Go jump in the lake!

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Well, we survived the “Excessive Heat Wave”.  Maybe, that’s as hot as it’s going to get this summer.  However, there is really nothing to complain about when you are lucky enough to live on this cold lake.  I put the new percale swimming sheets on our bed, which I’d recently purchased from one of the end-of-summer sales which are now flooding my inbox, and sleeping felt instantly cooler.  And, there was plenty of jumping in the lake.  The water feels like cool velvet, and your core body temperature drops down for hours afterwards.  On one of the evenings, when the air was thick with hot haze and not a ripple on the lake, we took out the old aluminum motor boat and puttered along the shoreline south of us, and made a spin around Wood’s Bay.  Everybody’s docks and Adirondack chairs were full of people, and colorful inner tubes and rafts bobbed along the shoreline, its inhabitants partially submerged in the cold water.  It always makes me happy to see people out enjoying their lake houses–just like it does when people decorate their homes at Christmas time.  I get this all’s-right-in-the-world feeling, as if time has paused for an instant, and nobody is in pain, the world is at peace, and there is nothing but beauty and light.  The air turned blue in lovely winds yesterday, and I could barely read my book on the porch, so enchanted by the sound of the waves and wind in the trees, and the smell of clean air.  The heat crisis had passed.

It’s a new day, still coolish, but I can’t see across the lake because of smoke.   Fires have started in Glacier National Park, Going to the Sun Road is closed on the west side, and Lake MacDonald Lodge has been evacuated.  Deja vu all over again, when Glacier was ablaze this time last year, and Sperry Chalet perished in the inferno.  Our new normal, is what we all mutter.  But, oh, it is difficult to adjust, when summers are already so short.  We are nearing the mid-point of August, and about to pass over summer’s apex.  I love the image of being on the highest seat of a Ferris wheel, when it pauses, before its gentle swing back down.

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn…”
― Natalie Babbitt from Tuck Everlasting

It’s dark now at bedtime, and I am already lighting the lamps.  When I look through the slats of my window shutters, as I go to sleep, I like watching the occasional boat when it motors past our house, lights on, making its way back to port.  It’s time to start thinking about coming into home again, as soon enough, there will be that chill of autumn.  But, not just yet.  Not yet.




Cat days of summer

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The next couple of days are predicted to be the hottest days of summer–they say 100 degrees.  It’s never that hot here at the lake, but in the hour or so before dinner, if you’re out in the smoke-hazy sun and away from the water, you’d best find some shade.  Don’s been frequently turning on the sprinkler system to keep the grass and bushes from drying out, and the kitties are often off sleeping in the coolness of the wet grasses.  One of my favorite things in the morning, when I drive into town for yoga, is entering into the shady tunnel of trees on First Avenue East, in the residential section of the street.  In this heat, everyone is watering their lawns, using a variety of sprinkling systems.  There are the ones with crossed arms which spray out crossing arcs of water, and the little round ones which become vertical fountains, and the rectangular ones which slowly oscillate a line of holes spouting water, moving from one side to the other on its axis.  It was always easy to be lazy with this oscillating one, thinking you could keep the hose turned on while you moved it, but misjudging the angle when you set it down, and soaking yourself.  I admire the energy of the pulsating ones which make that staccato punctuated (ttttttttttt) sound, when it reaches the lever, which sends it back to the starting point.  And, those traveling ones, crawling along, always look like they know how to take it slow on hot summer days.

There are nothing but in-ground sprinkler systems in the golf course neighborhood, where I go for my morning walks and runs.  There is nothing to see here.  In fact, at some of the newly sodded lawns, I’ve walked across the precious grass to see if I could even find the hidden sprinkler heads buried in the ground.  I miss the old sprinkler contraptions, and am irrationally nostalgic for all the years I had to drag hoses around lawns.  There was a certain comforting rhythm, on a slow dog-day of summer, in which the most pressing thing of the day was to remember to keep moving the sprinkler.

