Vacation Mode

I finally got into “vacation mode” yesterday, right on schedule.  It normally takes me four days.  Four days to settle into the rhythm of doing nothing at no particular time.  Four days to loosen the strings that tie me to my normal concerns.

Even of vacation, I often set out demanding more than the requisite sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling:  walk or work out (daily), read and write (a lot). Resolve nagging issues about work.  Figure out where I’m really going with my life, my career.  All the things I want to do at home but am too busy for.  All things that I should realize I’ll be too busy to accomplish on vacation as well.

Still, I tossed a journal, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, and a handful of books downloaded on my Kindle into my carry-on bag on the way out the door last Tuesday when I set out with my daughter Taylor and her friend for a week-long trip to the island of Aruba.

I get up fairly early even on vacation, and enjoy my morning coffee and solitude outdoors on the balcony.  Four mornings ago I sat alone with my hotel-brewer cup of Starbucks, the New York Times on my Kindle, and tears clouding my view of a rippling turquoise ocean sixteen floors below.  “…In a country where memories of a nuclear horror of a different sort in the last days of World War II weigh heavily on the national psyche and national politics, the impact of continued venting of long-lasting radioactivity from the plants is hard to overstate,” were the words I read.

Fukishima.  Aruba.

And what am I to do with this time, with this sunshine, this view?

The other night, after an argument over the teenage girls proposing a solo visit to Senor Frog’s – something we’d definitively settled before I’d agreed to the trip – Taylor and I wound up talking in the beater rent-a-car outside the hotel, a rare Aruba rain marring the windows around us.  Our conversation wandered from apologies through tears to college (she’s still waiting to hear), as far as the meaning of life.  “I don’t even know WHAT I want to study at college or what I want to BE.  It feels like the only thing that matters is nature.  Everything else seems fake.  People can be so fake.  I mean, Mom, WHAT is this place?  Why are we even here?  Why do we go on vacation?  Aruba’s a grain of sand!  We’re nothing!”

How can I help with questions I can’t answer myself?

“I think we have to make meaning of our own lives….  Maybe we need vacations to rest, to get some perspective….  Some things are about ego and some things are about what’s real….”  I struggle.  I change tack:

“It sounds like truth is important to you….”  Yes.  “If nature and honesty matter to you, listen to that.…”  Mm.

“Listen to that, Honey.  Listen to yourself.”

Day four and the overnight rains broke yesterday morning.  I read a day-old New York Times from beginning to end, not bothering to download the latest news.  I didn’t cry.

Our skin full of color, the girls and I started seeking a little shade instead of greedily consuming sunshine at the pool.  I finished Gift from the Sea.  We walked, we sailed, we kicked and floated on our bellies with tropical fish.  And we walked some more.

You count days in Aruba like coins, or cards, holding them in a tight hand and relinquishing each with a longing regret until none remain.  You know you have traded each for something, although you look over each shoulder and can’t quite locate what it is.

I have two cards left in my hand.  Today we will spend time at the pool, and drive to Baby Beach on the far side of the island to explore.   We’ll put on pretty sleeveless dresses tonight and eat outdoors among waxy green plants and tinkling lights, warm breezes and unfamiliar languages brushing our ears.  We’ll laugh when the driver side window on the beater stops working, and squeal trying to drive across what looks like a lake in the road.  We won’t resolve any great issues, but perhaps where we’re going and what’s important will become just a little clearer to all of us.

Posted in Family and Marriage, Life, Travel | Tagged | 2 Comments

Living Color

Getting through winter is a yearly struggle for me.  I cruise through summer’s long days in high spirits but each winter I have to make working out a priority and consciously try to add warmth and color to my life if I want to see the world as a good place to be.

Thus, my trip to San Diego for a dose of Blue Lily.

About a month ago, high on hopes of a new year that began with optimism and good intentions, I signed up for one of Blue Lily’s “enlighten: goPro” photography workshops. Hoping that some of their light and photo skills, not to mention their way of grabbing life by the balls would rub off on me, I decided to take a long weekend and fly to California for my first visit to the state.  I headed out on my own to the land of sun, blond, and beaches to see what Blue Lily was all about.

