Sunday, August 6, 2017

Summer winds down.

Hello from steamy Portland! We've been in an oppressive streak of hot days, which combined with a few days of terrible air quality to make a miserable end-of-last-week. But we survived. We try not to move very much. Skipper has been sleeping in the basement because the upper bunk in a west-facing bedroom is unbearable at her bedtime.*


1) We had our third weekend in a row of camping, and it was a lot of fun. The camera ran out of batteries, so I have no photographs. But it was fun. There were a LOT of my relatives, and dogs, and an adorable toddler, and there was river floating and swimming. The kids were thrilled. Duchess paddled an inflatable kayak by herself, and she loved that - she was afraid at first, and then super-pleased with herself for not falling out in one of the little rapids. Skipper got to ride in a canoe, and also was afraid at first and then delighted by the experience. And now we're home for a weekend, scrambling to catch up with all the stuff that went undone for nearly a month.

2) Duchess is gone, off in Minnesota competing in an ultimate frisbee tournament, under the quasi-supervision of some young volunteer coaches (thank you, volunteer coaches).** After the tournament, she's going straight off for a few days at a lake house with a teammate and the teammate's relatives. She'll be gone for a week total, and doing stuff that requires her to take more responsibility than she ever has before for both logistics and her own emotional and physical well-being. She seems to be having a great time so far, as far as we can glean from her cursory, infrequent communications.*** Cook and I fully expect she will return home completely converted to ultimate frisbee. Duchess was born to be part of a team,**** and ultimate has some fundamental characteristics that really appeal to her, plus she loves the people. One of her communications was pretty much a lot of squee over a player she thinks is AMAZING

3) Skipper has been muddling through all her activities in a storm of anger, fear, and resentfulness.  She's been struggling with swimming - she has missed so many practices due to vacations and camp that she hasn't ever really settled into it, and she still feels very uncomfortable. She has also continued to struggle with ultimate - she enjoys it but feels really uncomfortable because she's so bad at it. She went to her first ballet class today very anxious, and came through it okay. She's talking and thinking a lot now about her habitual thought patterns, though, which is potentially a very good development. (Actually, having Duchess gone is giving her a time and space to do a lot of interesting processing. Last night she asked me where love is stored in the heart - if there's like a big reservoir or what.)

That's pretty much it. We're turning the corner toward school now, and I think both kids are looking forward to settling back into it...

* I have also learned this week that Skipper is extremely embarrassed by the way I look in a tank top. I've been trying to explain to her that body-shaming is not okay, and also I'm HOT and I'm going to let my blotchy upper arms fly.
** To clarify, Duchess is now playing ultimate frisbee at an elite level not because she's good (she's mediocre, though being tall is helpful), but because teen girls who play ultimate even mediocrely are scarce in Portland, and an even smaller number of them have families who can be suckered into buying their kid a plane ticket to Minnesota.
***Either she's having a great time or she's joined a cult. I guess we'll find out when we go to pick her up at the airport.
**** Left alone, she's pretty much an inert lump. Put her in a team environment, and she instantly kindles into life and becomes an energetic, responsive, thoughtful, engaged participant. Take away the team, and you have a lump again. It's an amazing social alchemy. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Camping Trip #2

Timothy Lake...

Not very much driving
It's a lake! And it's swimmable! And the weather was perfect for it.
Good rock-skipping areas.

Nine billion other people there with us, some of whom were obnoxious.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Camping Trip #1!

We camped! We stayed at the Twin Falls Campground, and visited Tahklahk Lake, where Cook and I took a mini-hike to a lava flow where we could see Mt. Rainier AND Mt Adams all in one 360-degree view. While we were doing this, the girls and our friends were rowing around the lake in a boat kindly (and spontaneously, which is why nobody's wearing life jackets...) loaned to them. We also visited the Lower Lewis River Falls. It was a lovely weekend. There were s'mores. (And mosquitoes.)

Walking to the Swimming Pool, 2017 edition

Monday, July 10, 2017

Summer, part two

I still haven't really settled into summer. (We're coming up on a streak of camping trips three weekends in a row, so that will be hectic.) I keep starting my bike ride home from work, and realizing I don't know what route to take, because I haven't thought through who needs to be picked up from where. The thing is, nobody needs to be picked up, because the kids are already home. Nothing needs to be picked up, because I can just send the kids to get groceries or pick up library books if needed. Bliss. Also, nobody has homework to throw tantrums about!

The kids haven't really worked out how this is going to go, either. They swim in the morning and then they bicker and read and are bored.*

Skipper is, as I mentioned, very angry that I have signed her up for some activities (frisbee, choir, and some dancing) - I secured her grudging agreement when I signed her up, but now that the activities are getting closer, she's getting very upset about it. I don't think she's ever going to be comfortable being bad at things. This weekend, I finally just handed it all over to her, because it's time for her to own her discomfort.  She needs to take responsibility for her choice to try or not try things (and she frequently does want to try, deep in her terrified little heart). It can't be me or Cook. I told her I'd withdraw her from any or all the activities she's registered for, no questions asked. She said she needs to think about it. (She least wants to do ultimate frisbee, but she's very seduced by the new cleats we got her, so she's waffling on that. Gear is really compelling.)

This wasn't a principled parenting decision, made calmly according to all available information. I'm just tired of doing the work for her, and I doubt that it's the best way forward anyway. I'm just giving up on the emotional effort, basically. It scares me, though. I am afraid that she will cramp herself into the smallest possible life; she is actively afraid of taking up space, of being seen and heard and acting in the world. There's nothing wrong with a small life,** but I would like it to be an informed choice instead of an entirely fear-based choice. However, I don't get to choose for my fierce little fear-monkey, so it's up to the siren song of the cleats.

