Sunshine Good Day

Halloween happy

Jack was born in the summer.  By default, our summer travel routine and the vacation plans of most of his classmates made most of his birthday celebrations quite a bit smaller and tamer than the circus-like orgies of cake and presents that are depicted as normal and desirable in movies or ads.  His birthdays are often spent with family doing something special at the beach or going to a favorite museum.

We knew that  six-year-old Thing2’s October birthday made the more traditional kid birthday party more likely.  He’s seven today, and we planned his birthday over the weekend.  Watching Jack’s interest in traditional kid birthday parties (even when we offered) begin to fade when he was around nine, I know there won’t be many of these left.

Thing2, the Big Guy and I decided he should invite his classmates, and a few weeks ago, I filled his backpack with his homework, lunch, and seventeen invitations.  Knowing that not everyone RSVPs for kids’ parties, the Big Guy and I got the house ready for a halloween-themed party on Columbus Day Weekend. 

Three kids and their moms showed up.

At first I was a little nervous about Thing2’s reaction to the dearth of kids (and presents, of course), but he didn’t seem to notice.  For two hours, the kids cavorted in the sun and the leaves for two hours.  They beat apart and divided the treasure from a piñata filled with candy for 16 kids.  There was no pin-the-tail on the donkey or other party games.  Instead, they screamed and laughed as they chased each other through and around the house.  The Big Guy in his Herman Munster costume and I as Lily Munster sat at the table with the three other moms getting to know each other a little better than we do at the bus stop.

Thirteen-year-old Jack’s own memories of these few traditional kid parties are often impressions of sunny days, the details blurred by distance.  I know this day will blend into the collection of parties we’ve thrown for Thing2 as well.  But I’m hoping that his memory is marking that, while a larger party would have been fun too, sometimes less really is more.

Seeds

Uncle vanya

“Tara, I hear a baby!” cried the curly-haired toddler sitting on the church lawn. Her neck stretched as she searched a far section of the audience. I  turned my head, trying follow her intent gaze to its destination on our left.  Then I saw it.  I’d seen it earlier, dressed in a unisex-colored onesie and trying to crawl over it’s mother’s knee, then wobbling like a Weebil  on a too-small picnic blanket.  I had spent a few smiling moments trying to guess if the baby was a boy or a girl, but one thing was clear.  The infant was barely old enough to sit up without help, but his or her delighted squeaks were telling on of my stories. 

A few short years ago, I was the mother lying on a picnic blanket with an alternately curious and hungry infant.  A few years ago, it was my baby who crawled over his mother and brother and father as the sun began to set behind the mountains that provided much of the backdrop for the annual play put on by the Mettawee River Theatre Company.  He was the one squeaking with delight as the players in primitive masks emerged from behind the papier mache rocks and giant puppets appeared above them.  He was the one who settled into nurse for a few minutes, glancing occasionally back at the scene unfolding in front of him.

It happens at the same time every summer. This tiny company of players and producers bring their puppets and props to this sleepy Vermont village, and on the field in front of the mountains, they bring Euripides and Aristophanes, Shakespeare and the tales of poets long forgotten to life.  They touch on serious themes unlikely to entertain small children, but every summer they do even more than that.  They enthrall them.  They plant seeds of curiosity and creativity because for all the things that were seen and forgotten in my babies’ first years, these were the few moments they would take into the next.

Now their summers are littered with these moments.  We’ve found a host of free outdoor productions that introduce our kids to new thoughts and new thoughts about their parents.  Tonight, sitting with both my babies (one now bigger than I) in lawn chairs around our picnic basket, I can’t help but smile as I see another seed being planted near by. 

 

 

Magic Reclaimed

boysathubbardhall

About a year ago – almost exactly a year ago – I wrote a piece about a very special place not far from our house.

Hubbard Hall, a community theatre and art center in the one-traffic light town of Cambridge, NY, had been on our radar for a number of years. My husband became involved with their theatre company and returns at least twice a year. Then I got pulled in by a writing workshop/group that is moving into its second year. My sons are the most recent members of the flock, and it was their experience at summer theatre workshops that prompted my piece last year.

