Summer Motivation

There are a few things that I feel everyone should do at least once to help gain perspective in life. You should work a retail job to better understand what it’s like to stand on the other side of a cash register. Everyone should have to try and run some sort of business to better know the kind of insane workload that entails. People should have to teach an unruly mob of children for at least a year strait to experience not just how rewarding it is, but also how the effort to hold it all together comes directly out of your hide and incidentally, why when teachers come home and grab a beer at 3:30 in the afternoon, it is most definitely for medicinal purposes. Experiencing these things informs you on how to act and react when you encounter the harried individuals who deal with these things on a daily basis. It teaches you empathy and to not stand on their frayed nerves through either obstinance or simple cluelessness.

Mowing a cemetery is one you might want to try some day as well and that is exactly what my wife, Action Girl, and I were doing just yesterday in a vain effort to get through the absurd list of “must do’s” before the time in our island hourglass runs out and the adventure begins. It’s high summer here on the coast of Maine and for us, that means it’s bugout time.

The beautiful islands, sandy beaches, dune grass and quaint villages of where we live acts as a siren song for tourists and they flock here in numbers that boggle the mind and at times, boil the blood. Mostly, they are a good natured lot with smiles, questions and appreciation of everything they encounter here in Maine, just truly happy to be experiencing “They Way Life Should Be”, as our state’s official motto puts it, and they come to experience in droves.

This is where it gets grating.

The produce and dairy sections in our little island market look as though it was attacked by vultures, the once full racks now striped to their metallic bones. If we decide to venture to the mainland for supplies, the time it will take to drive to and get through the big supermarket will be quadruple what it is in the off season due to the slow moving packs of holiday makers looking for lobster rolls, potato chips and sun block. Parking throughout the city is filled up with SUV’s sporting foreign license plates and those giant black hamburger things on their rooves, holding the extra debris of vacation that couldn’t be crammed into the driving compartment. There are people everywhere. EVERYWHERE! And really… I don’t blame them.

Hot Weather

The coast of Maine is wonderful.

Honest!

You should visit some time!

…Just let me get my bag packed, first.

As much as I understand why they come, there are some unavoidable issues that are part of the deal when you live in a place desirable for others to experience. It’s not really the depravations of milk and bread at the local market that makes it aggravating but rather, having to wade through the expanse of humanity on vacation on a daily basis while you, who are NOT on vacation, attempt to get on with your life without having your patience worn down to a painful little nub.

Okay! Okay! Maybe the “not on vacation” thing is slightly disingenuous coming from me. The truth of the matter is that both my wife and I are teachers, and that means that come summer we are in fact out of school, just like our children. This however doesn’t mean that we are kicking back, drinking rosé and eating cheese by noon each day. Summer is when our other jobs kick in and though they may be less intense than our normal school-time gig, they most definitely still count as work. Action Girl, never one to sit still for more than about three minutes, captains a ferry boat transporting clumps of eager vacationers to and from their long dormant island, summer cottages. On her days off, she can be found cleaning houses or teaching boat handling to land lubbers or if the time allows, perhaps doing some fine painting… or possibly fixing the plumbing. Meanwhile, I slide into my other rolls such as working at making our house actually habitable and weather tight using a maximum of noisy power tools and too much lumber. If I’m not making sawdust, I’m carving headstones. If I’m not carving headstones, then I’m desperately trying to make order in our little island house as our children follow in my wake, slowly destroying what was freshly accomplished. It’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. You start at one end and by the time you reach the other, it’s time to circle back to the beginning again.

See? Action Girl and I don’t get into the rosé and cheese until at least six or seven, just like normal folk. So how do we deal with the added weight of dealing with those “from away” as we attempt to enjoy summer? We flee. We become the enemy. We become… Tourists!

And that brings us back to the cemetery.

With the grass trimmed back nice and neat to the ancient stones, we can now cross its care off our list of responsibilities before we leave. Mow a cemetery some time and like any other job, you’ll be stunned at how much more work it is than you thought it would be, just like most things in life. We do a lot, and now, it’s almost time for us to go so that we can enjoy some perspective in our life as well. We know what it’s like here, and how nice it is, even with the extra work, but you know what we don’t know? What it’s like to be Dutch.

