/harem/flowy weirdness dress (which, on the model, was one of Byron’s favorites; note to self: when Byron tells you that you look nice, go change clothes), I was enamored of quite a few of the gowns, particularly the bedazzled bit of flapperishness worn by Grace Coolidge. She later gave it to her maid, who gave it to her daughter. I always knew I should’ve been a maid’s daughter.

Here’s a clear photo of it, followed by my blurry attempt; at least with my attempt, though, you can see how the dresses are lined up all next to each other. They don’t actually float around a bare room by themselves, as the museum photo would have you believe…although Paco would have really loved that, if they had.

Every day of our week in D.C., we took the train in from Takoma Park, Maryland, where we were staying (quite cheaply, for the D.C. area; thanks to all who suggested we book using airbnb.com!). We bought a week-long pass for the Metro and rode it in and out of the heart of the city. Resultingly, most of my memories of D.C. are images like these:

One of the days in D.C., our friends Chip and Rob came to Takoma Park to hang out for a few hours on their way from Virginia to Delaware. Chip used to be one of Byron’s roommates when they both worked at the environmental learning center, and Chip is the kids’ godpapa (he and Rob are getting married next summer, so Rob will be grandfathered into godparenting, as well); they both qualify as The Finest Guys Ever:

Because we’d spent the daylight hours with Chip and Rob, we decided to head into the city for the evening and do a dusk-hours walk of the memorials. That evening was the one time it rained during our week there.

Naturally.

But even rainshowers can’t keep a good man–or family–down, and Martin Luther King Jr. still made our hearts beat a little differently:

We also stared at the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Memorial

The famous Vietnam Memorial was more of a “touch” experience, as it’s made of black rock, and it was completely dark by the time we got to it. There was minimal lighting, which we used it to help our fingers trace their way across the thousands and thousands of names of men and women killed during that war. Even more moving (and hard to photograph) was the Korean War Memorial, which is designed so that the soldiers appear to be wading through a rice paddy:

Another day, we headed to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and enjoyed not only the presidential portrait gallery (as with the First Ladies’ inaugural gowns, we each had to choose our favorite and least favorite portraits–not presidents, mind you, but the actual paintings. Byron and I both hate Lyndon B. Johnson’s portrait. The kids both chose as a favorite, um, Lyndon B. Johnson’s. Johnson himself called it “the ugliest thing I ever saw”).

Once we’d all agreed we like Bill Clinton’s choice of Chuck Close as his portrait painter

…we moved into other areas of the museum. Below is an installation of Nam June Paik’s “Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii.” Basically, the artist has video footage running in every state that reflects what a person could see through the window of a passing car. For Idaho, he has footage of potatoes kind of floating around. Then some more floating potatoes. Plus some potatoes. Just there, floating. Waiting to be seen through a car window.

Listen, Paik. I lived in Idaho for awhile, and not once when I was driving around did I see potatoes floating, untethered, like some sort of First Lady’s inaugural gown.

A special exhibit at the American Art Museum is called “The Art of Video Games.” At the very least, it kept Paco interested and allowed members of the family to become part of the display.

Yet another day in our riches-filled week in Washington D.C., we took a tour of the Capitol building; we’d contacted Minnesota senator Al Franken’s office (yes, the same Al Franken that used to be on Saturday Night Live) and arranged the thing. A perky intern named Hannah Anderson–she couldn’t have had a more Minnesotan name if it’d been written for an SNL sketch, in fact–took us around and showed us all sorts of pretty things.

After our time at the Capitol, we headed towards–brace yourself–another Smithsonian, this one the American Indian Museum. Mostly, we were going there because we’d been given a tip that it’s the best place in D.C. to eat lunch.

On our way to that museum, we walked through the botanical gardens. They grow some crazy-tall glass flowers in D.C.

The facade of the American Indian Museum is awesome. The food is better than awesome. It’s all based on tribal dishes from the various regions of the country, and it uses ingredients that–HAHA!–occur in nature. I could eat there every day for weeks and not get enough.

It’s good that we were well fueled by good food, as the week just kept rolling on. Another day we went to the Newseum, which is not part of the Smithsonian, but it’s worth the entrance fee. For example, visiting this museum gave us a chance to talk explicitly about the Berlin Wall with our children and communicate to them how devastating that divide was on a human level…and how many people risked and gave up their lives to escape from an existence without choices…and how exhilarated the entire world was when that wall came down. On the day of our visit, a few bystanders later reported to their spouses that they had witnessed a teary Midwestern woman explaining the wall’s history to her nine-year-old and twelve-year-old children.

The entire Newseum is devoted to the force that is freedom of the press and to exploring the way journalism plays a role in our perceptions of history. Plus, the place has a great view of the Capitol from the top floor. We went out and hollered, “HELLOOOOOO, Hannah Anderson” a few times for good measure.

Back inside the Newseum, we were able to make a video of ourselves doing a news story. Rather than subject you to that, I offer up this photo as evidence that we are a microphone-wielding family who can tell you a few things about cherry blossoms:

Even after all these pictures and details about what we did and saw in D.C., I haven’t covered the half of it. Hence, you can understand why the kids looked like this every night:

On the day this picture was taken, a few bystanders later reported to their spouses that they had witnessed a teary Midwestern woman tucking away her camera while muttering, “I just love their softy little selves so much.”

