Selling Out and Cashing In Big

 When we moved out here to the woods, we made one compromise that continued to nag on me long after the boxes were unpacked.  For the first time in our married life, we decided to install satellite television - Direct TV, to be exact.  Why the ugly satellite dish?  Let’s revisit the rule for effective backwoods technology: if you can’t bounce that signal from space, it won’t get to us. 

There’s no good way from theah to heah, remembah?  

Not having grown up with cable, it seemed a gratuitous addition to our home, but I justified the change mostly because of my husband’s great (read: long-suffering) love for the New York Football Giants, and well, so we could watch the news... er, Food Network.  Still though, the realization that we’d sold out cashed in for 200+ channels and pay-per-view movie rentals sat in my belly like a cow in a hammock. 


That is, until I realized two things.

 1) Renting movies in pay per view, while still a frivolous luxury, is perhaps the best option for us to see anything that’s fresh off the presses.  We tend not to drive the two hours it takes to reach one of those newfangled “cin-e-mas”, and we rent them so infrequently that Netflix doesn’t even make financial sense.  Finally, to drive to town and snag a release from last April would cost us an hour.  Our new system isn't perfect, but it works.

2) Don’t snicker, but I’m kind of hooked on one of those hip, new reality TV shows.  I know, I know, after selling my soul to cable, I should have seen this coming a mile away.  I promise I won’t start wearing gold-sequin-covered heels and talking with a [dirty] Jersey strain on my vowels.  Not this girl.

Trust me, the show's good.  And there’s a decent chance that you already like it.

It isn’t the outlandish family behavior, or those sweet Louisiana drawls that keep me coming back to A&E's Duck Dynasty.  It’s not the strange (and often motorized) trouble that those duck-call-carving boys keep getting into or the way that Uncle Si holds that blue plastic tea cup [even while he’s racing lawn mowers or sitting in a kiddie-pool constructed in the bed of a pickup using a few lawn tarps].  

It’s that what happens on the show, while certainly comical, seems like it could happen here. 

Like, tomorrow... or later this afternoon.

You don’t believe me?  Well, I’ve compiled some similarities for your consideration:

  • There is an overwhelming presence of camouflage in the community


  •  The work day is interrupted by needing to perform one or all of the following:
  1. rescue a stranded boat
  2. shoot something
  3. start up the power generator (I guess that's just us)
  4. load/unload a truck bed
  5. fish something out of a body of water

Check.  Check.  Checkity-check.

  • Crock-pots are filled with any [or all] of the following: bear, moose, venison, squirrel, rabbit or something unidentifiable (but let’s face it - probably pretty good)


  • Wicked awesome beards (as in, “No-Shave November” is, well, November) 


  • Family meals – not requiring actual family membership            

Of course.

(Before we get any further, I ask just this once that you don’t go superimposing any screwy, mocking tones on this read.  Normally, I encourage that kind of behavior, but not today).

Yes, Duck Dynasty is funny and clever.  Yes, the daily events could be perceived as fairly unconventional and awful rednecky.   However, while I might gut laugh my way through an episode, I’ve come to realize that I’m not simply laughing at it.  I chortle along because I find myself identifying with the guys as they get stuck in a ditch or have trouble with an HVAC system, or set off in the woods to search for the perfect tree for a project. 

This is the way of things when you live off of the beaten path.  And really, folks, it’s pretty slick.  I think you’d like it. 

You’d like it when your fellow staff members are actually work buddies, with whom you can poke fun (and be poked at in return), play outside with, do dirty jobs with (often mud/water/plunger related), and share meals with.   Buddy stuff.

You’d like it where you can set off into the forest at will, and with no other motive than to see what lies there to be seen.  Here, where you can be struck over and over and over by how intoxicating the natural world is.  How easily you can become enchanted [by how bright the skin of a white birch is in the early twilight], absorbed [in the way that water slowly creeps down an icicle], or spellbound [by the shrill, ghostly call of a loon at dusk]. 

And you are because it is.  And you see it because you can. 

So, my question is:  Can you?  Can you get there, where there is forest or desert or river or sea?  If it is just outside of your grasp, then I beg you to find a way.  Borrow a car.  Take a drive.  I’ll bet you a hundred dollars that you can get yourself somewhere fairly remote in three hours, probably even less.  So pack some snacks, grab a hat, and go there.

If I can drive two hours for a movie, you can go three for the woods.  Trust me.  Trust the beards.  They’re crazy, but they’re also on to something.  

And I think you’re going to like it.


Peeking Behind The Curtain

"It's called a word cloud," he said.

C and I were having a spontaneous dinner with some friends, a husband and wife, having met at a mexican restaurant two and a half hours away from home.  I realize that I do employ the word spontaneous with certain irony here, but to us it felt both dramatic and reckless... Let's go get us some guac. and good conversation!

The husband is a teacher, and he was explaining some of the techniques that he uses to engage his middle school students in class.  Both of our friends are remarkably creative and full of ingenious ideas regarding education, team-building and general all around rabble-rousing.  They're great.  In fact, there's so great that I nearly proposed to the guy a few summers ago at a local beach, by accident.

You'll do well to avoid things like this, which when I think about it, shouldn't actually be very hard.

Anyway, we're at dinner and our friend is explaining word clouds, which sound pretty cool in terms of their general use, but when applied to something personal, seem outright terrifying.  Each diagram/widget/list shows the most frequently used words in large, bold print and the least used in small, faint print. The rest of the words are collected in a spectrum of small to large, in varying fonts and colors, based on their recurrence.

(Wait, you already know what this is?)

(Of course you would.)

So when he suggested using one here on the blog, it got me wondering what the resulting word cloud might look like.  Doing this will only make me look bad worse, I soon realized.  After considering the possibilities for a blog-cloud, I got to thinking about what my very own thought cloud could contain.  Oh, the possibilities! 

