Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Today is International Day of Peace.

I used to ponder the concept: when one person is not free, no one is free. Makes sense. You could be next. I could be next. I don't know, and I am captive to the idea, the fear. The next.

The next what?, we could ask. The next anything. The next target.

This is deeply sad to me. I remember the fear that someone would push a red button and the world would be enveloped in a deadly nuclear cloud. Who would do this, I wondered. Someone with power, someone I couldn't even fathom when I was a child with this fear.

In the 1950s my father recalls drills that sent him and his classmates into the coat closet, squatting, heads down. As a child, we had fire drills, and now schools have lock down drills.

It's sad, truly woeful. And now, I'm going to wake my sleeping child who knows nothing of these things.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sink With Your Parents

Well, I've been around the country
And I've met a lot of kids
Some kids are smart and some kids are dumb
But I don't pass judgement they're just having fun.
---opening lines of "Sink With California" by Youth Brigade, 1983 
I picked up the local newspaper this week. The headline screamed:

Well-meaning parents told kids that they would melt. They did according to local police reports. 

Kids, do you believe this bullsh*t?


A local ice cream and fast food eatery, Jimmy's, next to a stream. The water is typically low and slow, though in some areas the banks are deeply eroded and steep. Yet there's plenty of places to traverse up and down easily. The most heavily trafficked path gets slick, as ground up shale soils do, after a rain.

About a quarter of times we go, there are kids in the stream. I like ice cream, and this ice cream is cheap and the scoops are generous, so we're there frequently. A couple times a month. Sometimes parents and grandparents join them.

Beren usually gets down in the water. He usually requests that a parent or two, or a grandparent or two, get down there for some dam building, leaf floating, or muck slopping activity. Once there, we're there, sometimes much longer than I'd prefer.

The majority of the times we go to Jimmy's, kids are forbidden to go in the water. I feel the kids and their parents staring at us. It's pretty uncomfortable. We're what I consider a "good" influence (making other people's kids want to go into the water) and a "bad" influence (making other people's kids want to go into the water).

Some kids are reckless, some clumsy, and some are just little. They probably need a little help. Parents, buy a cheap set of dark colored Jimmy's clothes. 


Kids only section, no parents allowed past this line. Really, parents, I mean it.

Some streams have glass, fishing lures, and other debris. Once Beren and I dragged a 8' tall metal post out of the Nishisakawick Creek in Frenchtown.

Kids, if you are reading this, don't tell your parents about the metal post. If you do, they definitely will not let you in the water. Instead, ask them for a sturdy pair of water shoes and practice walking on slippery rocks (when they are not looking!). When your parents are deep into their phone, take the shoes off. Unbelievable, right? Rocks are not deadly, not even wet ones.

Never, ever complain about getting wet. If you do, you will get an immediate "I told you so" lecture on the creek banks, and you will also get a "remember last time" lecture the next time you so much as look at that water.

For your sake, kids, bring a hobo sack of extra "play" clothes, especially if you aren't usually allowed to play. Think ahead, put on the dingy play clothes prior to leaving the house. Have stash of play clothes in your booster seat for surprise trips to Jimmy's. Don't get caught unprepared. Water is everywhere. Mud and dirt are even more frequently encountered in the landscape.

Boys and girls, absolutely no brand new shoes, no tutus, no brand names - not even cheap box store brand names. Have you ever seen a dirty ballerina? Don't simultaneously ruin your chances of becoming a ballerina and ever getting wet outside a pool or bathtub! Boys, you get off a little easier here, but make sure to wear black to avoid dirt and water stains.

Wise up kids, your parents want to control you. Don't let them. Don't believe the mind control, or one day you will melt upon stepping into water. It's true, but only if you believe your parents.

Now, go ask your parents for a set of play clothes. Loose lips sink ships on dry land.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Forty pounds, Forty four inches

Went to Target to get kid shoes. The aisles looked like several mother Tyrranosauraus rex had gone through, scooping all the good meat off the bone. I picked up two sets of shoes in the right size.

In the clothing section, I noticed there were no clothes marked 6T. Lump in the throat. I thought about my friends with babies. Enjoy it. It flies by, I thought. We are as close to age ten as to newborn, and we might be graduating from the little kids section to the boys clothing section.

I walked through the rest of the store, ogling brightly patterned carpets, bins, and food. The lump in my throat came and went.

From there, I went to Kohl's in search of back up shoes, in case my other selections were duds. 

