Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hey, everyone!

I'm hosting Wednesday Whining this week...need to kvetch, bitch, moan, whinge? Drop on by!

(Niobe? Niobe are you reading? Come whine, we miss you!)

Monday, July 30, 2007


It occurs to me that I am very sloppy about reproducing the toddler accent. You might not understand that Z. pronounces "yellow" "lello," and "milk" "mieuwk." Or that her "r"'s exactly split the difference between "r"'s and "w"'s. So I am going to attempt to be a little more faithful, at least this one time.

Z.: Will you swing me?

S.: No, my toe is really hurting, I don't want to swing you.

Z.: Why is youah toe heuhting?

S.: Well, I banged my toe and it just hurts.

Z.: You need to get anudder toe dat wo-uks betteuh.

* * * * *

S.: Do you know what a comedian is?

Z.: Yes!

S.: Oh, you do?

Z.: Yes, I do!

S.: Can you tell me?

Z.: No!

S.: Why not?

Z.: Because I'm eating.

* * * * *

S.: Do you want me to tell you what a comedian is?

Z.: (peers forward expectantly)

S.: A comedian is someone who makes people laugh.

Z.: (beams like someone has just given her a present) Laugh!

S.: Why?

Z.: Because youah my muddeuh!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hike: Cable Gap Shelter

5/5/98--Cable Gap Shelter, 156.2 miles

It was our first 15-mile day and we couldn't have had a better day for it. It dawned clear--actually cloudless--and by the end of the day nothing more than a few harmless cumulus clouds had passed overhead. I packed up and said goodbye to Florida Tim (my sheltermate of last night) before 8 and passed a bunch of southbound section hikers breaking camp as I came up and over Cheoah Bald. Staying put at Sassafras Gap was definitely the right call all around. Not only did I avoid some nasty weather, but the tent site I'd been aiming for was pretty well occupied and I got to hear stories of Florida Tim's '91 thru-hike, which got me jazzed again. I want to live stories like that. Trail magic, good times, kooky adventures, characters. It reminded me of all the stuff beyond putting in the miles.

But we did put in the miles, and I feel pretty good. Beat. More tired than after 12, but not in any more pain. Diva Dog, too came in fine--no limping at all, and only a little more lagging behind. Our pattern is that she gets out ahead of me on ascents and waits for me to catch up, then on ridges, switchbacks, and gentle descents I take the lead. On steeper descents we play it by ear. Today there was one spot where she had to go down between two rocks and I realized what a good thing it is that everything in her pack is not only waterproof but trailproof, as I took it off and tossed it about 8 feet down so I could keep my hands free to follow her myself.

Took a 2-hour lunch at Brown Fork Shelter and let all my stuff dry in the sun. My damp synthetic bag did keep me warm last night, not not happy. Also appreciated the luxury of a new privy with a view of the mountains and thought--wow, this is where I'm living.

Have an urge to re-read Walden, the Narnia books, and Lolita. Go figure. The Fantastic Four have moved on to Fontana Dam but N. (Pan) reports in the register here that they may split up for awhile. I hope that was an amicable decision. Cheerios is also ahead. Tomorrow I have about 7 miles to the Dam and the visitor center, then the folks from the motel say they'll come pick me up--then 2-3 nights off-trail for my brother's graduation and I should start the Smokies, sans Diva Dog, on Saturday the 9th. Unless something comes up I don't think I'll write til I get back on. Ciao for now. --MC

Hike: Sassafras Gap Shelter

5/4/98--Sassafras Gap Shelter, 141.0 4:45 pm

Shortest day yet--not quite 7 miles, almost all uphill. The plan had been to push on and tent at Locust Cove Gap, doing yet another 10-12 miles, but by the time I got here and finished lunch and it finished raining (for the moment, at least) it was after 4 so I'm going to pull my first 15-mile day tomorrow, instead. I'm actually tired enough to go to sleep right now. It may just be from lack of stimulus. I'm not alone--another hiker is here who's been on the Bartram Trail and is taking the AT back to his car on Wayah Bald--but the Fantastic 4 pushed on the 9 miles to Brown Fork and Cheerios is tenting somewhere along the way, so comparatively speaking, this is a desert island, and I feel like collapsing into the solitude.

I did a return trip to the NOC this morning, which explains the lateness of the hour. The prospect of putting my pack on again was just too much. For the past few days, from at least before Franklin, my left rhomboids--muscles that attach the shoulder blade to the spine--went into spasm the moment I put the thing on and stayed in serious pain until I took it off. It's certainly been contributing to my crankiness and discouragement. Well. The staff at the NOC came through again, giving me almost opposite advice from what I got at Walasi-Yi, but this seems to have done it. There was actually space behind my shoulders. Hooray!

Well, there's dinner to eat in a couple of hours, but I may try to nap in the meantime. --MC

Hike: Nantahala Outdoor Center

5/3/98--campsite near NOC - 134.? miles

If yesterday was a cranky day I don't know what today was, but I'm glad to finish it in the privacy of my tent, and not in a shelter. The rest are tenting nearby, so it's still group life and there are still great advantages to group life--I spent the afternoon looking forward to comparing notes on how good the Trail smelled, coming down from Wesser Bald, and N. rewarded me with her observation of how much keener our senses of smell are getting (as for our scent--well, we all showered in Franklin, we didn't think we were due for one yet today.) But I feel more surrounded by the group life than of it.

I made an effort today to hike more independently--I cooked lunch, instead of snacking as the Fantastic Four have been doing recently, and I stuck with my slower pace even thought both my feet and Diva Dog's were up to a faster day, in part to let the crowd stay ahead of me, in part to really enjoy our descent. It wasn't bad at all, really. Sure, patches were steep and rocky, but most of it was beautiful, wild-flower-covered switchbacks. The morning had been stormy (my first t'storm while actually hiking) then cloudy, so the sunny-ness of the descent was also a treat. I got to hike myself dry.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) was fantastic--the best food I've had since Philly, for one, and then the staff at the outfitter were super-friendly and supportive of thru-hikers. Two gear weight compromises: after the storm this morning in my lightweight running jacket I decided it was time to shell out for Goretex. It's just too damn cold to be so wet so high up. I'd been wondering for awhile how it would do in heavy, sustained rain and the answer is I don't want to find out. (The pants are doing fine--my legs generate so much heat it hardly matters.) The other weight compromise was on a thermarest. My foam is fine when I'm tenting, but not on a wooden sleeping platform. --MC

Hike: Cold Spring Shelter

5/2/98--Cold Spring Shelter, 122.6

Cranky day. Started out depressed because of the gloomy weather and worried because of my misbehaving innards. I've consulted with D. (Howlin' Jed) who's had giardia, and that's not what this was. Probably just greasy town food catching up with me, but still not pleasant.

I dunno about the weather. It was cloudy, which up here can mean we're in the clouds (as it did today)--sounds romantic, but it's really just dreary. You spend all day in a haze, literally, low visibility even if your glasses don't fog. It cleared up in the afternoon, but my mood was pretty well set at that point. Worrying about making miles and my schedule, wondering if getting done on time means barreling through, and if that's the kind of hike I want to--or am willing to--hike. The compromise I came up with while walking was to skip Pennsylvania if it looks like I won't make it, and come back to do it in October. I just spent an hour or two with the data book and it may not come to that, or it may only come to skipping part of it, but it makes me feel better to have a plan B lined up.

Lots of crankiness going around, though. I think only N. and Cheerios avoided it. J. and D. had some friction over cooking dinner and A. reported feeling annoyed. I can only guess at what the family dynamic must be for them on the inside--even sharing shelters with them for this long, I have a basic emotional distance from it that they don't have, and even so I'm feeling ready to hike on my own (although I know I will miss them.) But I didn't come all the way out here to attach myself to a group, however like-minded and groovy. I'll be doing the Smokies without even Diva Dog--independence, here I come.

Met some flip-flopping southbounders today--southbound footsteps are so rare this time of year that I doubt I see even one a day. --MC

Hike: Siler Bald Shelter

5/1/98--Siler Bald Shelter, 110.5 miles

Woke up to pain-free feet and couldn't quite believe it, but here I am at the end of the day and they're still okay. I've got the right one kind of propped, but at no point today was it ever affecting my stride. Fingers still crossed....