At my age, I know I am more and more inclined to be washed over by that bittersweet feeling of nostalgia, and in summer, it’s at its prime.  Take baseball, for instance.  On hot hazy summer nights, as a little girl in Ohio, we sat in aluminum folding chairs in Uncle Dean’s pristine garage, with the door wide open and an oscillating fan moving the humid air.  The grown-ups drank beer with their popcorn, and we cousins drank Coke, as we listened to the Cleveland Indians game on the transistor radio.  The kids followed along, making the marks on those old scorecards.   Just whiling away the time–like it seems nobody does anymore, unless you count looking down at your phone.  Fast-forward sixty years, and on one of the nights last month, when just Valerie, her three kids, and Don and I were here, the Oakland A’s (our family’s team, vis-a-vis that Don grew up in Oakland, and has loved them ever since, and now two of my three daughters live in the East Bay) were playing the SF Giants.  Mark had flown home for business, and actually scored a ticket, and was with the record-setting crowd in the Oakland Coliseum.  While Don went up to Burger Town to get burgers, fries and milkshakes, Valerie found a live stream of the game from a radio station in Sacramento, and the six of us sat out on the porch, ate our supper, and listened play-by-play to the game, while occasionally texting with Dad, out in California.   When things were going our way, we jumped up in unison to chant, “let’s go Oakland, let’s go Oakland, clap, clap, clap, clap,clap!”  At the top of the ninth, the Giants tied the game, and when Don threw up his hands in frustration, and left the building, we weary remaining fans went off to bed.  The lucky Californians, who were sleeping upstairs, got a late text from their Dad that Oakland had gone on to win in the bottom of the eleventh inning.  They all had a night of sweet dreams in their beds above us.  Fortunately, as an early riser, Don received the good news before we all had to face him come morning.

David Whyte writes, in Consolations, “Nostalgia is not indulgence.”  He goes on to say, “…something we thought we understood but that we are now about to fully understand, something already lived but not fully lived, issuing not from our future but from something already experienced; something that was important, but something to which we did not grant importance enough, something now waiting to be lived again…Nostalgia is not an immersion in the past, nostalgia is the first annunciation that the past as we know it is coming to an end.”  Often, nostalgia for me is a chance to relive the past with new meaning and much richness, and it is truly a treasure to share a childhood memory with our grandchildren.  Who knows what memories they may have from their days at the lake, and what nostalgia may wash over them when they grow old?  Such a beautiful circle of life it is.

Memory is a child walking along a seashore.  You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.”
–  Pierce Harris





Do we ever stop fretting over our babies–even when all three of them are in their forties?  August 3rd, the eve of Sarah’s fortieth birthday, she called to say she was in a hospital in Peru, having sustained a double fracture of her ankle while hiking.  The next day, her birthday, she posted photos of the X-rays on Facebook, and lamented the abrupt ending of her fortieth celebration, which was to culminate by hiking legendary Machu Picchu.  In the wonder of being connected across the globe, she was able to talk to her surgeon-father, and send photos of the X-rays to the family’s long time friend, and orthopedist.  The decision was made to make the long and arduous journey back to California and have the surgery performed at home.

After talking to my other two daughters, and crying plenty of tears, they both reassured me, as only daughters can do.  When I finally went to bed, and thought of Sarah in a hospital bed far away, I remembered–as I always do on August 3rd–being in a hospital bed in Boston, with a Caesarian section scheduled early the next morning.  So afraid, in the middle of the night, about what would happen to my two children at home if I were to die in this childbirth, and what would become of this new baby.  What mother has not been awakened by such nightmares.  A mama deer and her two babies have been hanging out in our yard, assuming that I’ve grown geraniums and flowers in window boxes, just for them.  I startled her from the porch the other day, and was aghast when she scurried up the hill, leaving her Bambi behind.  Of course, this is the nature of things, and she is teaching her baby how to take care of herself.  But, it is easy to forget the nature of things, when you know your babies are in pain–even if they are forty-somethings.  With Nick at her side the whole time, Sarah is now safely back in California, welcomed home by her nearby sister, Valerie, who had left llama-shaped balloons, champagne and flowers at their house, as a day-after birthday celebration.  The kids are all right, the kids are all right.