On our last afternoon, we went back to whence we started and did a quick revisit to the Museum of American History. An exhibit had opened just that day, an exhibit celebrating Julia Child’s 100th birthday. Her entire kitchen, the place where several of her famous tv programs were filmed, is now part of The Smithsonian. We looked at the exhibit and watched some footage of her old shows. Two weeks later, Paco mentioned casually, “You remember that Julia Child show we watched in the museum? The one where they were cooking and then taking apart a lobster? That was seriously interesting.”

Finally, after seven days and nights of toodling and touring, we packed up the car and sat down inside it for the first time since we’d arrived. We bid adieu to the house where we’d been staying…

…and we filed away our museum-fueled memories, ready to pull them out weeks, months, years later and think, “That was seriously interesting.”

Then we caught our collective breath and turned the car northwards: to Connecticut and New York City.

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East Coast Road Trip: From Pho to Chocolate Haha!

Today marks our last seven-hour stretch of driving for this fun, enriching, spirit-revitalizing road trip. By this evening, we should be back in Duluth, ready to think about hair cuts and eye appointments before the kids start school next week.

So, now that it’s almost over, I’m finally ready to go back and recap some more of the highlights. Rather than toss 45 photos all into a single post, let’s parcel them out over a few.

I left you last as we were about to head to Columbus, Ohio, and then into Pennsylvania for the Hershey factory.

Even after 20-odd days on the road, a definite highlight–a real “I’d completely return to Ohio just so I could go there again”–was Columbus’ indoor market, a place full of food-related stands offering up local and organic and artisan and YUMMY.

I was delighted to find a bottle of Voodoo Donuts maple bacon ale. Paco was delighted to find a pho stand so that he could slurp away at a bowl of his favorite anise-based broth:

After pho, beer, and bbq sandwiches, we left Columbus and headed to the canny bit of marketing that is Chocolateworld, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I was happy to take the place for what it is, which means I chortled ceaselessly during our ride through the history of the company.

The tragedy in the photo below is that, shortly after I snapped it, that hay bale hurtled out of the mural and landed on Grandpa’s head there in the ride, giving him a neck sprain that even a two-foot Twizzler licorice vine couldn’t heal.

Paco and I decided to pay extra and do the “create your own candy bar” attraction; if I’d had my phone on me, I would have texted Allegra frantically and told her, “You do TOOO want to do this thing; it’s actually more fun than you thought it would be. It’s amazing. Buy a ticket. Get in here!” Unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone, so now she just has to look wistful whenever Paco and I rave about how unbelievably delightful it was to choose our fixin’s and send our plan through the line and then design packaging and retrieve it at the end.

Because Paco went with a dark chocolate base, I went for variety and chose the lesser-liked milk chocolate for mine. He did sprinkles, toffee crunch, and pretzel bits; I chose pretzel bits, semi sweet chocolate chunks, and almonds. The resulting bars were weighty and packaged in tins that, in future years, can hold all our lost teeth (those that rot out from too much sugar).

After Pennsylvania, we headed to the Washington DC area and spent a week basing out of the charming town of Takoma Park, Maryland (cheaper to stay there than in the city, and only a few train stops away from the heart of things).

Coming up in the next travel post: Smithsonian! Smithsonian! Smithsonian!

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…Or Maybe a Chunk At A Time

If you ever see an ad for “Wanted: Person to Post Picture of the Day,” do not let me apply.

That is a job at which I would fail miserably. However, I might make a go of “Wanted: Person to Toodle Around and Occasionally Share Moments of Her Toodles Digitally.” Whatever the wage per hour, I’d still be overpaid, of course.

So here I am, in a frame of mind to do some digital toodle-sharing. Truth be told, I’d like to post about thirty pictures, but I’m working on the elusive art of restraint–something that is anathema to all I am–and so I’m only allowing four pictures. We’ve been on the road for four days, after all, so it makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is that we’ve been on the road for four days, and I have four photos to share…yet I have no photo from Day One or Day Four.

As I tell my children, “Maybe don’t get too analytical about what I say versus what I do. Maybe just view me as a full-throttle lesson in Going with the Flow.”

As part of my Restraint Program, I shall stop the blather and get down to it.

We departed Duluth on August 4th, leaving our house in the care of a gun-toting trainer of rabid pitbulls, so don’t even think about a break-in. My picture of the day would have been of Byron sipping his first-ever cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee; sometimes, in the middle of Wisconsin, there are few coffee choices, so we were forced to try out the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that has sooooo many people raving about it.

It was–how you say?–fine. Considering.

Day Two had us visiting the science museum in Chicago (after which we went out for a nice Turkish dinner with my college roomie and eternal great galpal, Colleen, and her partner, Tim). You know what I realized at the science museum, a place I recall being wildly excited about when I visited it as a kid?

I realized I can’t even fake being a science person. These places are billed as “interactive” and full of learning, and most of the time that I’m in them, I wish to be sitting on a bench, people watching, or else left alone to read a book for a few hours. On some level, I lack the natural curiosity of a scientist. So, um, sometimes there’s air and some moisture and an updraft, and something like a “vortex” happens. Okay. Now can I go read?

