Category Archives: Memoirs

Domestic near-disaster

Not the best way to make tea...

Be careful where you drop the tea bags…

In the south, nothing says welcome home like a tall glass of sweet tea. So I cranked the stove to high, set a pot of water on to boil, and got ready to welcome.

Do you have any idea how quickly a Lipton teabag will combust when dropped onto an electric burner?


Do you know how big the flames are if ten teabags are tied together when they hit said burner?


How do I know this?

Because I nearly burned down the house in that attempt to make some sweet tea. Not just any house. The brand new, paint-is-still-pristine, boxes-are-still-packed, townhouse of my then-boyfriend (now hubby, miracle of miracles). Nothing ruins the ambiance of a new home like soot stains on the ceiling and the aroma of scorched black tea layered over the fumes of just-laid wall-to-wall carpeting.

Luckily, there was no irreparable damage, and after a quick call to the insurance company to be sure his policy was up to date, the then-boyfriend (now hubby, miracle of miracles) was ready to forgive and forget.

Well, maybe not forget. The incident has come up each time I’ve unpacked the tea pitcher in a new house in the past ten years.


Everyone has some kind of domestic disaster story, whether it’s a kitchen fire or a DIY project gone horribly wrong. If you’d like to laugh at commiserate with other people’s misfortunes, please, please check out the hilarious Domestic Disaster Diary. A slew of talented bloggers share their own near misses, creating a community of sympathy and solidarity for those of us who have good intentions but not always the best results.

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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in How It Was, Memoirs, Monday Mix, On Me, True Life



June 11 — something funny
Not entirely playing by the rules of Chantelle’s June Photo a Day Challenge, since I did not take these photos–rather, I am the star of the pictures. At the time, I saw NOTHING funny about the situation, but looking at them now (and hearing my husband’s account of the day) makes me laugh until tears run down my face and I have to shuffle with crossed legs to the bathroom. Thanks to the photographer at Bali Action Adventure who controlled his own laughter long enough to capture these moments.

Despite being a distinguished veteran of the US Navy, my husband does not like water (uh, hon, did they not tell you when you enlisted that that particular branch of the armed forces spends a great deal of time on or near the water??). Therefore, I was quite concerned about how he’d handle our first ever whitewater rafting trip while vacationing in Bali. Better than me, as it turned out.

I started to get a little anxious when we walked up the dock and discovered that it’d just be the two of us plus a guide in a tiny little rubber raft. I was envisioning being grouped with at least half a dozen other tourists in a LARGE, spacious, seaworthy inflatable—that’s what the brochure showed! This threesome set-up meant we’d actually play a pivotal role in steering the raft safely through the whitewater. Gulp.
Me: “Uh, this isn’t what I pictured.”
The hubby: “Hurry up, get in, let’s go!”

My life flashed before my eyes right out of the gate, when the guide steered our little dinghy under a waterfall at the launch point, flooding and sinking my position at the front end of the raft, and nearly sending me overboard before we even left the launch pool. Spluttering and choking, taking inventory to see if I still had my helmet, my sunglasses, my paddle, I wondered if it was too late to call the whole thing off.
Me: “WTF!? Was that really necessary!?”
The hubby: “Hahahaha! Hahahahaha!”

DSC_0024Notice who is NOT laughing at the beginning of the journey.

The farther down the river we traveled, the more pissed off I became, since I had been instructed to sit on the canvas bottom of the raft rather than on the cushy inflatable seat (as near as I could tell through the guide’s Balinese accent, I was too tall to sit on the seat and he couldn’t see where we were going). There is nothing but a single layer of unpadded canvas in the bottom of an inflatable raft. Whitewater happens when the river rushes over huge rocks on the river bed. Guess whose backside slammed into every single one of those rocks?
Me: “Dammit, can you not see we are headed straight for that boulder!?”
The hubby: “Whoo hoo! This is great! Paddle left! Paddle right!”