So we’re off to see the Netherlands in the height of Summer and we won’t be back for a good long while, the time made available to us being the one huge bonus of being full time school teachers. It’s beautiful here in New England and to leave our home empty while we’re away would be nothing short of criminal and so the best part is, our place won’t be wasted while we are gone. All our work: the carpentry, the gardens, the view and the expert plumbing will be enjoyed by a lovely Dutch family with whom we are exchanging homes. We will take their place just outside of Amsterdam and they will ensconce themselves on the rocky coast of Maine, each of us joining the tourist throng. I have no doubt that it’s going to be great and hopefully, with both families well accustomed to what it’s like to be neck deep in foreigners, we can adjust to being the best tourists possible. After all, living is about experiencing new things and I can’t think of a better gift to give ourselves, our kids and in this case, another whole family than the chance to gain the perspective of what it’s like to experience a whole new place full of beauty and good food. They won’t have to mow the cemetery, but they get to water our gardens, feed our cat and enjoy our corner of the world while we do the same at their place and I know that we will both do our utmost to be the best tourists possible. Just like all the others.

Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em…

Key to the Past

“What are you doing down there?”

This is something I’m completely used to hearing from my wife when I’m at my workbench in the basement. Half of the cellar is my undisputed domain and although my wife has no issue with that, she does get curious and/or concerned when whatever I’m doing isn’t under her watchful eye. It’s not a lack of trust issue as much as making sure that I’m not burning up time on a task that is utterly frivolous and fool hearty. I’d like to say that she has no reason for this concern… but I’d be speaking an untruth to say that my track record is without blemish. I’m rather drawn the overly-ornate-task-for-no-reason, in a moth to a campfire sort of way.

No. It’s worse than that.

A raccoon to a bag full of trail mix might be more like it. Both the raccoon and I know that it’s going to be awesome and it takes some serious countermeasures to keep us away.

“I’ll be right up. I’m… getting a key fob for the spare front door key.”

I wait with head cocked toward the staircase.

There’s a thoughtful pause from the cellar doorway. “I don’t want to know, do I?”

After more than twenty years of this sort of thing, my wife is getting better at reading situations like this.

I put my head down and move faster. The key fob was not lie in the least. It’s exactly what I’m up to. The part that was not proffered was that I was actually constructing one from scratch. It was going to be sort of special actually, at lest to me.

We are going away for a couple of days and our good friend Coley is coming over to feed and water the cat for us. To do this, he needs a key. More accurately, what he needs is a second key since the one we lent him last time we zipped off overnight was regrettably lost. The lost key was really sort of my fault since I had simply slipped the key off our ring and gave it to him all by its self. He had put it in his pocket and at some point, it had slipped out and was gone. For most folks, this isn’t a really big deal. You just go and have another one made for a buck somewhere. What made this a bigger problem than normal for me was that my front door key is the good, old fashioned, skeleton type.

At one time, all keys pretty much looked like mine. It’s long, toothy with a large ring at the back and cast in bronze.

I love it.

When Action Girl and I had bought our house, I was tickled to see that the front door still had the original lock and knob assembly from when it was built in 1900. There was a modern dead bolt carved in above it, but still, after a hundred years of upgrades and remodeling, it was perhaps the only bit of architectural originality still possessed by this pile of timber. It was the last piece that hinted to where it had come from and how far back. Everything else was new-ish. At least it had been new in the 1950’s, 1970’s and 1990’s. A lot of the house was faded and worn, but the beautiful front door still had its lock. What was missing was the key.

I’ve seen a lot of old doors in my time, interior and exterior and one thing is nearly always true: the key is long gone.

Big, jangly skeleton keys get played with by kids, lost out of pockets or worst of all, put somewhere “safe”. Shortly after moving in to our new home, I found myself in the as yet unfamiliar shed out back, rooting through the few items that the previous owners hadn’t bothered to take with them when they moved. I have no idea what prodded me to stick my fingers into the cobweb covered eaves in there on a hot, summer day, but when I came out with that key, the first thing that went through my mind was, “NO WAY!” Without hesitation, I bolted to the front door, completely expecting to be disappointed.

I wasn’t.

