Saturday, June 27, 2015

Eyes

Sometimes when the light is really pretty outside I gather everyone up and take photos just so I can look at everyone's pretty eyes and skin. I do SO love my children's eyes (even though I'm disappointed that not ONE of them has inherited my favorite eye color of all, Sam's beautiful brown). They're all sort of in the same greenish range, but they're all different, too.

And I'm glad the aforementioned children are patient with me, even though they sometimes make expressions like this:

or this:

Daisy fell on the sidewalk at my mom's house. For awhile her scrape looked remarkably like a Hitler-moustache. And yet she still managed to be completely sweet-looking.
Some people do not like to be restrained, even by the kindest arms of sisterly love.
Goldie still has the faintest touch of red in her hair. Love it.
I guess I can't choose just one of Goldie.

Gaspish

I'm always happy when we have the carwash out. It's one of those things that ties the summers together: at the same time it feels like we just did this, it also makes me think about how tall people are getting or who was wearing that swimming suit last year. And if you have a vague feeling there is someone extra in this picture, you're right. For a couple weeks we've had my cousin's boy Michael with us, which makes all the kids SO happy. It's cute to watch everyone vying for the favored position of playing with Michael or sitting by Michael.
The picture above, though unposed, looks like one of those awkwardly contrived scenes you see in cast pictures for plays. Like this:
And now I will show you several pictures of wet, delicious baby-Goldie skin, and also of that same Goldie gasping when the water hits her. I love babies gasping. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rainbow Cloud

The other night I was inside feeding Theo when suddenly the room turned totally bright and glowy and golden. It was so strange because it had been getting darker and I wasn't even sure the sun was still up and then—suddenly. That glow. So of course I ran outside to see, first setting Theo carefully down on my bed (which he somehow contrived to fall off of right as I came back in. Wiggle worm! But don't worry, these gotten-at-the-expense-of-an-innocent-baby pictures are totally worth it.)

When I got outside, I saw a huge looming cloud draped across the whole sky, and the setting sun was lighting the whole thing up yellow and orange and pink. Then the secondary light from the cloud was bouncing down and turning the whole world golden. The picture above is from my phone camera, and while the yellows on one side are kind of blown-out, it gives the best sense of that warm golden light being given off from the sky.

It was so beautiful and striking, and it was changing every minute. It seemed like one of the most dramatic cloud formations since Sam and I saw this group (which he drew here). Of course I got out the camera and took a million pictures (while Theo inched closer, ever closer, to the edge of the bed…) trying to capture all the colors and textures. And of course none of the pictures quite do it justice.
This gives you some idea of how massive the cloud was, though.
Or, even better, this.
My favorite thing was how you could see almost every color in the spectrum over the width of the cloud. I don't know why the light was being split like that (something like a rainbow? caused by water droplets in the cloud? Sam would know) but it made the cloud look like a spread-out, fluffy rainbow in the sky. So cool! You could see each color washing gently into the one next to it.
It got so red in this part, it was almost scary. All those churning textures within the cloud. I love the contrasts between the smaller wispy pieces of cloud in front, and the bigger, more solid cloud in back. It was so hard to catch the light on them just right in the picture so those wisps would show up!
And then, on the other side of the sky, another rainbow! Paler, but still vibrant. This looked almost like the rainbow you get from a prism. Or like a sundog.
That intense gold light faded pretty quickly, and changed to kind of a rosy pinkish light instead. That was pretty too.
More cloud-rainbows. I love the transparent fringes around the edge of the cloud.
And more! Red, brown, orange, yellow, green-gold, and then the deep blue of the sky.
So, so beautiful!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Random Thoughts about my Dad


*******
Sometimes I worry that when I write about my dad, I'm going to cement in a view of him, in my memory, that's…not right. Like when you tell a story from your childhood over and over, and the details feel so real, and then someone tells you it actually happened before you were born. Or when you remember a vacation by looking at pictures of it, until basically that's all there is, and those pictures ARE the memory, and everything else that happened just… disappears.

