I'm glad Veterans Day didn't suffer long from the Monday holiday craze and retains the connection with "the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month." History is also worth remembering.
It must often be so...when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King)
Thank you, all veterans and current members of our armed forces.
Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, American Episcopal Church, 1979)
Rather cool, even if we do all have our mouths open. (Click to enlarge, or follow this link.)
Porter loves bougainvilleas—so do I, though not nearly with the same passion—and years ago planted some out front. He was so disappointed when they seemed to make little progress, and didn't bloom much.
Well, I don't know what happened, but in the last year or so they seemed to be determined to make up for those years all at once. One of the bushes is growing so aggressively that its thorns threatened people attempting to walk to our front door. I did briefly consider leaving it that way as a deterrent to solicitors, but since that would exclude Girl Scout cookies and LBHS Band apples, I gave up the idea. (Click on photos to enlarge.)
Instead, Porter built a pergola. He build the basic structure in the garage at first, then moved to the driveway to replace the temporary stubs with the 10.5 foot legs. After he dug the holes, we (yes, just he and I) lifted it, in halves, and put it into place. Then after levelling, and settling, and fastening it back together, he added the rest of the top pieces ...
... and filled in the holes, and introduced the bougainvilleas to their new plaything ...
... and we have a pergola! Isn't it pretty? I particularly like the sculpting he did on the ends.
This summer I noticed that our grandson was reading a book about "staycations." I think it was about how to have a great vacation but save money by staying in your own town, and your own home, but acting as if you were on vacation: eating out, seeing the attractions that you would see if you were visiting your city as a tourist, etc. However, my mind leapt at a different interpretation of the term: What if I "went on vacation" but never left home?
To me, vacations are not only fun but critically important, being mostly about family, but they are anything but relaxing. I leave behind one set of responsibilities, but take on another, and if grandchildren are a joy that reminds me life is worth living, they don't leave much time for rest. Or for making any progress on my own work, which is always waiting for me when I return. So when Porter planned a three-week "working vacation" to the Northeast to help with construction projects in New Hampshire and to help out his father in Connecticut, I thought, "What a great time for me to take a staycation!" Hard as it was to give up any chance to visit family, this was too good an opportunity to miss. I would be home, but not home, avoiding as much as possible any normal activity or chore that I would not be doing if I were actually away. If it could survive three weeks of my being out of town, it could survive being ignored for that long.
There were exceptions. If we had both been out of town, things like mail, newspaper, lawn/pool care, and feeding the worms would have been taken care of, but it made much more sense to handle them myself. A friend pointed out that I could have hired someone to mow the lawn, but that would have been more stressful than just doing it.
I didn't have a hard-core agenda; this was supposed to be a vacation, after all, a personal retreat, and I wanted to leave it somewhat fluid. But I did have a few goals.
- This seemed like the perfect time to accomplish 95 by 65 Goal #94: Rocket boost photo work (40 hours of work in segments of 1 or more hours, over 2 weeks), since I could work largely without interruption and any hours of the day I chose.
- There are some projects that work a lot better if I can spread them over space and time without worrying about interfering in someone else's life. I wanted to work on some of these.
- I've been battling a tendency toward hoarseness ever since I got the worst laryngitis of my life four years ago, and being alone at home with no outside commitments looked to be my best chance to see what a period of voice rest could do to help.
These were my three big priorities. How did I do? (More)
I like Bed Bath & Beyond. Their prices can be a little higher than at some places, but there are plenty of opportunities to get 20%-off coupons, and despite what the fine print might say, the coupons never expire. Most of all, here is the reason I love to buy small appliances at BBB:
Three years ago we bought a new toaster oven. I've been very happy with our choice, but early this year I noticed that one of the lower elements had developed a split.
The appliance still worked fine, so dealing with the problem dropped to the bottom of the to-do list.
However, I recently realized that the three-year warranty was about to expire, and the element, much to my surprise, had shown no sign of healing over the last seven months.
I wrote to Cuisenart, and I wrote to Bed Bath & Beyond. Both responded. Cuisenart's response was acceptable, but felt scripted and was not particularly helpful. I was beginning to wonder if it was worth the hassle and postage to return the unit. Maybe I should just fork over another $65 for a new toaster oven. If I were being cynical, I'd be pretty sure that's why warranty returns can be difficult.
