Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gifts of the Lake

Over the years the lake has given my family many gifts:
  • A paddleboard.
  • A kiteboarding kite (light wind).
  • A boat (okay, that wasn't a gift, it was our neighbor's).
  • Countless shovels, pails and sand castle forms.
  • Toy boats.
  • A six pack of Colt 45 that Brother and I tasted (warm) when we were about 12 and decided grown ups were crazy for drinking that nasty stuff.
  • Half smoked cigarettes we also tried and abhorred.
  • A wakeboard with bindings just the right size.
(Yes, we tried to find owners for the valuable items. Most times, however, the items had no apparent owners.)

Perhaps the best find of all time, however, was not purchased in a store. A wide tree trunk, sawed in half length-wise blew in one summer when we were kids.

The three of us turned it into a paddle board, raft, and pirate ship. Playing for years with it until it finally fell apart.

It was just the three of us, summer after summer. We didn't have an iPod, Netflix, or Wii to keep us entertained. We just had endless days, each other, and our imaginations.

Now, when I try to share that experience with my children, I feel like the storybook father telling his kids to buck up, because, after all, he had to walk five miles to school. Every day. In the snow. With no boots on.

"Live without technology?" they say. "Are you crazy, Mom?"

Times have changed, but we are still always sad to leave the lake and it's not the Wii or Netflix we'll be missing. Instead, it's the endless summer days, time with family, and the gifts of the lake we'll always treasure.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Ever notice how the tension builds before a storm? Hours, even days before, the air outside starts feeling stuffy, adults are easily irritated and children restless or bored.
Everytime I visit my parent's summer place, I notice a sweet saddness growing in me as the day to leave draws near.
I could not feel the storm clouds gathering far across Lake Michigan. But I could feel the wind changing. Blowing a hot embrace I felt pushing me, pressing me to go.
This afternoon  I sat on the dock trying to breathe in all that I could of this place. Soak in the sunshine as if I'd never see it again.
Soon the storm was building across our lake. Weather Bug was consulted. Yes, a big one was on the way.
There is never enough time to do it all. I didn't visit the nearby village. Didn't catch up with the neighbors. Didn't have that talk with Dad. Never managed an adventure with Brother.
We prepared by covering the grill, bringing in the towels, battening the hatches. I walked out to the point to watch until the rain began and lightening was overhead.
There is comfort knowing I may return again next summer with another chance to soak it all in. But I also know that nothing ever stays the same and next year there will be a new list of life undone.
Tomorrow, as sure as tonight's thunder rolled along the hills shaking my bed with its rocking beat, we will leave and the weather will change. But for tonight, even the front's passing does little to relieve the pressure I feel inside as I turn my face homeward.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Precious Moments

Tonight I watched a spider spin its web. Predetermined precision, line after line. Watching the spider spinning, I marveled at the mystery of how the spider knows what to do.

Around and around the spider goes -- looking like some tiny machine. Every evening taking nearly an hour to construct the new web. 

I couldn't draw a web as well as the spider spins it. A programmer might be able to program a bot to spin a web, but under every condition? A scientist may be able to clone one, but could she write its genetic code?

Earlier Mother was telling Son about the loon migration. Every fall the parents fly south first leaving their young to figure it out on their own. Aren't you glad you aren't a loon?

What calls the juvenile loon south? How do monarch butterflies manage to make the long flight to Mexico? Even when I learned migratory creatures have some type of built in compass, that doesn't explain it to me satisfactorily. 

It's easy to be wrapped up in my to do list and miss the life that is going on around me. Swimming past along the bottom of the lake, an invertebrate. Slowly eating its way through the sand in a long, snaking path, a clam. Spiraling past in a mating dance, two dragonflies. 

It is easy to forget that all life is connected. We all came from the same source, and are here only a small fraction of time. A bat snacking on insects along the lake shore. The spider spinning its web. Me talking to my mother and brother.

Each day I lean into the experiences of my life as fully as I can, to feel it all. Joy and sadness. Hurt and comfort. Anger and laughter. And unlike the spider, I have choices in how I live my life, every precious moment. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Leaving Here

Today was the perfect day. Warm, gentle breeze. Clear and sunny. I washed all of our clothes --even the jeans-- and hung them up on the line. You know it's a perfect day when you can wash the jeans in the morning and they get dry before dinner.

When I went to turn the clothes, their outsides were warm and dry, the insides cool and still damp. There is no rushing the drying of laundry on the line. The tending of it, however, marks the day's passing.

The neighbors came over for cocktails and we sat in the shade chatting until we realized it was 7 p.m. and no one had started dinner. Brother, Miss, Granna and myself all made dinner. We ate as the sun slowly sank behind the hill. It's peachy glow lasting for an hour afterwards.

Son spent much of the day cutting dead branches off the trees that Grandpa pointed out. He climbed up a ladder and then into the tall pine while I sat doing my best not to give him too much advice.

We moved the slack line across the field and tested our balance. I crossed with the aid of Son and a walking stick, pausing only at the center to test the bounce.

And swimming, swimming, swimming.

Just a few more days until we go. Trying to soak up every last bit of goodness this place has to share before heading home.

Friday, July 27, 2012


The correct choice may be right in front of you and it is only your uncertainty or impatience that keeps you from seeing it.

I met a couple of young men in the hotel elevator this morning. They told me they went off-roading for seven hours yesterday...  5 of which they were lost.

