Friday, December 25, 2009

The String of Lights

It's a simple string of Christmas lights containing 50 all clear bulbs. We've never used it, preferring multi-colored lights, but it's still in our decoration box (or rather one of our decoration boxes). There is nothing special about this string. Strings like this are available at almost any store that sells decorations.

Each year as I pull out the lights to decorate our Christmas tree this set of lights makes me smile. Many years ago we belonged to a neighborhood gay and lesbian group (GLOW) which held potlucks each month. In December GLOW spiced up the potluck with a Yankee Swap.

For those who have never experienced a Yankee Swap let me explain. Each person brings a small wrapped gift. Each person participating is given a number. The person with number 1 selects and opens a gift. Then number 2 selects and opens a gift. At this point the person with number 2 can either keep the gift they opened or swap it for the gift number 1 has. This continues until everyone has opened a gift. As things get further along each person who has a gift taken away can choose to swap with another person, though not the one who just swapped with them, before moving to the next number. At that point the person with number 1 gets to select any of the gifts. There may be variations depending on the specifics of the particular swap - gag gifts vs. useful things. Some swaps require that number 2 decide whether to take number 1s gift or open another before actually opening another. I know of one group that requires the participants to bring the worst gift they received the year before- rumor has it that there is one gift that has been at each of their Yankee swaps each year. The Yankee swap which GLOW did was always a lot of fun - lots of laughing, though we rarely came away with anything we really wanted or needed.

Which brings me back to the string of white lights in our decoration box. At one of the last Yankee swaps that GLOW held our friend Robert ended up with this box of lights. Robert is Jewish and didn't have a use for the lights, so after the swap he gave them to us. I think Amy gave him the gift she'd ended up with. The lights got stowed away with our decorations and there they have stayed. Each time I open that box I think of Robert.

Robert has been a true blue friend over the years. We don't see him often - usually only at our Passover Seder and when we have parties. He does call every once in a while just to check in. We haven't seen Robert much in the last couple of years. He's been battling cancer and has been too tired for much socializing. He did do me a huge favor just over a year ago, and despite the ravages of the treatment he helped me buy my car (he makes his living helping people buy cars), but we only saw each other once during that process.

The other night as I pulled out the lights for our Christmas tree I came upon that box of clear lights, and smiled thinking of our friend. Before continuing on with the decorating I took a moment to think about Robert and all of the love he's given us over the years. We may never use those lights, but they'll stay in that box - a yearly reminder of our friendship with Robert.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Holloween

No costumes at our house (except at the door), just pumpkin carving.

pumpkin Lineup
My sister-in-law, Barbara, and I carved these today.

You can see a few more pumpkin pictures here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I've been teaching preschool in the First Day School (Quaker Sunday School) at my Meeting this fall. Our group of 8 is mostly almost 4 year olds. Our current topic is cooperation and working together. This morning we joined together to make a quilt.

Amy helped me cut a bunch of squares from fabric in our scrap basket a few weeks ago. I taped a length of paper to the table (mostly cause it kept curling up) and the children and adults added squares of fabric. Our masterpiece now graces the wall of our classroom (as long as the push pins haven't give way).
The children, even the one 2 year old in attendance this morning, were engaged by this project for a good 20 minutes and a few were actively working for 30 minutes. (By the way two of the arms in the above picture are those of one of the other adults.)

As an aside - if you must use glue sticks (I can go into a tirade about those another time) I highly recommend the colored ones, which dry clear. The color makes it much easier to see where the glue has been applied.

Birthday Girl

Yesterday was my grandmother's 99th birthday. My aunt hosted a party for her - tea, cake and conversation - and since we live close-by we joined the fun.
birthday girl
See my flickr account (there's a link in the sidebar) for more pictures.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Elephants in Cambridge

In my head I have an image of a circus parade full of acrobats, clowns, brightly colored wagons and animals decked out in sparkles. This is probably the result of movies like Toby Tyler, a childhood favorite. Circus parades like that are a thing of the past, but in Boston there is a small piece still happening. Each year when the circus comes to town, their train is parked along the tracks that run parallel to Vassar St on the MIT campus. The shows take place across the river at the Boston Garden. The elephants and horses walk through the streets to get from the train to the Garden. In all of the years that I have worked in Cambridge I have never seen the elephant walk.

This year one of the event emails I receive regularly included the dates for the circus shows. And that gave me not only a reminder but also the time to determine when the elephants were due to make their trek.

Tonight was the night. It was not the ideal weather to watch the elephants - it is cold here. And it was dark. But we were determined to see the elephants so we bundled up and walked down to Memorial Drive to watch the elephants. We saw elephants:

The lead elephant.
Bringing up the rear.

And horses:

There was also a duck boat full of clowns, but alas no clown pictures.

It wasn't a fancy parade but it was a lot of fun.

If you're in the Boston area you've got another opportunity to see the elephants. On Sunday at 5 they make the walk back to the train.

Two for Tuesday: City-Country

Boston at twilight and Barn in the Adirondacks.

See more here.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Kayaking Rainbow Lake, Part 3

In normal years we have to be out of our vacation cabin by 10am on Saturday, so that our hosts can get it cleaned and ready for the next renters. This was, however, not a normal year. With the economy struggling the vacation rental market is depressed, and Owl cabin (our favorite home away from home) was not rented for the week after our vacation. After trying to convince us to stay (oh how I wanted to!) Soozie and Noel encouraged us to take our time on Saturday. (This turned out to ve a very good thing when the water pump quit working Saturday morning. Noel did get it fixed quickly, though.)

This meant that there was time for one more kayak trip before we left. One of my favorite paddles on Rainbow Lake is that back into the Flow. So that was the choice for my last paddle.

