Category Archives: recollections

Death and Taxes

“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” –Benjamin Franklin, 1726

April 15th is known in the US as tax day, the day when tax returns for individuals are due. It is a date that leads to much crankiness and frustration.

The Boston Marathon is always held on the third Monday of April. Marathon Monday is traditionally festive occasion for the state of Massachusetts. Last year was a year when the two dates coincided: tax day and marathon day.

Flowers in Copley Square, from a late summer day several years ago.

With the anniversary the bombing of last year upon us, I find myself thinking back to that day, and the crazy week that followed. I wasn’t in Boston, but my close ties to the city, updates from my school, my colleagues, and my friends, kept me feeling tethered.

I was out with the kids that Marathon Monday, it being a state holiday and the first day of school vacation. Phoebe was recovering from a stomach bug, so we didn’t go far from home. We were parked at the music school before Phoebe’s and my violin lesson when I got text alerts from BU with notification of the explosions, and warnings to stay away from Copley. I couldn’t really process the news, and didn’t want to worry the kids. As the afternoon and evening wore on, I found more detailed reports of deaths and injuries. Like so many, I worried about the safety of my friends, and realized that my friends and family would worry about the safety of me and my family. It was very unsettling to learn that one of the dead was a BU grad student. (I, too, am a BU grad student.) I found myself wondering about the other BU grad students I know. Were they safe? The news that one of the people killed was a little kid left me feeling shattered. Even though I was many miles away, and my family and I were safe, it all just felt so horribly close and personal.

The view from Storrow Drive at dusk, from 2010.

That week, I remember reflecting on my fondness for the city, and spent probably too much time hunting for photos I’d taken there. (Naturally, I have hundreds of photos of Boston, if not thousands.) I am not a Boston native, but I have lived outside Boston for over 18 years. I spend a lot of time in the city. It feels like home.

Today I got caught up in memories, reading stories and articles of the many lives that were so deeply affected by the bombings. I was distracted and contemplative, and managed to get a time mixed up for something I’d committed to, which made me very cranky and off-kilter.

The day ended up rainy and stormy, which actually quite fit my melancholy mood. And probably also the cranky moods of so many faced with the frustrations of tax day.

Under my umbrella this afternoon, waiting to get the kids off the school bus.

drip, drip, drop

It rained today, a little April shower.

I didn’t get any photos of the rain today, but here is a photo from March. I liked the way the drips lined themselves up. (And now I like the way we no longer have snow on the ground. We were away for the weekend, and the last of the snow had departed by the time we returned.)

The drips and drops remind me of the song “Little April Shower,” which I loved as a little girl. We had the record (it must have been a single) and I used to play it over and over on a little plastic record player. I’d do a little dance (not shown). Here is the clip of the song from the Disney movie:

As an adult I have enjoyed the Natalie Merchant version off the album Stay Awake. I can’t believe that even that album is now over 25 years old.

Fairy impersonator? (friday foto finder: insect)

When I was a sophomore in high school in California, I had a truly excellent biology teacher. The assignments were creative and varied, and the lessons I learned stuck with me long after the class ended. One of the major units we covered in that class was about the insect world. We learned about all of the orders of insects. A major assignment was to collect, identify and classify insects from as many of the orders as we could. For some orders, it was ridiculously easy to find specimens. Hymenoptera (which includes ants, bees & wasps), diptera (including mosquitos and houseflies), coleoptera (beetles), lepidoptera (moths & butterflies) were a dime a dozen, with multiple species of each of those orders crossing our paths regularly. Others required a bit more persistence, hunting through the grass and under rocks, or stalking the porch light at night.

My best friend and I participated in the project with the same competitive/collaborative spirit that drove our academic success, collecting and comparing our insects with interest and enthusiasm. She, who felt revulsion for earwigs, collected her dermaptera specimen with triumph. I, with my aversion to moths, likewise felt satisfaction in including a feathery-antennaed hymenoptera specimen in my own collection. I don’t remember how many orders we each managed to represent in total, but I want to say that it was somewhere around 17 or 18. (I seem to recall that my friend managed to find one that I hadn’t, a fact which she playfully lorded over me.)