So, where was I before this ordeal?  Well, a coolish weather front blew in this week-end, bringing a lovely break from the hot white days.  It’s hazy from the California fires, but not much smoke smell.  I went for a little walk with a dear friend yesterday, out in the waterfowl refuge at the head of the lake.  The clouds softly draped the rising sun and shafts of light crisscrossed the sky.  The reeds and cat-tails were verdant green and the water barely made a ripple at the shoreline.  My favorite old weeping willow tree looked strong and healthy.  When I first started walking out there, years ago, there was a sagging, dilapidated old farmhouse falling into the ground, just behind the tree.  Especially in the quiet of early mornings, when the wind was blowing and the tree creaked and the branches swayed, the house felt haunted in its forlornness and lost history.  They tore it down when the refuge was opened up to the public, and then I wondered if the tree, now all alone in the meadow, might be weeping sad tears.  But, I can see, after life’s storms, the tree has hung tough, deeply rooted, and yet still enough to hear the rustling of her own leaves.

Soak up the sun
Affirm life’s magic
Be graceful in the wind
Stand tall after a storm
Feel refreshed after it rains
Grow strong without notice
Be prepared for each season
Provide shelter to strangers
Hang tough through a cold spell
Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring
Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky
Be still long enough to
hear your own leaves rustling.”
–   Karen Shragg, Think Like a Tree   

Hanging on to summer

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My daughter, Joy, told me that she’d better not see me writing on my blog that it’s beginning to feel like Fall.  So, I’m not, but as the old saying goes, “August is like the Sunday of summer.”  There’s no denying that Sunday-night-kind-of-feeling which seeps in around these dog days of summer.  And, let’s not talk about how quickly the sun is beginning to go down in the golden hazy skies of August, and slow to get up in the early mornings.

We had NO rain here at the lake in July and our road is dusty, and bushes are beginning to look crispy and red-tinged.  We’ve had our first hazy-smokey skies from all the western fires, and we are now on high alert for our own forest fire danger.  The air is hot and still, just waiting for something.  It makes me think of those Augusts, over 40 years ago now, when two of my babies were born.  There is ever-lasting body memory of flopping on the couch in August’s heat, in those last days of pregnancy, with swollen ankles and puffy eyes, and the shades flapping against the windows, the drone of oscillating window fans, and just holding on, for the start of Fall.  Waiting.  Waiting for the two-plus pitting edema over my shins to disappear, and for wool sweaters and tartan plaids, and for rain dripping through tree branches.  Waiting for those babies to arrive.  Happy Birthday month to Joy and Sarah!

Other than that, I am hanging on for every last summer day of golden light, and amber waves of grain coiled in round bales across the fields, and the cool silvery blue water in the lake, and the chairs by the water with a glass of wine and summer’s book opened on the table.  It’s all really quite grand, isn’t it?


Sweet dreams

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Yesterday, the final day at the lake for our California family, some clouds settled about, and there were rumbles of thunder here and there.  It was the first day in their month-long visit that wasn’t hot in bright sunshine, and it was the kind of mellow day the parents needed for laundry and packing up.   The kids spent a lot of time hanging with their Dad, who had just flown back to the lake after crisscrossing the country on business trips.  They resumed the ping-pong competition, talked him into jumping off the dock with them, and spent ever so long a time, just sitting next to him on the bench by the water, towels wrapped around their shoulders, chatting.  We finished off the night by watching TV together, as our team, the Oakland A’s, won yet again.

