Category Archives: Family

What I’ll be reading tomorrow

I stopped into a branch of the library this afternoon to return some books. It wasn’t my usual branch so I felt a bit upended, like when you try shopping in an unfamiliar grocery store: you know what is there, but you’re not sure on which aisle. It seems that it shouldn’t be so in a library, with the Dewey Decimal system and all, but there you have it. I did manage to find my way to the catalog, to the shelves, and last before checkout, the new acquisitions.

It was there that I spotted, in between easy summer beach reads and the latest computer manual, Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott, with Sam Lamott. Lamott is a writer who always makes me laugh, although I don’t always agree with her, and some of her books tire me by the time I get to the last pages even though they are usually quick reads.

I read this on the cover:

…[W]atching Sam changing poopy diapers all the time nearly brings me to tears. My wild son, who like most boys smashed and bashed his way through childhood, with branches and bats and wooden swords who shut down and pulled so far away as a teenager that sometimes I could not find him, ow taking tender care of his own newborn, a miniature who is both unique and reflective. Same is still every age he ever was, from the fetus to the infant to the adolescent to the father. And Einstein would probably say that Jax is already every age he will ever be, but in such super-slow motion relative to our limited perspective that we can’t see the full spiral of him yet…”

I liked this idea of looking at one’s grown child and seeing every age that he has ever been.

A few days ago, while in the midst of one of my cleaning/pitch everything sprees (they don’t happen often, but when they do, I go with it!), I threw a small pocket-sized day planner in the trash can. A few minutes later, I fished it out to see what was in it. Really? I haven’t used a planner this century. What could possibly be in it? A bunch of numbers for old land lines?

I started thumbing through the address book. It didn’t occur to me at first that the only names in it were family. And then I turned to the notebook pages and found a note I wrote to my son July 14, 2001. Why? I wondered, would I not have given it to him?. Then I realized that I had given him the entire planner the first time that he went on an extended trip without any family members. He was 12 when he ventured to Scotland and England on a choir tour.

I read the letter and realized that much of it I could have written to him when he moved half-way across the country last week.

…I am so proud of you. I know that you have worked very hard to be ready for this….I see what a neat kid, a nice young man, you are now and are becoming every day.

I wrote about how he was very observant and that he would observe lots of new things being with a group that was not his family and in a foreign country, but I hoped that he would recognize mostly commonalities, not differences. I was thankful that he had put up with my over-protectiveness and “weirdnesses”.  I knew then, apparently, that he must have been aware on some level of my angst about his going. I closed with this:

Have fun. Sing joyfully. Act responsibly. Smile. Be thankful for the blessings in this life. I am proud of you & love you.

I could see then his past ages and glimpse ages to come. Just like last week as he left to start the adult chapters of his life. I could have said the closing paragraph of that letter verbatim and every word would be appropriate. I can see all of the past ages of him — and saw all of the ages to come as the loaded car pulled out of the driveway.

Last night, a few hours after giving him some suggestions over the phone for fixing a error-prone laptop, I received a text:  Thanks for the Help Desk advice.  I love you.  And not just for the computer help but for all of the mom stuff.

Sometimes your child’s current age is easy to see, which is particularly good at this moment in time because I can’t think of him as being a kid anymore.  I think this may be a good time to read Lamott’s book.

Old houses give up few secrets

We’ve been doing some remodeling in our house recently. We’re not doing anything extreme like adding a third story, or tearing out all of the walls, but we are attending to several long-overdue maintenance tasks, like tiling a worn bath, replacing flooring, painting walls. Although our house is over 50 years old, we are only the third owners. This is a contrast from my first house, where I was the sixth owner in five years, one owner in a long line of owners stretching back to 1918.

One always uncovers something when you start to do such work. Yesterday I noticed that the painters who did the painting when we first moved in, didn’t remove some of the registers. While setting the tiles the contractor’s young assistant learned how chicken wire was used in old lathe and flooring. Since they apparently didn’t realize that those walls, though difficult to tear out, were paper-thin, I heard all about that in some rather colorful language while working in my office. While not anything I hadn’t heard before, I think they would have been embarrassed if they knew I overheard; they were most professional when around us. The contractors were not quiet either about how out of plumb the door jambs were. I’d never noticed the angle on the trim. I likely will have forgotten about it in a week or two. Crooked walls happen. But, while the house is older, it isn’t so old as to hold any fascinating secrets. Perhaps the property does — the old, tall trees perched on the hill that have presided over many generations — but there are no hidden rooms or secrets the walls might hold inside this house. And yet, there are always small surprises.

