Monday, July 26, 2010

July turns to August

Happens every year.  Summer feels like it's slipping away so fast and I feel I've yet to relish it.  Are my expectations too high?  For sure.  Having a glass of sauvignon blanc or a cup of coffee in the sunshine and doing my gardening should more than satisfy.  But I'm greedy and I just want those moments every day and more often than regular living supports.  Groceries still need getting, dentists need seeing, hair needs cutting, meetings still meet.   I think I put too much pressure on July and it tells me every year, "...Look lady, I take my pound of flesh just like February but I do it at 85 degrees with the sun shining.  Get over it and go take a bike ride."  And I did today and it was glorious.  But back to my complaining.

The garden has taken on its late summer variegated greens and purples and started to brown a little bit at the edges, like my mood.  It's still lush but the bugs are finally taking their toll and in a few weeks, I'll run out of steam and give up the good fight.  There is a season, turn turn turn.  By late August, I'll be pricing the potted mums. I'm a weather ingrate is what I am.  

Mission daughter has returned while camp daughter has departed.  The girls used to both go to camp the same week but that led to me roaming the house running my hands across the furniture and staring forlornly out the window.  One gone at a time is better.

On a positive note I'll say that a perk of long, warm evenings that don't drive us under our comforters at 7pm is that we have whittled down our summer TV to-do list in record time.  Seasons 1, 2 and 3 of The Wire finito.  Oh Stringer, you gorgeous thug.... I'll miss you.

The most damning evidence of my summer fugue state may be that not only did Chip and I don identical t-shirts and green khaki shorts today, unknowingly until running into each other late morning, neither one of us bothered to change.  Yep, went about our day together in matching outfits and actually kind of forgot about it.  Not weird or sad at all.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What a morning

Saturday mornings have always been full of promise for me and today was no exception.  Liv was setting off on her mission trip to a Sioux reservation in South Dakota, Ally and Chip were playing in a softball tournament and I was looking forward to a night of music in a local park.  A beautiful and perfect summer day, muggy and buggy and blindingly sunny.  The kind of day I try to sock in my memory for February when I'm in need of a warm thought.

Senior citizen blankets plus mine

As a recreational crier I had the privilege of getting in some tears early as this admirable group of kids and their dedicated chaperones posed for photos before the youth pastor had us circle for a quick prayer for safe travels and thanking US for sharing our kids (he's taking my kid for a week and he's thanking me? ) before hollering "Hug and kiss and load 'em up!" A tear jerking moment for me inspirational enough to consider volunteering my time on future missions.  But it it does.  Philanthropic use of my free time dedicated to the civic, moral and emotional development of young people?  That boat sailed a long time ago and I found myself waving from the marina bar.

Little darlings

Later when I had lunch with the softball gang and bore witness to my kid's do-gooder posse, especially marveling at the adults who sign up to do these trips with forty teenagers, one of the softball dads replied cavalierly "Well, those types of kids aren't like these kids."  I peered down the table at our sassy superstars wondering where avid sports dad was going.

"Most kids like the ones that play sports can be too aggressive and unruly and that isn't the kind of kid that goes on mission trips." The implication being that kids who go on mission trips are easier to travel with than the yahoos at our lunch table.  It was a generalized statement about pretty diverse bunches of kids both in the church youth group and on the softball diamond. But simplicity aside, is it accurate in any way?  Although kids try on lots of hats in adolescence, my experience is that despite the hat they have a deeper, inherent sense of their own universal personal truths (hate bugs, homesickness, hate parents) and know the limits of what they can ask of themselves.  And so do kids who know they can't possibly be well behaved riding in a hot van for seventeen hours across Minnesota and South Dakota generally avoid signing up for such things?  I'm sure the youth minister could tell a story or two of some mission trip antics by the most saintly of children, but overall softball dad's theory might not be totally off.

