Life Is Life – Even on Vacation




Life is life, even on vacation.

Three of us got splinters from the deck here on Kiawah Island.

One of us refused to let anyone take it out and ran screaming from the room at the mere sight of  the super-pointy surgical another one of us carries. The child hid for hours.

One  submitted to the surgery which you see going forward on the left here.

And one of us hoped her splinter would just plain go away, along with her computer problems, or, she hoped, maybe she could just arrange to die before she had to have hers dug out.

Anyhow it was vacation still, so we admired the sights…

Like the Kiawah River here in the Low Country …

We also went for a boat ride, sometimes going really F-A-S-T!

During that voyage, the baby dropped my water bottle into the drink though the boat’s captain did circle around and retrieve it, so as to keep things nice for all the creatures living in it.


It was heaven.

It’s been heaven, though one of us got bitten by a crab.

Five of us went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant last night….

And four of us stayed home, three of us reading Curious Garage and the Hardy Boys and one dreaming her baby dreams.

I was the stay-at-home girl that time.

The tide got high.

The tide got low.

And finally finally finally I heeded all the advice I have had here,

counted what’s left of our money,

changed out of my bathing suit,

was gone for three-and-a-half hours on a pilgrimage to Charleston,

and came back at last from the closest Apple store,

with a sleek new MacBook Pro, which allows me to tell all this here. Yay!

Radio Silence

It’s our family vacation but there was a slight pause in the fun for me with this busted laptop.

I’m together with everyone for the week so my kids are around. When I came down from our bedroom in this rental house and said I had this weird message every time the laptop crashed, they asked what the message was.

“Well it seems to say, ‘That’s all she wrote Jim!’ and then everything goes away.”

“Mum! That’s not a message Microsoft would send you! You have a virus!”

Now when I personally have a virus I know it because I usually have a temperature.

Not so with my laptop. And a person born like me from the Eisenhower years can go on for a quite a long time without realizing that something is very much amiss.

People like me are old and when you are old you get used to certain facts: Things break, wear out, go rusty.

The shower faucet in our bathroom in this vacation-house went awry sometime yesterday morning and poured only super-scalding water, with the result that I had to go to the food store with salt and probably clam bodies still nesting in my hair.

My hair feels like straw and tastes like pretzels even now, with the thing still busted.

It makes me jealous of certain other members of my family on this vacation, with their bald or near-bald heads….

More soon I hope. Writing this much on my smartphone.

As I Lay Dying

Every few hours at unpredictable intervals my computer crashes.

It’s nerve-wracking.

All of a sudden, one by one, within less than three seconds, the applications shut down, email Facebook, Google Maps – whatever I have open on the Internet… And then all the others, Word, Excel and so on.

Goodbye work! Goodbye favorite poems I have saved as Word documents and was just rereading! Goodbye all Word documents I have open!

One by one they say goodbye to me, some never returning, even after the heroic retrieval attempt the system then makes.

It’s like seeing the process of your own dying, only sped up. You were talking – just a second ago you were saying something interesting, or putting a commitment on your Google calendar and then – poof – all goes quiet.

When real death happens, where will I be? It makes you wonder.

I was reflecting on the beauty of the ocean which was right in front of me as I wrote.

Also labeling more of the pictures taken at our family wedding.

And editing newer pictures with Google’s Picasa.

Working on the ABC Fall Newsletter which we hope to get out in three weeks.

And throwing some brightly colored threads of words down for a college recommendation I’ll soon be writing.

Because I’m also childish and distractable I was also looking at the lineup of new shows as presented by yesterday’s New York Times.

At the last system crash I was watching this short clip about the new show Animal Practice, debuting tonight. Hard to think that the last thing I might ever have done on this little laptop was watch the following. (On the other hand though, you gotta love a monkey. 🙂

Fun and More Fun

I don’t know what could be nicer than going away with your family right after you’ve had a family wedding.

That’s what we did.

The fun we had at the wedding alone could last all year: watching people dance, say like these guys are doing.















And holding close the people we love…


Sitting by the bonfire til the stars themselves started yawning.

Even finally taking off the finery and sleeping late the next day.

Then, to unpack, do a week’s worth of work in one day practically, and take off again for a new beach in a new place.

The family hasn’t had a vacation together in five years but we’re having one now.

Boy are we having one.

And boy do we feel grateful.

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Wedding by the Sea

What’s nicer than a family wedding on a Sunday in September?

When the sky is so blue

And the prelude is by Pachelbel



And even the view from the hotel room just lifts the spirits.

