Friday, July 31, 2009

A Good Trade

In honor of by beloved wife's birthday, a quote from GK Chesterton. . .

"Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman."

-- from his book, Orthodoxy


And what a woman she is. . .

And blessed am I that she's mine. . .

Friday, July 24, 2009

Adventures in Baby-Having

A while back, my friend Lime blogged about the birth of one of her daughters, by C-section, without benefit of anesthesia, while the power faded in and out at the hospital she was in. I can't top that, but it got me to thinking about some of the childbirth stories we've gathered, over the years. . .


As you might imagine, in the course of bringing eight children into the world, Molly and I have gathered a rather considerable collection of childbirth stories. I am assuming that virtually all mothers have, at one time or another, been involved in a Childbirth Story Swap-Meet; I know that many of you positively relish those. And most fathers, especially in this enlightened age in which the father is most likely to be the mother's 'labor coach', have had their own opportunities to participate in them, as well.

It can become difficult for me, having been through eight of them, to keep all of the details sorted out, especially for the younger kids, but I do remember a few of them, which I'll now endeavor to share with you. Not that you asked, or anything. . .


The first time Molly was pregnant, it was, as you might imagine, very exciting for both of us. And me, having been adopted, this was like my initiation into the 'normal way' of bringing children into the family.

We marked all of the 'firsts' - first time Molly felt the baby kick, first time I felt the baby kick, figuring out how to identify the various parts of the baby's body through the walls of Molly's belly, playing all the little 'push-and-push-back' games with the baby, picking names (a boy's name and a girl's) etc, etc. We had a lot of fun.

As we approached her due date, the excitement increased accordingly. There was false labor, and all the other things that subtly (or not-so-subtly) let us know that it wouldn't be long. One Thursday night, we headed off to bed. I was just drifting off to slumber-land, when suddenly Molly sucked her breath in sharply. I jolted awake, still not quite alert to the world. "What was that?" I asked.

"I think it was a contraction."

Oh, boy. Well, let's just see how things develop. Nothing happened for fifteen minutes or so, and I drifted off to sleep again, until another sharp intake of breath from the other side of the bed jarred me awake again.

"That was another one."

Hmmmm. . . this was getting interesting. And from there, the contractions started coming every ten minutes or so. Which meant that we had a cycle of drifting off to sleep and jolting awake. Finally, Molly got out of bed and called the hospital, and they told her not to come in until the contractions were every five minutes. So she got out of bed, checked the contents of the suitcase she'd packed, and generally engaged in nesting-type behaviors, while I contemplated the backs of my eyelids, and marshalled my energy for the events of the next day.

About 5AM, Molly awakened me, telling me that the contractions had been every five minutes for the last hour or so, and we should probably go to the hospital.

Now, in 1982, the concept of Dad-as-labor-coach was still fairly new. Some of our friends had done it, but it wasn't quite the 'default setting' that it was to become. I was game to give it a shot, but Molly was very clear with me that she wanted no part of any guy helping her have babies. "You don't have the parts, you don't know what to do," she told me. She asked a friend of hers, an older woman who'd had four kids of her own, to be her coach. And I was fine with that. I only asked that I be present for the actual birth, if possible, and Molly agreed to that.

So, she called her coach, and we headed off to the hospital. Once we got there, Molly headed off to the birthing room, while I went to chill in the waiting room. At one point, the doctor popped in on me, just to let me know that things were going well, and that he'd send one of the nurses down with some scrubs for me, when it was getting close.

It was a couple hours later that the nurse came in and tossed me a stack of scrubs to put on. Which I did, and sauntered down the hall to the birthing room. When I stepped through the door, Molly, in the throes of labor, looked at me.

"Um, honey. . . you need to leave." She didn't quite say, "YOU did this to me!" but I'm pretty sure it was in there. The nurse explained that she had just given me the scrubs to put on; it was still a bit before the actual birth, and why didn't I just go back to the waiting room, and somebody would come for me when it was time. So I did.

