Tag 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.

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.

Who is Santa?

I posted this at Open Salon today.

When my son Ben was a toddler, there wasn’t much that his father and I agreed upon, but Santa was one of those things that I was willing to be non-partisan about. While there were never packages under the tree from Mr. Claus, I never told him that there wasn’t a Santa. None of the presents listed a ‘From’; they just were ‘To’.

This scheme worked fine until Ben was in Kindergarten. Although he went to a secular school — one that went to extremes not to mention Christmas or any religious traditions — he still found out about Jolly Ol’ St. Nick. One early December day, he came home from a visit with his father in tears. “Daddy says that Santa Claus is just some old guy in a cheap suit!”

Read the rest of this story on my Open Salon page.

Much to be grateful for — none of it turkey

This free-range bird had only one unhappy day in his life!

Fixings for butter, bird & gravy

Ah! Herb buttered!

Yummy Turkey! (Almost ready to eat

Turkey Tail (not to be eaten).

I’m grateful for my friends, my family, my health, my life. May you have a great day and find much to be grateful for today and every day!

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!


3 things I’m grateful for:

1) My crazy spun-in-a-blender (vs “blended”) family, with all their quirks and differences. And especially, my husband, who has had to put up with a lot of my family stuff recently and has been very understanding about it.

2) That the leaves on the trees are starting to turn. I’ll miss summer, but I like to watch the leaves reveal their true colors. It always fascinates me that the color in leaves is there all the time, but that we only see it once they stop photosynthesizing and producing chlorophyll.

3) That the library sends email notifications before books are due. Since the local library and I just became friends again (I know some would be aghast that I haven’t made use of the library for a few years; others at the amount I’ve spent in bookstores during the same timeframe), I have determined to not accumulate late charges. Have only read 2 out of the 5 books. How could it be time to return them already?

Soon the woods will look like this: crisp autumn morning

Return Trip

Late last night I received a call from my son. He was still in the design lab, working on a project. He said he had an appointment at Wright-Patterson AFB today, but, knocked low with a cold, didn’t want to make a 3 1/2 hr drive by himself. What he wanted, he implied, was a chauffeur, so that he could sleep for a few hours. I didn’t have anything on my agenda that needed to be done today, so I told him that I would be glad to drive him the 2 hours from my house.

When he arrived this morning, he told me that my movement on the base would be limited, so I needed to find a place where I could hang out for a few hours. Since I couldn’t get on the base without him, he had to drop me off someplace; I couldn’t drop him, unless he was going to walk some distance from the main gate. Since it was a dreary, rainy day, that didn’t make a lot of sense, although, as we drove in, he did point out several of the places where he has run previously in the Air Force Marathon. Had he not been sniffling today and if it had not been raining, I might have teased him that those very sights certainly meant that he could meet me and that I could have my car for the duration of his business on base.

While I considered a coffee shop and even contemplated the high-caloric snacks at one of them, I decided that I would wander around the Air Museum located adjacent to the Base. If I grew tired of the museum, I could wait in the cafe until he was done. He promised that he would be done before the museum closed at 5 and would not leave me stranded in the rain.

Heading to the museum, I thought about the first time that I had visited. It was in the early 70’s and we had, with a lot of help from my mother, convinced my father to go to King’s Island Amusement Park. But, a concession was needed: Dad said that there needed to be an educational component to the trip. Of course, we were not allowed to choose what that would be; he did: the Air Force Museum. “It’s on the way. We don’t have to stay there for long.” Somehow, I think that we all knew that would not be the case since planes were involved.

Some basic facts: Indianapolis to Cincinnati is a 2 hour trip. Indianapolis to the museum, located near Dayton is approximately a 2 hr 20 minute trip. Dayton to Cincinnati is about 40 minutes. There are now, as there were in the early 70’s, interstate highways leading directly to both locales. The museum — even to the most geographically challenged, which would never have described my father in any circumstances — is not “on the way” to King’s Island. You wouldn’t even end up there by missing an exit on the highway. One requires traveling due east on I-70. The other requires a drive southeasterly on I-74. The entrances to each interstate are located 7 miles apart.

This is the only “long cut” that I’m aware of my father ever taking. He must have really wanted to go if he put up for an extra hour in a car on a hot August day with four young girls, restless to ride roller coasters and not a bit interested in air planes. He warned us, as the car pulled into the parking lot, that every time we asked “How much longer?” he would extend the amount of time that we stayed. My sisters and I looked at each other as we surveyed the seemingly small airplane hangar. We knew we could last without that question. “That’s it? “Let’s go!”

I don’t remember much about that building, but I vaguely recall that there wasn’t much in it, other than a few displays. We tried to push on quickly, encouraging Dad to not read every placard. We acted interested, urging him towards the next display by asking “Tell us about this one!” Soon, we were at the end of the hangar. Even my mother looked anxious to get back on the road.

“But we have to go out back”, my father said. We tried to act enthusiastic, although we hoped that there wouldn’t be another hangar. Instead there was a very large field — filled with air planes. A few months earlier I had flown for the first time from Chicago. I had been allowed to fly by myself and I was convinced I was a savvy air traveler. “There’s more planes than at O’Hare” I complained “and they aren’t even going anywhere!”

I’m sure it wasn’t true, but that field that day — as we walked by every plane listening to Dad, posing for pictures at several of them — seemed at least twice the size of the amusement park. It was well after lunch when we left Dayton. I remember my sister lecturing me to not be grumpy or Dad would head back home. Eventually, hot, hungry and exhausted, we arrived at the park and were awarded by Dad telling us that we could stay until the end of the fireworks show at 11pm. I think that might have received some grumbling from my mother, but we were off to ride the tilt-a-whirl and it didn’t matter.

I don’t know if my father ever returned to the museum, but he had a lifelong love of flying machines. Sometime in the mid 70’s he earned his glider pilot’s license. Several years ago, for his 15th birthday, I took my son for a sailplane ride. In the middle of a corn field not unlike the ones near Dayton, he hitched a tow with someone from the Soaring Society. That day, there was an older gentleman who had known my father. He no longer flew, but he would come out to the airstrip to watch the takeoffs. A few weeks later, I received in the mail a copy of a photograph taken the day my dad had his first solo flight.

The museum, now named The National Museum of the US Air Force, still has a few planes outside, but most of them are now housed inside the sprawling museum. I didn’t have time to go through the entire museum, but it was fun to roam as I did. I didn’t remember the interactive displays from my last visit, when my son was about 12, but I thought they were cool this time. Like a child, I played with all of them. It is apparently a good thing that I don’t have to stop a spinning helicopter rotor, or capture a drifting space telescope. I think I walked just as far, though, as I did on that hot summer day 40 years ago when all I really wanted to do was ride a roller coaster.

My son, after his appointment today, is one step closer to AF flight school. I still have some reservations about his decision to join the military, though he is an adult and it is his path to choose. One thing I’m sure of though: flying must be in his blood.