And then we have the bride and her father. Ah the bride and her father~!



Such a day is bound to be happy,


as folks stroll and play

And toast and yell and wave their spoons around …


And everyone claps the “May I present Mr. and Mrs.” moment…


And the dancing goes on for just hours.

Heaven Down There

Here’s a poem for a Sabbath Day and what if it’s true? What if Heaven really is down, in the salt sway where all life originated and not up past the sky at all?

The poem is called ‘New Religion’ and it was written by Bill Holm:

This morning no sound but the loud

breathing of the sea. Suppose that under
all that salt water lived the god
that humans have spent ten thousand years
trawling the heavens for.

We caught the wrong metaphor.

Real space is wet and underneath,
the church of shark and whale and cod.

The noise of those vast lungs
exhaling: the plain chanting of monkfish choirs.

Heaven’s not up but down, and hell
is to evaporate in air. Salvation,
to drown and breathe
forever with the sea.

 It reminds me of that scene from Terrance Malick’s 2011 film The  Tree of Life.  I could watch this trailer again and again. It’s all in here, from the Creation to miracle of conception, from Cain and Abel to prodigal sons, from stern and yearning fathers to mothers who ache for the sight of their lost children – and under and around it all the waters, the waters, the waters.

I’m So Busy (I’m Such a Martyr!)

Here’s how I feel this week:

We all get like this, and we act like it’s a virtue.

I was so busy yesterday I left a pan on over a full flame while I went upstairs to start the bath.

David was there and got to the pan before it charred the onions entirely but he couldn’t be two places at once so when I tore back down to the kitchen to see about the pan I left the bathtub running and..

Well not really but almost ….

Then he caught me this morning peeling out of the driveway, over a little too far to the right so the pine boughs came right INTO the passenger-side window and tried to comb my hair again for me .

I was 30 feet away by the time I saw that Old Dave had seen me. He just held out both arms, palms up, as if to say “Whaaat?”

I answered with the same gesture only in my case it meant “Search me! I don’t know what I’m doing!”

I wrote a book once called Vacationing in My Driveway about how all the best fun in life comes when you slow down enough to notice what’s actually going on around you.

I took the picture for the cover. This is it:

This is our driveway. This is my car, or the green version of it which was mine until I worn it down to a rusted nub and got the red versions that I have now.

I think it’s time to take some of my own advice here, or I won’t be pedaling happily away too much longer. Oy!

Son of This Town

I was writing along quietly when I heard the choppers overhead. Then here came an email from my neighbor Linda to ask if anyone wanted to join her in watching the funeral procession pass. It had slipped my mind entirely that this was the funeral day for Navy Seal Glen Doherty, whose life was lost in the attack in Benghazi, Libya just one week ago, when angry protesters stormed the U.S. consulate.

Ambassador Chris Stevens and two others also perished.

Glen was a child of this town, and the town turned out to honor his memory.

I wish I had captured more pictures, but how could I snap the hearse going by, and the limousine holding the immediately bereaved?

I looked, and then I had to look away.

I thought of at least taking pictures of all the students at Winchester High lining the streets to honor the passing of this their predecessor by a quarter of a century but I didn’t have the heart for that either. In the end I only took this picture of them as they filed back into the school, the American flags they were holding now tucked away again.

The,n ten minutes later, when the choppers had moved west into the hills to hover over St. Eulalia’s where the Funeral Mass was being said, I crossed the street and took this photo, out behind the town’s Senior Center. It could almost be May, couldn’t it, for how verdant the landscape still looks.

The green won’t last, as the little squirrel also captured here well knows. Alas, we are all on Time’s escalator going down.

As the clock sounded the 11th hour, I thought of John Donne’s “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

It tolled yesterday for 42-year-old Glen Doherty, who I remember as part of Coach Tremblay’s Wrestling Squad when he was a boy and life, and fatherhood, and service to the nation were all still before him.

The Ones Who Hurt Kids More Than Help

Let’s talk about teaching then. Let’s talk about my kindergarten teacher Miss Keller as I’ll call her, who looked like Woodrow Wilson and was forever calling to us children   “Attention, children! Children!” in her fluty Brahman voice.

She was nice enough I guess– except to our classmate Francis Christmas. whom she punished.

Francis was one of only two Black children in the class.

I fervently hope that was not why she singled him out but he was forever being punished. Once she forced him to stay behind the piano, trapped by it bulk in one sealed-off corner of the classroom, while the rest of sang our songs about bluebirds and apples. All the while, he had to stay back there in his isolation.

