Summertime, and everything is different.


For all my life, the end of the school year meant a celebration of freedom. Summer! Cook outs! Baseball and hot dogs and fireflies and s’mores. Camping and swimming and beautifully scary thunder storms.

As a young working mom, my work schedule tied to the academic year, summer meant time to reconnect with the people I loved most in all the world. It meant sleeping later, making piles of pancakes, watching cartoons together in the morning. Summer meant days at the lake, days at the ocean, days of running the hose into the sandy part of our back yard. It was all about growing tomatoes and eating them as they ripened. Snakes and bees and butterflies.

Summer, back then, meant time to hold children close and pretend that they would never, ever, grow up and away.

But now I am in my Nonni years. My world has turned upside down. Now the days of snuggling over breakfast and walking in the woods are the days of fall and spring. Now it’s the cold, wet days of winter that mean time to cuddle and read and bake cupcakes together.

Now everything is reversed.

When summer comes, in the world of this Nonni, my role as beloved and needed comes to a sudden crashing end.

Suddenly, Mommy is home. Mommy, the teacher, the woman who looks at summer with the same grateful eyes that I once had. Mommy knows that summer means a celebration of freedom. It means cookouts, baseball, fireflies and s’mores. For Mommy, summer means a time of reconnection, a time to reassure her babies and herself that she is the one who bring safety and security and love to a world that is filled with beautiful and scary thunderstorms.

Now Nonni steps back, catches her breath, and tells herself that all is just as it should be. Now is my time to rest, to reconnect with my own true self. To write and read and divide the perennials.

Now is the time for Nonni to look forward, for the first time in her increasingly long life, to the crisp days of fall. The days of cool sun, pumpkins, fresh apples. The days when Mommy will go back to work. And Nonni will once again take her place in the kitchen, teaching the little ones to bake an apple pie.

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A Teacher At Night


Oh, holy Lord…….

I remember that when I was teaching it often felt as if I spent 10 hours planning for 4 hours of teaching.

I remember feeling that the morning was like being on the runway. Getting ready to fly.

Thinking about the kids, planning how to group them. Picturing which kids would instantly succeed and which would struggle . Counting out the sets of cups, spoons, salt shakers, tins, dishes and hand lenses to arrange on the back table.

Thinking about the kids. Copying the checklists to match the lesson. Double checking the colored pencils.

Thinking about the kids. Making a list of vocabulary to give to the ELE students. Finding some pages of extension work for those who would finish quickly.

Just thinking about the kids.

And all that planning would find its fruition in the moment when the kids came through the door, smiling, frowning, teary, giggly, pale, ruddy, eager, shy…….They would appear and I would flip that internal switch to “on.” The day would begin, with me on stage, and I would coach, coax, encourage, stop, redirect, prompt, caution, cheer, lead, follow, observe, record and silently celebrate every students’ accomplishments.

I would be thinking about the kids.

And I remember that after the day was over, and the last child had gone home, I would spend hours filing, washing, emailing, copying, cutting, displaying, correcting, and planning for the next full day.

And thinking about the kids.

Now here I sit, more than halfway through a one week drama camp for little students. I am planning for tomorrow, checking my list of props, hanging up a reminder to bring my fan to our stifling upstairs classroom.

I am thinking about the kids. I have met them all, and have smiled at each one and made all of them laugh. I won’t ever get to know them, though; this is after all only one short week of 3 hour classes. By the time they put on their first day of school outfits, these children will have forgotten me.

Yet I sit here writing out plans for the morning, checking my online sources for ideas.

Thinking about the kids.

An Odd Month of June


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Ever since I started kindergarten, I’ve looked forward to the beginning of summer. Long days at the beach, hot sun and cold watermelon, ice cream dripping down to your elbow.

And no school!

Summer has always meant freedom. Yay! Blissful days of no pressure!

sigh.

Not this year. This year is different. This year I am mourning the end of the school year.

Oh, I know. There will still be thunderstorms and barbecues and a few beach days.

But this summer the freedom means that I won’t spend every day with my closest companion.  The person I have had breakfast and lunch with every day since November. The person who kisses me more than the dogs and the husband combined. My BFF. The one I dream about most nights.

This person:IMG_20160601_105608

Sure. She lives ten minutes from here and her Mom and I love to spend time together. I know. I’ll probably see her three out of every five days.

Still.

It won’t be the same. Sigh.

Stupid old summer.

Me and Tucker plan to pout all summer. We want fall.

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Let the Autumn Come


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It was a September Tuesday.  It should have been fresh and brisk outside.  Our small New England town should have been feeling the oncoming change of seasons.