Now, if you already know Blue Lily – and you might – then you know that the husband-wife team of Tyler and Wendy Whitacre makes art out of people’s lives in the form of vibrant and playful photo portraits.  One look at their website will show you the color and fun they bring into the world.  And the skill with which they do it.  One look at their blog will show you the smart sincerity and quirky good humor that defines them.  They travel the country and the world with their two children, photographing families and couples, making friends, and chronicling life in their blog.  “Wendy and I would do this even if we didn’t have to earn a living.  That’s how much we love it,” Tyler claims during the two-day workshop.  And we believe him.

Twelve students circle round their teachers in the living room of an Oceanside beach house that is literally on the sand, the Pacific gleaming outside the sliding glass doors.  Wendy and Tyler – who even trade off shooting without any discernible difference in style – are difficult to separate when describing them:  professional but playful, down-to-earth, witty, and most of all, generous.  They seamlessly alternate sharing secrets of their craft as if we were family:  Tyler, equipment, Wendy, exposure, Tyler, locations, Wendy, lighting, Tyler, work-flow, Wendy Photoshop.  And so it went.  All with a laugh and a polite disclaimer of “this is our philosophy; you don’t have to do it this way.”

When we weren’t in the beach-house, we were on location, shooting and observing, learning how to relax stressed-out parents and make children smile (compliments, monkey noises, and “1, 2, 3” games, we found out).  We learned about simple studio lighting, and traveled to an abandoned bridge for an outdoor engagement shoot with a real-life bride and groom.

But this was not just a photography workshop, it was a workshop on art, on business, on marketing, on life:  Define your style and stick with it.  For a while.  Present the kind of work you want to do.  Attract the kind of people you want to work with by establishing your brand.

For me, though, the simplest lesson was the most profound:  First decide what you want from life, what you want to make, and how you want to spend your time.  “For us,” Wendy told us, “we knew we wanted time with our kids, we wanted to travel, and we wanted to take lots of pictures.”

Decide the life you want to live and live it.  How much simpler could it be?

Yes, take the workshop for the shoots, the sunshine, the trade tips and inside secrets.  But really, take the workshop for a lesson in life well-lived:  work in beach houses, orchards, and forests, travel with your family, sleep in the mornings and work in the evenings.  Make friends with your clients.  Laugh, play, love color.

After all, in the words of Blue Lily, “your life is art.”

Indeed.

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Of Faith and Football

Football season is over.  Tom Brady is already recovering from post-season foot surgery and tonight I’ll have to put my faith in the Steelers–rather than my beloved Patriots–to beat the Jets.  No, it has not been a good week for New England fans.

It’s not just disappointing to lose a shot at the Super Bowl–although the Pats really did look like a team of champions until last week–but to cut short the show of brilliance we got to witness this season.  To me, the thrill of this sport is to see peak athleticism in action and, when it works, the orchestration of men, mind, and muscle that wins games.

In my next life I want to be strong and brown, with long legs, muscled shoulders, and maybe even a few tattoos that claim, without apology, “this body is mine.”  I want to come back, just once, as an athlete, a football player, a wide receiver.  I want to be a Larry Fitzgerald, to have faith in God, in these legs, this heart.  I want to leap two body lengths through space and catch sailing leather bullets of hope.  I want to run, to fly, to be caught in slow-motion:  a dancer or gazelle against a green ground, against a crush of human voices raised in surprise and triumph and joy over the simple act of a ball hitting my glove and sticking.  I want to do this for them.

And for me.

Maybe then I can have a bigger part to play in the ups and downs of the season.  But for now, I will put my blue jersey away until a crisp day in September when I’ll put a beef stew on the stove, the first game of the season on the big-screen, and my hopes on the team that I know can win a Super Bowl.

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Beginning Again

Here I am, a week after Christmas, ready to begin again.  To begin again the pursuit of those interests and aspirations that have become the casualties of a too-full life.  Things like my yoga practice, like a body that’s fifteen pounds lighter, like writing daily, like this blog.