This was perhaps the first time in my life that I had ever found a skeleton key that matched some far off lock. Giddy with the discovery, I decided then and there that this would be my front door key form then on. I gleefully put it on my key ring and there it has stayed. The hard part was getting copies made. Pretty much no one can duplicate them any more. Even locksmiths. What I needed was a real, honest to goodness, old fashioned hardware store. The kind with dusty bins of patina covered metal bits and pieces, marked with faded labels written by hand. Luckily, there’s Dupuis’

Dupuis’ is everything a hardware store should be. It’s musty and badly lit. Items on shelves had been stocked easily as far back as the Carter administration. There were unboxed items for sale that probably had gone out of production a decade or more ago, but still had a place of honor at Dupuis’. My eighty-eight year old grandfather calls this place the, “Iron Monger’s Shoppe”.

I call them amazing.

The whole place is like a museum to hardware Americana. Oh… and they can cut skeleton keys. Usually, when I have keys made, I just drop them off and come get them later on, but not in this case. When I saw the belt driven, cast iron lathe that they used, I had to stick around and watch the process. About 20 minutes later, I had two copies and happily forked out the ten dollars per key. It was worth that much just to watch a master key maker at work using vintage tooling. Many years later, it had been one of these copied keys that our friend had lost and now, I was going to do something to help that from happening again.

Embracing my love for the nostalgic, I rooted around in a box down in my basement looking for something special. Long ago now, my other Grandfather, my Father’s Father, had passed away leaving behind a few objects of interest. His tools mostly now hang on nails at my parent’s house but one particular collection went to me. This grandfather of mine had been an avid appreciator of firearms and through owning more than a few, had also embraced the hobby of loading his own ammunition. My own Dad doesn’t have that much interest in guns having gotten his fill shooting at groundhogs and crows on the family farm as a youth and then later, drilling with an M16 in the National Guard. Firearms never really did much for him and so, over time, he drifted away from shooting. For whatever reason though, the fascination seems to have skipped a generation in our family and I happily use the guns that I inherited and even reload just like my Grandfather did, often times using his equipment. This was why I was in the basement. That’s where the reloading supplies are.

At the bottom of the plastic tote I was pawing through, I found the faded, stained and repurposed Schraft’s Chocolates box that had long ago been picked by my Grandfather for a new duty. When my own Dad had been just a young boy, it had been filled with fired, cleaned and de-primed Colt .45 brass. The pistol that had once fired all this brass was long gone before my time, probably traded away for another pistol or rifle that had caught his eye, but being the picture of an old Yankee, Grandpa had naturally not thrown out the brass. There might be a use for it, after all! I doubt that he had expected it to take something in the time frame of sixty years, though. As for the bullets…

In the spring, the ground thaws and burps up all manner of stones and lost items as it heaves. If you happen to be at the firing range and look at the sand berms behind the targets, you can also find loose bullets! Here, having spent a winter or two in the soft sand, they wiggle their way to the surface and glint in the morning light like lost bits of treasure. I can never resist grabbing a few and here, on my reloading bench, I sift through the scarred and dirty projectiles until I find a nice, copper jacketed .45 round. The soft sand had left no mark and the paper target that it had gone zipping through probably didn’t slow it in the smallest way. It looked new aside from the rifling marks on its flanks.

“Okay, Grandpa. You’ve got the brass so you must have the reloading dies too…”

I often talk to him when I’m sifting through his belongings. It’s been twenty-seven years since I could talk to him face to face, so chatting to his spirit will have to do. I like to hope that he can hear me somehow. It would make us both happy, I think.

Sure enough, I find the right bits and pieces and after about 10 more minutes of work, I have a perfect looking .45 round, minus the powder and primer and plus a hole that passes right through the base of the brass to allow the addition of the key ring. I give it a quick buff with some emery paper and… not bad, If I do say so my self!

“Hey, basement troll.” It’s my wife, Action Girl. “If you feel like joining us above ground, Coley’s here for the key.” With not a little bit of triumph in my step, I emerge to a warm handshake and a cold beer with our friend. Coley and we have gone shooting several times together in the past and he laughs when he sees the new key and accompanying fob.

“Well, I guess I can’t lose that one!” he chuckles as he pops it in his pocket.

Our vacation now over, our friend had returned my front door key with my Grandpa’s bullet key chain. Making it probably wasn’t the most constructive use of my time, but it was certainly an enjoyable allotment of some of my minutes. The added bonus is that every time I feel it in my pocket or see it sitting on the sideboard, it reminds me of him, the old style key sort of echoing the history for me. My children will never get to know my Father’s father, hear his voice or see his face form into that crocked smile like I have, but there will be a little bit more of him in my house now, and that’s good.