I don't know about you, but the content of my mind is like a dollar store grab-bag suspended inside of a large gift balloon: the structure contains so many wonderous things and yet, at the same time, so... much... empty... space...

They can put anything in there. 

I can only dread what would appear if we were to figuratively release its contents out onto the kitchen counter.  All I'm certain of is that there would be the sudden and overwhelming sound of muffled laughter and a series of scathing, disappointed looks.  If I understand these "clouds" (insert finger quotation visual) with any accuracy, mine might look something like this:

      BRRR... go put on some stretchy pants
muffinbottomlate to [location] again
 you can't only wear stretchy pantswhy is it so cold?
MY GOSH, will you quit running into furniture?!
if it's not black, don't buy it   best. cat. ever. 
will someone please tell me why don't we eat horse meat? 
not again.

In truth, I would be horrified if I discovered that you could read my mind.  And really, in most cases, I don't want to look behind your wizard curtain, either (a few of you are strong exceptions - you probably don't know who you are).  Socially, most of us are too composed, too well-behaved, and far too eager to conform, which necessarily means that - while I admittedly have some weird cat-lady stuff going on in my head - underneath that calm, cool surface, you're probably daydreaming about getting the lead role in the next television super-drama (Law & Order: Medical Malpractice), and are anxiously fighting a wild obsession with adorable baby ferrets.

So while the concept of a word cloud does seem pretty intriguing, and really fairly educational, I'm pretty grateful that it only works on written text.  In light of how revealing this little word-picture could be, I'd like to suggest that people strive to become increasingly mindful about what they choose to write.  It would be a great shame for an author's words to betray a sagging intellect.

I'm relieved to have such a handle on that.   


Someone Send Me Nine Fly Swatters & A Pair Of Blaze Orange Laces - It's Fall!

Flies ruin everything.

Seriously, for those of us on The Compound, the F in fall stands for flies: nasty, swarming little critters with the irritating tendency to give up the ghost all at once and die in mass graves on our tables, shelves, and window frames, just as if someone had poured a bowl of them out onto our furniture.  This massive crash landing only seems to occur when we have an unseasonable [not to mention, merciful] spell of warmth in this already wintry climate.  (Ice in September, yes.)

I hope the Hawaiian Islands have their own version of this sort of thing, because otherwise, that's just not fair.  Not only is the infestation disgusting, but apparently, it's also our fault.

Just ask the Log Doctor.  Yeah, you read that right: the Log Doctor.   This expert seems to think that we need to reseal the windows.  Or buy some fly tape in bulk, which i've been considering heavily.

Lest you think we have been bested by our kamikaze friends, rest assured.  These few and glorious warm days we've had since September have not gone unappreciated.  We've swam laps.  We've paddled rivers.  We've arched archery.

And we've run.  Shockingly, we've gone and run some more.

I run in spells, which is to say, in stretches.  Which I guess is also to say that I'm astonishingly undisciplined, and can't stick with a habit for more than a matter of weeks.  If you don't believe me, ask someone I hang out with.  I'll crochet twenty-five tiny hats in a week, then quit cold turkey.  I'll paint my fingernails a different color every three days, then stop for six months.  I'll start growing my hair out... then cut it to an inch and a half.  I'll wake up early to work out... then, a few days later when I realize that the other option is to stay in bed, I'll drop my ambition like an anchor and slam the snooze button.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't do long-term discipline, but I totally rock at being impulsive.

I'm sure I'll be back to my normal (read: lazy) self soon, but I've been in a bit of a running mood these last weeks.  This is fantastic, especially considering two things:

1)  C and I leave for our third annal Utah Camping Spectacular in just over a week.  The air is so much thinner up on those canyon ledges, and if there's any way that I can lessen the amount of huffing, puffing and splotchy-skinned embarrassment I will undoubtedly endure in view of the general public - well, it's a gift I'll take, thank-you-very-much.

2)   You might think this is premature, or that I'm just exaggerating again (Me?  Exaggerate?), but here's the truth: winter's a-coming.  And, based on some fairly consistent past experience, I tend to get a little "soft" during the snowy season.  You might call it getting "doughy", "jiggly", or even "squishy".  C and I just call it "having a little extra".  A little extra what, you ask?

A little extra of a lot of things, actually.  That's the problem.  It's like putting on one of these, only it's not a suit.

It's just more of me.

So, even if I run in phases, i'll still count it as running.  And even if the Fly-pocalypse occurs only on floridian days, I'd still rather have the buzzing, balmy respite than submit to a seven-month period of looking more and more like I live in a network of underground tunnels.

Sometimes you can't win 'em all.

And sometimes you just can't win.   But on those rare occasions when you're in the lead - albeit, temporarily - don't complain.  Just bask in the glory.  Because that - that - is your moment.

Until a fly lands in your coffee. Then you know you're back.


Down The Rabbit Hole

As I was sweeping cabins earlier today,  I got to thinking, "Good-night, M, if you don't post something on that silly blog of yours soon, they'll all suspect you've gone off the deep end".  They'll wonder if you've finally become a forest dwelling, ax-swinging nut with a propensity for off-roading in inappropriate vehicles and having long [audible] conversations with herself.

Phew.  Glad I've avoided that.

My brainchild occurred only a an hour or so after Helen, a new (and awesome) year-long staffer, pulled a mouse out of the washing machine.

And the thought came just a little while before my husband and two of our neighbors/co-workers/fellow woodsman went outside to try and shoot a skunk that is living in our woodpile.

A woodpile located directly below our front deck,

which also happens to sit right outside my office window.

Fine, the woodpile basically is my office window.

While the chase ensued, I tackled my own challenge: eating half of a watermelon.  This comes to no one's surprise.

