Monday, June 30, 2008

What we can manage

It's okay if you are not impressed. I don't expect you to be, wouldn't even ask. But once again we've managed to get some food crops growing on the back deck, and it feels good. Oh sure, we do prefer to grow our own varieties from seed; we vastly prefer growing grape or cherry tomatoes and you just generally don't come across those when you buy plants. But it turns out that there are years when I can make that happen -- that seed starting thing -- and years that I can't. So this year we bought. Basil too, always. And the process of getting the plants, and the soil, and getting the pots out and getting the whole thing together before June passes us by, well, it's enough to make me impressed that we got it done. That I got it done.

Hard to say if there will be enough time for the tomatoes to make a real go of it, but the basil will be a bush before we get nighttime frosts again. And we'll have had basil on our pizza and pasta and wherever else it strikes our fancy, and just to show how rich we are in basil sometimes we'll just pluck a leaf off so we can carry it around with us and smell it.
This is the miniature railroad track around the garden, with a new "gnome-y" house put in for good measure. Oh no, it's not at our house -- it's at a big, famous, local garden center. Nice, isnt' it? We don't even aspire.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Finishing up

I forgot to mention that yet another wonderful part of taking a trip on the Margaret Todd out of Bar Harbor is that you can help hoist the sails, if you'd like. Tall Ken on the left there helped twice and felt, I think, a little pirate-y as a result.
It didn't rain but it had rained that morning and was, as always, a little cold out on the water. They thoughtfully give you maps that show you the names of the islands you pass, and the other side helps to identify some of the birds you are likely to see.
I loved having our friends Ann and Rory over from Ireland to see us, and loved sharing more of Maine with them. There couldn't be any easier travel companions. But to be honest, it was hard for me sometimes and I made it hard for Dean. Traveling with people who don't have children alleviates the challenge of making sure the kids all get along, but I'm hyper sensitive to Dean's behavior under circumstances like these, and the reality for him is that he takes a back seat in a situation (vacation) that's normally pretty focused on him. It's a good learning experience at his age not to be the sole center of attention, but hard. And being with us meant that they ate dinner earlier than they normally would, that we went to bed while they were still up and raring to go, and that we tiptoed out to breakfast while they were still asleep. I do hope they had an all right time....

Doesn't look as though Dean minded too much though, does it? I hope he had an all right time, too. I think he did. The microscope of "am I a good parent" is intensified by close time, travel, with other people.

Sure, it is out of focus and over exposed (I even did quite a bit of Photo Shop work on it to get it looking this good). But it gives an even better view of what "home" looked like for 8 weeks every summer. Mosquito bites? You bet. I'm thinking about making a camp blog, in hopes of luring more Juniper Knoll alum, in anticipation of getting all kinds of camp experiences from all different kinds of camps and campers -- ok, I have to say it -- a virtual camp fire of songs, stories, marshmallows (b.y.o.). Would it work? Could I sustain it? Could it be my platform from which to shout my agenda for transforming the Girl Scout organization? Leo was nice enough to send me the 2006 Chicago Girl Scout Council annual report and I was appalled that they had room to be able to list everyone who donated $25. Appalled because their level of donations received is so ridiculously low. Oh, sure, encouraged that an old time Juniper Knoll devotee gave many significant gifts, but appalled that the Council hasn't seen a path to pave for more involvement and even more donations that help build their program to serve girls.

I believe that Girl Scouting should be deep, deep into the sustainability movement. The tag line? "We've always been green!" Hey, do you know anybody who works at headquarters?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Get a life, make a life

Okay, I've been meaning to get this off my chest for a while now: Martha, get a life! I mean really. Is it the same for you, just the constant stream of email from Martha and her minions? The barrage is endless, it seems, and what's pathetic is that she's peddling the same old, same old. I mean come on already Marth -- these same projects have been in your magazines for what, now, 10 years? Longer? You don't need to email me several times a day, and you do need to come up with some fresh material. Or I'm cutting you out of my in-box. There. I've said it. We'll move on.

