Monthly Archives: July 2006

Childhood summers and wading pools

I lived the first eight summers of my life in Eagle Rock, CA, a suburb of LA that is situated right between Pasadena and Glendale.  We would often come to Philly for long chunks of time during the summers to visit the grandparents, but we’d still have stretches of summer weeks in hot, smoggy LA.

We lived in a little, old house with a big backyard on the flat part of a hill.  The yard started out with a brick patio just out the kitchen door, and rose up in four terraced levels, finally ending at a two story garage and driveway.  A wide, flagstone stairway divided the yard up the middle.

One of the traditions each summer was to drag the wading pool out of the garage and inspect it for tears or punctures.  If it could be patched, it would be, but some years it was too far gone and we’d go out to get a new one.  I remember one year in particular, going to buy the pool with my mom.  I don’t know what store we went to, the only thing that stands out in my mind were the stacks of wading pools that seemed mountainous and very far over my head.  We got one with a little built in slide, and I thought my heart was going to implode with the excitement of it.

The wading pool is inextricably linked to my summer childhood memories, but two events stand out.  The first was when my cousin Harlan, then 16 and visiting from Hawaii, decided that he was going to get into the wading pool with us.  The water splashed over the sides and the plastic walls moaned, but the thing held.  His face wore an expressing of satisfaction as he spread his arms out across the back, half encircling it, and said, “not bad.”  I couldn’t believe someone as big as him, a grown up in my seven-year-old eyes, was in the wading pool.  My sister took to his presence instantly, and shook her blond ringlets in his face, to better douse him with water.

The second memory is of one of those moments when my parents did something deeply inpractical, simply because it was fun.  It was a cooler day, and water in the pool was not warming up.  We still wanted to get in, but couldn’t sit there without our teeth chattering just a little.  The hot water heater for the house was just on the other side of the backyard fence, along the side of the house.  I don’t know whose idea it was, or which parent executed it, but they hooked the hose up to the heater and ran the the hot water straight into the wading pool.  As the pool filled, I danced around the yard, so excited that it was going to be like bathwater, only outside.  They only did it once, but it made a deep impression.

Scrubbing Stoops

Saturday afternoon, as I was walking over to Scott’s apartment, so that he could finish restoring my computer back to it’s original state, I saw a woman scrubbing her stoop. She was wearing hot pink shorts and a tank top, had short blonde hair and lots of eye make. She was solidly in this time and place. And yet, watching her, I felt like I had stepped back into another era. She had two rags and doggedly scrubbed at the marble step as if her continued good health depended on it’s cleanliness.

I could imagine a woman wearing a mob cap, long black dress and white apron washing that block of stone in the exact same manner, sighing under her breath at the neverending work that this sooty city caused for her, and wishing herself back to the pristine fields of Ireland where she once lived.

In a motion that was both fluid and weighted down by the heat of the afternoon, she twisted the water from the rags, gave them a business-like shake and tossed the soapy water from the blue plastic bucket into the street. She gave me a glance from across the street, as I had unconsciously stopped walking, and then turned away. I shook myself out of my imagination and back into the present and went on my way.

Random Friday–I'm back!

It’s been a couple of weeks since I managed to get a Random Friday set up. Being on vacation has a way of screwing up my blogging schedule (which is actually okay with me). But it’s Friday, and I’ve got a pocket of time, so I’m doing it.

You know the rules: set your pod to shuffle and report back the first ten (and sometimes eleven) songs that it spits out. No skipping, omitting or justifying allowed.

1. Alabama Woman, Papa John Kolstad (Beans Taste Fine)
2. Vicious World, Rufus Wainwright (Want One)
3. Fugitive, Indigo Girls (Swamp Ophelia)
4. Sun In My Mouth, Bjork (Vespertine)
5. The Boy in the Bubble, Paul Simon (Best of 1964-1993)
6. Halloween, Original Broadway Cast (Rent)
7. Peace From Running, The Gypsy Moths (Live on KBOO)
8. It’s All the Same, Adrienne Young and Little Sadie (The Art of Virtue)
9. Fish and Whistle, John Prine (Great Days: Anthology)
10. I’m Only Sleeping, The Beatles (Revolver)

Favorite Song: Peace From Running. The Gypsy Moths were my sister previous musical incarnation, and in those days, on this album, they were doing a fun jam-band thing. I love where her music is now, but this was also some good stuff.