Why is no one surprised?  Because eating entire melons and chasing woodland creatures is beginning to feel normal.  The strange-but-true reality of life here has slowly pulled a foggy haze over my perceptions of what to should expect out of a day.

For example, I've recently managed to:

  • overflow the pot in the Bunn coffee maker, multiple - ok, dozens - of times.  
  • shake someone's hand while holding a pirate's hook in my sleeve (we'd never met before)
  • spray water all over the dish pit, ceiling included.  
         [Since we're on the subject, here's a brief life lesson:

    In the battle of human dishwasher vs. ladle, 
there are no winners - only losers.

It looks so harmless.

    I'd compare it to running an ultra-marathon naked, 
in Manitoba, 
in February
to drinking questionable milk]

I've also managed to...

  • stay upright in a kayak through most of the Kennebec Gorge (read: most)
  • drive a four-wheeler 
  • pet a black bear.  It actually felt quite like my cat, only larger and less alive.
  • plunge the single-most-foul toilet I've ever encountered.  If I close my eyes, I can still see it.
  • shoot archery with a gaggle of sweet Dominican grandmothers.
  • start wearing hats.  Thank you to my friend Cathy, state food service laws, and that one retreat guest who left me a fedora.  Her fedora.  On purpose.  I look too much like a little boy to pull it off [without looking like a little boy].
  • stop sleeping in.  This seems simultaneously gluttonous and tragic, and yet I will probably attempt to return it to my skill set pronto.
  • take one day off in a month.  Though it may sound like I'm flaunting some big accomplishment here, what I'm really saying is that this kind of behavior is particularly unadvisable and likely a result of your own bad planning.  Plan better next time. 
  • live in a state of heightened anxiety and panic (see above).
  • remain in wedded bliss weddedness.  Considering the previous truth, this is a miracle.  I'd have banished me.  

I keep thinking that I should maintain a list of the unique happenings that that take place here in the woods, and perhaps I really ought to, but as time goes on, the instances themselves become less and less unique and, consequently, more and more everyday.

In conclusion, I suppose I will start on that list...

providing something really weird happens.


When Life Hands You Melons

A quiet day at camp makes me long for more quiet days at camp.

Granted, today will only be temporarily quiet, because in a few hours, a hilarious and day-brightening group of junior-high students will return to bounce around the property like tiny, sheared lambs.  Though this peaceful respite will be relatively brief, I cannot keep myself from hollering up some soulful thanks to the Maker, because a few hours of stillness seem like an island-of-wonderful when you've been swimming through relentless waves of busyness.

There is one particular lesson that I’ve been learning this year.  Since it’s not rocket science kind-of-stuff, it’s probably old news to you: the reality that infrequent bursts of energy aren’t what can pull the plug on our passion, but rather the constant drumming of tasks and unfinished business and the laundry list of what’s around the river bend.  It’s the plugged toilets and unchopped vegetables and rooms to rearrange.  It’s the dishes that have been sitting in our sink for a full week, because despite what Disney would have us think, serving plates and coffee cups don’t dance on tables, speak with a British accent, and just will not bathe themselves.  It’s also because in addition to our own used mugs and late-night-snack cereal bowls, there are another ninety sets of dishes to wash in the camp Hobart, which makes the previous truth seem acutely depressing. 

My friend, Kristi, bonding with the camp Hobart.

I, like every reasonable American child, dream of dancing juice cups and coffee pots that sound like Angela Lansbury.   Sing, dangit - and please turn on the dishwasher when you’re through.

What is striking about the nature of these everyday hurdles is that while mine might involve sending (then resending) invoices and cleaning up hot chocolate spills in the Dining Hall, yours probably include a host of other duties that drive you to the very same wall I’m scrambling up.  None of us are exempt from work.  It’s an inevitable part of life on terra firma, and we all have some load to bear – even if it is simply brushing our teeth or walking to the corner store for toilet paper (which would take a very long time up here, and probably require crampons).    

That said, I don’t think that true life is about what you do.  It shouldn’t matter if you are a young account executive with Prudential or if you are spending your sunset years working the customer service desk at JCPenney.  It sure feels good to have a job that is fulfilling and soulful and gives you a great financial or emotional return on your effort - that's a no-brainer.  However, life is not made significant by what you do.  Rather, your spirit is revealed in how you do what you do, and this is what I constantly find myself hung up on. 

Do I do my work peevishly, with a dispassionate and resentful spirit?  Am I visibly bitter and visibly tired?  Or rather, do I treat my work as a gift, as are each of my days.  Do I move through it bearing a hopeful countenance, with grace in my speech and humility in my actions?  Am I visibly joyful, albeit visibly tired?

Tiredness is a fact.  Attitude is a choice.  Moments are opportunities.

So, give me just a couple more hours, then throw some soap in the Hobart and let’s get crack-a-lacking.  Lady Lansbury won’t wash herself.


Cabins, Keds®, And (Not) Living Alone

Last night I found myself sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of the cabin that C and I will inhabit for five short weeks this summer.  I was listening to the rain pound down on the earth and the thunder rumble over these evergreen hills.

The cabin is named Sebasticook (Si – bass – ti – cook), after a river, but lovingly referred to as “Sea-bass” on camp.  It’s notorious for having a fairly overwhelming mouse problem, but considering that we spent last summer in a camper trailer in a corner of the staff parking lot, this is really




Each morning this summer, I plan to joyfully flush the toilet, knowing that later in the day I won’t have to hold my breath and pull the white lever underneath the camper to empty the black-water tank into an outhouse pit.  I’ll be flushing like a free man.  Like a free man who's actually a woman. 