Fast forward a couple hours…nearly the end of the journey. My backside is a throbbing mass of bruises, I’ve ripped off two toenails by jamming my sandaled feet between the floor of the raft and the inflated sides in an attempt to lever my aching butt away from the rocks, the canvas sidewalls have rubbed all the skin off the underside of my upper arms as I vainly tried to paddle from the floor of the boat. I am done, I want a shower, I want lunch. Then I see the final obstacle standing between me and dry land. A 10-foot high dam. I hate roller coasters, that terrifying freefall on the big hill, and on the rare occasions someone talks me into riding one, I absolutely refuse to sit in the lead car. Now here I am, perched in the front of a tiny little raft, about to go over the edge.
Me: “Oh [expletive].”
The hubby: “Awesome!!!”

As our guide steered us to our place in the line of rafts making the final plunge, he took our paddles, lashed them to the boat, told me to swing my feet over the front, and instructed us to hold on tight to the rope–no matter what happens don’t let go of the rope. The raft in front of us held two tiny little Japanese girls, and I was able to glimpse them bob, still inside the raft, safely towards the bank after they disappeared over the dam. If they survived, feather-light as they were, surely I’d be okay.

The raft sped toward the precipice, and as I do on every roller coaster, I screwed my eyes shut tight and held on for dear life. The bottom fell away, and I became weightless before my death grip on the rope yanked me back down to meet the floor of the raft. At exactly the same time, the nose of the raft met the solid wall of water at the bottom of the dam, and I was catapulted backwards, feet flying over my head, still anchored to the boat by the rope in my clenched fists. Only my eyes were closed, so I didn’t know what was happening. I thought the entire raft had flipped over, and I waited to be engulfed by cold river water, coaching myself to stay calm, to watch the bubbles once I entered the turbulent water so I could save myself by following them to the surface. I prayed the hubby would either do the same or hold his breath long enough for me to dive back down and find him. The guide could save himself…it was his fault we were about to drown in the first place.

DSC_0332My best gymnast impersonation, with a perfect landing on the hubby. The guide gives it a 10.

The cold water never came, but suddenly my feet were launched forward and I was once again upright. Apparently, still anchored by my grip on the rope, I had flipped over like a gymnast on the rings and landed smack on top of the hubby’s head. Quickly determining why it had suddenly gotten so dark in his comfy little section of the boat, he had grabbed my ankles and hurled me back to my rightful position.
Me: “Get me out of this effin’ boat. NOW.”
The hubby: “Hahahahaha! Hahahahahahaha!! Hahahahahahaha!!!”
The guide (in a thick Balinese accent): “HAHAHAHAHA! HAHAHAHAHAHA!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”

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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Challenges, Memoirs, Photography, True Life


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sunrise from the top of JapanYesterday’s prompt from The Daily Post encouraged bloggers to write about a journey they had taken, either physical or emotional. I’m recycling a post from my Japan blog, in which I described (in detail, so I won’t be offended if you skim) my JOURNEY up and back down Mt. Fuji in August 2009. It was a very physical journey, one that my body paid for dearly (my toenails are still messed up). But it also wrecked then resurrected me emotionally. In hindsight, it was one of the best experiences of my life, teaching me a lot about reaching past my perceived limitations to use every last ounce of physical, mental, and emotional strength to conquer an obstacle.

Mt. Fuji–Day 1

Having been told to expect a three- to four-hour, traffic-snarled drive to Mt. Fuji (being the fourth to last day of the climbing season), the six of us left home in a rented van at 4 a.m. this morning.  Only having had about three hours of sleep, all of us should have been groggy and grumpy, yet there was lots of joking and excited chatter as we drove through the brightening dawn towards Mt. Fuji.  Even with stops to capture photos of our destination looming ahead in the distance, we made the trip in under two hours.  The drive from the base of the mountain to the 5th station, the traditional starting point for climbers, which we were warned would be bumper to bumper, was actually deserted.  This meant when we encountered a giant eighth note painted in the middle of the asphalt, we were free to drive the recommended 50 km per hour over the grooved pavement to hear a lovely tune created by the van’s tires.

