A Breath in; A Breath Out

Your eyes have the look of some different place; You’ve got one foot in heaven and one still in this land; So we breathe it in deep and we let it out slow; We’re holding you up while you’re letting us go — Carrie Newcomer

This is a blog about women helping women.

Soon will be the fifth anniversary of my mom’s death. As I approach it, I can’t help but notice that she is everywhere – in my thoughts, in the hummingbirds that are making their way back from the south, in my aging hands when I look down on them, and more recently as a participant in the passing of the mother of my dear friend, Christina.

My mom was alone when she died. I hate that idea – and yet it is how it happened. In her sleep – or at least that is what they told us. But I wondered often what it was like for her. Did it hurt? Was she scared? Was there someone from the other side who was there to help her? All of these questions haunted me.

I shared these thoughts with my sister-in-law and her daughter. My niece has been given what sometimes seems to be a gift and at others a royal pain. For her, the veil between this life and the next is very thin and sometimes nonexistent.

Very early in the morning of the day my mother died, my niece heard the voice of her deceased grandmother tell her that my mom had died. At the funeral she saw her standing with her hand on my dad’s shoulder. Just knowing this was a comfort, but I still wondered and worried.

Not long after I mentioned my concerns, my niece was walking in the Ann Arbor Arboretum and heard the voice of my mom. The message for me was: “It was simply a breath in and a breath out.” It was a tremendous relief and comfort to hear those words.

I told that story to friends at dinner not long ago. My friend, Christina, and her mom were at the table. Less than a week later, Christina’s mom was hospitalized with acute pneumonia, which did not respond to treatment. When it became obvious that she was not going to survive, Christina used those words – a breath in, a breath out – to help her mom as she passed away. It was a profound experience for all of us – to see something passed from my mom to my niece to me to Christina and finally to her mom. Women helping women.

I am sure that there are days that my niece wishes she didn’t have this gift, but in this case, I am grateful that she does. As the anniversary of my mom’s death draws near, I am so glad that I know that it was simply a breath in and a breath out.

I am also profoundly grateful for the women in my life.

I have watched as we lost parents, grandparents, friends, children, and spouses and all of these transitions have been made easier by the women who surround us. I saw it again with my friend, Christina – women from her yoga community, from her mom’s church, and from this little community of Buena Vista came together to hold hands. Yes there were men too – but it was wonderful to watch the women do what they do best.

In the words of Carrie Newcomer,

Here’s to the women who bind the wounds tight
Here’s to the ones who sit talking half of the night
Here’s to the love and the life that they mend
And here’s to the strength in women holding hands


The Ladies Trip – Yurts vs. Disneyland

Before I start my story, let me take a moment to tell my friends who love theme parks why I don’t. It doesn’t have anything to do with me judging people who do – it’s all about my first and only experience at Disneyland.

When I was a kid we lived in California and my folks decided that as a special treat, they would take my siblings and me to Disneyland. We went with another family who lived down the block and had kids close to our ages. We didn’t have much money, so we didn’t stay in a fancy Disney-themed hotel. We camped. In a crappy green trailer. Our neighbors had a slightly larger crappy red one and the parents decided that the older kids (my sister and I) would stay in the neighbors’ trailer since they had more room for us.

Disneyland was AWESOME! We rode as many rides as we could. I particularly remember the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party ride – there were giant tea cups that went around AND tipped. My stomach did all kinds of interesting stuff. I loved it!

Unfortunately, later that evening my insides were still doing the same thing and it had nothing to do with the Mad Hatter. I came down with the stomach flu. I was not in the privacy of my bedroom with my mom telling me everything would be all right… I was in our neighbor’s crappy red trailer – with a virtual stranger who was not my mom. I was mortified.

The flu and Disneyland will forever be connected in my mind. I’ve tried to like theme parks, believe me, it’s almost un-American not to – but I just can’t do it. Every time I walk into one I start to feel nauseous. Unfortunately for the theme park business, I have passed this prejudice along to Bekah.