It wasn't really very long before the next knock came on the waiting room door, and I hustled back down to the birthing room. By this time, Molly was too deeply into the task of ejecting this baby from her body to much notice my presence. The doctor waved me over to look over his shoulder; I could see the hair on the top of our baby's head, and a little more with each push. At one point, the doctor, in an effort to relieve the pressure on Molly's pelvic floor, pushed the baby back just a bit. "You're not pushing it back IN!" Molly shrieked. And the doc used his best bedside-manner voice to assure her that no, he wanted the baby to come out just as much as she did.

The baby's outward progress sort-of stalled for a few minutes, so the doc decided to do an episiotomy. He grabbed his scalpel, and traced a preliminary cut-line, leaving a small line of blood as he did so. Instantly, the thought flashed through my mind, "HEY! You're cutting my wife!" But within seconds, the head was out, and there was a sudden flurry of activity, as the doctor began suctioning out all the openings in the baby's head. Then PLOOP! Out popped our baby girl. Along with a whole mess of blood and amniotic fluid, and placenta, and who knew what else. The doc cut and clipped the umbilical cord, and laid the baby on Molly's breast. "Oh, 1F, it's you! You're born!" Molly cried.

The nurses wiped 1F off, and laid her under a heat lamp while they checked her vital signs, and all that, and she started to look more like a human, and less like a bluish rubber doll.


A couple days later, we brought 1F home for the first time. Molly and I both had twinges of, "Holy shit! We're the parents now! We don't know anything about being parents!"

And for me, being adopted, there was a special, unique sense of awe at 1F's birth - this baby girl was the first person I had ever known who was genetically related to me. . .

In the fullness of time, we did (mostly) figure out the whole 'parenting thing'. At least, 1F has survived to the present day, past her 27th birthday. And we had seven other children, besides. . .


This post has gotten longer than I intended; I suppose I should probably do another installment, with some of the other stories. . .


We'll be gone all next week. It's our community's annual kids' summer camp, and I'm back for a reprise of my role as camp clown music director. This year, Molly is actually on the staff, looking after the young children of some of the other staff (which also means we'll probably be able to share sleeping quarters; so for the first time, summer camp might not be a 'celibate' experience). 7M is our family's only camper, but 2F, 4M and 5M are also on staff, and 8M is coming as a 'tagalong', with Molly's group of younger kids. So our family will be well-represented. But as far as blogging goes, I'll see you all in a week or so. . .

Monday, July 20, 2009

Where Were You. . . ?

This post started out as a quick follow-up to my February post about Growing Up In the 60s, but life, and other things, intervened. . .

And today being the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, it seems an opportune time to bring it back up. . .


The Kennedy assassination was one of those 'definitive' events in US history. As I alluded before, it is almost the marker for the beginning of 'The Sixties', in terms of the broad social/cultural changes that people associate with that period. For people of my generation, it is a huge, bright marker of time in our lives. Ask anyone over 50 where they were, and what they were doing when Kennedy was shot, and they will almost certainly be able to tell you, in great detail. It was a little disorienting when, in the 80s or so, I started running into young adults who, when the question came up, could only say, "I wasn't born yet."

The president was shot on a Friday, in the early afternoon, and I was walking home from school (2nd grade), laughing and goofing around with a few of the neighborhood kids. When we got close to my house, my mother (the one who recently died) burst out of the front door and yelled for me to get in the house, that the president had been shot, and this was no time to be goofing around. Which sort of set the tone, right off the bat.

As it turned out, my dad had just taken a new job, and our family was moving Up North that very weekend. The president's funeral was the following Monday, and I remember going to my uncle's house to watch on TV, before beginning the long drive to our new home. So, for me, the Kennedy assassination was a marker of all kinds of changes in my young life.

For folks of my parents' generation Pearl Harbor was a similar 'watershed' event - the kind of thing where you remember where you were when you heard the news, and you know instantly that this is something huge.

Just like September 11 was, in more recent days.

And the first moon landing, as I mentioned in the earlier post (and today, as already noted, is the 40th anniversary of that auspicious event. . .)

The King and Robert Kennedy assassinations in the spring of 1968 were also huge events. I remember my mom waking us up in the morning (it had to have been one of the last school days of that year), telling us that 'Kennedy was killed last night', and, in my groggy 12-year-old state, I said, "Mom, that was five years ago. . ."