At last we were directed to park in a fairly empty lot where everyone piled out of the van, slathered on sunscreen, and slung on backpacks.  A 10-minute, slightly uphill walk brought us to the famed 5th station of the Kawaguchiko Route, where we took advantage of the foul-smelling, but possibly only, Western-style toilet on the mountain before heading into the gift shop to purchase the requisite Fuji stick.  This stick is an octagonal wooden staff, probably worth about $2, but sold for $15.  I chose one capped by a flag printed with a map of the trail we were about to climb, but opted not to grab one with bells attached (said to scare away evil spirits along the trail, but more likely to drive the hiker carrying the stick completely insane).  The purpose of this stick is not so much to assist climbers over volcanic rocks as it is to offer proof of the journey.  At various huts (rest stops) along the trail, the stick can be marked with a red-hot brand for about $3 a pop, with the goal (or at least my goal) being the coveted sunrise stamp at the summit.  I know all this because the hubby has a branded stick (with bells!?) from his first ascent of Fuji-san many moons ago.  Since that stick is currently in storage, he opted to purchase a regular aluminum hiking pole from a sporting goods store for this second climb.  After safely tucking my Fuji-map flag in my backpack so it wouldn’t be ruined by sweaty hands and blowing volcanic dust, I gathered with the rest of the group for a pre-Fuji photo taken by an obliging Japanese climber.  Looking at the portrait in the LCD viewer of my camera, we are all smiling, the sky is blue, life couldn’t be better….

As we started out, I was puzzled by the downward slope of the first twenty minutes of hiking.  I thought we were climbing up Mt. Fuji?  When the path finally became a noticeable, but not unpleasant, incline, we passed by some tired but sturdy looking horses and guides offering $120 rides up the trail.  I was lulled into thinking if a horse could go up this trail with a rider on its back, then it should be no problem for me.  Fast forward about four hours…The moderate incline has become increasingly steep and I have been climbing as fast as my aching legs will carry me, yet strangely I find myself alone.  The rest of the group has deserted me.  The gazelles, Patrick, Pat, and Angela, left me in the dust within the first hour.  The hubby stayed by my side for a (little) while longer, then started a routine of hiking ahead and waiting for me to catch up at the next hut.  Eventually, between the frequent pauses to catch my breath (not really winded from the altitude, just the hard work) and stops to purchase brands for my stick, he gave up and just went on ahead.  Aaron was nearby for a longer time, as he was stopping often to take pictures.  At some point, I also fell significantly behind him.  I was left leap-frogging up the mountain with a Japanese family hiking with their young son, all of us being passed at regular intervals by boisterous twenty-somethings and determined chain-smoking senior citizens.

The Kawaguchiko Route up Mt. Fuji started at an elevation of 2305 m.  The path was an interminable series of switchbacks, zigzagging up the mountain.  Some sections were wide and covered in soft dust, while other areas were steep, treacherous piles of volcanic boulders that required the use of both hands (notice I did not say Fuji stick) to scale.  In some places where the lava from the last eruption cooled too steep and smooth to find a foothold, steps had been carved in the rock.  What I didn’t understand was why the rise on each step was between 18 and 24 inches high—that’s a quad-challenging stretch for American-size legs, and must be exceptionally frustrating for the more vertically challenged Japanese.  At various points along the trail were randomly spaced “huts” where hikers could rest, purchase drinks and snacks (the price increased with the altitude, but my $2 banana was absolutely delicious), use the toilet for a dollar, and get stamps on their sticks.  Our goal for the day was the Fujisan Hotel at the 8th station (3360 m)—and though that was only three stations past our start point, it did not mean my hike was over when I reached the third hut.  There were random collections of two to eight huts between each station, and it quickly became depressing trying to figure out how many more huts I needed to pass to reach my goal. No matter how much I climbed, anytime I looked up I only saw more mountain.  I finally took some Tylenol to ease the burning in my legs, then just put my head down, put one foot in front of the other, and plodded towards the next hut and its unique stamp—I’m not sure what I would have done without the incentive of filling up my hiking stick with those stamps.  I was so determined to have a complete set of stamps (well, minus the one from the unmanned 6th station), in order, that I was outraged when I found out one of the huts around the 7th station was selling the sunrise stamp, and refused to get it because it wouldn’t be authentic unless it was burned into my stick on the summit.