I'm afraid I'm going to reduce my dad to the little snippets that are most repeatable. The stories I most like to tell. His PhD at Harvard, the calculator that was his "Nobel Prize."* Getting polio at age 15. The way he stood in front of the fireplace with his hands clasped behind him, always wearing a sweater or his plaid flannel jacket. Seeing him working physics problems at the kitchen table—neat lines of numbers written in mechanical pencil, covering the pale green pads of graph paper he always used. Reciting "Brown's Descent" at our family parties, eyes twinkling. 

I like those stories and I like my dad in them, but it seems so presumptuous, sometimes, for me to try and say who he was. I knew him for less than half of his life, as it turned out. And my brothers' memories of him may be completely different than mine. I'm afraid I'll make an image in my head, out of my immaturity and my forgetfulness and my selective blindnesses— of some other man, someone less than he was. 

Dad didn't care for the confessional, self-absorbed type of writing, the literary "personal essay" style that mines the past for small personal miseries and piles them up into rocky hills from which to proclaim one's superiority over…whatever. ("Provincialism," usually, I guess.) I don't like it either, and I vowed a long time ago to choose relationships over self-expression. To choose to see memories, if I could, through a lens of generosity and inquiry rather than hyper-focus and complacency; to seek stillness instead of sensationalism. I don't want to make my dad's story about ME. And yet…ME is the only place I have to start from.

And so I try to sort through the memories like you would sort through stones and beach glass after a day by the ocean: holding each one up; turning it to the light; seeing if, with the glitter of the water gone, it still shines like you thought it did. And if, in bringing these stones away from the sea and into my home, I am leaving behind some of their beauty—well, at least they are close, where I can see them and keep from forgetting them altogether. And maybe that's the best I can do.
*******

Random Thoughts about my Dad:

Before every holiday, my dad would say he had everything he needed, "if only my children will get along with each other"—he would chide, to a chorus of sighs from said children. It was hard to think of something really exciting to give him, rather than the old stand-bys: slippers, tools, ties. But he always seemed so happy with whatever the gift was. He liked orange sticks and those little powdery fruit candies called "Applets and Cotlets." One of us kids always got him orange sticks for Christmas or Father's Day, and he would light up when he opened them as if you'd given him the Hope Diamond. "Orange sticks! Oh, orange sticks!" he'd say, sometimes literally rubbing his hands together with anticipation. "Thank you, sweetie"—or maybe "Thank you, tykie" (an appellation I particularly disliked, as it seemed so…undignified). And then he'd hand them around, two for everyone, and maybe another round later that night after dinner. Other gifts would elicit the exclamation "Neat!" from him: a sort of multipurpose word expressing interest and delight, no matter how mundane the actual object was. ("A new pillow! Neat!")

What Dad really liked was getting presents for my mom—always the latest kitchen gadgets or household tools: vacuum cleaners, breadmakers, mixers. He never spent money on himself, but he'd go all-out for some new thing he thought she would like. My mom would thank him and then almost invariably return it a few days later, preferring something cheaper or simpler or more familiar. He got her a digital camera back when I'd never heard of anyone who had a digital camera—it used floppy discs for photo storage—and I think he felt like that was his greatest accomplishment: getting my mom something she actually kept and used. Every time she got it out he just beamed with satisfaction.

It wasn't only that he bought things for my mom. He was always making things for her, too. Intricately carved knots of ebony. Wooden rings that held pieces of uncut emerald or sapphire (salvaged from various uses in his physics lab). Double-refractive minerals. Origami dodecahedrons, or little sets of nesting boxes, or heart-shaped rocks, or bud vases made from hollowed-out stones.

Once some boys came to pick me up for a group date in a pickup truck. The boys chivalrously allowed the girls to ride in the cab, while they themselves sat in the truck bed. My dad was appalled that anyone would ride without a seatbelt. He told the boys they were irresponsible, and he told me I couldn't go with them. I went anyway, fuming at being embarrassed in front of my date (who never did ask me out again…but maybe that wasn't my dad's fault).