That project forever changed how I look at insects.

Living in the woods in rural Massachusetts, we sometimes get wildlife in our yard and around our house. Sometimes, the wildlife makes its way into the house. Once such bit of wildlife was this character, which turned up in our kitchen one June evening in 2010. It had a long segmented body, perhaps 2 and half inches long, and large lacy wings. I was, naturally, fascinated.


John and I captured it in a plastic tub with the aim of releasing it. I took a few pictures of it, but sadly, they are blurry in the poor lighting conditions. Also contributing to the blur was the fact that the insect was moving constantly, and I found it hard to get my eyes to focus on it, let alone my camera. The long body and the dramatic wings had an ethereal look to them, and I wondered if sighting of such creatures in the wild, fluttering about in people’s peripheral vision, may have contributed to belief in fairies. (Compare this little guy to the mummified fairy remains highlighted on Raincoaster. If you want to study interesting specimens of humanity, some of whom claim belief in fairies, you might have a look at the comments of that post. 2220 comments to date, many of them very entertaining.)

I’m bigger than your little finger.

Having ruled out that we had captured a fairy, I did wonder what exactly we had caught.

I wondered if it might be a large mayfly, (order ephemeroptera, among the more poetically named orders, reflecting the ephemeral nature of their adults’ lives). However, I think it is too large to be one. Additionally, it is missing the long cerci that mayflies have.

Most likely, it is a kind of fishfly, of the order megaloptera. (Apparently the designation of megaloptera as a separate order from neuroptera is relatively recent–I don’t know when this separation happened, though. It may not have been among the orders I learned about in high school.) Megaloptera, as you might guess from the mega prefix, are known to be large. (They are named for their large wings.)

Can I go now, please?

This week’s friday foto finder challenge was to find photos of insect(s). Unlike urban-dwelling az, who resorted to posting other invertebrates, I have quite a few photos of insects in my archives. (Ah, the perks of rural life.) I even have several posts on different insects. I have two ThThTh lists of moth things and butterfly things (order lepidoptera), plus some posts of my own photos of butterflies (again, lepidoptera) and fireflies (order coleoptera). I’m particularly fond of this one, eat or be eaten, which documents the unlucky encounter of a spider (an arachnid, and not an insect) with a damselfly (order odonata).

fff 200x60To see what other specimens have been caught for this week’s assignment, buzz, flit or crawl over to the friday foto finder blog.

But this method doesn’t work with a tomato.

It was my second year of college, in ’90 or ’91, and I sat at a desk in a classroom with maybe a dozen other students of second-year Japanese. The first year, the class had been much bigger, with a good 30 or 40 students. But the workload was heavy, and the grading tough. The enrollment had been whittled down.

The teaching methods were pretty old-school, with textbooks that were probably from the 50s. We did a lot of in-class drills.

That particular day, we were learning the expression “to use something as something else.” (“X to shite Y o tsukaimasu.”) The instructor gave us some examples. He picked up two pencils, and held them as if they were chopsticks. Hashi to shite empitsu o tsukaimasu, he intoned in his booming fluent-but-American-accented Japanese. “I use pencils as chopsticks.” Then he asked for more examples from the class using the construction.

“Use a rope as a belt,” someone might have said. “I use a book as a tray,” someone else might have offered.

I really can’t remember what examples my classmates came up with. Because as I sat there, I needed all of my concentration to contain the urge to giggle. The one sentence that popped into my head was: Nihon de wa, naihu to shite te o tsukaimasu.¹

In Japan, the hand is used like a knife.²

I’m sad to say that I was not called upon to share my example. I was relieved at the time, as I had not yet released my inner goofball. Also, it’s hard to say how the very serious instructor would have taken my contribution. Especially had it been accompanied by uncontrollable fits of giggling.