Regardless of how well behaved and inspired the group of kids is on the mission trip I'm sure the chaperones will be the first ones disembarking from the vans in a week with their hands in the air like they just don't care. It's an unbelievably generous emotional commitment and a lot of psychic wear and tear to keep even good kids from offending Native Americans and wandering off into the plains of South Dakota to chase prairie dogs.

Meanwhile left to my own devices, friends and I attended Madison Opera in the Park.  Despite the icky old people on the adjacent blanket seriously groping each other through their clothes and the tenor's voice blowing out on more than one note, there is nothing bad that can be said about drinking wine and listening to music outdoors on a blanket.  But we prayed hard for the darkness to come, cloaking the oldsters' foot rubbing. back massaging and thigh entwining from our bleeding eyes.  Seriously gross and no amount of mind bleach can erase the horror when I close my eyes.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Kayaking Lake Superior-musings part 2

A continuation of my lengthy mind ramblings of yesterday.  I can't do pithy.

I revisit this one picture to say first that this couple was beautiful and in love and really nice people and to elaborate that Joan told this currently living in different states couple that if they wanted to have kids, that not being anything they shared with us, it was time for them relationship-wise to "get going and knit this thing up."  You can get away with that kind of honesty at a certain age and we're there.  And she's right.

As women of a certain age we sit squarely in the middle of all that's going on in the lives of the people around us.  Now maybe you don't agree, which is OK, but maybe you should come sit by me.  Sandwiched still between our parents, our kids and their friends and our own friends, we have our fingers in every relationship pie.  "Argh! Everybody out! I'm sick of you!"  No?  Just me?   It's just that I realized this weekend that it's delightful being with young people now that I'm not young.  I'm at the point where I'm looking forward to Opera in the Park.  Middle age is good.  License to chat up almost anybody, prod for personal information without seeming weird or seeming weird but still eliciting desired information, speak our minds, apologize blithely after speaking our minds too much, live  without embarrassment and hopefully become more secure, more empowered and more forgiving with who we are than our younger selves were.  We'll need all the strength we can muster going into the next decade I figure, so I'm enjoying the social power pole position while I have it.  According to my mom, women at her age become invisible...and that's just not going to work for me.

And although my kids would be grossed out to know that I even looked, I must say we enjoyed the company of a couple adorable young men on this trip--in that sun kissed, REI, summer hipster, majoring in English and want to move to Costa Rica to paddle and teach after graduation sort of way--the kind of boys I never ran across in my youth or if I did I was too stupid to look.  Mellow, fun, adorable, athletic and fit, chatty, facilitative, caring, nice to kids, nice to old folks, gentle and respectful of nature. But I'm no cougar.  I like Coach Chip and his gray hair.  But I can certainly appreciate beauty and look on behalf of daughters and their friends.  Dutiful parent that I am, I'm a giver.  I tried to sell both college aged guides to Olivia over the phone---she was flatly uninterested.  "I don't like those kinds of guys, Mom."
Well, if she had any sense she would.... if only for one lovely summer.

Maybe it was the paddling.  Even our old kayak guide, maybe our age, was a friendly, gentle and ruggedly blonde Paul Bunyan who loaded the kayaks on the top of the trailer barefoot and one-armed, as effortlessly as sticking empty shoeboxes in the top of a closet.  Kinda turned a middle aged broad on and it wasn't just me.  Hey, we take it where we can get it.  A teacher by trade now a tutor at will, he's an explorer who works as needed to bankroll his paddling for days at a time around the Apostle Islands.  He had a personality that warmed up with the day and a corny sense of humor that came out as the trip progressed and the group showed no signs of insurrection or idiocy, something that guides on Lake Superior don't appreciate when trying to keep people safe from their own ignorance on the lake.  The wind can come up and swamp your kayak before you know it.