When we moved in, one of the bedrooms was covered in an old-lady-print wallpaper. It was fine stripes of cream, with peach and blue accents in a glossy sheen finish. Everything about the room shouted “The kids are gone! I made a pretty guest room!” When I eventually got around to tearing off that horrible wallpaper, the dart board holes in the wall, along with crayon colorings and inked cartoon drawings, confirmed that.

One of the first things we did upon moving-in was to replace many of the light switches with switches compatible with a home automation system. For some now inexplicable reason, the light switch from the cream and peach room, covered with the old-lady wallpaper, was tossed into a box of electrical supplies instead of the trash. Sorting through the box while looking for a dimmer switch for another room today, I came across the switch plate. Without thinking I threw it into the trash. But, as it sailed towards the wastebasket, the wall paper, its glue long since released, unfurled. I picked up the plate, curious. The original plate had an image of a boy and a name — Jamie — painted on it. It’s been years since I’ve met a boy named Jamie, although it used to sometimes be used as a nickname for my son’s given name. (Bodies would need to be buried if anyone had ever suggested that he be called Jamie.) The drawing, though, could have been him around the time when we moved in: a lanky, skinny-legged, redheaded boy of 10.

My son moved out of the house this past weekend, heading across country to begin his post-college life. Finding the switch plate with the little boy on it was a sweet reminder of the years when we first moved into this old house.

The switchplate, however, will go out with the trash tomorrow morning.

Old Photos

Did I just fall into a time suck! I came across photos from 2000 – 2005. These were found on an old laptop of mine by a former colleague about a year ago. He sent them to me at that time on a CD and I briefly looked at them, copied to me laptop & threw the CD into the bottomless pit of photos & photo media in a closet. Looking for something else, I found the copied folders in my Downloads directory this evening and started browsing through them. Here I am, about 5 hours later, finally through all 14 folders, amused by how quickly my son and his cousins have grown up and amazed at how young all the adults in the family looked 10 years ago.

From a time when I actually had more than 2 or 3 scraggly tulips bloom in my yard. Objects in the background are much smaller than they appear.

Two smart guys — my son & Sir Isaac Newton. I don’t think my little boy — now an engineer — knew anything about calculus at the time this was taken, but he sure knew Newton. I remember that this statue was the only thing that he seemed to enjoy during this trip to the British Library.

For years, this was one of my favorite pictures. Taken on the London Eye, Summer, 2001.

Photos from a time when cell phones didn’t have cameras and my digital camera (A Kodak DC215 Zoom Millennium 2000 edition) — a bonus gift for working on the Y2K project — was really cool at only 1 MP and an 8MB compact flash card. Pictures I take today are larger than that CF!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Hands

Ethan's Hand

And when you were one month old, your fingers were this big!

I’ve displayed this photo before, but it seems the perfect one for this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. It is one of my favorite pictures.

Be sure to check out other submissions for this week’s challenge. There are always great entries by other wordpress bloggers.

Off he goes into the wild blue yonder…Off with one helluva roar

Ben, Age 9

My son was about 9 when he first started talking about building and flying planes. Maybe, even, he said, he’d build rockets and space-ships. So, it seemed the logical choice when he decided to go to the public university that has graduated more astronauts than any other in the US — Purdue University. 22 Purdue alumni have become astronauts and over 1/3 of all US manned space flights have had at least one Purdue graduate.1, 2, Pioneering Astronauts Gus Grissom and Neil Armstrong earned Purdue degrees, and aviator Amelia Earhart was a faculty member and advisor. It was coincidental that Purdue was only about 70 miles away from our home; my son likely would have ended up there had it been 700 miles away. For the last 5 years, he’s been a Boilermaker, studying Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.

Here is a plane that he (and the rest of his project team) built for an international competition recently. Shortly after this picture was taken on graduation night, I heard a rumor that the plane was “borrowed” (by others) to test it’s waterproofness. I think a bubbly, drinkable substance was to be used.