That was far from the only time Dad worried. He worried over us so deeply and heavily. I could see it in the set of his shoulders, when something was weighing on him particularly. He worried even when someone was late or when someone didn't call. I was impatient with it, often. I wanted to (and did) tell him to just relax, to let things happen the way they would. That seems arrogant to me now—assuming I could dismiss or diagnose his concerns. And yet I still do think he took too much on himself, trying to hold the world right for those he loved.

He was almost always cold. He loved stews and soups; he loved fireplaces. He wore "Mr. Rogers" sweaters in the house, and a black fur hat when he walked to work in the mornings. He liked cookies crisp and well-done, though he never got them that way, since everyone else in the house preferred them chewier. He would drink warm water in the mornings, and even warm his bowl of ice cream in the microwave for a few seconds before he ate it, a habit which provoked much teasing and eye-rolling from the kids. At night, he sometimes had a snack of bread-and-milk (pieces of bread torn up and dropped in a bowl of milk and eaten with a spoon)—a remnant of his farm-boy past, I guess. It seemed truly disgusting to me. But what did I know? I wish I hadn't been so dismissive of all his little quirks.

He seems, in my memory anyway, to have spent a lot of time just standing by the window and looking out, or sitting at the table gazing into space. I don't know if I ever wondered what he was thinking about then, but now I do. Dad told my brother once that he (my dad) was never bored, because he could always work math problems in his head to entertain himself. So maybe that's what he was doing.

And yet my dad did have a sentimental streak, the type of thing that made him tear up when he recited Emily Dickinson or Edna St. Vincent Millay. Or when he called me "tykie."

He took naps in his office, lying flat on the floor. One year my brother made him a pillow with an extra flap of fabric out to one side, which could be flipped across and used as an eyeshade. My dad loved that pillow and used it from then on.

Dad liked to be home. I don't know if it was different when he was younger, but for most of my life, I felt like wherever we were, he was mostly just looking forward to getting home. When he and my mom would come to dinner at Sam's and my house, Dad would sit politely on the couch and listen to us chat for a bit—and then, as some internal timer went off, he'd get up and stand by the door. And there he'd stay until we took the hint and wrapped up the visit.

I wish he were coming for dinner tomorrow. Even if he only stayed the minimum amount of time socially acceptable. Happy Father's Day, Dad!


*Oh, okay, I'll tell it. Dad did his graduate research in physics under Norman Ramsey at Harvard. When Ramsay later got the Nobel Prize in Physics, he used his prize money to get top-of-the-line scientific calculators for his former research assistants, since he said they deserved to share credit for the work. A humble and kind gesture, I've always thought. So that's why I feel justified in saying my dad "shared in" a Nobel prize. :)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Things I totally can't figure out