It's easy to get lost in the U.P. Perhaps it's even a mandatory part of the experience, like eating pasties or buying fudge in Mackinaw City.

Wednesday Granna, Son and I took a 3 mile hike and found ourselves at an apparently unmarked convergence of paths. Not sure of the right way to head, we took a walk in a couple of directions before it became plain we were wrong. We started to worry we were lost. I even walked all the way back to the last sign post to check to be sure we were on the right path.

Finally we tried the only way left before us, but a way that looked certainly wrong. Yep, you guessed it. That was our path.

It was a good reminder that the correct choice may be right in front of you and it is only your uncertainty or impatience that keeps you from seeing it. Don't be afraid to test out a few wrong directions before you get on the right track.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dunes and Debt

When you look out over Lake Superior, it stretches beyond the horizon. The waves are huge even when the wind is a gentle breeze. It's impossible not to compare it to the ocean, yet it has no tides and whales do not swim within the deeps.

I tried to give Son an idea of the size of this magestic lake, but don't think I succeeded; the scale is just too large.

On the boat tour of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the tour guide said Lake Superior has 3 quadrillion gallons of water, enough to flood the entire North and South Americas with a foot of water. Can you imagine how much water that is? I can't.

It's like trying to imagine the size of the universe. Carl Sagan tried this way:

“A handful of sand contains about 10,000 grains ... the total number of stars in the universe is greater than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth.”

But how do I even begin to imagine all of those grains of sand? No wonder we tune out when talking about the national debt. A billion, a trillion, what's the big difference? Right?

Try turning seconds into years. One trillion seconds is equal to about 31,000 years. A billion seconds is just 31 years. Whereas a million seconds is about 10 days. It helps to have numbers correspond to experience, doesn't it?

The national debt is $15 trillion. That's about 460,000 years of seconds-- an amount of time beyond my experience or comprehension. No wonder we tune out instead of panicking.

So my mind travels back to the lake, where I climbed a dune the size of a mountain and looked out on seemingly endless blue water. I wonder how many grains of sand are in a sand dune and how many drops of water are in this fresh water sea?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Middle of Nowhere

Today we took a road trip up to the U.P. Mother likes to say it's like going to another country without needing a passport. Son says it's more like the middle of nowhere. I'm just hoping to see a moose.

We planned to stay overnight in Paradise. Unfortunately when we got there the whole town was shut down: four hours without power. Much to the irritation of the business owners, the power company couldn't say why it was out or when it would be back up.

When you live in the middle of somewhere four hours without power is an inconvenience. When you live in Paradise, it's a near disaster.

Without power the phones don't work, you can't make room keys, you can't process credit card sales, cook meals, pump water from the well, flush the toilet or check in new guests. The manager sent us 40 miles down the road to the next nearest town where she hoped we'd be able to find a room.

Fortunately the gas station had a generator, because with less than an eighth of a tank we would have been stuck in Paradise if we hadn't been able to gas up.

On the way to the next town, we drove to Whitefish Point where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down in '75. The beach was covered with beautiful granite rocks polished into eggs and ovals by powerful Lake Superior storms.

Later a "short" loop trail at Taquahmenon Falls (see Longfellow's Hiawatha) turned out to be nearly an hour's walk. We ate dinner at a restaurant where they had examples of all the local animals (including a wolverine) stuffed and mounted on the walls.

I have yet to try a pasty (a meat pie that lumberjacks used to carry for their lunches), but there's always tomorrow. I promise I'll eat one if I see a moose!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Balance of Freedom

Noise! Noise! Noise! Racing up and down the lake at top volume, Baja boats are faster, louder, flashier than any other boat on the lake. They conjure up the image of the young, sexy man with women hanging on each arm.

In reality, it's usually 40 something, beer guzzling dads who are the ones able to afford the 100k plus price tag (used). These puppies cost nearly $900 to fill with gas, and m.p.g. is never mentioned in the specifications.

The noise of their engines drowns out all conversation as they fly by. You can hear them at 10 miles away. The roar of their thunder is a rush for their owners and a curse for everyone else.

How do we resolve the conflict between the freedom of one person to blow $900 on gas roaring up and down the lake all day at with the desire of another to have quiet reflection? It sometimes seems like the people doing all the compromise are the ones who give up their quiet.

How do we walk the line between all and none? The NRA feels that assault rifles should be allowed under the Constitution. Those of us who believe that guns are for hunters and the police end up compromising far beyond our comfort level when handguns are freely available and assault rifles are used to mow down movie theater patrons.

Yes, I agree freedom is a fundamental right that we should protect. But freedom is tricky because many freedoms conflict. I want quiet, you want loud and noisy. One of us is going to lose. Instead of fighting about who is right, why can't we talk instead about how we can find the balance between all or nothing.

I'm not saying this is easy. In my own family we struggle with the balance. My brother feels fine with having his kids play video on vacation, where I define vacation as a time away from screens. Working out this conflict is fraught with landmines. Nearly as dangerous as bringing up politics or religion, but far easier than the issue of the Baja boat to resolve.

I once heard that a compromise isn't fair unless both sides are hurting. Tell me, where is the hurt that the Baja boat owners are feeling? Who is feeling the pain of assault rifles being legal? How do we bring freedom back into balance for everyone? I wish I had the magic answer.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Joy in looking and comprehending is nature's most beautiful gift. -- Albert Einstein

The Lake's Heartbeat

Where does inspiration arise from? From the sun and the lake, of course.