Dean and I had a fabulous time at our local zoo yesterday. I especially love our zoo because you can be so close, and interact so directly with so many of the animals. We fed the deer, and
the goats, and
Dean rode the camel. We decided the line to ride the elephant was too long, and Dean's getting too heavy to do the pony rides anymore. We missed the dog show but Dean will catch it week after next, when he spends the week at zoo camp.
And hey -- I said "camp!" So you know what that means! I didn't exactly have permission from Leo (front and center standing, in green shirt on the left), but I couldn't resist sharing a 30+ year-old photo of the camp counselor who found me after all these years.
Tracer, here playing her guitar, was the arts and crafts specialist for a couple of my Juniper Knoll years. We sang constantly. Constantly! And it is handy to know a song for just about any occasion.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Still Maine, still Camp Juniper Knoll

I took this picture in Maine, after a great meal at one of our favorite breakfast places. I had hopes of being able to work it into my ABC-Along project and wondered if by any chance the Latin name for fuchsia was somewhere later in the alphabet than 'f,' which came and went back in March. I had a sneaking suspicion, though, and do you see where this is going? Latin name for fuchsia is (drum roll) -- fuchsia! Ah, I'm an endless source of amusement for myself.
In case you were wondering, Cafe This Way is the breakfast place in Bar Harbor. Great food, great coffee, funky (in a good way) atmosphere. Just wish more of the servers were coffee drinkers themselves, and were therefore a little more nimble and generous with the refills. Just saying.
And, too, if you ever find yourself in Bar Harbor, DO take the ride on the Margaret Todd -- this gorgeous, 4-masted schooner. I think the best part is that because it is a sail boat they can cut the engines once the boat is out of the harbor and the ride is beautifully quiet. We saw porpoise and guillemot and loons and many of the outlying islands.

OK, then, indulge me in a little more camp talk. (Do you think that because Blogger is a Google organization that it rates my entries so highly on Google search? Whatever the reason, I want to stay up there....)
I don't think I ever knew Carolyn's last name -- it's kind of a rarity to even know a camp counselor's first name, since most went by nicknames (I hope that's still true at camps everywhere). Anyway, she headed up the waterfront staff and was a unit counselor as well, and I adored her. Like all the staff, she gave all she had to give (or so it felt) to us as campers. She was funny, kind, warm, caring, a great teacher and outdoorswoman. You know how sometimes you wish you could find the best teachers you ever had so you could thank them for everything you now realize they did for you? It's like that for me with the camp counselors I had.
Jan's on the left, Sail is on the right. They both taught me so much, and they both made me feel that they were proud of my accomplishments. The pay was so low that working at camp was really more of a labor of love; even during those days (early- to late-70s), you could make more staying home and being a cashier at a grocery store and you weren't on call basically 24/7. I guess it's hard to put into words, but the dedication of these and other women who ranged in age from 18 to, oh, probably in their 20s or so was just unbelievable.

I think the Girl Scout organization has really changed, and I think one of the many unintended outcomes is that it no longer generates the kind of lifelong devotion and commitment that it once did. I don't think people inside the organization understand that. It is hard to generalize because there is both a national arm and then local chapters -- but still, you've probably been shocked recently at both how expensive Girl Scout cookies have become and how awful they are (am I right? but I hope you, like me, still buy them). It's all about raising money and less about helping to create the world leaders of tomorrow (oh, you thought we just said a pledge and earned badges? hah!). The cookie thing just illustrates that it's a business and not about honoring a tradition (the cookies should at least still taste good). I was a troop leader when I was in high school and made several attempts to get involved locally before I had Dean but the opportunities I was looking for to "give back" just weren't there.

Sigh. I think I'll go make some lemonade and sing a couple of songs. Which reminds me, we stopped at a lemonade stand today, and I hope that you also always stop (just give them the 50 cents, even if you don't want the drink) just like I hope you always buy at least one box....

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Camp Juniper Knoll, II

Every time I think I know just how useful the internet is, or just how worthwhile blogging is, I have yet another more amazing experience that makes me realize how barely I have scratched the surface.

Last summer, I wrote an entry about my beloved Girl Scout Summer Camp, Juniper Knoll. I was reminiscing about camp, about how much I miss getting ready every summer to head off to Elkhorn, Wisconsin, for 8 weeks of the good life. It happens to me every summer -- I wish I were 10 years old and at camp again. Well, that blog entry caught the eye of another woman who also counts her Juniper Knoll experiences as a very part of who she is, and it turns out we knew each other back then. I'd given up on figuring out how to connect with anyone from those days, but she found me. We're catching up, sharing memories, and for my part anyway feeling gratified to know that there's someone else out there who understands, who shares the connection. I'm working on scanning some of the old photos I found and plan a few entries to get them up here. Maybe a few more people will be out there, who one day will do a search on Camp Juniper Knoll and will find me, too.