And the best bit for me is, when I want to do something with him, all I need to do is creep down to the basement and uncover my bench. He’ll be there, waiting in that old chocolates box full of spent brass and reloading dies, and I’ll chat to him a bit while I load up for a day at the range with our guns or just maybe just mess around making another doo-dad to help keep track of one of the keys to my front door.

Visiting Family

As we walked through the cemetery, I made sure to take the time to stop and read as many names as I could. If present, I would repeat quietly the short inscription, often in verse, that adorned the stone, giving me some sense of the person and the loss felt by the family and friends. By now, those who had mourned the passing of these grandparents, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and children, would themselves have passed on long before the birth of any whom I would have met in my own life time. This was an old place.

The stones that draw me in the most are carved slate. For those who enjoy walking through old burial grounds in New England or for that matter, any of the thirteen original colonies, the slate stones are very special. Often found resting at awkward angles and appearing to be impossibly thin for their size, our colonial era forefathers preferred the stone as the markers for their loved ones. Later, they would change to marble and then on to granite, but nothing is quite as stately as slate to my mind. It also holds up far better than anything else I’ve ever seen.

The car trip we were on had been long and hot and though it’s a drive that normally takes me about two and half hours when I’m solo, with two small children involved and the need for lunch breaks and potty stops, we had managed to stretch it out to about four and a half thus far, and there was still an hour more driving time to go. When my wife noticed the farm stand coming up on the right, we decided to make just one more pit stop in the attempt to placate Short Stack and Lulu Belle with fresh produce and see if we couldn’t keep the peace during the last push to get our selves home.

As we pulled in to the dirt parking lot, my eyes went straight to the adjoining ancient cemetery. Carefully mown, tended and surrounded by what was obviously a home made but very well done, iron rail fence. The posts were fashioned from coulombs of granite of the type you’d expect to see used as hitching posts or pasture markers. Indeed, they might have been just that at one time. As soon as I had gotten the kids out of the car, the three of us headed right to the edge of the fence and then over it as Action Girl went in to look for provisions.

A lot of people find cemeteries to be creepy or sad and if they don’t actively avoid them, they tend not to see them at all. They just seem to skip by on their radar. Me, I’m a history junkie. Worse than that, I’m a hopeless romantic of a history junkie. I love graveyards and feel not only comfortable in them, but actually happy and safe there. It’s not a giddy kind of happy that an archeologist might feel when they find something significant at a dig, but more of a, “being amongst friends” kind of happy. Looking at the names on the stones, everyone there looks to be kind and calm to me. The foibles of errant emotions and untold past arguments and unkindness are swept away by inscribed words like, “Mother” and, “Only Son.” In rest, they are all good people, dearly missed.

Short Stack and Lulu Belle love places like this as well. Since they have been able to walk, I’ve brought them to one of our local graveyards for some run around time. As I expected, they immediately headed off among the grave markers, voices squeaking and crouching down to hide. Short Stack, being an older, wiser three years old to Lulu Belle’s year and half, knows the rules for places like this. Running and playing is encouraged while showing the graves respect is necessary. He has at least the idea that each one represents a person in some fashion and even if he can’t completely wrap his mind around it yet, he does know that there are names written on them and will ask who they are. Lulu Belle is more into following him around and giggling at his antics rather than finding out who’s buried where.

The stones here go way back and the slate is still well defined and the names easy to read. This particular cemetery has been in use by the same families since the seventeen hundreds, all the way through to modern times and the stone types show the progression of the centuries. Sadly, as is often the case, the marble is nearly unreadable having stood up poorly to the increasing acids in our atmosphere and the salt spray from the nearby highway. This stone, favored by the people of the eighteen hundreds, simply melts away and a hundred years worth of family names disappears into the grass beneath our feet. Still, it’s a beautiful place and since the grounds are so well kept, I’m hopeful that someone knows who is resting here.

