I haven’t been taking a break from blogging on purpose. Rather, summer hit, and life sped up to the point that there wasn’t a minute in any day to think about writing or visiting blogs. As summer winds down now, I”m left thinking of the slow, dark, cold months ahead and wondering why everyone seems to pack all events and celebrations into three short months when it would be eversomuch kinder to spread them throughout the year. I mean, I can tell you right now, without looking at a calendar: if you’re having a party in February, I’m free, unless I’m busy eating my children that day.
For me, blogging isn’t something from which I ever want or need to take a break; it brings me joy to conjure up nonsense and figure out how to shape ideas. It brings me joy to visit other people’s blogs and read about their lives. I would blog full time, if only the bloggers’ union could reach a contract agreement that would result in a livable wage (and dental benefits) for this work.
One reason I particularly appreciate having a blog is that, over the years, it’s become a family diary of sorts. When I look back at posts from a few years ago, I marvel at how much they help me remember, how many small details of life are recorded here that I’ve totally forgotten. Thus, I’mma use this post as a summary reminder of The Summer of 2013 so that, in about three months when I can’t remember a thing that happened in June, at least I can come here and look at the pretty pictures.
At the start of the summer, a couple of my cousins’ eldest daughters graduated from high school–and may I just say EEEEEEEK because I’m still deeply in touch with my inner eighteen-year-old and can easily take my brain back to warm summer nights of packing into a car with friends and cruising “The Point” aimlessly, looking for fun and action, literally driving in circles as I waited for the rest of my life to begin. And here, now, my cousins’ daughters, girls who will always be four-year-olds to me, are at that tipping point, too.
The good news is that I’m extremely excited for these amazingly poised and accomplished young women; having them graduate gave the family as a whole a chance to come together and do the things we do best: talk, eat, and play cribbage. While I have a crew of cousins who live nearby here in Duluth–which makes them feel like bonus siblings–the graduation parties summoned up a couple of cousins I hadn’t seen in ages, and that was a delight.
Here, the family groups together outside my cousin Kurt’s log home in Northern Minnesota, and Byron gets grabby.
Early summer also saw us hosting a baby shower for our now-former next-door neighbors. Over the last few years, they have truly been a big part of our feelings of “we live in a seriously wonderful neighborhood,” so it was traumatic that the addition of their third child meant they needed to find a bigger house and move a couple of miles away. We still see them, of course, and we’re thrilled about the addition of Baby Charlotte, but I’m still having trouble being as “into” the new neighbors as I should–simply because they feel like they’re imposters in Kim and Dan’s space.
Opening the presents at the shower:
The trampoline got further use when Paco had some pals over (nothing new there) for a Minion Party (a one-time Special Event). Unfortunately, the much-anticipated Despicable Me 2 was nowhere near as awesome as the first one. I may have yawned during the movie, but I certainly didn’t yawn during the Minion Party.
Our pal Kirsten came up from Southern Minnesota for a weekend visit, and, blessedly, we had warm enough weather to tromp her through some of the trails of one of Duluth’s many green spaces. Nobody fell in the creek and got a boo-boo that later became infected, then gangrenous, so we called it a win.
And then, just as the kids’ school year ended, my three online summer classes began andwegettothepointwhereIdon’thavewordsforhowintensethatwas. Suffice it to say, I haven’t taught three classes during the summer before, so it felt like a lot. Also, one of the sections entailed teaching a sixteen-week class in four weeks while the other two sections were sixteen-week sections taught in eight weeks. Two of these summer classes were revision-based classes, which means students not only did the usual daily assignments, discussions, and quizzes; they also had to post rough drafts, semi-final drafts, and final drafts of each essay. Initially, my thinking was, “If this pace is killing me, then the students–since they’re doing all the heavy lifting–have got to drop out over time, and then my grading load will be eased.” Damn diligent students hung in there, however, and none of us ever got a break until we collapsed in breathless heaps at class end. The upside to the frenetic summer teaching was a nice paycheck, which we’ve been sorely needing here at our house.
Anyhow, here’s Paco burning his much-disliked math workbooks on the last day of school. More power to him and his non-workbook brain.
I took a notion that hauling the kids and a couple of friends to stay at my friend Pamm’s house in Southern Minnesota–as kind of a celebration of the end of the school year–would be a good idea. It was…even though it meant I was doing my online teaching at 2 a.m. We left Byron at home to work at The Greenhouse down the road, and four kids and I hopped into the car to do a little road tripping. First stop? The science museum in St. Paul.
In addition to Byron working the unrelenting schedule of someone selling flowers in June, we volunteered at the library book sale and at some races…and, throughout the summer, we hosted aunts and uncles and cousins and sisters and brothers-in-law and nieces…and we took a huge load of random junk to Goodwill, and we began an epic sorting of Lego mini-figures…and Paco decided he doesn’t hate bike riding after all…and Allegra completely fulfilled her goal to go out for a run every other day (what 13-year-old sticks to her summer goal?!!–the same one who asks for new three-ring binders and highlighters for her birthday, that’s who).