But Bed Bath & Beyond's response pushed cynicism out the window. What it boiled down to: There's no limit on our return policy, just take it back to the store. Now that's what I call customer service.
So this afternoon I bundled up the toaster oven, not without a prayer of thanksgiving for three years of good service, and headed off to our local store. Thanks to Porter's meticulousness, I had the receipt, but since I wanted to do an even exchange I might not even have needed that. The cheerful and helpful sales clerk took the old toaster oven and sent me to pick out a new one. I was pleased to note that they are still carrying the same model, slightly updated, and for the same price as in 2012. The clerk made the exchange and sent me out of the store with a smile. Needless to say, I was smiling, too.
As far as I'm concerned, that's more than enough reason to shop at Bed Bath & Beyond. And to keep our receipts!
Ah, I knew there was a reason I didn't want to have Amazon's "1-Click" purchase button turned on. But when buying Kindle books, there's no choice. Tonight I was browsing their daily deals and, somehow, accidentally clicked on a "Buy now with 1-Click" button. I think the problem was related to the fact that something—my computer, Firefox, Norton, our ISP; I don't know the culprit—has been making the Internet unpredictably slow. For a while it will go just fine, then lag by several seconds. For example, typed the first half of the previous sentence in real time, then the last half took in all my keystrokes before appearing all at once. The mouse has a similar problem, so the computer must have registered a click in the wrong place.
Whatever the reason, I was on the phone to Amazon right away. There really needs to be a "cancel this order" button. I know how to do that with physical orders, but could see no way to do it with the digital order. So I called. Yes, I, even phone-phobic I, picked up the phone. The cost was only $1.99, not a high-risk financial move, but two bucks is two bucks, and it was definitely not the kind of book I wanted cluttering up my Kindle.
Despite language issues, I think the Amazon rep got things straightened out for me. The book disappeared from my Kindle all right, but the refund of my charge should come "within two to three business days." I'm hoping it will be a bit faster than that, just because I don't think it should take so long, but I'm happy to know that such accidental purchases can be undone. Maybe next time I'll find a "cancel" button—but I'm also hoping there won't be a next time.
Now my computer/Internet/browser/whatever really needs a rest. Maybe it will feel better in the morning.
We didn't come nearly as far south as usual on our trip home from Connecticut, because we enjoyed a wonderful visit with my cousin, her husband, and other family members. We hadn't seen each other since my Dad's memorial service in 2002, and only just scratched the surface of reminiscing and catching up. We could have lingered longer over breakfast, but we needed to get going, and anyway, our hosts were dealing with a clogged kitchen sink. It was a great visit, but it meant we were still nearly 850 miles from home. We were thinking of stopping around Savannah, but ... things happened.
The trip began uneventfully, unless you count the good event—the trip from Washington, DC to Richmond has never been so easy. Probably that's because we're usually hitting that stretch in the late afternoon, and this was morning. No traffic problems at all! But we made a gas stop in good old Walterboro, SC, and as we drove away the car door locks began randomly and repeatedly cycling: lock, unlock; lock, unlock. We tried this, we tried that. We searched the Internet, where what we found most useful was learning that other people have had the same problem, though there was no consensus as to a solution. I whined on Facebook, and received some replies that cheered us up, but no practical suggestions. Our own mechanic had gone home for the day.
So we just kept going. Instead of stopping in Savannah, we decided to go straight home, not knowing what might happen if we stopped the car and left it overnight. There were some promising breaks in the lock cycling, but it would come back again. And again. Until finally it didn't.
Although we no longer had our Personal Percussion accompaniment, the I-4 stretch had enough to keep the driver awake: a long construction zone, with no street lights and no lane markers, in the pitch dark and pouring rain. At least the other folks on the road had the sense not to be driving the posted 70 mph speed limit. But we made it to the grocery store, where the car locks behaved normally, for a few staples and some sushi for dinner—as I said, we hadn't wanted to stop the car while far from home.