lydia littlefield

Action Girl’s return draws the kids to her like a magnet and strawberries are handed out to happy effect. We spend a few more minutes among the stones and enjoy our road side snack while we remark on the beautiful condition of this place as the kids meander about scarfing down double handfuls of berries, coloring their faces and hands with the warm juices. I notice happily that not a single stone on its back in the grass and that the bottom of each stone is unmarred by careless lawn equipment. Everything is as it should be and the names read like an unfamiliar family album. The Littlefield’s look to have started this plot and then the Grey’s were introduced and then the Winns. Other names begin as the stones get newer and the inscriptions act as lines on a family tree, announcing marriages, births and deaths, some even giving us bits of personal stories about those who are at our feet. I even find a stone with my daughter’s somewhat uncommon name on it. 1877 to 1977, she lived. Not a bad run by any account. If my little girl were old enough to understand, I would happily point it out to her. We walk along, putting this mostly unknown piece of our country’s history together with the names we find and I think about how spots like this are some of my favorite places to be. It’s quite wonderful, really.

The last leg of the trip is uneventful and the kids only squawk lightly about having to get back into a steamy, hot car. With the air conditioning on full blast, we continue on down the road. We’d be home soon after just one more stop to visit a party and be with some seldom seen family, including my children’s own Great Grandfather. It was interesting to be at the gathering after having looked into the past of another’s family and it helped me enjoy my self even more.

Some day, naturally, we shall all be gone. My hope is that at some point a young family might walk by my own clean, dark stone and read my name. Who knows, perhaps they will know me and will sit in the hot August sun for a while whilst they feast on fresh berries and enjoy the day. Who could ask for more?

Rock On

The house was hushed today during naptime except for the hum of a fan and the gentle music drifting out of the stereo speakers. Short Stack was tucked into our bed; his preferred napping spot. Downstairs, I toiled along on my computer desperately trying to get my brain to reconnect with the psychobabble that passes for college level discussions on educational methods courses.

The iPod has a few carefully selected playlists that get a lot of airtime in our house. Odd combinations of artists whom you would not expect to hear in the same mix roll through the living room on an endless loop. Norah Jones is followed by Billy Holiday who comes just before Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and then it’s on to some Dido and Loreena McKennitt. My “mix tape” building skills, honed throughout college, has come in handy. The common thread with this mix is the mood: Mellow. I actually named this particular playlist “Napping Folks” and it does a good job.

Then, I hear the tell tale sound of tiny, scuffing feet at the top of the stairs. HE’S UP!

The plan has been that he gets to go for a ride with Mom if he takes his nap a little early and wakes up in time. Action Girl is captain of the ferry to our island today, a relative oddity, and the chance for Short Stack to ride with her in the wheelhouse leaves both of them excited. After the Laurel and Hardy-esque dance of getting dressed, finding shoes, packing snacks and answering roughly twelve hundred questions about every single topic that might zip through his hyper distracted brain, we’re out the door and headed for the dock. With a hug, kiss and wave, he’s off for an adventure and I tromp back to the house alone.

Lulu Belle is at my folk’s, slowly disassembling their kitchen and moving it, one item at a time, into the living room. She’s helpful that way! When I step through the my front door, the soothing music that’s been playing for hours attacks me like ants crawling up a pant leg. A lunge at the stereo and it falls silent. Then… a new play list is started. A special play list. A Daddy play list. This one is all mine, and it…

is…

LOUD!

Action Girl and I have a lot of things in common. We love mountain biking. We enjoy making and viewing art. We have the same parenting philosophy. We love world travel. There is one path where we diverge heavily though. Music.

All right, there are several paths where we diverge, but music is the one that I come up against the most often.

There are very few musical forms I don’t enjoy listening to. For the most part, if it’s good music, I’ll happily listen. There are moments that seem right for just about any genre and my music collection has a sampling from most.

Mornings go great with Cat Stevens. Evenings are a little nicer with some Nina Simone. A dinner party with a little Edith Piaf? Sure! I like them all and so does she. However, on several million occasions, she’s come home unexpectedly while I’m listening to my own picks and said something along the lines of, “Can I just turn this off?” or, the less subtle, “What the hell IS that?!”

When I’m alone… and especially when there’s physical work to do, well… that calls for something different. The warmup often starts with AC/DC and escalates from there.

ac-dc

For what ever reason, Action Girl lost her taste for rowdy music long, long ago. This is even more curious since she and not I, actually attended an AC/DC concert back in high school. I don’t the reason, but I have been growing steadily towards the roudy stuff over the years.