DFB project plane

Last weekend, he graduated:


Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

Sitting tall, next to statue of the first man to walk on the moon

On the same day, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Air Force.

2nd Lt., Standing next to the “Emerging P” statue on campus

Mom’s favorite portrait of him in AF Service Dress

His next steps are training as an Air Force navigator. Whether the future holds involvement with spacecraft, is something that will unfold in the years to come. I know that his future is bright, whatever he chooses, although a military career is a dangerous one and, as a mother, that worries me immensely. I am proud of him, though, for choosing what he felt was the right path for him. And I’m as happy as can be that he is still pursuing those dreams he has had since he was a little boy, nearly 15 years!

Good luck to you, Ben! I will hold you in my heart wherever you are in the world, or above it in the skies.

An Unheralded Milestone

As a parent, there are milestones that nearly everyone seems to remember: when your child got his first tooth, took the first wobbly steps, spoke the first words. As they grow older, other milestones loom on the horizon for a time, and then fade into the recesses of scrapbooks and memories: first day of school, first sports team, first recognition for something in his class, first night away from parents, summer camp, first crush.

Each year is full of many such memories and they go quickly. How many parents haven’t shook their heads as high school graduation approached and wondered how those 18 years sped by so quickly?  As my friends’ children have left the nest, their paths and timelines have differed from my child’s. Even most of his friends have taken different routes, each exiting from the parental highway at different points, ready to travel their own adult paths. Most of my son’s high school friends had graduated from college last year and all have landed jobs.  B, however, was in a five-year program and has had to plow through the last 18 months knowing that his goal lay a little further down the road.

Now, with only a few more page flips of the calendar, graduation will be here — and, just as quickly, will be gone. This signals big changes for both my son and for me. Two days after earning his degree in Aeronautical Engineering at Purdue, he will be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Air Force. About a month later, he will report for active duty and will begin his flight training programs. Although I’ve known for five years that this was his plan — his choice, his path — it all became very real, full with a few moments of palpable anxiety when he told me last week that he had received his official orders. I know that the next two months will be full of milestones, big and small.

Today, he was in town for a dental appointment. After the teeth cleaning and the saying of goodbyes and wishes of much success from our dentist (who is also, I learned today, a pilot), I drove him back to Purdue. Standing on the front porch of his stereotypical ramshackle off-campus student house, I turned to him and said: “Well, I guess I’ve fulfilled my parental duties as far as dental care goes.”

B smiled.

And you have pretty teeth too!” I added.

“I still don’t — and won’t — smile showing my teeth. Animals see it as an act of aggression, you know.  Domination” he replied. We both laughed.

“You did a good job” he said. His freshly polished teeth gleaned in the bright afternoon sun. “No cavities.  Ever.”

It’s just a small milestone, one that will fade with time. All those little milestones have filled closets with mementos and my brain with memories, catches of small moments throughout the last 23 years. It makes me feel good, proud, with just a little bit longing for that small boy who is now a man.

When I arrived home, I placed my keys and phone on my desk. Two of my favorite pictures of B have a permanent place on my workspace: one when he was 19 in which he looks quite handsome; in the other, taken at about 9 years of age, he is wearing a bright green shirt that made his hazel-grey eyes look like sparkling emeralds. He is smiling — big tooth-bearing smiles — in both of them.

I removed the back of the older frame to look through all of the other school photos. I laughed loudly, though nobody was home to hear it. In all but two photos, taken during those surly middle-school years, you can see his teeth. I won’t tell him this. He might see it as a sign of motherly aggression and domination. Instead, I’ll just smile, proudly. “No cavities” might not have been what I thought would herald the beginning of this transition, but I think it will remain for while, reminding me that I’ve done a good job indeed and that we are now at the finish line of one phase and at the start of a new beginning.

Friday: Photo & Bliss

Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

This week’s Photo Friday Challenge was “Handsome”. This is the type of challenge that initially frustrates me. I immediately thought “portrait of handsome man”, which would be problematic for me as I don’t typically shoot portraits. I have a great photo of my son, taken two years ago, in which he looks, in my opinion, very handsome. He dislikes the photo because he is unshaven, and he thinks he looks like he has a double-chin. I wouldn’t post at anyway, because it is a rule that we have that I won’t do that. My next thought was that I could post a picture of a Handsome Cab, but then I remembered that it is HANSOM CAB, not HANDSOME Cab, and I’m not nearby any place that would have such a vehicle.

