Category Archives: neighbourhood

Autumnal moments

Every time the wind blows, a flurry of yellow leaves rain down twirlingly onto the lawn (I use the term loosely, and optimistically) and the deck outside my window. It’s very pretty. The autumn colours are spectacular just now. And here I am, inside, listening to 80s music and my children playing/fighting/play-fighting, because suggesting that they go Out Into Nature is clearly ridiculous.

Yellow leaves on the deck and the grass beyond

B ran a marathon this morning, and we didn’t make it into the city to support him even though it was a local one, because everyone was too shattered from the rest of our busy weekend, which included a 5k race wherein Dash won the Under-12s section and a lot of pumpkin carving and walking. (Pumpkin walking, if you didn’t know, is following a trail in the woods that’s lit only by jack o’ lanterns, with hot chocolate or hot cider at the end. It’s magical and romantic and enchanting, so long as you don’t trip over a log or have a terrified toddler with you. We did neither, and it was nice.)

Glowing pumpkins at dusk with a musical band playing in the background

So instead of hotfooting it into town at the crack of dawn (or a little after) and dragging unwilling childers onto the metro and around the nation’s capital to crane our necks and possibly mis-time the encounter with our one runner of choice, we slept in, got up slowly, collected our pumpkins from the woods, had an ice cream at the farmers’ market, and bought ingredients for lasagne. Dash made a chocolate cake – with a certain amount of supervision because when you’re dyslexic a 2 can look like an 8, apparently, and other such potential disasters – and it’s really all quite peaceful.

Red, orange, yellow and green leaves with the sunshine behind them


Without whom

I was pretty much dreading Friday. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, and if there’s one thing I try to avoid, it’s work. Especially of the moving-around, lifting-and-carrying kind. Also the other kinds, but mostly that kind.

Friday was the day when we had to take all the books that we’d spent the past five weeks collecting and sorting into boxes and piling up in the music room at school, and move them to the booksale site at the festival. You don’t understand how many boxes that is, how many books that is, how heavy they are, how I looked around the room and wondered how we would ever do it.

But you know you have amazing friends, and fabulous volunteers, and a wonderful community, when someone asks you what they can do, whether it’s finding empty boxes or piling up books, or something else entirely. When someone else says “I can’t be there in the morning but can I bring some cold drinks and fill the cooler with ice for you?” When ten parents show up to carry boxes of books instead of going to the gym (just as good a workout) or going home and enjoying their calm and child-free house, or even going to work.

We had hired a U-Haul to get the books on site. A 17-footer, I believe, which sounds more like a yacht to me. We filled it to capacity, twice. And unfilled it, twice. We had pizza in between runs, paid for by the PTA, as well they might.

And it was all done, with good humour and a lot of laughter. The sale was in place, and I had all the rest of the afternoon to string the lights and artfully place my pricing signs (hastily photocopied in the school the day before) and shoo away the book dealers who find out about these things and begin to circle like vultures more than an hour before you open, just in case they might be allowed to browse the stacks before we start taking the money. Hands off until 6pm but I couldn’t stop them walking slowly by those books that were uncovered and looking with their eyes, not their hands.

It didn’t rain yesterday or last night, and the forecast for the rest of the weekend is fine. If we get through without any downpours we are on track to do well. Even if it rains and all our stock is wiped out, it doesn’t really matter. We’ve made a profit, we have money in the PTA coffers, we’ve upheld the tradition of the booksale, which might possibly have been going for 50 years, according to sources in the local paper last week. And I was part of it.

At my first PTA meeting in the school, four years ago, the first thing that happened was a report on that year’s book sale. I looked in awe at the parent who had run it and thought that, while I was eager to help out, I would never be the one to take on such a responsibility.

Guess I can chalk another one up to “things I’ll never do” and be ever grateful for everyone else who helps, without whom it would not happen.

Boxes of books piled up on tables under a tent; people browsing.

One booksale, for your enjoyment.