In our family, fall is “tuna season” – the time when the small business my husband and I own buys and exports giant bluefin tuna for sale in the Japanese sushi market.  Tuna season often requires my husband to work 100-hour weeks and to answer his cell-phone at 3:00 a.m. or whenever a fisherman might call to say he’s landing a fish.  Overlaying a normal, busy work and school schedule with tuna season means that household duties my husband normally takes care of – like preparing dinner nightly – fall to me or remain undone.  It means two to three months of take-out Thai food, pizza, and frozen dinners, a ten-load laundry backlog, sleep deprivation, and very little exercise.  Add to this the holiday season, and you’ve got a lot of catching up to do once January arrives.

So now I find myself intent on beginning again, as I do every year.  Not only because I finally have time to breathe or because of the requisite New Year’s resolution, but because my birthday falls on January 6th.  I usually reassess my life around my birthday and this year is no exception.  Only this year I turn 52 and beginning again is not as simple as it used to be.

When I was forty-two, I was confident that within a few weeks of re-engaging my workout routine this body would be looking sleek and renewed.  I’d return to yoga or dance-fitness class, not worried that my upper shoulders have taken on a definitive slump (or is that back fat?), or that my hamstring muscles seem to be fused together.  I wouldn’t think twice about showing up at class a little out of condition, because a little out of condition meant just that.  Today, after an entire fall of too much take-out and chocolate, and a sporadic workout schedule at best, my yoga pants are overstuffed and I don’t feel that I’ll ever see sleek again.  I catch sight of a droopy jaw line on the way past the hallway mirror and think the only renewal I might ever expect would be spiritual or surgical.

Yes.  I am vain.  And I am worried.

Still, hopeless as it feels, I do know deep down that my body and mind–not to mention my soul–will be better off for dancing, for practicing yoga, for writing.  For eating salad.

And I also know that beginning again, despite any promise of reward, has its own merits.  That something about beginning is as important as the thing itself.  That beginning again – with the faith to know that something might come of it, and with the courage to know we will eventually fail – is as important as breathing.

I will try to think of this when I squeeze into the tight yoga pants and throw a loose shirt over the top to hide the embarrassing bulges.  I will remind myself, as I rumble over the crushed-shell lot in Wellfleet to park my car that I have never left the yoga studio feeling worse than when I arrived.  I will know, before stepping onto the driftwood-silver planks of the wharf that houses Quiet Mind Studio, before swinging the door open, that I’m here because yoga brings me back inside myself, because it reminds me to work without judgment, to simply experience, and – though striving – to also “be” wherever it is that I am.  I will sign in with my first name, and, returning my teacher’s smile, will feel sorry for being gone so long.  I will remember, as I hang my coat, take off my shoes and set bare feet to wooden floor, lay out my mat and fold blankets into two neat squares, that I belong here.  That I belong in this place where our teacher will sit cross-legged in sukhasana to face us and say, “let’s begin.”

“Again,” I will whisper to myself, inhaling, resting palms on thighs, closing my eyes.

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Bookend

Taylor, my only daughter and youngest of three children, is seventeen and a senior in high school.  When her desires are thwarted or she’s awakened before she’s ready to get up she’s as snarly as they come.  She will spit insults about anything from my driving ability, to my shortcomings as a working mother.  She’ll sometimes accuse me of not wanting her to grow up and go to college (“you just hope I won’t get in to college so I have to stay home and go to Cape Cod Community!”), or will say, simply, that I’m “acting weird” when I disagree with her opinions.  Some days she’ll criticize my poor waking-up technique:  “Don’t turn on the light!” she might growl, eyes shut, blankets pulled tight. “Stop yelling at me!”

“I’m not yelling,” I whisper, trying to keep my voice even.

Sometimes I carry the residue of such outbursts with me to work to work for the day.  But I’ve also learned that these episodes don’t last and she and I often talk about them calmly after-the-fact or laugh about them together later as we drive on errands.

“You were rotten this morning,” I accuse her.

“I was?!”  She responds, with an innocent “who-me?!” grin.  “I don’t remember.  Really.  I’m sorry!  I’m a different girl in the morning.”  Her look begs forgiveness.

