Monday, June 20, 2011

Strawberries, Horses, Rabbits and Vampires

Rita was so deeply engrossed in a chapter of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Banks of Plum Creek that I don’t think she really registered that Mums and I were leaving.  Her mom had told her we were going home, to get up and tell us goodbye, which she did dutifully but automatically, with the distracted look in her eyes of a girl whose mind is elsewhere—in this case, on the American prairie—and in seconds after the hugs and kisses she was back on the couch, effectively deaf to the world.  Exactly as I was when I was only a bit older than she—she’s got a considerable start on her old aunt because she learned to read so early, and I didn’t get to that milestone until first grade.

We played knights and horse for hours several days running.  The first day I made the mistake of trotting on all fours on hardwood with both children (about 75 lbs total of wiggling gleefulness) on my back, and discovered to my chagrin that not only was I much stiffer than I recall being the last time I was the beast of burden for small fry (some twenty years ago), my knees couldn’t stand the punishment.  Bruised and wiser, I decided to take an adult stance and only give piggy-back style horse rides in the grassy backyard to one young relative at a time.  Brad referred to me as “horse” for much of that period, as he was a knight, complete with lance and sword (usually imaginary, sometimes simulated by sticks and other items), and we had to slay dragons and bad monsters and such.  Rita was also a knight, and the two of them almost came to blows over equine access until I instituted a strict 1-2 rotation of riders, with frequent breathers given the horse for water and rest.

We ate lots of pretend food, and bedded down on the picnic table, and played “drums” on the moss underneath the tree in the southern corner of the yard.  Brad and Rita both decided that their knightly pets (all knights have pets, I was told) lived in the tree.  “What sort of pets do you have?” I asked.  “Doggies and monsters!” responded Brad.  “Vampires and bunnies,” said Rita.  “Not vampire bunnies?” I wanted to know.  “No,” she said.  Anxious to expand her reading list, I started to describe the plot of Debra and James Howe’s Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery.  Rita looked at me pityingly.  “Oh, I know that,” she said, with the assured air of someone who has already read the books in question.  It’s a bit humbling to be literarily outpaced by a six-year-old.

Later, three-year-old Brad wanted to show off his real pet, his “little rabbit” as he called Fahrenheit, who is really, truly a jumbo bunny.  This rescued herbivore’s been moved to a hutch outdoors (the space he formerly occupied indoors is now an aviary for a flock of 6 parakeets), and every day one of the adults fetches him out of this confinement and puts him into a movable playpen in the backyard, where he can munch clover to his furry heart’s content, eat what delicacies the children bring him, and lie in the shade of a plastic picnic table.  That bunny has it made.

Here’s a shot of the movable enclosure.  Rita is lying on one bench and Brad the other, while they harass Fahrenheit, who is resting under the table.

A boy and his “little” bunny on the swing.

Brad has the “poor little puppy” look down pat— those liquid milk chocolate spaniel eyes are hard to resist...

...and he knows it, the little stinker.

On Saturday, we went strawberry and pea-picking.  A good time was had by all. 

(We ate the fruits and vegetables of our labor that evening—delicious!  Fahrenheit got the leftover pea pods.)  

Rita with strawberry:

A little ham with his strawberry:

Thanks to the perpetually-tardy U.S. Airways, we made it back safely to Augusta this afternoon, more than two hours late.  I’ve loaded my car, and plan to drive all the way back to DC tomorrow.  But I don’t intend to set my alarm tonight—I need all the sleep I can get.  I’ve been exercising like a fiend these last two weeks; thus far I don’t see a difference in my poorly-stirred tapioca pudding thighs, but I am flat tired.  Must persevere!  I am consoled by my cute new haircut—the shortest and bounciest to date. 

Friday, June 17, 2011


My niece and goddaughter Rita graduated from kindergarten this morning.  We were all proud.  The event was held at City Hall, and the class marched in to "Pomp and Circumstance" wearing cobalt-blue caps and gowns (these they had to return at the end of the ceremony for the use of next year's class, but they were allowed to keep their 2011 tassels).  They sang songs, danced, and did a dramatic reading of Maurice Sendak's Chicken Soup with Rice.  Then each student was given a rose and a diploma--the roses were for the moms--and we all watched a photo montage about the graduates and the year's activities.  Then we all went downstairs for cake--my nephew Brad was VERY disappointed that it wasn't cupcakes, but a teacher's aide and I assured him that it was just a difference of shape.  He still managed to spread icing from his chin to his knees and over the cloth seat of one of the City Hall chairs. 