In the summer of the north woods, there's usually no cause for air conditioning. Morning fires to take off the chill are more the norm.

But today, like everywhere else this summer, it was hot. A 90 degree wind came out of the northwest blowing us dry all day.

We took turns in the hammock. Sitting by the water in the deep shade we tried to read, but mostly ended up napping.

Projects were started and abandoned. In and out of the lake we went in a fruitless effort to keep cool. Even the M&Ms could not withstand the heat and melted.

At sunset I coaxed Son into the water. We swam out with the paddle board and splashed and played as the sky turned from blazing peach, to coral, then purple.

The first star appeared. He borrowed my towel. I faced the wind and let it blow through me.  The waves rolled and splashed to shore, surrounding us with the lake's heartbeat.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Shared Love

Tonight my brother said, "Let's pretend its 1963 and it's just the four of us" Mother, Dad, Sister and Brother. Before our family became 5. Before we grew, left home and started families of our own.

Free from the responsibility of being role models, you could feel a comfortable lightness at the table. We laughed as we forced Dad to eat kale chips. Mother hardly frowned as Brother purposely and repeatedly belched.

Back then he was 2 (almost 3) and I was 4 (and belches at the table were not permitted). So we couldn't recall much of those days except the news of President Kennedy's assasination preempted Captain Kangaroo. (Apparently we watched a lot of T.V.)

I remembered Walter "Crite-crite" talking as horses pulled a casket through the streets. We shared other special words: teetus cars (VW bug) and dink donker (turn signal). That red M&Ms made you stop, green ones made you go and brown ones made you spin until you fell down.

Those experiences and ones buried so deep I cannot recall them, line the soft place in my heart where my love for Brother lives despite our ups and downs.

These days my two children fight like cats and dogs. It is amazing how mean siblings can be -- hitting the weakest spots with barbs and poisoned arrows. They both frequently swear their lives would be better without one another, and sometimes I almost agree.

Still I hope someday they will sit at my table and tease me the way Brother teased Mother tonight. And they will rediscover the shared love that lies deep within each of them.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Little Bird

It's not everyday you get up close and personal with a Pine Warbler. They are usually flying high up in the tree canopy.
Would you believe me if I told you this Pine Warbler wanted its picture taken?

It started when we discovered a baby bird fallen from its nest. We were just explaining to children that the best course of action was to leave it alone when the adult birds swooped in and started scolding ,"Leave our chick alone!"

I wanted to take a picture but Son told me that I needed to keep my distance. As you might imagine we watched the adults feeding the baby for quite a long while. As evening came Miss worried that the chick would not survive the night.

Next morning we found the family safe and sound in a less trafficed area. The following day we found the chick being urged to climb a tree by its parent who perched nearby. It was facinating to watch as the tiny bird struggled to grasp the bark and flutter to gain a higher foothold before giving up.

The following day I decided to quietly observe the feeding ritual. By this time the parents had decided that we were no threat and came and went freely. I was just getting up to leave when an adult flew in with a nice, fat inchworm in its beak. After feeding the chick, it flew to a branch closer to me, then hopped along the ground until it was practically at my feet!

I snapped picture after picture until the bird looked at me one last time and flew away. Next day the chick flew and the family was gone. I am left with no doubt that the bird came closer to see me for who I am and to acknowledge our shared experience. I hope I was not found lacking.

Dear Reader, have you sat quietly outside and communicated unexpectedly with a wild bird or animal? Please tell me your story in the comments.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Digital Epitaph

"When you are busy taking photos, you don't notice the camera is blocking the way to your heart."

Perhaps foolishly, this summer I decided to sort, tag and delete my way through my photos. All eleven thousand of them. It's slow going, especially when I keep adding new ones every day. At the rate I'm going, I'll have 100,000 photos before I'm through purging.

You'd think it would be easy to go through and cut some of the chaff. Sure the blurry ones are a cinch to chop. Yup, I can delete that one where your eyes are closed. And just how many photos do I need of the sailboat.  Really, a sailboat? 

But when it comes to the photos of the children, I find myself clinging to each small glimpse of a time gone by. Here's a shot of Miss leaping out of the water smiling. Here's one of Miss leaping out of the water while making a funny face. Here's Miss leaping out of the water when she was 7. How can I possibly cut any of these treasures?

Traveling back in time through my Picassa library, I am surprised to see how much my children have changed. I imagine it's a bit like what Granna experiences when seeing them after months of being apart. With each glimpse into my past, I feel nostalgic, wishing those days of innocence were still here. Then I sober. Really? Back then I could hardly wait for them to grow up!

Tonight at dinner Dad was talking about going through a box of photos of our young family. Film limited the number of shots Mother took and each print was special -- even the blurry ones. He had me look through a box of photos from my grandmother's era.  I found myself guiltily thinking, "Who were these people? Why do I care about them when I only have a vague idea of how they are related to me. Shouldn't he purge some of them?"

Dad's box of photos spanned more than 120 years.  There couldn't have been more than 3000 photos for all that time and yet I could easily part with more than half of them.  Made me wonder what will happen in the future to all of these digital records of mine that I can't bear to part with.

I sometimes get a half-urge to write up a digital destruct directive (DDD) for my will. It would give explicit instructions about social media accounts to delete (at least the most recent 20 or so) and what to do with the rest of my digital trail (including photos, websites, bank accounts etc.). Morbid, right? That's why I haven't done it yet.