I keep starting and stopping posts. I have a cold that’s starting but won’t just get here, so I’m stuck with a giant tickle in my throat that turns into a coughing fit that is finally an enormous sneeze but sometimes it just makes me gag instead and then I blow my nose and my ear squeaks. In the middle of the night I lie there thinking that some insidious mould spore from old books has got stuck in my throat and I’m going to die of consumption or a bacterial lung infection any minute now, but mostly I think it’s just a thwarted cold.

Why would I encounter old books, you ask? Because I’m running the PTA used book sale, and my days are currently filled with collecting empty boxes and bags of old books from the neighbourhood and sorting the books into the boxes so that they can be all moved from the school to the festival location on the Friday before Labor Day and then browsed by the people of the neighbourhood who apparently need more books to fill all the gaps they just made on their shelves.

Boxes of books piled up.

A small proportion of the books sorted so far this year.

It’s really quite amazing. Every year I think that the people of our town must be out of books by now, but every year we get thousands of paperback mysteries and hardback self-help volumes and everything else in between, and more than you’d think get sold again at the end of it. It’s a great fundraiser, but it takes a lot of volunteer work.

(I wrote about it last year too.)

Anyway, then I read a blog post by someone whose husband had coughed to death, which didn’t really help my middle-of-the-night notions. (He had had heart surgery. I am unlikely to cough to death of a tickle. Right?) And Mabel’s acting like a banshee which is most probably because she’s starting first grade on Tuesday but could also be because she ingested a mould spore while helping with the books and will also die of galloping consumption any minute now.

So that’s where my end of summer has me. I have grand plans for September, once the sale is over and both kids are at school and I will take over the world. Or at least regain some serenity for myself.


Dash was supposed to have a baseball game yesterday, so he did his homework as soon as he got home from school, for once. Then the game was cancelled because there was so much rain last night that the field was unplayable, and there were thunderstorms forecast for this evening anyway, but there was his homework, done, and the whole evening still ahead of him.

Apart from a brief torrential shower, the storms had yet to show up, and all the kids were outside playing after dinner. Dash came rushing in after a little while declaring “I need to be Harry Potter” and put on a shirt and his Hogwarts cloak and made me tie his HP tie. (Fabulous Christmas present from loving auntie.) Then he legged it back downstairs and out again. I looked out to find five or six children on my lawn all brandishing sticks at each other and – this is vital – not hitting each other with them but waving them and yelling things like “Wingardium Leviosa!” and “Expelliarmus!”

I am really grateful to JK Rowling for writing those books, because she’s created a world that keeps children engaged in reading and in imaginary play, and that’s a wonderful thing. It’s a gift to childhood.


This year’s baseball games are on the real field that has the snack shop and the scoreboard and a playground right beside it. On Saturday after a long time swinging and climbing by herself, Mabel felt emboldened enough to join in with a conversation and a game – or maybe she started it, I don’t know. The first I heard was when she popped up beside me with a dandelion as a gift from “the Kingdom” and invited me to come on a tour. I went to see the Kingdom, where I met the Town Crier and the King and Queen and where Mabel was known as the Architect. Their society was quite advanced, apparently. About seven children from the ages of three to ten, by the looks of it, were embroiled in the politics of the Kingdom, and how it should be run. It was a delight.

I went back to the bleachers and watched the baseball game, because though I could visit, the Kingdom was not mine to play in.

If the adults can just leave them alone; if they are away from their screens for long enough; if they have inspiration from stories that catch their imaginations; if they have nothing but sticks and mulch (and maybe a cloak) – the magic will come.

And that’s what they’ll remember and it will be their childhoods and we are doing the right thing.

Dash as Harry Potter

Every inch a Gryffindor

Snow, in pictures

Yesterday it was mild enough for the kids to stop at the playground on the way home, a day Irish in its temperatures and its greyness, but not really moist enough to be truly Irish. Dash played soccer with a bunch of older boys, Mabel mounted the swings with some other kindergarteners and presided over a long-drawn-out game of horsies. The forecast was for snow today, so we were making hay.