Fortunately, others in my family got more out of it:

While the fellas made tornadoes, Allegra and I quite liked the miniature diorama skyline of the city, complete with teeeeensy figures enjoying an afternoon on Lake Michigan:

Interestingly, one day later, when we’d gone to Navy Pier (tourist hell, really), I experienced miniature once again, this time from my vantage point high up on the Ferris Wheel. I was adamant that I wanted to ride the wheel, having read Erik Larson’s The Devil in White City and gotten the back story on the creation of the Ferris Wheel for the world’s fair of 1893 in Chicago. To ride a wheel that is a direct tribute to that invention was very, very cool. Being able to look down and pretend I was seeing the entire world as a miniature diorama was just as exciting.

My biggest thrill of the last four days has been the art deco, intricate, ever-changing-yet-very-harmonious skyline of Chicago. We took the train into the city from our hotel, and then we took water taxi and trolley to get around the downtown area. Thus far, I’d say the late afternoon water taxi ride, just as the light was hitting its best slant, has been my biggest highlight.

Today, my picture of the day, had I taken one, would have been of the line of semi-trucks parked at a rest stop in the middle of Indiana. Due to the hoards of trucks toting goods around the country, I had some white-knuckle driving on the interstate. With construction narrowing the lanes, and being hemmed in by trucks from all directions, I was glad to hand over the wheel to Byron. He glided us into Columbus, Ohio, where we sleep tonight.

Tomorrow, we go to the much-recommended Columbus market and then drive six more hours to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where we’ll spend a night readying ourselves to tour

the Hershey’s Factory in Hershey, PA, the next day.

If I don’t post for a few days, it’ll be because I’m still slowly reviving from the sugar coma.

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Quick Favor

We’re packing up before heading out tomorrow on our three-week road trip to the East Coast. First stop will be three nights in Chicago. My hope is to put up some Picture of the Day posts along the way,

but first:

I’ve got scaffolding in place for the Writing for Social Media class that I’ll be teaching online this Fall semester; now I’m at the point where I’m writing up weekly announcements and assignments, and I’m struggling as I try to explain what makes for a “good” blog post versus a, um, “crap” blog post.

Since most of you who leave comments are bloggers (or, clearly, blog readers) yourselves, I wonder if I could ask you to reflect back on your own experience with writing and reading blogs. Are there posts you’ve encountered that stand out to you as something superior? If so, why? What is it about a post that makes it memorable? Can you give me any specific examples, from actual posts?

On the flip side, when you’ve come across blogs that are painful to read, that perhaps feel like a waste of your time, what is it that turns you off? What leaves you shuddering or vowing never to return? Again, the more specific, the better.

Thanks in advance! The success or failure of a blog post is a hard thing to articulate to students, I tell you…

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Midsummer Litany of Complaints

After doing a home exchange with a couple in Minneapolis last weekend–

something that became possible in 2010 when we ran ads looking for an exchange for my sabbatical year…ads that ultimately yielded no viable international exchanges, but which did turn up one wonderful nibble from a travel writer who lives three hours south of our home town, and it is she and her husband with whom we’ve now swapped houses a couple of times

our beer cellar (aka “the fridge”) is well stocked with stouts and IPAs that our rube selves can’t purchase here in our outstate burg but which we can lay in during trips to the metropolis. We had a great time in the Big City, swimming at an idyllic beach, sleeping with air conditioning units in the bedrooms, eating tremendous Thai food, enjoying visits from sister-in-law, niece, mother- and father-in-law, dreamily licking scoops of Norwegian Chai creaminess at a gourmet ice cream shop.

Additionally, after a first creaky week of trying to remember how it is we all relax together, summer quickly hit its easy stride; thus, the last month and a half has been full of mellow togetherness. Allegra likes to have her hair braided. She’s played a lot of soccer. Paco, who decided he loves JRR Tolkien because they share a birthday, has been reading The Hobbit and planning his Halloween costume as Frodo (the most intricate part of which will involve deer hide feet with doll hair glued to them). He also earned a huge bruise on his forearm last week at archery camp. Once I realized I could read my future by gazing into the depths of that bruise, I bought the kid a camouflage-patterned arm guard; the big payoff of this purchase is that I now get to approach him several times each day with false alarm, hollering, “WHERE’D YOUR ARM GO? I CAN’T SEE YOUR ARM! HOW WILL YOU EVER GET DRUNK WHEN YOU’RE 22 AND DECIDE TO GET A BUGS BUNNY TATTOO ON YOUR FOREARM WHEN YOU DON’T. EVEN. HAVE. A. FOREARM.? THE COMPLETE LACK OF FOREARM IN YOUR LIFE IS THE SADDEST STORY EVER TOLD!”

He forgets to roll his eyes at me because then I take him swimming.

After that, he helps Byron make even more batches of “Olympics Opening Ceremony” ice cream (we plan to move the tv out to the deck, eat grilled pizzas, sip dark and hoppy beers, and, yup, soak ourselves in three kinds of ice cream as we watch all those Phelpsian ripped abs cut their way across the Olympic pool).

When we’re not eating and drinking and swimming and home exchanging, we’re planning our upcoming three-week road trip to the East Coast.

So far, this hardly sounds like a Litany of Complaints, does it?

I’d best get down to bitching.

Here’s a bad thing: the fruit flies. They swarm our kitchen and muddy my beer.

Yes. Yes. I hand you a tissue now for with which to dab at your compassionately-weeping eyes.

Moreover: it’s hot and humid as Satan’s boy bits packed into a Speedo, yet there is not even the upside of my skin looking dewy and youthful. Rather, I simply look tragically slick and in need of a full-body wet wipe.