Another positive note with regards to our living situation is that we have a cat.  A cat who, you’ll be happy to know, is gradually building more experience as a mercenary.  So far she hasn’t actually eaten the mice after conducting her hours of catch and release, but I’m pretty sure the day is looming ahead of us somewhere.    It’s probably tomorrow, or worse yet, tonight.

And mice aren’t all that we find in our cabin.

Two nights ago, I returned from a long day downriver (*ahem*, downrivah) to a miraculous camp dinner (Salmon?  For dinner?  It’s not canned?!) and a chance to visit with some fellow camp staff.   Sometime after that, I walked back to my cabin with an armload of things, only to open our door and find a woman lying on our bed.

Cue the twenty-something girl dropping her armload of stuff.

Do you want to know what was the most distressing?  It wasn’t her dreadful midriff-bearing polyester tracksuit or her blank stare.  It wasn’t her frozen facial expression, battleship chest cavity, or even her nylon blonde bob. 

It was that she was sprawled on our bed with her white, circa-1990 Keds® still on

The cat seemed ok with it.

Tactless.  I wasn’t about to give her a rescue breath after that. 

A few friends of ours (some of whom happen to be CPR instructors and run our waterfront, while the others direct our tripping program – you know, the responsible adults at camp) thought that the air mattress we are sleeping on was made for not two, but three, and added their Suzy-sucks-wind to the mix on our behalf. 

I promptly threw her lifeless body over my shoulder, with her keester pointed toward the oncoming traffic  (as is the only way) and marched back to where I knew I would find the culprits. 

And they laughed.  And I laughed.  And Suzy laughed.

As I sit here on the porch watching the thundershower pass, I know that it’s been a pretty good summer so far: the mouse-riddled, black fly-bitten, CPR-dummy-in-your-bed kind of good,

which is to really say,



Making Wilbur Proud

Up to this point, I don't think I've ever used this blog to give a shameless plug for any one thing.

Well, maybe ice cream cones.

I just realized that I have 6 pages of search results on this blog for "ice cream".  SIX PAGES.

Or whitewater kayaking.

Or my sister.

Or my sister and ice cream.

So - scratch that - I guess I have made my fair share of endorsements.  Today, though, I'd like to give a plug for some music you may or may not want to check out. Right now, it's free (yes, FREE) on Noisetrade, a magical land of musical discovery (with, I admit, some very misfit toys scattered throughout).  Noisetrade could be a whole other plug on its own.

Artist: Bison.  Album: Quill.

What's weird is that just the other day, my sister told me to check out an album titled The Goat Rodeo Sessions.  Then I found Bison's record.  I'm not sure what is going on with the livestock theme, but at least both sets are good.  In addition, there aren't actually any farm animals involved in the production of said music.  That I know of.

Bison's debut is, in my opinion, a great album, and is worth a run-through, particularly the title track, Quill.  If you turn up the volume, sit back and soak it in, your heart will want to take off and soar like a balloon filling with helium at the party store.  I promise - you'll need a ribbon around your wrist just to keep it from escaping through the car window.  Bison is like the love-child of Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes and David Garrett.

If that's possible.

Keep in mind, though, that this is all coming from a girl that lives in the forest, wears penguin pajamas, and can only play the rubber band guitar she made in kindergarten.  I'm what you call out-of-touch, so if you give this a listen and find that I'm living three years in the musical past, keep it to yourself.

I like my ice cream served with a healthy dollop of blissful ignorance.

It's an acquired taste.


Sometimes You ARE The Show.

It’s been a full month since I tapped away even one word for this blog.  I’m sure some of you have moved on to more reliable sources of entertainment: news radio, bulletin boards at the grocery store, seeing images of Mary in your cereal bowl.  However, if you still have one fingertip clinging to the edge of the cliff, I want to thank you for your tenacious (and probably unrewarding) determination to wait for me.

I really like a good recap, but I hesitate to do that song and dance because my summers are busy, and I feel like last year all I gave you were a whole bunch of strange lists and awkward reviews about things like buying a van, riding a collapsible bike, and life with natural deodorant (a year later I can tell you that while I feel waaay holier-than-thou for leaving anti-perspirant chemicals behind, I finish a hot day stinking like a bag of Spanish onions).

However, after shuffling (and chuckling) through last summer’s posts a bit, I guess I’m ok with a signature recap.  The only downside is that I’ll have to keep collecting fun and often unfortunate experiences to share. 

Or is that really an upside?

O Canada

We’ve done it, folks.  About a week and a half ago, I crossed the border for the very first time since living here in the shadow of our French-speaking, poutine-eating neighbor to the north.  

A couple of things I noticed:
1) They still use payphones in Quebec.
2) Amy Grant was playing in a McDonald’s.  In 2012.  I wasn’t that fond of her in 1998.
(Fine, I was.   What can I say?  She put my heart in motion.)

3) Blinking green traffic lights.  What could they possibly mean other than “GO.  No wait, I’ve thought about it, and I’d really like for you to stay there for a minute.  No… actually, GO”?  Canada makes traffic lights as well as I make decisions:

not well.

After the trip, I know I’ll return so that I can experience more of what French Canada has to offer, from a plethora of rivers to Japanese food and Cirque du Soleil.

On the other hand, I’ll have to figure out what to do at traffic lights.  Other than panic, that is.

She’s Going Down, Captain

So, about three weeks ago or so, C and I took our little jellybeans (whitewater kayaks) down a section of the Winnepesaukee River in New Hampshire.  It was an awesome and pretty demanding run for two relative newbies like us (low water, man-made obstructions), but we were really loving the challenge.  Were.

Three-quarters of the way down the run, I got sucked in next to a rock and flipped/wet-exited.  I mounted my upturned boat like a pool-toy alligator and rode it down the river for a bit, until I came to an old train trestle.  The alligator pulled right of a pile-on, but I wanted to go left.  In an act of God perhaps, I pushed off of the boat and swam left of the pillar, obtaining some great bruises along the way (three weeks later, they are still hard as rocks and a pretty yellow).  Bruises acquired, I washed into an eddy safe and sound.  Without my boat. 