Yet the idea of one final status update appeals so I keep on thinking about it. Call it my digital epitaph.

Dear Reader, if you were going to write a digital epitaphone, what would yours say?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer Rain

Even the rain won't stop me from swimming.

Something that the Pacific Northwest and Northern Michigan have in common is the  mornings in July that require a fire. Even on warmer days, evenings cool to provide natural air conditioning for good sleeping. Local children in both regions will not let rain stop them from having outdoor summer fun.

Today was a rare rainy morning. It started out slow while we all buried our noses in our screens. Friends dropping by in early afternoon stirred things up and everyone gathered around the dining room table to play Eucher and Uno. Was it a small miracle that all our screens were off, we were all indoors and we were playing cards? Together!

By mid-afternoon we were all stir crazy, and rain or no, people headed outside. In Seattle children will play in the 55 degree Sound in 68 degree weather. In Michigan it's swimming and skiing in water that's warmer than the air and rain that won't stop.

Near sunset the skys cleared just as they often do back home and I took my second swim of the day. How delicious it was to dry off in front of a beach fire. The only thing missing today was s'mores. Unfortunately someone (all of us) ate up the last of the chocolate bars.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Swimming Deep

I've spent my life swimming. Most of it in Torch Lake, a northern Michigan lake fabled to be one of the three most beautiful lakes in the world.

Its clear turquoise water and golden sandy bottom spoiled me for other lakes. Yes, I have swum in others, but I never felt clean afterwards.

The lake starts out teeth-chattering cold in early summer. By mid-July the water is tolerable enough for grandmothers to venture in, skinny boys to play for awhile, and for me to stay and float.

On warm evenings I'll sneak out to the dock after everyone is asleep, slip out of my clothes and into the bracing water. Looking up at the stars, I float and send my mind out to travel among them.

Some days the family piles in the boat and goes out deep water swimming. We love the freedom we feel swimming a mile from shore in 200+ feet of water. Perhaps it's the thrill of it, for many guests feel uninterested in trying, or perhaps it's the deep connection to the infinite we share that makes us feel as tight as we ever are when we jump off the boat together.

Suspended under the blue sky I dive, swim down into the cold with eyes open, watching the water deepen in color as I descend. Then turning to the rays of the sun, I  rise until the blue-green surface of the lake is a mirror I break through to breathe again. Human.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

North Woods

There's a stillness in the woods that you can't find on any mediation retreat. Walking along a  quiet path the trees stretch up into the sky and embrace you in their canopy.

You'd hardly guess today that the North Woods of Michigan were logged off more than 100 years ago by Maine investors looking to grow their riches out West. After the lumber barons were gone and the lands logged clear, little was done in the way of reforestation.

Eventually maples grew up and white pine. You'll also find random groves of red pine evenly spaced like soldiers in their rows. These trees were planted in the 30's by the Civilian Conservation Corp, bringing jobs to this impoverished region as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal.

The economy of this region has never been reliably strong. There's a local saying, "View of the bay, half of the pay." The farm houses and back-road single wides have changed little over the past 50 years, except for the relatively recent addition of indoor plumbing. Yet the poor economy has been a boon to slowing the development of one of the nations most beautiful regions and leaving quiet forests untouched.

Ironically, it's easy in the North Woods to sit on the lake shore all day long when summer finally arrives, never venturing into the forest. But on grey days when the North wind blows, a hike deep the woods is a welcomed outing. Good for the mind and strengthening the body.

Today I stopped on my hike for a long while and listened to the sound of the wind in the tree tops. Drinking in the lush green surroundings, for one precious moment, I sat alone, in the presence of the woods.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Showing up

Some days the best I can do it to show up. It doesn't always mean that I don't have anything to offer.  It can be because I don't have ideas, yes. But more likely it's that I don't have the drive to get them down.

I've been posting a new blog post everyday now for 15 days. It's no wonder that today I'm having an attitude problem.  Two half-baked ideas rumble around in my brain. One is artist/editor/agent -- which my editor has shut down before much writing got invested (don't have the audience for it yet). Another failed post is boredom vs. inertia. No great story to illustrate my point came to mind there.

In fact I don't have much of a story to tell today except it's above 90, I spent a long time talking to mom and then dad, made pizza on the grill and even swimming all day didn't successfully cool  anyone down.

On days like today, just putting something down in any form of writing feels like enough. If I didn't have this blog-a-day challenge I'd set for myself, there would be a blank entry where today's post should be.

I will meditate on the Pine Warbler, who finding her chick had fallen prematurely out of the nest, spent two days guarding it and feeding it until it could fly. That bird embodied showing up!

Sunday, July 15, 2012


If you aren't a parent, you probably should stop reading right here and click through to the next web nugget. This is a tale of best intentions, vows that are broken, and compromising one's values in ways you promised yourself that you never would. I'm betting my parent readers have all been there at least once with their children. This post is dedicated to you.

In the glow of new parenthood, when you are your child's world, It is easy to make every decision for him. But when your child grows up and it dawns on you (and him) he has a mind of his own, suddenly flexibility becomes a virtue and an ultimatum a two-edged sword.

I was one of those parents who swore my child would never have a toy gun, much less a real one. Being a city girl, I viewed guns as weapons you buy to kill people with. Not in my house. Not in my family.