It's funny, but in the comments to the previous post, FTN mentioned the Challenger explosion, and I do think that it was a similar 'I remember' event for quite a few people, even though it hardly portended huge, world-changing events. But I remember very clearly, being at work, as the word began to go through the office, and a bunch of us gathered around the TV set in the lunchroom to watch the coverage. The thing is, for most of us, at least of my age, the space program was sort of one of our 'engineering idols' - these were the best of the best, the guys who epitomized the best of what it meant to be an engineer. So watching that shuttle explode into a million tiny fragments was like watching one of our heroes dying in a car crash.


I have an aunt whose birthday is December 7, 1931; so she was having her tenth birthday party when Pearl Harbor happened. Her daughter, my cousin, was born on November 22, 1963 - the day of the Kennedy assassination. Which was all weird enough. But it became spooky when we realized that my grandma's birthday - the mother of the same aunt - was September 11, 1902; the towers fell on what would have been my grandma's 99th birthday. (Should I be glad that my cousin has no children?)


So - what are the 'watershed' events of your lives - the things that stand out in your memories, that you remember where you were, and what you were doing when you heard?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ebony and Ivory

Jim ‘Suldog’ Sullivan is a blogger whose acquaintance I’ve just recently made, through our mutual friendship with my good blogger-friend Lime. Suldog, along with his friend Michelle Hickman, recently (well, if a couple weeks ago is 'recent') ran parallel posts describing their respective experiences of race relations in their formative years (Suldog is white, Michelle is black). And then Suldog came back with his Chapter Two. Their stories were poignant and honest, and they moved me to share with you some of my own experiences, and a few of my reflections on them. It occurred to me that I’ve never really given a complete account of my experiences vis-à-vis black folks (although my story of my GF1 gives some of it), and that’s actually been something I’ve thought about a fair bit. So, forthwith, I present to you the formative racial experiences of the young Desmond Jones. . .


The town I grew up in Up North was whiter-than-white. I mean, there simply weren’t any black people in our town. None. Zero. Most of my first impressions were formed by the sports I watched on TV – guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, or closer to home, Detroit Lions like Night Train Lane, Roger Brown, or Mel Farr, or my beloved Tigers, like Willie Horton, Earl Wilson and Gates Brown. My first impression was simply that these guys were really good players, and I didn’t really make any mental distinction between them and players of a ‘paler’ persuasion.

But, by and large, my early formation in ‘race relations’ was mostly by way of ignorance. I simply never saw any black people, except on TV. On the rare occasions that I traveled ‘downstate’ to cities like Saginaw, or Flint, or Detroit, we would see black folks, but mostly they just seemed exotic, and strange. I remember asking my dad why their skin was dark, but the palms of their hands were lighter; I forget how he answered.

My family didn’t form me in racist attitudes, beyond the simple perception of ‘difference’. In fact, my mother (my ‘first mother’), having grown up in Nazi Germany, was especially sensitive, and would not countenance me using words like ‘nigger’. And it’s funny – as a young kid, my friends would use the word ‘nigger’ as a ‘generic insult’, on the order of ‘jerk’ or ‘doofus’. There really wasn’t any particular ‘racial’ connotation to it in our minds. How could there have been? We didn’t even know any black people; it was just an insult. But my mother let me know, in no uncertain terms, that it was not a word she ever wanted to hear coming from my mouth.

I remember, too, that my dad seemed to regard Martin Luther King as a trouble-maker and rabble-rouser. He didn’t couch it in explicitly ‘racial’ terms, but he sure didn’t appreciate the world-as-he-knew-it being messed with. . .


When I got to high school (I graduated in 1973), my ‘racial horizons’ began to expand significantly, and not always in the best ways. Our school, being one of the larger schools in Northern Michigan, would, in order to play against comparably-sized schools, wind up playing teams from some of the urban schools ‘downstate’.

[A brief lesson in Michigan geography: in the popular imagination, Michigan consists of ‘Detroit’ and ‘everywhere else’. Metro-Detroiters call the rest of Michigan ‘outstate’; northerners like me refer to the more 'metropolitan' southern part of the state as ‘downstate’; ‘Yoopers’ – folks from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (the UP) – call everyone else ‘trolls’, ie, those who live ‘below the (Mackinac) Bridge’.]