The morning was spent on final town chores--a small resupply at Ingles while the Fantastic 4 hit the post office. We met the Rock Gap Trail Angel--he'd left us oranges in the spring--and he gave Cheerios a lift back to the Trail while we opted for lunch in town. We caught a ride without even lifting a thumb--a local hiker, Skunk Cabbage, saw us getting ready to hitch and called across the street to offer us one. How could we refuse? So we piled into the back of the truck and had a glorious, sunny ride back to Winding Stair Gap.

The sky has been playing whimsical games with us all day--clear and blue with cumulus clouds that give way to intervals of overcast showers, then quickly turn sunny again.

I realize that I haven't said much about the chafing of camp life--living so closely and so temporarily with strangers. I've had the semi-permanence of traveling with the Fantastic Four to insulate me from it to some extent, and then, writing for a public venue, I don't want to offend any hikers who might read these thoughts but it's not always clear how to avoid or resolve conflicts when they come up. I was bothered by someone's language tonight and it made me realize I've been more likely to retreat from uncomfortable situations than to confront them and I don't know that I handled it as well as I would have liked. --M.C.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Shavua tov, for those who pay attention to these things--it's a new week.

As we were driving to the pool yesterday, I was talking with A. about what an intense week the last one was for me: the Harry Potter launch party, the diagnosis, an unbloggable piece that was at a hard place earlier in the week but was at a good place on Friday. I also got word on Friday that a news show wants to film the store on Monday in connection with a magazine article that's coming out this week--which makes me think we may get good news in the magazine.

It was hard to believe it was all in the same week.

The eye diagnosis was bad news that came out of nowhere, and I am grateful to all of you for all your responses. I'm especially grateful to Phantom, who is a good friend and an email wizard, for helping me just be sad about it for an evening and then start putting it in perspective. And to E. and Jenny and Niobe and Mom and everyone else who helped me focus on how good it was that this was caught early and my vision is still fine and how many treatment options there seem to be--also, thank you. Sometimes when you get bad news you just don't want to have a good head on your shoulders, you know? Or sometimes I don't want to, anyway. Sometimes I want someone else to do that part for me so I can indulge in dire thinking--to take myself out to the edge and look over before I find my way back to the path of coping and management. So, thank you all. And I'll let you know how it goes with the ophthalmologist (including whether I manage to get in early!)

And may it be a sweet and easy week for everyone.

p.s. Lo, thank you for making me laugh about A.'s hipsterism!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Doctor, my eyes ...

I realize that was a wee bit terse last night; that was pretty much all I could do.

The story is that the Rhyming Family went to the optometrist yesterday, armed with the appropriate vision-benefit forms, specially issued by the teachers' union benefit office.

The last time I had new glasses was four years ago, and since those were knocked onto the floor in a toddler-influenced incident in May, the left lens has a deep scratch in the middle of it, such that when I wear them there is a blurry patch in the middle of my vision on that side. I have been joking that it's like practicing for glaucoma. Ha. Ha. I've taken to using my old glasses instead--the prescription didn't change last time--but four years ago they were beat up enough that I wanted to replace them, so you can imagine how they're doing now. I'm constantly cleaning them only to find it makes little difference. It was time.

For her part, A. needed new glasses because Z. pulled off the earpiece of hers a few months back, and the paper-clip thing only lasts but so long. Plus her prescription sunglasses were destroyed in the accident. Airbag, you know.

A. went first while Z. and I took a little trip next door to Wawa for a whole wheat hoagie, but by the time we got back it was already my turn, so I assigned Z. to consult with A. on frames.

Somehow, it seemed like my exam was taking longer than A.'s. There was a lot of shining lights into my pupils. There was a lot of optometric tools coming up closer to the surface of my eye than was comfortable. Finally he wrote the words "Krukenberg's spindle" on the back of an ophthalmologist's card and told me about the pigment on my cornea, the different sizes of my optic nerves, the possibility of glaucoma.

Then I went out into the frame-choosing part of the office. A. was still choosing frames. I ate my hoagie and I urged A. to take frames just a little more hip than her old ones. I put the things back that Z. took off the shelf. I chose a pair of frames that I had urged A. to reject, in easily the most distracted frame-choosing move of my glasses-wearing life.

I came home, hit google, and fell apart. And Z. chose yesterday to have her first attack of the "why's:" "Why is mama crying?" "Why is she scared?" "Why is there something wrong with her eyes?" She kept climbing into my lap and I couldn't tolerate her there.

What is apparently happening to me is that the pigment is coming off of my irises and floating around the inside of my eyes. In my right eye, which is my worse eye, some of it is collecting at the bottom of my iris. I can see this in the mirror; the only reason I never saw it before is that I didn't know to look. Creepy as all of that sounds, it is apparently not a problem. The problem is that the pigment can block drainage channels in the eye so that pressure increases. And then you can wind up with glaucoma. It is genetic and permanent and degenerative, but it can be managed. So this doesn't mean I'm going to go blind. Most likely. But I don't know how far it's progressed, either. It's been a long time since I saw an optometrist I trusted. At any rate, I called for an appointment with the ophthalmologist this morning; because I'm a new patient they couldn't see me for two weeks, so now I have two weeks to cycle through deliberately forgetting/brooding/obsessive internet searches.

We went directly from breakdown to an outdoor concert with a college friend who's visiting town with her husband and ten-month-old (a different college friend from last week--I do seem to be having a summer full of college friends, which has been lovely). It's the kind of relationship where we keep each other in the loop on marriage invitations and birth announcements, but not the kind of relationship where I could blurt all of this out when I hadn't seen her in two years. Instead, I think I was completely and thoroughly distracted.

Not least by the simple act of seeing. The concert was at the Morris Arboretum, a lush and gorgeous place. My eyesight corrects to better than 20/20--I've always regarded it as a gift and a tool, something I could rely on. I barely took in the concert--it couldn't touch Pink Martini, that's for sure. Instead, I looked out at the crisp, distant leaves on the trees at the far side of the park, and up at the oceans of the moon as it rose, and checked to see if there were any patches I was missing. Not so far. Not so far.

* * * * *

This morning:

Z. clambers into our bed and over Mommy.

Z.: Is it wake-up time?

S.: Hi boo, you are my favorite, favorite boo.

Z.: And you are my mama! And you love me even when you're crying.

S.: That's right.

Z.: And you don't have anything in your eye anymore.

S.: Oh, sweetie.

Z.: And you're not sad.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How far have you come?

Niobe asked today if you ever look back at where you started--I didn't comment over there because it would have been out of place for me to do so among the women grieving for lost babies. Z. is alive and well and in her bath with her Mommy as I begin to type. She's thriving.

And since I started this blog, I have come to understand that deeply. One of my big accomplishments this Spring was to let her go to school five days a week.

Oh, where to begin on keeping her home? Z. was home with me for the first six months. We were lucky to have a parent at home that long. But when I tell you I was bleeding from her birth right up to the eight-week follow-up appointment, will you understand that my sanity was also precarious for that long and longer? Forget getting showered and dressed, forget brushing my teeth: if I made it off the bed before A. came home, it was an accomplishment. When A. returned I would thrust Z. into her arms and flee to the garden.

And yet I think that time on the bed was where I respun the threads of connection to my daughter and started knitting my sanity back together. At first, she didn't like being cuddled or touched that much. She didn't resist it, but she didn't seem to relax into it, either. Baby massage didn't calm her down. I did a lot of experimenting with what kind of touch worked--wrapping my hand around one place on her ribs, below her armpit, worked. Rubbing her head a little bit firmly along her suture line. Stroking her legs, sometimes, too. And she wouldn't sleep unless someone was spooned with her, which I found encouraging, though it has taken us until last week to teach her she can go to sleep on her own.

Of course I read all of this in light of her NICU time. She spent her first week in a plastic box with needles in her--and at that point, her first week was very very very recent. So a lot of what I was doing on the bed was teaching her how to be touched and I don't downplay it. But limiting my world to a mattress was not the healthiest thing to have evolved so early in my parenting career.