Back in high school, the loudest thing I owned was Van Halen’s 1984, (which I still own in the original vinyl) Most of my stuff was more sedate, however. The Police, perhaps some Doors LP’s liberated from my Mom’s collection and a good deal of 80’s pop. That was about it. The punk beats of The Police planted the seed though and later lead me on to the Ramones… who in turn brought me to The Clash and then the Dead Kennedys and… you get the idea.

Now, when there’s manly work to be done involving power tools, hammers and possibly the first aid kit, I like to punch it up. The problem is that I almost never get that chance anymore. For ten years, I ran my own manufacturing shop. Most of the time, it was just a bunch of loud machines and I, alone in an ancient factory building. Orders were via fax and email so I never worried about customers coming through the door. This was the absolute PEFECT place to go nuts with the heavy metal and other musical obnoxiousness, and I did! I’d pound away with its driving beat all day. On my commute home, I’d cool down with something more main stream and mellower, if for no other reason than avoiding the temptation to drive like a testosterone poisoned seventeen year old. On the ferry ride back to the island, I might listen to some boisterious classical. Copeland, Verdi or Saint-Saens worked nicely and did a wonderful job of drowning out the chatter from clueless tourists. Once home, it was whatever Action Girl wanted. Often, this was nothing at all.

She enjoys her silence.

The day before Christmas last year, I sold my business. In one fell swoop I lost my place for listening to the corrosive heavy metal or electronica that I enjoyed, the drive home for my pop music listening and the boat ride for my zippy classical.

Short Stack seems to have taken after his mother when it comes to listening choices. Anything more rambunctious than Emmy Lou Harris will send him to me with his hands over his ears and the announcement that, “Daddy, this is TOO loud.” So, I wait for the rare times like this when the house is empty. I crank the volume to eleven and queue up The Offspring. Who knows, perhaps some day I’ll be telling Shorts Stack to “turn that DOWN!” …but I’m not betting on it.

In the mean time, when he’s at school and Action Girl is at work, Little Lulu Belle and I listen to music all day long. Nothing scary and fast, naturally, but I’m starting her off right in the hopes of having someone who’ll join me in rocking out one day.

She already likes the Talking Heads and will actually dance to Credence Clearwater Revival, so… there’s hope. Normally, I’ll stick to the relaxing stuff, but when the house is mine and there’s work to be done… hey, I’ve got to be able to hear it over the table saw, don’t I? I just need to make the lunge for the power before the front door opens and I get the greeting, “How can you listen to this?”

The politic answer is to simply shrug.

The one I say in my head is, “Loudly!”

Making friends with the natives.

There is a man who lives just a few streets over from me who is an arborist. He’s a quiet man, mostly of Native American lineage and mostly of the stoic variety. I had lived in the area for several years before he even started to acknowledge me, though we pass cross paths at least two or three times a week. Two things changed my status from, “Does not exist, as far as I’m concerned.” to “Deserves a head nod when seen.” and then, all the way to an actual verbal greeting.

The first event was initiated by Action Girl. One evening, the two of us had gone for a walk down some of the paths that snake through the woods around here. As we walked, darkness closed in sooner than we anticipated. I felt pretty good about taking the right trails back as we tripped on the exposed roots and rocks which seemed to suddenly fill the path. As we stumbled along, Action Girl somewhat jokingly told me to “channel my ancestors and get us home”. You see, among all the European blood that flows through my veins, there is also a good dose of Native American Indian.

We made it home with no issues other than stubbed toes and I thought nothing of it. Action Girl happened to have cause to talk with our Indian arborist a week or so later and made some off the cuff remark about me using my Indian blood to find our way out of the woods. That caught his attention.

“He’s part Indian?”
“Oh yah. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him but he has family from two different tribes. His great grandmother lived on a reservation a ways up the coast.”

Well, with out me realizing it, I had graduated to earning a head nod or even a two fingered wave from atop the steering wheel as he passed by. It caught me by surprise and it took effort on my part to not blow it by enthusiastically waving back or grinning like an idiot.

I am anything but stoic. My kids are DOOMED to be embarrassed by their dad.