I had given Rita a necklace before we left for the graduation, and after the ceremony her paternal grandmother gave her a teddybear wearing a cap and holding a diploma.  Rita's best friend in the class, a little boy named Minolo (who complimented her on her black-patent shoes), asked his parents, "How come Rita gets gifts at graduation and I don't?"  Ah, equity in loot.  They assured him that he had a gift waiting at home.

Sorry for the quality of the pictures--I'm not a good photographer!

Rita stands acknowledging her guests.

Fixed "picture grin" (I did the same when I was her age) firmly in place after cake and congratulations.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


We met a host of extremely nice people, Mums and I yesterday, during what turned out to be an eventful trip up to my sister’s house in Rhode Island.  For one thing, we never actually made it to her house.  We finally washed up at the hotel where—thank God—we’d made reservations, some seven hours after originally scheduled, almost too tired to make the expected pleasant chit-chat with the night manager at the desk. 

We left home at 11 AM sharp.  A friend from Mums’ church had sweetly volunteered to drive us to the airport, and we encountered no traffic or delays at check-in or security, so we were ready and waiting to board a good hour before they called zones.  I worked on footnoting Prof. Stites’ last book—he’d managed to finish it before succumbing to cancer last year, but instead of using Word or a standard footnoting scheme, he had used some obscure word-processing program and put the notes in-text, at the end of the paragraphs to which they pertained, with a curious system of plus marks to tell readers what part of the narrative to which they referred.  So my current advisor, who is working on prepping the book for press, asked me (given that I was Stites’ last assistant, and aided him in tracking down sources) to fix the formatting.  It’s not a difficult job, just extremely time-consuming, and I’ve been snatching minutes here and there to work on it.
The first unexpectedness in our travel was quite minor—a bit of nausea while on the ground, of all places, in the turbo-prop aircraft while we waited for taxi-clearance to the gate in Charlotte, NC.  The early afternoon sun feathering through the whirling blades produced a rapidly-blinking light-dark pattern in the cabin, and with the vibration and lack of fresh air I felt decidedly uncomfortable. 

With only thirty minutes until our next flight was due to leave, and—by the sacred word of Murphy it HAD to be at the farthest end of a distant concourse from the one where we landed—so we hoofed it in record time, giving ourselves enough leeway so that we could use the restroom, but there was no way we could have scrounged lunch.  They were a few minutes late calling us onto the 737, and when we were all seated, and the flight crew had run through the whole litany of safety information, and we’d pulled back from the gate, the captain announced that a gauge was malfunctioning, and we’d have to get it replaced before proceeding to Providence.  Fifteen minutes, they said.  I fell into conversation with my seatmate, a bubbly young woman from Alabama who was going to Rhode Island at the invitation, and on the dime, of a national drugstore chain, who had seen her coupon-savings blog (over 200,000 visits last month alone) and asked her, and a handful of other bloggers, up to corporate headquarters for a tour and powwow.  I’m adding her site,, to my blogroll.  So, I wasn’t fretful at the time spent fixing—or as we soon found out, vainly attempting to fix, the errant gauge. 
Eventually, our plane was returned to the gate, and the pilot announced that it would be a while, and anyone who wanted to de-plane might do so, just “stay in the boarding area so you can hear announcements.”  Mums and I got our carry-ons and got off.  It took more than three hours to fix the problem, but as we were not within hailing distance of a fast-food joint, and couldn’t go farther afield because of the risk of missing the plane—no one knew when it might be ready to go—we had to make do with the nutrition bars that Mums had prudently packed in her capacious purse.  Cuisine it was not.

We got to Providence late—it was just a few minutes before 8 when we completed the paperwork for the rental car and walked out to the lot.  Although it’s the airport for a state capital, T. F. Greene Airport is only just a little bigger than petite Augusta-Bush Field, and like it, pretty much closes up shop at 7 PM.  The lady at Avis was very nice, but I think we were her last customers for the evening, and she’d been awaiting our arrival for some time.
We pulled out of the parking garage, drove a quarter of a mile down a side street, and got on I-95.  And immediately the left rear tire went flat.  Not mildly flat, but catastrophically flat—the rim was bent 45 degrees.  God’s grace we made it to the shoulder safely.  Mums was completely freaked—we were both tired, we were hungry, we’d just declined the exorbitantly-priced catastrophic-event plans offered by Avis, and here we were, less than a mile from the airport, and hadn’t hit anything, and boom, we were stuck on the side of the road in the twilight, cars racing past.