The best thing I did that summer was hire a girl Friday, a former student who was my mother's helper and assistant in all the preparations for the store. She only came a few hours a day, and not every day, not nearly as long as A. was gone (A.'s school-year schedule keeps her out of the house around 11 hours a day), but knowing she would be there made a huge difference in structuring my day. And then A. finished school and things were easier, and Z.'s day care started a couple days before A. started up again, and then, officially, I was a day-care mom.

I counted myself a failure in the stay-at-home department. I adored the baby, but she took everything I had. I wasn't like those moms who I see walking with a baby in a sling or pushing a stroller to the co-op, moms with routines. Moms with weekly baby groups. Who get out of the house every day. Instead I was home with pillows all around me and a boppy in my lap, unwilling to move a sleeping baby even to get some sleep myself. I had traded away functioning as a professional in the world--or functioning in the world at all--in order to spend all day nursing.

It is unbelievable to me now that I didn't recognize this as depression. Why not? Who knows? I mean, I do know: I saw myself getting better gradually, and I was, at least until the store opened. And I knew that I didn't have post-partum depression. Once Z. was home I was really very fierce about our connection and I didn't question whether I was a good mom, not fundamentally. And it wasn't really six whole months on the bed.

I bawled the first day I left her in day care. She came down with this coxsackie virus only a day and a half after starting. She had an uninterrupted cycle of colds from October to June. I distrusted the mom of three who was the lead teacher because I was sure she was judging my parenting--I mean, she was judging it. But that time away from her was full of renovations and preparations. And when the store opened, it was never enough time.

Her first year, the plan had always been to keep her home on Fridays, but the colds kept her home a lot of other times, too, sometimes so many days that she would have to go in on a Friday instead just so I could get things done, so I wound up seeing her schedule as very flexible. This didn't matter when she was an infant or even a young 1, but I kept it up past her second birthday, and by that time I had to admit I was keeping her home for me, because I didn't want to face work or I because I felt like I could give myself Mama points for putting her needs above mine. I did it because having a flexible schedule was one reason I started my own business--lord knows it wasn't for the financial stability. And I did it, I think, because I liked being at home with her as a toddler in a way I didn't like being home with her as an infant. We got out. We did things.

But there were huge tantrums in the morning, and finally I realized that she never knew whether she was going to school in the morning. That was when I got it. And I got it from having put up a blog post--in not giving her a clear line on this one, major thing, I was keeping her world unstable. So she started going to school every morning.

And I think that was an important moment for me in giving her credit for her health and survival. It meant stepping back from her, hovering less, and in taking that step, the emotional piece followed. She's no more likely to die than any other two-year-old. And, of course, no less. But I'm seeing both sides of that now.

Do I still imagine the car that's going to slam sidelong into Z.'s carseat when we go through the intersection? Well, since A.'s accident in May, it has become the car that will slam into our front while we're turning left at the end of a light cycle. But we turn left less often than we go through intersections. So that's progress.

Flying pigs and fresh tomatoes


...and one mango.

Hike: Days Inn, Franklin, NC

4/30/98--Days Inn, Franklin, NC 106.8 miles

Rain settled in last night as I was going to bed and it stayed settled until this afternoon. The hike in to town was quick and wet but ended in a golden hitchhike--J. thumbed a ride from a van that took 8 of us--6 humans, 2 dogs, and everyone's packs and hiking poles--and, moreover, waited for the last of us to come down into Winding Stair Gap, so when D., A., and I got into the pullout there was a van with an open door waiting for us.

So we are in town, but it hasn't been the day off I needed. The hotels in the central part of town don't take dogs, so J., his dog, Diva Dog, and I wound up a mile or more away and the walking has been rough on my right foot even without my pack on (we left our packs with the others in the center of town). I'm pretty sure it's some kind of tear in the connective tissue--the pain is in the arch, and it hurts most when I've been off of it awhile and has a chance to stiffen. It's making me worried and discouraged, since all I can do, really, is keep going and keep my fingers crossed. I'm already behind schedule, I can't rest it before Fontana Dam. And the weather report calls for thunderstorms through the weekend.

On the other hand, it's wonderful to be clean and I enjoyed hanging out with J. and N. today--to get out of the full throttle group dynamics for a bit.

It was also great to talk to people from home--my parents, S. it's easy to feel disconnected out here, not just distant but almost disembodied, suspended between Springer and Katahdin for the duration.

Okay, it's late and we have a ways to go early in the morning before we can get back on the Trail. --M.C.

Hike: Rock Gap Shelter

4/29/98, Rock Gap Shelter, 103.6 miles

Except for Albert Mountain it was another easy day in North Carolina. Albert was nearly vertical, but it didn't go on too long and Diva Dog did fantastically. We had cheese and pita on the summit and stopped for water at Big Spring. It was mostly a day of zoning off into my own thoughts and the miles flew. My pack seems back down at a manageable weight yet I still have more food than I started the hike with, so that's good. Some continuing worries about the bottoms of my feet, so I'm glad to have the day off for yet another reason. Shower, phone, groceries, and a good soak for my feet and Diva Dog's paws. There has to be something more to say--but maybe that's what there is to report, that all of those hours of walking are starting to take me out of all these words I usually live in.

Hike: Carter Gap Shelter

4/28/98--Carter Gap Shelter, 90.9 miles from Springer

J. told me I'm supposed to be starting my entries with where I am and the mile marker, so I'm going to try to be consistent.

We're sitting here talking about genitals and making Cheerios uncomfortable, but at least he's entertained. It's another beautiful new shelter like Muskrat Creek--the roof covers the dining area, which has a gravel floor, as well as the sleeping platform. Traveling in a group of 5, we fill most of the shelters we reach. We kind of take them over. The Fantastic 4 generate enough family chaos that our sheltermates barely notice Diva Dog and J.'s dog chasing each other around, and I'm alternately audience, participant, and translator, and general-purpose witness to the proceedings. My current plan is to travel with them to Fontana Dam, which I'm now planning to reach on the 7th. It puts me a good chunk of days behind schedule but I don't think I'll have trouble making them up later and this way I know I'll be in Nashville for my brother on the 8th, not stuck thumbing a ride from Clingman's Dome.

The Trail today was kind to us--12.5 miles in the same amount of time it took us to do 10.5 yesterday. Most of the day was spent crossing Standing Indian Mountain, our first peak over 5,000--and it was damn near 5,500, but the ascent and descent were so gradual it hardly seemed it. There was some FF chaos when J. went to the summit, thinking he was still on the Trail. J., being 6'7", is usually way out front with his dog and so he's the one who calls the breaks. By the time I started descending, I thought he, A., and D. were in front of me, since they had passed me in that order, but A. emerged on the Trail behind me, having had some business to take care of in the bushes, and passed me quickly. I went cheerily on, expecting to find the group gathering for a gorp break around Birch Gap. Instead, J's dog joined me and Diva Dog--from behind us. At first I thought she must have been hiking with A. and had gotten lost or gone exploring, but sure enough, J. came loping down to the gap with a report of the view from the summit and a story about waiting there for a half-hour for the rest of us to show before reading in Wingfoot's guide that he'd gone off the Trail. The end result was that we didn't get a gorp break and D. showed up at the shelter expecting to see J. and A. there but finding no one instead--and the old shelter across the Trail is a pretty scary place. He found Cheerios over here at this shelter which is so new it still smells of pine, and as everyone came in the story unfolded--several times over, for Cheerios's entertainment.

Man, oh man, I miss the Georgia ATC and I take back any griping I did. Those folkds know what they're doing--the erosion control in North Carolina has just been no comparison.

Some beautiful ravines in the last couple of miles today, full of rhododendron and hemlock--the first hemlock we've seen since pretty much the first day.