Today I found myself defending my anti-gun stance in the hardware store checkout line with Son. For those of you living in the country, it will not come as a shock that pellet guns sit in the place reserved for candy in urban stores. I, however, was totally unprepared to discuss it. Afterall, I had come in to buy anti-slip strips for the bathtub, not a gun!

Now that the boys are entering the passage to manhood, guns are something my rural family members give their sons for Christmas. A tool (most definitly not a toy) used by fathers to teach their sons how to hunt.

And hunt they do. This summer the squirrel population was deemed annoying by the powers that be. Safety instructions and cautionary advice was doled out (you-must-remember-this-gun-can-kill-a-person-if-you-shoot-just-right) and the boys were sent out to dispatch some squirrels.

Yes, Son participated in the kill. The first squirrel died a slow death and I could not watch as Brother went to the boys' aid to help finish the job.

Why did I, an anti-gun advocate, allow my son to participate in something I find abhorrent? What happened to my standards? Am I sliding down that slippery slope to allow Son to get his way and ignore my rules? Have I betrayed my own moral convictions?

Whatever happened to the promises I made to my newborn son that I would raise him to be a peacemaker instead of warrior?

Turns out I didn't have enough experience or information to make that promise. How was I to foresee all of the people who would need to be involved in living this decision of mine?

No doubt you've heard the adage "it takes a village to raise a child". What that doesn't say is the villagers will have many ways of life different than my own.

Turns out the only way to raise my children to believe as I do is to isolate them from people who think differently from me and to rule my home without room for negotiation. That stance does not sit well with me.

If we are to raise children that are problem solvers and peacemakers, they must learn how to negotiate as well as experience different points of view. So perhaps I can find room for my son to learn gun safety and skills while I model compromise and negotiation.

Come to think of it, maybe guns really are peacemakers after all.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Panoramas

Drumlins, she called them. The remains of the glacial retreat. The road rising and falling in a gentle rollercoaster.  Northern Michigan is covered with these hills and valleys, sparkling lakes and stunning vistas. Beautiful scars of a geological era we can hardly imagine.

My grandmother would always call from the front seat "Look at the panorama!" when driving to a particularly high hilltop. Brother and I would scorn the feelings she tried to share as she looked out over a horizon where three bodies of water were visible between the hills. "Boring old people stuff" we thought.

What is it about youth that does not want (or perhaps is not able) to appreciate beauty? When does that mad rush to aquire experiences mellow to include an appreciation of them?

Dad always laments the inability of adults to teach their hard-earned lessons to the next generation. If we could find a way to skip the need for each person make the same basic mistakes over and over, he thinks, perhaps we could have the time to learn new ways of solving the world's problems.

As I listened this afternoon to three generations playing shuffleboard together, I felt glad that some experiences bear repeating. The fun of teaching a skill to a younger player. The compassion we learn when we are consoled. The confidence gained in experimenting, then surviving our mistakes.
It's easy to get lost in the details of the day. Meals to be made, rooms to be vacuumed, rides to be given, and email to read.  Sometimes I go for weeks at a time with my head down without having an opportunity to look up and see where I am.

This winter, when all is dark and the rain and cold narrow my horizons, I plan to  bring to mind my grandmother as she looked out over the drumlins. And keep her words close to my heart.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Do I Look Fat?

"You can't complain if you have no skin in the game."

When I wrote Feminist Bikini last week I knew I had the perfect photo for the post. You may recall the photo of the girl I flirted with at the sand bar so I'd remember my place to come back to? Did it attract your attention or skepticism? Women, how did you feel when you thought about your ass compared to that piece of one?

But then I started thinking about one of the rules for life that I try to live by: you can't complain if you have no skin in the game. If I want to feel credible with myself, then I need to man (!?) up and put my skin in the game. Literally.

So here it is. Do you think I'm fat?

Every woman I know wants assurance that she looks good. The question is so basic that it has become a running joke. A husband's wrong answer can have him end up in the doghouse...and just about any answer he gives will be the wrong one.

Sister(-i-l) says I'm a braver woman than her. Mother fears the permanence of the internet. And she has a point. One of my only photos on the internet will be this one. Take that Google facial recognition!

One of the gifts of being past the age of reproduction is the freedom to no longer worry about attracting a mate. Not that I don't care how I look, but more than that I only care to be with someone who sees and cares for me below the surface. This photo will establish a pretty high benchmark to meet, right?

So dear Reader, will you answer my question, "Do I look fat?"

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Milky Way

"Inspiration can be found in every action if you just pause long enough to see."\

I think the thing the kids most look forward to in summer is sleeping in. 10:30 a.m. and not a peep from the four slumbering teens. Miss is now on a 16 hour stretch, broken only by a brief midnight snack. Son was up looking at the stars at 2 so I don't expect to see him anytime soon.

Living in the city I have few opportunities to bask in the light from the Milky Way and watch for space junk hurtling by. Last night the lake was so still you could hear someone talking two miles away. The starlight reflected off the water and ended its long journey in my eyes.

With no moon in the sky, I was surprised to find the sky lighter than the trees above. We sent our mind's eyes far into space and stood holding hands in the deep quiet.

This morning as I reflect on that special moment with my son, I remind myself to soak it in where I can. To pause and wait for the ideas to bubble up. To close my digital screens and rest my eyes. To open my ears and mind to the drifting meditation that takes me into a deep well where inspiration and perspective is found.