¹ Google translate helped me arrive at this:
日本 で は ナイフ として手を使います. There was once a time when I could have written this sentence without looking it up, but that day has long passed. Also, I only wrote Japanese by hand. I would have had no idea how to type any of it!
² The actual wording from the 1978 Ginsu commercial is: “In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife.”

heat (friday foto finder)

This is the gas heater from my grandmother’s house, in the mountains of Colorado.

I took this photo in 2004. (It was years after my grandmother died, when my mother lived in the house. But in my memory, it is always my grandmother’s house.) This visit was in August, so the heat was off.

I wish I had photos of it lit, so I could show you the gas flames.

I wish I could share with you the pictures in my head of my sister and I huddled in front of the heater on cold winter mornings.

The house was an old one, with the merest nods to insulation. It had been originally built as a summer house, and then enlarged to become a year-round home. My memories of the house are warm, but in the winter most of the house was cold. The room my sister and I shared upstairs, on visits to our grandmother and for the one year when we lived with her, had a smaller gas heater in it, a wall unit that connected to our grandmother’s room next door. That heater was rarely lit, though, and mornings (especially mornings) in the bedrooms were cold. Frost-on-the-window-panes cold. I remember getting up out of the cozy double bed my sister and I shared (the bed that had once belonged to my great grandmother), climbing out from under the blankets and heavy comforter, and emerging into the chill of the bedroom. We’d rush downstairs, seeking out the relative warmth (and the house’s only bathroom). We’d sit on the floor in our nightgowns those cold dark mornings right in front of the heater, bathed in its warmth and glow. I remember leaning back against the short hallway wall the heater faced, and stretching out with icy hands or feet to warm my fingers and toes, holding them as close to the heater as I dared, my eyes transfixed by the glowing patterns of the ceramic grates and the dancing blues and oranges of the flickering gas flames.

This rather chilly post was brought to you by this week’s prompt for friday foto finder: heat. Please go see what heat others have to share.

p.s. I just noticed that my post title read “friday foot finder,” thanks to autocorrect. This makes me giggle, but I have changed it anyhow.¹

¹ Really, this needed to be a footnote.

Ce matin, un lapin…

This morning, as I went about my business, which included doing tasks which I shamelessly attributed to an imaginary rabbit, a song popped into my head that I remembered from when I was little. “Ce matin, un lapin…”

I don’t know when the last time I thought of this song was, but there is a good chance it’s been many a year. For one thing, I don’t think I ever googled it before, so that may be an indication.

Back in 1980, I moved to France (along with my mother and sister). My sister and I went to an international school outside of Paris. We weren’t exposed to a huge amount of contemporary popular French culture, as we didn’t have a TV, and went to a school with primarily non-French students. However, at some point in the year, I went on a trip with my class into the French Alps. I don’t remember how long of a trip it was (2 weeks, maybe?), but there was a bit more cultural immersion, staying in a dorm run by French employees. There was certainly more music played than was typical of our regular school. I’m pretty sure this was when I would have heard the song, because those are the memories it triggered.

It probably shouldn’t surprise me that I remembered the lyrics a little wrong, or perhaps that I’d misheard them in the first place. (I was 9, and not a native speaker of French, and I don’t remember how often I would have heard the recorded version of the song, and how often I would have heard it sung by other kids.)

I’d thought it went:
Ce matin, un lapin. Ou tu es un chasseur. Ou tu es un lapin qui avait un fusil.
(“This morning, a rabbit, or you are a hunter. Or you are a rabbit who had a gun.”)

I think 9-year-old me interpreted the song to mean something rather philosophical, and somewhat twisted, along the lines of: “Today, will you be the rabbit, or the hunter? Or will you be a rabbit with a gun?” The tenses don’t really make sense for my interpretation, though.