It was nearly 90 degrees outside, and as humid as a typical July day in Massachusetts.  My friend and I, both retired as of July 1st, decided to spend the day kayaking on a local lake. When we made the plan, of course, we knew that it would be a “weather permitting” event.

Well.  The weather certainly permitted today!

I woke up early, showered, dressed in a bathing suit and shorts, cleaned out my kayak, and found my paddles and jacket.  I filled a water bottle, walked the dogs, and waited for Lesley to arrive.

So funny!  My dear friend, with her graying hair that matches mine, arrived in a big old pickup truck, her kayak tied safely into the back. We did what ladies our age always do (we used the bathroom before we left), then piled into the truck and headed to the lake.

The place where I took my friend is a good sized lake about ten minutes from my house. It is common in that it is a lake in a region of many lakes. It is unusual in that it is nearly uninhabited, except for a big boy scout camp on one side.

Because it is September, and schools have opened, the camp was empty when we arrived. We parked the truck, unloaded our kayaks and happily headed out into the beautiful green waters of the lake.  We paddled our way around the cove, passing the boarded up camp cabins.  We made our way to a few of the small islands that dot the lake.

We let ourselves float for a bit, watching a family of loons as they fished in the cool water.  We looked at an abandoned beaver lodge, admired the water lilies, watched a graceful blue heron groom his wings.

The sun beat down on our backs.  The sky was a perfectly clear, dry blue.  The water kept calling us.

We put the boats ashore at a tiny beach that was most likely part of the Scout Camp. We let ourselves fall into the cool, clear water.  We floated.

There were no other humans in sight.  We heard only the loons, the gently lapping waves, and breeze in the pines.

How did we get so lucky, we kept asking ourselves, grinning at each other as we lay on our backs in the middle of the lake.  How did we ever find ourselves in such a perfect place, on such a perfect day?

We closed our eyes.  We let the water carry us.  We smelled the metallic herbal tang of the water all around us.  We watched a hawk circle, high over head.

My friend and I, two women who have worked together for many years, allowed ourselves to steep in the perfect heat and cool of the moment.  We paddled our way back to shore.  We loaded the boats and went home for lunch.

Let Autumn come, we told each other.  Today was the most perfect celebration of the Summer.

Sleeping Beauty


I have just made an amazing discovery!  Fairy tales really must be true!

I have discovered the actual location of……………….. Sleeping Beauty’s castle!!!!

Yup.

Sleeping Beauty, the mean old step mother, the handsome prince.  They were all most definitely living in Central Massachusetts in the summer.

How do I know this?

Because of the huge vines that are attempting to climb my deck, my fence and the walls of my house.  Like this one, creeping across my lawn even though I cut it back to the ground every week.

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Or this tenacious climber, the one that I have cut back no fewer than four times this summer.  It seems to be determined to sneak in through my dryer vent.

Let me in........

Let me in……..

So I now know that it was not magic that encircled the famous castle with thorn covered vines.

Nope, the beautiful princess was not protected for a hundred years by magical thorny roses.  Here is the truth, finally revealed:

Sleeping Beauty was asleep in a castle that was wrapped up in a giant blackberry bramble.  The handsome prince probably didn’t find her because he was looking for his true love.

I suspect he was looking for a very good blackberry cobbler.

OK, Mother Nature, you win.


Every spring, without exception, I am overwhelmed by the desire to create a fantastic garden.   I imagine myself growing enough vegetables to last us through the winter.

Every spring, I turn over the earth, Google “Tomato plants in New England” and “How to grow beans in Massachusetts”, and go out to buy 300 pounds of composted cow manure.

Yep.

I aspire to be one of those self-reliant old Yankees, canning my tomatoes and freezing my beans.  Ready to take on the winter, even if the grid goes down.

And pretty much every year, round about July 8th, I start to think, “Oops.”

That’s when I notice that the tomato plants are turning all yellow, and the beans never came up and the row of lettuce got eaten by some kind of little wormy thing.   That’s about when I start to think about the Farmer’s Markets and the local farm stand, and I start to repeat that old Red Sox slogan of many years past.  “Wait till next year”, I tell myself.  “Next year I won’t put the tomatoes in the garden with all the manure (too much nitrogen).  Next year I’ll remember to spray the lettuce with a combination of dish soap and water.”

Yep.  Next year.  The elusive next year, when the bounty of my backyard will be enough to insure survival for Pa and me over the long snowy winter.

I’m an idiot.

And here’s how I know that I’m an idiot.

I have huge areas of my yard that I completely ignore.  One part used to be a rock garden, until I ran out of steam and stopped chopping back the vines.   This year it is so full of ripe delicious raspberries that the birds and I are both filled up.  I picked enough in an hour to make a pot of jam.