While my family has been here this month, each morning in the early quiet at my computer, I’ve clicked on to old posts of Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.  After his fall from grace, he must have negotiated rights to the archive, going back many years.  The days of each month are listed numerically across the page, and starting with 2002 (the year we moved into the lake house), I’ve read each poem for that day–just because it’s a good thing for me to start a day with poetry.  There have been days this month, along that line of numbers, that I’ve been so tired and wondered how I’d have the stamina to make it to August!  In the middle of the month, our numbers swelled here when the Billings family joined us, and there were six adults and six grandkids, and as the now 12-year old Anna texted me a few months ago, “Wow, Grandma–you’re going to have a lot of meal-planning in July!”  Add in visits from friends, and the whirlwind 22-hour road trip to the Washington coast for Fletcher’s college visit, this month has been big and broad and full to the brim.  When I read those poems this month, on the days that strung across the page, July 27th was on the very last line.  Now, suddenly almost, it is here, and the Californians left this morning.

We walked them up to the driveway to say our “I love you’s” and to hug each other goodbye, and when I watched all those little arms waving out the windows of their old blue minivan as they drove up the hill,  I needed Don’s arms to hold me steady in my tears.  I’m used to this ‘shaking the island’ feeling when my families leave, all so far away from me.  Getting the house immediately back in order is always an antidote.  Don goes off with the vacuum and mop bucket, and I head for the bathrooms and get the towels going in the laundry.  I start upstairs in the dormitory room, knowing I’ll find something left by the kids, or see where they left a book they were reading, still feeling their presence.  We both go back to our separate selves and quietly go about our duties, knowing now is not the time we can talk.  It’s been a beautiful soft and gentle day today, with a thin blanket of gray clouds and moisture in the air, and sloshing of the water.  Soon enough, we’ll talk about the fun times we all had together, and how the kids are growing and changing, and how lucky we are.  We’ll talk about how we are getting older.


Like a huge bassoon, the inbound ferry sounds,
shaking the island. To leave here all must ride it.
Some before others. Some at summer’s end and some tomorrow,
Some never to return, and some to come back,
summer after summer, weaving a bright thread of constancy,
into inconstant lives. Babies will change
into children, children will awkwardly grow up,
girls will find their slender beauty stolen,
and mothers will wake up grandmothers, they will wake up.
Pursued by change, they will run to the end of their lives,
No other choice left to them, and plunge into
An element darker than sunlight, darker than night.

–from On the Island by Elizabeth Spires

Anna’s birthday

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It’s Anna’s twelfth birthday today.  For months, she’s said the only thing she wants to do for her birthday is to design and bake her own birthday cake–all by herself, preferably alone in the kitchen.  She’s watched a zillion YouTube videos, and all the Great British Baking Show episodes.  She arrived at the lake with a box of cake decorating supplies, including an elevated cake stand that spins on its axis for ease in applying the buttercream frosting.  Yesterday, she spent most of the day baking four tiers of chocolate cake, cooked and cooled the raspberry filling, and put on the initial buttercream layer, the crumb coat, which was mixed with the chocolate crumbs she had scraped off the cake layers.  Her cousins enthusiastically scooped up the crumbs as they fell on the floor,  and I pleaded with them to please wipe off the bottom of their bare feet, before they walked on the Oriental rugs.  By dinner time, when we needed to occupy the kitchen to prepare dinner, she was too tired to complete the final frosting process, which includes piping rosettes and ribbons of various colors across the top.   She’s saved that for today, and I’ve removed myself from the chaos in the kitchen, while she toils away in there.  Earlier, I passed through and heard her humming a song.  I think it must be going well.

I was the adult on duty this morning when she awakened to her parent’s gift at the end of the bed–a glass pedestal cake plate with a high domed cover.  Next, she discovered the bouquet of wildflowers which Duncan and Norah left for her, as well as the bakery croissant with the Happy Birthday greeting from her Mother.  When she went to warm the croissant in the microwave, she exclaimed, “there’s a balloon in the microwave”.  The last thing little eight-year old Eamon did before he went to bed last night was to blow up twenty balloons, and hide them around the house for the “find the balloon” game he imagined in his head.  They all got up early this morning in birthday excitement, and I couldn’t believe how much fun five kids–including two twelve-year olds and one fourteen-year old–could have with simple, old-fashioned, brightly colored balloons.