I had an ancient (I mean even THEN it was ancient) Kodak camera that used 126 film, and the pace at which you squeezed the shutter down controlled the exposure. No ability to focus, of course. And my own abilities to frame a photo were amazingly poor. But these old photos (brought back to life via the "color restoration" option on my Epson scanner) still bring back memories of a place so wonderful that you probably wouldn't even believe it unless you'd been there. I learned to swim in this lake, and to sail and to canoe and to row a row boat. Had lunches of graham crackers spread with frosting (Pooh food!) and tried merrily, unsuccessfully, to fish.
I'm on the right in this picture and it was actually 1974 -- Colorado was making what would be an unsuccessful bid for the Olympics. I think the other girl's name was Laura, and we were on our way back from walking to a nearby town for ice cream and soda. Still have the watch but Timex refused to fix it....
An early trip to camp, evidenced by the lack of a real sleeping bag and the million year old brown suitcase. There was a huge (to me, anyway) drop off the back of this tent (set on a wooden platform) but I can't remember -- was it in Citadel? I don't think it was Frontier. Definitely not Gypsy Hollow. Maybe Wilderness? The camp was organized into units, or separate named areas and you really bonded with your group and your leaders -- singing your unit's song at the top of your lungs, at the drop of a hat.
Do you know where you were July 4, 1976? I was at camp, of course -- the one here with the peace sign on my shirt. Camp always meant at least one homegrown parade, one wacky celebration, and we came up with our costumes and games on our own. Making a great deal of fun out of practically nothing was a hallmark.

I believe that options are limitless, and that it is only your own choices that create the barriers. I believe that I can -- you know, within reason -- do just about anything that I make up my mind to do. I'm not afraid of bugs, I like to walk in the rain, I think it's important to sing whether you have a "good" voice or not. I love to sleep outside, to look at the stars, to wonder what a plant's name might be, to make a campfire and roast marshmallows over it. I try to imagine how I would have turned out without Juniper Knoll; it's like being able to see my own Bedford Falls transformation into Pottersville for the lack of George Bailey. I can't imagine myself without summer camp.

Monday, June 23, 2008

More Maine

I'm thinking that, for a few more days at least, I'll share more bits and pieces of our Maine trip. Nicole left a comment that reflects something we'd been talking about -- that we always seem to talk about while we're in Maine. Would we love it as much if we lived there? You do hear a different song of a place when you're there on vacation than you do if it is home (or, at least where you are currently living). Portland has winters that are more mild than ours, and a slew of independent bookstores and coffee shops to boot. Part of our lottery-winning dream includes a home, maybe in Cape Elizabeth, where we could spend summers. But would the magic rub off if we had to deal with the stuff of every day life and not just where to have our next lobster, or ice cream?

Portland is a tiny city, made for walking. It has a gem of an art museum, an active waterfront (the 'port' in 'Portland' still applies), great restaurants, and easy access to great walking trails along the ocean. Also more t-shirt and souvenir shops than you can shake a stick at, but I suppose it goes with the territory.
Ah, this is more like it. Jordan Pond at Acadia National Park. There's a three-mile trail around the pond, and nature conspired to make the trip on one half much easier to walk (so that you can go up and back half way without strenuous effort if that suits). I did quite a bit of ABC-Along work while there so I have to remember not to show you those pictures until the time comes -- Ken and Dean suggested that next time I do an entire A to Z in Acadia which sounds good to me.

Today feels more like the beginning of summer to me; Ken's gone off to work while Dean and I have the week off without any specific plans. Oh, we've got some ideas and intentions, but those are different from hard-and-fast obligations. We've undertaken a new family project -- each of us must throw out or put in the giveaway pile one thing per day. For a year. No fair counting something that you'd throw out regardless (an empty container, a dry pen). We've just got too much stuff around here yet the prospect of tackling too much at once makes it too easy to put the job off. Better to go small scale and make steady progress.

And so "stuff" makes me think of George Carlin, and I'm sad to learn that he's died. He seemed to stay the same age forever -- older than me, but not old. This line is attributed to him, and it makes me laugh every time: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

'M' is for 'Maine'

Everyone should have access to a place that feels like heaven on Earth. For us, living in New England, our own slice of heaven is Maine. We're back from our annual visit and while I'm wading through puddles of laundry and mountains of mail (virtual and physical), I'm reflecting on our week and trying to secure certain memories -- moments, really. Moments of beauty and calm and a sense of connection -- to family, to friends, to a place.