Hike: Muskrat Creek Shelter

4/27--Muskrat Creek Shelter, North Carolina

10.5 miles and my first state line--but crossing it was kind of a low point since it started raining just before I got there so I opted for a bar instead of cooking lunch, and pushed on. The gnarled oak was cool and all, but the climb that started just beyond was nasty and my glasses fogged to the point I took them off and got reacquainted with my natural vision for a mile or two. Not fun. The Fantastic Four are going in to Franklin Thurs. afternoon and I'm thinking of going in with them. I've been wrapping my left knee, and my right ankle, the one I hurt last summer, is just starting to hint at acting up--not actually hurting but it's making me nervous enough to think I need a day off, and not just Diva Dog. Nothing much hurts when my pack is off--my feet, basically--but the little things add up while I'm on the move. It would mean revising my whole plan for the Smokies and going to my brother's graduation before I start the park instead of getting off for it in Gatlinburg but i may not have a choice--the closest I can cut it is getting to Clingman's Dome on the 7th, which means starting the park on the 5th at the latest, and that could be a long hitch to get to the rental car place in Gatlinburg. If I make it to Carter Gap tomorrow I ca put off the decision one more day.

I realize the past couple of days have mostly been worries about logistics. I think the first enthusiasm is wearing off and I'm settling in to the reality of miles and days. Some interesting sights the past couple of days--the first chipmunk, colonies of grasshoppers that plop back down as you pass through them, sounding like rain. And more poison ivy that I care to think about.

Hike: past Dicks Creek Gap

4/26 Another sunny day--we're camped about a mile past Dicks Creek Gap. We did 11.7 today, and the last mile probably

--I was interrupted by the arrival of the Fantastic Four, who I thought would be 3 1/2 miles ahead of me at Plumorchard Shelter but who, instead, just got back on the Trail after going in for an unexpected resupply in Hiawassee. I'd run into them unexpectedly at lunch and told them I'd be camping here--good thing! They did the mile up from the road pretty much by headlamp, it was almost 9 when they got here, and the sun was pretty much down by 8:30. I'm outside the tent now as they arrange groundcloths to avoid rocks--at this point they're just sleeping out, which I had contemplated but being alone and so close to the Trail, the tent seemed like a safer option.

What was I saying before the gang showed up? Oh, right. The last mile was really the last straw for Diva Dog. Her paws still aren't looking nearly so bad as they did before Helen -- the Trail wasn't particularly rocky and we took a lot of breaks -- but she just crashed when we got here, and last night she had energy to explore. She was still sniffing around back at Dicks Creek Gap, so I think the last mile did her in. If we really do stick to 10 milers all the way to Fontana Dam--if she doesn't adjust before then--I don't know if we'll make it there before my brother graduates on May 8. So that's the current worry, but with the Fantastic Four back in sync with me for a few days, at least the company will be good.

There was a beautiful grove of rhododendron coming down into Dicks Creek Gap--it held promise of what the woods will look like in a few weeks when the leaves are out on the trees.

Hike: Tray Mountain Shelter

4/25/98--Tray Mountain Shelter

Glad, glad, glad to be back in the woods, but not in the least bit happy about my packweight after collecting my drop. Today, I was carrying 10 days of my food and 2 days of Diva Dog's--up til now I've never had more than 5 days and the difference is huge. It was also sunny and warm for the first time and that also made the hiking harder--drinking more water, carrying more water, stopping more often, moving more slowly when I was moving, and (my first Saturday on the Trail) having to make way for day hikers all the time. There was a huge crowd of people wearing cotton, carrying no food or water, and every single one of them had to comment on Diva Dog's booties. I can tell already I'm going to hate weekends. On the other hand, there's a big, friendly crowd of overnighters tenting around the shelter who seem to really know what they're about, and there's something kind of cool about getting to be the "permanent" residents and tell stories for the tourists.

We got a ride back to Unicoi in the back of a bright red pickup truck from a super-friendly couple--Diva Dog really got into it, kept standing up and poking her head over the edge, then sitting back down as we took the curves. We reached the parking lot just as the Fantastic Four were coming in, so it really felt like coming home. They'll pull ahead of me next--I'm going to stick to 10-ish mile days to try to keep Diva Dog's paws from hurting too badly, but the Four have a drop to pick up in Franklin on Wednesday, so I guess we'll be able to leapfrog for a little while.

And I have to figure out how to work my drops so I'm not carrying this much food again. I'd much rather stop more often and hike more easily in between.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Noes and Yesses

Z.: (apropos of nothing) No, no, no!
S.: Don't say no.
Z.: No.
S.: What are you saying no to?
Z.: Saying yes.
S. laughs.
Z.: Yes!
S.: What are you saying yes to?
Z.: Saying no!

* * * * *

Still not feeling overly inspired today, so I'm going to keep putting up trail entries. I transcribed a whole bunch last night, and I think I'm going to put them up a few at a time so that they don't spin out forever. Today's go through my first town break. These were written to be posted on an AT website so I was assuming an insider audience, but for now I'm not going to do a lot of explaining. The very most basic thing you need to know is that the official AT route is marked by white blazes. Blue blazes mark sidetrails. Yellow blazes are the paint you see in the middle of the road when you're hitching.

Hike: Helen, GA

4/24/98--My dad's birthday, for the even smaller number of you who keep track. We're in Helen, which is a trippy little town. Editor's note: Helen is zoned so that all buildings resemble someone's notion of Bavarian architecture. Imagine Heidi in north Georgia and you will have the idea. Diva Dog's front paw pads are both swollen and the left one is cut. Wearing booties, she scrambled down to Unicoi Gap just fine, but has been limping in her few bare-pawed walks around town. The Helendorf Inn staff have been super-helpful and suggested Epsom salts, which I'm going to try this evening. Mostly, Diva Dog's just stayed at the hotel while I did town chores--laundry, pharmacy, shuttle in to Hiawassee to pick up my drop. I'm going to call her vet in the morning if I can (can't recall their Saturday hours) but the current plan is to be back on the Trail tomorrow, doing 10-mile days to Fontana Dam and giving her plenty of breaks in the day. Fingers crossed we don't lose any booties. Right now they seem like the most important gear in either of our packs.

Hike: Blue Mountain

4/23/98--Shakespeare's birthday, for those who keep track. Here in the mountains it's hard to keep track of anything. I even lost track of my hat today, but R. kindly brought it to me. I'm glad I didn't forget anything heavy. Two noteworthy things today: we pulled ahead of the Fantastic Four, which was going to happen soon, both because I need to average higher miles and because N. is going to need some lower-mileage days, even if the rest of them could keep up this pace. She came in well after dark last night, J. and his dog went back to give her a hand and carried her pack back in to camp, but he'll have written about that in his journal. I missed seeing their blonde, blonde heads on the Trail, but they may catch up sooner than expected because the other noteworthy thing is that Diva Dog had a rough, rough day so I may take tomorrow off instead of Saturday.

First, I take it all back about her no-pull collar, it was rubbing her raw and I feel guilty not to have noticed it earlier, but she kept gamely plugging along. Second, her paws are hurting her. She hiked most of the day with booties on, we took a 2-hour lunch at Low Gap Shelter, and a 1/2-hour water break at Chattahoochee Gap. She sacked out both times and got on the Trail much better for the rest, but the last stretch of time before Blue Mountain (which is where I'm writing from) is not kind to smallish dogs. We had a whole field of rocks to scramble over -- at one point I had to take off her pack, and both of her hind booties came off in her scrambles. She perked up with some food and attention from the Boys, then collapsed in a pathetic curl on my sleeping bag, buried under her blanket. We did about 13 miles today. I'm doing fine--heck, I'm not even making myself all that hungry--but she isn't, so we may hitch in to Helen tomorrow. I was going to go in to Hiawassee Saturday, but that would mean a 15 mile day tomorrow in order to get there before the PO closes, and I just don't think I can do that to her.

Hike: Whitley Gap Shelter

Still traveling with the Fantastic 4 and the Nice Boys. I left Blood Mtn first this morning and J. and his dog didn't catch us until we made it to the road! As we descended, the rain wasn't actually coming down anymore, but there was a pretty thick fog and the rocks were running with water. It was beautiful, actually -- it made me glad to have been on Blood Mountain in the rain, just to be able to hike down in it.

Now, I have been grateful to and impressed by the work of the Georgia AT Club and I wish I'd been singing their praises all along, because I have a small criticism: every single one of us missed the same turning because we were looking at the blazes on the rocks and the first blaze of the turn was on a tree. Double blaze right there would have been nice, because when the rocks are slick it's a little scary to find yourself at that particular wrong turning. Okay, criticism over--I'm amazed at the amount of work these volunteers have done--the signs, the shelters, the blowdowns they've cleared, all hiking to do it, my hat is off to them, it's been an honor to walk their Trail.