Anyway, playing teams from Flint and Saginaw was a real eye-opener for us northern white boys. One time, we were playing at a predominantly-black school from downstate; our team bus drove up right next to the door to the locker-room, and we walked from our bus into the locker room with police officers on either side of us. Inside the locker room, the school’s principal met us. “Urban High is a big place,” he told us, “and there are a bunch of black kids here who’d just as soon cut a white kid as look at him.” Well, THAT was comforting. “So don’t go wandering around, and stay in groups, and you’ll be OK.” Shit, we were just there to play a basketball game, and this guy had us fearing for our lives. And once the game started, the loud and raucous urban environment was even more intimidating to us. As was the fact that, apart from a few of Urban High’s teachers, and maybe the referees, ours were virtually the only white faces in the gym. We felt very much like ‘strangers in a strange land’ (which, I've come to understand, is how a lot of black folks feel pretty much all the time). . .

Our coaches were quite upset with what they perceived to be Urban High’s intimidation tactics, and when Urban High came to our gym a couple weeks later, they arranged to return the favor. Our principal met their team in the locker room, and told them, “Up North High is a big place, and there are a lot of rednecks who’d just as soon shoot a black kid as look at him,” etc, etc. (*sigh*)

I think it was my junior year that three black kids – a brother and sister, and their cousin – came to Up North High. It created a minor sensation; as far as anybody could remember, they were the first black folks who’d ever lived Up North, except for a few basketball players at the junior college. For the most part, they were pretty well received, although our ignorance and inexperience were painful, I’m sure. Some of the white kids, in all innocence, would just walk up to them and ask, “Can I touch your hair?” There was also a certain sense of anticipation that Up North High was, by virtue of the presence of actual black males among the student body, on the verge of an athletic breakthrough. Alas, one of the guys was a decent, though not spectacular, athlete; the other just wasn’t terribly athletically inclined. What the heck was up with that? Stereotypes die hard, when you don’t have any live experience to measure them against. . .


The summer between my junior and senior years, I went to a church camp, as I had the two previous years. Like the rest of my life in general, the camp was pretty much an all-white environment. I don’t know if there just weren’t any black folks in my denomination, or if their kids just weren’t terribly into spending a week in the woods by Lake Michigan, but I can’t recall seeing any black kids at camp until that summer. After I arrived at camp and moved my gear into my cabin, I had some free time until dinner, so I wandered down to the rec building, where there was a piano, and started playing. After a while, a black girl came and watched me play. She told me she liked my playing, and sang along with me for a couple of the songs. And just that fast, I made my first (and still most significant) black friend. By the end of the week, we became a bit more than friends, and even engaged in certain, um, mutual explorations (the girls from Up North High had never deemed me worthy of their attention, but it took this black girl about five minutes to just completely win my heart).

Throughout my senior year of high school, GF1 and I carried on a high-school version of a long-distance relationship. We did manage to get together a couple times, but for the most part, we passed letters back and forth in the mail (in those days, long-distance phone calls were still expensive enough that neither of our parents would remotely consider letting us call each other).

The thing was, GF1’s family lived in an otherwise all-white, northern small town on the other side of the state from mine (no, her name isn’t Michelle Hickman). Her extended family was from Chicago, but her immediate family were the only black folks in their entire county. And GF1, being a sanguine, outgoing type, had no qualms about being around white people; heck, they were all she had available to her.

The summer after I graduated, I got a job in OurTown, in anticipation of going to school there in the fall. And every weekend, I’d hitch-hike over to GF1’s town, and stay with mutual friends, so we could spend the weekends together. And I learned a TON, just from the simple expediency of actually having a relationship with an actual black person. Questions like, ‘can black people get sunburned?’ weren’t quite so awkward or ‘loaded’ in the context of a comfortable friendship built on mutual understanding and trust. And heck, by the time you’ve made out with a black girl a couple times, you know what her hair feels like. . . ;)

My relationship with GF1 was also the occasion for probably the nastiest quarrel I ever had with my dad. As I said, I had never known him to be overtly racist. But one night, something I said set him off, and he launched into a rant about ‘that black bitch’. Which, love-struck teenage boy that I was, pissed me off royally, as you might imagine. It also exposed a nastier core to my dad’s racial attitudes than I had seen before. The rhetorical question in those days was ‘Would you want your kid to marry one?’ And my dad answered with a resounding ‘Hell no’.