Finally, after about seven and a half hours, I saw a tiny figure waving to me from high above, at what I could only hope was the Fujisan Hotel.  It still took another twenty minutes of dragging myself uphill to recognize the figure as my hubby.  As I stopped once again to catch my breath, he made his way down the path to escort me the last few meters (consisting of about twenty of those monstrous, quad-punishing lava steps).  To my bewilderment, I found myself choking back tears, I guess a result of the tremendous physical and emotional relief of knowing I was finally there.

The Fujisan Hotel was actually nothing more than a large uninsulated wooden shed, with a U-shaped two-tiered bunk layout able to accommodate at least two hundred people stacked like cordwood, but it looked like the Ritz to me.  I gladly climbed to my assigned sleeping bag on the top tier bunk, stowed my backpack on a hook, swallowed two more tablets of what would become a long, alternating regimen of Advil and Tylenol, and eased back for a well-deserved rest.  Soon dinner was served on a low Japanese table, and I climbed down to my cushion on the floor where I attacked the curry, rice, and hamburger patty with abandon.  I was ready to plow through the miniature hot dogs as well, but the first fish-flavored bite brought me sputtering to a halt.  After enjoying a $4 hot chocolate served in a 4-ounce Dixie cup, we played some Uno and eavesdropped on the tales of the other hikers who had straggled in.  When our tired legs couldn’t stand sitting on the hard floor any longer, we climbed back up to the bunk, stowed the bento breakfasts that were included in our lodging fees, and settled in to get some rest.  As I struggled to find a comfortable position for my aching body on the hard bunk, I consoled myself with the fact that I had climbed 1471 vertical meters, and only had 416 to go….

Mt. Fuji–Day 2

The hut operators normally provide a 2:30 a.m. wakeup call so sleepy hikers can heave themselves up the rest of the mountain in time to see the sunrise.  However, between the hard bunk, the banging of the bathroom door outside, the arrival of new guests, and the endless parade of overnight hikers stomping past the hut, sleep proved elusive for most of us.  Our group finally gave up the charade a little after 1 a.m. and after waking Aaron from a sound sleep, we bundled up in layers, laced up our boots, strapped on our headlamps, and slipped out into the cold to merge with the masses headed up the trail.  The climb was rockier and steeper than the day before, and the path was narrower, usually with just enough room for two people to walk side by side.  The crowd actually worked to my advantage; it was like bumper to bumper rush hour traffic on I-95, so we were forced to stop every few meters.  I could catch my breath without slowing anyone down.  The trail got narrower still, forcing us to go single file in some sections.  All of the switchbacks made it seem like we were in line for a ride at some particularly sadistic theme park.  This was especially frustrating for the hubby, who had energy to spare and desperately wanted to pass the large Japanese tour groups clogging up the path.  I simply enjoyed the chance to breathe and look back down the hill at the endless undulating snake of headlamps bobbing in the dark.  As time continued to tick away, the increasing strength of the frigid wind and the first hints of brightening skies in the east added an urgency to our efforts to reach the top.

Nearly two and a half hours after leaving the “hotel,” we finally passed through the torii gate marking the shrine perched on the summit of Mt. Fuji.  Victory!!  All around us were hordes of people milling about, stomping frozen feet, slurping Cup Noodles, and prepping their cameras to catch the perfect shot of the sun’s first peek above the horizon.  All I cared about was finding the person who could brand an authentic sunrise stamp into my stick, thereby confirming that I had in fact completed this monumental undertaking.  I stood in line behind scores of other people with Fuji sticks, not to get a brand as it turns out, but a disappointing series of kanji characters made by whacking a henna-covered stamp into the side of the stick with a hammer (an admittedly much faster process than branding, which I can kind of understand given the ever-growing line of customers).  It left a wet impression that I was warned not to touch (despite the fact that it was placed precisely where I’d been gripping the stick for the entire climb), and looked nothing like the sunrise brand I could have purchased down by the 7th station.  Arrggghhh!!