And then we were home! All seemed well, and we walked over to the neighbors' to pick up our mail. There we discovered that both of them were sick in bed. This is relevant to my tale because of what happened next: Porter went to turn the water to the house back on, and discovered the valve was leaking—and who knows how long it had been. He had the material needed to repack the valve, so instead of enjoying our sushi, he went to work. Normal procedure would have been to borrow from our neighbor both his assistance and the tool needed to turn the water off at the street. But ... (see above). Not without difficulty, Porter managed to make do with me as an assistant and wrenches plus a lot of effort to turn the water off, then on again, then off again when we realized things were still leaking, then on again when the repair was finally complete. Well, almost—we have water, and we've left the finishing touches for a time when, we hope, the "sun comes out and dries up all the rain." So the day that began with plumbing, ended with plumbing.
Oh, and we also replaced the battery in one of our smoke detectors, which was beeping so insistently I could hear it from outside the house.
We may be getting to bed a lot later than we had hoped, but we're home, we're thankful for a wonderful vacation and a safe return, and we trust that daylight will reveal no further problems—our neighbors keep a good eye on things while we are gone—and we finally had a chance to enjoy our sushi. Soon we will be off to bed, after I write one more post....
After spending two weeks with our this-side-of-the-Atlantic grandchildren, I find myself puzzled. I've researched the genealogies of both sides of the family pretty far back, and have yet to discover where the mountain goat line comes in.
I've written about this before, when a park maintenance man berated us for allowing a 14-month-old to climb freely over the playground equipment. Now that toddler is four-and-a-half, and correspondingly even more sure of foot. Nor are her siblings any less coordinated.
One of our favorite Maggie P. activities (besides eating M&M's) is to walk to the Outer Light. This includes traversing a half-mile-long stone breakwater, which of course is the most fun part of the trip for the kids. Most of the huge granite rocks are flat enough for easy hiking, but there are good-sized gaps, and some tricky spots, particularly where unfortunate ships have shoved the rocks askew.
On this particular day, the five oldest children—Jonathan (11.75), Noah (9), Faith (nearly 7), Joy (4.5) and Jeremiah (2.5)—made the trek, along with Grandma (old enough) and Dad-o (ditto). The three oldest had no intention of walking sedately and carefully across the rocks. Oh, they were careful enough—but at a running pace. I walked with Joy, while Porter and Jeremiah brought up the rear. Jonathan had time to run out, back, and out again well before the four of us arrived at the lighthouse, but it was only short legs that held us back. Or so I thought, until the trip back. Jeremiah kept a grip on Porter's hand, but leapt over foot-wide fissures with ease and confidence. Joy was completely reliable, and I only reminded her a couple of times (probably unnecessarily) that the danger was not in the rocks, nor the speed, but in not paying attention to where her feet were landing.
As we neared the lighthouse itself, Faith, who had waited there for us, informed Joy that the final stretch was a bit difficult (true). Joy drew herself up to her full height and proclaimed "I'm four! Last year I was only three!"—with all the indignation of a teenager's, "But Mom, I'm almost an adult!" And proceeded to climb all over the area of jagged, randomly placed and spaced stones—with a lot more agility than her grandmother, I can assure you. Even Jeremiah insisted on going wherever his siblings went, dragging Dad-o with him.
On the return trip, only Jeremiah consented to stay with an adult, and his slower pace was due more to his two-year-old desire to stop and examine everything (Porter steered him deftly around the dead and decaying cormorant) than to his size. Joy threw off all fetters and flew (safely) across the rocks, behind but no less carefree than her siblings. I thought I might catch up with her at one of the tricky spots, but she maneuvered through them with no hesitation.
I confess that I was relieved to have everyone's feet back on solid sand, but it was a great trip, and I was humbled by the exuberant courage of the young, who know that a challenge is what turns a simple walk into an adventure.
Frankly, he didn't look like the kind of man I'd bother to speak to at a gas station just off I-95 in Virginia. Grizzled, rather the worse for wear, probably living a hardscrabble life—at least judging by appearances. But there was a Confederate flag in his truck's front license plate holder, and it made me smile.
I'm a Northerner by birth and upbringing, and even though I've lived almost half my life in Florida—well, from Central Florida you actually have to travel north to get to the South. So I have my full share of prejudices, and there are days when encountering such a man might have scared me. But today, as we passed together through the convenience store doors, I remarked, "I've never been a fan of the Confederate flag, but I've always been a fan of the underdog, and today your truck made me smile. Thank you." The man gave me a gentle smile of his own, and a kindly (maybe even relieved) twinkle touched his eyes as he responded simply, "thank you."