Now to my story:

A couple of years ago Bekah started a tradition of taking Drew and Hazel on a “girls’ trip.” She planned a getaway during the summer for just the three of them. Last year she invited me to join them. I was honored – and a little nervous. These trips are not run-of-the-mill-let’s-do-the-princess-thing-in-Disney-World trips. She tries to make them experiences that they won’t get anywhere else.

The first year of the trip, Bekah took them to an alligator farm and an ashram. When we first started kicking ideas around for our trip, they included staying in a tree house or a teepee, a yoga retreat, Los Alamos, and my personal favorite, a weekend in a spaceship house. We finally decided that a hike into the wilderness and a stay in a yurt followed by the hot springs spa in Pagosa Springs would be perfect.

When I first came to Colorado I hated the idea of all that outdoorsiness. I liked “culture” and “the city.” I wanted to be able to get a mani-pedi any time of day or night. I worked for a theatre; I’d lived in NYC – center of the universe, for Pete’s sake. That was my excuse. The real truth was that I was also totally intimidated by the mountain men and women I met who seemed to relish the idea of riding head first down a mountain on a bike, or hiking up a 14,000 foot mountain when I could barely breathe getting my luggage at the airport in Denver. The idea of “camping” brought back memories of that fateful night in Disneyland. Believe me, I thought Bekah and Kyle were nuts to leave the Great Lakes for a place where the idea of a lake was what looked like a puddle to me.

But the call of the grandchildren convinced me to try mountain life – and low and behold, I don’t miss the culture thing too much, maybe a little. I have learned to live without a mani-pedi. You can’t beat a hike with your kids and grandkids and there’s truly nothing like an IPA after snowshoeing up a mountain. So here I am happily living in the Rocky Mountains. Let me be clear – the idea of barreling down a mountain on a bike or rafting in a river that is running high in the early summer still freaks me out, but I’m adjusting.

So when I arrived at Bekah’s house with my bags packed, I thought I was mentally prepared to do a mountain mini vacation. Bekah was very excited because she had gotten a great deal on a cloth wagon she thought would be perfect to use for carrying supplies for our trip into the wilderness. Turns out we had to walk a mile in to our yurt and carry all our supplies for two days – including water because we were too nervous about using potable water available in the yurt. Okay – I can do that I thought.

It also turns out that the “great deal” on the wagon was a great because it was a closeout and it only had 3 wheels and no way to buy a fourth. Bekah thought it would be fine to use it as a wheel barrel – but I disagreed and made her take me to find a replacement. Good thing I did as you will see later.

We set out on our journey – car packed to the gills and spirits high. The ladies had just been introduced to Hamilton the Musical and like everyone in the world were obsessed with it – so of course that was our traveling music… for 7 hours…at one point I suggested that maybe a little Les Mis would be a good way to break it up. I reminded them that the French Revolution was mentioned in the Hamilton lyrics. They were not buying it.

They knew every word of every song… starting with “How did a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean…” Try to picture an angelic 6-year-old belting that out as we drove down the highway. I was hoping no one from Focus on the Family would pull up next to us and hear us.

We arrived at the trailhead just as the skies clouded over and threatened rain. We pulled out our new (4-wheeled) wagon. It seems that we had miscalculated exactly how much it would hold, so we put the heavier items in the wagon (can you say water) and gave the girls their backpacks and sleeping bags to carry. Then we noticed the hill… they didn’t mention that the trail was a logging road that went straight up – crap. And it started to rain. Double crap.

Not to be deterred (have you met Bekah or me), we started up the hill. There was a fence between where we parked and the trail, so we had to navigate through a gate. Both of us had our backpacks. Bekah was pulling the wagon and I was carrying everything else, including our sleeping bags and several bags of groceries. As I stepped through the gate I stepped into a hole and lost my balance. I had so much stuff in my arms that all I could do was fall sideways kind of like Artie Johnson used to fall off his bike on Laugh In.   It produced the same effect – Bekah was laughing so hard I thought she was going to wet her pants.