It turns out the song was much more literal:

Ce matin un lapin a tué un chasseur.
C’était un lapin qui avait un fusil.

“This morning a rabbit killed a hunter. It was a rabbit who had a gun.”

Yes, a perky little kids’ song about a homicidal rabbit.

Happy Easter!

a dweam within a dweam

I admit that I have some mixed feelings on marriage. Having seen some marriages that were less than ideal, I grew up thinking that I probably wouldn’t get married. Marriage wasn’t really a goal of mine. I’m a firm believer that a person can be happy and whole without being married.

When I first met John, I certainly didn’t entertain ideas of marrying him. It wasn’t love at first sight. In fact, we were each dating other people when we met. (If you must know, I was dating his roommate.)

But I think I can pinpoint the moment I fell for John. It was over a year after I first met him, and some time after both of our earlier relationships had ended. The moment I fell for John was was, remarkably, right after I fell on my butt.

It was the winter break of my Junior year of college, late December. I had just returned to the US from a semester abroad in Brazil. I went over to my by-that-point-ex-boyfriend’s house to catch up. John was still one of his housemates, and hearing that he was home, I went up to his room say hello. His door was open, and I poked my head in to say hi. Then I glanced at the papers he had taped up on his door, a long vertical banner of dot-matrix printouts. (Did I mention this was 1991?) First was a set of Dan Quayle quotes. Below that was a bunch of quotes taken from insurance claims. I started reading. I snickered. I laughed some more. I read some more. I bent down to read the pages lower down on the door, eventually squatting to read those at knee-level. I read: “I saw a slow-moving, sad-faced old gentleman as he bounced off the hood of my car.” I tried to read it out loud, but was laughing so hard I couldn’t. I laughed so hard I lost my balance, squatting there on my heels. I fell right onto my butt.

You might think that this would be somewhat of an embarrassing turn of events for a reunion with an acquaintance. And perhaps it would have been, except that John, seeing me laughing so hard at things that he had found funny enough to print out and hang on his door, was laughing along with me. And while he may well have been laughing at me for falling on my ass in his doorway, I didn’t mind. I was laughing too hard. And when our eyes met, both of us laughing at the quotes and my clumsiness, I’m pretty sure that was the moment that I knew I had found someone I wanted to know better.

We didn’t get married that night. But we did start seeing more of each other. Then we moved in together. Got engaged. Bought a house. We made some attempts to plan a wedding, but were foiled by various scheduling conflicts with key family members.

We ended up getting married by a Justice of the Peace eight years into our relationship, and shortly before I planned to quit my job. (Die-hard romantic that I was, I wanted to have health insurance.) We’d had a long engagement, and what with living together and owning a house together, even, I felt that we were largely as committed as we needed to be. What with my luke-warm views on the institution of marriage, I didn’t see how being married would change our relationship. I remember commenting to an acquaintance, a married woman a few years older than me, something to that effect. She replied: “Marriage does change things. It gets better.”

I have to say that she was right. It was a subtle shift, but having our commitment be officially recognized made things a bit more settled, and a bit more comfortable. And when we had our party (several years later), the wedding ceremony to celebrate our marriage surrounded by our friends and family, it got even better.

Sometimes, when you are lucky enough to find someone who shares your sense of humor and your worldview, someone you love passionately and who loves you right back, someone who lets you feel at home with yourself, that conventionalized connection marriage gives you makes you feel just a little bit more together and a little bit more at home. It’s a declaration to the world that you know who’s going to be there to help you up when you fall on your butt.

This post is dedicated to Flutter, a remarkably strong, strikingly beautiful woman with a great sense of humor, to share in her joy at getting married. Flutter, I wish you and Clay many happy years full of love, health, comfort and humor. May you laugh your asses off together with abandon. (Emily has invited those who know Flutter to join in on the celebration. To see more of the well-wishing, go see her post “Mawigge is what brings us together today.”)