GF1 and I eventually broke up. It had more to do with me going off to college while she was still in high school (she was a year younger than me) than anything else. But looking back, I can see that, had we stayed together, we’d have eventually faced some harder questions than we anticipated, about how to build a life together that bridged, or at least took sufficient account of, the ‘cultural’ differences, acceptance by each other’s families, and things of that order, which, as love-struck teenagers, had never appeared on our radar screens.

GF1 and I lost track of each other for many years, but a few years back, we got back in touch. (I told the story here, but I’ll re-tell the bit where, when we met each other quite accidentally, she turned to her husband and daughter, who were with her, and said, “This is that white guy I told you about!”) And it has been almost as if our friendship never missed a beat (well, except for the making out part). To this day, she is unique in my life as the only black person I’ve ever gotten to know well enough to get beyond the ‘racial barrier’ – to where our relationship was just relaxed and unguarded, and we knew each other as friends, regardless of each other’s color (but certainly not blind to it, either)


The next chapter of my story covers my college years. I actually went to college hopeful of getting to know other black folks as well, and as warmly, as I’d gotten to know GF1. But it never quite worked out that way. At my university in the 70s, racial relations weren’t typically hostile, but they weren’t warm, either. The year before I got there, a white student was murdered, and there were dark stories still circulating that he’d been killed by black students as some sort of initiation rite (Stories which, 20 years later, were essentially confirmed). All the black players on the basketball team walked out before a game, in protest of what they viewed as excessive playing time for a white freshman player. And the most stark feature of race relations on campus stared me in the face at every meal – one end of the cafeteria was unspokenly designated as the ‘black section’. All the black students sat at that end, and none of the white students did. And virtually nobody ever bothered to challenge that state of affairs.

I did befriend a few black students – all men (the black women seemed to have a bigger racial ‘chip’ on their shoulders, over the predilection of some of the black men to date white women). I did some tutoring through Minority Students in Engineering, and got together to help a couple of the black guys with their homework.

There was one guy in particular, though, who lived in my dorm, and seemed willing to go out of his way to get to know some of the white guys. Unlike most of the black guys I’d lived with in the dorm, who kept to themselves, and kept their doors tightly shut, this guy (I’ll call him William) and his roommate would open their door and invite guys in just to talk, and get to know each other. I knew that I’d really gotten somewhere significant when William invited me to join him for lunch one day, and brought me over to the ‘black section’. And I had a fascinating conversation with him and some of the other guys, about how even ‘black dialect’ had its ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ accents. And after the first few minutes, I didn’t even notice that I was in a different part of the room anymore. After that, William and I had lunch together from time to time, sometimes in the ‘black section’, sometimes not.

But things with William eventually cooled off, and I can only blame myself. One day, my roommate H(al) (the guy whose wife I took to a McCartney concert once upon a time) and I were walking down the hall one day, and William and his roommate had their door open, and were playing chess. Hal is quite an avid chessplayer, and we sauntered in to watch. William won the game, and Hal asked if he could play the winner, and William agreed. Now, I had often played chess with Hal, and I knew that he was a darn good player. So as I watched, I was surprised to see him struggling with what William was giving him, and as the game wore on, and the advantage went more and more in William’s direction, I was shocked; I’d never seen anyone do that to Hal. And I saw something in William’s eyes that just convicted me to the core. “You didn’t think I could beat him,” he said wordlessly. “You think I’m just another dumb black guy who got quota’ed into college. But I beat your boy, didn’t I?” I knew instantly that, without saying a word, I’d stabbed him in the heart, and screwed up such trust as we’d been painstakingly developing in the preceding weeks. And after that, William was cooler to me. His door was still open, but there was more of an air of, “I gave the white boy a shot, but he’s just like the rest of ‘em.”

I can look back, and wish that William had been a bit more resilient, a bit better able to absorb the petty indignity that I inflicted on him that afternoon in his dorm room. But the bottom line is that I screwed up. I betrayed the stereotype that I carried around inside me, and there was nothing I could do to deny it. I might wish for a chance to learn from my mistake, and to have further opportunities to grow, but I sure couldn’t make any claim that I deserved it. And I never really got another opportunity like that again.