I may not live in the True South, but multicultural Central Florida has helped me lose at least a little bit of my uneducated and frankly self-righteous and snooty attitude towards its people. And to appreciate that neither side in the Civil War had a monopoly on righteousness, self-sacrifice, and courage; that atrocities are carried out under the flags of many nations and many causes; that thinking you have the right to deride someone for his ancestors only means you haven't looked closely enough at your own; and that attempting to erase history is the mark of a totalitarian state.
The brouhaha that has erupted over Confederate flags and monuments to Confederate soldiers made me realize that our country is not as far from the iconoclasm of Daesh (a.k.a. ISIS) as we'd like to think. It makes me grateful for one man and his truck, refusing to bow to the forces that would obliterate his past. One does not learn from history by forgetting it.
And so, bizarre as it might seem, the Confederate flag brought me a little closer to another human being today, one who I would otherwise have treated as beyond the pale. And so I salute that old Virginian, and sing with Robert Burns,
Then let us pray that come it may, As come it will for a' that, That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth Shall bear the gree an' a' that. For a' that, an' a' that, It's comin yet for a' that, That Man to Man the warld o'er Shall brithers be for a' that.
Side note: Immersion in the works of George MacDonald has been of great assistance in understanding and appreciating Burns.
And for your listening and viewing pleasure, the whole song, with pictures of Scotland.
The one good thing about living so far from our grandchildren is that their growth between visits is often dramatic, and easier to see than when one's data points are closer together. But Nathaniel, six months old, certainly made the most of our two weeks together. When he arrived, he was a good crawler (commando-style), but had just begun to take some wobbly creeping (hands-and-knees) steps.
Before the second week was out, he had a good, solid, cross-pattern creep, i.e. was able to get across the room and into trouble in no time at all. And never one to rest on his laurels, Nathaniel wants to cruise!
First background story: Many years ago, Lay's Potato Chips had an ad that claimed, "Nobody can eat just one." Porter, determined to prove them wrong, ate one Lay's potato chip and no more, I believe for several years—until once when he was eating chips from a bowl at a party and discovered that they were actually Lay's. From then on he considered himself released from his self-imposed vow.
Second background story: When our family gets together at the Maggie P. in the summer, long-standing tradition has it that the M&M jar must be continually refilled. It stands within easy reach of all but the youngest. And nobody eats just one M&M. It is so easy to devour great quantities of the candy, and we do. We almost never eat M&M's at any other time, but probably consume a year's worth anyway.
My story: This year I decided I would not take that first M&M from the jar. That was surprisingly easy to do, because I never stinted myself in any other way, and there are always many special treats at the Maggie P. And not eating any M&M's was much, much easier than eating only a reasonable amount.
Then came the day when our son-in-law baked brownies, and put a pattern of M&M's on the top. I was served a lovely, delicious brownie, with a large M&M prominent in the center of its top. I briefly considered removing the candy and giving it to someone else, then decided not to risk insulting the baker. After all, eating just one M&M is really more of an accomplishment than eating none.
And that is what I did.
It was the perfect day for a sail—clear, sunny, and with a good wind—and my grandson invited me out with him on his Sunfish. We live on a little cove of the river, just perfect for a novice like Noah to gain experience. The strong east wind gave us a great ride as we tacked back and forth.
Knowing that he had capsized the other day—righting the boat and continuing his sale with no trouble—I joked that I'd rather not capsize this trip, but that I would forgive him if we did. We sailed on. It really was a lovely sail, even including the part where I got whacked on the head by the boom before learning just how low you have to duck when you come about. (Getting hit by a Sunfish's boom is much less of a problem than whacking your head on an open cupboard door.)
We were wearing life jackets, of course, and I had my Croakies to keep my glasses on. Except for us, all the loose parts of the boat were tied down. At that point I realized that the one thing I had forgotten to do was to remove my wedding ring before sailing—more than one ring has been lost in that water—so I actually had my left hand clenched when about 30 seconds later a particularly strong gust flipped us into the water.