This is a view from the Ocean Trail at Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island. It's a pretty classic view of Maine -- ocean, rocky shoreline, pine trees. Imagine birdsong, a fresh breeze, salty air, and lobster rolls for lunch.
Our friends Ann and Rory came over from Ireland to visit, and so they were our companions on the trip. Maine and Ireland -- the coasts, anyway -- do have a lot in common, and we imagined Ireland over across the ocean. We take turns; every few years we go to see them, and then they come to see us. We pick up pretty seamlessly, right where we left off, which I believe is a sign of true friendship.
The fog hides the fact that Dean is on top of the highest mountain on the east coast (Cadillac Mountain); the curtain lifted enough to be able to show our friends a bit of the view.
And meanwhile, the ABC-Along 2008 marches on, with 'm,' and
Mountain Holly.

And I'm off to walk the dog and see to today's list of catching up and preparing for the stretch of summer we've earned. We've been completely captivated by Euro 2008; we're sorry to see our beloved Netherlanders fall to Russia but still look forward to a rainy afternoon here so we can watch Spain v. Italy without guilt

Monday, June 9, 2008


Running out of Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle is kind of a kitchen emergency for me; I hastily placed my reorder with Penzey's yesterday. I cannot recommend a company more highly -- very fresh, very reasonably priced spices and seasonings, and great inventions like Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle. It goes on top of the pizza dough and underneath the other toppings on our homemade pizza every week. It gets shaken into any pasta, chicken, or fish dish that needs a little something. We love it on sauteed summer squash and onions, or any other grilled or sauteed vegetable dish. If you're a flavored popcorn person, here you go.

It made me think of other "always" items around here, those things that are like having money in the bank:

Frozen cheese tortellini. Boiled up they are a meal in themselves, yet add a sliced up avocado or some cubed, sauteed ham and it seems as though you really did cook dinner. Also great as the base for a nice pasta salad if you add almost any kind of salad dressing after draining them and then let them cool in the fridge.

Frozen spaghetti sauce. I used to be more on top of this -- periodically making up big batches of a tomato-based sauce and storing the extra in the freezer. More of a fall/winter thing, but still a wise move.

Orzo. When you're tired of pasta and don't have time to cook rice, go for orzo (rice-shaped pasta). Oh, and feel free to toss with a little butter and, yes, some Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle.

Tortillas. Do you always have tortillas in your fridge? Into the oven with some cheese on top, or in a pan with cheese and corn and maybe some sauteed peppers and onions? Or even heated then folded up with just a little butter inside?

Having gone from temperatures in the mid-70s to those in the mid-90s overnight, I'm also trying to remember how to put on dinners without cooking (or without cooking much). Any stand-bys at your house?

We finish up school this week, and head up to Maine next week. Friends are coming over from Ireland to join us and I have been cleaning the craft room/guest room in their honor; I'll try to take some pictures to share. This is a particular window of time that I've been thinking about and planning for a long, long time, and yet it now seems impossible that it is suddenly here. Laundry and packing to do, work to wrap up, details to take care of, moments to relax and enjoy.

Friday, June 6, 2008

How we know

This is baptisia, sometimes called false indigo. In my garden, it takes the place of delphiniums, which I just can't seem to keep going. I'm the sort of gardener who makes plans, reads up, tries, and then at a certain point admits defeat and just moves on. Fancy pants roses have been replaced, as another example, with hearty shrub roses:

There's only so much I am willing to fuss. I'm pragmatic, and I don't like to fight if I don't have to.

As Dean and I were walking in to school yesterday morning, I noticed some odd, organic little brown balls on the ground and wondered to myself what they were. Dean noticed them a moment later and exclaimed, "oak tree galls!" and then proceeded to explain to me about how certain insects -- commonly a small wasp, or rather its larvae -- cause the tree to react to their presence by forming this casing around them. His class has been studying plants and trees this year, and he has already taught me so much.