The event of the day was Walasi-Yi at Neel's Gap. Man, we spent nearly 5 hours there. Shower, laundry, maildrop, pack advice, lunch, phones -- and J. bought some wax, so we all did our boots. B. and R. sent some stuff home, they'd been at 70 lbs each; B. N., and A. bought hiking poles; J.'s dog and Diva Dog waited patiently in the white-blazed breezeway. The staff at Walasi-Yi couldn't be nicer or more patient with all our comings and goings.

We waited out the last bout of rain in the breezeway and then, one by one, headed off. I'm picking up speed -- I was last to leave Neel's Gap, but only J. beat me here. I don't take long breaks, so even though I don't go as fast when I'm moving, I'm moving more of the day and that makes the difference. I've been doing standing stops pretty much as often as I get thirsty, but I haven't really been stopping for longer than a drink, some gorp, and the occasional picture. So far, Diva Dog's water needs have been about the same as mine -- well, about as frequent but not the same volume. I wonder how that will change as summer comes in. I've been surprised at how little foliage there is on the trees -- I guess because we're so far South, I figured that would compensate for the mountains, but Spring was further along in Philly.

This shelter is the furthest one off the Trail, according to the guide book. 1.2 miles of blue blazes. Switchbacks, even. And we've got to do it all in reverse tomorrow morning.

Hike: Blood Mountain

4/21--Blood Mountain, Day 3

Twelve miles! pretty exciting. I wouldn't have wanted to go any farther, but this was okay. I'm extremely glad to be here at the shelter ---- oh my goodness, there are clouds blowing in through the windows ---- what was I saying again? Right. At lunch with A., N., J., and D., of the platinum hair, we'd made a plan to make it up here, but R. and B., the Nice Boys from Ohio, wanted to push on to Neels Gap. We met up again putting on rain gear during a grief, cold shower and decided to stop instead at Wood's Hole, a new shelter south of Blood Mtn. Not one of us saw the turnoff, so when we were faced with the "Blood Mtn, 1.4 miles, no water" sign it was back to plan A. The men VERY generously hauled water up and we all cooked here in the front room. It's an extremely solid shelter, built by the CCC, stone, two rooms, recently had a working fireplace, but the absence of shutters of door pretty much explains why it was bricked up. The rain settled in not long after we got here and lightning hit close enough to the shelter to sound like a loud gunshot. I saw the sparks and smelled the ozone: D. said he could see it hit just beyond an outcropping of rock. The tent has been toasty, but tonight I'm glad to have a roof over my head.

Hike: Gooch Gap

April 20th 1998--campsite near a spring just past Gooch Gap

I'm bypassing the shelter tonight: when I got to the sign I was having too good a time, feeling good about my pack-weight and how sweet the trail has been to me. I'm not much farther past it, maybe 1/4-1/2 a mile, but it seems right to be doing a night on my own early on. I've been enjoying the company, had a good lunch with those nice boys from Ohio and the platinum-haired quartet, spent over an hour and a half chatting at Justus Creek, letting my toes enjoy the air and sun, but I don't want to get lulled into the social scene, even--perhaps especially--such a nascent one. It's too easy to think about people, to feel like I have to be part of whatever's going on; that's what made leaving Philly so hard. I have no doubt I'll make friends out here who will be important to me, but I want to build time for solitude into the trip. I've been doing so much leapfrogging on the Trail that I hardly feel alone when I'm hiking, even if Diva Dog is the only one hiking along with me.

Wildlife on the trail today: butterflies, may generic blue ones, an elegant black-and-orange one, and one black one flecked with tiny pale spots; a gleaming back snake with thin yellow stripes, perhaps afoot-and-a-half long that Diva Dog scared onto the Trail and which slithered in front of us for a few yards; gleaming, iridescent mesh-like webs of what? ground spiders? spun between crevices of rocks on the Trail; two snails locked in somewhat more than an embrace, one above the other on the side of a hill, between them a blue, translucent yin-yang of snail sexuality

Monday, July 23, 2007

One I wouldn't have expected

This site comes up on the first page if you google patronus.

My first online journal

Well, I'm kind of written-out today and I did say that sometime when I didn't have anything else to say I'd start transcribing my old journals from my attempted 1998 thru-hike. Here goes:

8am, Comfort Suite, Cumming, GA--April 19

I surprised myself these past few weeks at how sedate I felt about this whole enterprise--the planning was done, it was just a matter of crossing things off my list until today arrived--and even though leaving Philadelphia was hard, I didn't really feel nervous until now. I've woken up to grey skies and rain. It will still take us a few hours to get to Springer. Perhaps it will clear.

6pm--Hawk Mountain Shelter

Lots of hikers here, some thru-, some section and more arriving. The rain kept up 'til about 1, the grey skies kept up til about 20 minutes after we reached the shelter. I'm glad of it, actually, having the first rainy day be the first day, it means I won't get lulled in by blue skies and then be tempted to sit out the first rainy one. All the trees around the shelter are festooned with wet gear. My rain stuff worked great--pants and jacket from X, lightweight, breathable, water resistant *not* waterproof, but if today is any indication that's all I'll need. Also making me very happy--X hiking poles and Diva Dog's no-pull halter. When she's on leash we look like an 8-legged, 2-sectioned pack animal. Which I suppose we are. She's learning the "stay back" command--the poles have helped in teaching it since once she's behind me she'll trip over a pole if she tries to come forward. And the halter has perfectly solved the pulling-vs.-choke-collar dilemma. When she comes to the end of the leash the halter tightens under her "armpits" and, magically, she stops.

I'm not going to try to name everyone here--I haven't caught everyone's name(s), for one thing, and there are about 12 of us, for another. There were a group of section hikers, also trail maintainers, who have since headed on to make more miles, but who first generously helped me with me stove; there are 2 high school seniors from Columbus, OH hiking about 500 miles for their senior project (cool high school, hunh?); there's a sibling group of four who have dyed their hair to match each others'; a couple of familiar names from the internet; and a total of three dogs. Among others.

Oh yes, my nervousness from this morning. It lasted pretty much up 'til I reached the terminus plaque on top of Springer. I had it to myself, and it was kind of a "this is it?" experience, so I turned around and headed north. (Mom dropped me at USFS 42, which means hiking south to get to the terminus.) On Friday as I was driving away from E. High School, where I tutor, I had to gasp for breath at what I was leaving. I've had a fantastic year with the kids there and ended on a strong note with them. It was impossible to picture what I would be doing instead. Walking by Long Falls this afternoon I had a similar experience--it took my breath away that I was just a glance away from such beauty and I will be every day for the next 150. Still hard to imagine, but here I am doing it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

One more random fact

I had a great-aunt Hermione. Really.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

8 random facts

The lovely and eloquent Seahorse tagged me for this meme, which thrills me because it suggests she may be lurking around here just as much as I'm lurking over at her blog. Hi Seahorse! (waving furiously!)

Here are the rules:
Let others know who tagged you
Players start with 8 random facts about themselves
Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts
Players should tag 8 other people and tell them they've been tagged.

Fact #1: In the murky backchannels of blogland, I was just telling Magpie that I have a secret identity as a childbirth educator that I needed to confess the next time a meme like this rolled around. I have absolutely no time to teach classes, but it's something that matters a lot to me. These days, what winds up happening is folks at the mom's support center in the next block tell women considering homebirth that I'm happy to talk to them and they come by the store.

Fact #2: I have a a total of 13 first cousins who have a wide range of experiences that aren't my own: two are biracial, two are adopted, one lives in France, one is a serious skier, one is a cop, two are involved behind the scenes in movies, one is a childless housewife, one is turning 5 soon, none are Jewish. Two--from different sides of my family and more than ten years apart in age--are currently at the same college, in the same year.

Fact #3: My taste in shoes is extremely similar to Phantom's.

Fact #4: I have incipient osteoarthritis in my right wrist. I was diagnosed when I was 25.

Fact #5: I am trained as a massage therapist. I've never practiced much because of my wrist--massage turns out to be the thing that pushes the arthritis over the edge, and if I'd kept it up I would have needed to give up knitting or typing. But I'm happy to help with sore shoulders from time to time.