“Yes, you were:  ‘Don’t wake me up like that!  You’re a terrible mother!  I hate you!’” I press on, mocking and teasing her, exaggerating just a bit.

“I didn’t say THAT!” she argues through giggles.

Despite popular sentiment that might advise against parents trying too hard to be liked by their children, wanting to be friends before being parents, I’ve certainly allowed it to happen.  This is not to say that I haven’t taken away car keys once or twice, or pressured her to shut off the TV and do homework, but I’ve let her charm me for the better part of two decades.

Last week, Taylor and I were driving together, me at the wheel this time as she forwarded through Taylor Swift’s new album to show me all the songs.  She and I know the words to older releases “You Belong with Me” or “Our Song” and sing along together whenever they’re on the radio.  This day, we talked about how “Dear John” was about the singer’s relationship with the much older John Mayer (“Eew!  He’s so old!” says Taylor) and listened to “Innocent,” her song to Kanye West in response to his ripping the mike from her hands during her MTV award acceptance speech.

“I’m curious to hear what she says to him,” I say.

“Eh – the quality is shitty on this one,” Taylor quips as she fast-forwards to the next cut.  “It’s live and it sounds shitty.  But here, you’ll like this one.  It’s one of her story songs.”  And I do.  Maybe this is a new one for our repertoire, I think.

I listen as the famous Taylor sings from the beginning verse about a baby’s grip around her finger, on to the one about the awkward teen ashamed to let her mom drop her off in front of friends, to wanting to be an adult with a place of her own in the city.  Her maturing voice is still young and sweet as she sings the chorus “never grow up, don’t you ever grow up….”

The final verse, when “T Swift” sings that the city is colder than she imagined it would be, causes me to break into tears as I suddenly see the bookend of seventeen years of daily life with my daughter vividly in the near distance.

“Aw Mom, don’t cry,” she soothes.  But suddenly her face cracks and tears pour from her eyes.  “I can’t wait to go to college but I’m really gonna miss you!” she chokes out.

“Let’s turn this off.”  We both laugh through tears and reach for the knob at the same time.

I imagine next August or September I’ll have the mixed grief and relief a mother feels when she sends her child off on the school bus for the first time.  But I know one of the first things I’ll have to do with all my extra time is to make some new friends.

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Meta-Humor: What it Takes to be Funny

I’ve never been a funny person.  Unless you call walking my dogs at 6 a.m. in a getup befitting a Tibetan lama funny.  Maybe I should think twice about wearing furry clogs with socks and Capri sweats.  Some days I let the dogs pull me out of the yard and up the street.  Maybe that’s not a good idea either.

One time I was caught by surprise when my new neighbor stepped out from behind the bushes he was watering.  I tried to keep my distance so I’d have time to wipe the mascara smudges from beneath my eyes.  But no, he wants to make conversation (we’ve never met).  Great.  I smoosh my hair into what I hope is a passable intentional bed-head configuration but I’m not sure it works.

We shake hands and I do a lot of gesturing toward the beach and his yard, complimenting his bushes.  Anything so he’ll look anywhere but at me.

But that’s just it.  I’m pretty oblivious to things.  I think you have to be paying attention to be funny.  And I’m too serious to be paying attention.  You know, I wear dull colors (so my sister says), work hard, and act all responsible in public or at work at least.  I usually have my head down, hammering out my organization’s finances or the next newsletter (unless I’m cheating, rushing out this week’s blog post).  But yes, I’m responsible and serious.  I’m not one to wear rhinestone-studded t-shirts, holiday sweaters, or fun socks.  Except at 6 a.m.

Dignity is important to me.

Which is why being a mother was especially challenging.  I say “was” because the mortifying parts are mostly over now that my youngest is seventeen.  But of course I’m still a mother, even though my kids are taller than me and have started leaving home.  Now the only way they can embarrass me is on Facebook.  My underage daughter recently posted photos of herself arm-in-arm with a shirtless tattooed young man – beer bottles in hand – at some concert she went to.  I suggested to her that posting drinking pictures from Loserfest was probably not a good idea, even if she had smudged the beer-bottle labels out.  “If you can’t read the label nobody can do anything.”