I passed the kids clothes section. Like most stores, a fair amount of color for boys, at least in the tops...Culture (god) forbid a boy want color below the waist. A grandmother chastised her grandson for standing in his stroller. A boy begged her mother to allow him to help push his younger sibling in the carriage. I moved through quickly.

Another mother stood in front of the shoe section with her sons. "No size 12 of anything. I think we are a little late," she says to her son. "Uh oh, that's what I'm looking for," I say. I think I purchased the last 12s left at Target. I back away and hear her son say in a helpful tone, "I could wear these."

I head back home with a bunch of goods from Target. Some for Beren...a bottle of black paint, shoes, beads, kid scissors to replace our missing ones, and a basket for his stuffed animals. Some for Jared and me...a door mat, a basket to replace the basket I am going to take from him later to replace my broken beyond use laundry basket, and a string of lights. 

A fairly pricey trip by my standards, but I'm giving the lump in my throat a little retail therapy. Uh oh, it is back. Definitely seem allergic to how fast that kid is growing.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Occasional Insomia

Hours ago, I listened to Beren's breathing ease, steady, and deepen. I picked up his incredibly heavy forty pound body (the weight of a soil bag, Jared tells me), put him in his own bed.

Jared was still awake. We talked. We both felt sad as it turns out. The passage of time was our theme. We talked about many things, but like many things, they will remain private.

I gulped down a few rounds of tears in the dark, maybe Jared did, too. I guess guys learn how to hide tears, but I have had time amd desire to control my tears. Despite the frequency of my chances to practice, I have never learned that skill.

Jared and I went downstairs. I picked at a glob of goat cheese, trying to quiet my noisy belly. Jared pulled a bottle down from the cabinet. He examined it at length and finally opened it. He poured a cup and frowned. 

"What's that?" "Red wine." "Oh, where'd it come from?" "Dunno. One of our friends from a party?" "Yeah. We always get red wine from friends."

 "I can't really drink the stuff. I mean, I can drink hard liquor but wine..." Jared says. Jared is a brandy drinking man. I am a gin drinker, though it has been a while since I treated myself. Somehow our liquor cabinet is stocked with whiskey.

 We laugh. "Your parents sometimes get good wine. Sometimes, but we drink wine there a lot and only sometimes it's good," I add. 

We have had this exchange dozens of times over the past, well however long it has been since our friends got sophisticated (economically stable? Socially comformist? Kid-i-fied? Eco-friendly?? Locoboozed??) enough to bring red wine and IPAs and lagers instead of cheap beer and booze and well, more cheap booze.

"I just can't drink anymore of this. ready for bed?" Jared asks.

Back in bed, I listen to Jared's breathing ease, steady, and deepen. I lay there for awhile. Probably not that long. I sit up and watch the stars until I decide to go downstairs, pull on my worn kung fu shoes, and go outside.

Out here, I am reminded that the dome above us is so starry. We have beautiful stars here. As good as the Catskills, though pur peripheral star count goes down the closer the sky dome gets to earth. Phillipsburg, Bethlehem and Easton, Clinton and Flemington, possibly, dim our star dome. I hope no one builds next door, I think.

On earth, the stubbly lawn grass and field pathways are illuminated by glow worms. There is one about every three or four feet. I have to show Beren this tomorrow, I think.

I listen for the highway. Tonight, the road noise is loud, carrying across rolling Highlands farm fields up to our ridge. Motorcycles, trucks, cars. A train. Someone plays loud, dance music towards the north. Sound carries, except when I walk down in the lower field. I have noticed cool currents of air down there, too.

As I walk through the field, I look up and watch the star dome change. That must be a constellation. I once read in a fairly straight pamphlet about constellations that said one day the stars will speak for themselves. I liked that idea and still do. More glow worms.

At the highest point in our field the dome expands to its greatest potential this side of the prairie, or so it seems quite huge to me. No trees, I think, no trees. I like the meadow, more Rudbeckia.

By now, i have out lasted the dance party in the northlands, but not the highway and not the police siren that calls out twice to advise the singing insects and the woman writing as she sits in the hammock that it is most certainly time to go to bed.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Summer Fair As Metaphor for Family Life

 Family life can be a fairy tale.

 Or, more bumpy.

Family, friends, and strangers all chime in with thoughts, advice, wisdom -- cheerful, gloomy, or in between -- when they find out you are having a child, thinking of having a child, or considering not having a child.