The next thing that really got me in his “Okay guy” book was my son, Short Stack. My father had a tree that needed attention and hired our silent arborist to come take care of it. He showed up on the appointed day and climbed up the tree to take care of the offending, dead limbs. Short Stack was in the care of my folks that day and was helping Grandpa around the yard. As I’ve said before, Short Stack’s number one recreation is driving his toy trucks. Number two however, is helping. He loves to help. You can get him to do just about anything by framing it as “help”. Be prepared for enthusiastic truck noises that are apparently a necessity, though.

What our friend in the tree had, was a fantastic view of Short Stack running around in the yard, not playing, but really helping. Hauling little buckets of mulch, raking, watering flowers, his shoes and anything else from his knees down… for over two hours. He never stopped, whined, or got bored. For what ever reason, this impressed our stoic tree climber like nothing else could. When the cutting and trimming was done and his descent back to earth accomplished, he commented to my father about Short Stack’s work ethic and told him that if he was still cutting trees in fourteen years, he’d hire him.

So now, I’ve gone from being, “That new guy who smiles too much” to “That part Indian who smiles too much but has the hard working kid.”

Hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Our stoic friend blew me away this weekend by actually crossing the street to come and talk to me about some trees on my parent’s property, so… I guess I’m “in”. I think he even smiled. Though come to think of it, I was holding Short Stack at the time.

Whatever.

To me, it’s another little victory towards being accepted by my adoptive home and a step closer to not being “from away”, as the locals put it. With a little luck, in another 15 to 20 years, they might even start referring to our house with our last name rather than the name of previous occupants.

Hmmm. Well, maybe in 25 to 30, anyway.
We’ll make it. We’re in it for the long haul.

The Fog Monster vs. Action Girl

Spring is starting to get down right summery out there and since we live on the coast of Maine, this means one thing for sure: Fog.

At the moment of this writing, I’m sitting on our couch. Lulu Belle is lying down next to me, happily making “Nook, nook” noises as she chews the ever loving bejeezus out of her pacifier. The day is early, earlier than I prefer to see it, but in a bid to get Action Girl some badly needed sleep, I’m taking over as the first shift warden for our two month old and have moved her to the living room. As she wiggles away, I’m watching thick rolls of fog out side, moving through the neighborhood, making my already tired vision seem that much blurrier… but that’s okay.

I have fond feelings for fog. When I was a kid, I spent as much of the summer as possible at the family camp in Maine. We lived in New Hampshire and though it got foggy there too, it was mostly down in the swamps, which rather lacks romance… unless you’re an amphibian, I suppose. When we were in Maine, you could hear the fog horn distantly blowing from the lighthouse off shore. You had the sounds of sea gulls, hidden from view, wheeling in unseen air. The fog, like thick, wet bats of cotton would visibly roll down the streets and cover everything in beads of water. To me, it was a big part of the experience of being on the coast and I loved it. Still do, really. I’m nostalgic by nature and today’s foggy morning takes me back to those times of my youth.

Action Girl… she has other feelings. To her, the mournful, far away call of the fog horn makes her stomach drop. She hates the fog. It makes things harder than they have to be. It makes her day longer and means that she’ll be that much more exhausted when she gets home. You see, Action Girl is a sea captain. She dives rather large vessels for a living and to her, a day of fog means a day of driving by radar, never taking your eyes off the bow and watching out for knuckle headed bozos in other boats who don’t know what they are doing. Judging by the stories she has told me over the years, the bay isn’t short of knuckle headed bozos.

Her feelings about fog have become seared into her being. After visiting at a house not too far away last night, I decided to take the coastal route home, rather than through the village. It was dark out and the tide was in and I was hoping to take a peek at the breakers on the shore. I figured, “Hey, we live on the coast, we might as well enjoy it form time to time”. As we came around to the shore road, the picture was one of quintessential Maine. Rough rock faces were being slammed by towering white waves in an endless fight between land and ocean as lobster buoys bobbed some distance off and a bell buoy could be heard clanging in the distance. The air was warm and the whole scene was shrouded in fog. I immediately smiled and was happy we went this way, then I heard the groan from the passenger seat. Sitting next to me, Action Girl looked out at the exact same scene. What I saw as an oil painting waiting to happen, to her looked like a lot of work.

In just a few days now, Action Girl will be going back to work after a long hiatus following her pregnancy and birth of Lulu Belle. It’s been ages since she’s had to deal with fog and now it looms large in her mind. It’s just another factor that makes her job that much harder, and I sympathize.