And it's always good times to listen to the Libertarian views of someone who lives off the grid for most of the year.  "Don't get me started on health care," he said.  He once lived in Madison back in the eighties but after a failed community organizing effort to prevent Monona Terrace from being built on Lake Monona I think he quite rightly saw the writing on the wall for the future of Madison's lakes--the big small city had become a small big city and with that came a lessening commitment to the city's natural water resources and a growing commitment to development.  So he packed his canoe in finality and very literally paddled north to Lake Superior by river and lake to start a new chapter in his life.  An inspirational story, to live with quiet conviction, seeking simplicity and personal freedom.   

Unfortunately, I still have to run to Target for tiny teenage sports bras and hair accessories.  My freedom will have to wait.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kayaking Lake Superior--musings part 1

I'm a briny matron and I love the Atlantic Ocean but it's a two day drive involving the mind numbing Ohio Turnpike which if that doesn't kill you from sheer boredom, the deadly twisting terrain of the Pennsylvania Turnpike will.  The Great Lakes have become an important part of my summers when a trip east isn't in the offing.  With their shoreless horizons, cold, clear waters and lighthoused coastal towns and even islands to sail to, I've become a fan.

I've yet to brave interior lake culture yet for fear of man-eating muskies and blood sucking lake worms that hide in silty small bodies of my mind.  Maybe next year.  And lake swimming is definitely a love the one you're with situation for me still because given equal distance I'd pick the ocean everytime.  Even the Greatest of lakes are, and there's no other way to put this, lakey. That fact is never more evident than on a hot, windless day when unidentifiable flotsam surfaces to the top of the water and the strangest of bugs descend on the beach to feast upon humans.

But most days the wind and the waves and the sand are there to keep my suspension of disbelief generally intact.  In fact, the first year we went to Grand Haven, MI, forgetting where I was, I ordered shrimp at dinner.  It was good... but it was not local.

A few friends and I headed north to Lake Superior to kayak the sea caves along Wisconsin's Bayfield Peninsula near the Apostle Islands.   It's a sleepy region too far north to be a weekend destination for Madison or God forbid, Chicago, with a rich Ojibway history that once boasted a busy fur trade from the late 1600s through to the late 1800s before tourism came to the fore and the fur trade disappeared.  Good thing because I really don't look good in fur, however I do look good in gift shops.  The French were the first white settlers and who established the fur trade probably with a lot of Ojibway local knowledge of running water routes through Canada.  The Ojibway and the white settlers, French, English and then American fur traders plus both Catholic and Protestant missions, coexisted peacefully even marrying and having children together quite legitimately according to the museum.  After touring the American West a few years ago,  I found this information somewhat heartening, although I'm sure someone still found a way to subtly or otherwise cheat them out of land and money.

Lots of people go to the Lakeshore and Apostle Islands to camp and hike and enjoy nature's bounty.  I  go to kayak a few hours under closely supervised conditions, shop, get a little drunk at dinner and sleep in cottages with beds and screened windows.  Roughing it for me is going to Tom's Burned Down Cafe, an iconic tavern that burned to the ground maybe more than once and consequently was never rebuilt to more than an outdoor shanty with a tarp roof and ramshackle furnishings and amenities that make it look more like a giant party raft adrift in the lake rather than a business.

Handpainted signs with fortune cookie sayings hang everywhere, maybe not quite as haphazardly as they want you to believe but still giving the feeling that the Coral Reefer Band decorated the place.  It's a lower than low-key place where the bartenders are definitely a little drunk and the brimming money in the tip jars quivers everytime there's a gust of wind through the tarp.  The tip jars might be more full than the till.  It's a daytripper, lost weekend, party boat clientele and many a tipsy, shoeless bar hopper runs for each evening ferry back to Bayfield after spending maybe a lost day on the island.  Once you sit down at Tom's, you really never want to leave...and that's not just me.   It's partly inexplicable and partly not worth explaining because the description is lost in translation to the mainland.  The myspace page makes an admirable stab at it.