Last night, as the adults lingered out on the terrace after dinner, Anna came and sat next to me and gently held my hand which was lying on the table.  I felt her finger trace the raised veins on the top of my hand, and spin the anniversary band next to my wedding ring.  These tender moments are less and less, as the grandchildren move with the rhythm of their own lives, into adolescence.  Tomorrow morning,  Fletcher, his Mom and I, are driving to Bellingham, for a campus tour of Western Washington University.  How did my first grandchild already become a senior in high school?  How did it go by so fast?  Their childhoods are now in the rear-view mirror, and, in the momentary touch of a soft child’s hand, I feel the melancholy of nostalgia wash over me.  ‘How it calmed us then, rewinding the gentle loop…”

Talking about the Day, by Jim Daniels


Each night after reading three books to my two children—
we each picked one—to unwind them into dreamland,
I’d turn off the light and sit between their beds
in the wide junk shop rocker I’d reupholstered blue,
still feeling the close-reading warmth of their bodies beside me,
and ask them to talk about the day—we did this,
we did that, sometimes leading somewhere, sometimes
not, but always ending up at the happy ending of now.
Now, in still darkness, listening to their breath slow and ease
into sleep’s regular rhythm.
                                                    They are grown, you might’ve guessed.
The past tense solid, unyielding, against the dropped bombs
of recent years. But how it calmed us then, rewinding
the gentle loop, and in the trusting darkness, pressing play.

I suspect the memory I’ll carry forward of Anna’s twelfth birthday is the warmth of her holding my wrinkly, veined hand.  As Olivia Stiffler writes in her poem Grandchildren:

Sometimes they come back
and hold onto our hands
as if they were the thin strings
of helium balloons
about to drift off.

Full-on summer

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Right on cue, a big high pressure ridge formed over the Valley, and summer has exploded across the land.  Temperatures are forecasted to be in the 80’s–forever.  The Californians arrived in time for the Fourth of July parade and late, late, late fireworks around and over the lake.   There’s been swimming, motor-boating, sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, biking, World Cup, baseball and Tour de France TV watching.  We went to the rodeo.  Cormac created the ping-pong tournament bracket, and round one has been completed, while Uncle Kevin and his dog have been staying with us.  Tomorrow, the Billings family of five, and dog, Roscoe, arrive.  WHEW!  The grandparents need to start recusing themselves to bed much earlier, and fit in an afternoon nap.

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On one of our mornings, from her google.docs account, Norah showed me an essay assignment she did at the end of the school year, in which she talks about being here at the lake.  A sensitive and beautiful writer, here are some of the phrases which melted my heart:

“This driveway is legendary in my mind, a winding mile of memories…this driveway is shooting down at top speed in a sled in the snow…this driveway is building fairy houses with my cousins in the woods surrounding it, year after year, even after we stopped believing in the magic we hoped to house.”

“The dormitory has a very happy feeling, not because I really do anything exciting in here, but because every night that I fall asleep in that room, I am falling asleep in the happiest location possible, and another day guaranteed to be filled with all things wonderful…”

“With the swirls of beautiful blue and greens it is not hard to think that there are mermaids swimming around on the floor underneath the cool, refreshing water.  And, so, years ago, my cousins and I named a rock jutting up from the shallows, close to the shore, ‘Mermaid Rock’.  Whenever we were there together, we would leave notes for the mermaids.  In the morning, we would find a gift from them, a necklace or a bracelet.  Even though the magic has for the most part left our minds as we’ve grown up, I’ll still sit on the rock sometimes with waves crashing around me and remember the mermaids who have moved out of our imaginations.”

Crawling into bed at night, after these long and full days, it’s good for me to be mindful that we are making memories here, coded with the smells and sounds of summer, which can warm the coldest dark days, in winters to come.

We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jars of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and recategorized with every act of recollection. -Oliver Sacks