Oh, and let me not forget: I can hardly bear, in such humidity, to have fabric touching my body; ergo, I minimize Fabric Touchy by wearing tank tops.

Yet tank tops are a hard look for a soft lady to pull off.

So I go to Pilates class. Where the Pilates Drill Sergeant makes us flip over our Bosu balls and do moves like this:

Except I am not this taut, focused specimen. Rather, I am the freckled lady in the back row sporting a huge Frowny Face and emitting an admirable string of swears, not the least of which contains the curse “…may you be baptized as a Mormon posthumously.”

Then the day after Pilates class, my glutes are sore like a Mormon reading this post, and pretty much I can’t even sit down onto the toilet without bellowing, “You may not have a forearm, Paco, but at least your arse is free of protest, so count yourself lucky!”

Poor kid only ever understands every third utterance coming out of Mommy’s mouth.

Beyond my aching tukis, there’s the fact that six of my–wait a minute, counting here…seven plus three, carry the two–roughly ten fingers are currently burning with the after effects of weeding stinging nettles, sans gloves. Listen, if I can do push-ups on an upside down Bosu ball, you had better believe I can yank out a few thistles bare-handed.

I can also whine about the pain for a full day after encountering the toxins.

Moses Henry, but such a sting! After the first nettle took a pinch, Paco made me head into the house and wash my hands thoroughly before he applied an antibacterial bandaid.

(See how I’m the anti- helicopter parent? Everyone wants to rant about overprotective, hovering parents these days, but I confound that line of thought by turning my children into the parents. You may address all letters of congratulations regarding this tactic to “Clever Buttsore Mommy Jocelyn.” The mail carrier is well acquainted with that salutation and drops off a bag of fan mail daily at noon. It is a very small bag.)

Just when I think that the prickling fingers and screaming rear cheeks are as bad as it can get, I hop into the shower in an effort to squeegee off the top layer of sweat, only to squeal

holyweltsinprivateplaces

at the eeky pain of raw skin being pelted by forceful water.

As it turns out, the hot and the thick blanket of air and the gardening and sweating have resulted in a heat rash in the places where my elastic waistband has touched my flesh.

Indeed, my equator is a dotted line of Magellan’s explorations from belly button to spine.

Ain’t nothing that highlights a girl’s soft white underbelly better than a slash of angry weals.

The upshot of these complaints, from fruit flies to humidity to screaming hamstrings to electrified fingerprints to a belt of red torment, is that I feel completely justified making repeat trips to the beer cellar.

As I reach for a refill, my mind wanders to how lovely the gardens are right now, so chock full of flowers I started from seed months ago; it marvels at my body for being strong enough to face a Bosu ball; it nods appreciatively at the food that beckons the fruit flies; it considers how cool and clean I feel after the refreshment of a shower; it thanks the elastic in my shorts for holding up against all challenges.

It’s almost as though

I

can’t

complain.

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When I Was in Junior High, My Home-Ec Class Had a Fashion Show During Which We Modeled What We’d Sewn, and All I Remember Is Being Mortified Because My Mom Was Weeping As I Galumphed Down the “Catwalk” in My Navy Polyester Slacks

Imagine if she’d had a blog, back then in 1980–oh, the photos of me she could have posted for the world to see!

Small mercies.

Anyhow, this Millenium Mom is going to use her blog, right here, right now, to brag about the highlight and joy of her twelve-year-old daughter’s life,

and, Praise The Evolution of Synthetic Fibers, it’s not a pair of navy polyester slacks.

Rather, it’s my Girl’s national magazine debut (the experience was chronicled here). Indeed, a little over a week ago, we received a box of twenty advance copies of the back-to-school issue of Discovery Girls magazine; a few days later, her subscription copy slid through the mail slot, and in a few weeks, the issue will be for sale on stands across the country in stores like Barnes & Noble, Target, and Wal-Mart.

You’ll want to crack open your piggy bank and set aside at least one full shopping day towards the end of July.

In short, we are very excited here and are shouting our glee at everyone with at least one functioning ear or the ability to read body language. In the off chance your piggy bank doesn’t rattle when you shake it, let me give you a rich and savory taste of the magazine contents, as they relate to Girl. In the process, yet another bloggy pseudonym shall fall, as her name is plastered all over the thing. I figure, however, that most of us are all pal-ed up on Facebook, and a third of you are probably engaged in games of Words with Friends against her, so it’s not like I’m raising the veil on some great mystery here.

Anyhow, there were two days of photo shooting during the DG experience: one at the Jelly Belly factory outside of Milwaukee (Girl is wearing a striped sweater in those pictures), and one in a professional studio (Girl is wearing–wait!–a striped sweater in some of those, too…along with a “cover outfit” in one shot…not that she made the cover, but, er, em, she definitely made the cover in my heart, and a heart’s cover lasts decades longer than any old piece of glossy magazine anyhow).

Below is the actual cover of the actual magazine, not the one in my heart (which you can’t see, Silly, as it’s nestled well away from view; only Byron and the makers of Britain’s The Office in the final episode, an episode which made me burst into tears and sob wildly at the romance of it all, are able to see and touch it):

Last weekend, one of those cover girls there was in Duluth with her family, so she and Girl got together for a bit to see more of each other in real life.