As I thought about what makes life easier, I couldn't help but also think of some of the things that still…well, they completely baffle me. I don't know if I just haven't been bothered enough by them to put in the work of finding a solution, or if they really are that thorny of problems. But here are a few:
  • Putting away suitcases. Maybe it's just because we use them so infrequently, there is no designated time or way they would naturally be dealt with? Or because they go on a higher closet shelf that I have to stand on a stool to reach? But our suitcases sit out for months. Taunting me with their reminder that the brief shining moment when I needed them…is gone forever.
  • Minor repairs. The microwave light has been burned out for about 6 years. I bought a replacement bulb, but even with the help of the internet, can't figure out how to put it in. It seems ridiculous to call a repairman. (But not at all ridiculous to just put off doing anything for 6 six years…?) Same with various dripping sinks, slow drains, broken dishwasher settings, broken sprinklers. If it's not major and pressing, I don't know quite how to make it ever appear (or stay…long enough for me to…shoot at it? this metaphor is getting messy) on my radar.
  • Getting places on time. I can tell you how to make it to church on time: get called to be the organist or the chorister. We are (nearly) always there 15 minutes early when I have those callings. But it's because I KNOW I must be there. And telling myself I "must" be other places right on time—when I know that a few minutes here or there don't actually matter—requires fooling my brain in a way that my brain (that smartie!) can see right through. Same with setting clocks fast, or other "tricks." I've read the articles about "Why it's rude and inexcuseable to be late" etc.—and I DO excuse myself with the fact that we aren't "chronically" late. I'd say we're right on time about 50% of the time. But the other 50% just seems totally out of my control (not true, I'm sure).
  • Dusting fans. Cleaning blinds. Other people do these things, apparently.
  • Lunch. Let me get this straight. We wake up, figure out what to have for breakfast, make breakfast, eat breakfast, clean the table, wash the dishes, put away the food…and then, 4 hours later, I'm supposed to head up this same Herculean effort again??! When we have leftovers to heat up, I can cope. (Finding things to put in school lunches, when I did that, was worse, if anything.) But in an ideal world I would much prefer to eat a bigger and later breakfast, skip lunch altogether, and concentrate my energies on the impending dinner. Think about it. This idea is like the time I got hit by a bird while I was out running: surprisingly appealing, once you get past how unusual it is.
  • Keeping my own room clean. This is a tricky one because it's the one place in the house I can't completely blame on my children. (At my insistence, they and I do a pretty good job of keeping the rest of the house passably tidy.) I know my mom would say it's simple: just never leave the room before you've made your bed, never let your clothes touch the floor (hamper or hanger only), have a place for everything, and deal with clutter before it ever covers a surface. This is very sound advice. However, I use my bed throughout the day for nursing, so it seems a waste to make it. And since the baby sleeps in the closet, he's always in there when I need to hang something up. Also, I was looking for the sort of advice that wouldn't require me to exert any physical effort or get up out of my chair after I've collapsed into it after barely making it to the "finish line" of cleaning up dinner…
  • Weeding and yard care. This seems like something my kids could do. But that would require me to teach them (the blind leading the blind). Also, it's often hot or cold or otherwise unpleasant out there. On the upside, Abe does mow the lawn very nicely!
  • Getting kids off to school. Took care of this. And my life is so much richer for it. :)
  • Dry cleaning. Oh, I've managed it once or twice, when it was urgent. But it's not on my regular things-to-do radar, and it always seems like a waste to take one thing…so I wait for months…and then forget which other thing needed it…and pretty soon, in our minds, it's like Sam doesn't even OWN a Sunday suit.
  • Clothes rotation and storage. Yes, I have large Rubbermaid boxes in the storage room, labeled with sex and age. But I never feel on top of it. One of the kids is always wearing something too short, or they're too small for the clothes that go with their age so they wear a jumble of sizes, and then the clothes are all out of order in the boxes for the next child, and I intend to fix or patch things but don't do it, and then things wear out to the point where I'm pretty sure D.I. won't want them, but they contain…some usable cloth, so I don't feel I should throw them out, though heaven knows I'm not going to make a patchwork quilt from clothing scraps anytime soon.
  • Pack Meeting. I have read various people opining that the girls of the church are neglected because the Activity Days program doesn't have an equivalent of Cub Scout Pack Meeting. To which I say: are you kidding me?! You would like, with your girls, to go sit on folding chairs in the church gym and try to keep your children quiet while they fall through the backs of the chairs and bonk their heads and cry (or, alternatively, climb on the folding chair racks, trip on them, bonk their heads, and cry), while doing "The engineer cheer" and "The roller coaster cheer" and your girls get various things pinned and handed to them? Hmm (I say, to this hypothetical person I'm still talking to). Well, I AM COUNTING DOWN THE YEARS till I have girls in pack-meetingless Activity Days! I mean, I'm not interesting in debating the Scout program right now; I think we can all agree it can potentially be great for boys, and my particular boys' Scout Leaders have been wonderful, but when it comes to getting us all to Pack Meeting monthly, I do NOT have it figured out.
  • Enrichment night, (or Relief Society Weekday Meeting, as nobody calls it). Oh hey, while we're on the subject of things that happen monthly on the precise night I feel least able to drag myself out of the house! I love the idea of getting together with women I love and admire, and I was Enrichment Leader myself for awhile, so I know how much you want people to attend and appreciate the things you've worked so hard to plan! But while I'm really good at marking my calendar and sitting in church nodding and making polite "oh-that-sounds-lovely" noises while the announcement is made: when the night comes, it's inevitably the very night the baby starts throwing up…or we got caught in traffic coming home from piano lesson…or I actually DID have dinner planned and it looks like it's going to be a tasty one…and I don't end up going. Even though I know I would have been glad I went, had I gone.
  • My hair. Seriously. Is it straight and flat, as I thought it was for 30 years, or sort of semi-wavy-but-not-in-a-nice-way as it has been for the past five? Also, no matter how often I get it cut/shaped and become more satisfied with it, it just keeps re-growing and needing attention again! Come on! I don't have time for this.
  • Oh, and Lipstick. Like wine-drinking, it's a world that all seems so mysterious, from the outside. Finding the right color! Making your teeth look whiter! But I usually just feel like my lips are two unmoistened slabs of fish, tinted pink and drying in the sun. I just…don't get how it's supposed to work? And look natural?
  • Drawing/scribbling/wiping bodily fluids on the walls. Not my own, but the children's, of course. I never know who has done it or when; but these "decorations" just keep appearing on the walls, as the dew from heaven distilling. I think maybe, like with graffiti, the best thing to do would be to immediately paint over any offending area, but this is logistically difficult…not to mention a Sisyphean task that would require an unending supply of paint and/or Magic Eraser. And for what? To do it all again in a week? Sigh.
  • Decorating for holidays besides Christmas. (Although we did have an Easter crèche this year!) It seems like it would be so fun. And I do have a few decorations I've collected over the years, but first of all you have to get them out…and then after a few short days/weeks you have to put them away again…so, that sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it?
Well, that concludes this episode of "Things I Just Can't Figure Out." (Next time: Meat! Can someone teach me to cook it?)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Picnic and clouds