Being fairly drained by the bitter cold winds buffeting us on top of Mt. Fuji, we chose not to take the hour-long walk around the crater rim, therefore missing the actual highest point (directly opposite where we were standing), the weather station, souvenir shops, and Japan’s highest post office.  In fact, after a short consultation in which Aaron with his fancy camera was the only dissenting vote, we decided that goraiko, the coming of the light, would be just as impressive from the descending trail as from the summit.  So at 4:55 a.m., thirteen minutes shy of the official sunrise, hubby and I got our picture taken at the summit, then turned around and made for the exit.

Initially, I was grateful that the descending trail was not the same as the ascending trail—I was not looking forward to scrambling down all those viciously sharp rocks I had just climbed up.  The trail started out as a wide, gently sloping path blanketed in thick volcanic dust.  Messy but soft, and the easiest way to proceed was just to jog down.  I stopped to get pictures of the sunrise along the way, keeping the hubby in my sights ahead of me and Aaron behind me.  Before long, the dusty trail became littered with lava rocks, much like you’d find in the bottom of a barbecue grill (shocking to find lava rocks on a volcano, I know) and jogging became less of a viable option.  A few rocks scattered half-buried in the dust turned quickly into endless mounds of unstable, shifting, rolling, sliding deathtraps, just waiting for an unsuspecting hiker to make a misstep.  Well, before long I did, and down I went, landing flat on my back, my surgically repaired knee bent so my foot touched my butt for the first time in two years, and my camera catching most of my weight on the right side.  After verifying that no limbs were broken, I tucked the now useless camera in my backpack, slurped a calming drink of water from the rapidly dwindling supply in my Camelback, and cautiously made my way down around the next bend where I found the hubby waiting.   After learning of my fall, he stayed closer to me as I tried with limited success to descend the mine-field of rolling rocks in an upright position.  Physically, I had to stop way more often than he would have liked, because my legs just weren’t going to hold me up another step.  I ate peanuts, beef jerky, and M&Ms, hoping to get enough of a protein/sugar rush to calm the uncontrollable shaking in my legs.  An hour or so into the descent, with nothing in front of us but an endless zigzag of switchbacks covered in treacherous rocks, and an increasingly warm sun blazing overhead, I had drunk all of my water (no one told us there would be nowhere to buy water on the downhill side, or I would have gladly paid $6 a bottle to restock before leaving Fujisan Hotel). Two more falls marked the end of my emotional stamina, and I had to take yet another break on the side of the trail, crying miserably.

Getting no sympathy from the hubby, and noticing that he was becoming increasingly upset with my frequent stops, I urged him to just go on down the hill and meet me at the bottom.  He refused, and since Fuji showed no signs of an imminent eruption to put a fiery end to my misery, I was left with no alternative but to suck it up and try to manage a steadier pace.  I can’t say the speed improved much over the next hour, but despite some graceless, lunging slips, there were no more falls, which slightly improved my emotional state.  After a call from Patrick (yes, DOCOMO cell phones work on Fuji), who had already reached the bottom and was waiting with Pat and Angela at the 5th station, we determined that we were about an hour from being done with this whole mess. Getting ever more thirsty and trembly, each downward step was sheer agony, and the Fuji stick was finally put to good use.  With the hubby supporting me on one side, and the Fuji stick on the other, we made it to the point where the ascending and descending trails merge, and scenery began to look familiar—almost there.  We passed the horses we’d seen on the way up (I refused to pay $120 to ride one the rest of the way down, mainly because I didn’t think there was any way in hell my legs were going to let me climb up on the back of one), where we received another call from Patrick wondering where we were.  Apparently still about 30 minutes away, so I begged him to please buy us bottled water and Aquarius sports drink to have the second we walked off the trail.  He also mentioned that Aaron had made it to the bottom.  Really?  He didn’t pass us.  Hmm.  Apparently, he had taken the wrong fork in the descending trail, and ended up on the other side of the mountain.  Not wanting to embark on a three hour drive to pick him up, Pat told him to find the train station, and we’d see him at home.

