The air was crisp against my face, the ground crunched with ice underfoot. I looked up at the dawn brightening sky, attempting to determine why this morning was lovely when others had merely been cold. It was certainly not the task which occupied my hands. Pulling a garbage can to the curb is arguably the least-lovely of possible tasks. The sky had no explanations for me, just a broad expanse, pink tinged at the edges. The difference then, must be in me if the sky, cold, and ice were unchanged from days prior. This morning I carried with me a soul ready to appreciate and see the beauty when other mornings I focused on my steps and task. Work focus is so often necessary in a world where productivity is survival. Yet the tiny pause in appreciation of the frosty sky did not impede the completion of a mundane task. It elevated it. And I returned to warmth and light a little better for knowing the frost.
My kids were out of school for five days. Instead of packing up everyone and heading out for adventures, we stayed home to do comforting things and a few projects. Some of the projects took place in the video game world, but mine were house and harvest.
Years ago we planted grape vines. The starts were gifted to us by a Schlock fan who worked at a vineyard, so we have varieties that aren’t typically seen in home gardens. The vines have matured and we now get a huge harvest each fall.
This year there was a boom in snail population, because for each batch of grapes we brought in, I had to rescue dozens to a hundred tiny snails. The finger pictured is a pinky finger.
The snails had to be rescued because once the grapes were de-stemmed, we cooked them into juice.
Then the juice was cooked into jelly. It was a lot of stove work and glass bottles.
The kitties had their own ideas about how to spend the weekend.
On the Monday of the break there was a different project entirely. We had a big solid redwood playset that we purchased when our kids were little. For the past five years or more, it has sat in our yard unused gathering detritus. We decided that it was time for the playset to move to a home with two six year old boys and a baby. So bright and early we began work.
The job and playset were bigger than the new playset owners expected. But I put my crew of adult-sized kids to work and things came down pretty quickly.
The disassembly process showed me all the ways in which this playset is amazingly solid after sitting outside in the weather for more than 15 years. It also let me see that being disassembled is the best possible thing to happen to it. The new owners will be able to clean everything up, replace aging bolts, re-stain, and replace the few boards that are showing structural wear. I’m glad it is going to people who are excited to do that work. I would never have gotten around to it.
It is always interesting to see what you find in a project like this one. I figured out where all the kid scissors went. We used to have so many rules about scissors not going outside. Rules that were apparently not heeded as evidenced by the graveyard of lost scissors.
Now there is a big empty space in my yard where the playset used to stand. Everything feels open and new possibilities are beginning to be mulled over.
All in all, it was a lovely use for a long weekend. Though I was physically tired at the end of it.
I had a moment of quiet delight when I opened my laptop to enter the Wifi password and I discovered that my computer (Calcifer) had already connected. Calcifer remembers this place. So do I. This is my third visit to Woodthrush Woods. Even on my first visit the house felt welcoming and familiar, as if I’d been here before and only forgotten. The exact quote from a blog post I wrote at the time was:
I used to dream about my grandma’s tiny house. In the dreams I went upstairs and through a door to discover that her house had extra rooms and floors. Stepping into Woodthrush Woods was like stepping into one of those dreams, my grandma’s house–only different and bigger.
This visit there is actual familiarity along with that welcoming feeling. My first visit to this house is chronicled in a series of posts starting here. And my second visit starting here. That first visit was five years ago, time slipped past while I was not measuring. The switch over to cruises for the Writing Excuses retreats was the right choice for everyone concerned, but it did mean there were fewer events to draw me to visit this house.
Reading back over the posts I wrote five years ago, during that first retreat, I can see how far I have come. Back then I barely even had the word Anxiety to describe what I was wrestling with. It is so obvious now that anxiety was the issue, but in 2012 I didn’t know that. That trip was six months before the kids began hitting mental health crises. It was before all the diagnoses, tears, grief, and depression. It was back when my whole life was shaped by my anxieties and I couldn’t even see it. That trip dragged it out into the light and demonstrated why it was a problem. Since that trip I’ve traveled a long and winding emotional road. Coming back into this place shows me how far I have come. I am stronger and more fully myself that I was five years ago. My family has a nuanced lexicon of ways to self-assess and manage the now-acknowledged mental health issues that each of us deals with daily.