This post is also dedicated to John, love of my life, who has been there for me, on more occasions than I can count, when I have fallen on my butt (either literally or figuratively) over these past 20+ years.

14 juillet, 1989

The summer of 1989, I was living outside Paris with my mother and stepfather. I had just finished my last year of high school, and my best friend from California came to visit. Her visit overlapped with the 14th of July, known in France as “le quatorze juillet” (or “The 14th of July.”) Also known as Bastille Day, the anniversary of the start of the French revolution. This was to be the bicentennial celebration. There was lots of excitement about the the holiday, and my friend and I made plans to be in Paris for the big day itself.

We got to stay in a studio apartment that belonged to a friend of mine from high school. She was away, and knowing what a long train ride I lived from Paris, had offered the apartment to me for my friend’s visit. It was in the 8ème arrondissement, within walking distance to the Place de L’Étoile and the Champs-Élysées.

The night of the 14th was a beautiful one, and rather cool. I don’t remember what my friend and I did during the day, but by evening, we made our way back towards the Champs-Élysées to watch the big parade that everyone was talking about.

The metro and the streets were packed. Moving from the metro stop, it felt like I was being swept up in a wave of people. We were jammed together so tightly, with people pressing from all directions, I had the sense at times that if I stopped walking, I would be carried along by the crowds. (More likely I would have been trampled.) I find it remarkable that my friend and I didn’t get separated.

As we reached the expansive width of the Champs-Elysees, the crowd thinned enough for us to breathe easier and walk at our chosen pace. We strolled a bit and looked for a place to sit among the crowds on the sidewalks.

I remember very little about the actual parade. I couldn’t tell you who was in it, or even how long it was. I remember my friend’s confusion about why the people along the sidewalks would periodically shout “Ozzy! Ozzy!” (They were really shouting “assis! assis!” to get people closer to the street to sit down and stop blocking the view of those sitting further back on the sidewalk. It could be that part of why I remember so little about the parade was that I could actually see very little of it.)

I do remember that there were big tanker trucks from which people sprayed massive quantities of confetti over the street and spectators.

When the parade ended, after some amount of time, my friend and I got up and walked up the Avenue towards the Arc de Triomphe.

Feeling a bit bruised (possibly literally) from our arrival, we hung back a bit, and didn’t hurry. As we got further up the avenue, the amount of confetti on the ground increased. It had piled and drifted into heaps of little white paper dots. There were still plenty of people around, and the mood was festive. People started to scoop up handfuls of confetti from the street and throw them like snowballs. My friend and I joined in, laughing and tossing confetti at each other. Occasionally, some stranger would lob a heap of confetti our way. At one point, a group of teenage boys came up behind me and dumped a whole shopping bag of confetti over me, leaving me with a purple bag over my head. My friend, rather than coming to my assistance, laughed at me. Understandably.

We continued tossing confetti at each for a while, gradually still working our way up the avenue. At one point, I bent down to scoop another handful, and as I stood up, laughing, met the eyes of a fireman who must have been working crowd control. As soon as I met the fireman’s eye, he sprayed me with a fire extinguisher full on in the face, and turned to spray my friend as well. Perhaps he felt threatened by my hands full of confetti, or perhaps I looked particularly maniacal with my hair full of confetti and my gleeful laughing. (Of course, everyone looked rather wild at that point.) Perhaps it was just his way of joining in the fun. But, man, getting a face full (and a mouth full, since I’d been laughing) of fire extinguisher spray was pretty nasty.

With that acrid taste in our mouths, we continued on up towards the Arc de Triomphe, much more subdued (and rather baffled) after our run-in. By the time we reached the Place de l’Étoile, where traffic was still stopped from the parade, we were feeling pretty tired and dragging our feet a bit. There were still lots of people around, mostly also appearing to be heading away from the scene.