A Rhode Island state trooper pulled up, ruby lights flashing, behind us ten minutes later, while Mums was still struggling to get through to the Avis people (they say local numbers are on their rental agreement, but there was no such thing, so she ended up talking to the national emergency hotline).  I got out, explained what had happened.  He was so nice, and offered to call AAA for me, saying that he could speed up the process.  Ten minutes after he'd roared off down the interstate, the AAA tow truck showed up.  Mums had emptied the trunk of the rental, and the AAA guy opened the hatch where the spare should have been.  There was no spare, just a pitiful patch kit—totally useless in this case.  And in its state, the car couldn't be simply towed.“I’m gonna call a flatbed,” he told us. 

The flatbed pulled up five minutes later—turns out the man who drives it lives at the exit where we’d gotten on.  Then, just minutes after that, a THIRD AAA truck showed up—I think he just stopped by to see what the fuss was about.  It was like the cavalry had arrived.  All three men were very jovial—it was kind of like being at a backyard barbeque rather than being stuck on the side of a highway with a disabled vehicle.  Finally, the Avis guy appeared—he’d been rousted from his coffee break by the local staff at the airport rental office saying “some woman had a flat and is having hysterics on the connector.” 

One of the AAA guys and the Avis fellow recognized each other as familiar and both went through their previous employment history to discover that they both used to work at the same place.  It was like old home week.  We left everything in the AAA trio’s capable hands, the Avis guy drove us back to the airport and we picked up another rental. 

Wanting a sit-down dinner (sometimes you just need a little pampering), we drove across the street to a tavern, where a small crowd of enthusiastic patrons were clustered around the bar watching the Bruins/Canucks Stanley Cup final game.  I asked our waiter who was winning.  He cheerfully responded “We’re ahead 2-0.”  No need to dispute the “we.”  My brother-in-law, who has a framed Bruins jersey signed by Bobby Orr, would have approved.  My mom texted my siblings to give them the update on our adventures and tell them where we were--my brother Bob responded that he, too, would be in a tavern under the circumstances, but he wouldn't be wasting time on solid food.  Believe me, if I hadn't been detailed to drive from the restaurant to the hotel (Mums was still pretty shaken up by the blowout), I would have indulged.

We got to our hotel and into bed just before midnight.  I don’t know when I’ve been as exhausted by a day of traveling, but at least in the short term it had a happy ending!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

New Digs, New Birds, Old Friends

My mother’s new condo is huge (to me) and light-filled.  It’s odd coming “home” to a place you’ve not seen since the foundation was poured and the first floor framed, yet walk through now to recognize many familiar objects in each room, from carpets to couches to art you yourself purchased years ago in far-away places and had framed. 

Even if I were sentimentally disposed to drive past “the old home place” where we had lived for over a quarter of a century, I’m not really allowed to, as it’s in a guarded, gated neighborhood where I no longer am a resident.  Happily, I am not tempted to do so, and I am thoroughly impressed by Mums’ new digs.  Grandmommy and my Boston aunt and cousin are coming to visit for the first time on Monday, which will be the first anniversary of my Dad’s death.  I doubt we’ll go to the cemetery unless one of our guests expresses a desire to go—Daddy’s not really there, after all.
The layout of the ground floor of the condo is friendly and open, a welcoming space with comfortable furniture and calm colors.  The master bedroom is off around a corner, shielded from noise by the laundry room and its own large closet, where Mums’ shirts are arranged by color.  Upstairs is the guest bedroom, a second full bath and another large room which she has converted into an office, and a loft where she’s set up two vignettes: a sort of miniature parlor (where I am currently typing) and an exercise area anchored by the treadmill.  Mums is not one for knickknacks, but there is a shelf of mementos (a mother and child sculpture, a matroshka, a Polish box and a teapot) on one wall and the sill of the dormer window above the treadmill is also lined with curios.   There are hardwood floors throughout and slate tiles in the bathrooms and kitchen.  It feels clean and fresh, and manageable—I know it is far more to Mums’ taste than the old house, something that can be enjoyed and shared without being burdensome.  She’s already had more people over for meals in the last two months than she did in the previous fifteen years—and our old oak table and china cabinet, which my parents purchased when I was only a year or so old, has pride of place in the center of the dining area between the kitchen and the living room.  I remember helping Daddy sand and re-varnish it more than twenty years ago.