My kids’ experiences at their urban public high school have been somewhat more hopeful. The student body at the school our kids go to is more-or-less equal parts white, black, Hispanic, and Asian (lumping Vietnamese, Koreans, Indians and Arabs together under one heading). No one group of kids is in the majority – everyone is pretty much equally a minority. And that makes for some interesting dynamics. It is certainly not the case that there is no racial strife at LUPHS. But there are some unique opportunities in such a scenario.

4M and 5M have both played on the sports teams, and they’ve had lots of black and Hispanic teammates. And the experience of being teammates (and heck, even parents of teammates) with a common goal, has been very constructive; for the sake of ‘something bigger’, the kids (and, to a lesser degree, their parents) could just pull together, irrespective of who was what color, or lived in which part of town. 4M was one of the team captains his junior and senior years, and after the games, he’d bring his teammates to our house for some post-game chillin’. And so we got to know a bunch of kids we wouldn’t have otherwise ever had occasion to run into.

The thing is, it’s not that we don’t see race and/or color; we do. But, when you get to know each other, you can start to get past some of the ‘loaded-ness’ of race, and just relate to the people, as they are, who they are. . .


My experience of relating with black folks has always been that relationships are the key. Our long, sad cultural history has left us all with a residue of mistrust. And that is a terribly, terribly difficult thing to overcome. As I’ve said above, in my life, I’ve had one relationship with a black person that was truly, honestly characterized by free and open trust. And one other that might have gone there, if I hadn’t screwed it up. And today, I have a few others that may yet get there, if we can get to know each other better. And those kinds of relationships, across racial lines, are precious, and hard to come by, as things sit now. I really don’t know what the way forward might be. But I hope, and yearn, for the day when we can just know, and relate to each other as persons, without all the baggage. May it come soon. . .

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

So Happy Together. . .

So Molly and the kids (5M and younger) and I were on vacation last week. Did you miss us? (OK, strike that question; I learned long ago not to ask questions I don't want to know the answers to). We went to the same cabin Up North that Molly and I stayed at for our 25th Anniversary Second Honeymoon. It was our first family vacation in three years, and only our second since 1996, so it was well-appreciated, and probably more than a little overdue.

Our being there actually had a certain ironic twist to it. The cabin's owner, who is a friend of ours, offered our family the gift of his cabin to honor 4M, because 4M had, over the years, done quite a few odd jobs for him, including a few weekends 'opening up' and 'closing down' the cabin at the beginning and end of the season. And also to honor 4M for his recent high-school graduation, with high honors. And of course, we were duly grateful. But last week was the only one which would work for our family's schedule, and also the owner's. And last week, 4M was on his mission trip to the Dominican Republic. So 4M didn't actually participate in our friend's gift to our family in his honor. Such is life, I guess. . .


Weather-wise, I suppose you could say that we were a bit star-crossed. Except for the Sunday at the beginning of our week, and the Saturday we returned home, the weather would best be described as crappy. It rained all day Monday, and the rest of the week was cool and gray and overcast, and threatening rain. But it really didn't keep us from much. To the extent that it 'forced us inside', we turned it into family game-time, which wound up being really happy for us; we really had some nice fun together (not unmixed with copious quantities of bickering, but I'm aiming at accentuating the positive here). 5M turns out to be a pretty darned good Scrabble player, and 7M won the weekly Yahtzee series (though I gotta tell ya, it'll be a while before I'll be ready to play Scrabble or Yahtzee again. . .) And we threw in a few card games (mostly Hearts), just for variety. . .

Our cabin was not far from the Cross in the Woods, a sweet little Catholic shrine tucked away in the northwoods of Michigan. We went to Mass there on Sunday, and a couple other times during the week. There is also a small 'side shrine' to the Holy Family, which touches a special place in my heart, and Molly's. The Holy Family sculpture there is just a lovely piece of artwork, and evocative of all manner of familial grace and love, most especially of a husband/father's care for his wife and children, so I bought a miniature copy of it to keep on our dinner table back home. Just to remind us all of the love that's supposed to be at the heart of our family (and when family life gets, um, intense, we just ask Mary and Joseph to pray for us, that our family can be holy like theirs was). At least, that's the theory. . .