The act of going overboard turned out to be rather fun: I had been envisioning getting hit by part of the boat, or entangled in a sheet, but it was more like a carnival ride than anything unpleasant. (I empathize with our two-year-old grandson, who after being cleaned up from a more-than-usually impressive fall, chirped this cheery request: "Me fall 'gain?") The only difficulty was from the next lesson I learned: it's important to have your life jacket straps snug. Mine were a bit loose and I hadn't bothered to tighten them, so the first thing the jacket did upon hitting the water was ride up to my neck, and I had to cinch them while floating. Even so, it rode annoyingly high—Jonathan later told me they all tend to do that, unless you have a child's life jacket with a crotch strap.
Captain Noah asked me to swim to where I could watch him right the boat, and I did. This time he had more difficulty, probably because of the wind and the chop, but with the addition of my own considerable weight on the centerboard, the job was done and Noah climbed back into the boat. In hindsight, that was the point at which I should have started swimming to shore and left him to sail the boat in.
But we were both planning to continue the sail, so I tried to climb back in myself. Next lesson learned: a more experienced hand later told me I should have climbed in over the stern instead of over the side. Not only is it easier, but Noah wouldn't have had to make it harder for me to climb in by leaning back to keep the boat from flipping over again. On my last try I almost made it, and would have if there had been anything I could have grabbed onto. But at that point it was clear that I haven't been taking my pull-up exercises seriously enough, and I decided to make the swim instead.
Unfortunately, the delay had caused us to be pushed by the wind too near the causeway, and with that wind in his face, Noah was not able to resume sailing in time to get clear. So I started swimming the other way, toward him. A couple of very nice people, who had been either fishing or jogging on the causeway—both activities are common there—climbed down to help him fend the boat off the rocks. At that point, we could have both climbed out, but there was no need.
We had not been sailing alone in the cove: my son-in-law was in the other, bigger boat, and came to our rescue. I forget the reason why, but Jon's boat had also taken on a considerable amount of water, which he had been in the process of bailing when we capsized, so his progress toward us was more difficult than it otherwise would have been and he did not have the control he would have liked for working so near the causeway. But he managed to get Noah and the Sunfish off the rocks, and my job was to hang onto its painter and keep swimming, gradually pulling it away from the causeway, while Jon got his sail back up and Noah transferred to the other boat so that he could bail out enough water to make it sail better.
One kind person in a motorboat came by, asking if we wanted help, and Jon reassured him that we we were fine. I am, by the way, enormously proud of our grandson. He never panicked, remaining calm and doing what needed to be done.
It took a few tries, but I was finally able to throw the painter to where Jon could catch it, and the boats were on their way, with me getting a free ride, hanging onto the bow of the Sunfish. (Next lesson learned: a stern rope would have been really nice to have.) This, too, was fun—for a while. As I exulted at the time, "I've never sailed on the underside of a boat before!" But they couldn't sail straight to shore, having to tack back and forth, and on the northbound tack the chop was much greater, not to mention the fact that they'd gotten enough water out of the boat that she was sailing at a good speed. As I tried to shift my grip to hold myself higher out of the water, I slipped—so I waved them on as I called, "I'm swimming in."
After that, it was easy. Well, almost. The water was still very choppy, and the wind was still in my face, and swimming was made more difficult by both the life jacket and making sure my wedding ring didn't fall off. But I was making progress, and I had all the time in the world, or at least six hours: the tide was turning in my favor. Besides, I knew we were being watched by the family on both sides of the cove, who, since they could see through their binoculars that we were safe, would be finding all this highly amusing.
Indeed, they decided to send a welcoming committee. The sailors were by that time back on shore, but my brother-in-law grabbed a kayak and my husband the rowboat, and they set off to meet me. The kayak won, because one of the oarlocks had chosen that moment to break, forcing Porter to improvise with the rowboat, leading to even more amusement on the part of the onlookers. I accepted Jay's offer of a tow, and he pointed out what I had not noticed: the flashing lights of the police cars and the ambulance, waiting to receive me when I reached shore. "For Pete's sake!" is the strongest expletive I actually uttered, but I was furious by the time we reached the rowboat, transferring my grip to its stern.
I'm very grateful to the two people who helped Noah on the causeway, and to the countless others who stopped long enough to see that their help wasn't needed. I'm grateful to the guy in the motorboat who came by to ask if we wanted help. That's what good neighbors do. But to the person who called 911: What were you thinking? I'm sure you meant well, and I thank you for that, but if you had bothered to observe what was going on you would have realized there was no reason to push the panic button and distract emergency responders from those who really needed their help.