Fact #6: Technically, I am still a brown belt in tae kwon do, even though I quit when I was twelve.

Fact #7: My experience is limited, but I appear to be a natural with firearms. I spent one morning shooting at targets out in the country on the morning of a friend's wedding and all of her family friends were calling me Sharpshooter when I showed up in my long black dress for the ceremony and reception.

Fact #8: I am at least the fourth generation in my family to have my middle name. My great-grandfather, my grandfather, my mother, me. Z. does not have it, but that doesn't mean I've decided to spare any future kids.

Now I need to tag people. This is actually more daunting than coming up with 8 facts, because I'm too shy to tag people who don't comment and I'm not sure I have 8 people who comment and actually do the meme thing ... and if you do, have you already done this one? And then I want to tag people I haven't tagged before. Anyway, after much deep pondering, I decided to just go with the last eight people who commented so long as I hadn't tagged them before, and let the chips fall where they may. Seems organic enough: Scrivener, Jody, Niobe, Phantom, Jo(e), Furrow, (Genevieve--no blog, you're off the hook!), E., and oneofhismoms. You're it.

I finished my homework, can I blog now?

I made Deathly Hallows our book group selection for August, so this really was homework for me. Since I legitimately had the book at around noon on Wednesday, I don't really have any excuse for not finishing until 9 this evening, but I had some napping to do. Having finished, I don't really want to jump into the spoiler threads yet. I know I'm going to spend way too much time talking about it in the next weeks.

The thing about a Harry Potter release is that it's a kind of secular High Holiday. Part of the experience is knowing that everyone is experiencing the same text at pretty much the same time. But if you push that metaphor, you'll find I'm not in the congregation with the rest of you. I'm more like the office staff that made sure the childcare was lined up and arranged the kiddush and sent out all the mailings. And it does make it harder to get into the experience because you're oriented to everyone else's.

For tonight, I want just a little while of feeling like there was a possibility that I read it just to enjoy it.

* * * * *

Can I tell you about Z.'s wand? At the party last night, she made a wand "just like all de odder big kids" and somehow there was a Tallulah in the craft box--I think someone on my my staff must have shoved it in the box when it fell out of a Maisy pop-up book. So her wand is peuple, and it has Tallulah on it. Wow! (Edited to add: we don't watch the Maisy TV show b/c we don't watch TV, only Wallace and Gromit videos, but I found this description of the Maisy-Tallulah relationship fascinating. And on the topic of Wallace and Gromit videos, I think we are ready to branch out. Any suggestions?)

I heart my staff

Phew doesn't even begin to cover it.

I'll blog it better after I've actually had shabbat (abridged), but can I say, at 1:30 in the morning, that the only, only single mistake at the register, in the entire 25 hour period was mine? And I wrote myself a note so I remembered it and it was easy to account for?


There are many, many, many other things for which I am massively grateful to these people, but right now that one tops my list.

And Body Tr@ce is still our bestseller, but only by 20 books (really, I should email the author and let him know). Deathly Hallows will pass it tomorrow morning, though. Do you know how many books we've sold more than 20 copies of in the past year? 17. Do you know how many of those have had either an author event or a local connection or both? 13.

My feet are tired. I'm going to bed.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Party minus 2 hours


Here in the Rhyming house, Grandad is boning up on JK Rowling's backlist, Z. is having a snack with Mommy, GranGran is (we think) still at her meeting, and Mama is refining her newly acquired Flckr skills. Turns out Flckr's standard medium size results in the right margin of all my pictures being chopped off, so I fiddled with the size. These are: width="400" height="300", if you're interested in these details.

One thing Mama is noticing is that she has apparently done a very good job of branding because hardly any of the shots she took of Potter party decorations are free of the store logo. (I think I've found some that won't tempt you to come stalk me, but I'm just gonna slip in a little friendly reminder of my strong desire to keep this blog's name and the store's name completely separate in the Big Brotherly eye of Google et al. And of my willingness to delete comments to that end.)


The faced-out book has 7 hours left as the store's all-time bestseller. It was written pseudonymously by the editor of the Co-op on the Corner's newsletter. We can always tell he's been working the floor because we get a slew of people in looking for this. HP7 is already at number 13 on our list and, yes, it hasn't been released yet.

Harry Potter-themed cupcakes:


Have a snitch:


Happy reading, all!!!!

Because I always do what Phantom says

... I uploaded some photos to this dormant Flckr account I opened a year ago to stalk try to contact a friend from high school. I posted the goutweed photo to the blog via Flckr, and Phantom was right, it is a cool interface, very easy to use. I haven't figured out how to put two photos into one post, though, so I'm back to Blogger for this one.

To put those photos up, I had to hunt each one down in my iphoto library, where they're all stored by the date they were taken. I realized something: I didn't take a single photo of Z.--or anyone else--for all of 2006. We have some pictures of me reading to her in the newly-opened store (which are unfortunately unbloggable because we are both wearing shirts with the store's logo). And then this baby

becomes this baby

The thing with the camera was that we filled the memory card, and the pictures of the birth were on there, so I superstitiously didn't want to clear it, and then we lost the camera in the house, which really just means that no one was motivated to look for it. For a year! For more than a year!

Blogging motivated me. My template is Dark and Somber, not to say Morbid. I wanted to have some pictures around the place to cheer it up a little, so I hunted the camera down and took it to Staples and bought it a nice new memory card with lots more gigaram, or whatever, than I can use in a lifetime because it was on sale.

It's not like I didn't know that opening the store threw me for a loop. I was the one being thrown, after all. But wow, we have no pictures of her first birthday and none of her first steps and none of her very cute Purim costume from that year and none of the vacation last summer where she was so sick but she did spend some nice time at the lake. Not one of her cast. None of that. The picture in my profile was taken by a wedding photographer, or it wouldn't exist. It's like I lost a year of my daughter's life.

Right now, I'm wondering about how the blog is functioning in my life in lots of ways--I know! you noticed! you're not dummies!--and, well, this bit about the pictures, bringing the pictures back? It's important.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Spent an hour this morning collecting sticks in the woods with one of my managers. It's been wet in the woods recently, so they are now drying on the deck. We need to check on our levels of glue, sequin, glitter, feathers. But it's just double-checking--the craft box is well-stocked here. (Nah, these wands won't pass muster at Hogwarts, but they will be oh so much more fabulous.)

The tarot reader is booked. The HP-themed cupcakes are ordered. We have an owl above the register. Various other magical paraphernalia is trickling in. Signs are printed and ready to turn the pet section into Care of Magical Creatures and the community room into Divination and I don't know what all else. The spreadsheet with the preorders is up to date. The slips are printed.

Honestly, honestly, there is no reason for me not to just do what I would usually do on a Thursday. If only my veins weren't tingling so much.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Goutweed, as promised long ago

IMG_0913, originally uploaded by scallen3.

Gone to seed, with a side order of poison ivy. (goutweed is a.k.a. bishop's weed)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Did Voltaire get cool or something?

Thanks, E. and oneofhismoms, for pushing my thinking in the comments on the last one, and I'm still pondering the yesses and the noes. For instance: blogland is a ready-made, boundaried "no"-space because, let's face it, if it were real we wouldn't be contrasting it with Real Life. Real people participate in it in real ways, OF COURSE, and real feelings get hurt and real friendships are made and real time gets sucked into the vortex and for some people real money is involved. But you had a life before blogging and most likely you will again someday.

So it's no surprise that a lot of yesses can happen pretty safely in blogland.

But what about those real-life noes of mine? The no of delaying insemination has clearly staked out a safe space for me. Some of these others, I'm not sure I know yet what's going on with them. They may not have any useful function at all. Yet I would like to find some redeeming reason for the ways that they're curtailing me.

Meanwhile, my statcounter has been showing a ton of people (well, a very tiny ton of people, but a lot more than none, which is the usual number) googling "Il faut cultiver notre jardin." Is there something going on out there in pop culture that I don't know about? Inquiring minds.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Yesses and Noes

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell examines what makes for good improvisational comedy. Apparently, the most important rule is saying yes: when someone throws something at you, you don't talk your way around it to stay on track, you accept it into your skit and if it knocks you off course ... aha! You have comedy. As I understand it, the improvisational yes is like a plus sign that creates a whole that is whackier and more magnificent than the sum of its parts.

