Book Bag - no. 8

Well, that was a trying week. Beautiful and free, but exhausting. These titles were definitely some highlights. I wish I could say I was looking forward to the weekend...but you know what? Maybe, I'll just say it for discipline's sake. - " I can't wait for the weekend!" - Here's to hoping. 

 Somehow I completed three of these skirts. I had begun the project months ago, and finally picked them back up this week. They are far from perfect, but finishing the work was a comfort and just in time for a friend's birthday. 


Road Trip and Reality

We drove to Virginia last week. When you start in Massachusetts it is easy to be productive careening through the Northeast. Connecticut then New York, through Pennsylvania to Maryland and West Virginia. Six states in one day causes one to feel triumphal.  A little lake house nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains was our ultimate destination, but on the way down, we had a few things to take care of. It was nearly five years ago when I discovered John Brown: His Fight For Freedom.  As Myles and I sat together reading it for the first time, I was deeply moved by the life of this controversial figure.  Myles was silent as he listened to John Hendrix's artful and compassionate rendering of the tale of a man who was willing to die (and kill) for equality.  I knew then, that I wanted to bring us to this place of history, where the  final, fateful events of John Brown's life took place. Harpers Ferry, WV is a beautiful town overlooking the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. Thomas Jefferson said that the town, "was worth a trip across the Atlantic." I'd have to agree.

We left Harpers Ferry for our campsite at the Shenandoah River State Park in VA. We stayed for two nights, with relative success. A black bear did stumble into our groomed little area of his backyard. But that was no big deal. I actually slept through the sighting, yet made up for my lapse on the second night when I was on a fruitless, self appointed bear watch. We eagerly reported the event to a ranger who also agreed with us, "no big deal." Just what we thought.  We ate well over the fire, with our tradition of sausage gravy and toast for breakfast and camper's stew* for dinner.

And finally a lake, with cousins, and bunk beds, and life jackets. It was a wonderful escape, to be able to swim, and talk, and swap labors for a while.  Seeing my nieces through auntie eyes gives me hope that maybe one day I will be able to receive a similar big picture parental optimism that I try and share with my sister. It is much more difficult to take your own advice.  Myles is the pioneer of his generation in our family, so everything always seems so huge and horrible when he has a misstep.  It is hard for me to take his shortcomings and lapses in stride. For better or worse, on a road trip you are given lots of time to dwell on these types of things. I was dwelling on a particular interaction he had with his sister, and sharing it with Eric as we both shake our heads, saying "WE never did that as children, what is the deal?" when I was overwhelmed with the notion that maybe he needs a bit more love. Less unnecessary criticism, more gentleness for a change.  For some reason, I keep thinking the job of being a human is going to let up. But, it never does.

So thank God for books. We read Shiloh together on our journey, and it was beautiful. The story is set in West Virginia which made the tale even more poignant. There are few things better than reading a story of a boy and his dog among sleeping bags under the stars, with the Shenandoah singing beside.

And now we are home. Tired and mildly content. Slowly chipping away at lost sleep. I need a pair of those blinders that they give horses to keep them calm, as I try and live beyond the duffels in the kitchen full of things that must find their place again. Maybe by August.

 If you are ever driving through Scranton, PA with anyone possessing an affection for trains, don't miss Steamtown USA. We stretched our legs and soaked in some good ole' Americana steam history.

Mail Train.

* Campers stew consists of doctoring up some heavily salted lean ground beef browned with an onion, toss in some some boxed vegetable stew and a can of black beans to stretch it out and you have yourself one tasty fire cooked meal. My apologies if this sounds unappetizing, but in the moment, it really cant be beat.


Yesterday afternoon we buried my mother's mother, Betty Lamson West.  She was a woman filled with goodness and mercy.  All of her days she walked with kindness and compassion. It was painful to say goodbye.  And it felt like losing my own mother all over again. After that tragedy in 2007, my grandmother assumed the role of loving us in her stead.  She faithfully communicated, and with impeccable timing would mail us photographs of Marilyn from earlier years. "I have been saving this one for you." And it would be a picture of my mother pregnant with her twin daughters.  Or she would mail us a card, that my mom had sent her years ago with words written in script to soothe the aching loss.  She knew our pain. And now that connection is gone, and it feels the world will soon remember its place no more.  The incessancy of life is cruel. And I believe is one of the most difficult things in the grieving process. Everything just keeps going, when all one wants to do is stop. The expression that, life is a grind becomes clear and poignant.