Favorite Album: Swamp Ophelia by the Indigo Girls. This was my very first Indigo Girls album, and I bought it on cassette, because I couldn’t afford the CD. Listening to it takes me back to being 15, being at summer camp, and staying up late with my friend Matt to watch the Girls on Conan O’Brian.

Seen Live: Rufus Wainwright, Indigo Girls, the Gypsy Moths and John Prine.

Need more Random Friday? Check out these folks!
Coffee Girl

As always, if you have a list up and would like a little link-love, let me know!

Barely conscious

I pulled myself out of bed this morning a couple of minutes after 6 am, which is WELL before my usual rise time. Squinting my myself in the bathroom mirror, I had a hard time identifying my features, so wrinkled was my face from the pillow and the lack of sleep.

I was at work before 7 am, setting up the registration table for our annual summer retreat and greeting people as they walked in. Work did not end until just before 5 pm, and I was ready to drop. The two large cups of coffee I had poured into my body had long since lost their effectiveness, and I was having trouble typing. I went home on the trolley, instead of taking my usual walk, because the sooner I got to my apartment, the sooner I could go to bed.

Knowing that my alarm clock wouldn’t be effective to wake me from the depth of sleep for which I was headed, right before the nap, I sent Scott a text message, asking him to call me at 6 pm, so that I would wake up in time to pick him up for the Ray LaMontagne/Guster concert we were going to tonight. Two minutes later, I was gone.

When the phone rang at 6 pm, I was so deeply asleep that I had completely forgotten where I was, who I was, what a phone was, how you answered it, or even which way was up. I managed to open it and heard Scott’s voice vaguely in the distance, but I couldn’t find a way to talk back. Finally I remembered where the off button was and hung up on him. It was the only thing I could manage. Several minutes later, I pulled myself together and called him back, in order to confirm that I was in fact awake, and had not been captured phone call garbling aliens.

Later, when fully alert, I asked him about how I had sounded on the wake up call. His only comment was that it had certainly been an interesting. Somehow, the way he said it didn’t make it sound like a good thing. Oh well.

Dinner and a baby

I just lifted my hand to my face to mindless pick the zit that’s growing in my right eyebrow, and realized that my hands still smell slightly of baby. Of that inarticulateable infant scent that contains trust and sleep and love and shampoo that doesn’t sting. I don’t particularly want to wash my hands (but I must as there are still dishes to be done).

Tonight was the 5th annual summer book club dinner at my apartment, although these days, we’re calling ourselves the defunct book club, since we no longer meet regularly as a book club and there’s never a book. This was the first year that a baby was one of the dinner guests, and while she didn’t eat anything more than the milk that her mommy provided, she was the star of the evening.

Towards the end of the night, when we were sitting around the table at angles, with bits of dessert and remnants of wine, I held her as she fell asleep. Her warm, compact little body rested on my chest and stomach, and I could feel the tickle of her breath on my skin. Sitting there, all the frustrations of the day dropping off my body in pieces, crashing to the carpet and disappeared with a shimmer as I rubbed my lips over her hair and inhaled. At one point, I made eye contact with Jamie (her mama) and whispered, “I just love her. This is perfect.” She nodded back with such joy and love in her eyes for this little person she had made that I could feel it myself.

There is nothing like a good baby fix to make a day just a little better.

A case of mistaken identity

This morning while I was walking into my office building, I happened to glance up and make eye contact with a man just in front of me. He was walking into the building as well. He took a cursory look at me, and then looked more intently and said, “Hey, how are you doin’!” At first I wasn’t sure if he was even talking to me, because while he did look familiar (and I’m assuming that simply because we work in the same building), I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him.