Pausing to acknowledge the road I’ve traveled these past five years is apparently the first work of this writer’s retreat morning. Time for the next thing.
As I listened to Hardcore History’s series on World War 1, the narrator spoke in detail about how that war was a watershed in human history. Afterward everything was different than before. And it all began abruptly, with a single event that led to a cascade of other things until all of Europe was at war. I remember in particular one segment after the war had begun when the narrator spoke about average citizens in their home countries, that they didn’t understand yet that the world had changed. They went about their lives, had picnics, went to work, complained about the small inconveniences of life. The narrator was so surprised, how could the people not be struck by the trend of events?
In the past week my country ordered a strike on Syria. North Korea has been in the news. This same week my daughter spent hours by a pond catching frogs while we’re on vacation. I sent emails to continue a work project because I have a responsibility to see it through. I took pictures of the pond and of flowers. And I begin to understand why those people over a hundred years ago went on picnics. Some of them knew that the world had changed. They knew that death, grief, and disaster were coming for them. So they treasured the picnic while they had it.
The terrible pictures on the news exist in the same world as my pictures of bumble bees and blue skies. For a while I was participating in political discussions on social media. Lately I’ve been so overwhelmed with it all, and with my own urgent tasks, that I have not. I feel guilty about this. I should do more, spend more effort, time, money to improve the world for those who struggle more than I do. At the same time I know that if I deplete myself I will not have stamina for the long haul. Taking care of others is always a long haul. And if the current folks in power get to stay in power, that haul will last at least four years. I’m keenly aware that my efforts or lack thereof have an effect on whether they get those four years. My personal effect is minuscule, but not nothing.
One of the things I feel I can do is provide some places of respite. I can share my pretty pictures. Because when souls are beaten up and grieving over terrible images, sometimes beautiful things can help. I have to remind myself that the picnics which the hardcore history narrator marveled at were important. People on the front lines desperately need to know that there is something normal, beautiful, peaceful that is worth saving. When people rotate off the front lines something comforting needs to be there for them so that they can rest up before doing battle again.
So here are some of the pretty pictures of a vacation that occurred simultaneously with a series of events which may cascade and permanently change the world I live in.
My amaryllis is blooming. It sits on the edge of my tub right by the bathroom door. I can’t see it until I enter the bathroom, then it is right there, a giant beautiful flower. I keep being surprised by it, “Oh that’s right. I have a flower.” Life needs more big beautiful surprises in it, particularly in mid winter.
I would like to start today with something beautiful, so here is a photo I took last spring of my apricot tree blossoming.
Dolphins have a series of sounds that they always use when approaching another dolphin. Each dolphin has a unique set of sounds. This means that dolphins name themselves and routinely introduce themselves by name.
If you place two Tayler kids at adjoining tables, they will create little fortresses and villages out of sugar packets.
Different ships have different social structures between staff and guests. This one felt more stratified than the last ship. I kept trying to put my waiter and my room attendant at ease and was never able to quite do it.
The world is full of amazingly kind people. Many of them were our attendees and teachers for this event.
Having a larger ship does not mean I’ll feel the ocean less. Because the ship was so tall and the underwater portion shallow in comparison, I felt the motion of the ship most of the time. I never felt sick with it except on the one night where I was in the highest lounge of the ship while the ship was skirting the edge of a storm.
I do not like it when they make the dining hall staff dance to music. I’d much rather be having conversations. They danced four times during the week. It was a lot.
Sometimes the light strikes the water in a way that makes crepuscular rays reflecting down into the water. This is hard to catch on film, but I tried.
There were lots of knowledge gaps in my children’s experiences of travel. Howard and I were frequently explaining things and demonstrating things. They had to be shown how to navigate an airport, how to order room service on a ship, how to share elevators with lots of other people, how to be polite in all the small ways that are necessary in crowds.