Where was my boat? 

After some hunting, we found my 6-foot vessel, hidden under a foot of whitewater in a hole formed by a broken piece of the cement pile-on.  This was, in effect, a perfectly boat-sized (or human-sized?) hole - a realization that could make any person appreciate a couple of bruises and a swim.

I never thought we’d see her again, but with the help of my Super Dad, Hero Husband, a winch and a pair of come-alongs, my green jellybean was lifted out of the depths, albeit bent and battered.  The miracle was fully realized about a week ago when I took her back out for a run on the Moose River, in almost perfect shape.

Stuck in the Middle

Last week, I had the joy of my first mammogram.  It was totally precautionary, with negative results, if you’re wondering.   However….

Do you know that thin, sensitive skin on the inside of your upper arm?  The area that, when you see it tattooed, makes you cringe involuntarily? 

Imagine someone taking that part of your arm and pressing it between two metal plates.  When I use “pressed” here, I’m not implying any kind of human force, two small hands pushing the plates together.  I am trying to convey the feeling of having your chicken wing clamped tight by a robot that has suddenly become self-aware and has a serious beef with something you said to it three years ago at Thanksgiving.

Smashed.  Squashed.  Flattened.

(Oh, and it’s actually not your arm).

All by a really nice lady with cute bangs.  If you ever find yourself in this circumstance, I can only hope that the technician is so peachy.  I also hope that your chest is made of rubber, because mine wasn’t when I went in, but I’m pretty sure it is now.


So there you have it.  Thankfully, some other great stuff happened during this last month, like seeing my three beautiful nieces and the rest of C’s family, a fun trip (or two) to NYC, great spring cook-outs, friends having their first baby, welcoming new staff to camp, and seeing a Prius full of really happy labradors.

I’d like to swear that I’ll be better about posting, but you know I’d be full of it.  I do, however, promise to try.


The House [Almost] Always Wins: Why I Usually Bet On The Other Guy

Over the last week or so, I've been slowly working away on a wall hanging.  It would normally be a wise move to bet that I'd never finish, and it's probably only due to the fact that I advertised the project, but I'm pleased to say that we've reached lift-off.

It all started with a walk through the woods with a chainsaw.  Last weekend, C and I scavenged around for well preserved blow-downs and decent looking widow-makers, and finding enough worthwhile lengths of both, headed back to the shop to cut slices and power sand the living daylights out of the ugly stuff.  Remember, dead wood, though eco-friendly, is not always pretty.  You should have seen some of the chunks we looked over... they were regular ant farms.  You try hanging that on your wall.  Ick.

Days later, after multiple trips to multiple hardware stores, I started staining.  I used oil-based stuff mostly, along with a water-based forest green and rusty red for a splash of color (it might not seem like much of a step out to you, but it's a far cry from the safety of light beige, the neutral bull's-eye, my home base).  I gathered my rounds of birch, maple, and pine, then proceeded to stain them in a variety of neutrals, ranging from the almost transparent to a rich umber shade, also throwing a couple of those colored pieces into the mix.

After rooting around for a base to attach my rounds to, I settled on a crappy hunk of plywood that was approximately the right size for the project and not terribly heavy.  I sanded this down (mostly for any ratty edges) and then brushed on the darkest brown I had, Miniwax Jacobean, #2750, which wiped down to a rich chocolate hue after giving it a minute or two to sit.

I gave the base a few hours of drying time, then went on a mission down the road to borrow a glue gun from my friend Cathy (cup o' sugar, neighbor?).  Then I spent a small eternity learning how to use the blessed thing (tiny strings were everywhere!!), and moved as fast as I could to slather my pieces and attach them in their predetermined locations before the glue cooled off.

After letting the glue set, we were on to the mount.  C helped with this (helped = performed completely on his own) by drilling the mortar holes and screws to hang the finished piece on the brick above our mantle, as well as attaching the wire to the backside of the plywood.

And then, all of a sudden, it was up.  (All of a sudden really consisted of C balancing backward on the mantle, moving around at my command, while I held "spotter hands" from the ground).  But really, all of a sudden is how it felt to me.

If I were to do it all over again, I would use many more wood cuts for a denser look - but for the first go at it, I'll settle for how this came out.  It also would be neat to make something entirely out of birch rounds. Pretty stuff, that birch.

Here are some photos from the process.

I'm pretty excited to be able to eat at the table again.

Attempting to appear random is pretty tricky.  Notice the blue rounds didn't make the final cut.

But they did make the mantle... in C's grandpa's old shoe kit (center).

The final product.  It almost seems to blend in here, but it is fairly distinct in person.  Sort of.

The best part of this whole thing is that it's actually done.  It happened.  It's up.

Unfortunately, I think I owe somebody twenty bucks,
 because I was pretty sure it would never get there.


Married Life & The Quest To Keep Two Wheels On The Ground

So, I've been reading this book, and the other day I came to a section in which the author was writing about relationships, you know: that messy, haphazard world of dating, love, and lifelong commitment.  I read to the end of a statement about a fellow with a tumultuous dating history and saw that the writer concluded the matter with a sentence like this: "In the end, things have really worked themselves out, and Brian is now happily married".  Is it just me, or does that sound pretty anticlimactic?

Don't get me wrong - I consider myself among the fortunate few who are indeed, married to someone they still like.  I got engaged at the wise old age of 21 years old, married at 22 (barely old enough to make a toast at my own reception), and between now and then we've somehow managed to clear the fences of 6 years.  C and I have gotten this far without dismembering each other or developing a taste for hard drugs, which is what I think the author must have meant when he used the phrase "happily married".