We also drove to the Upper Peninsula (in part because 8M had never crossed the Mackinac Bridge) (but the UP is just a cool place to visit, in its own right). About 15 miles west of the bridge, there's a spot where US-2 runs right along a beautiful sandy Lake Michigan beach for a couple miles, so we stopped there. I just waded in the surf, but all four of the kids couldn't wait to dunk themselves in the big lake. The air temperature might have been 65F; the water temperature might have been about the same. It was one of those days where the water initially feels icy-cold as it touches your toes, but five minutes later, it's perfectly comfortable (or maybe you just get numb; I don't know). Anyway, we spent about an hour there at the roadside beach, the kids body-surfing and splashing in the waves, and me wishing I'd had the foresight to bring my swimsuit along (*sigh*). . .

Another day, we took a short drive to Ocqueoc Falls (that's pronounced OCKY-ock, for you non-locals), which is the only significant waterfall in the Lower Peninsula, and really, one of the hidden treasures of our state. There are three significant sections of the falls, over roughly a half-mile of river, and each falls has a little pool dammed off below it, making for nice little 'swimming holes', of which our kids were only too happy to avail themselves, which included jumping off the falls (all of maybe four feet) into the pool below (I'm actually a little surprised that some lawyer hasn't told Presque Isle (presk EEL) County to tear out the stone dams, and forbid swimming near the falls; which is part of what makes it a hidden treasure). We had actually visited Ocqueoc Falls on our last family vacation, but it had been 90F that day, and the, uh, bracingly cool water of the Ocqueoc River had been most refreshing. On a 70F cloudy day, however, it was mostly just cold (at least to my aging bones; the kids were just fine).

I took my bike with me, and got in a couple rides of 30-or-so miles. And I want to tell you, Up North Michigan has some hills the likes of which we simply don't have around OurTown. I got down into gears that are mostly for show on my usual routes, but Up North, they were eminently practical. I hadn't seen hills like that since the last time I rode DALMAC (well, there was that one on Mackinac Island). Nice to know I can still climb 'em, though. . .


On a more 'personal' level, 6F 'borrowed' Molly's cell phone, and learned how to send text messages to her friends back in OurTown. Molly bought some kind of Giant Super-Saver pack of Twizzlers for the kids, and what they all remember is that 5M got a chunk of Twizzler stuck in his throat, and ended up puking to get it dislodged. And 8M cut his foot most bloodily on a zebra-mussel shell.


So, all in all, we wish the weather had been nicer (and the brilliantly sunny departure Saturday just seemed cruel), but we had a good time. Our family needed the time together, away from our 'normal routine'. We're in a bit of a 'transition time' right at the moment - 4M is heading off to college in the fall, and even though he'll be living at home with us, he's transitioning out of the family, and into a more independent life. So 5M is transitioning into the role of 'oldest' among the kids still 'fully at home'. 6F is transitioning into 'High School Girl' (which Molly and I are still trying to wrap our minds around), and we're also realizing that our 'little kids' are 11 and 7. So it's good to sort-of 'reset the levels' for the updated family configuration.

But mostly, it's good for us to be together, learning how to love one another better. Our kids can bicker like world champions (I blame Molly and me for being emotionally high-pitched in the first place; so our poor kids get both our DNA and our less-than-fully-helpful example), but they also love each other, and they're getting better at asking for and giving each other forgiveness (now if they could only start treating each other so as not to require asking forgiveness in the first place. . .). When you get to the bottom of it, family vacations are all about the us-ness of Us. We know each other better than anyone else knows any of us, and it's just nice (mostly) to just be Us together. . .

Saturday, July 4, 2009


It seems that this didn't get posted last Monday like it was supposed to. (*sigh*) This was supposed to be a bit of 'vacation filler' while we Joneses all went away for the week. But instead, it looks like I just disappeared, and left you all wondering what happened. (*sigh, again*) I'll be posting soon about our vacation, but in the meantime, here's the 'filler' I intended for last week. . .


For those of my friends who might enjoy a small peek into a corner of my soul that doesn't get much air around these parts, I offer the contents of a couple of my favorite 'mix' CDs (yeah, I know; I'll be getting an Ipod one of these days, but I haven't just yet; other stuff keeps climbing over it in the budgetary priorities). Just so you know it's not just all Beatles, all the time. . .