A couple of months ago, I applied the improv principle and said yes to the presence of yaks on my lawn. Like a good improv game, it took on a life of its own and soon I had a series of yesses that led right out of the blog and took me in happy directions I couldn't have guessed at.

And yet, in my real life I am busy saying no. In fairly entrenched and serious ways.

My therapist has known me a long time, and ten years ago she suggested to me that I might want to experiment with saying yes. Given what I was working on then, it was an experiment well worth making, but what I have to work on right now is something really altogether different. I need to feel confident in my body and connected to my community. More practically, I need to lose weight, I need to get my finances in order, I need to pick up, dust off, and polish my mental health. And I have started applying myself to all of that by saying no first.

If we had stuck with our original plan for this year, I would either be newly pregnant or about to start cycle two this week. And thinking about being in either of those situations instead of where I am terrifies me. There is a principle in Jewish law that accepts abortion as a form of self-defense, because under some circumstances--not all of them medical--the fetus is considered a pursuer that is imperiling the mother. Given the unlikelihood of accidental pregnancy in my life, this has always seemed interesting but not of practical use. But I think that when I decided not to begin insemination this year, I was reacting to the specter of that pursuit.

So now I am thinking about the ways in which the improvisational yes depends on first staking out a clear, strong, boundary-defining no.

Because I always do what Niobe says

This is part of the world tour over at The Impatient Patient.

Clockwise from top left: Center City as seen from West Philly.

Walking home from leaving the car at the garage ... again.

The co-op on the corner.

On parking mores

We were parking in Manhattan:

S. (at the wheel): I can't park yet! These people are coming up right on my butt before they go around! That would never happen in Philly.

A.: Sometimes it happens in Philly.

S.: That people keep coming up right behind you so you can't back up? No. They wait farther back.

A.: Sometimes they go around.

S.: Only if there are two full lanes. And they just don't come this close. Because they think you might have a gun.

A.: Well, you MIGHT.

S.: See? You're a good Philadelphian.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Furrow posed the question of what entirely happy memory you would use for a Patronus spell, and I liked it so much I tagged myself.

Her snapshots were so vivid that I have had to shake my head vigorously in an effort not to just tell you which of my memories are most like hers. (Really! Go read them!) I thought I would borrow her format of choosing memories from different times in her life but I only got as far as childhood, so maybe I'll take this up again next week.

Even though it limits my choices, I decided not to write about how happy reading books made me, because I don't think remembering living in a fictional world would make a very strong Patronus. My most vivid real-world memory of pure happiness is the first day I spent at the School that Saved Me, which seems like a good Harry Potter choice.

This day was the day I visited my future school as part of the application process. I was in first grade, attending a local public school where my teacher worked hard to instill in me a sense of shame and isolation. My SSM visiting day erupted into this grey emotional landscape--a room full of happy kids my age, full of color and movement and friends. The girl who took me around was chosen because it was her birthday. Spending the day with me was a treat for the birthday girl! I couldn't believe it. I remember the teacher introducing us, and her showing me around the classroom, and the rest of the day was a wash of relief and delight, and I was filled with the sense that I was included and could unfold and move again, when school had become a place that shrank me down. I wanted to go back to SSM the next day, of course, and when I knew I would be leaving my public school to go there, I threw my escape from her in my teacher's face. And so I also learned the protective power of anger, which I think would be a good strengthener to a Patronus spell.

This one is a self-tagger, but I'd ask anyone who picks it up to link back to at least one of Furrow's posts.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

How's that potty training going?

Well, I'm so glad you asked! We started on sticker charts the first day of our vacation. Here's how we went about our extensive research: A. asked a friend whose kid is 15 months older what she did. And then we copied her.

Actually, we copied her but added "and Z. gets one present when Z. fills a chart." The morning before we went on vacation, Z. and I went to the toy store and chose stickers for the charts (plus some to send to Charming Boy) and she chose two presents that the "toyologists" wrapped for her. I grabbed a handful of finger puppets, too, just in case.

The first few days were miserable. We asked her constantly about the potty. She fought us on everything about it. We did the diaper-free thing for one morning--actually, there was no "we" there. A. did the diaper-free thing while I slept. From all accounts, that was not so very successful, so we went back to training pants. But there were still tantrums and more tantrums.

We had a little parental confab about just which potty victories would merit stickers. We opted to reward more victories because Z. really wanted to open a present, and we thought opening a present sooner rather than later would be good. You can only delay toddler gratification but so long.

We started on Saturday. By Sunday, we were in despair and ready to give up. By Monday, we were no longer so discouraged. By Wednesday, she had unwrapped both of her presents and we were working on chart number three. By the time vacation was over, she was sleeping with the first finger puppet in her special travel bed, and using the potty without tantrums more often than not. She was understanding that there was a routine to the potty visits, and--yes--she was arriving at the potty dry sometimes.

So we're still at it. We're not ready to switch to the trainers that don't have the waterproof layer. But we're getting there.

And we are COVERED with stickers. Because who can stop at just one sticker, really? And if the second, and third (and so forth) are not going to go on the chart, well, what are Mamas and Mommys for? A purple balloon on the belly button does wonders for one's professional appearance.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


That was a shibboleth--if there are any crazy knitters among you, you will know I'm talking UnFinished Objects.

One shawl
One bunny
One pig
Three baby blankets, not counting the one that's not stalled
One set of slippers, felted, need bottoms
One set of slippers, knit but not felted
One baby sweater, needs a fastener
One pair mittens
One not easily described fishing-line project
One extremely large knit quilt--most squares done, not assembled, probably needs to be rethought from the beginning
One novel, quite embryonic

What almost all of these have in common is that their intended ultimate recipients are in the dark about my intent that they ultimately receive them. Knitting, like writing, is a private effort done for public display, but that display can be deferred indefinitely.

All art needs an audience. And the interaction with audience begins before the audience knows about it, while the art is still the artist's.

I respond to audience in not-always-so-helpful ways.

I feel overexposed most of the time. I have a mostly-functional public persona I can dust off when the occasion demands, but currently I have a hard time with people in the "acquaintance" range. In my life this is populated by an overlapping group of neighbors, customers, fellow-congregants, business contacts, and (now that it's summertime) pool-goers. It's a small world in this big city: when I was waiting in the chiropractor's office yesterday, having chauffeured A. there when her headache made it difficult for her to drive herself, I listened as the receptionist made an appointment-reminder call to the reporter who recently interviewed me about summer reading.

Sometimes it feels cozy. Just as often, it feels like too much coming at me. And sometimes, it just plain weirds me out. My therapist, Dr. L., has a bit part in a memoir whose author did an event at the store a year ago. Dr. L. appears as friend, not therapist. And very briefly. Thank goodness. From this instructive experience I learned that I am not constitutionally capable of publishing a memoir.

But isn't that what I'm doing here, in serial form? Well, no. Blogging gives the illusion of skipping the acquaintance stage. After all, you know way more about me than my acquaintances do. And yet, you don't. I know that regular readers of this space are quite able to comment for a good long time without knowing what it is that I sell in that store of mine. And I think those of you who don't know me outside of the blog will not know whether I have siblings, or the circumstances of my meeting A. (I did post on that, but took it down mighty fast), or what I studied in graduate school. The information is there in the posts, of course--I did one post explicitly *as* a memoir, and it rounds up a lot of that stuff--but what I actual reveal day to day stays pretty close to my own head and my emotional state.

What I am offering you is my writing voice, and some backstory here and there, generally of the sort that no longer has repercussions, some anecdotes and some words that I hope you will enjoy, the report on the state of my head. Because that is how well I know you. Collectively, you. You, my audience.

If I were going to knit you a sweater, I would need to know a lot more about you.

If I were going to write you a novel, I could get away with knowing a lot less.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cheap content

I got a hit this way:

breasts "peace corps" "my host" me 2007

The word "me" in there is just baffling, isn't it?