As we gathered around her body yesterday in the First Presbyterian Church of New Gretna, NJ, I stood with my grandfather. He reminded me that it was here where they were married, sixty-four years ago. "The beginning and the end," he said. "This is a day for weeping." He then told my cousins and I, that just a couple weeks ago he had told our grandmother, that he would do it all over again. The sixty-four years part. "That really pleased her." Those words must have been a wonderful comfort to her coming from this Texan. A Texan who as he aged, longed for the land of his own mother. He was a young boy in the Coast Guard, when he moved from San Antonio to be stationed in Atlantic City, NJ and never moved back. How could he when he met such warm and lively nurse named Betty? Their first meeting was arranged by a girlfriend of hers. He had arrived at her house and was on the porch, while she was getting ready upstairs. But then, as she would tell us, she heard his laugh. And that was the clincher. They were married a few months later.
She said she would move to Texas with him, because by that time she was ready to give small town New Gretna a rest. But he said, "No, I like this old house, Betty."  And so they stayed and lived in her grandmother's home and raised four daughters.

Her kindness and love would have caused anyone to stay. She was happy. Always moving, always smiling. Always thinking of others.  Always writing letters, and taking pictures. Always pulling you aside to share some insight she had about you or one of your children. "Emily, did you see the expression on Fiona's face?"

As grandchildren spending our summers on the Jersey Shore we soaked her in like the sand and saltwater with which we played.  We loved hearing about her stories as a young and vibrant nurse in Atlantic City, when Atlantic City was the place to be. She loved it. And we loved it too. She would make clam pot pie for us for dinner and blueberry muffins for breakfast. She and our grandfather would take us sailing, and clamming, and swimming. She taught us how to body surf. She could have been on a billboard advertising the Jersey Shore as she swam. Her lead arm pointing straight out of the water in the direction of where she was headed out to sea. And then she would come back to dry and warm on our blanket. And she always smelled wonderful. On our last visit, I asked her what her secret was. She was always so fresh and clean and sweet smelling, like clothes dried in the sun. And she smiled shrugged and said, "Ivory soap, I guess." She would bathe every night and the cabinets were stocked full of Ivory soap.

She never stopped nursing. As a young child, I remember accompanying her on a visit to administer a shot to a neighbor.  I was amazed at her cheerfulness while performing the task. She was indeed resilient friend.

Betty was buried on "the hill" beside generations of her family. A family that had been in that town since the early nineteenth century, and one that descended from the Mayflower. We are all waiting to see what is to come of our family now, without our beloved matriarch. Death. Loss. Change. May God have mercy on us all.


Safety Net

Last week, I spontaneously splurged for this classic:

And now that this week is unfolding I can see why. This morning father dearest hopped on a plane bound for Conferenceland, leaving the three of us behind to make of this week what we will.  That slight surge of adrenaline arrived when you know you have a challenge to face.  I want to emerge victorious this time. Hopefully things will cooperate.
Tonight we are off to a good start. Myles voiced a few concerns at the looks of, The Secret Garden. (Maniacal Laugh.) But after the cholera outbreak in chapter one, and then the mention of a hunch-back, I saw the white flag in his eyes.  I find that in times of the evening read aloud, anytime you have a child asking, "does that hurt?" it is only a matter of minutes in which you could have them eating out of your hand so to speak.  I am thankful that our evening anchor leg has been established.

I also couldn't resist these book plates :)


Book Bag - no. 7

Best counting book ever?

Moving is hard. And good byes, feel bad.

Boxes for Katje makes me cry every time. One time I emailed Candace Fleming on bended knee thanking her for a book she wrote, and she sent a reply.  In a thrilling exchange, she told me how she became a writer. I love her.

My new favorite biographer: Demi.

Queste; read by the magnificently talented Gerard Doyle. He is famous in our house.

Gravity amazes.