As I look up now, the sun is shining warmly and the fog is quickly burning away. The warning horn from the nearest lighthouse is still blowing, but will stop soon. By the time she gets up today, I’ll be on my second cup of coffee and Lulu Belle will be on her third diaper, but the fog monster will be gone and I won’t mention it to her. She has enough stress in her life.

Secretly though, I’ll continue to enjoy the sight when it comes. It’s part of living in Maine and thus, part of why we’re here. I’m just glad that I don’t have to drive in it too. Sorry, Action Girl.

Do not take the night train from Munich to Prague

Last night was one of THOSE nights. The reality of having a baby or toddler is that you don’t get a consistent, good night sleep for… well, I don’t know… It’s been two years now of sleep being interrupted, sometimes several times a night. With Lulu Bell on the way, we know that this is only going to get more entertaining. To this mix, add that I am a far lighter sleeper than Action Girl and as of this writing, far more mobile, seeing how Lulu Belle will be joining us in about three weeks. So the up shot is, I am almost always the one who gets up to attend to the two AM call of our son. When I’m away from my family overnight, it almost kills me because I want to be there with them. On the other hand, during such occasions I sleep like the dead. Sometimes when I know I’ll be alone for a night, the anticipation of a full night’s sleep is almost like the excitement before going on an adventure… but far quieter. My definition of a good time has defiantly changed with age.

All this makes last night far more painful. Last night, Short Stack was sound asleep, yet Action Girl and I were wide awake… for hours… and hours. It was awful. We had initially woken up to deal with our kiddo, who needed a pants change and a fresh bottle, but he was quickly back in bed and playing with candy penguins and dump trucks full of cookies. I actually heard him laugh in his sleep at one point. For various reasons, neither of us could manage to fall back to sleep. It was crazy-making. Action Girl gave up first and moved to the sofa down stairs. I shortly followed and took up residence on the other sofa. As I sat there sipping my warm milk and looking out at the front yard, I remembered the worst… by far, WORST night we had ever had together.

About seven years ago we had been traveling through Europe on the cheap. It’s hard to imagine, but you used to be able to do that. We were traveling cheap partially because funds were limited but also because we were with with my best friend and “brother”, The Doctor. The Doctor is a year younger than I and we have been best friends since we met in a combined 3rd/4th grade class room back during the Velour Shirt Age. We are both only children and we have always referred to our selves as brothers. He has always been part of my life. I can always count on him. He has a heart the size of the moon, an intellect that astounds me on an regular basis and he can be unbelievably cheap at times.

We had traveled together, the three of us, for about two weeks. We had been having a great time and seen a lot. Mostly we had stayed in youth hostels and for those who have never tried this, they they can often be pretty awful. The noise, the crummy beds, the drunk fifteen year olds. Ahh, good times. We had endured quite a few of this sort of establishment when by accident, we happened across the best B&B ever in Oberammergau, Germany. It’s called der Gasthaus Rose. It’s been tarted up a bit since we were there, but even then, it was like an oasis of civilized living, and back then, very inexpensive to boot! After all the fun and excitement of hosteling, this place was heaven. We were going to spend one night. We spent three.

The travel plans were to go from Oberammergau to Munich and from there to Prague. The Doctor was getting impatient sitting in a sleepy, little alpine village and wanted to get on the trail again. We elected for just one more night of down duvets and pastoral serenity. His offer was to head out a day ahead of us and secure lodging for the three of us in Prague. We’d get one more night in Oberammergau and he’d greet up at the train station when we arived. His insistence was he would take the night train and thus, not miss out on a day of exploration that would other wise be lost in travel. We would take the same train the next day. We agreed and he pushed off, traveling pack attached to his back like a giant nylon tick. The two of us walked into the town, spent too much money on a wonderful day and shuffled off for a happy evening in the shadows if the Alps. We had no idea how much we would be cudgeled by fate the next night. The Ammer river snaked through the village, looking for all the world like it was made of Sapphire Gin and the cow bells could be heard up in the low pastures. It was so beautiful just then. It was going to get ugly tomorrow.

oberammergau_1900.jpg
(Oberammergau in 1900. It isn’t all that different today. Just more tour busses and fewer horses.)

More tomorrow.

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