Enough of real life. Back to the magazine and my labored and awkward attempts to scan in pages!

The picture below shows that all our Piggyback Riding and Pyramid Foundation Lessons paid off. Not every DG girl is able to hop aboard another or serve as a bottom brick as easily as ours:

These are the “profile” shots; I’m not terribly fond of the appearance of horns that photo gives Miss Allegra, but then again Angelina Jolie is currently rocking such a look in her costume for Maleficent, so perhaps the Girl’s hair was prescient with regards to this trend.

The picture below is the “cover shot” of Allegra and a girl named Taylor. I quite like it–especially because they put her in clothes she’d never wear otherwise, and I enjoy seeing her dressed up like her name is Muffy.

Part of the DG experience was that Allegra had to write up essay answers, when all was said and done, to more than twenty questions. For that alone, I appreciated this magazine.

I absolutely love her answer below, as it’s Truth to Power. She spent about half of her math time, during our homeschooling year, crying out of frustration. This year, when she was back in a traditional classroom, she was the Rock Star of math class–very advanced and the light of the teacher’s life. Thus, so long as she spelled “hated” correctly when recounting her homeschooling experience, I call the year a win.

Can we all dance around and squeal like pre-adolescent girls now?

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You May Apply an Expensive, Fine-Line-Diminishing Moisturizer Both Morning and Night, but If You Use Email to Communicate with Your Friends and A Video of Your Birth Wasn’t Posted Online, You’re Not Fooling Anyone

My mom is 77. She’s had a digital camera for years and uses it all the time—but she’s never downloaded a single picture from her camera to her computer. Instead, she snaps her photos and then takes the memory card from her camera and puts it in the photo printing machine at Walmart. She has prints made of all her digital photos. Emotionally, it’s important to her that she have paper copies of all her pictures so that she can sort them, stack them, put them in a scrapbook. When I have suggested to her that she might just download her photos onto her computer, review them there, and then only get prints made of a select few (if she has a place in her house she wants to display one, for example), she literally shudders. It is unthinkable, undoable, for her to have photos that only exist digitally. Instead, she only feels easy and right when her photos have been printed, scrapbooked, and stuck on the shelf.

I understand this, as I struggled, when got our first digital camera, to let go of the need to have prints. Once my pragmatic husband pointed out that it made no sense to pay money to get something made that is then stuck into a box or on a shelf, however, I was able to peel back from my impulses. Cleverly, he opened my mood to the topic by pressing an Imperial Stout into my hand at the start of the conversation. When I tried to argue, “But what if I want to show someone my pictures?”, he said, “Take another gulp, and consider this: instead of going down into the basement and pulling a photo album off the shelf, just go to the computer and pull up the pictures you want to share. It’s as easy to sit in front of a computer and look at pictures as it is to sit on the couch and look at pictures. In either place, you can still bore your audience with endless details about places they haven’t been and people they’ve never met. If it isn’t hard copies holding them hostage, then you’ve saved on money, space, and the energy that would go into the creation of that paper and scrapbook and running the print-making machine, not to mention the sheer amount of glue that will be saved for later use, say, for making googly-eyed monsters at Halloween. In fact, there might be enough glue saved from not scrapbooking that you could invite the children to join you in that project this October instead of making them watch your googly-eyed joy longingly from across the enforced ‘Me Time’ buffer of ten feet.” By the time Byron had finished this lengthy prattle, I was eyeballing the bottom of my glass of stout, amenable to anything, particularly a refill. So, we don’t get many prints made, and I use online photo sharing systems for displaying my pictures.

Then there’s my daughter, who takes photos with her iPod Touch, uploading them directly to Instagram, where she plays around with all sorts of effects and messages. Her friends who aren’t on Facebook (technically, they’re all still too young) connect with her there, and they send each other messages and share fantastically-doctored photos on a daily basis. She is particularly proud of a photo of glitter sprinkling across a hand, the same way my mom is proud of her stack of several hundred pictures of flowers in Hawaii.

From my mom to me to my Girl, we all love the power of photographs, but the way each of us is comfortable harnessing that power differs. It’s generational, spanning age groups from older folks who consider big band music “too modern for my ears” to young nippers who think auto-tuned voices are “how people sound when they sing,” and it’s not just about pictures; the generation gap extends into all kinds of technology.

Of course, it’s unfair to stereotype technology use entirely according to age lines, as so much depends on the individual. My mom can’t figure out how to attach anything to an email, yet my husband’s 97-year-old grandfather spent his last years scanning old family photographs, digitizing them so as to preserve them for the future. This same struggles-with-attachment mom, however, formed a permanent one by using Senior Friend Finder (parent company: Penthouse…va-va-va-voom), an online matchmaking service that kept her in boyfriends for a few years before ultimately yielding the desired prize in the form of an 87-year-old husband. For my own 45-year-old self, I’ve hardly ever touched a smartphone, but my friend Kirsten, also in her 40s, spends her days responding to the buzzing vibration of hers. My 12-year-old daughter can add a sepia effect to a picture of her best friend swimming at the lake, but her 41-year-old father is the one who can use Photoshop to add flippers to her earlobes and place that best friend into a lake on Mars.