I can do anything I said.

She un-friended me.

The other problem is that my idea of humor is usually pretty mean.  I loved Borat, for instance.  I find people looking stupid to be pretty funny.  (Thank god Borat doesn’t live in my neighborhood.) But really, it’s a problem.  I’m fascinated when other people are being mean, but I’m too chicken to do it much myself.

Some people are naturally funny – like my blogging teacher.  (And I’m trying to get an A.)  But really.  She is.  So for those among us who are humor-challenged, she gave us some tips:  Soutter’s Rules for Writing Humor.  I’m not sure they’ve helped me one bit, but I’m trying.  And I thought I’d share them with you here.  And if they don’t help your humor writing, perhaps they can double as love advice.  They are:

1.  Get there sooner.  Enough said.

2.  Use levels – long descriptive, then short, short, short.  Go up, go down.  Uh huh.

3.  Contrast – You  have to have your straight man.  Well, yeah.

4.  Relationships – Funnier when you care about the  character.  Of course.

5.  Never follow a strong line with a weak one.  My mother taught me this.

6.  Use scroll-down technique.  Okay, so you get the idea.

Yes, I’m working on being funnier.  But maybe not so much in the mornings.

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Blogging Practice: Fast Food for Slow Cookers

I don’t know if blogging is my thing, but I do think it’s a great exercise for any writer.  This shouldn’t surprise me, given that I believe writers in any genre can improve their work by studying and practicing other writing disciplines.

To write a succinct, 650-word blog, reminds me of the advice I received some time ago in photography class:  that a photo should convey a single idea.  That to try to say too much with just one photograph usually serves to weaken, not strengthen, the image.  The same seems to be true for blogging:  we get into trouble when we’re not clear – by the time we finish a piece – what it is we’re trying to say.

Fortunately, writing is an exploration and we don’t have to know what we’re writing until it’s written.  I often wonder if there are writers out there who plan their work before they write it:  “Okay, today I’m going to write about such-and-such and this will be the beginning, middle, and end of my story.”  Imagine?!  No, for me, words and ideas might as well be a mess of dough set out in front of me that I fold, pull, crush, shape, and re-shape until it takes form and resembles something recognizable or meaningful.  For me, this process takes time.  I like to let ideas come to room temperature, chop them just a bit and let them simmer and stew a while.  Mainly this is because I’m lazy and I’d prefer to let my subconscious do some of the work.  Pushing along with the logical brain feels so much harder.

But just as writing poetry can help with the lilt and language of prose, writing fiction can help with characterization and imagery of the personal essay.  Just as journalistic structure can improve the readability and appeal of a story, the practice of blogging can help us clarify our ideas, quickly yanking meaning from the mundane, and find ways of linking them together over time.

Still, cranking out a blog every few days feels rushed to me, but cranking out anything tends to get easier over time.  And that focus on the point is such good practice.

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On Photography

I took a late afternoon drive to Nauset Beach with my camera.  I needed a scenic shot for a job, and went to explore and see what I could find.

Although it is Columbus Day on Cape Cod, the air is still and warm and, this late in the afternoon, the beach and dunes are giving off the heat they’ve absorbed all day.  I don’t need the sweater I’m wearing, and the public area of the beach closest to the access road is surprisingly populated with late-day walkers and visitors.

At the far end of the beach, away from the “crowd,” I walk with my Nikon SLR slung from my neck.  I start to work the scene surrounding me, dipping my knees, tipping my head, birdlike – playing the angles, scanning the beach, the footpaths, the dunes for light, or color, or a shape that calls to me.  Taking a step forward, or right, dropping eight inches or crooking my neck at a certain tilt, the path before me takes a graceful shape through my lens.  The assignment is for a shot of a beach path, and I move quickly before the shadows become too deep in the footprints against the bright highlights in the sand.

And besides, there’s another shot I want.  As I’d parked my car I noticed the low light developing against a row of grasses on the edge of the marsh that sits opposite the beach.  Sunset is my favorite time of day to shoot, when the light is warm and low, the colors of the environment saturated.