Tom’s Burned Down, Blown Down, Grudge Mongered, Train Wrecked, Froze Out, Insurance Challenged, Foreclosed, Zoning Challenged, Highway Encroached, Bankrupted, Financially Examined, Shut Down, Banned in LaPointe, Third World, Trucked In, Up next to the Wormhole, Beyond Thunderdome, Death Row, Duct Taped, Water World, Tree Fort, Pirate House, Pan Handled, Lost & Found, Noise Rattled, Noise Ordained, Ferry Grudged, Tent Shredded, Anti – “MADELINE ISLAND FERRY LAND”, Phoenix CAFE’ of Love...

Ann and Joan grilled this couple about their relationship

Which brings me to musings part 2 but I'll save that for tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Enjoying my liberty

I feel a lot of pressure around holiday weekends to HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND.  Oh the stress of it.  But after a month of visitors I simply wanted just a regular weekend.  No optimizing and juggling, no car trips, no extraordinary measures involving crowds or exertion, no rippin' and runnin'.   Just a little music and beer with friends and their delightful kids (meaning they didn't bother me) on Friday, 

a little golf on Saturday, 

Chip pondering his next shot.  Me not pondering my shot and screwing around with my phone.  

....and a relaxed movie at home sent from Blockbuster this week by way of Chip's hot tub time machine.  He is the only one who ever fiddles with the Blockbuster queue online so we get an occasional movie from the past that he feels he missed along life's journey.

"Why did you order this?  This movie is from ten years ago."
"I always wanted to see it. Instead of criticizing my choices, why don't one of you three learn how to use the queue and order what you like?"  
(three women in unison) "Boo! Your movie choices are terrible!  Pick better ones that we'll like."  
That's the general gist of it anyway.  But The Big Lebowski is indeed a movie worth seeing even 12 years after its release.

Olivia is adamant that celebrating the Fourth of July is out of order on any day but the actual Fourth.  And I can see how she came to hold this philosophy.  Madison has a strange tradition of scheduling fireworks and other Fourth of July activities on every day BUT the Fourth.  Take for instance the most bafflingly scheduled massive Rhythm and Booms Festival, an all day family event that hosted 200,000 people this year and that culminates in a pretty kickass fireworks display at dark. Usually held the Friday before the Fourth, which is sometimes as early as June 28th, this year it was held on Saturday, July 3rd. Okay.....

Happy to be celebrating ON the actual Fourth of July

On Sunday, the REAL Fourth of July, we finally succumbed to the pressure of HAVING A GREAT  WEEKEND and attended our neighborhood parade and carnival, ate grilled animals and watched the bombs bursting in air.

 That tragically hip banana seated Schwinn in a sea of Trek

The annual running of the water balloon gauntlet where even the children are bloodthirsty.

My friend sent me this picture below from her phone to include me in a moment that so perfectly captured a child's delight for a sparkling night sky. Maybe one of the first displays these guys will remember as grown ups.

While fireworks aren't such a fresh experience for me anymore, I always look to the crowd for my inspiration.  Seen through the eyes of kids on blankets with their bare toes dangling over and grasping at the cool grass or through the eyes of older adults who've seen maybe seventy or eighty Fourth of July fireworks now in their reflective lawn chair reposes, windbreakers zipped to the neck in the 85 degrees, hands in laps and ankles folded beneath their chairs in quiet anticipation.  The show starts without warning and the blue-black sky is suddenly asplash with brilliant color for only seconds at a time; an ephemeral palette of sulfur greens and purples and coral pinks in traditional umbrella bursts, occasional large and lazy gold weeping willows that twinkle gently before burning out and bright white curly whirlygigs that fizz up, up, up and out.   The pace is predictable but the sequence never is.  A new color, a new shape.  What's next?  And it all goes wild and woolly in the finale because that's the way we like it and as the last pop pops, it's suddenly quiet for a second before everyone begins clapping for miles.  The applause floats up into space to travel infinitely, a gesture of gratitude and reflection for simple beauty, freedom, family and tradition that quite literally knows no bounds.