A sub-category here is Gamers. In cliched fashion, everyone bemoans that today’s kids are addicted to the Wii, the Xbox, their handheld devices–that they don’t read or spend their days outside getting dirty and sunburned. But that’s too easy a complaint, and it ignores the reality of the nine-year-olds I know who will read for three hours at a stretch as recovery from running through the sprinkler wielding swords. It also ignores the reality of the forty-three-year old Call of Duty: Black Ops addict who opens conversations with “I’ve got enough kills to unlock the cherry metal camo for my weapon!” My old lady reaction to this type of peer is to find his “juvenile” technology use jarring and to gasp, “At our age, honey, shouldn’t we be talking about scotch and mortgage payments and our mistresses?”

Despite the frequent disconnect between age and technology use, some broad observations can be made about the generation gap, and they hold true so long as your inquisitive self keeps its magnifying glass snug in its felt-lined case.

For example, if you receive a forward through email, and the subject line reads FW: FW: FW: FW: while the contents are a rant about “This is not a racist email, but all the veterans in my family didn’t go to war under the Mexican flag,” you can pretty much be sure the sender of that email is over 65. Similarly, alarmist emails (anyone remember those dangerous bananas in Guatemala a few years back?) that spur me directly to Snopes.com so that I can send a link and a note of “You really shouldn’t believe this stuff, Auntie Bev” are invariably sent out by senior citizens, as well.

It also seems that people over 65 or 70 are reluctant to join Facebook, and if they do sign up, they rarely post updates or comments. Perhaps they are happy to lurk; perhaps they are confused as to who can see what bits of information; perhaps they recoil from the easy dropping of privacy; perhaps they are uncomfortable with the quick back-and-forthing that constitutes communication; perhaps they can’t remember their log-in information; or perhaps they occasionally visit The Book of Face just to stare at their thumbprint-sized avatars, marveling that their tiny face is out in public, being famous like that, and wasn’t it nice of their grandson to sit down with them that Sunday and help them resize a photo and upload it to this website that they now can’t figure out how to navigate.

Trust me: for each of the possibilities listed above, I have the face of a real person flashing onto my mind’s screen as I type.

Then there are the people in their middle decades of life who adapt to the various new technologies, who can see that smartphones and texting and social media can help them stay organized or track their kids’ whereabouts or revive faded friendships. Part of the Middle Agers’ use of technology, though, is rueful. They download new recipe apps happily…yet they recall, wistfully, the illicit fun of listening in on a party line, of winding a spiral telephone cord around their fingers distractedly during long phone conversations, of using cassette players to record Saturday Night Live skits off the television. They may use their cell phones as their alarm clocks, but they’ll also bend your ear with nostalgic tales of diving boards and AM radio. What’s more, they view the conventions of texting with undeniable disdain, harrumphing about misspellings and the death of apostrophes with a mixture of agony and condescension.

Trust me: I know someone exactly like this, and she wears my pants and drives my car.

A bit younger yet are those in their 20s or late teens, people who adapted technology use deeply into their lives early in their existences. They grew up with gaming systems, DVDs, never using longhand to write an essay.  Their earliest years of elementary school were shaped by the movement to “get computers into our classrooms,” and they took it for granted that they could stand outside their houses and have a chat on the cordless telephone, if they liked. They were funneled towards IT jobs—always assured that there was demand for employees in computer programming and Web design.

Trust me: these are today’s college students, and their voices are in my head.

But then.

Even younger still

are the kids—

those preteens and elementary-school leg tuggers–

who have had pervasive technologies so deeply woven into their every hour that they have no frame of reference for “before” and “after.” Being able to tell anyone, anywhere in the world, that they are eating a Fudgsicle, as they are eating it…distracting their minds by lobbing birds that are inexplicably angry at pigs that are inexplicably green…writing a research paper without ever visiting a library or touching a periodical…checking the weather by looking at an app instead of the sky…watching, along with thirteen million others, the Harvard Baseball team lip-sync Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”…developing friendships with people they’ve only met once (or never at all)…learning long division on a Smart Board…

all of these things are the new normal for First World kids and, therefore, we might argue, for the future leaders of the planet.

I’m not a fan of complaining about change or pushing back against the tide. At one point, parents and screaming teens alike had their breath taken away by Elvis’ swiveling hips. Attempting to censor or modulate Elvis didn’t make him stop (a job better left to prescription pills and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches). Nor did forcing teenage boys to get haircuts put a damper on The Beatles. If it’s coming, it’s coming, and all we can control is our responses to the nebulous force of It.

Personally, I do okay. I’m on par with my generation, perhaps a bit ahead in a few things and a bit behind in others. Sounds like life to me. I look at my daughter’s relationship with technology and, rather than feeling despair, I trust her judgment. As she told me a few weeks ago, when I noted that she was on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter (among others) and that she should always be thinking of how much she wants to expose herself and how other people might use the information she puts out there, her reply went, “I have all those accounts, but I don’t really use them very much. I’m only 12. It’s not like I have a lot to report.”

Ultimately, I guess I’m keeping up, if occasional limping qualifies as “keeping up,” and I can rely upon that Girl of mine to keep me current. Take, for instance, one of our finest moments of mother/daughter bonding in recent months. It occurred entirely on Facebook as we sat in the same house at the same time. I saw I had a new private message from her, written in response to a joking “So what’ve you been up to since I saw you last?” question I’d sent.