Dear reader, where do your ideas come from? Do you find (screenless) space everyday for quiet?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Every Sunny Minute

Today was one of those summer days you want to etch into your memory. Warm, but not too hot. Calm and boatless for much of the day. A gentle afternoon breeze, enough for an easy sail. And all the time in the world stretching out in front of you, inviting us to play.

We finally managed to tear the boys away from the wii, Granna away from her book, Dad away from his numbers and me away from my business planning, and all get in the water. Miss played in the shallows with a neighbor for hours. Countless handstands, somersaults and mermaid stories were enacted.

I swam with Mother and Dad separately, kayaked a mile out into the center of the lake and back (a first!), tried out (not so successfuly) the new stand up paddleboard, and took Son on a sail 3 miles out.

Together we prepared ribs, homemade potato salad and orange chocolate cake for dinner. The boys went out fishing with Grandpa, while Miss slept off her first case of sun sickness.

Yes, an African American child can get sunburned while using SPF 30. Yes, its possible to have too much of a good thing (at least that's what my back is telling me). Yes, everyone went to bed hours before their usual time: whupped.

Tonight I'm planning to sleep soundly knowing that I went all out today and didn't waste a minute.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Watching the sun go down is one of summer's sweet pleasures. At the lake we like to tell time by the sun. "It's one hour 'till sunset, time to go fishing."

On vacation I try to let go of time and fall into the rhythm of the rising and setting of the sun. Easier said than done when your book is on a tablet and time is ever-present in its margins.

I wonder if my children view their world differently with their digital interpretation of time? When I answer their request for the time with five till ten, they pause and reply, "no it's not, it's 9:56."

One summer as children, my brother and I were quite bored and had seemingly endless time to spare. We each created a sun dial in the sand and calibrated the hours over the period of an afternoon. I remember watching the shadow of the gnomon stick creep slowly to the next marker. Now my daughter informs me you can get a sun dial on your iPod, but it's boring. ("It takes forever and you can use a flashlight instead and cheat.")

When my children were younger I could entice them into sitting with me and watching as the sunset turned from orange to red, peach and finally deep blue lined in green. Now they are too busy at sunset playing wii, playing with a friend or watching TV. The slow, quiet beauty of the sunset seems lost to them.

Am I romanticizing my childhood experience when I wish my children could experience something similar to my sundial? Or am I mourning the loss of closeness I felt with them they were young? I'll know better by the end of the summer if I haven't had at least one still, timeless moment with each of my children. It doesn't have to be sunset, but time on the hammock will do.

 Where do you experience timeless moments?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Loon Song

Early in the morning, when the lake is still, I am surrounded by quiet, punctuated only by the calling of birds. On windless morns such as this, there are brief moments of absolute quiet. Have you had an opportunity to listen to the fullness of sound from a woods unaccompanied by the underlying hum of civilization: car, plane or radio?

This morning at 5 a.m. the loon sung to me through my open window. Judging by its call fishing, not flying. I imagine it's diving for minnows, but resist the urge to get up to look. Snug in my warm bed, the loon song lulls me back to sleep.

Not so long ago I would've raced for my binocs. Loons were rare in these parts. This year I hear or see a loon every day thanks to the efforts of people like my parents, and our federal tax dollars.

Back in 2001, local individuals, concerned about the dwindling loon population, decided to make a safe home for nesting loon pairs. They created the North Arm Lake Bellaire Loon Nursery. $267,000 in funds were raised from private individuals and a fundraising partnership composed of Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund, Forest Home Township, Three Lakes Association, The Hildreth Foundation, Inc., and The Les and Anne Biederman Foundation, Inc.

The final $50,000 came from federal funding from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Bird Conservation fund. The year that the loon nursery became reality, 44 other habitat preservation projects received a total of $2 million in federal funds that were matched six fold by communities across the U.S.

When we're arguing about the size of the federal budget, I doubt that many of us consider the federal grants that are matched by state and private contributions. I know I didn’t.

How many who were sung awake by the call of the loon this morning recalled the time when the loon's call was rarely heard? I, for one, appreciate the large-scale community effort that made this wildlife recovery possible.

Because of the people in this area who cared about the loons and joined forces, this county has the highest number of nesting pairs in the state, including the wilds of the Upper Peninsula; and I can listen to its plaintive call.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dragonfly transformations

The summer my daughter was born there was a huge dragonfly hatch. The larvae crawled up out of the lake, heading inland until they met with a vertical surface.

We found larvae carapaces on the side of the house, the stem of a butterfly bush at water's edge, even 10 feet up a tree far from shore.  The older children would run about in the early morning making a game of finding the signs of the previous night's hatch.
We had an opportunity to watch one pump open its wings, let them dry, and fly off. We also saw several that had some irrevocable accident. One that fell into a shoe, another with a crumpled wing, both never to fly.

The dragon fly became a symbol for me of the dramatic transformation a parent must go through with the addition of a second child. I made a wall quilt for Miss and bought a dragonfly ornament for our Christmas tree.

The dragonflies are here again this summer. They remind me that miraculous transformation is possible. I, for one, discover myself in the midst of another self reinvention and Miss has emerged from her shell, showing she is leaving behind her childish ways and ready for middle school in the fall.

Perhaps those times that change seems to take forever are like the immature dragonfly's crawl. We head towards a place we won't know until we get there and suddenly find ourselves transformed and reborn.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Michigan Vagina

Sometimes I'm astonished at where the internet takes me. Who'd have ever thought a few years back I'd find myself Googling "Michigan vagina" and find anything other than a porn site.