The rest of the trip up the hill was filled with poorly packed sleeping bags exploding out of their covers, pillows being dragged through bear scat (yikes) and general hilarity. Every time we went around a corner the ladies wanted to know if we were there yet… I was beginning to think maybe we should have gone to Disneyland.

We finally arrived at the Yurt. It was built on stilts so we had to drag our bazillion pounds of stuff up way too many steps. Then I noticed that the building inspector definitely had not approved this yurt because there were no railings anywhere AND the outhouse (thank god there was one) was also on stilts, accessible only by way of a log ladder that was barely on an angle. All I could think of was one of the ladies wandering out of the yurt in the middle of the night and doing a header off the “deck” on their way to the bathroom. This was not looking good.

We unpacked our stuff – Why the hell did we pack so much food? We had enough for a week. One of the items we were sure that we packed was wine. We figured that once the kids were settled in bed we would enjoy a glass while looking at the stars and congratulating ourselves that we were not exposing them to Disney princesses with unrealistic family backgrounds.

Let’s just say that by the time we schlepped all the stuff up the damn hill, we were ready for a warm-up glass before dinner. Forget waiting for the stars. Bekah had triple-checked with our host that there was a cork screw provided so we felt safe bringing a bottle with a cork. We looked everywhere. We texted our host. She was sure it was there. Nope.

I had seen something on YouTube about what to do in such a situation. It had to do with using a shoe and banging it on the bottom of the bottle. Nope – further hysterics ensued. The ladies were beginning to think we had lost our minds.

Then Bekah remembered that Kyle had given her his utility knife and she was pretty sure that it had a wine key on it. I mean who would buy a utility knife without one. She also remembered that she had put it in the pocket of her raincoat. Great…wait where was the raincoat? We remembered that she had it with her when we left since it was threatening rain, but where the hell was it now? She must have dropped it with, not only the utility knife, but also the car keys in the pocket. Crap.

Only one thing to do – go back down the hill and find it. But no one was going alone, which meant that everyone was going. Yay – back down the hill – and back up the hill. You can imagine how excited the ladies were about that. The good news is that we found the raincoat. The utility knife and keys were still in the pocket. The bad news was that there was no wine opener on the utility knife.

At that point, still laughing, but now manically, we decided to use the utility knife to poke a hole in the cork and push it into the bottle… we only got a little wine on us and we finally had happy hour. The girls settled down for the night and Bekah and I played Gin Rummy by the light of our headlamps, sipping red wine with a touch of cork. Damn, it was dark in the wilderness.

Fortunately, nobody fell off the deck that night – probably because we locked them in and provided a bucket in case of “emergency.” This was the bucket used for “grey” water and after a little research we decided that this probably would be the correct one to use. There were elaborate instructions on how to make potable water out of the stream water just outside our door and if we had been better mountain women we probably would have gone for it, but all we could think of was all of us fighting over who could use the outhouse next if we failed.

Speaking of the outhouse, it was awesome. We were so far out in the woods that you didn’t have to close the door, which meant you didn’t have to plug your nose the whole time. And did I mention that the view was amazing from 25 feet up?

After a breakfast, we decided we should take a little hike up the hill and see what there was to see. But first the ladies decided that they needed to play in the aforementioned stream for a few minutes. They found wild raspberries growing there – and mosquitoes. It was like midges in Scotland in the summer. They were everywhere. Bekah and I had forgotten that this part of Colorado was considerably wetter than where we live. Had we packed bug spray? Of course not.

We swatted our way out and started up the hill. Now both Bekah and I like a good hike and usually the ladies do too, but for some reason this day they bitched most of the way up the hill. We also were not completely sure about what the trail markers were telling us– and there was definitely bear scat – not steaming, but pretty fresh. We finally gave up after Bekah twisted her ankle. It wasn’t a bad sprain, but we realized that trying to carry Bekah back down the hill while schlepping all our stuff (even with the amazing wagon) was not an option. We decided to head back to the yurt figuring that lunch and a little rest on the deck would bring us a new appreciation for nature.