“Here’s what’s been up,” her message read. Then she had attached this:

The same way Elvis’ hips swiped the breath from the chests of WWI vets, this image of my Girl’s first break-up (it had been a low-key 6th grader “going steady” kind of thing, largely facilitated by the fact that they both rode the same bus) caused me to emit an “Oof.” I tried hard not to put myself inside her head during those Adjustment Minutes between 8:55 and 9:06 p.m. It almost worked.

Jinkies. Thanks to technology, I was witness to my first baby’s first time getting dumped.

Naturally, because I’m Old School, I immediately walked to her room for some face-to-face and said, “So, I just saw your message about you and Now-Ex-Boyfriend. How are you doing with that?”

“Fine. It’s not a big deal.” She wasn’t lying. At no point during the year has it been a big deal; more than anything, it was like these two agreed to “date” so that they didn’t have to deal with the pressures to “date.”

“So you’re all right?”

“Totally. Right now, I’m just trying to figure out right now who sings this new song.”

Okay then. I let it rest–while still shaking my head a little at learning of my daughter’s love life on Facebook from a screenshot taken on her iPod.

Apparently, this is how we’ll continue to roll. Two weeks later, I got a FB message from her, asking: “Can I… Or could I? I don’t know which one ^. Start shaving my legs sometime soon?”

You better believe I hit reply and then we hit the Walgreen’s.

An hour later, we sat together on the edge of the tub, lathered up our legs with shaving cream, and practiced not cutting ourselves with razors. We talked about soccer and the heat and how dirty her feet were. We talked about armpit hair and when I started shaving, way back nearly thirty-five years ago. We wondered when Daddy had started using a brush to apply his lather. We speculated about when Paco will start being hairy.

The thing is

and here’s the thing:

the best moments of life

are charged without a cord

and happen in real time

with nary a pixel in sight.

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Plaster, Pairings, Pacing

It’s going to be a summer of pictorials over here, I fear. Suffice it to say, my head is full of children–often perky, often listless, too often full of the words “What should I do?” now that school’s out. Interestingly, and I remember this from my own youth, they want something to do, but they don’t actually want to do anything. In a stand-out highlight, I managed, last week, to get Paco interested in helping me catalog items that we’ll be donating to Goodwill. He wrote them down and noted their condition (for tax purposes), and I packed them up, readying them for the drop-off.

That was a really great ten minutes we had there.

Outside of that, it’s been a whole lot of other chunks of ten minutes, during which I say things like, “Why don’t you make some slime? We have a kit.”

“No, thank you. I don’t feel like it.”

“Why don’t you read a book?”

“No, thank you.”

“Why don’t you take your scooter out and whip around the sidewalk for a bit?”

“No, thank you.”

“Why don’t we pull out the hot glue gun and glue stuff together?”

“No, thank you.”

“Why don’t you take this shovel and dig me some holes in the dirt?”

“No, thank you.”

“Why don’t you pull out one of our two hundred board games and sink somebody’s battle ship?”

“No, thank you.”

At least I can give him credit for good manners.

This whole shift from school year into summer and the feelings of “I want something, but I don’t know what” reminds me of being a kid and standing in front of our open refrigerator, staring at the shelves of food, and saying to my mom, “I’m hungry. There’s nothing to eat.”

The Girl is easier, as she heads off to her room to recline on her bed and stare at her wall.

When I pop my head in to say, “Are you seriously staring at the wall? Why don’t you pick up that book next to you?”, she responds, “Naw. I’m good.”

See how manners suffer in the preteen? Not a “thank you” in sight.

Fortunately, she’s got a pretty stiff soccer schedule going on, and she’s doing band camp this week (oh, my, but there were nerves before the audition), and we’ve got her doing a program called The Incredible Exchange (adolescents volunteer at organizations around town and receive a certificate at the end of the summer for a ski pass or art classes or theater tickets). She’ll be volunteering at the children’s museum for the next month or so, doing stints at the Dino Dig display and teaching kids to make pinwheels. If it gets her off her bed, I call that a win.

In short, we’re having a classic summer so far, wherein life feels too slow and too busy all at once. Complicating everything was Byron’s bike crash a couple of weeks ago. In his Fine Man fashion, he was biking across the city to the Lighthouse for the Blind, ready to do his shift reading the newspaper aloud on the radio for the sight impaired. Going a bit too fast, he hit some loose gravel and wiped out. His knee was well bloodied, and his wrist took some good impact. What was there to do besides get back on his bike and ride to the Lighthouse? They gave him some bandaids and a bag of ice. He iced his forearm for an hour and a half and thought it felt okay. So then he biked to the YMCA, as he was signed up to chaperone Paco’s third grade swimming field trip. Despite not being able to swim, Byron worked the pool deck…and realized his arm really hurt. I swung through the pool area after my yoga class, just to say hi, and the first thing I noted was “You don’t look so good.” At that point, I heard about his crash. He poo-pooed my offer to stay and chaperone while he went to Urgent Care, noting that his presence mattered to Paco. It was good he stayed, as all other adult males peeled off during the swim time, and by the end Byron was the only male chaperone and, therefore, the one who needed to shepherd the three classes of third grade boys through the locker rooms at the end of the field trip.

Thus, once the field trip was over, and I was off taking Girl to soccer, I got a call that Byron had stuck Paco on the back of his bike and taken him to Urgent Care. X-rays revealed a broken wrist. At that point, we tried to figure out how to get his huge cargo bike home–too big for the bus, too big for any bike rack we have. I was just deciding I could drive us home and then run back to the hospital and then try to handle the bike myself, when Byron announced, “I think I’m okay. I’ll just ride home.”