From some institutional perspectives, singles like me don’t have families, but we do in fact have people who love and care about us, even if we don’t have a spouse and children, and for each of these family members and friends we are extremely grateful.  Before I left DC yesterday, I attended the promotion ceremony for a girlfriend of mine, who was assuming the rank of “full bird” colonel in the Air Force.  The event was a lot like a wedding, only without the inconvenience of a groom.  She was proudly decked in her dress blues, her “fruit salad” of decorations like a dessert plate over her heart, and we were all hugely proud of her—she’s excelled in every stage of her career, from enlisted person to high-ranking officer, flown combat missions, trained hundreds of other pilots, managed airfields and multi-billion-dollar international programs in parts of the world where women aren’t even considered to be full human beings.  Everybody was damp-eyed as she presented her two sisters and her parents silver Air Force medallions engraved with particular statements reflecting how each of them had influenced and supported her throughout her life.  She’s a very cool dude, and I was pleased to have been invited to witness the event—I wish I were as disciplined and dedicated as she!  …besides the obvious estrogen-appeal of being able to fly powerful planes armed to the teeth with fiercesome weaponry…  Afterwards , there was cake and punch and hors d’oeurves and pictures of the blushing new colonel with various gaggles of guests.  I ended up talking to another high-achieving woman about the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam—she’s writing a book on the subject.   I shared my own book-publishing hopes, and then ducked out and hurried home to pack and leave for North Carolina.
Paxifist and I ended up talking for five solid hours, until three AM [when we were both about to fall over, literally—I know I staggered from the shower to the futon in the playroom/office and fell on the mattress and into unconsciousness without my usual animal wiggling to establish the perfect sleeping position].   Kindred spirits are precious things.   She and others have been such a witness of God’s love to me, even at moments of such severe depression that those less compassionate would have abandoned me to my fears without a qualm, they sat with me and soothed me.  I am more grateful than I can express to God and to each of these dear people.  The shocks and miseries that life throws at us are far more easy to bear in the company of others who know that this is not all there is to human existence, and that  “behind a frowning Providence/ He hides a smiling face.”  I am glad Providence does not always frown, too!   Just as it is a blessing to have a whole flock of honorary nephews who give me hugs, it is awesome to have such effectual sisters in my personal immediate family.  No husband, be he ever so dear, could surpass the value of these sororal relationships.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Cute Honorary Nephew Pictures!

I have had a great time the last several days getting to hang out with two of my honorary nephews (and their parents!).  On Sunday evening, Micah, who is six, had a lot of good questions about how to value various items, how the market works setting prices, and showed off his multi-digit multiplication, addition, and division skills.  And he's not even in first grade yet!  I didn't learn all that stuff until I was in third, and I certainly didn't have too many economic questions until I was in high school.  And he's been reading for three years as well--his parents are mulling home-schooling, because he's way far ahead of the game.  I think he'd be bored stiff in regular school.  At the rate he's going, he'll be ready for calculus and AP English by the time he hits adolescence.  I am grateful, though, that both his parents aren't pushing him at all (all of this numerical and linguistic finesse is at his own initiative--they are just responding to his interests) and each believes he needs time to "just be a kid".  Micah showed me his latest Lego creations before dinner, and then expended some of his youthful energy playing ball with his dad outside.  I expended some of my less-than-youthful energy playing Scrabble with his parents and grandmother after he went to bed--his grandma "swooped" the rest of the field with that seven-letter word beginning the game--an eighty-point start that none of us were able to overcome. 

On Monday, after morning work in cold storage in downtown DC, I got to enjoy the continuing pleasant weather on a stroll to Tysons II (the uber-expensive mall, where Cole Haan, Cartier and the like all have stores) with Serena and Augustus Wiggle.  Gus Wiggle is now twenty pounds of five-month old baby roundness--he's so fat, he has creases at the bases of his toes--and he was in a cheerful mood most of the afternoon, producing two dirty diapers that I changed (showing off my mad baby-handling skillz). He's smiling frequently now, but I didn't get any pictures of his rakish grins, since when I had my camera handy he was completely occupied by stuffing his fists in his mouth. 


Yummy fists!

Baby jowls!