First, I compiled a mix of some of my favorite Classic Rock tunes:

I'm Your Captain - Grand Funk Railroad
I'm Free - The Who
Black Magic Woman - Santana
Riders On the Storm - The Doors
Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
Angie - Rolling Stones
Dream On - Aerosmith
Lucky Man - Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Crazy On You - Heart
More Than a Feeling - Boston
Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) - The Eurhythmics
Katmandu - Bob Seger

Almost all 70s stuff, as I look at it. Starting and ending with a couple of the more prominent Michigan bands from back in the day. And just for the record, these are songs I like musically; I'm not endorsing any messages, or worldviews, or lifestyles. In case anybody was wondering. . .

I also put together a mix of Jazz and Easy Listening tunes:

Classical Gas (acoustic version) - Mason Williams
Feels So Good - Chuck Mangione
Hill Street Blues - Mike Post
Kari - Bob James & Earl Klugh
Cast Your Fate to the Wind - George Benson
Chariots of Fire - Vangelis
Bouree - Jethro Tull (and, uh, JS Bach)
Mother Nature's Son - The Beatles
Follow Me - John Denver
You've Got a Friend - James Taylor
Lean On Me - Bill Withers
Danny's Song - Loggins & Messina
Just the Two of Us - Bill Withers
Time In a Bottle - Jim Croce
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot
One of Us - Joan Osborne

A nice, eclectic mix, if I may say so myself. A few comments, as many of these tunes have multiple well-known versions. . . I much prefer the acoustic version of 'Classical Gas' (the one often attributed erroneously to Eric Clapton) to the more commonly-heard 'orchestral' version. Also, please don't give me John Denver's version of 'Mother Nature's Son' (his Mother Nature is more like a shrieking harpie; just sayin'); although I like his version of 'Follow Me' just fine (GF2 was very fond of that song; fortunately, so is Molly). I have a hard time choosing between James Taylor's 'You've Got a Friend' (which was the first recorded version) and Carole King's (she wrote the song, after all); I recently heard a duet version of the two of them singing together, which might just be best of all. 'Lean On Me' is a Bill Withers song. Period. Club Nouveau's 'rappified' version is, at best, a pale imitation. MHO. Anne Murray's version of 'Danny's Song' is probably better known, but Loggins & Messina is the original version, and it has a rawer emotional edge to it that touches my soul. As to 'Edmund Fitz' - it's a Great Lakes thing; you wouldn't understand. And I'm not generally a fan of Joan Osborne, but that one song is just stunning, for asking the Right Question - what if God was One of Us, indeed?

And I have a mix of my favorite Love Songs; you know, the ones that, when Molly and I dance to 'em at weddings, set a really nice romantic mood:

(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You - Elvis
Unchained Melody - The Righteous Brothers
And I Love Her - The Beatles
When a Man Loves a Woman - Percy Sledge
Just the Two of Us - Bill Withers
Something - George Harrison
Maybe I'm Amazed - Paul McCartney
Danny's Song - Loggins & Messina
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) - James Taylor
My Love - Paul McCartney
Natural Woman - Carole King
Wonderful Tonight - Eric Clapton

A bit of duplication with the Easy Listening mix, and more Beatles stuff. But mostly, just sweet, romantic stuff, occasionally bordering on erotic ('Oh, my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch' never fails to send chills down my spine). If Molly had brown eyes, I might include Van Morrison's 'Brown-Eyed Girl'.

But - what did I miss? What songs are on your favorite 'mixes'?

I don't know if any of this strikes you all as the least bit 'self-revelatory' on my part, or not. But just maybe, it gives you a small glimpse into my soul, and helps you know me just a little bit better. . .


Molly and the kids (at least, the younger half of 'em) and I will be were gone all week at a cabin Up North (the same one that Molly and I stayed at for our 25th anniversary Second Honeymoon), away from the Internet and many of the other accoutrements of civilization. The idea was (if this had actually posted the way it was supposed to) for you feel free to stop by, leave your comments, and discuss among yourselves. I'll be back in a week or so Anyway, we're back now, so this can fill in until I can get a 'vacation post' together. . .