Bets were taken (virtually, on Facebook) among the parents on whether we’d get a delayed opening, a full snow day, or the rarely invoked early closing today. The snow was meant to come in the morning sometime, not overnight. There was no alert at 5am to tell us that school was delayed, and indeed when I came down at 7:45 it was as dry outside as it had been yesterday. School as usual, then, nothing to see here. Anyone who might have skipped working on a science project in order to join the soccer game might have been feeling a bit foolish in retrospect.

Light snow on the deck

A sprinkling

The first tiny snowflakes started around 10:30, as I sat by my window, typing some words in between frequent stops to make cups of tea and go to the loo. They were what the weather service calls conversational flakes. Mood snow. After a while, though, it was coming down pretty well. The time for early dismissal had passed, and the snow just about stopped by picking-up time. The roads had been treated and it was just above freezing so the snow didn’t stick, but I walked to get them anyway, and took some photos on the way.


The fat flakes sat heavy on the branches of all the trees, and there were suddenly more trees and more branches than I had noticed. We’re surrounded by them, but when each one is defined by a line of white, in sharp relief even though the sky behind is white and full of snow still too, they become a latticework over the streets and around the houses. It was sort of beautiful.

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Delayed opening tomorrow? What are the chances?

Busy weekend

It’s been one of those weekends we get about twice a year when everything we have to do happens at the same time.

Mabel and Dash carving pumpkins

Friday night was community pumpkin carving. Yes, the whole town got together to carve pumpkins, with live music and free cookies. Some of the finished products were amazingly artistic; ours were more about giving the pumpkins some sort of facial features before anyone melted down and/or stabbed people with sharp implements. But the end result was a little magical.

Many jack-o-lanterns

Saturday morning was the culmination of a lot of hard work on B’s part, when the 5k fundraiser for the elementary school, which he had organized, happened. First there was a 1k fun run that Mabel made me do with her. She kept having to stop so I could catch up. I’m not very good at running. Still, we made it.

Spousal duty meant I had said I’d help wherever helping was required, and I was assigned the very important job of sweeper. This is the person who goes along at the end of the race to let the course marshalls know that they’re done because the last person has officially passed. B said I could ride my bike if I wanted, but I’d have to ride “really really slowly” so maybe there was no point. Like an idiot, I believed him, so I set off on foot, only to find I had to jog to keep up with the walkers at the back, because every time I came to a marshall I had to have a little conversation with them, and then I’d have to catch up again. Next year, should I be so called upon, I will take my bike.

Lake and trees

I wasn’t racing, so I got to stop and take pretty pictures

After I slogged back up the hill to hear that Dash had made good time in this, his second ever 5k race, we all partook of bagels and coffee and hung around for the raffle and the prizes. We didn’t win either, but it all went off successfully and a large sigh of relief was sighed in our house when the whole thing was over and done with.

That evening there was pumpkin festival part deux, which is when they set all the pumpkins out in the woods with candles in them and we go for a spooky walk, enhanced by sightings of forest folk, the elusive Goatman, a fairy ring in the distance, sounds of thrumming drums and eerie wails, with hot chocolate and hot cider at the end. It was so good we did it twice – once in twilight, and once in pitch dark with just the lack-o-lanterns (and a flashlight) to light our way.

Jack o lantern with howling wolf carving

I dreamed of pumpkins all night, which wasn’t actually terribly restful. But never mind.

This morning was just our regular farmers market, which runs all the way to Thanksgiving, but it was a glorious morning for it. The kids all disappeared to Kidland (the tree over yonder), where apparently there were two sets of elections and several speeches in favour of the environment and pacifism, while the parents lounged on the grass in the breezy dappled autumn sunlight and discussed yesterday’s events and how lovely it was to have our children off climbing trees and ruling the world with no help required.