I walk briskly (imagine trying keep up with a friend with longer legs) back through the parking lot toward the marsh.  I know this is a race.  I know I’ve got something here.  The stand of backlit, feather-topped marsh weed is lit up in an icy array against a line of trees in shadow in the distance.  I have a weakness for backlit foliage.  When armed with a camera, I am drawn to it like one might be to the edible round goodness of a cherub-eyed baby, or the scented neck of a lover.

In photography, I want to capture moments, images like this.  Yes, to grab, to have, to keep, and lose myself in them.  And lose myself I do.  Funny thing is, I can’t tell you why or what the reason is.  Yes, it would be nice to end up with a stunning image to share, that people might fawn over or be able to declare -through evidence of which – what talent I possess.  But when I’m shooting, it’s not about that.  It’s about something not expressible, something tangible and infinite both.  It’s about the feather-duster array that might just as easily be caked with hoarfrost in the sunshine or lit up with electric power and simply look beautiful.  It’s the proof – thank god – that things can be this beautiful.  And can somehow be made to last.

After what must have been twenty minutes and two hundred exposures tiptoeing the edges of crusty grass and brush, viewfinder pinned to my left eye, I let my camera hang on my neck and back up onto the pavement.

Gathering back into myself, I rub my eyes, shake my face, and reabsorb the full periphery of the parking lot around me.  Setting my intent on my own car, I cross the lot and get in, and choose not to take one more shot of the last of the golden light on the fence before me.  The sky is graying.  It is getting dark.

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The Best Time to Plant a Tree

I’m not sure how it happens, but it happens slowly, when you’re paying attention to other things, and then suddenly there is a real tree in your front yard.

In my case, it is a silver beech (only I’ve recently learned that it’s not a silver beech at all.  But I’ll get to that).  Its leaves are a bright copper color when they emerge in the springtime, and over the course of a season, turn a deep green with the outer leaves stained purple.  You can walk under its lower branches and stay dry in a light rain, its dense crown now reaching beyond the peak of our two-story house and halfway across my front yard.  Sometimes, in winter when there’s snow, one of its limbs hangs especially low, a sort of protective arm across our front walkway.

But this tree is a bit out of place, here on Cape Cod, in our small yard.  I’ve searched the Internet and – to the best of my knowledge – the tree my husband and I have always termed a silver beech (perhaps because of its silvery gray trunk), is actually a fagus sylvatica purpurea– a copper or purple beech of the European variety.

Because of their size and majesty, these trees are often seen on expansive grounds like country clubs or estates, not in small yards by the seashore.  Beech trees can grow to be about as wide as they are tall, perhaps sixty feet in any direction.  Our yard, only an eighth of an acre and a shout away from Nantucket Sound, is more suited to scrub oaks and fast-growing locusts.

There’s a marketing aphorism that says, “the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.”  Twenty-some years ago planting a tree – like starting a retirement or investment account – was not something I was much interested in.   Knowing that a tree’s lifespan stretches well beyond my own, the intended reward never seemed either tangible or achievable.  The planting and growing of trees seemed something best left to nature.  So, fortunately for us, my mother, as a wedding gift to my husband on the day of our marriage, gave us his favorite kind of tree – nothing more than a lanky sapling at the time – to plant in our yard.

I guess we were supposed to have supported it with wires for its first several years, wrapped its trunk and pruned its branches.  We didn’t.

But despite us, the silver beech has done well, except for some burned leaves from the prevailing southwest winds and salt spray off the Sound.  At least, I’m told, the beech loves acid soil – which the Cape is known for – and for twenty-four years its leaves have dropped off for the winter and sprouted again each spring, thin and coppery.

The beech’s roots have managed to hold through many nor’easters, a category-two hurricane, and even the storms of marriage.  Once or twice, when things were especially dark and difficult between us, my husband threatened to cut down our wedding tree.  I remember looking out an upstairs window, wondering if he would ever really go through with it — and if he didn’t, what it might be like to live somewhere else and leave this tree behind.  At that moment, something about saving a wedding tree seemed reason enough for saving a marriage.