Jack, my oldest, was already navigating the self-conciousness that comes with early teen years and thought he had no interest in being in a play.  Thing2, my six-year-old, never had much of a shell, but, like a lot of kids his age, he sometimes takes a few minutes to get used to a new classroom before letting go of my hand. In the presence of the Hubbard Hall Magic, however, Jack came out of his shell, and Thing2 discovered new worlds.  Both kids came away from their camps with new friends and new outlooks, and every subsequent workshop begins with Thing2 exclaiming, “Oh I LOVE this place.”

Over the spring we got a little disconnected from this magical place. I’m still at the Ministry of Encouragement hosted by author Jon Katz, but our little group has been going in different directions for a few weeks. It’s been temporary, but disconnection can morph into discouragement if left to fester.

So now, a year after I first wrote about this magical place, I’m sitting under the same oak tree on the same rotting picnic bench watching the same kids emerging from the murderously hot buildings as they scamper from rehearsal to craft projects. Thing2 and two of his friends become involved in a very sophisticated game of make-believe, laughing and waving their arms and looking like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Parents go in and out of the nearby Battenkill Books, seeking company and relief from the heat.

The scene is completely ordinary and completely magical, and in that moment I’m reminded of the things that inspired me last summer when I couldn’t stop writing. I’m still a big believer in the Ministry of Encouragement, but this is the perfect way to be reminded that I found it at the Church of Possibility here at Hubbard Hall.

The End of a Year, Beginning of an Era

 

Closing piece for reading

A little over a year ago I stumbled into a writing workshop at Hubbard Hall, our local community theater and arts center.  The Hubbard Hall Writer’s Project was led by celebrated author Jon Katz, and, as with almost every other class or event our family has experienced at Hubbard Hall, it was life-changing event for me  – and for every member of the group.  

There was an application process for the workshop, and getting that acceptance letter felt like winning the lottery.  I hadn’t shown my work to anyone outside my family and had only been prepared for rejection.  That letter was a thousand times more valuable than any lottery ticket.  

Jon, our guru, later told us that he wanted to find a group that not only wanted to write but that would work well together.  He chose wisely.  Over the last year our group has become a family of sorts.  We’ve become sounding boards and safe havens for each other, and everyone in the group has flourished.  What began as an artistic exploration of rural life became a search for authenticity in our creative and personal lives.  Jon encouraged us all, and, recognizing our strengths, we began to grow and to encourage others. 

Last Friday night, we met to celebrate the impact of the last year.  The unseasonably steamy evening started with a reception which allowed all of us to display our work and continued with readings by each of the writers.  The evening was warm and encouraging – just as the year has been.  

I like public speaking about as much as I like shopping for a new swimsuit.  I wasn’t nervous when it was my turn to read, however.  Working with the video portion of the presentation kept me busy much of the day and evening, and I didn’t have time to feel nervous – at least not about the reading.  

The crowd dispersed quickly after the presentation, and the writers returned to the reception room to clean up their displays.  We all milled around a bit, even after our families had left, and I think I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want it to end.  Even though the group is going into its second year, when we started our goodbyes, I began to feel nervous.  

I’ve been working on a collection of short stories that should have been done last month.  Dealing with some mental health issues has slowed down progress, but there’s been a part of me that feels this project is part of my workshop experience.  I know I’ve been a little afraid that when it’s done, so is the workshop.  I felt a little of that on Friday night as I climbed into my car. 

When I got home I made sure the kids were in bed and then turned on the computer and checked messages, intending to sign off quickly and visit with my visiting sister-in-law.  Unconsciously, I clicked on the link to  our group’s Facebook page.  There, like a beacon in the soupy heat of the evening, were celebratory posts from one, then two and then a third writer.  A post from our guru suggesting a get-together appeared.  I didn’t know what to post that could add to the conversation, and I closed my computer. 

The next few days I didn’t go near my computer much.  We had a guest and baseball and garden to occupy us, and I like getting away from the screen.  For the rest of the weekend, however I took with me the knowledge that while the year of writing un-dangerously may be ending, it’s okay because it’s really part of an era that’s just begun.