And this afternoon there was a birthday party – that lovely low-key sort with chips and cupcakes and the merest gesture towards some carrot sticks and celery, because a party from 2 to 4pm really doesn’t require anything in the way of food – that all took place at a playground, with some fun games for the children, where the parents once again – pretty much the same parents we’d been seeing all weekend at every event, which is just fine because we like them all – mostly stood around chatting and marvelling at how we could now kick back and relax at these events because our kids are just that leetle bit older…

Mabel eating a powdered donut

The challenge was to eat a powdered donut on a string without using your hands. (But once you’ve taken the first bite, it’s okay.)

And for once we left before anyone lost their rag and viciously pinched anyone else (by anyone, I mean Mabel, and by anyone else I mean some poor innocent smaller child) and it was all just a lovely end to a busy weekend. And now I have a glass of wine and I can look forward, if that’s the right phrase, to all the other things that are coming up, starting with a Kindergarten field trip tomorrow, then the IEP meeting on Thursday, then Halloween, then Mabel’s birthday party and then my trip to Ireland All On My Own. After all of which I will come back and collapse in a heap and spend the next two weeks frantically catching up on work and lazily deciding what side dish to bring to Thanksgiving dinner because we’ve been invited to friends, which we accepted with alacrity.

Also, I have nearly finished another pair of mittens. These ones go with my scarf.

It’s a busy time of year, is all.

Dance now

We went out, but not very far. I’d booked a babysitter (yay, we have a babysitter again!) but there was nothing on at the movies and we didn’t really feel the urge for Indian food or Thai food or anything far flung. So we went to our local bar, where there is live music with no cover, and they have Lebanese food and good beer.

The demographic is … well, it’s a bit on the older side. It’s sort of middle aged, let’s say. I don’t know where the young people of my town go to socialise, but it’s clearly a bit further away. Like, downtown DC or something. I really have no idea, never having been a young person who went socialising in this neck of the woods. But let’s just say that B and I were the youngest people in the room, probably all night or close to it.

The bands that play there are eclectic; you never really know what you’re going to get, from smooth jazz to down-home bluegrass to Bolivian pan pipes. (Okay, not so much the punk or the heavy metal.) But tonight even the band seemed a little on the mature side. It was an all-female ensemble, and the two of us spent some enjoyable minutes pinning down their imaginary day jobs as they started up – the drummer was a librarian, the bassist was your friend’s mum, the trumpeter was an elementary school teacher, and the lead singer works in the credit union. Probably. Something like that.

It was extraordinary, actually, watching these women who probably have very mundane other lives, up on the little stage belting out some wonderful standards, great close harmonies, amazing jazz numbers, sexy trumpet solos, scatting and crooning like nothing else. (Some people’s thing is drums; some people might think a girl with a guitar is a fine sight; but for me, it’s always the brass player that makes me smile.)

The crowd wore hawaiian shirts and unironic moustaches, sandals that were almost but maybe not quite orthopedic; they looked like science teachers from 1984, like my aunty, like Tom Petty. They were a motley crew. But I realised that if you transplanted the whole lot of them into an Irish pub – not a trendy one, but the naff one whose doorway you’d never darken because you’d meet your friend’s mum there and the lady from the newsagent’s – that was exactly who these people were. They’d look perfectly at home on the plush pink seats and low stools of a plain old Irish pub, sitting in front of its polished dark wood tables with their pints of Guinness and glasses of port or whatnot. (Except Tom Petty. He’s vintage Woodstock, through and through.)

And then I looked at the band and my view shifted again and I realised it was exactly as if we’d crashed a wedding. These were, in fact, your aunty and the lady from the newsagent’s and my mum’s friend, and they were up in front of the stage giving it socks just like the young people they used to be not so very many moons ago, and they had every right to be there.