But no, he uses it like most of the world does, as a finishing statement, like, "oh, I'm happily married now, so you might as well bury the coffin". In fact, it's almost as good a conversation ender as "and they lived happily ever after".  If you've read any Disney story EVER, you know what that means:


Duh, duh, duuuuh.

But no!  Wait!  Marriage hasn't happened - it's happening!  Some of us entered into our relationships with some seriously misguided expectations, primarily that we would fall into a love that brought us joy and completion - bam! - all of a sudden, like a crashing wave.  But marriage is like the sun: a wildly twisting, dangerously warm, magnetic source of the good, bad, ugly and shockingly hot in life. What happens after your first real disagreement?  The first time you accidentally roll over and elbow your husband in the face at 2 AM?  Reach your first financial goal?  Climb your first mountain together (literally) or canoe your first river?  The first second time you accidentally deck your husband in the face at 2 AM?

This, friends, this marriage thing can be where the adventure begins.  Don't let yourself settle for a marriage that is static, that happened at one point in time.  Swing for the fences!  Do marriage, live marriage, and with a little grace, you will love marriage.

This whole basket hangs on one very important nail, though, and I'm sure you've guessed it.  Marriage is like a bicycle.  If your front wheel is properly inflated, "trued" (aligned), and well... attached, that's a great start.  But if you've got all of this, and your back tire tube is still stored in a Rubbermaid bin somewhere, or worse yet, your whole wheel is a half-mile back on the left, you're in real trouble.  Likewise, marriage is a two-person affair (wait, not literally... or is it?), and you've both got to be in it for the whole ride.  There are times when a wheel can be squeaky, or even bent six ways to Sunday, but if you can address the problem [with the right tools], you can, after some good hard work, find yourself pedaling along the Hudson again (or the Merrimack, or the Kennebec, or the Ohio, or the Fox - you get my drift).

I know that some of your minds are probably hovering on a wrecked marriage (yours, your parents, your child's) with feelings of anger, hurt and frustration.  I'm really sorry - I wish that hadn't happened to your family.  What I'm trying to convey in this post is probably something you realized in the midst of that falling out: that this kind of relationship - this commitment - is active.  It requires movement and effort and sacrifice and laughter.  I don't want anyone else to have to endure the pain of realizing that their marriage has suddenly stopped like a car in an intersection, waiting for the jarring hit from behind.  No one wants to wake up one morning and wonder after so much time, who that person next to them really is.

I've never been sure.

And more than that, don't we want adventure and meaning in our relationships?  I think that marriage, lived actively and purposefully can be exciting.  Unfortunately, I don't have all the answers, and C and I have certainly our run our wheels off the road now and then.  So my only advice is this: Bring along your bike grease, and a whole 'lotta patience, because you're going to need quite a bit of both.

Because the pedaling, though good, isn't always easy.  And sometimes, when the chain gets gummy, I'd much rather get off the bike and walk than face another hill under those conditions.  But even if I get off the bike and push it to the top of the hill, you better believe I'm going to try to clean that chain, because we all know that while you can't get a thrill by walking down the road, going 45 mph down a hill on a trustworthy set of wheels is about the best rush there is.

And every relationship needs a we-flew-off-into-the-ditch kind of story to keep things from getting stale, don't you think?

So saddle up and go get yours.


Break A Sweat

You know it's a good run when you have to turn around because there's a moose in the trail.

Run count:

Pheasant - check.
Angry Squirrels - check.
She-Moose - check.
Traffic Light - not yet.


I Survive Each Day In Order To Make You Look Better

Nary a day passes when I don’t wish that I had posted something new here on the parka-butt blog.  This is more evidence that my ambitions don’t produce the fruit that one generally hopes for when they think of their personal character and discipline.

Discipline is for unruly toddlers and training circus poodles.  Duh.

When C and I first got married and I was jobless, cat-less, and moderately hopeless, I tried to teach myself to play the guitar (something I still wish I could do), in hopes of creating some sort of personal forward-movement.  My string-picking days lasted for, well… let’s just say that my fingertips didn't even have enough time to calluses over.  

When I was in college, I held to a pretty consistent workout schedule.  Sound like willpower?  It does, doesn’t it?  That is, until you realize that I did this in order to eat vast mountains of ice cream with my roommates and regularly down a half-dozen Krispy Kreme donuts by myself.  (mixed selection, if you’re wondering).  Oh - I also beat my now-husband in an eating contest at White Castle, just in case this point needed reinforcement. 

 Mind if I finish that?

Now that I think of it, when I was in high school, I actually had quite a bit more perseverance than I do now, which is to really say that my character has taken a serious nosedive since the age of 15. 

I started playing JV basketball as a freshman – I’m still not sure why – and I never stopped.  I hated basketball.  I was consumed in hot, angry tears over it on more occasions that I dare admit, but still, I just couldn’t quit.  For all you 8th graders out there, this is NOT a way to spend four years.   To make matters worse, I was awful: an elbow-swinging, freakishly terrified-of-the-basket, rule-violating madwoman with a mouth guard the size of a boomerang.

As we say amongst our friends, I was the show.

But at least I wasn't this guy.

I dated a young man in high school for a couple of years who was a relational train wreck, and gave him far too many chances for far too long.   I still don’t know if he was actually in it for my anxious, antisocial personality – it could have been my boomerang wielding face and cool wardrobe (read: a fair amount of dad’s military-issue clothing) that reeled him in - but for some reason, I didn’t mind that he went out with other girls and stole stuff.   

Fortunately, this young mustang grew up to be a pretty great guy (and was actually fairly kind, considering he was a hound at the time and I was afraid of the general populace), so I still consider this episode a win-win.