I will note, though, that her swimming skills, and her confidence in them, have improved enormously already after a few weeks of swim practice, so at least she'll be a fear-monkey who can swim.

*They get really bored. Cook and I are 100% unsympathetic.
** I have a small life, and I really like it. It's definitely somewhat fear-based, but there were choices involved, and I know I turned away from the wider world. (I was just listening to a podcast interview with Denis McDonough, and I realized that I would really like to be White House Chief of Staff.  If any of you become President, please keep me in mind for the job.)

Saturday, July 1, 2017


We've gotten over the jet lag (I woke up at 5 am every day for a week) and are finally settling in to this whole summer thing. This was an exciting week; BOTH girls went to sleepaway camp. (Different camps - Duchess went off to Dorks-in-the-Woods camp and Skipper went to a coastal marine ecology camp.)  Cook and I weren't sure what to make of it, but it turned out that we really enjoyed their absence. We ate spinach and poached eggs for dinner and NOBODY COMPLAINED. We tidied the living room and IT STAYED TIDY. These were lovely things. But we missed the whiny mess-makers a lot, too. We retrieved them, sunburnt and filthy, on Friday, and listened to all their boring stories about their adventures.

Skipper really enjoyed the learning parts ("Mom, I got to see aggregating anemones!") but not so much the social games stuff that is essential to any summer camp. She hates icebreakers. She made friends, including one self-identified fellow bookworm with whom she swapped book recommendations. She thinks she would like to go to sleepaway camp again, but maybe only for three nights, as she was much more homesick than she expected, and cried herself to sleep a lot.

Duchess had an unequivocally fantastic time and (I suspect) felt no homesickness at all. She loves being with a group of people who are stuck together, enduring mild discomfort and doing stuff together, and she loves collaborative story-telling - it's pretty much her dream environment. She had several pleasant flirtations, felt an enjoyable mastery of relevant skills, proved a sexist camper wrong about her expertise with fire-starting, and found herself to be popular (she seems to have started a small semi-ironic cult, which I think is useful career experience). She loved it.

The girls are both doing swim team - we'll see how it goes. Skipper does not like being one of the worst swimmers, and is very stressed about that. She's also pretty mad that I signed her up for ultimate frisbee once a week, because she's bad at it and feels very stressed about that.* The Blond Twins are signed up for it, too, though, so I'm hoping that helps. Duchess is all in for ultimate frisbee - starting next week, she will be playing 8 hours a week, and she's going to a tournament in Minnesota in August. She is NOT doing kung fu this summer, which is her first departure since she started doing it 4 years ago - she chose ultimate instead.

Anyway, we're home, and it's summer. The girls are figuring out how to be together and do nothing all day, and are spending a lot of time in the yard, often with the very confident and friendly neighborhood cat (Velvet Elvis, according to its collar, and I've never met a cat for whom that name would be so apropos) who comes by for petting.

*This is one of those decision points - force or concede? I'm going with force. But just for the summer. I think we'll let her do nothing but school during the school year.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Stirling Castle is a very beautiful place. There's all sorts of fun castle stuff (the Stirling Heads!), and also amazing views all around. Also, check out Skipper levitating in the last photo.

We dropped off the rental car with a sigh of relief, and headed in to Edinburgh, carrying all our stuff until we could check into the apartment at 3. We went to the Dean's Village area, by the Waters of Leith, and then we went to the Princes Street Gardens to lie in the grass and eat Hobnobs. It turned out that there was a big pipes band competition going on, which was great fun - bagpipes and drums all over the place.

We went to the Canongate Tolbooth to see where one of Cook's ancestors was imprisoned for being a Covenanter before being banished to the colonies. On the way, we got ice cream, and because we were rushing to beat closing time, Cook and Skipper did Ice Cream Parkour on the way up Victoria Street.

There's a lot to see on the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and the Canongate Tolbooth.

For example, the Museum of Childhood, which featured a lot of very disturbing dolls.

The John Knox House!

A lovely little garden behind the John Knox House, featuring a statue of Patrick Geddes. Edinburgh has all these wonderful little streets running into and through the blocks, and some of them have these great surprises.

Mercat Cross (executions...)

Gladstone's Land. I was excited to see this, because Edinburgh has this crazy history of "lands," apartment buildings from the 17th century that were up to twelve stories tall. The city's spread was so constrained by topography that they had to build up, and it must have been just wild to walk around the city. There was an amazing front room with painted ceilings in this building.

Edinburgh Castle! Duchess bonded more with Mary Queen of Scots.

Skipper bonded with a very large, very old gun apparently named Mons Meg.

The St Margaret's Chapel was my favorite place at the castle, and Cook's too. I don't have any photos that do it justice.

National Museum of Scotland! They had some of the Lewis Chessmen! I was happy to see them again. Cook did not think stealing them would be a good idea, so I left them there.

Greyfriars Kirk and Graveyard. This was fun, because Duchess had a lot of strong feelings and opinions, and we had some good and interesting discussion about things like faith, conviction, war, relativism... etc. We learned a lot about the Covenanters on this trip, a topic I had never explored before, and there's a lot to think about there. The Covenant was signed here, and some Covenanters imprisoned here, and there's a memorial, too. And also, the Flodden Wall!

Down time in the apartment.

We finished up our visit to Edinburgh by eating some classic Scottish tourist food at a pub that's been serving for 500 years. I ate haggis. HAGGIS.

Then... we went home. We rode two trains, a bus, two planes, a train, and a bus, and then it was all over.

 It was a great trip. The problem with a trip like this is that we just kept thinking of more places and things we wanted to add. We kept saying "Next time!" So I guess we'll leave it at that. Next time!