The highlight was when one single customer, of fairly advanced age and indeterminate gender, clad in a sort of Andean hoodie, shimmied up to the top of the room, danced all alone to the song of the moment, spun around to point fingers at the crowd, smiled gap-toothedly at us all, and shimmied back out again. We should all be so lucky as to be in fine dancing fettle at that stage of our lives.

We didn’t dance, in the end, because B had been up since 5am and the music suddenly got less like music we wanted to dance to, and because we were shy, and our pints had run dry, and we were in the company of all our elders. Maybe we didn’t want to show them up; or maybe we didn’t think we were up to their standards, because to tell the truth they were all pretty good. But we’ll be back – not too soon, but some time – and maybe we’ll dance the next time.

There are so many lessons to take away. Dance now, because who knows what the music will be like next time round. Stop caring about how you look, just dance anyway. Be the guy who’s up on the dance floor regardless. Order the chicken. Hang out with old people because they make you feel young. Support live music because there’s nothing like it.

Never forget that no matter how pedestrian someone might seem, they could be an amazing sexy-cool jazz trumpet player by night.

Learn the trumpet, so you can be that person.

Dance now.

Sundry updates

It’s one of those times when real life whizzes by faster than blog time, and I end up having to give you a list just to get things you need to know* out of the way.

*Need to know for full and complete appreciation of the blog, I mean.

So, without further ado, and in roughly chronological order, these things have happened:

– Mabel started school. So did Dash, of course, but this year Mabel’s the one with the big changes. I wrote a little bit about it here. She started last week, but after the long weekend of Labour Day, going back this morning was the roughest one yet. How long do I have to keep buying her bribes for? Until middle school, just?

Mabel in classroom

– The PTA book sale was a great success, in spite of a massive thunderstorm that rolled in on Sunday evening, shutting us down early and making some of our stock unusable. We had tarps to cover the tables, and put as many boxes as we could up there, but any boxes still under the tables that were in direct contact with the ground ended up sopping wet.

book sale under tents

– I may or may not have been a bookseller in a former life. But I should probably be one at some point in this one. I loved it. I loved the tetris-like challenge of “reshelving”, I loved remembering where I’d seen something that would go with this one, I loved seeing the droves of people buying so many books that they’d never find anywhere else, and by the third day I was talking to the books. Maybe that’s not a good thing, but they seemed to like it.

kids on ride at funfair

– I have Lyme disease, did I mention that? At least, I don’t actually have any symptoms, but I’m on antibiotics to make it go away. I had an odd fever with a stiff neck while we were in Italy and it was only when we got home that I decided, paranoidly, that maybe I had Lyme. I got checked rather than leave it to be a Thing I Obsess About In Bed At Night, and hey presto, I do. I never noticed the tick bite and have no visible rash. But we do live in a very high-Lyme area. My only lesson for you on that is: don’t be too paranoid, but do be just paranoid enough.

– We’re getting Dash tested for I don’t know what, a Learning Disability or something maybe, because vision therapy was great but it wasn’t the Ultimate Answer to his reading difficulties. The doctor I spoke to was trying to steer me in the direction of ADHD, but I honestly don’t think that’s it. I think he’s got some form of dyslexia. Or Overachieving Parent, it could be that. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, Third Grade seems Very Serious. Homework starts this week; I’ll see better how he’s keeping up when we get that.

Loft bed with desk underneath

– Or maybe I won’t, since he got a new bed and he’s going to do his homework in his bedroom now. Maybe I’ll just have to deal with Mabel’s homework. I’m really hoping that K homework is all drawing and stuff she likes to do.

All caught up now? Good.

(I’m making the photos big. If this has a terrible effect on your download times, tell me.)

Your Kindle can’t do this

Our school’s parent-teacher association runs a massive used-book sale every September, at the festival that takes place in our town for the Labor Day weekend. We collect thousands upon thousands of books, sort them into boxes for easy transport and display, and set them up on tables (under tents for shade, this year). We charge a dollar or two each for them – less as the weekend progresses and we just want them off our hands – and we raise a whole lot of money for the PTA to help the school send kids on field trips and do all the other great things our PTA does.