These days, I quit half-way through almost everything, from putting on makeup (quickly translates to putting on mascara) to reading books and completing projects.  In fact, I just started a wall-hanging project yesterday, so you can start making your wagers on whether or not I finish. 

My money’s on the other guy.  


And Hope Comes In The Morning... But Will There Be Coffee?

The ground has again been draped in a dusty white veil.

You thought we were past this winter thing?  Me too.

Despite the fact that I long to sip my morning coffee in the clean, crisp June air (April is winter, May is a more reasonable winter, June is merely crisp), I will take what I was given this morning: snow.  

I'll soldier on, because I have hope that it won't always be snowing.  We're not quite in Canada, after all.

This is Holy Week, as I'm sure you're aware.  It's a peculiar time of year, during which we have the opportunity to be reminded that things are made new.  We, this giant, milling brood of messy humans, can be reminded of the meaning found in expectation, in mystery, in goodness. We can set our minds on something buoyant and bright.

As I approach the dogma diving board, allow me to pose what are surely some of your thoughts:

"M, I'm not religious.  I'm spiritual", or...
"My path doesn't include Resurrection Sunday or Holy Week", or...
"I hate religion", or...
"We're going to talk about religion?  To be honest, M, I only come here to sneer at your most recent physical trauma or social embarrassment.  Don't get the impression that I read this to think".

Well, 1) Then we have something in common.  2) Sorry - mine does, and it's my blog (today is not your day... yet).  3) Of course you do - religion practically begs to be hated. 4) Touche (or, as C says, "Toosh").

This post isn't really about religion.  It's about hope.  The connection between one and the other is yours to tie together and likewise, yours to slip apart.  For now though, let's talk sunshine.

As I sat on my couch this morning to write, the sun had risen up behind me.  It lifted beyond the eastern rim of this little dip-in-the-land that we call home.  Over the white, opaque ice of the pond.  Over thousands of pines.  Over hills in the distance, and perhaps even over the meandering Appalachian Trail, which runs just southeast of here.  The warm heat on my shoulders made me feel like this winter might... not... last forever.  It gave me hope.

What is so striking about Holy Week is the music of it.  Go to your nearest Barnes & Noble, hop on Spotify, or paw through your scratched CD collection (oh wait, that's mine) in search of Adagio for Strings, Op. 11a, composed by Samuel Barber.  Feel the despair in the music, the need.  If you listen well, you'll almost sense a physical tug on your soul as the music ebbs and flows from high to low, and back again.  Holy week is like this.  If you don't know the story, here's a gravely simplified, throw-me-in-the-stocks version: First, there' a HUGE welcome party, full of celebrity attention and staring, I'm sure.  Then there's betrayal by a inner-circle kind of buddy, followed by the kinds of torture and death that thankfully most nations don't practice anymore.  Then, somehow, in the wake of these nasty, depressing, terrible things, there's life.  It ebbs, it flows, and it swells, until it finally reaches a crescendo.  It is an account of hope.

Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, as it's also called, is an occasion to float.  It arrives at the end of a horrible weekend, following a current of betrayal, sadness and loss.  It is a reminder to hope in the midst of things, because - just wait - there is a roaring crescendo in the story that is just around the bend, and you are almost there.  Hold on.

As you work your way through this week, regardless of your spiritual path, be encouraged.  I always kid that I'd become an atheist, except that I'm not sure how I could do that and still manage to think about tomorrow.  There's more to it than this, but I know that in order for me, personally, to live well, I need a hope.  In fact, I don't know how you could go without one.  Can you?

So, in a different way, that's also why the sunrise drew me in this morning, why it lifted me.  It is a reminder that there is hope in the sorrow.  There is hope in the ebb and in the flow.  There is hope when it snows in April.

Yes, even then.


That Stinks: Expanding Your Mind & Deflating Your Ego

People are smart.

It's also true that some people are pretty stupid.  In my opinion, these are people who ride three-wheeled contraptions and that guy who jumped off of the Eiffel Tower with a cape.  Come on, folks.  Nature wins, every time.

But otherwise, like I said, most people are smart.

I was thinking the other day about how it might be a clever thing to get a particular custom t-shirt made.  It would be chocolate brown, and on the chest it would read in gold letters: My name is M, and my poop smells.

You're probably laughing a little.
Or shocked.
Or praying for me.
I'll take 'em all.

What I'm trying to say is that on most days, I feel (and certainly behave) like I have the master copy of life's manual, My Way tucked into my back pants pocket.  You see, I know how to answer the phone the right way, cook an omelet the right way, drive a car the right way (HA), and even tell a story the right way.  I've got the instruction book that you desperately need.  In fact, I AM the instruction book, so listen up.

(If you don't know, I tell stories as well as a rat giving you directions to the interstate)

So I've got this rule book, my rule book, in one back pocket, and in the other, I've got a copy of another text, The Highway.  I'm sure you're following at this point.  My way.... the highway....

Bottom line: I am CRAZY.

I am crazy not to listen more, to learn more, to shut up more.  I am the girl who has walked into walls [in daylight] and talks more to her cat than to most people.  The woman who drives to the right town in the wrong state is certainly not a woman who should be giving any form of instruction, even omelet instruction.

I spent a bit of this week at a conference for industry professionals, and again I realized that... my poop smells.  Shocker.  Don't ask me how I ever manage to forget this - somehow I find a way.  I am young.  I am arrogant.  I am at the beginning of things.  I am NOT an expert.  I am just another girl, and need as much advice and help is my dense mind can possibly absorb.  Particularly in the area of common sense, in which I am desperately lagging.

Harry Truman said, The only things worth learning are the things you learn after you know it all.

I shouldn't need a reminder for my insufficiency, but sometimes I do.  And there is no better reminder than smart people.