I had a parent in my office yesterday morning, just after I'd learned about oak tree galls, and she came in to vent about how she is never given all the information she needs to know about exactly what her daughter is learning. Her daughter is 7. This mom, I realized, ultimately wants to see the text books every year. She wants to know in advance what her daughter will be "learning," she wants to be able to drill her daughter to ensure that she is retaining the appropriate facts, and she wants to always be one step ahead (at least) of what's coming up in the classroom. I shared with her my oak tree gall story, and about how in many ways that is the essence of progressive education. Dean's teacher has not been following a 4th grade level science text; she has invited in experts, taken the kids to a wildflower garden, gone on almost daily nature walks. She has shared her knowledge, brought in others to share their own knowledge, done research with the kids along the way as they've had questions or made discoveries. As a parent, there is simply no way that I can know in advance what Dean is going to do in school on any given day. And honestly on most days I glean very few details from him about his day. I know that he loves going to school, that he is curious and eager to learn, that he is completely engaged and that he is known and loved as an individual by his teacher. I also know that his learning is genuine and meaningful, because he teaches me all the time -- and he teaches me in the moment, when teaching and learning are authentic.

This mom was having none of it, which means she has her daughter enrolled in the wrong school. I feel sad for her and for her daughter because of the opportunities they are missing, and yet I know that no one misses what she does not value. The mom, at least, will be happier elsewhere. It makes me wonder what she was (or was not) hearing when she looked at our school before enrolling, but certainly people hear what they want to hear. They also sometimes mistakenly think that they can make us change, show us the 'error' of our ways -- that they just need to say loudly enough that the math program needs to focus more on memorization and written equations and less on manipulatives and conceptual thinking -- and then reap the benefits of a small school with individual attention on their child. No, sorry. We know what we're doing and why we do it.

As low a point in my week as that meeting was, a meeting with another mom went completely the other way. This woman is looking at our school for her 11-year-old daughter. She asked me what it is like for children to transition from a public school to our school. I have a long list of answers to that question -- it's everything from getting comfortable calling teachers by their first names, believing that you really can just get up and say you're going to the bathroom and leave the room, understanding that you'll be trusted and assumed innocent in an environment with very few rules and an assumption that you'll apply common sense, to being asked to think critically, make guesses,to try and fail (and that's quite all right). And, I told her, children here can tell the teacher that they think she's wrong -- that they think she's made a mistake, or that they have another way of doing something, or that they wonder if she's considered all the possibilities. At this, the mom started to weep. She said she couldn't imagine how different, how wonderful her daughter's school experience might have been if she had ever had that kind of a relationship with a teacher. I hope she enrolls.

Well, I didn't start this post thinking that I'd head in this direction, but there you go. We're poised for a somewhat less insane weekend and that feels great. What's growing in your garden? What have you learned this week?

Monday, June 2, 2008

In June

I think that there are a lot of you out there who are clearly better qualified than I for this ABC-Along project. It's never too late, you know -- you might want to join up. But in any case, thank you for the wonderful 'k' ideas! I forged ahead, armed with your list, and then -- serendipity. First, the 'k' letter form:

Next, at the garden center where I was actually looking for other things, 'knautia' --
Whew. I have an overabundance of 'l' things and am just trying to narrow it down to one favorite (lavender? lady's slipper? lily of the valley? lichen?). And I learned, in chatting with other parents this weekend at our various events that we had it relatively easy compared to everyone else. Maybe other people like being super busy? I don't know how they manage. No question for me, the highlight was Dean's piano recital:
He played beautifully, he was happy to be there, and he was utterly inspired by the more advanced students (especially the two who composed their own pieces!). I went back and forth over whether or not to get him flowers; I remember so wishing after a ballet recital that my parents had brought me flowers (it felt as though everyone else had them), but I reminded myself that Dean is not me and my past needs to stay behind me (after all, I survived). I admit that I also wondered if flowers would matter to a boy. Shame on me. I did make the trip for flowers, hid them until the right time, and Dean was completely delighted. Said heartfelt 'thank yous!' repeatedly, and excitedly chose the place to display them. He's also looking forward to the next round of lessons which we'll start shortly. Our electronic keyboard came with a USB cable and I need to figure out how to record his playing the recital pieces; we did videotape the show but we don't have a digital camcorder.

We told him over and over how proud we were of him -- we couldn't help ourselves. It was that he did it, that he went to his lessons and practiced and then got up there at the recital and played. I talked to my mom later in the day and told her about the recital. She said she remembered going to my ballet recitals (!) and how proud she and my father were of my dancing. I honestly did not know that and was surprised to hear her say it. Was I, at the time, so unhappy about not getting the flowers that I didn't hear the praise? Unfortunately that could be possible. It's also possible that they didn't say it, or didn't say it much even if they felt it -- different times, different parenting styles, different people. I feel I can gracefully move away from that now and just hope we've done it right for Dean. This part, anyway.