I know I keep posting pictures of clouds, but wow. There are just so many good ones lately. (I like it when the light comes through the back edge and makes the shadows turn blue, as above.) On Memorial Day we had a picnic at the Thanksgiving Point Gardens, and the sky was so dynamic. There were huge fluffy clouds on one side of the sky, and dark leaning clouds on the other side. It was so nice to walk through the garden under alternating sun and shadow!
Threatening sky to the south (note Theo lying on the picnic blanket all alone. Poor baby.)
Yum, potstickers.
Goldie sometimes does this biting-lip smile. (Oh Junie. What is she doing in the background there? Dancing and singing, probably.)
More of the impending doom to the south, plus a small person
Half-stormy skies!
Goldie's holding herself like she just fell into a pond or something. I don't know why.
Resting
So pleased that she can see the waterfall from behind! I don't know why so many of my pictures are of Goldie. Probably because she's the slowest one right now. The older ones are always off ahead somewhere, exploring.
Daisy and Junie. I love these yellow poppies!
Daisy decided it would be nice to hug a column. Maybe you can guess what happened next:
Yes. Goldie and Junie had to hug columns too. And, wow, Abe's legs are getting long!
I loved this moment of contrast, with the dark clouds all around but the sun shining through onto the hill.
More poppies!
As the clouds built themselves up into taller columns, they started to turn into mammatus clouds. I love those!
This is from a day later that week, when the clouds had actually turned into rain. I liked this moment (kind of opposite to the contrast pictured above) when it was pouring over us, but you could see the sunlit clouds in the distance.
It really was raining hard!
Wispy gold clouds far away
And after the rain stopped it was even prettier. I love the lit edges of these clouds, with the softer pinks and lavenders defining the inner texture from the front.