Remember I mentioned when we started our climb yesterday that we were initially going downhill?  I thought going back up that section would really suck on the return trip, hikers being tired and all.  Never in my life have I been so glad to walk uphill.  The gradual incline took the pressure off the screaming muscles in my thighs and calves, my toes were no longer jammed up against the inside of my boots, and as I saw the corner of the 5th station buildings peeking over the treetops ahead of us, I was able to hobble faster to the end of this miserable journey.  We passed dozens of people who were just starting out, looking fresh and clean, and as excited as we had been yesterday—I figured seeing my bedraggled condition would discourage some of them, but they continued happily on their way.  Finally catching sight of Patrick walking toward us with dewy bottles of water in his hands brought a fresh round of tears, this time a combination of exhaustion, gratitude, relief, pain, and even a bit of elation at having conquered Mt. Fuji.  After a short rest and guzzling two bottles of much-needed liquid, the five remaining members of our party struck out for the parking lot and the waiting van which would carry us off that blasted mountain.  Save for a revitalizing stop to chow down at McDonalds, the ride home was decidedly more quiet than yesterday’s journey.

Back at home, hubby and I rolled out of the van and went inside to face the menacing staircase separating us from the hot shower that we hoped would soothe aching muscles and wash off the gritty film of volcanic dust.  Afterwards, a nap and cocktail of Advil and Tylenol didn’t do much to ease the soreness, so I endured an agonizing climb back down the stairs to soak in the tub.  Still not finding much relief, I resigned myself to another night with little rest.

Before succumbing to sleep, Jim and I rehashed our Fuji adventure once again–the good, the bad, and the ugly. Despite the agony, I am happy (or will be) that I did not miss the opportunity to climb Mt. Fuji while we were in Japan. I don’t think I’ll be tackling Everest, and I have certainly abandoned our hare-brained, pre-climb scheme to go back to Fuji next year and start from the very bottom. If they ever offer cable car or helicopter rides down from the summit, I might be convinced to climb up Mt. Fuji again (after all, I never did get my coveted sunrise stamp), but the devil will be wearing a fur-lined parka before I ever agree to walk/slide/fall back down that hellacious pile of rock.









Question 128
You are at a lake with some friends; the sun is warm and the water is cold. Going into the water would temporarily chill you but you know that later the warm sun would be even more enjoyable and you would be glad you had gone in. Would you take the plunge?

Uh. No. Been there, done that, not doing it again.

I lived in New Hampshire during my high school days, and went with a friend to Lake Winnipesauke over Memorial Day weekend. Her family went there often in the summer months, so she had local friends who were able to meet us at the lake for the afternoon. The weather was decently warm for New Hampshire in May, but the water was cold. Way cold, in my opinion. Our original plan had been to go water-skiing, but the guys were not able to procure a boat as planned. So the three decided a swim in the lake would be the next best option. I am not a fan of cold water, so I mentioned that I would just sit on the dock and maybe dip a toe in while they had a splash. Well, that plan was quickly vetoed–if one was swimming, we all were swimming. I tried to persuade them to go ahead without me, but the three of them were insistent that I was getting wet. Jump in, just jump, they cajoled. I stood firm in my refusal, but the next thing I knew, one of the guys had hooked me under the arms, the second had my left leg, and quickly coerced my friend into grabbing the other. As they were preparing to start swinging me over the edge of the dock, I managed to scream and wiggle enough to convince them I’d rather go in under my own power than be tossed in, so they set me back on my feet and formed a line behind me to block any chance of retreat. I was even a good sport while they counted, and jumped on command at three. My lungs stopped working as soon as I hit the water.