Yes, I'm a little late to the comment dogpile, but you can't run down every titillating or outrageous statement a politician makes these days -- especially in an election year.

How did we get to the place where you can boil a complex discussion of deep personal values (even a nasty little incident like this one) into a crude two word search term? No wonder many of us choose not to engage in political advocacy of any kind other than marking our ballots.

Took me a bit of searching to dig past all of the outraged posturing to find what was really said. I'm not going to recount the exact exchange; if you cared, you'd have already read it.

When I finally made it to the actual words exchange, I was dissappointed at the rude posturing made on both sides. Why do we allow our country's leaders to turn an important discussion into theater?

Google is truely an amazing search engine. It's a powerful tool that gives each of us equal access to all human knowledge. What we need now is a solutions engine. For we seem to be unable to come together in civil discussion on our core differences.
Mark. Ev. Bill. Larry. Get busy!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Water's Edge

"I used to think the question was 'who do I want to be when I grow up?' Now I know the real question to ask is 'who do I want to become?'"

Lying in the hammock, I aspire to float away on the lapping waves. The breeze is warm, and the girls dip in and out of the water all day.

I have a love affair with this lake. I swam in it's waters inside my mother's womb and I have returned here yearly like a salmon swims upstream to spawn.

The annual pilgrimage is not always easy. One year in the dark days of my youth, I didn't make it back until October. And today I forgo the spring break trips to sunnier climes that many Seattlites take so I can save the cost of flying us here.

There is something magical about being close to nearly any body of water. Those of us who live on the coasts flock to oceanside parks in any season. Making sandcastles on Winter's solstice to thank the earth for tipping back toward the sun is a family tradition. When I watch the Sound from a friend's deck, I can feel the pull of the water releasing my tension and providing renewal even from a distance. And the waves making music on the dock posts is the sweetest summer song.

Here at the lake, I have baptized myself over and over again. I have spoken to the water and sent out my best intentions into the universe while kneeling at its shore.

The lake stays the same year after year, reflecting back my true self and asking me to think about who I want to become.

I know that I am blessed (easier to say than privileged) to be able to return here, stay here, year after year. From the lake comes my deep commitment to healing, protecting and preserving the planet we all share. The lake has been a constant, renewing resource. It is the place that provides hope on a dark winter's morn.

I hope someday my children will grasp the fortune that shined on them to bring them to this place.
And I hope, dear Reader, that you will share with me a glimpse of where on this earth brings you peace.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Feminist bikini

Hot, hot, hot! It's going to be a two outfit day: pjs and a swimsuit. The first thing I thought about when I got dressed is which swimsuit am I least embarrassed to be seen in.

This is the first year I believe I have genuine cause to say I'm hating my body. Last year I gained an unprecedented 30 pounds. That while Miss is supposed to be losing weight. ironic, right? Worse: hypocritical.

My 80-year-old mother told me recently that she had never thought of herself as pretty. Sorting through a box of photos she was reintroduced to her young mother self of 50 years ago. She realized, in fact, that she was attractive. (A statement my father confirmed with a look of fond memories upon his face.)

Yesterday looking at the beautiful (drunken) young adults partying at the sand bar, I realized that you have to be either smart or beautiful to have a chance of climbing that ladder of the American dream. If you are blessed with both you probably have noone but yourself to blame if you don't excel in a field you are passionate about.

But if you aren't smart or attractive, you'll have to work hard to make it. Google some of the singers of the 40's or the US President's of the 1800's. Many of them would have never have made it today because of their looks. It's not a coincidence that our first black president is also a heart throb.

Today's girls grow up flooded with a narrow ideal of beauty. It's no wonder that my 14-year-old niece feels fat. I felt exactly the same way 40 years and 70 pounds ago.
Mind you until adding those last 30 pounds, I was not remotely fat by the objective BMI standard. Yet every year, until last year when I pushed myself to live in my own skin, I felt the insecurity of unattractiveness that all the women I know feel.

My BFF asked me to write about fat as a feminist issue while on my vacation. I find she is right, while at the same time I want to rouse myself from the comforting emotional blanket that food has been for me. I also want to get in shape (strong and in a healthy BMI zone) so I can be as vital as my aged (but not elderly) parents are today.

This year I am wearing the first bikini I have owned since I grew aware of boys too many years back to count. And while I am wearing a unstructured tankini on top (brilliantly offered by Land's End which appears to understand how women feel about their bodies); next year I expect myself to be healthy enough to wear it proud.

Dear Reader, what do you think? Girls, am I right? Do you feel insecure about your attractiveness? Mothers, how do you help your teen daughter love her unique and beautiful body? Is fat a feminist issue? Please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Torch Lake Sand Bar 7/4/12

Today we boated down the lake midday to check out the action at the Torch Lake Sand Bar 2012 Fourth of July party. (Un)fortunately by the time we got there just after 2, all the walk in spots were taken. Driving down a boat-lined alleyway, we parked with a good 100 meters to swim before we reached the outer edge of chest-deep walkability. So taking the camera inside the party was out of the question.

Son, Cousin and friend were set loose together to visit the mayhem without parental supervision. This would be their first unchaperoned foray into the crowd. (In past years they received a guided tour from one of the adults.) I set out and quickly found myself fearing that they might never find their way back because of the throngs. I even made a point of flirting with a hot young thing in a pink bikini so I'd remember where to find the boat when I made my way back.