I’ve posted and reposted links to the blogs of most of our members below (one author is currently keeping her blog private).  They are growing, breathing proof that some of the best work comes from an atmosphere of encouragement.  

Pugs and Pics by Kim Gifford, Vermont writer, photographer, artist and pug lover.  Whether she’s writing about her beloved pugs or her distinctive photographs, Kim’s work is humorous, heartwarming, and sometimes heartrending.

http://www.pugsandpics.com/

 

 A real life milkman-turned-writer and poet, John Greenwood’s blog Raining Iguanas is a journey of discovery and nurturing of his own talents as a writer and artist and of his native Upstate New York.  It combines the best of pleasurable escape and motivating inspiration.

http://rainingiguanas.blogspot.com/

 

Bedlam Farm by the venerable and always affable Jon Katz, was the inspiration and benchmark for each of our blogs.  Honest and fearless, Jon’s blog is living, breathing proof that the most important thing in life is to never stop growing.

http://www.bedlamfarm.com/

 Merganser’s Crossing by Diane Fiore, follows her journeys with her father and his dementia at the end of his life.  Diane’s blog is intensely personal and incredibly relevant at the same time.  Hopefully she will give us a book out of this, but, for now, it’s worth not only visiting, but going to the very beginning and reading it straight through.

 http://merganserscrossing.wordpress.com

 

Coordinated Mayhem by Rebecca Fedler. A recent college graduate and a poet, Rebecca is prolific and powerful.  Sometimes funny and always intriguing, her poetry is as insightful as it is entertaining.

 http://coordinatedmayhem.wordpress.com

 

The Helpers

the helpers

I was on the way to the gas station driving down our hill when I saw the smoke rising over the trees.  There was too much smoke to be coming from a barbecue, and I felt my stomach sink.  We’d just been talking about this subject at Saturday morning T-ball practice.  There was too little snow over the winter, even less rain this spring, and the trees were still mostly naked.  It’s the perfect recipe for wild fires.

As I drove along the Battenkill River toward the gas station in the center of Arlington, I discovered the source of the smoke, and my fear was confirmed.  Across the road from the river and up a very dry hill a brush fire had already consumed over an acre of fuel. A makeshift fire crew composed of the family and employees of a nearby farm stand owner was trying to control the blaze while waiting for the bulk of the town’s fire department to arrive.  A members of the department were already scaling the rocky hill and establishing traffic control.

I waited for the person controlling traffic to waive me through, trying not to dwell on my worst fears or on any anger with the faceless firestarter.  I was anxious, but it was not from impatience.  It was worry for the people living near by the fire, but it was also concern for the people – all acquaintances and some friends – who were now arriving en masse to put out the fire that was still growing.

Our local fire department, like many in rural areas, is made up entirely of volunteers who execute their responsibilities with as much gravity and professionalism as any paid firefighters.  As I inched along the two-lane road, using as much caution as I could, the bottom of the hill next to the road was smoldering, and larger flames could be seen higher up.  Firefighters had already reached the worst of the blaze, dragging fire hoses and shovels with them and working with rapid calm to contain it.  They were still there working when I returned home later using the road on the other side of the river.  Long after the flames appeared to be extinguished, members of the crew remained, keeping vigil for any sparks that might have escaped their notice in the camouflaging day light.

Later in the day I had learned that some careless individuals had caused the fire while setting off fireworks from a boat on the river.  That kind of selfishness always annoys me, but lately, when confronted with news of disasters or near-disasters in our own neighborhood, I’ve been following the advice of the late Fred Rogers.  I’ve been looking for the helpers, and it’s helped me see yet another layer of our town.

Neighbors and friends from every walk of life had flocked to the fire this afternoon, and because of their love for their community, I went to bed that night, I secure in the knowledge that if an errant spark rekindled that fire, those same people would be there again.  It’s not the first time I’ve felt lucky to live where we do, and it won’t be the last.  But Saturday night was a solid reminder that something bigger than a few spectacular mountain vistas inspires that feeling.