Maybe it had to do with the way the tree has served as the frame for many “first-day-of-school” pictures, or how one year my oldest son strung it with Christmas lights that somehow – quite miraculously, really – ended up looking like our Shiba Inu jumping over the front fence.  That string of lights still dangles in the tree, power-less, lost in a tangle of leaves and branches.  For the past several years, branches have begun to encroach on the power lines.  We avoid trimming or do so reluctantly, and concoct fantasies of burying the power lines some day, just so we won’t have to disrupt our tree.  But someday it could outgrow the yard.

“You know the branches of this tree could one day reach my house,” my sister-in-law says.  Her summer home sits across the street.  As it is, the wedding tree blocks the view of her house entirely from our second-story windows.

Yes, this tree was a scrawny sapling only 24 years ago, and it is now suddenly and genuinely a tree.  It has changed, as have we.

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My Dog Blog

Until a year and a half ago, I was never a dog person. I hated how dogs smelled, didn’t like them jumping up on me, all their sniffing and circling, and – frankly, for a long time – I was afraid of them.  (I have vintage memories of the neighbor’s loose German Shepherd chasing me, fangs at my knees.)  Knowing that many people have a deep distrust of people who don’t like dogs, I generally tried to keep this character flaw to myself.  I would quietly, under my breath, occasionally admit the fact, sometimes to the shock and dismay of an eavesdropping dog-lover.   Thinking our children needed to grow up with a pet, my husband convinced me to buy our first dog seventeen years ago when our youngest child was three months old.  Needless to say, I never bonded with that dog, never loved her.  I didn’t want one more being to worry about beyond the three I already had.

And yet this morning, there I was, sipping my coffee on the back deck – one puppy asleep on my lap, the other in the chair next to me, peaceful.

I am a dog-person.  Yes, I have found myself the owner of not one but two small white dogs.  One is a Bichon Frise, the other, a Bichon-Shi Tzu mix.  (Some people call them Shi-chons, or “teddy-bear dogs” because of their resemblance to the stuffed animal).  To make my fondness for them all the more unbelievable, neither one of them is reliably housebroken (a common trait of Bichons, I’ve come to find out).  “Oh – it will take two weeks, no problem!” the sweet-eyed, gap-toothed salesgirl told me when I bought the first dog.

My sister would probably attribute my new puppy infatuation to “cognitive dissonance” – the psychological mechanism that requires us to look favorably on something because it is such a pain in the ass:  essentially that we can’t accept the psychic discord that would be caused if we didn’t love whatever we went through so much trouble for.

So perhaps I can attribute my new-found puppy love to the fact that the dogs piss and shit all over my living room (no, it’s not carpeted, thank god).

I have no explanation, just that I knew from the moment I saw each of them, that they were mine.  The National Geographic Channel tells me the explanation is as simple as the chemical oxytocin that’s released in the brain when we’re in close physical contact with an animal or person.

But where I thought I was going with all this was to talk about the way people love dogs so much – “man’s best friend” and all – because dogs pretty much think we’re awesome even if we’re not.  What’s not to like about that?  Aside from the pee and poop.   I’m reminded of the quote – difficult to attribute, but which some sources say belongs to a Toby Green – “My goal in life is to become as wonderful as my dog thinks I am.”  Seriously, if my kids were as excited to see me when I come home from work as my dogs are, we wouldn’t need computers, cars, or television.

Yes, our dogs are the mirrors we wish to own – reflecting, in the best case, our (amazing) ideas and (sound) wishes, unfailing desire for our (inimitable) company and unbridled affection (aren’t we so wonderful to be with?!)  And all with no requirement of fancy conversation or complicated interaction.  Dogs are so easy to get along with.

Still, these puppies are a pain, waking me up each morning at six, messing up my house.  But if I didn’t go through bottles of “Urine-off” spray and roll upon roll of Bounty, or take two walks around the neighborhood each day, and maintain the routine of kibble with beef broth in the morning, kibble with wet food at night, or deal with crates, training, jumping and barking – I might notice how quiet my house has become.

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