Someone in Wisconsin was researching this:

my dog would take the shot

And I got a hit from this page, which just tells me that the link to my site was somewhere eye-catching on Jo(e)'s rotating blogroll last night, but I was tempted to click and I thought that given the recent discussions on blogging perils here and elsewhere in blogland, y'all might also be interested in why Jo(e) shouldn't have started blogging:


And people continue to search the internet for rhymes on flushing the toilet, and information on broken toddler bones, and the various properties of javelins.

* * * * *

Z.: Dis is my babing suit.

A.: It's your bathing suit.

Z.: My bading suit.

A.: Your baTHing suit.

Z.: My bathezing suit.

A.: She did it!

Z. to me: Mama, is dat your babing suit?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Happy Adoption Day to Us!

You might think that Z. is my daughter because I birthed her.

But as of this day two years ago, you would be wrong.

Since then, legally, my basis for claiming Z. as my daughter is that I adopted her.

I never gave up parental rights, and in Philadelphia county you don't need a home visit for second-parent adoption, but we did both do criminal background checks. (I came across the receipt for mine a couple of months ago and for weeks I couldn't figure out why I'd needed one in 2005, a year I did not start any teaching jobs.) And we visited the prothonotary's* office for an interview that turned out to be mostly about our financial status.

However, A. and I were co-petitioners on her adoption papers, and her new birth certificate doesn't distinguish between us. We are each listed as parent.

It was such a relief to have it done. I hated being the only legal parent. I was completely irrational about Uncle Donor, who had been my friend for a decade. And I hated feeling grateful for something another family could take for granted: two legal parents. But I felt--and feel--grateful anyway.

* Proe-THON-uh-tarry. We have one of these when some other court system might have a clerk of courts. Dunno why. It's an old, old county in an old, old commonwealth.

Vacation pix

From top to bottom:

The river.

Running with Aunt S.E. and the dog pack. If you click on it you can see the sweatband that Z. appropriated from my father and wore on her arm for half a week.

Evidence of my shame: yes, my fellow Fancy Pants U-ers, last month J. August sucked me in like a vacuum cleaner aimed at the Cantabridgian sidewalk.

Blackberries growing along the driveway.

The berries Z. didn't eat before we got home. Home from the driveway.

Here is a highly elastic recipe for berry pie:

1 1/2 cups flour--no more than half whole wheat, unless you're using whole wheat pastry flour
a couple tbsp sugar
a couple tsp spices: ginger and cinnamon are nice, maybe a pinch of clove
a tsp or so salt
8 1/2 tbsp butter (if you have vegetable shortening, you should use 5 1/2 tbsp butter and 3 of vegetable shortening, but considering how seldom I make pies I don't keep Crisc0 around.) Keep cold until ready to add to recipe.
cold water or ice water

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Cut up butter into very small pieces and add to dry ingredients. Use two knives or a pastry cutter to cut butter and flour mixture into pea-sized pieces. Then stick your (clean) hands into the bowl and rub the pea-sized lumps and the flour between the tips of your fingers until it's all blended. The movement of your thumb against your fingers should be like the gesture for "gimme money."

When the butter is JUST blended with the flour, gather into a ball and sprinkle a tbsp of cold water over the dough. Squeeze the water into the dough completely. Repeat this until the dough holds together. Flatten it into a disc, wrap it in waxed paper, leave it in the fridge for at least half an hour. Take it out for long enough to warm up a little before rolling it out.

Preheat the oven to 350 when you take the dough out.

Roll out on a floured surface until it is just a little bigger in circumference than the pie dish you plan to use. I usually flip it early in the rolling-out process so it doesn't get too stuck to the counter. Using the biggest spatula you've got, gently moved the dough to your pie dish.


Buy a pre-made frozen pie crust. This isn't cheating, because I just told you it's not.

In this case, preheat the oven when you start assembling the filling and topping and take the crust out of the freezer when you're ready to assemble the whole pie.

If you're making your own crust, assemble the filling and topping while the dough is in the fridge.

One quart of berries and/or sliced peaches, more or less.
brown sugar--optional, amount to taste (2 tbsp maybe)
half a lemon--optional

Gently mix the fruit and the sugar together in a medium bowl.
Squeeze the lemon over the fruit and sugar. Toss to coat.
It's good if you remember to take the lemon seeds out with the tip of a knife first. I always forget and have to pick lemon seeds out of my berries.

This is where things get very flexible. You can't go wrong with this topping, so survey your shelves and toss in what's around.

1-2 cups rolled oats
maybe 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder OR baking soda NOT 1/2 tsp of both
generous dash of salt
nuts if no one is allergic
spices--again, ginger, cinnamon, maybe some cardamom.
brown sugar, 1/2 cup or more
I've put in dried cranberries if I'm using this in the fall with apples
about half a stick of butter, melted

Mix the dry ingredients. Add more of anything if it looks like you won't have enough to cover your pie. Pour in the butter and mix it all up.

Assemble pie. Bake until the top looks a little brown, maybe 25 minutes. I check frequently because I never remember to look at the time when I put something in the oven.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Well, that wasn't so much a vacation as a convalescence. And just a partial one, at that. The pattern of most days was do something in the morning, nap in the afternoon, do something in the evening, sleep. The days that varied from that were not so happy. The times when I wasn't on an outing or sleeping I was bleary and preoccupied, mostly reading and being bitten by bugs. (I collected an enormous number of bug bites, including one from a tick--possibly several; the usual mosquitoes; some from bugs I couldn't identify at all; and some that I think may be from fleas. There may be a little poison ivy mixed in for good measure, it's hard to say. Usually if I get it, it's unmistakeable.)

After all of that sleeping, I am far from caught up on sleep. I could keep doing that for another month and I wouldn't be caught up on sleep. And I probably should, if only my life could stay arranged that way.

Except that the way that I was managing to find all that time to sleep this week wasn't only that I wasn't at work. It was that I was mostly, not completely, but mostly, not writing. I was looking over my feed reader (feeder?) most days, but resolutely not clicking around other people's comment fields. Because I was unplugging, seeing as how I was on vacation. And compared to my usual nervous habit of hitting refresh every time I pause, I was unplugged. I wasn't wondering about the conversation, I wasn't checking to see who'd responded. I was disengaged. And I felt flattened. I don't think it was causal, but I am also not sure it matters. Energy and writing are very connected for me just now. Not always good energy, often nervous, keep-you-up-all-night energy, but connected, definitely.

It is the manic part of my year. If I weren't so underslept I could take better advantage of it. So far, I have only managed to work that buzziness into writing. It is as though writing is a black hole for buzz and none escapes to get me going on other ventures.

And that has led me to wonder a lot about writing. And blogging as a specific medium in which to be writing. Having been at this for, what? almost five months, not terribly long but not quite green either, I know that this is one of the set pieces of blogging: "it has taken over my life, I can't give it this much time, other things are suffering, etc; farewell, my friends, I'm taking a break."

Which is not what this post is. I just took that break. Not the first one since I started, but the lengthiest one, and perhaps the most considered one. I entered this break not in a state of despair but actually riding high, in some ways, from the posts I put up before I left. I was very sad about Diva Dog, but writing the Dog's Life set was a sustained effort I hadn't yet made on the blog. To the extent that I'm using this space as a personal writing workshop, as a way to consider what it means to have a talent with words and exercise and hone it, those pieces felt to me like a success. A sort of mini-foray into a chapter form.

However, I'm not a writer. Not professionally. My life isn't actually structured to give me time to write, so when I do write, I'm stealing time from some other part of my life that is more important to my family's well-being. Usually, it's work or sleep. Sometimes, it's parenting, insofar as I let A. take on more Z. tasks than I feel completely unguilty about her doing. At least I let her during the summer, when she's available to take them on. Funnily enough, I don't feel so guilty during the school year, when I'm responsible for more of Z.'s routine.

On this vacation, this blog-break, I was with my family and I thought about them a lot. I was sleeping so much that I can't say I was exactly functional with them, but I was considering deeply what I'm doing to them in running myself down. I thought about my health. I thought about my work as little as possible, because it WAS vacation after all, but I thought about it some in the context of blogging.

I don't have answers. I'm trusting that if I feel better because writing is in my life, I should keep writing. I'm grateful to have a spouse who is willing to accommodate my need to write. And I have to find a way to do it without paying so steep a price for it.

Thoughts on this topic would be most welcome.