In mid-June, we flew to Maryland to do a little touristing and to attend the wedding of our kids’ godpappies, Chip and Rob. For the first few days, we stayed in Alexandria, Virginia, a town with fro-yo and great Thai food, which are both things we can’t get in Duluth.
We did a day in DC, and I’m not lying when I say that both Byron and I, Hardcore Library Lovers, got eyes full of tears as we entered the Library of Congress.
Readers, this is where they keep the books.
I also got eyes full of tears each evening at 3 a.m. when I was still grading my online classes while the rest of the family slept. I’d sit on the floor outside the bathroom in the hotel room and type messages to students about how to open up and view their graded essays (HELLO, 2013!) and think to myself, while weeping silently, “In a few hours, we’ll all awake and head off to see America’s greatest sights, and wouldn’t it be nice if I’d slept a bit first?”
One day we met our Duluth friends (and the kids’ godmammas), Julie and Alison (and their kids), in DC. They, too, were in the region for Chip and Rob’s wedding. We all met at the Postal Tower and went out for noodles. Here we are in front of Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated.
Nobody died that day.
We also wandered through Chinatown as we sought out a restaurant for dinner. I kind of want to turn this picture in to a jigsaw puzzle that I work on completing during those long, dark, non-social months:
Also during our trip to the East, we visited Mount Vernon–something I recall doing as a kid. You know, you can tell your kids about history, but nothing matches the power of showing them the slave quarters on the plantation of our nation’s first president.
Let us not gloss over the power and joy of the main event there in Maryland. Chip and Rob live in Virginia, but since Maryland had the good sense to legalize same-sex marriage, the wedding was held there. I congratulate Maryland, as well, on all the dollars that went into its coffers from wedding-related expenses.
So then we flew home, and I despaired that my four-week section of composition would never end, and we threw a yard party called the Ginger Potluck Showdown. Guests were challenged to bring dishes to the potluck that featured the theme ingredient of ginger. Savory dishes were at a distinct advantage, for most folks brought sweet stuff.
Because I’m sure you’re dying to know: the under-14 category was won by a ginger cheesecake topped by grapefruit slices, and the over-14 category was won by an Asian ginger pulled pork made in a crock pot.
The close of the potluck saw neighbor girl, Katelyn, and my online class student mentor, Deanna, doing cartwheels. There is a 40 year difference in their ages, so this photo is a testament to the generation-bridging power of lawn tumbling.
Also a highlight of the Ginger Potluck Showdown was the appearance of one of Byron’s childhood buddies, Karl, who drove up from Minneapolis with his daughter and pitched his tent on our trampoline. The report in the morning was that Tent on Trampoline is amazingly comfortable.
Time to fast forward to the 4th of July, or we’ll never get through this summer. As we usually do, we went out to my aunt and uncle’s home on Lake Pequaywan for swimming, kayaking, pontoon boating, and eating. The annual watermelon-eating contest was won by Paco–he is his mother’s child when it comes to gifts of rapid binge ingestion.
All along, coloring it all, there were our gardens. My fingernails are permanently full of soil this time of year.
Perhaps my favorite event of the summer was the first annual Aquathon, held by a local running company. Byron’s been getting more and more into open water swimming, which is a very different beast from pool swimming. He has a couple of people with whom he can venture out–swimming with others for safety’s sake, mostly–and so he’s been having a blissed-out time stroking a swath through Lake Superior and Lake Pequaywan (only 9,998 more lakes in Minnesota to try out before he’s done ’em all!). As part of this new interest, he signed up for the Aquathon; it was a series of races, held every Thursday night for four weeks, and it entailed swimming a kilometer, transitioning, and then running a 5K.
That’s Byron in the neon green beanie there. At the end of the four weeks, all the points and times were tallied:
AND GUESS WHO WON?
Very proud wifey here.
Buttons continued to bust off my shirts (which is really weird because I don’t actually wear shirts that button up, as a rule) when judges at the county fair were smart enough to award both Paco and Allegra prizes as Grand Champions in photography in their respective age divisions. Each of them submitted photos they’d taken in the gardens at Mount Vernon.
I’m not very good at putting any “humble” in my “humble brag,” am I?
Paco used the county fair as a fundraiser for new WiiU and DS games he wants, so he also entered a drawing in the mixed media category and also made a robot scarecrow and got some prize money for those, too. The robot protected our strawberry plants from marauding crows all through July ‘CAUSE THEM BLACK BIRDS KNOW THERE’S NOTHING MORE FIERCE THAN A ROBOT SCARECROW.
Thanks to the protective powers of the scarecrow, we were able to have strawberry shortcake about eleventy nights in a row.