I remember him yodeling away, singing his own songs, in what I see now might have been  a cheerful effort to keep his spirits up.

He wasn’t afraid of her I don’t think, even though she also brought him to the cloak room sometimes and secluded him there. I remember seeing him when we gathered there to suit up for Recess, his shirt collar suspended from one of the old brass hooks. She didn’t actually affix him to the hook, did she? Let me be remembering wrong!

And yet I have this visual still in my mind after all these years. Did he pretend to be hanging himself, again in some valiant pretend-jolly way that helped him save face?

I can’t say for sure that she did these things,  busy as I was trying to eat all the nice salty white glue I could get my hands on, those little dabs of the stuff that she passed out on little tabs of yellow paper when it was time for Art.

No, I can’t she ever made me feel afraid.

My feeling-afraid came later, as I said yesterday when we kids had to watch as our chums the boys were being paddled by our middle school teachers. The sound of the paddles whizzing through the air was bad enough, and the resounding slap when it hit the open hand that the boy was ordered to open wide and hold out. Worse yet: each boy’s effort to smile even as tears of pain sprang to his eyes.

The feeling-afraid came again to me again when we kids heard tales of our older cousin who began at this Catholic high school for boys where all the teachers were monks. The he lived in fear of was Brother James, let’s call him, who when he caught one boy searching inside his desk when he shouldn’t have been, took its wooden lid , opened it as wide as he could and slammed it down hard on the child’s head. My cousin told his parents about this and the news percolated down to us younger kids. He left the school shortly after.

Dark thought indeed.

A reader named Jacqueline said in a comment on my school-related post from yesterday that “if we are to learn then we need to be inspired, not shamed.”  True words, Jacqueline-from-Scotland and very well stated!

Tomorrow, some more positive tales I hope

Clean Your Mind



If you could clean out your mind the way you clean out your house what amazing amounts of room you would have – to learn physics, say, or Italian. I would love to learn Italian! Even hearing the music of it you can’t believe the people speaking it are just answering basic questions like, “What time does the train come?” In with phrases like “Buongiorno!” and “Dopo di lei” I say! Out with that memorized list of English prepositions that got stapled into my brain by my Seventh Grade teacher with her thin cloud of dark hair hovering like a mist over her pale shiny scalp.

She was our English teacher but she doubled as the headmaster’s secretary and I can’t help but think she must have found that second role difficult, since the man saw himself as the sole person competent enough to save the nation.

I know he WANTED to educate us — I  had him for Latin my last year at the school — but I also know he wanted to punish us.

He would single us out and make us stand trembling beside our desks one by one while he hammered us with unanswerable questions about politics.

“What did the American voter THINK, electing that fool Roosevelt who saddled us with this crippling national debt?”

We didn’t know. We were 12 years old! And it was the 1960s, not the 1930s!

He ranted anyway.

Worse yet, he believed in corporal punishment and how sick we all felt seeing the male teachers swing back their special wooden paddles and bring them down hard across our classmates’ tender fingertips.

The teachers used only their paddles, but that headmaster favored the rod, which he kept stored in a special solution to keep it supple. He used it mostly on boys whose families were poor and unlikely to question him. I noted even then that he never dared cane Dr. Black’s son, or the son of Attorney Smith.

But let me turn away now from that dark past and focus on the good and real teachers, now, at the school year’s start.

The good and real teachers never abuse their power. They are firm but they are kind.

They are strict about keeping order, but they do so in a gentle and measured fashion.

Nobody gets targeted in a real teacher’s classroom. Nobody gets shamed. The good and real teacher will also tell you the truth about yourself when you need to hear it.

I think of the time my high school French teacher told the whole class it looked like Mademoiselle Sheehy was “growing a little BIG for her breeches.”

I was the show-off-y Mademoiselle Sheehy, and I knew she spoke the truth.

The lady never raised her voice; never brought her personal demons into the classroom.

I remember her dictating vocabulary quizzes to us that one autumn and noticing how her gaze would lift away from us and drift out the window as we scribbled our answers. She had just lost her life’s companion to an early death but that occasional faraway look was the only sign we ever had of her heartache.

I can still see her now, small and compact. She stood for the whole class and spoke every word of t.e lesson in French until even the slowest of us got so we could think in that language.

All this was years ago but it is as if that teacher is with me still, correcting and encouraging me. This is what good and real teachers do. Lucky children who sit now before the ones like those!