The three of them jumped in right behind me, laughing and whooping, and by the time we had all surfaced and shaken the water out of our eyes, they did have the good grace to notice that my lips were sapphire blue and I seemed to be gasping unsuccessfully for air. Once again they lined up behind me, this time urging me to swim faster, get out, climb up the ladder. The lack of oxygen to my brain had not stopped me from realizing that the impact with the water had driven my swimsuit as far as it would go up the crack of my backside, and though I feared the very real possibility of an imminent blackout and subsequent drowning, I was NOT climbing up that ladder with a wedgie. While I was wrestling the spandex out of my posterior, they must have thought I was too weak to pull myself up the ladder because suddenly half a dozen hands were fighting for real estate on my butt to push me up onto the dock. I eventually flopped onto the sun-bathed wooden planks with at least half a cheek still exposed, and finally felt the band around my chest loosen enough to drag in a breath of warm May air. My friend wrapped me in a towel, and they all stood dripping and watching me warily as I pinked up again (not sure whether the return of oxygen or embarrassment contributed more). I think I must have scared them witless, for they were pretty subdued the rest of the afternoon, but I never again had to worry about taking a forced swim in a cold lake with that crew!

Nice that I was able to twist today’s random pick from The Book of Questions to fit letter P of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge!






I spy with my little eye…something chocolate! Can you see the foil-wrapped Easter candy tucked in the corner of the road sign? I spotted this little treasure while we were wandering around Delft in the Netherlands on Sunday morning. Made me wonder if the town had had an Easter egg hunt and this one got overlooked (it was more than six feet off the ground, so if it was a hunt geared towards young ‘uns, no wonder they missed it!), or if someone had just randomly stuffed a chocolate egg in the sign (maybe they stashed eggs all over town, like a squirrel hides acorns). I’m not normally one to pass by a piece of chocolate, but not knowing the provenance of the egg made me uneasy about testing its edibility, so I reluctantly walked away.

Seeing this forgotten egg reminded me of a family Easter many years ago. I must have been about eight, and my brother six, and we had dyed and decorated a dozen hard-boiled eggs with Mom’s help. On Easter Sunday, Dad took the eggs out and hid them all around the back yard, concealing them well in the shrubs, trees, and patio furniture. When he had finished, my brother and I were turned loose to hunt high and low, each wanting to best the other by finding the most eggs. I don’t remember now whose basket held more when we finally gave up the hunt, but I know for sure it wasn’t a tie. The twelfth egg remained hidden, despite hours of searching. We sent Dad back out to retrace his steps and find the rogue egg, but he, too, came up empty-handed. We would have accused Dad of eating it instead of hiding it, but he didn’t particularly care for hard-boiled eggs so we were pretty sure he was innocent. For days afterward, my brother and I went back out into the yard, poking in bushes, digging in mulch, climbing up trees, and turning over rocks, but each time returned to the house eggless. We thought for sure the sulfur smell of rotten egg would eventually lead us to the pastel-colored fugitive, but weeks passed without a malodorous whiff. Dad finally concluded that soon after the hunt a raccoon must have come through the yard and had it for a snack.

Wonder what kind of critter might tote off the chocolate egg hidden in the street sign?


Posted by on April 17, 2013 in How It Was, Memoirs, Observations, True Life






The 22° halo is not a rare phenomenon. It is simply an atmospheric optic caused by the sun’s rays glinting through the millions of ice crystals in wispy cirrostratus clouds three to five miles above the earth. These rainbow-colored halos can be seen circling the sun any time of the year in any region of the world. Or so the internet tells me.

I saw my first one seven years ago, the day after my dad died without warning at age 58.

