November 28, 2013

A happy ending for Little Biker Boy

Little Biker Boy was seven years old when he moved into the little trailer down the street. For two years, he and his little sister visited my house just about every single day, staying until dark. I suspected right away they were living in an abusive situation, but I could do little about it, except to give them a safe place to come to when they needed it. I talked to caseworkers at Child Protective Services, but it seemed there was little they could do either. A smart blog reader suggested that I teach Biker Boy my phone number, and I did.

Three years ago, Biker Boy’s family was evicted from the trailer. His mother moved several times, first in with one boyfriend, then another. His sister and little brother disappeared: I was told they went off to live in another town with the sister’s father. Eventually, Little Biker Boy’s mother gave him up. Little Biker Boy moved to one foster home, then another.

During these years, Biker Boy would call me whenever he could. And I’d go pick up, wherever he was. We’d get a slice of pizza, or go for a walk outside somewhere, or go to the store to buy him whatever he needed. Once in foster care, he at least had a team of people working to help him. I had long talks with his newest caseworker and his therapist.

It was just about a year ago that a most wonderful thing happened. A young couple, looking to adopt a child, chose Little Biker Boy. He and I spent an afternoon looking at the photo album they’d put together, and he spent an evening playing board games with them, while his caseworker and therapist were present. Then, they began spending time together on a regular basis. Last spring, he moved in with them.

I couldn’t have picked a better situation for Little Biker Boy. His adoptive mother is a warm, genuine person with lots of energy. His adoptive father is an outdoorsy guy who happily takes Biker Boy fishing and camping. They live in a small town on the edge of a lake, about 40 minutes from my house. His adoptive father grew up in the town, so everyone knows the family and can keep an eye out for Biker Boy. In fact, his parents live next door, eager to be grandparents.

I have been so excited about this situation working out that I’ve been holding my breath, impatient for the adoption to go through. I was afraid to even write about my visits to Little Biker Boy on the blog, scared that I might jinx something. (The foster agency had rules about how his adoptive mother couldn’t put photos of him on facebook so I did think maybe I shouldn’t post anything on the internet either, even if it’s anonymous.)

But finally, it happened. The adoption is official. Little Biker Boy has a family now, who love him and treat him well. It’s appropriate, I think, that this all happened late in November because I am very, very thankful.

November 25, 2013

My Mom turns 80


When my mother bought a six-pack of beer at the grocery store this morning, the cashier asked to see her driver’s license to make sure she was old enough. I think the young cashier probably felt a little foolish when she looked at the date on Mom’s license.

My mother turned 80 years old today.

We celebrated last weekend. To begin, I picked my parents up at lunchtime on Friday. We drove to an old inn on the first of the Finger Lakes, where my parents ate fish sandwiches with beer while I enjoyed a salad. The inn is more than 200 years old, and my father says that he has a friend who used to work there back in the 1950s. I loved that the inn had put up a tall Christmas tree covered with white lights and old-fashioned ornaments right next to the tall, curving staircase.

When my parents asked the friendly waitress if the inn had any ghosts, she responded by bringing over another waitress, who had worked there for years and could tell us which chandeliers sometimes swayed mysteriously. She also told us about the time that a customer, who had been asking if the inn was haunted, left a digital camera by accident. The staff dressed like ghosts and filled the camera with ridiculous pictures before the customer returned to pick it up. That story almost made me want to leave my camera by mistake.

After a relaxed lunch, we continued driving past cornfields and old red barns, and past a wildlife refuge set aside for migratory birds. We stopped in the next major town to visit a beautiful old mansion, once owned by a nineteenth century politician. An enthusiastic young man gave us a tour of the cosy upstairs bedrooms, filled with fireplaces and little tables and beds draped in fabric, the elegant downstairs rooms, and even the basement, which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Our destination was a hotel at the north end of a finger lake. The Finger Lakes are long thin lakes formed by glaciers, surrounded by farmland and vineyards, famous for wine tours. By the time we reached the hotel, the rest of the extended family were arriving. We gathered at the hotel bar, ordering more food and drinks every time more family members arrived, and making plans for the next day. Text messages kept chiming in on my phone as the various grandchildren checked in to the hotel.