It’s a massive undertaking to organize the sale, and it takes a lot of volunteer power. This year for the first time (now that I’m no longer involved in volunteering for the nursery school) I’m helping out more than I had before – as someone yesterday said, I get to see how the sausages are put in the casings instead of just selling the sausages at the end. Looking at the amazing collection, ranging from the bizarre to the vintage, the beautiful to the trashy, I wondered about the people who gave their books away. Or who died and left others to clear them up and pass them on.

An elderly couple drove up to the school in the morning, after the first-day-of-school crowds had dissipated, with a pickup truck full of books. Not even in boxes or bags – just about 400 hardback tomes, mostly if not all non-fiction, tossed loose in the back for us to put on our little red wagon and trundle into the sorting room, one journey at a time.

From our end, seeing the wagon come into the room piled high with books, it looked like another half hour of sorting, flipping, deciding, box-cutting, and lugging. From the point of view of the sale, it might mean another $500 or more for the school, depending on whether the right person happened upon the right thing at the right time, or whether they were in fact saleable at all.

But as I went out to the truck to help fish everything out and load it up, and talked to the donors, I learned what else these books meant.

“These books mostly belonged to my son,” the woman said. She told me she was 80, but she seemed like a very young 80 to me. The sort of 80 I’d aspire to. “Some of them were his daughter’s.” Some of them were books they’d bought for their kids or their grandkids – a beautiful full set of animal encyclopedias with luscious illustrations. I thought of the 1970s childhoods of the siblings in a house where that set was a prized Christmas present, maybe. The whole lot ranged magnificently in subject matter from sailing to Freemasonry, and all sorts in between – a history of the world in many heavy volumes, a giant medical textbook… As if these were people who just picked up books and took them home because they liked them. They owned books to own books. “You’d know so much,” she said to me, “if you read all this.”

They had raised their family in our town, and only moved away when the children were grown. Her son, the one whose books many of these were, had died.  She said all the siblings come back for the festival every year. She picked out a few books that had been included by mistake: “I wanted to keep this one,” she’d say, and watching her fingers run over the dust cover, I could see the meaning it held for her, the familiarity and the memories and the history behind that particular collection of pages and binding. Every one of those books probably had a history behind it in her eyes. So many memories; so many stories.

“You’ll have a lot more space now,” I remarked, when we’d unloaded them all. I pictured empty shelves, or a whole corner maybe devoid of its stacks. They looked at me with relief in their eyes and agreed. But it was more than just space in their house. I knew they were saying a last goodbye to their son with this journey; moving on mentally, making a space and a peace inside themselves. Making room for grandchildren and the great-grandchild they told me was on the way. They may have been 80, but life was moving on and they were moving with it.

I went back to my sorting with new eyes.


Girl sitting among many books.

Mabel and Dash at the book sale three (!) years ago. (There’ll be tents and tables this year. It’ll be all fancy.)

Summer Sundays

When my children are grown and they think of their childhoods, I hope they remember our summer Sundays. I hope they remember going down to the farmer’s market and fighting over who gets to pick their chocolate croissant first out of the paper bag and sitting on the grass and eating it.

And then running to the tree and climbing up there and playing whatever the game of the week is with whichever friends were there, new and old. They might remember the view I’ve never seen, looking back over from the elevated perspective of the swaying branches at the little grassy slope where all the parents sit and chat and throw a glance in their direction every now and then. (Nobody has fallen out of the tree yet, to our knowledge.)

I hope they remember looking for the cars coming and then crossing over to the market to get a drink from the orange cooler the nice market people keep there, with the little waxed paper cups, sometimes the first solo mission while a parent hovers behind, watching to make sure you don’t go astray among the lines for crepes and iced coffee or between the other stalls of strawberries and kale and handmade soaps and tomato plants.

And I hope I remember too. I don’t see how I could forget. But then, I always say that.