Suddenly, as we walked in front of the Arc, fireworks started directly overhead. Really, I should say capital-F-Fireworks. It was the most spectacular display I’d ever seen, and I’d never been so close to such large-scale fireworks. At times, it seemed as if the sparks would actually fall all the way down to us. (But they didn’t.) The fireworks lit up the smoke-filled air like daytime, and the beauty and awesomeness of the display was almost enough to wash the bitter aftertaste of the fire extinguisher from our mouths.

What’s more, it felt like we had stumbled across a completely unexpected treasure. We hadn’t known that there were fireworks scheduled at that location or time, nor apparently did the various others walking across the Place de L’Étoile that night. We all stopped together in wonder. Had we been in more of a hurry, we would have already been tucked away in the depths of the apartment building, perhaps hearing the muffled booms as we brushed our teeth. Instead, we found ourselves with front-row seats to a once-in-a-lifetime show.

gathering moss

The first time I ever moved was when I was three years old. My family lived in a rental house in Sausalito, California. It was a tiny house built into the hillside overlooking the San Francisco Bay, with 30-odd steps leading up to the house from the sidewalk. One of my earliest memories was of moving day. The movers put down big pieces of plywood over those steps so that they could slide the boxes down to the street level.

That move sent me and my things in two directions, as my parents were separating. My mother rented an apartment a few towns away, and my father rented a house in a neighboring town. My sister and I would go back and forth. A couple of years later, my mother left the apartment for a rental house in another town, and my father rented the same apartment vacated by my mother.

When I was six, my mother, my sister and I moved our things in with my new stepfather, into a big newly built house. My father died that same year, and my mother and stepfather cleared out the apartment that had been one of my two homes for three years. I remember trying to save all I could get away with.

When I was nine years old, my mother, my sister and I moved to France to start anew. We packed up what we could fit in a few suitcases and a big trunk, and headed to Paris. We travelled a bit, stayed in hotels here and there, and finally settled in an apartment in a Paris suburb, near the school my sister and I would attend.

We stayed there a year before returning to the US. We moved in with my Grandmother in her house in a small, rural town in the mountains of Colorado. The following year, we moved to another Colorado town, where we rented a log cabin-style house.

We stayed there for just over 3 years, which up to that point was the longest time I’d spent in any one residence. Part way into my freshman year of high school, we moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. We got rid of lots of things, put some into storage, and moved over with little more than a few suitcases. A few months later, it was back to the mainland, where we settled once more in California. A couple of years later, my mother married a Frenchman and moved back to France. It was the spring of my junior year of high school, and I moved in with a friend’s family for a couple of months to finish the school year. That summer, I moved to France with a few suitcases, though I recall I had my mother’s full sterling flatware set in my carry-on bag.

The next year, I headed back to the US for college. Over the 4-ish years of college, I lived in 2 dorms and 4 apartments. I also had a semester studying abroad in Brazil. If I’d had a car at that point, I could easily have fit all my belongings into it.

In addition to the homes I lived for stretches of months or years, there were more temporary places. Hotels or friends’ homes for a few days here, a few weeks there, filling in the gaps between moves.

How can I count the places I’ve lived? 5 US states and 2 other countries? (Do I count differently the times I moved back to a place after moving away? That happened twice. Unless you count coming back from Brazil, then it was 3 times.) Was it 15 towns, or do I count those other transitional towns? (There were at least 2.) Was it 9 schools during K through 12, or do I not count changes in the same district? (That happened once.) There have been 8 different houses and at least 11 different apartments. (And that one apartment where I lived twice.) Or do I just count the number of times I packed up all my belongings? (Because I doubt I can figure that one out.)

When I was 24, John and I moved up to Massachusetts. When we moved out of that apartment, four years later, it was the longest time I had ever been in one place. Amazingly, that was 10 years ago, as of last month. In May of 1999, we bought our house. That was the last time I moved.

I’ve been in Massachusetts for 14 years now, in New England for nearly 20 years. I never imagined myself staying in one place for so long. (And I never imagined how much stuff I could accumulate.)