My parents’ room – a spacious corner room overlooking the lake — became the party room, where we all gathered to talk and play games. Saturday morning, we walked on the trail by the lake, enjoying the sunshine. We found a cafĂ© in town for lunch, and we pretty much took over the place. One group went off to visit some wineries. Some of us swam in the hotel pool. Taekwondo Nephew actually swam in the lake, a pretty chilly endeavor. We all dressed up for dinner on Saturday night, 21 of us gathered for the meal, and we ended the night all gathered in my parents’ room, talking and eating again. Sunday morning, we woke to snow, and we took a blustery, winter walk out on the pier.

What I love about my family is that everyone is always concerned about whether or not everyone else is having a good time. Red-haired Sister took me aside and said, “Do you think everyone will want some snacks for late at night?” and then she went out to buy all kinds of goodies that we could munch on when we gathered that evening. The grandchildren kept asking me, “What do you think Grandma would like? A trip to a winery? A walk by the lake?” And my parents kept asking, “Are the young people having fun?” It seems like every person was mostly concerned with making sure that everyone else was having fun. And that made for a wonderful weekend.

  Winter morning

November 20, 2013

Evening comes early in November

Sunset from a car window

I hate how quickly it gets dark on a November evening. No matter how spectacular the sunset (and I snapped this one through a car window), it's hard to enjoy when it happens at 4:30 pm. I keep thinking that I should embrace the dark evenings of fall and enjoy the cozy evenings by the fire, but the truth is that I just keep thinking about how wonderful the long days of summer are.

We've had a little snow already, but what we really need is a foot or so, enough to cover the ground, create snowbanks along the roads, and make the night world brighter with all of that white.

November 17, 2013

At the docks

At the docks When I was a child and we went on vacation, my father always wanted to go look at boats. If we were near a marina or a fishing village or a yacht club – really, it didn't matter what kind of boats – he'd get up early every morning just to walk around on the docks and check out the boats. He's still like that, and now I am too. The second night of our west coast mini-vacation, my husband and I stayed a night at hotel on a sheltered bay. I got up just as it was getting light so that I spend an hour walking the docks. Below the mountains

November 13, 2013

Early morning


My favorite time at the beach is the early morning when I have it all to myself. I walked on the wet sand and looked out at the waves that kept crashing even though I was the only one there to hear them. I wandered about, exploring and taking photos, until the first people began to appear: a fisherman, who set up at the end of a pier, a woman walking a dog, a young man with a camera and tripod, and several surfers clad in black from head to toe, lugging their boards.

November 09, 2013

Totally worth it

It's become a tradition, at the end of every July, for my husband and me to take a vacation together, just the two of us. This year, we'd planned a great trip to the West Coast, where we'd stay at places along beaches or rocky shores. But a few days before we were to leave on the trip, my mother-in-law went into the hospital with pneumonia. So our summer vacation was spent in a hospital room, sleeping on the floor, eating meals the kids brought us, and just being with my mother-in-law during her last days. By the time we held her funeral in early August, the vacation we'd planned was a distant memory.

Then my husband found out that the airline would let him reschedule our flights, as long as we did it before the end of November. Given our work schedules, that meant flying to the West Coast for just a weekend. I wondered, to be honest, if it worth it to go all that way just for a couple of days by the ocean.

This morning, I woke at dawn, my body still on East Coast time. I could hear the sound of ocean waves crashing against the cliffs below the hotel. I dressed quickly, grabbed my camera, and walked out into the misty morning to go explore. Paths led me down the cliffs to a long beach with a wooden pier. The salty ocean breeze was cool, but sun was just beginning to rise over the little oceanside town, making the wet sand glisten. Surfers were arriving, pulling on black wet suits in the parking lot, carrying their boards into the waves. I walked along the sand, listening to the waves, watching the surfers, and feeling happy we'd come.

November 05, 2013

Fairy Ring

Fairy ring

Yes, I have a lawn ornament.

That probably seems out of character. I’ve been known to mock such things. But then, in September, when I was in the mountains with my friends, I was given a fairy.

We each got a fairy, in fact. It was night time, and we were all standing around the fire, a group of women eating homemade treats and all talking at once, everyone excited that we had a whole weekend together. That’s when Signing Woman brought out the fairy ornaments she’d bought at the state fair.