Bringing kids onto a crowded ship with fourteen decks, then making them stay for a week, is an effective way to exterminate elevator anxiety.
While some of my kids dove in, did their own research, and ran off to do things, I had to be cruise director for some of the other ones. I had to book tickets to shows then require them to actually attend those shows, which they then enjoyed.
Nassau has iguanas everywhere. This delighted all Taylers.
Dusk while pulling away from port is beautiful.
Standing on a balcony and watching water flow by is a huge destressor. Riding a smaller boat with wind in my face is also a destressor while simultaneously being invigorating.
Dan Wells will let his assistant paint his nails if the polish is glow in the dark with tiny bats.
If we leave the room set up and the mics hot, apparently attendees will host a spontaneous Writing Excuses episode with various people playing the part of the cast members.
Swimming with dolphins will make my daughter vibrate with joy.
Other people genuinely like my kids and find them charming. This is nice to know because I often worry that their various intensities will make them bothersome in public.
Old Heidelberg is a marvelous restaurant and I should eat all the potato pancakes.
When there is a fire at an airport, security will completely empty the terminal and we’ll get to stand in a long line waiting to get into the building. Once inside I could smell that it had been a bread fire, it smelled exactly like scorched toast. Then I thought about it and realized that the evacuation was not an over reaction. A small fire could be a staged distraction and they had to rule that out before allowing travelers back into the building.
If you let Gleek loose with a free afternoon and a pool area populated with little lizards, she will become so expert at catch and release that she can practically just walk up to them and pick them up. Also, she will manage to tame them so that they’ll just sit on her hands and shoulders.
Those photos with water and hair flips are a lot harder to pull off than you would think. Water up the nose is a serious issue. Also if you have long hair, it requires serious back muscles to move the weight of the hair and water.
Given the opportunity, a conference of writers will claim space in a lounge and gradually all the other people will leave because we’re talking about weird stuff.
While on a cruise, strangers will use the elevator ride to divulge random details about their lives. Sometimes this is delightful, other times it’s just weird.
If you put siblings into tiny cabins for a week, all the latent rivalries and tensions will come to the surface.
Day three is when kids melt down and want to go home. Day five is when they really settle in to the rhythms of ship life.
An autistic adult who is removed from most of his familiar routines, will need someone to be with him pretty constantly so that he doesn’t retract inward into loneliness and sadness. Also the newness of things means he can’t fully enjoy them. They have to repeat and become familiar before he can evaluate if he actually likes them.
When we are willing to be vulnerable with each other, a powerful connection can be formed in a very short span of time. Also a single sentence can tell a powerful story. I witnessed nine people take painful personal stories and distill them into a single sentence as part of an exercise. It was amazing.
My camera has settings that let me catch moon on water (If a bit dark and blurry). You can also see the constellation Orion if you look right of the moon.
I need my trips to have spaces of unscheduled time so that I can process the experiences I’m having. I’m home now and life is moving onward. Some of those thoughts are going to be lost or buried unexamined.
I love writer people. (This isn’t a new thing I learned, but it is a thing I’ve been reminded of.)
Royal Caribbean has an entire Autism program. I knew that before embarking, but I thought it was kid focused so I didn’t tap into it on the ship. After disembarking I learned that they’re trained to help autistic adults as well. If I’d engaged with guest services we would have had a different week. But since every single hard thing opened up new knowledge and realizations for all of us, I’m not sure I’d trade away the week I had. If there is another time with my son along, I’ll have a conversation with guest services.
Sand and water are good for hours of entertainment, even when the kids are all grown up.
Sometimes when I make my kid go along on an excursion that he really doesn’t want to do, he will discover that he loves part of it. Same was true for dinners and shows. I need to make him do more things that make him uncomfortable so that his world can become larger.
Sometimes it only takes small things to create happiness.
There are people who can understand what I’m dealing with and will give me hugs when stuff is hard.