He continued along a script of small, long-time no-see talk. His face was away from me, so for a moment, I wondered whether he was talking into a cell phone ear piece, but no, he was still talking to me. I squeaked out a “good” in response to his question, but was mostly quiet and unresponsive. I followed him the stairs with my head ducked and escaped as quickly as I could into my suite of offices.

Looking back at it, I wish I had just gone along, responded as if I knew him as well, but in the moment, I felt crippled and cowed by equal parts awkwardness (for me) and embarrassment (for him). I realize that’s a little silly, but I couldn’t shake it. I wonder how he felt afterwards and if he ever realized that I wasn’t the person he thought I was.

What do you do when someone mis-takes you for someone else?

The Watermelon Scam

Ever since I was 16 and was able to drive, I’ve been going grocery shopping by myself. When I was in high school, my mom would send me to Fred Meyers with a list, a paper-clipped cluster of coupons and a blank check (along with the knowledge that she could count on me not to violate the trust of that signed check). Portland, being what it was, and for the most part, what it still is, I never had a problem filling out her check and handing it over to the checker.

Tonight, I went down to the South Philly ShopRite, to fill in some of the holes in my food supply that were still empty after my stop at Trader Joe’s yesterday. One of the skills I developed in those early years of grocery shopping was the ability to keep a running estimate of how much the items in my cart will cost. I don’t add up numbers each time I place something in the cart, but somehow, I just know within a couple of dollars where I am. Tonight, when I pulled my cart up to the checkstand, I had a number in my head of what I thought my bill was going to come to. I didn’t pay much attention while the clerk rang me up, focusing on bagging up my items instead, as she had made it very clear to me that I was her last customer of the night.

When she gave me my total, I was a little shocked because it was about ten dollars more that I thought I was going to pay. I’d never been quite that off, and it made me think I was losing my touch. I stopped my cart just outside the exit doors, to give my receipt a glance, to see if I was really off, or if there was a problem. I ran my eyes down the list, and a charge for $7.99 jumped out at me. It was marked WTMLN SDLS, and I couldn’t figure out what I had picked out that had cost $7.99 or what the hell WTMLN SDLS was.

I pushed my cart back around on the entrance doors and headed to customer service. There was a young woman standing at the counter. I explained to her that I had no idea what that item was, and that I didn’t think I had purchased anything for $7.99. She told me that it was for a Seedless Watermelon. I pointed at my cart and said, “but I didn’t buy a watermelon!” Without another word, she began to process the refund. Just as silently, I pulled a penny from my wallet, so that she could give me $8. She shoved a slip of paper across the counter and asked me to sign, and then she dropped the money into my hands.

Walking back to my car, I was twitching with mixed emotions. I was really happy that I had gone back and stood up for myself. I also felt a little violated, although I still can’t know for sure whether it was a scam or a mistake. I had been trying to do the clerk a favor by bagging my own groceries, and in return, she quite possibly charges me extra because I wasn’t paying attention to the scanner screen. The manner in which the customer service woman acted after I showed her my receipt made me think that this was not the first time that something like this had happened, because she didn’t question my story at all.  I still can’t figure out how the checker would have benefitted from charging me for a watermelon I didn’t actually have.
It was also nice to know that my grocery cart estimation skills aren’t at all rusty, because without the fraudulent watermelon, I was within $2 of my inital guess.

Flora Herrman Biele Kannerstein 1915-2006

My aunt Flora gave up her psychiatry practice when she was 64, convinced that she was developing alzheimer’s disease.  When it became apparent that she was experiencing nothing more than the normal memory lapses of advancing age, she told anyone who asked that she was going to die any day, in her sleep, from a heart attack.  She was as surprised as the rest of us when she lived through her 70’s and her 80’s.  About four years ago, she started to have a hard time living on her own and a year and a half ago, her daughter Betsy moved her up to a nursing home in New York. 