So, yea, that’s my boy. In his temporary splint, he rode home.

A week later, the orthopedist put a cast on. Because Byron’s the guy who will experience random complications (any long-time readers out there remember the day he got two vastectomies, what with him coming home from the first procedure, having a couple arteries burst, and then having a 4 hour surgery to repair all that?), he’s having a lot of pain and problems with this cast: swelling, hot points, tingling fingers. As of this typing, he’s back at the doc, seeing what’s up. My guess is that they left a screwdriver in there when they were applying the plaster.

Incidents like these allow me to sigh dramatically his direction and point out, “You come across as so simple, but you’re really very complicated, aren’t you?”

The downer of the wrist was nicely balanced by the wonderful evening we had throwing a “Pairings Party.” Although I generally space out most of my running thoughts, once the run is over, I actually remembered my idea to have an end-of-school Pairings Party, wherein guests were challenged to bring their favorite food-plus-beverage coupling.

I hadn’t made scones since before we went to Turkey, so it was time:

I hadn’t had a White Russian since college, and I must say the pairing worked well together–creamy + creamy. Byron made popcorn topped with brewer’s yeast and coldpress coffee for a drink; it’s his favorite afternoon snack.

Guests brought a variety of fun things:

Everyone enjoyed the tasting and hanging out:

At the height of the evening, we had 18 kids romping around the yard:

The trampoline saw lots of action:

…and then, when it was over, we were back to summer, filling those hours.

Paco decided it would be fun to make duct-tape armor. So Byron put on an old shirt, and Paco and I spent a loooooooooooong time applying a few layers of duct tape (sidenote: apparently being the model for this activity is a great weight-loss strategy, as Byron probably sweated off two pounds, just sitting there). Then we cut the thing up the back, releasing Byron; now Paco can slide into it and look as though his torso is bigger and ready for battle.

Yes, Byron, you are a massive beast.

We also had a really great Grandma’s Marathon weekend. Every year, there is a 5K (with about 2,000 runners), a half-marathon (about 6,500 runners), and a marathon (about 6,000 runners). This year, as well, the U.S. Half-Marathon National Championships were held, which added further excitement for spectators. The race course goes right by our house, which means that the neighborhood turns out in full force to cheer, ring bells, and marvel at people’s abilities and endurance.

Our Girl is interested in doing 5Ks these days, so even though I had stopped doing races a few years ago and felt I was pretty much over 5Ks, you had better believe I stepped up with alacrity when she said, “I want to do the 5K, but I want someone else to do it, too.”

The evening of the 5K was much hotter and more humid than anything we’ve had so far this year, so everyone was suffering. As the race announcer noted, “This will not be your night to set a PR [personal record]!”

He wasn’t kidding. It was a misery. One of the men in the top ten collapsed three times in the last hundred yards, as his brain stopped firing correctly, yet his body kept moving. He did cross the finish line, but it wasn’t pretty. Later in the pack, when I was coming in, a young boy behind me had to bend over and vomit a few feet past the finish line.

Speaking of not pretty.

Here I am, pounding to the line between grandpas, as is my way.

Girl ran the whole thing very well, but she had a tough time with the heat and humidity. Her best 5Ks are still in front of her, which is just as it should be for a twelve-year-old. One of her good friends (and her sister and dad) ran the race, too, so it was a jovial time, all in all.

Races are always way more fun once they’re over.

Can you guess which long-suffering person in the above photo is not a fan of heat and having his picture taken?

The morning after the 5K were the half-marathon and the full marathon. We were down on the race course before 7 a.m., ready to see U.S. Olympic marathoner and native Duluthian Kara Goucher speed by. She won the women’s national championships and set a new course record. News footage that evening showed her grabbing her toddler at the finish line. I was left thinking, “When I had toddlers, it was all I could do to put my feet on the floor each morning and hoist my body off the mattress. I was more Groucher than Goucher.”

The men’s championship was won by Abdi Abdirahman (for a good time, say that ten times fast), a Somali-American who will be representing the U.S. in the marathon this summer, as well. I tell you, when these elite runners whoosh by, it’s such a powerful whisper that my heart beats differently for a few seconds.

I may have to say “HUH?” when people mention The Packers or The Vikings or The Twins, but I’m hella good race geek.

Capping off the race watching for me was this guy. He reminded me that I may sometimes struggle to get through the hours with the drifters that are my children,

…but at least I’m not pushing a dog around in a stroller.

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In the Yard

The kids are in their last days of the school year here, and I’m already in Week Two of teaching summer classes at the college; strangely, there’s something melancholy about this time of year–something about the end of rituals and the starting of new daily schedules, something about the winds contemplating pushing warmer air our direction. Despite the melancholy that comes from taking stock and feeling imminent transition, I really like this time of year, particularly because it’s so delightful to be outside. In this past week alone, my spirits have glided around the backyard, joyfully catching a draft and coasting around, every time I look at our new solar lanterns

and every time I catch sight of the first blooms on the earliest flowers (Siberian Irises delight)

and every time I watch Paco use sparklers as magic wands (“Wingardium Leviosa!” he cries)

and every time I participate in my new favorite sport

[tentblogger-youtube wIgA7a9rE7w]
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