Above all else, my dad wanted me to be happy. If he ever saw that I was down or troubled or upset, he’d tell me–beg me, really–to smile. I, in turn, never wanted my dad to be upset or disappointed or unhappy with me, so I always tried to put on a cheerful face when he asked. At the worst of times–when he held me as I cried over my grandmother’s death, in a comforting email he sent me during the horrific days after 9/11–Dad would tell me to smile and somehow I would find the strength to rein in my emotions and do as he asked. His request could not take away the pain from tragic events, but it did help to balance the overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger, and confusion by giving me a different focus. For above all else, I wanted my dad to be happy.

On April 16, 2006, driving back to my parents’ Maryland home after a quick trip to Virginia to pack some clothes, numb and nauseous as I tried once more to absorb the reality of the previous day’s news that my dad was gone, GONE, I saw a 22° halo as I neared the Potomac River. I had to pull the car over while I gave in to deep, keening, hiccup-inducing sobs, because I just knew that halo was my dad’s way of telling me that he was okay, that I would be okay–and that he was asking me once more to smile for him. I’ve never had to work harder to regain control or put on a brave face, but as the halo slowly faded, some of the knife-sharp despair started to drain away too. Dad’s final message was the only thing that helped me get through those first terrible days after his death, as well as the series of further trials and tragedies that seemed destined to bury me in the subsequent months.

The second time I saw a 22° halo, about six months ago while sitting in a friend’s back yard, I immediately sensed it was my dad just checking in. I watched the colors brighten as the sun sank behind a neighboring roof, and I realized what a comfort the echo of his ritual request has been in the years of his absence, even though his deep voice and warm hug no longer accompany it.

“I got your message, Dad,” I whispered. And I smiled.



vacation85As has become my habit on Thursday, I’ve chosen a random question from Gregory Stock’s The Book of Questions to ponder today.

Question 139
Would you rather spend a month on vacation with your parents or put in overtime at your current job for four weeks without extra compensation?

Although I wouldn’t actually mind four weeks of unpaid overtime at any of my four current part-time jobs, this one is a no-brainer. I’d pick the month-long vacation with my parents in a heartbeat. The last family vacation we shared was the summer before I started college–gulp–twenty-three years ago. I had no idea back then that I’d never again enjoy a getaway with Mom and Dad. Sure, I’ve spent time with them since then…I went to their house on weekends, they came to have dinner with me, we spent holidays together. But never again did we all drop everything to go off somewhere and explore a new place in each others’ company.

When I was growing up, we had some wonderful family vacations. Like almost every other American family, we made a pilgrimage to Orlando to meet Mickey and Donald. In a car  with a broken air conditioner, we drove across scorching highways of the midwest to reach the majestic (and blissfully cool) Yellowstone National Park, swinging through Colorado on the way to scale Pike’s Peak and catch a rodeo. We spent a week on the Gulf coast of Texas, where I found my first sand dollar and saw my first waterspout. Some years we’d simply make our way from wherever Dad’s job had us living back to Virginia where grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were based. The week or two we’d spend with extended family was punctuated by outings to Colonial Williamsburg, D.C. museums, and area amusement parks.

Once I moved completely out of my parents’ house after college, I’m not sure they or I ever contemplated the idea of going somewhere together to escape the obligations of day-to-day life and become reacquainted with each other. Then one shocking day in April 2006, my dad died suddenly and any possibility of vacationing with both my parents as an adult died with him. Now that I am married to a man who has both a love of travel and an overseas job that lets us explore lots of new places in our free time, I find myself frequently longing for a chance to share some of these experiences with my parents. I’d love to hear what they think of the people and customs and sights I’ve been lucky enough to see. Even if we didn’t travel to a foreign or exotic location for vacation, I’d love to just have time, away from all the responsibilities that get in the way when you are together at home, to talk to them about their past, my past, our past. To see them relax, to hear them laugh. To thank them for all the vacations of my childhood, and to plot future family get-togethers. I wouldn’t view a month-long vacation with my parents as a choice between the lesser of two evils, as implied in this question. It would be a gift more precious than gold.