Another really fun Duluth tradition is the Wednesday Night At The Races event that is held for a bunch of weeks throughout the summer. Kids ages 14 and under can show up at a local track or field and run a race in their age group. Allegra’s been running well with the big kids, and below you can see Godmamma Julie and Daughter Aliya re-enacting the drama of fleet-footed children.
We also had a delightful camping interlude on Madeline Island (drive the car onto the ferry to cross kind of dealie) where we spent a couple nights sharing a site with some college pals. Games, beach time, good food, quizzes, bikes–all so restorative.
Random sidenote: at the end of July, my two eight-week courses finished up. The next day we drove up the Shore to Finland, Minnesota, to fete Chip and Rob a second time, as they’d come to Minnesota to throw a reception with all their friends in this neck of the country. We played ring golf in the rain in the woods, and I’m here to tell you that the food at a potluck populated by naturalist/eco-friendly types is dammmnnnn good.
Speaking of Chip and Rob and of godpappies and godmammas, DID Y’ALL HEAR THAT MINNESOTA MADE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE LEGAL? *throws confetti*
August saw the enactment of the law, and so Julie and Alison were able to legalize their 12-year commitment. They had a big wedding way back in the early 2000s, so they opted to go low-key this time around and do a courthouse wedding, followed by a yard party.
They are so beautiful, I has to make crying from my eyes now.
You better believe I love me some lesbians. A few days after Julie and Alison’s wedding, we headed to Southern Minnesota for the wedding of Virginia and Kirsten. When they had their ceremony five years ago, I was honored to be a witness for Virginia, and this wedding allowed a replay of that role. A personal highlight for me this time was getting to sign their certificate and be included in something both moving and historic.
While we were in Southern Minnesota, my mom and her husband arrived in our neck of the woods for a visit. We hadn’t seen them in two years, so it was lovely to have some time together. She was a real Stand- Up Grandma when she went swimming with Paco, and he took her out to the float in the lake and asked her to jump off with him. Although she didn’t really want to, she did it. Way to go, GramMax!
In addition to all the above, the kids also did some day camps, with Paco attending a YMCA outdoor camp, a game design camp, a fiber fun camp, and Allegra attending a photography camp and a mixed media camp. My aunt and uncle also had them for a week of Camp Grandma out at the lake.
And now it’s the end of August, and all of us in the family went back to school this week. I have classes both online and on-campus from now on; the kids are in fifth and eighth grades; Byron is starting a stint as an AmeriCorps volunteer, in the Minnesota Reading Corps, specifically. He’s had training, and he’s got an ID badge on a lanyard, so you know it’s serious. Basically, he’ll work 20 hours a week at a local elementary school with kids K-3rd grades, helping them bridge gaps in their reading skills. He wanted a part-time position so that he could still have time to draw and be our household Point Man. Each year that he works with the MN Reading Corps (up to four years), he’ll get not only a modest monthly stipend but also accrue tuition dollars, in the event he decides to go to graduate school one day here, when he’s a Big Boy.
When my mom was visiting, she slipped Byron a cheque as an early birthday present. Thanks to her generosity, we bought a summer’s-end clearance kayak (for years, we’ve dreamed of buying two hight-end sea kayaks, but the reality is that those thousands of dollars are never going to be staring us in the face, wishing for a place to be spent, so we got real and went for a low-end sit-on-top kayak). Now I can be Byron’s swimming buddy and accompany him out into the deeps. It feels like a honeymoon each time we do it.
The coda to summer’s close is that Paco lost a tooth, and I lost my wedding ring, on the first day of school. My nearest guess about the wedding ring is that it slipped off my hand in the locker room at the Y when I was putting on lotion and chatting with a shirtless woman whose decolletage was riveting (I’m only human, people. Plus, now I’m more certain than ever that my biography should be titled Massive Breasts: When Is Life Not About Them?). So either it’s on the floor of the locker room, it’s been picked up by a thievin’ elliptical user and sold to The Gold Guys at the mall, or it’s deeply embedded in the Columbia River Gorge that exists between my chatting partner’s amazing breastuals.
That last option implies that my hand must’ve been in there, of course, and damn your probing mind for tracing that route.
Anyhow, Toothless Paco quickly applied his mad kumihimo weaving skillz (honed during three years of Fiber Fun camp) and pulled out a makeshift wedding ring for me to wear:
It does the job although it’s kind of a sweaty accessory to wear during hot, humid days. The above photo of my hand also shows you my first-ever manicure; as a back-to-school fun thing, Allegra and I went to get manicures. What an interesting process it is, to have one’s cuticles snipped off. My, my.
In closing, in sum, in summer-y to this meandering roll through the last few months, let me leave you with this image of yet another seasonal clearance item: my new Born sandals.
Put another way: life is good.