Unfortunately the wind had died and an equal number of flies and mosquitoes had invaded. We prayed to Anemoi to bring on the wind, but to no avail. We tried to distract ourselves with Uno. We finally retreated into the yurt, which was at least 95 degrees. We considered abandoning our outdoor experience then and there, but the wind finally came up and we had a good old-fashioned thunderstorm instead. As it got darker and we searched around for our headlamps, one of the ladies pointed out that we had solar powered lights… so since we were staying we had that going for us.

We made dinner, which consisted of the remaining salami, cheese and crackers, fruit and veggies – basically appetizers. Now that we had the wine thing down and the rain had driven the bugs away, we could actually see the stars while we sipped our wine out of metal camping mugs. Meanwhile, the girls created a fort out of their bunks. This wasn’t so bad after all – at least as good as Disneyland.

In the morning, a little sad, we packed up the wagon, which was considerably lighter, carefully stuffed our sleeping bags into their covers and dragged our pillows back down the hill. On the way, we congratulated ourselves for surviving the wilderness, finding the resourcefulness to open the wine, and not caving to Disney Princesses. We also congratulated ourselves for being smart enough to know that following this adventure, we needed a few days at the hot springs – and mani-pedis. All things considered, we were only a little worried that someone had stolen the car and left us to do this for more than a couple of nights.

Screaming from the Mountain Top

Yesterday I posted pictures from the hike we took that we affectionately call the Sound of Music. It was the first day on the mountain where I could feel fall creeping up- cool, crisp, beautiful. There were six of us and three dogs.

What I didn’t post was a picture of a woman sitting with her dog on top of one of the peaks. We came across her as we made our way down the mountain. Until then we had not seen another human on the trail, so we let the dogs run free. Perhaps we should have kept them leashed, I don’t know.

We came up over the rise and our dogs saw her and her leashed dog and bolted toward them. We ran after them as fast as we could, but you know how that goes. Her reaction was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. To say it was an overreaction would be an understatement. Her abusive, profanity-laced language was astonishing to hear – especially in that idyllic place. We apologized, collected the dogs, and walked away in the wake of continued verbal abuse.

As we made our way down the hill, a pall fell over the group. Where once the walk had inspired us, now we slogged down the hill trying to understand what had happened. It was as if the positive energy had been sucked out of the air around us.

That’s how I feel about our current political environment. Everyone is screaming and no one is listening.

We don’t take time to look directly into the face of those who disagree with us and truly listen. I was guilty of this yesterday. I didn’t even look at the woman as she screamed. I just wanted to run away. Maybe dogs had attacked her in her past. I’ll never know, but I’ll carry the memory of her screaming for the rest of my life.

We can’t run away from what is happening in our country. It is real and ugly and scary and until we find a way to look at each other as fellow humans traveling across this proverbial mountain together, we are going to find the energy surrounding us oppressive.

I don’t pretend to have an answer and I do not suggest ignoring the ugly stuff. But can we find a way to look at each in the eye and stop the screaming? Maybe then we can make our way to a better place. Maybe.

But it will take a concerted effort to listen and not to scream our responses. Can we do that in this age of Facebook and Twitter, which seem to give us permission to scream and re-scream our positions and delete or unfriend anyone who doesn’t agree?

Today I’m not optimistic… maybe it’s because I haven’t forgotten what a rotten f’ing terrible dog owner I am…. those words cut like a knife. I just wish we could stop the screaming.

The Fairy Lochs

Last week hiking with some friends at the top of the Continental Divide, we ran into two hikers. One of them had an American flag sticking out of the back of his pack and my friend asked if he was a veteran. “Yes,” he said. “Thank you for your service.” Those simple words brought back a profound memory.

In June when we were hiking in Scotland, our guide took us to the Fairy Lochs. It was a beautiful hike – like all the others we had been on. But this one was different because our intention was to visit the memorial crash site of an American WWII bomber.

On June 13, 1945, three months shy of the end of the war, a USAAF B-24 Liberator bomber was on its way home to the US. It carried a crew of 9 from the 66th Bomber Squadron and 6 crewmen from Air Transport Command. Only one was over the age of 40. Most of them were in their 20s.