My father was a fireman. A good friend's son is a policeman. In our family we now have three EMT's, one full-fledged fireman and one apprentice, and one planning to join the police force. So I have a great deal of respect for emergency responders, and I know their jobs are necessary and often difficult. But I'm also personally aware of the negative side: close family and friends who were minding their own business, completely innocent and not in the least threatening, who have been bullied and abused by the police. So I was not in the least in the mood to be tolerant when a boat full of four firemen pulled up to me and announced, "Ma'am, we're under orders to take you in."
I am a master of esprit d'escalier. What I should have said was, "Do you have a warrant?" Instead, I was so incensed that I fled to the other side of the boat and yelled, "Oh, no—you're not touching me!" They insisted. I successfully resisted threatening a sexual harassment lawsuit if they did touch me, but simply let go of the rowboat, stood up, and proceeded to walk toward shore, finally remembering my manners enough to thank them for their concern before reiterating that I neither needed nor wanted their help.
There were policemen on the deck and an ambulance waiting to receive me on shore. No way was I going to set foot on land until they were gone! They'd have poked me and prodded me, there would have been paperwork to fill out, and somebody would have no doubt received a bill, all for no reason at all. Jon, being an EMT himself, said that the ambulance probably wouldn't leave until they saw me standing on dry land. "They can wait all they want," I replied, as I continued to swim in the shallow water with the grandkids. I did go so far as to let them observe me carrying the four-year-old over a mucky part, and I guess that was good enough for them, because finally it was safe to get out of the water. (Cue reverse Jaws theme.)
What they would have thought if they'd seen me crawling up the plank to the deck, I don't know. But it's not a wide plank, and discretion is the better part of valor. I feared what we call snorkeling syndrome: after exertion in the water, when you first climb back onto the boat the weight of gravity suddenly makes you realize you are tired and not as strong as you thought. I really didn't want to end the adventure by slipping off the plank into the creek. But once I reached the deck and stood up, I was fine.
I had been afraid that all that show of power from the authorities would have scared the younger grandkids, but I guess it just added to the excitement. I truly hope it was a slow day in the town, and that no one in actual need was deprived by their unnecessary attempts to interfere with our adventure. Don't get me wrong; had it been needed I would have been very grateful, and I realize that when 911 is called they must respond—and they can't tell immediately when their help is not needed. But where's the common sense? First of all, they didn't offer their help until I was in water shallow enough to stand up in. Second, they didn't offer, they ordered. Since when is it a crime to fall out of a boat, or to swim across a cove, even with a life jacket on?
It wasn't until this morning that I realized what I really would like to have said to them. But it's just as well: I couldn't have expected to find a Swallows and Amazons fan among them. But for those who love The Picts and the Martyrs as much as I do, I was identifying a great deal with Great Aunt Maria at that moment:
Tin trumpets, Tommy!
Eleonora Margaret Stücklin
Born Sunday, June 21, 2015, 11:01 a.m.
Weight: 8 pounds, 1 ounce
Length: 20 inches
There are five syllables in her first name; think Italian. Our you could do what her family does, and call her Ellie. Janet has posted Ellie's birth story on her own blog, and you can find more details there. I'll add here a few from my point of view.
This was the first time we'd only planned a four-week stay for my visit; previously we'd allowed two weeks before and four weeks after the due date. So I was getting rather nervous as my final week approached. But I think it all worked out well, and don't regret having had three weeks before the birth, as I believe it helped Janet get some much-needed preparatory rest; she was exhausted when I arrived, and doing much better when the day finally came. It was also great to have the time to be part of the family and focus on the older kids, who will remember my visit a lot more than Ellie will.
I hardly know how to classify Janet's labor for Ellie. Was it long? I don't even know when it started, as she went through a few days of "this may be it, no, yes, no, maybe." Was it short? All I know is that the end came very quickly.
My duties were easy, as the kids—my primary responsibility—were sound asleep by the time the midwife arrived. In the interest of keeping the crowd down, however, I mostly stayed out of the bedroom, but kept my ears on the alert, and occasionally peeked in through the doorway. Suddenly I heard the kind of moaning that means labor is getting serious, followed only minutes later by the sound of pushing! I was through the door in a trice, in time to see the bursting of the amniotic sac and a firehose gush of fluid flying straight at the midwife. Then Ellie's head appeared, followed swiftly by the rest of her. A beautiful baby! A baby girl! And then came the most amazing placenta I've ever seen. (I've been present for the birth of 12. This was a two-pound hunk of meat with not a hint of the calcifications that indicate the placenta is aging. Despite coming a week after her purported due date, Ellie was not late.)