Another section used to be the home of a grand old white pine.  We had to cut him down about 5 years ago, as he was getting mighty old and brittle, and he was threatening our roof in every windstorm.

Two years ago, I noticed that a whole bunch of blueberry bushes were springing up around the stump of that old tree.

This afternoon, I went outside and shooed away a couple of robins.  I picked about 2 cups of sweet, ripe blueberries in 20 minutes.  Enough to make a pie.

And here’s the part that gets me.   Its only in the parts of the yard where I haven’t done one single thing to grow a crop where there is a crop worth harvesting.

I am clearly NOT the Farmer’s Daughter.

Momma Nature, I give up. You win.  Again.

Picked all this in about 20 minutes.

Picked all this in about 20 minutes.

Sigh.

I can hardly wait for the acre of blackberries to ripen in a few weeks!

Something about the sea


I don’t know what it is about the sea.  I don’t know why it reaches out to us and grabs us and pulls us in so completely.

A gull on Assateague Island.

All I know is that every time I smell the salt smell of the ocean breeze, my lungs feel more open. My heart feels stronger. I can feel the blood moving in my veins.

I feel more myself when I am in the ocean’s arms.

When I see a gull, swooping out over the rolling waves, I almost believe for a moment that I too can soar away as far as the winds can carry me.  I almost believe that I can be that free, just for a little while.

It doesn’t matter what beach or coast I am on when I find myself in a spot where I can see the ocean at last.  As long as I can touch my lips with the tip of my tongue and taste the briny tang of salt and seaweed, I am home.

A winter day on the Massachusetts coast.

The ocean in winter is spectacular.  Cold and so sharp.  The beautiful gray of the water merges with the icy gray of the clouds. A study in monochromatic beauty.  I wish so much that I could live in a place where I’d see the ocean racing in every winter day.

But the ocean in summer, on a sweet July evening, in a place where the blue ocean meets the crystal sands.  Nothing in life is more alluring to me than that.  The spiky shards of beach grass poking up through the white sand, the restless movement of the dunes.  The incredible sight of a sailboat passing in the twilight.  Almost too pretty to be real!

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I would give anything I have to one day live in a place where I could watch that motion every single day.

Ah, but if wishes were horses……..

For now, I will have to content myself with occasional days at the beach with friends, walking in the surf, watching the gulls, finding sand dollars, daring each other to dunk in the freezing waters of high tide.

For now, I will count myself lucky to live as close to the Atlantic as I do.

For now, I’ll have to keep dreaming of one day owning that beach house.

Ennui


The Mt. Washington Auto Road.

The Mt. Washington Auto Road.

First thought: this photo has nothing to do with this post.

Which is pretty much the point. I’m sort of out of gas.

It happens to me every summer!  Every summer.

I don’t know why I’m still surprised, but what can I say? I apparently don’t learn from the past.

In June, there is nothing on earth more enticing to me than the idea of a whole day at home by myself.  In August, I’m getting a little bored with only me for company.

In June, the smell of the charcoal grill is like a siren song, calling me to days and nights of warmth and comfort. I love the lingering smell of hickory smoked chicken in my hair as I go to bed late, late on an early summer night.

In August, I yearn for the smell of baking apples and the warmth of the oven on a cool evening.  That rich charcoal smell now makes me think of forest fires and charred hot dogs.  I’m all done.

Ah, and in June, in June, in the lengthening days of June, this teacher craves a week without a single essay to correct, or lunch line to organize, or best friend conflict to mediate.  In June, the idea of a world empty of children’s voices sounds like the very definition of peace.

But come August, this aging teacher begins to dream of children past.  Their bright eyes and bubbling laughs fill me with longing.  This old teacher, mother of all grown up children, starts to gravitate toward the groups of kids on the beach, hoping to be invited in to look at the tide pool.

I can tell that summer is winding down. There are so many unmistakable signs.  The days grow just a little bit shorter.  The nights are almost crisp.  The leaves are beginning to curl, and turn brown or red.  The goldenrod is sprouting in every open field.

I can tell that summer, for all its glory and its gifts, is drifting toward its close.  My house is so clean that I barely recognize it.  The windows sparkle, the basement has been swept. The siding was washed of all of its algae and today I found myself taking apart window fans so that I could scrub them clean before putting them back together.

I know for sure that summer is past its prime, because I am really eager to see the names on next year’s class list. I have started to organize my “Week One” files, and I am making little maps to reorganize my classroom.

Thank you so much, Summer of 2014~ you have been a joy and a pleasure. I intend to thoroughly enjoy every day you have left.

But bring on the kids pretty soon, OK?  Its getting a little boring out here.