The WXR staff is amazing. We watch out for each other and tell each other when to take time off or to nap. When an emergency comes up, everyone steps in and helps so that the conference proceeds smoothly while the emergency is managed. And happily the emergency was minor and resolved without any long term consequences.
Ships on the ocean leaves trails in the water, much like airplanes leave contrails in the sky.
All of that, and I’ve only begun to mention the things I’ve learned in the last ten days. I wish I had the funds to travel more with my kids. I wish I had the time to travel more. I’m looking forward to next year’s WXR cruise in Europe.
I had a marvelous, wonderous, complicated, challenging, stressful, joyful, beautiful trip.
I have spent the last ten days away from my house with all of my children. We traversed the country via shuttle and airplane. Then we got on a ship to sail for seven days. Today we returned home. I have so many thoughts about all of it.
The event was the Writing Excuses Workshop that for the past two years has taken place on a cruise ship. I wrote about it last year. This year was also magical, but also more exhausting because I was pulled in more directions. My children had never taken a trip like this one before and they needed help learning how to manage themselves and navigate the cruise experience. I did not have many down times where I got to emotionally process the experiences. I was often up until 2 or 3am, either because I was finally getting a chance to sit and have a lovely conversation or because one of my kids hit meltdown at midnight and it took that long to help them sort it.
The entire thing pinged between marvelous and exhausting. I had joyous moments with my family. I also had moments which made me cry because I don’t have fixes for hard things in their lives. Pretty much all the sibling conflicts busted open at one point or another. The kids finally said to each other some of the things that they’ve only been willing to say to me. Their world is a different place post-cruise. We’ll see what changes that makes in the patterns of our lives back at home. I would like for some things to be different.
There is real power in taking a family, pulling them all outside their comfort zone, and then trapping them there for a week because we simply can’t abort the experience until the ship gets back to port. I flat out couldn’t solve some of the problems, which meant the kids had to face the problems and deal with them. It was hard on them sometimes. Mostly it was hard on Link, who is a creature of patterns and habits. The family had to take turns helping him get through. Gleek loved the teen program and ran her own schedule. Kiki loved being staff for the conference. Patch had an abundance of time to read and enjoyed being at the adult tables for dinner. Link discovered he loves snorkeling.
And all of that doesn’t begin to touch the conference aspects of the cruise. I renewed friendship with people who have attended prior events. I made new friends. I got to meet in person some people that I’d only known online. It was very difficult to be pulled away from conference classes and conversations to check on kids, manage kids, require kids to try things they didn’t want to try (which they then loved). I wanted to spend all my time in classes, in conversations, in helping manage the event, in sitting down to get my own work done.
I got no work done other than staying on top of email. Work was one of the pieces that simply didn’t fit. I don’t know what that means for work this week. Howard had trouble clearing space to be working as well. If we had not had the kids, I think we would have gotten much more done.
I have many thoughts about cruises, about kids on cruises, about cruises and special needs people, about the social environments on the ship, about the shows on the cruise (which I would not have seen except that I needed to pull kids into activities,) about the size of the ship itself and whether it is wise to make a ship that large. Our ship was one of the largest in the world. I hadn’t really wrapped my head around that fact until I got off the ship at Nassau and saw this:
One guess which was our ship. Gleek got off the ship onto the pier and looked up to the top of the ship beside us. “They’re like mountains!” she said then she turned to look up at our ship “Whoa, ours is even bigger.” I’m glad to have sailed on a giant ship once, but I preferred the smaller ship last year.
I have even more thoughts about the emotional experiences of this event. I need some quiet processing time before I can frame those thoughts. But I will say this, every time an emotional thing was hard, I was able to see exactly why it was an important experience to have. Not fun, but definitely important.
On the other hand, anytime things felt hard, I could step out onto my balcony and watch the water flow by. Within moments my spirit would quiet and calm would flow over me. I really need a door in my house which opens up to a balcony like that.
I’m exhausted both physically and mentally. I want to bounce right back into work, into helping the kids get their schoolwork made up, into being effective in regular life. But I have some sleeping and processing to do. Emotional processing is important work and it requires a free space of time for it to happen. Right now, bed.