In conclusion, I'm 100% positive that I need to listen more, hear more, and humble myself more.

And here's an unrelated (your favorite kind, I'm sure) and free snip-it for you readers:

Refrain from keeping books in your back pockets.
No one likes a lumpy butt.


And A River Runs [All Over] It

Now this is what I'm talking about.

This is the spring I dream of.  Warm, sunny, bird-chirpy and full of mud.  It seems funny that of all the smells I've smelled, one of my most favorite is the aroma of recently upturned dirt.  There such a sweet irony to the idea that something we associate semantically with filth and nastiness can smell so dang clean.   I once bought C this Demeter cologne, and was pleasantly surprised that this was no essence de pig, but was rather an almost perfect replication of the beautifully musty, heavenly clean smell of a mud pie.

I'm currently sitting in an adirondack chair, on our porch, looking out over the grand front lawn of camp, still covered in sad, browning snow.  There is water trickling somewhere (everywhere) due to the snowmelt, and little streams and rivers are making themselves seen on trails and along dirt roads.

Yesterday, C and I took out our cross-country skis and had a nice little jaunt through the woods.  I know that there won't be enough snow cover for this activity much longer, because along our way, we passed puddle after pond after small lake of standing water.

I got a good look at one, in particular.  After visiting our co-workers/friends/fellow-commune-dwellers on the other side of the [real] pond, we turned around to take a slightly different route home.  This route would bring us down along the shore and back to connect to the lakeside trail that would take us home.  One of these friends had, 15 minutes earlier, pointed out the dead beaver that was "resting" at the base of a pine tree near the trail.  This was, allegedly, for luring coyotes, but was still pretty much an identifiable beaver at this point, albeit with entrails stringing out along the ground.  

Anyhow, we hiked up the snowbank by the driveway and whooshed our way down toward the shore trail, all with the grace and beauty of a pair of hippos on ice skates.  Sure, it was a little mushy down there, but with 60-degree weather in March, what's not mushy?  We pressed on.  

And then I pressed a little too far forward.  

Have you ever seen such a stride?

I don't have a picture of what happened next, because unfortunately my iPhone was under 4 inches of water for most of the duration.  The tree well - the beaver-tree well -  had filled with gallons and gallons [and gallons] of snowmelt, and though covered by a thinnish layer of snow, the dark water was the clear property holder.  Here, in this slushy mess, I lurched.  And in the briefest instant, I was on my stomach, drinking it all in... 

gulp after beaverish gulp.

Fortunately, my phone came through the incident astonishingly well, and despite being soaking wet, I was adequately warm in the toasty afternoon air.  Apart from the squishing in my boots, all was fine in the world.  

Relatively fine, I suppose.  

The aroma of dirt wafting through the air is a high point of this particular spring,  but the giardia is bound to be a real downer.


When Things Come Full-Circle

It's a cheeky example of divine humor, really, that I ended up in working in the camp industry.  When I was a little girl, my parents took time out of their summer and volunteered for week-long chunks at a youth camp a few hours from our home.  They'd take my sister and I along with them, enrolling a very happy Renee in the current session and attempting to enroll me.  What I mean is that I would start my week in a cabin on the hill by drudgingly taking a bottom bunk somewhere in a hut full of other 9-year old inmates, er, campers.

Then I would



I was that kid.  I'd last maybe a day or two, and only that long because my two teenage counselors had the patience and willpower of a couple of hearing-impaired elementary school bus drivers.  But even they could only hold it together for so long, and after day two of my desperate, home-sick blubbering, they'd escort me down to whatever farmhouse room my folks were inhabiting and I'd resume my week, having not only ruined the first two days of my counselors' session, but now ruining the whole experience for my parents, because at that point they were no longer alone.

And I in my current state, would be the worst kind of company.

My memories of my time as a camp drifter are few and fading, but I haven't lost them altogether yet.  There was this set of metal pipes that was hammered into the ground in an upside-down U shape, and I remember swinging my body around like I was a competitor at the Olympics, showcasing some brilliant, high-scoring (and almost certainly unsafe) moves on the uneven bars.  This was also my first memory of having the wind knocked out of me.

When it happened, I knew I was going to die, which made me so mad, because dead people don't make it to the podium, ever.

Another good memory was our camp pool.  You see, it wasn't actually a pool in the way of your local YMCA, but was rather a concrete mold (in the shape of a pool), filled with water running from a nearby brook.

The brook was also the residence of a moderately-sized family of beavers.  
Or were they moderately-sized beavers?  
Both, probably. 

Our open-swim was held in an opaque brown rectangle that was full of frogs and snakes and salamanders.   We kept a big salt shaker on the lifeguard stand to use in the case that any leaches became stuck to the legs and arms of campers.  There was usually a line to use it.  

You didn't touch the bottom of this pool.  Ever.

Other pages in my mental scrapbook: huge bonfires, camp songs with more verses than 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, chicken patty lunch, a plastic tree with gumdrops on it that you won for "cleanest cabin" (along with getting to keep a stuffed owl for a day - this only works with the under-12 crowd, trust me), feeding our leftover meal bits to the pigs down the road, and wandering semi-aimlessly, playing with kittens and making the next space shuttle out of pom-poms and googley-eyes.

So even though I was a nightmare as an actual camper, I still have some pretty good memories when it comes to our weeks away.  Between morning calisthenics and my post-cookout watermelon binge, I was like a free-range chicken, checking in here, exploring over there... running to the sound of the bell when it was time to eat and giving too much attention to the resident animals.

And now when our campers want to play in a vat of Jell-O pudding or paddle across the pond on their mattress, I'll be flashing back to my own childhood and remembering that, like the time I threw some dish detergent in with my juice, natural consequences are the best kind.

I learned mine at camp - why shouldn't they?

Popular Posts