And then, this story landed in my lap in the most unexpected place: my aunt’s funeral: My cousin gave the eulogy. He reminded us of how his late father would come home each evening and, smiling, announce “Handsome’s home.” This was quite the joke with his kids as they grew older. Several years ago my aunt, coming out of anesthesia, asked a nurse, in the silliest of ways: “Am I beautiful?” This was repeated to her later, after the drugs wore off. It, too, was a joke with her children. The nicknames “Handsome” and “Beautiful” stuck with them for the rest of their lives. It was a beautiful memory for my cousin to share about his parents, who were lovely and loving people who lived long, happy lives that touched many people.

My aunt loved birds. As I was thinking about her and this story, I thought of this photograph that I took earlier in the week of two Canadian Geese, sitting quietly on a small island in a pond. I had been taking pictures of the water when I realized the birds were there. Canadian geese mate for life. These two seem like a content couple, happy to be blending into the background. My aunt and uncle were just two normal people. In a crowd, you might not notice them. To each other, though, they were Handsome and Beautiful. In honor of my aunt & uncle, I name the geese in this photo Handsome & Beautiful. My aunt would like that I think — and would likely have something quite witty to say about a goose being named after her!


On a completely different emotional note, here is my bliss list, in no particular order, for this week. See links to others’ lists here. Thanks, Liv Lane for sponsoring this.

1. Having the time to take long walks this week.
2. Hearing the frost melt in the woods.
3. Getting such wonderful feedback from visitors to my blog on my photographs.
4. Spending time with family. (Son home from college this weekend = smiles.)
5. Sharing laughs and fond memories with extended family. There are always more laughs than tears at funerals in my family. I think that it should be that way.

Photo Friday: My Baby

Mother and Child in the Garden

This week’s Photo Friday challenge is “My Baby”.

This is not me, nor my baby, but I do like the Madonna and Child feel to this picture, taken at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in May, 2010.

I would post a picture of my baby, who turns 23 this week, but he would not be happy if I did so. What I can tell you is that the picture I would post was taken at Winkler Point, Fort Myers Beach in Jan, 2010 on the only warm day that month. He is looking at me, with a natural smile — something not often captured on film — and doesn’t look like he was putting up with his mother, either for the nature walk or the photo. He was graciously putting up with both of them. In this photo, one would easily recognize that he is a ruggedly handsome man. (He does not look like me one bit!).

I am proud at the wonderful young man my son has grown to be. He is intelligent, kind and caring, with a healthy dose of humor and sarcasm that allows me and other to look at the world in differing ways.

My “baby” will graduate from the Home of the Boilermakers in the Spring and will be commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the US Air Force immediately following commencement. He will then head to flight training, pursuing the dream he has had since he was 7 years old. He has been on this track since he was 17, and, although it took me a few years to reconcile my feelings about the current war and his desire to have a military career, I made peace long ago that it is his path to follow, not mine. Kudos to him for knowing what he wants, having the courage to pursue it, and understanding all of its implications.

I am so proud of him for following his dream. I am proud of him for the man that he is.

I love you B. Happy birthday!

My Favorite Mile

It seems a bit silly to think that one has a favorite mile of roadway. I know of certain sections of roadway that are designated in ways to make them seem grand, such as the Magnificent Mile, in Chicago, or Museum Mile in NYC. While both of those are places I’ve been — and I do enjoy some of the offerings along those roads — they are not my favorites.

There is a road on the island where we vacation frequently. I’ve been there enough times that it doesn’t take me long once I cross the causeway to get my bearings. I had to adapt a bit a few years ago after a hurricane took out to sea pieces of some landmarks, leaving the rest for the wrecking ball and the inland dump, but I still have those places where I know I’ll get my first glimpse of Gulf blue waters. But it is not my favorite piece of road either.