Even more amazing was the reaction of Ellie's brothers and sister the next day. From the beginning, the three of them—who have themselves an incredible, "best friend" sibling relationship—have doted on their new sister, competing for the privilege of holding her, covering her with kisses and hugs, professing their love, showing their concern. Long may their joy remain!
What a great Father's Day present for both Daddy and Dad-o!
I was out of the country for 30 days, and so much changed while I was gone that I sometimes wonder what country I returned to. I'm grateful for days like today, for small towns like Geneva, Florida, and for people like the members of the Greater Geneval Grande Award Marching Band (GGGAMB), which assembles once a year for the town's Independence Day parade. I am so sick of (and sickened by) the strident, angry voices that exacerbate and exaggerate our differences, and refuse to see the humanity of anyone who disagrees. But this is the America I know and love: where diversity enriches rather than divides, and our widely differing political and social views in no way hinder our friendship, our celebration, or our working together in common cause.
On a different note, I'm grateful to our friend Greg D., who taught me that neither the band nor the celebration should be the focus of our performance, but the audience: the people—the individual men, women, and children—who have come to hear us. From him I learned to interact with the crowd as we march along: to break ranks, claiming exhaustion, and invite children in the crowd to help me out by crashing my cymbals together.
(Note: I prefer to be an equal-opportunity entertainer, but wise discrimination is important: I don't want to scare anyone, but to invite them to have fun, and I have become pretty good at choosing my targets accordingly. Sadly, there is a clear gender divide: boys tend to be thrilled, and girls reluctant.)
Perhaps it's that focus on pleasing the audience that won me my totally-unsought honor this year. After our post-parade concert, I was recognized by the master of ceremonies as the "most animated" performer. It's true that my cymbal technique would never be allowed in a real band! Porter said I did all right in my interview, but I now have a greater degree of sympathy for politicians who must speak "off the cuff" and answer questions for which they are not prepared. It's so very easy to think of the answer you should have given, five seconds after the answer you did give has left your lips. When asked, "How long have you been playing the cymbals?" I hesitated and replied, "It's a secret"—because I had no idea. That was okay, because it made people laugh, but what I wish I had said was, "I've been playing with some of these wonderful folks for twenty-two years!" I knew that number because Heather was thirteen when she got us involved with the World's Worst Marching Band, from which the GGGAMB eventually evolved. (I looked it up after I got home: I first joined, or rather became, the cymbal section only a year after our family joined the band. Twenty-one years? Really?)
At that point, Tony, our faithful and intrepid—wild and crazy—director for all those years, grabbed the microphone and announced that I was also the grandmother of ten, evoking a final round of cheers.
We came together with old friends and new; we had fun; we performed a service for an entire town; and we made people smile and cheer. We didn't save the world, but it was a good day. Thank you, GGGAMB, and Geneva, Florida, for reminding me that the America I love is still alive and active.
UPDATE: As Richard, our awesome without-whom-this-would-not-happen organizer, put it when he posted the following on Facebook, "For those with a high pain threshold, here's a video of our entire concert, courtesy of the Community Church of God." It's 15 minutes long. WARNING: it's all quite safe for grandchildren, but children are at great risk of being embarrased by their mother's, um, award-winning performance and acceptance speech. It's great to grow old and leave inhibitions behind!
For a month my diet consisted largely of as much as I wanted of the following: bread, cheese, butter, jam, pasta, potatoes, pastries, and chocolate. If you've ever eaten Swiss bread, you know why that tops the list. And maybe it wasn't quite as much as I wanted in the pastry department, but that was largely a matter of timing, i.e. getting to the store before the best choices ran out. Sure, we ate a few other things, but bread and cheese really is a Swiss staple, and when I'm in town I never waste the opportunity.
While I was there, my exercise regimen was reduced from three times per week to three times per month.
I came home five pounds lighter than when I left.
I am so over the anti-carbohydrate hype.