No one knows what happened, but as they made their way home to the US, they diverted over the Scottish mainland instead of flying over the Western Isles. They began to lose altitude and hit the summit of Mt. Slioch, lost their bomber doors, and finally crashed into the Fairy Loch, spreading wreckage everywhere. No one survived.

I stood looking at the memorial and the twisted rusty metal of the wreckage, and a profound sadness came over me. These young men had survived the war – they were on their way home. They had mothers, fathers, children, and lovers waiting for them. No one got a chance to thank them for their service.

As we walked out of that place – all of us a little shaken- at the very end of the Loch was a beautiful garden of water lilies. Did relatives put them there or did the universe plant them in memory of these young men’s service?

Shortly after I returned from Scotland, I had the opportunity to visit the armory where my grandfather commanded the Ontario Scottish Essex Infantry. He served in both WWI and WWII and he came home to a family and a good job, visibly unharmed. Seeing him in the front row of photos with his soldiers flanking him was incredible. The man I knew rarely talked about the war and I imagine that it might have been difficult to articulate what it was like in the trenches. He believed serving his country was his duty, but I wonder now how he managed to merge back into his life after his experiences overseas. Did anyone thank him for his service?

Maybe that’s why I still can’t shake the image of the Fairy Loch and it’s sadness. We continue to send our young men (and now women) into war and they continue to serve our country. Now we have bigger, even more powerful and precise weapons. Like the twisted metal of the wreckage I saw in Scotland, veterans who return often find themselves unable to physically or mentally cope with living. They deserve our thanks and much more.

So from now on when I see a soldier, I will go out of my way to thank him (or her) for their service. And when I see a lily pond, I will thank the universe for remembering too.

Irish-Scottish Twins


Today is my sister’s Birthday. It’s a BIG one – so BIG that it deserves a blog to honor it.

I don’t remember a time when Sheila was not a part of my life.

My earliest memory – or perhaps a story that has been told the most – was of me feeding her sand. Actually, I think it’s a Masson myth, but I’ll go with it.

For a long time Sheila and I were one unit. She was my best friend – even when I had a best friend. We shared everything. When Mom and Dad tried to give me my own room, Sheila ended up creeping in and sleeping with me. It just felt weird not to have her there.

I remember playing “hospital” after her return from an overnight stay for a broken bone. We poked her doll’s eye out giving her a shot, but she continued to drag that doll around until at least Jr. High school. I think she might still have it. She is that loyal.

I remember my Dad destroying her scooter after I fell off it and had to get stitches in my knee. This is something for which I still take the blame on a regular basis. I still carry the scar as a reminder. Sheila has a LONG memory.

I remember scooting under the fence to visit Susan and Christine – sisters who lived on the Air Force base next to our house in Pearl Harbor. They were our exact same ages and had moved almost as much as we did. They were best friends with each other too.

I remember snuggling next to her and hearing stories before bed about Pooh and Piglet, The Brothers Grimm, The Narnia Chronicles and The Wizard of Oz. It was the start of Sheila’s life-long love of books.

I remember yearly trips to my grandparents’ cottage – sleeping under the “princess” quilts in the front bedroom. Learning to dance. Directing plays. Sneaking to the forbidden rope swing. Early morning trips to pick raspberries and the mosquito bites that accompanied them. Kenny and the infamous tree fort. Nighttime skinny-dipping in Lake Huron. These are my favorite childhood memories of Sheila.

I remember pretending our pillows were (depending on the age) a select Beatle or Monkey and giggling into the night when we were supposed to be sleeping. We reprised the giggling on a trip to England and Scotland as adults many years later.

I remember talking her into trying out for the A choir and running for Senior Class officer, fixing her up with Gary Lico for Homecoming and introducing her to her future husband, Bob. (You can thank me later, Bob.)

As adults, I remember my wedding, her wedding, the birth of my children, and the birth of her children, their weddings, the birth of their children, and laying our parents to rest.