Central Indiana won’t register on anyone’s list of scenic places. It is mostly characterized by its sameness, the flatness of the land and the fields of corn and soybeans that stretch onward towards more fields in all directions. Sometimes the land is broken up by housing developments, grain elevators, the occasional picturesque barn, though most barns are highly efficient metal pole barns these days. The only way to tell the difference, sometimes, between one section of highway and another is by the billboards. Travel a particular highway often and you’ll become more familiar with the billboards and the barns than with the mile markers.

Flatness, all around

Manufactured farm buildings

a "new" read barn

What becomes of used farm land: subdivisions

But, it is in the middle of this flat sameness that I have a mile of road that warms my heart; it is my favorite: Interstate 65, Mile 164.

I-65, 164

The asphalt divider of farm fields stretches on for about 20 miles without much change between Lebanon and Lafayette, Indiana. But, at mile 164 the road curves to the northeast and heads up hill. It is a slight hill — not at all like the gently rolling hills in Southern Indiana as you approach the great Ohio River — unlikely, an unexpected half-smile greeting.

I’ve traveled this section of road several times in the last five years. In each season, it has a beauty that seems to differ from the rest of the area. At the beginning of the year, with a hillside full of empty branches, the land seems to glisten from the snow and the ice more here than elsewhere. In Spring, the red-wing blackbirds find the trees early and you can pick them out in the treetops from their characteristic perches, their necks and beaks angling skyward. The flowering wild plums and the redbud trees burst purple across the hill in April, before turning the greens of summer. In Autumn, the reds and yellows of the leaves take over, giving the traveler a break from the browns of the harvested fields.

Autumn leaves just starting to hint at their hidden colors

But, more than the seasonal beauty, I like this mile because it is a marker. As I see the gently curving hill I know that I am only 20 minutes from my son’s college home. Just past the curve, where the road straightens out again, where the earth flattens out and forgets the little hilly amusement, is the welcome sign for Purdue, college of engineer and astronaut makers (because, you know, who is a boilermaker anymore, or even knows what one is?). If I am headed south, I know that I am 59 minutes from my doorstep. Either way, it marks the distance to my heart’s home.

Boiler Up!

Common Sight: Nothing runs like a Deere!

Spam. A Lot.

For years my sister tried to get my octogenarian mother to get on the internet. You need email, she claimed. “Are you going to get rid of the spam for her”, my older sister would ask. “Or help her recover from shock when she opens some of those emails?” I would add. “You know she will not read the subject closely and thing that someone is trying to sell her pens. ‘Why do I want large pens?’ she’ll ask?”

Mom dragged her feet for years. A few years ago, she and her husband set up an account, but afraid of spam, they blocked every email address that isn’t in their contacts. This was a good idea, except for one thing: they didn’t have any contacts.

Now my mother is constantly griping about “The Facebook” and how it is a stupid idea that she doesn’t understand. “I haven’t ever seen it”, she cries, “and I don’t need to! Why do you want all that stuff out there. Seems dangerous! And stupid!”. I received an FB friend request from my aunt the other day. Could it be that Mom may reluctantly join too?

At least with FB, there isn’t much of a chance of pornographic spam directed at seniors. In fact, I’ve noticed that much of what gets trapped in my email filters these days are not trying to sell me things to enlarge appendages that I do not possess. Could it be that the spam pornographers have moved on to something else? I basically don’t get when spammers spam. What on earth do they get in response to those crazy messages?

The ones that I get on this blog are even more perplexing. Today, a comment was trapped that asked if I spent a lot of time thinking about my blog posts before I wrote it. The comment’s author apparently didn’t think a lot about spelling or grammar. How am I sure that it was spam? I followed the link — probably exactly what the spammer wanted. Oh no! Now he knows that he spammed a real person and he probably knows my ISP too! Allegedly, the site was for decorating services. The entries were poorly translated, but there wasn’t much there except for really informative copy that indicated that a kitchen was were you do the cooking. The comments said things like “this is a nice site. I like products. I may have a bed.” There didn’t appear to be anything actually sold on this site, though I suppose that there could have been some sort of virulent computer-born illness downloaded and now infecting my machine.

What? For what purpose? It’s too much to think about why. Instead, just enjoy some spam, or some lobster thermador with delicious stuff & spam. Or just watch Monty Python!