My neighbor invited me to run away from responsibility for a few hours and join her for a wander through lovely gardens. I know better than to say no to that.
So we wandered paths and found hidden nooks where we could sit and visit.
The garden is having a tulip festival, so there were many other people at the gardens with us, but that didn’t change the beauty of the flowers. And I managed to keep them out of most of my photographs, thus giving the illusion of a solo walk through beauty.
Following the stream led us to the Monet pond. The waterlilies aren’t blooming yet, but the koi were abundant and beautiful.
Many of the flowers were familiar to me, even if I didn’t know the particular variety. There were tulips everywhere, of course.
Other flowers I’d never seen before, like this plant which was as large as my head, and seems to be related to a cabbage.
I think that the tulips I loved best were these ones, which were like sunlight in flower form, particularly when planted en masse.
As we were wending our way to the exit we were delighted to discover a flight of umbrellas hanging from the trees.
If you’d told me before I saw them that a grouping of umbrellas could make me think thoughts of taking joyful flight, I would have had a hard time picturing it.
I came home with a heart filled with happiness, a camera filled with pictures, and my head filled with hours of visiting with my friend. Sometimes running away is a beautiful thing.
I’ve had tulips for as long as I’ve owned this house (18 years and counting). There was an abundance of them in the front flowerbed the first spring after I moved in. The thing with tulips is that most varieties of them will only come back for a few years before dying out. There are a few exceptions, mostly in bright yellow and solid red. Over the years I’ve dug up beds, redistributed tulip bulbs, bought new bulbs, and generally been a disturber of the earth. Some years I tend my flowers. Other years only the fittest will survive the incursion of weeds and neglect. Yet I’ve always had yellow tulips because they persistently grow and spread. One patch will die out, but another will thrive. In my backyard, yellow tulips are the only ones I have because I’ve not taken time to re-plant other colors. Except this spring I looked out my back window and saw a surprise. Pink tulips in my backyard flower beds. There are three of them in three different places and I don’t know how they got there. I’ve never seen pink in the back garden before. I know I didn’t do any planting last fall.
My mind spins on the puzzle as I stand at the window. I ruminate on spontaneous hybridization (happening identically in three locations) or an accidental scattering of seeds. I assume that tulips can grow from seeds though bulbs work much better. Then I stop myself. This is not a problem that needs a solution. I don’t need to know how they got there, I can just enjoy the fact that they are. This is one of the things I love about seeing my garden year after year. It always changes. There is always some surprise or a new manifestation. This trio of apricot-colored tulips used to be giant and in classic tulip shape. Yet this year they are small and airy. It probably means that in another year or so they’ll vanish as tulip varieties so often do. Then I’ll plant some other tulip in that spot, or perhaps the lilies will take over. Each spring my flowerbeds change. They are different than the year before.
In fact the beds change not just year to year, but day to day. I’ve been noticing this as I spend five or ten minutes wandering outside with my camera in hand. I’m looking for things to photograph for my April photo a day that I’m posting on twitter. Some of the flowers I photographed only a week ago have lost their petals and are done for the year. Others have shown up where I didn’t expect a flower at all. And then there is the slow watching of plants and flowers developing. This peony won’t bloom until late May or June, but the buds are beginning to grow now. They’ve grow in just the past week.
I’m always a little sad when I see the flowers begin to lose their petals. The tulips drop theirs fairly dramatically. One day flower, next day just a stem. For today the palm-sized petals are still lovely even on the ground. I know the tulips will be back again next year and they need to make way for the summer flowers which are just beginning to shoot up. I wish that the serendipity of unexpected beauty were as easy to see as in my garden. I wish that emotional growth and development in my children were as simple to spot and photograph as the buds of my flowers. I wish that life made it easier to see that sad things sometimes have to happen because without them future happiness can’t be. I wish these things, but for now I’ll walk my flower beds and feel that the sorts of things I see there are happening in other parts of my life as well. Life is full of beautiful growth, but I won’t see it unless I stop and pay attention.