Sheila was always there.

Somewhere around my leaving home for college we became two instead of one. As I went off to find my way, she found hers. We haven’t lived together for many years, but I know that she is there – and she knows that I am too.

Over those years I have marveled at what an extraordinary woman she is. The love with which she cared for my Mom and Dad as they grew older and her tenacity as she advocated for them was superhuman. Her dedication to her family – and the joy she finds in her grandbabies reminds me of the many times Dad called her Little Mother (I am officially promoting her to Great Mother). Her deep and mature spirituality and the grace with which she has lived her life are an inspiration to me, her much lesser sister.

Over the past two years I have had the great joy of sharing a few days with both my sisters alone in Colorado. To find us on this side of life with such a deep connection is a blessing I can’t articulate.

Happy birthday, Sheila. I have ordered a special sand cake just for the occasion.

Bats in the Belfry

I started the summer with a couple of blogs about birds. That’s old news.

We now have a bat. Not bats – plural – just one little Canyon bat that showed up several days ago and taught me a valuable lesson.

My sisters came to visit me for a few days. We don’t see each other much, but amazingly, it doesn’t matter. There is something about our relationship that defies time and distance.

Now, we three women could not be more different. Sheila is, by her own account, cautious, a devout Christian and pretty darn conservative. Ginna is 7 years younger than me. She is a Reiki master, an animal rights proponent (I was really nervous about cooking for her) and about as liberal as they come. I’m the oldest and if you think I’m liberal, I’m Attila the Hun compared to Ginna.

I love them both and we respect and love each other, but man do we have some interesting conversations. But, what does this have to do with the bat?

You know how some people freak out about snakes? Well, bats are my snakes. It probably stems from the time we had a bat in our house in Cleveland and I made Russ and our neighbor, John, “get it.” I’ll never forget watching them from the curb take a butterfly net, a dog and a tennis racket into our house to capture a 4-inch animal. (For the animal rights folks reading: the dog actually flushed it out and they captured it without hurting it.)

And then there were all the stories about vampires. I mean you would have to live under a rock to not know about Edward and the sparkling vampires of the west coast who don’t fly – they run super fast. I was raised on other slightly more sinister stories involving blood and wooden stakes and vampires whose mode of transportation was as bats.

So, a few days ago, this little bat showed up by the front door of the schnabin. I was sure that we were going to have a rerun of the Cleveland story or worse, so you should picture me sitting on my deck in my hoodie prepared to cover my head just in case this creature decided to wake up and swoop down on me unexpectedly. I was pretty sure he was going to get stuck in my hair. I was also pretty sure that he was going to wake up from his nap and fly into the house, so every time someone went in or out of the door I made sure it was shut tightly. Sheila was right there with me.

On the other end of the spectrum were my two little grandchildren, Drew and Hazel, who thought this was about the best thing that I could have provided in the way of entertainment. And Ginna added to the glamour, telling them stories about bats, where they lived, what they ate and other interesting factoids.

We named him – Barnabas – for those of you who do not know the significance – see the 1960’s soap opera Dark Shadows.

A funny thing happened: Once we gave him a name, I noticed a significant shift in my thinking. I actually felt like I knew him – maybe even could get to like him. I had to admit; he was kind of cute – sort of like a tiny hamster hanging upside down sleeping.

Isn’t that what happens when we put a face to a “problem?” It’s easy to talk about the illegal immigrant, until you meet him. Or the homeless person until you actually sit down and talk to her. We all have stories. We all deserve to be valued as creatures of this universe.

I had so many old, stupid stereotypes tucked away that I couldn’t see Barnabas until my sister and my g-babies made me really look at him. Damn, he was cute and so small that if he ever actually got stuck in my hair, I could simply pick him out and send him be on his way. And by the way, he eats bugs and does not suck blood, so that’s a bonus.

On the last night that my sisters were here, Ginna sat with Drew and Hazel at dusk as Barnabas woke up. I joined them (sans hoodie). It was kind of cool. We watched him wiggle around and stretch out his wings and finally fly away. I’m not gonna lie – the wings were a little creepy, but it was like watching one of the god’s creatures get ready for their day (or the night shift in this case). Pretty cool.