In the shallows of the sand bar the crowd had become a singular mass of young, sun-burned studs, cute girls with string bikinis and breast enhancements, and old ogling men hoping to catch a piece of the action. Beer pong, cops and dancing abounded. Yes, there were a few children and sight-seeing older women like myself. We walked through the crowd to witness the display of holiday revelry and drunken celebration. Returning to our boats before we got sunburned to share our amazement of the spectacle.

Perhaps we'll see an ariel photo posted on Instagram tomorrow, though to think of it, I did not see a plane fly over. Only a photo could possibly convey the sheer size of this tradition.

My kids are growing so fast. Overnight they transformed from little kid to teenager. I talk to them about courtship and the hunt for sex. I try to school them about the dance of man and woman. And how to know if you are drinking too much. (Remember that girl near the speakers who threw up into the water? That is past being too drunk. One rule: never, ever, ever throw up in public.)

In different circumstances I've given them statistics of the risks of young drinking, hoping they will heed my warning and see it supported by their observations of alcoholic relatives and today's sights.
One day soon, terribly soon, the boys, and later the girls, will want to take the boat down by themselves and perhaps have us join the grandparents in the shade, left behind to watch from the shore.

I work as hard as I can keeping up with them and safely meeting their needs for independence and thrills. Today I did not stop Son from jumping off the roof. Instead I ran for my camera to capture their rush at 20 frames per second. For today I'll be happy that my children, though acting like they don't want to be seen with me, are still in the same boat, taking the journey together.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fireworks: unrestrained

I bought my son some fireworks today. Not some of those weak little packs of smoke bombs and snakes sold in gas stations and marinas of years past. Instead we went to a store so large it had shopping carts out front. 

Where helpful men with tattoos and earrings (wearing all black, of course) cued up YouTube videos on their iPad to play on the 40" HDTV to demonstrate the various virtues of $25 aerial display kits. Black Cats and bottle rockets stand shoulder to shoulder with biodegradable sparklers and fountain fireworks with alluring names like Bad Influence. The packaging featuring army tanks and seductive pin-up girls.  I spent $65 (American Express) for an assortment that included a unicorn rocket for Miss, a star-spangled rocket for Son, a large assortment of bottle rockets, and a half brick of black cats to share with my brother. The offering of this shared, childhood thrill in an attempt to reach across the gulf that grew between us in the 13 years of parenthood that kept our heads down and and our attention focused only on the next demand.   

Son is thrilled, grinning ear-to-ear, as he carries our haul to the car. Back home the boys eagerly take to the bottle rockets and are soon being schooled by my brother on how to improvise with them safely. They light them off until the lighter expires or boredom ensues. I anticipate tomorrow when I can show them that I, too, can play with the Black Cats.  I said to my brother today that I believe our minds have the power to manifest changes in the world. I know it to be true because I have become a different person from how I started out. I never expected to find myself dramatically adapting and changing as my children grew and I tried to figure out how to meet their needs and guide them to their best selves. I feel as though the outer layer of myself has been burned away in the fire of parenthood and I am now rising from the ashes: a phoenix.

I was the anti-gun mother. But yesterday I found myself freely consenting for Son to go squirrel hunting with Cousin and his pellet gun. Cousin is learning to deer hunt with his father and Son is filled with testosterone, curiosity, and envy while learning to manage it all.

I find I can allow my son the experience of the squirrel hunt. They race off and spot their first target. The boys taking turns to shoot. I must walk away as the squirrel is hit and injured; the screams to difficult for me to endure. Later I hear the tale of finishing it off with the aid of Dad. Their pride. The learning. An unforgettable experience that two cousins share. They have been given an assignment and they take their responsibility, and weapon, seriously.

I have changed my attitudes and opinions through thought, insight and will.  And because of this shift, the world has changed around me. My 13-year-old son is hunting squirrel and shooting off fireworks without my supervision. And I am relaxed and not worrying, watching from the background.

If my thoughts can change so much of the world around me by how I act and react, it seems reasonable to envision thoughts having an impact on the world without me having to do anything more than think them.

Today I declare my independence from preconceived notions of who I am and who others are. I will strive to live each moment open to possibility. Today we will celebrate our nation's independence with family and friends, boating and bar-b-ques, s'mores and fireworks. And tomorrow I will celebrate with my son, who for this brief time away from life in the city, can indulge in the rites of manhood, unrestrained.

Monday, July 2, 2012


I left a post "resting" back in Seattle.  Feeling guilty because blogs are intended to be chronological, aren't they? Funny, my life insights rarely are. Musing one day about my children when they were small, the next diving deep into trying to comprehend the now.

So pardon me if I record this moment out of context, but all else falls away as I shed my clothes, allow my hair to do as it pleases, and sit on the beach of my winter dreams.

When leaving drew near, and the chores of packing myself and the children, buying sunscreen and swimsuits, canceling the paper and holding the mail, cleaning the house so it does not weigh on my return; all threatened, like an evening thunderstorm, to blow away my best intentions. In my mind's eye, as I underwent the departure ritual, I held onto the vision of my better self -- eating right and exercising, writing and creating art, doing yoga and meditating.

Now as I sit by the lake and listen to the waves, I find myself sinking into the gentle, refreshing embrace of this place. Urging me to soften inside, wash away my will, and bask in the beauty of this sacred space.