At last


storm-355103_640All those long, cold, rainy days and nights of winter, all those muddy, drizzly drawn out weeks of spring.  THIS is what I was waiting for.

Today it has been muggy and very hot; I’ve been sweating since I stepped out of the shower. My clothes are damp and dank and musky.  My hair feels like it has been coated in olive oil.

Today I walked the dogs in the heat, chatting with a neighbor about the breathless feel of the air and the difficulty in getting anything done.  I did some chores, pulled some weeds, picked some of Paul’s fresh strawberries, all while feeling the drips of sweat coming from my hairline down to the tip of my nose. I have kept the dogs in the house, under the whirring ceiling fan. We’ve all been drinking cold water and lying around as still as we can lie.

I love this weather.  Today was tropical.

This afternoon, after my lunch of fruit and cold, cold yogurt (OK, frozen yogurt, but still…..) the sky began to change.  The soft white clouds that have been drifting from south to north for the past three days began to stack up and turn gray.  The sky went from the palest silky blue to gunmetal gray.  The wind picked up and showed me the undersides of the maple and oak leaves.

All afternoon, I have been waiting.  My poor old Sadie, my fearless lab who will face any pitbull or any scary human, has been shaking and panting for hours.  Her only fear is loud noise, and she has stayed glued to my right leg all afternoon.

“You’re OK”, I have been telling her. “It’s alright.”   We have been sitting side by side, watching the sky, for almost three hours now.

Finally, in the past thirty minutes, the storm has broken.  The wind is arching the trees almost to the ground. The rain is pounding down and rushing down the drive in small shiny rivers. The flashes of lightning are made even brighter by the fact that the day has turned so incredibly dark. The house is hushed and close; all of the windows are closed, because the wind is swirling from every side.   Sadie is crouched beside me; her eyes are so frantic.  I wish I could tell her that we’re safe!

The lightning is striking close; much closer than usual.  The last big crash happened just as the flash hit, and the whole house thrummed with the energy.

I am hot, and breathless and I feel the hair on my arms prickling.

I can hear the storm passing over us, moving off to the North at last.

I love this weather! This afternoon was exactly what I yearned for during all those cold and snowy drives home this winter.

I’m sorry, Sadie!   But all I can say is, “At last!”

The swings


I did something yesterday that I probably haven’t done in 20 years.

And that still most likely puts me ahead of most people my age, who I would guess haven’t engaged in this particular activity for at least 40 years.

I went on the swings.

I was teaching a summer class this week.  Well, to tell the truth “class” might be a bit of a stretch, and “teaching” most definitely is hyperbole.

I was leading two groups of little kids in a camp class called “Drama Start to Finish”. During a break in our thespian endeavors, we went out on the playground.  One of the little ones asked me to push her on the swing, so I did.  Another asked me to swing with them, and for reasons that escape me at the moment, I agreed!

My butt barely fit into the plastic sling, and I had rivets digging into both thighs.  But for some odd reason, I didn’t really think about it.  I just leaned back and started to pump my legs.  The other three swings were filled with little girls, and the conversation between them swirled around me as I leaned into the smooth back and forth rhythm.  I pulled on the chains, feeling the tension in my shoulders.  I listened to the girls, chatting about movies and songs, but I knew that they didn’t need me to respond or comment or ask a question.  Their voices became a part of the background, mixing with the sound of the wind in my ears and the squeak of the chains above me.  I tilted my head as far back as it would go, amazed and thrilled by the perfect blue of the sky above me.

I could see the undersides of some of the leaves in the trees that line our playground.  The green was a paler, softer shade of the color that I usually see. I could see, if I really leaned far back, the bottoms of tender young pine cones in the white pines behind me, and one silver drop of sap, nearly ready to fall.

It made me wonder.

When did I stop swinging? When did I give up the giddy swoop of my dropping stomach as I reached the highest peak of my backward arc?  When did I stop fearing that I might somehow go “over the bar”, and hurl myself too far?

And I wondered not only “when”, but “why”. Why is it that adults stop wanting to hold onto those chains, pushing to see just how close we can come to flying?

I swung back and forth, as long as I could.  My head began to feel dizzy, and my lunch was no longer securely in its place inside my stomach.  My arms were a little bit achy, and my fingers were slightly numb.  I had been swinging for less than five minutes, not even a fifth of what my little students could accomplish with ease.

Still, I was feeling happy.  I had looked at the brightest summer sky. I had leaned myself back as far as my aging back could go, and I had noticed the beauty that is usually hidden by the maple leaves.  My arms would remember my adventures, and the dents in my legs would no doubt leave some bruises.  But I had no regrets.

It made me wonder what else I have forgotten since the last time that I really enjoyed recess!