Everyone left for home yesterday. I got up this morning and checked to see if Barnabas had returned to his perch. Alas, he wasn’t there. He must have sensed that those who accepted him had gone. I hope he comes back. I promise, I’ve learned my lesson.

An Open Letter to my Grandparents re: Bruce Beach

Dear Nana and Grandpa,

We have two family gatherings this summer. The first is the gathering of our immediate family in Colorado we call Schningerfest. The other is the Masson family reunion in Kincardine. Both of these events are the descendants of an annual ritual established by you two.

Children grow so quickly and seeing the gbabies this summer I couldn’t help but think about how much they will change before the next time I see them. I suppose if I lived in the same town as they do, I might feel differently, but only seeing them every 6 months or so compounds the feeling that I am missing so much of their lives.

I think you felt that way about us too. Your family was scattered and you only saw us once a year for many of my formative years. I’m pretty sure that’s why you bought the cottage at Bruce Beach. It was your way of making sure we would stay connected.

So, this weekend we will celebrate that tradition. Not all of us will be there. Some are gone and some live too far away. Some of those attending will be there for the first time. They weren’t even born when we cousins picked raspberries and built tree forts. They never experienced bonfires on the beach or swam to “the rock.” No one ever told them the story of the seaweed monster or watched them skinny dip in the cold Lake Huron waters. They didn’t read all of the James Bond novels before they were movies or swing in the big swing at the back of the cottage out of the wind. They never used the outhouse (or painted it) or tried desperately to tune in CKLW on the 1950s radio. They never experienced a north blow or roasted marshmallows over the fire on chilly evenings.

And there are so many other memories to share: The “bunny rabbit” store and anchovy paste on toast in the morning. Cheese bunnies and learning to dance under the tutelage of the farm girl who came to help out every summer. The rope swing, the golf course, the tennis court, the nightly games of baseball on the beach umpired by Mr. House. Buying fresh bread in town with a quick stop at the “dime” store and a drive by of the “diamond” house. The Pine River cheese store and picking up fresh eggs at the farm at the top of the hill. Marking on the closet door how tall we’d grown over the last year, and best of all, marching down Main Street behind the Pipers on Saturday nights. Well, maybe second best – let’s not forget my honeymoon and the weekend the whole Tom Masson clan showed up to “chiverie” us.

What memories are we making for our family at Schningerfest? It would be fun to ask them, but I’ll guess for now. I’d say the Hot Springs and the BIG slide, hiking, camping in the Aspens, s’mores, tie dying shirts, “dance party,” the Kitty fort, hot chocolate at the Roastery, Lake Marmee, dress up, painting with Diddy, the park, making “sand” castles by the Arkansas River, yoga on the deck, star gazing, excavating for arrowheads and panning for gold, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, and, of course, cousins.

We all hope to leave a legacy of some sort. You gave us Bruce Beach, but more than that, you instilled in us the importance of family – tied together with the memories we share of those summers. That tradition has continued at the Windover compound in Michigan, at John and Mary’s cottage on Lake Huron and at Uncle Peter’s cottage on Lake Rosseau. We are blessed to be able to join in with the Schnabin.

Thank you Nana and Grandpa for having the foresight to begin it. We are proud to continue in your footsteps.



The Birds: An Update and Possible Retraction

2014-06-19 11.37.17

It seems that I may need to retract some of my vitriolic rant against Woodpeckers.

I had the g-babies here for several days along with their other grandma who actually knows something about birds.  After some observation of said birds, a few sparkle waters, and a perusal of the Birds of Colorado Field Guide, we ascertained that the birds to whom I have become attached (Tree Swallows) actually “nest in former Woodpecker cavities.”

Okay, so the Woodpeckers got there first – but they are so much bigger.  I think we have a case of Clybourne Park in the wild going on at the Schnabin.