Of the pearls I was given -- shiny, misshapen, sinkers, floaters -- I don't recall any impressing upon me the colossal, monumental, gigantic all-consuming task mothering would be. At times it is pure task, including laundry and food preparation.

And each task on the list is multi-dimensional, whether you're a worried and melancholy mother but mostly somehow excited, cheerful, and accepting at the same time and occasionally grumpy, overbearing, and moody (nobody told me mothering was completely contradictory as well) like me.

When I say laundry is multidimensional I don't mean delicates versus towels, lights, darks, and hand washables (my mother did tell me that most things can go in the wash despite what the label says. Thanks, Mom. You are right about that and many other things, too.).

I mean laundry is multidimensional when you are a mother. Probably when you are a father, too.

Here's the laundry decision tree in snapshot form:
  1. Can you get the laundry on the line prior to or after the child* wakes up?
  2. If the child is awake can you get the laundry on the line in a timely enough manner to allow it to dry?
  3. Will the machine wake the child?
  4. Does your child still fit in the laundry basket and find that fun?
  5. Do you or do you not attempt to remove spots?
  6. Do you care about spots, does your child care about spots, do those around your family care about spots?
  7. Will your child (like mine) be insulted that you find his clothing dirty enough to launder?
  8. Do you have time to do laundry at all?
*Make plural depending on your family size. 

Everything requires strategy. Balancing the household's time with the household's will and temperament. Who's out of underwear? Who has a tissue, shell, peach pit, or broken glass in their pocket? What has greater priority - gritty sheets, smelly towels, or work clothes?

And then there's food. Who likes to eat when and what? Can a trip to the market fit between naps and your partner's precious return from work? Do you head to the market alone or take the children with you to give your partner time at home alone? Is a trip to the market even feasible?

Talking about being a stay at home mom a friend told me, "I should have this." She said she felt she sometimes feels that she should have a clean house, dinner on the table, and happy kids. "Why do you feel that way? Because it's your chosen profession?" I asked.

Becoming a parent is natural, sometimes accidental, and commonplace. That doesn't mean it comes naturally. Despite some parenting books telling us otherwise, families are not made of blocks that can be moved from one slot to another. Conveniently and consistently from waking to retiring. Nah. Rubick's Cube is complicated, but it has nothing on family life. 

 A fire ball, good and bad.

Tossed upon the seas, but still glittery and fascinating. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

On Weeding

 Hermit sphinx caterpillar

If you like to fail, try weeding. It is not fun. It is mostly useless. It is certainly a mind game.

Even when I think to myself, "I'm privileging the [fill in the blank --- 'native plants', 'the plantings', 'the vegetables', etc], and I don't expect to have a weed-free space", I get tricked. Some corner of my brain must think, "The weeds have been defeated" because when I return a week later or after a rainstorm, there they are. Weeds. And, I'm annoyed or disappointed.

I know there's foragers, herbalists, ecologists, and so on who try to rehabilitate the concept of "weeds". I fit in there. Many weeds are edible, many are native, and they certainly are not invasive species. Yet, crap, man, there are so many weeds out there.

Every year, I get a little closer to planting this place up and hoping that the weeds feel like a germ inside a feverish body. Not so welcome.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Close Act Theatre's SAURUS performance sent us racing through the festival grounds. We chased three dinosaurs and a man on stilts.

Bethlehem's Musikfest... we made it into the city to catch four days out of ten. The first night we headed to SteelStacks (pictures are at the end of this post). The other three we spent in downtown - walking, eating, listening and watching (music, art, performance, and lightning).

Musikfest definitely pulled the summer out of the sh*tter. It has been a rough one but I'll save that story for another time. August is still young, and we've got several more weeks of partying to do.

 When one of the Dutch performers asked, "Were you scared?" Beren replied, "No." I did feel his heart pounding and saw him flinch when the dinosaurs came close. A half hour into the show, Beren noticed a man inside the costume. That realization and my willingness to pet the beak of one dino made Beren a little more comfortable.
We liked SAURUS so much, we came back for the show at dusk. 

 We ate several chicken gyros.

Beren watches a busker. He was inspired by the previous day's acts and dressed accordingly. We thought his boots were a mistake due to the heat, but later it rained.

 Watching a busker just before lightning shut down the evening's events. I tried to find this performers website, but couldn't yet. Daredevil Circus from Australia. Juggled a chainsaw and fire. Contortion. I appreciated how he got the lackluster crowd going through jokes and honesty.

 Our first Musikfest trip was to SteelStacks.
Native gardens at SteelStacks...our local Highline.