Three weeks ago, she started rapidly declining and on Monday, Betsy made the decision to move her into hospice.  Flora died last night, at the age of 91.  She was the last living connection to my grandmother and her siblings.  We will remember by her energy, her powerful life force, her love of gourmet food and her shoes

Oregon Coast Day

Shed in field

My parents and I took a day trip to the coast today. It was 75 degrees, clear skies and beautiful out. We stopped briefly at a house in Banks, OR that my parents are rehabbing to sell. It is on 15 acres of wooded land about a half hour from Portland. The air there smells of pine trees, warm berries and drying grasses and even though we were heading to the beach, it was hard to leave that beauty behind.

Gerhart Beach

The beach had no more than 35 people on it for half a mile in either direction. We got sandwiches (as well as an avocado to add to the sandwiches) at the little local grocery store and sat on a bench just off the sand so that we could eat before getting all dirty. This was the same bench that my mom and I sat on last year on our coast trip, we both enjoyed the continuity of that. 

Mo, building a sandcastle

Once we hit the sand, my dad went straight to a little rivulet of sea water and started building a drip castle. My mom and I wandered down the beach for a bit, enjoying wading, until the sand fleas started to nibble on us a bit. There was a decomposing sea lion a little ways up the beach, and so the pungent smell of life drifted towards us occasionally. 

Later, as we were laying on a blanket, I looked up towards the path where we had left our cooler and the paper bag holding lunch trash and leftovers to see a sea gull gently reach his beak into the bag, pull out a Sunchip and fly away. We took that as our signal that it was time to go.

Our shadows

I walked back down to the water, to rinse my feet off before we headed out, thinking as I walked how much I would like to find a whole sand dollar. The beach was covered with broken ones, but no uncracked shells. Just as I was finishing rinsing off my feet, I looked to my left and saw a perfect, unbroken sand dollar. It was the ideal ending to this year’s visit to the Oregon Coast.



This afternoon, my parents and I packed a picnic, said goodbye to the dog and piled into the car for a trip out to Sauvie Island, for some blueberry picking. After a stop at the post office and the bank (this is always the way with my family) we were finally on the road. It’s been a cool and slightly overcast day here in Portland, perfect for picking.

The drive out to the Island is deeply familiar to me, it’s one I’ve taken, either behind the wheel or as a passenger, for the last 18 years of my life. In the time my family’s lived in Portland, the only summer I missed the blueberries on Sauvie Island was the first summer I was in Philly. Driving over the bridge that crosses the river, my mom commented that they are building a new one, right along side the old. I said a silent goodbye to the graceful old bridge that has carried so many back and forth over the years, and stated out loud that I couldn’t imagine that the new one will be nearly as lovely.

Unlike blackberries or strawberries, picking blueberries isn’t hard work. The universe had the good sense to design the bushes so that you can pick standing up and without any hazzardous thorns or brambles getting in your way. There’s sort of a zen that develops, as you tune your senses to find the ripe clusters of berries and remember how to curl your hand in order to tease the berries off their stems. It’s a great place to have deep conversations, as you have your face and body mostly concealed in a bush, creating a sense of privacy, while still being able to be heard by the person in the next bush over.

Dad in a blueberry tree

We picked almost 30 pounds this afternoon, and each ate at least a pound during the picking process. My dad always tastes a tree before deciding to plant his bucket under it, to make sure that particular variety is to his liking. My mom goes for the big berries, trying to ease the jam-making process. I like to approach it methodically, making sure to get all acceptable berries off the bush I’m facing before moving along to the next.


The hardest thing about blueberry picking is determining when to stop. Our buckets were full, but the fruit-laden trees kept presenting themselves to us, and so someone kept saying, “just another minute!” Finally, we decided to put both hands on our buckets, center our eyes and walk out of the patch. It wasn’t a perfect plan, as I got smacked in the face a couple of times by an errant tree limb. But finally, we were out and declared ourselves done. It was a fun afternoon and now we are awash in blueberries. There are absolutely worse things in life than that.