In the meantime, I have moved the owl which was purchased to scare away the terrible Woodpeckers who are taking over the world (pictured above with Hazel who is making it even scarier) to the back balcony.

The “birds” are using it as an outhouse and it’s just gross.



The Birds

the bird
We have been having some bird drama around the schnabin over the last couple of days.
Last year when I arrived here for the summer I noticed that a critter had bored a hole in the siding on the east side of the schnabin.  I thought maybe it was bees, but then I noticed a long piece of grass…it was a bird family that had taken up residence at the schnabin.
A few weeks later as I was making beds in the bunk room where the gbabies sleep, I heard some tweeting- and I don’t mean the social media kind.  Apparently a new batch of eggs had hatched.
Drew and Hazel were visiting for a few days and we watched as the mama and papa birds flew up to the hole in the siding with breakfast lunch and dinner.  At first we didn’t see the chicks.  But after a few days they began poking their heads out of the hole waiting for food.
Then one afternoon when we checked on them, the mama bird was sitting on the telephone wire coaxing the babies out of the hole to test their wings.  At first they looked like they were going to crash as they careened this way and that.  But after a few days they were doing loop-do-loops in the air and I swear I could hear them laughing.
The day after girls left, I was once again making beds in their room and I noticed that the twittering had stopped.  The little birds had all flown away.  It made me sad.
I shared this story with the graduating class in May because it reminded me of their journey through the program.  Somehow between the association with the gbabies and my graduating students, I got attached to those little birds.
You can imagine how happy I was when I arrived and found mama and papa bird were back.  Drew and I watched them as they flew into the hole in the siding “feathering” their nest (how the heck did she know that word?)
Everything was going along as it should until I woke up to the sound of a woodpecker.  It wasn’t pecking on a tree, the sound was clearly coming from the east side of the house.  I poked my head out the door and sure enough a big-ass woodpecker was pecking away at the little birds’ home as they watched helplessly from the telephone wire.  There were two of them and they were four times the size of my little birds.  I chased them away, but they kept coming back and by the end of the day, the little birds had moved on.  They knew when they were beaten.
I can’t help but think about the gentrification of our cities.  How often do the “great and powerful” come in and chase the little guys out in order to feather their nests?  What happens to the little birds who can’t begin to fight for their homes?
Well, this time I’m going to intervene on behalf of the little birds.  Turns out I’m bigger than the woodpeckers.  That hole will be sealed up for good.  Score one (sort of) for the little guys – wherever they ended up.

G-babies and Sparkle Water



Good friends of ours just announced that they are going to be grandparents for the first time. I remember when Bekah told me she was pregnant. I didn’t have a clue what was about to happen – but it’s not like anything I could have imagined.

My grandmother used to say that grandchildren and grandparents have a special bond because they have a mutual enemy. Now that is a little strong, but I have to say that there is definitely a special relationship that we have.

I have four granddaughters: Drew, Hazel, Ruby, and Evie; two step-grandchildren: Ally and Jake; and two more on their way (one is a girl, and I’m guessing the odds are that the other one is too).

Now when I first found out I was going to be a grandmother, I went through the whole mental freakout about being too young to be a grandmother – somehow my image of myself shifted from being a semi-hip 50ish woman to someone more closely related to Mamie Eisenhower. I vowed never to wear those stupid grandma shoes and to always be cool – as one of my students calls it – a “glamma.”

Turned out that the g-babies couldn’t care less. They think I’m young (I asked them how old they thought I was and they said 7), cool because I let them drink “sparkle water” for breakfast, and semi-hip because I took them to their first drive-in movie.

So far they don’t care what I wear as long as I can hike up mountains and go down the “big slide” at the hot springs.

They constantly entertain me, even though half the time they are a bazillion miles away. Just a picture of their shenanigans is enough to make my day.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have the day-to-day worries of parenting or maybe it’s because somewhere between their parents and them I figured out that if I relaxed it would be so much better.

Whatever it is, my friends Kris and Bruce are in for a treat.

I must go and chill the sparkle water, the g-babies are coming for a visit tomorrow.