I have to admit, I liked my fairy the minute Signing Woman handed it to me. It was metal, with a little ball of glass that shone in the firelight. We stood there, a circle of woman, each holding our fairy, and then Mystic Woman said, “Let’s put them out in the moonlight.”

I didn’t even bother with shoes. No one did. In bare feet we ran outside, where we could hear the lake crashing against the stone wall that edged the lawn. We stuck the fairies into the ground to form a circle. Even though it was late September, the breeze was warm. We all stood there, talking still, laughing at the way the fairies were twisting and turning in the wind, glistening with moonlight.

The next morning, when I woke up early, the fairies were dancing in the early morning sun. We left them there all weekend, while we sat in the sun and ate scrumptious meals and talked and talked and talked. When finally, we had to leave, we each took our fairy home.

“What do I do with this now?” I asked Long Beautiful Hair, when we arrived at my house and were taking my stuff out of the car. She took the fairy without hesitation and stuck it into my front garden. It’s there still, and I smile every time I walk by, thinking about that weekend with my friends.

November 03, 2013

Last outdoor naked photo of the season

Naked in the barberry bushes

So yeah, the first time I meet someone’s boyfriend? I ask him to pose naked for my blog. Totally appropriate.

In my own defense, he had offered ahead of time. And it wasn’t my fault that the weather turned cold, that temperatures had slid down into the 50s. Or maybe it was the 40s. I don’t have a thermometer, but I do know that I was wearing several layers of clothing when I took the picture. Well, there’s no reason for the photographer to suffer.

I’d expressed my concerns about the weather the night before, right after I checked the forecast and saw that we might be getting snow. But Practically Kin, who like a true friend had volunteered his partner for my project, brushed my worries aside. “This guy’s got Finnish blood,” he said. Clearly, Finnish ancestry makes a person impervious to the cold. That probably explains why I was already wearing winter clothing. I’m half-Italian.

Practically Kin and Finnish Blood stopped by my house in the early morning. They arrived with a whole pan of homemade goodies – sticky buns, apple betty, some kind of apple coffeecake – pretty much any kind of tasty treat you can make with apples. Some people in upstate New York get sick of all the apple-related desserts that surface every October, but I’m not one of them. I put the teakettle on right away, so I could start eating everything.

I liked Finnish Blood right away. He’d heard about my naked blog project, since Practically Kin had posed over the summer, and we jumped right into a discussion about nudity while we drank our tea. “Little kids are comfortable running around naked,” he said. “But then at some point these cultural taboos take hold.”

I told him about an incident that happened back when my kids were little, and I had a bunch of women over for a playgroup in my backyard. It was an unexpectedly warm day in spring, and the kids, all under the age of five, began taking off their clothes to run around in the sun. We get long winters in upstate New York, so that first feeling of sun on your skin is wonderful. But one of the women made her toddler put his clothes back on, saying that it was important to teach him modesty. I remember feeling sorry for the kid as he sat down on the edge of the sandbox, properly dressed, while the other kids ran around the yard in carefree abandon.

I know that both men and women are subject to cultural taboos about the body, and the presence of a female photographer can sometimes make men feel uncomfortable. When I take pictures of naked men, I’m usually careful to do what I can to make the man feel comfortable. While he’s getting undressed, I usually busy myself adjusting my camera settings so that he won’t feel like I’m staring. I don’t really get what the big deal is, to be honest, since in my experience, men all look pretty much alike without their clothes on. (Sorry, guys, but it's true. There really isn’t much variation.)

Of course, in this case, I needn't have bothered with discretion. Finnish Blood seems to have shed any cultural taboos about his body, and he was perfectly comfortable stripping off his clothes inside my warm house and then running outside into the backyard, where I’d have natural light for the photo. I called out ideas: “Try stretching! Or dancing! Or maybe you should jump!”

The barberry bushes had turned a bright red, the last brilliant color of the season, which led to my next bright idea: “Get closer to the bushes! Stand near the – WATCH OUT, THEY HAVE THORNS!”

With the exception of the icy temperatures and prickly bushes, the photo shoot went fine. “Totally relaxing,” Finnish Blood assured me. Then we went back into the house to warm up with hot tea and apple coffee cake.

You can read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.