The paddle starts by heading south around the tip of the esker. As I started out that morning I realized that I had never done this in the morning before.

back of the Esker
The view looking north from the other side of the esker.

I've haven't seen a lot of turtles in the Adirondacks. That morning I saw 10, including this one.

This heron was alternately grooming and posing, while enjoying the morning sun.

toward the flow
Looking toward the Flow. At this point I had seen only one other boat.

As I head further into the Flow the lilies thicken. In spots this makes the paddle more challenging, since it requires maneuvering around the patches of lillies, and other water plants which thrive here because the water is so calm.

The calm water and the number of fallen trees offer lots of awsome reflections.

smooth as glass
Evidence of the calm morning - the water was smooth as glass.

in the flow
I've seen beavers in this section of the Flow before, but this morning I only saw reflections.

beaver dam
This stretch of the lake ends at this beaver dam. I was able to get close because of this summer's high water levels.

I love the colors of this bright grass.

More fallen tree reflections.

Back at Owl Dock and the end of our vacation.

It was a lovely paddle.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kayaking Rainbow Lake, Part 2

According to the real estate listings Rainbow Lake offers either 12 or 15 miles of interconnected waterways to explore. From our spot of the southern end of Rainbow Lake the longest paddle heads north on Rainbow Lake, through the Rainbow Narrows and Kushaqua Narrows and across Lake Kushaqua to the dam. Two years ago I made it as far as the Buck Pond Campground but not into Lake Kushaqua itself.

This year I decided to take an afternoon and head north toward the dam again. Because I hadn't done a lot of kayaking this year (the kayak hadn't been in the water until we got to Rainbow Lake) I wasn't sure how far I'd make it. I loaded up the boat with 2 bottles of water, and snacks and headed out. Spurred on by Soozie, one of our hosts, who mentioned the record time to the dam and back, I decided to see how far I could get. Start time was approximately 1:50pm.

The lake wasn't as calm as I would have liked - stirred up by a light breeze and a few power boats - but was not a it's worst. (I've paddled the length of Rainbow Lake when it had 2 foot waves as a storm blew in - not fun.) Good time was made to the bridge separating Rainbow Lake from Rainbow Narrows. Along the way I stopped to admire the flamingos in one yard.

Note the skeleton flamingos (they're the black ones).

Finally, the bridge comes into view, marking the end of the first segment of the journey. Time check 2:30pm.

This bridge separates Rainbow Lake from Rainbow Narrows.

The water beyond the bridge was much calmer - probably because the narrowness prevents power boats from going very fast.

There are a lot of trees down along the shore. This particular tree sticks out into the channel as the lake widens. To help prevent accidents someone has helpfully added a reflector. This amuses me everytime I see it.

From here you pass a small bog, then the rope swing - known to everyone on the lake. Then under a couple of bridges. I was delayed at the second bridge, which is quite narrow, by four paddlers from the other direction.

After the second (third on the trip) bridge the water widens into the Kushaqua Narrows.

This windswept tree sits on a small island near the Buck Pond Campground. On my previous trip, I circled around this island before heading back. 3:06pm

I made a brief stop at an empty campsite (to the right of the small island) to stretch my legs before heading toward the dam. After winding my way around the next point the water opened up into Lake Kushaqua.

little haystack
If I'm reading the map correctly this is Little Haystack mountain, which rises on the East side of the lake.

Kushaqua is a wide open lake. I saw a loon as I was headed toward the dam. The closer to the dam I got the rougher the water was. This is not entirely unexpected any time you are near a dam, waterfall or the like there is going to be at the least a more apparent current. The water from Rainbow Lake and Lake Kushaqua empties over the dam - it's used to control water level - and given all the wet this summer there was a significant amount of water heading over the dam.
I ventured up to the rocks at the right of the picture but didn't feel comfortable getting any closer to the dam. 3:38pm

As I headed back across Kushaqua the waves seemed to pick up strength. This may have been an actual change, or the fact that I was now heading into the wind and against the current. I paddled as close to the shore as I felt comfortable doing, as waves broke across the front of the kayak. This was not a fun part of the trip. It was hard paddling. I was very happy to get back to the entrance in the Kushaqua Narrows, and have the opportunity to take a breather.

I made another stop at the empty campsite to rest, and have my snack. I was very quickly joined by a dozen ducks - clear sign that too many people have been feeding them!

One of the hopeful ducks. I did not feed them.

After a 10 minute break I headed back to Owl Cabin.

under the bridge
The first of the two bridges between the Kushaqua Narrows and the Rainbow Narrows. 4:40pm

On the way back I came upon our hosts, Noel and Soozie, Laka (their dog) and a friend finishing up on the rope swing. I declined the tow they offered and headed home.

This loon kept me company as I headed down Rainbow Lake, but refused to move so that it wasn't backlit.

owl dock
Finally back at our dock - and yes this picture is crooked. 6:00pm
I could have straightened it, but the crookedness is evidence of how truly tired I was.

Total trip time 4 hours and 10 minutes - or so.

It was a fun trip. If we get a nice calm day next year I may have to try the trip again to see if I can lower the total time.

(The times listed are the time stamps from the photos.)

Stay tuned for Part 3.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Kayaking Rainbow Lake

One of the highlights of our annual vacation to Wakanda is kayaking on Rainbow Lake . There are several routes to take on the lake.

At the southern end there's a bog where I've seen ducks, geese and heron. I headed that direction one afternoon. I did see ducks and geese but mostly just water and flora.
marsh boathouse
I love the reflections of this boathouse on the water.

in the log
The circle of life.

fallen log2
Log becomes home to new growth.

fallen log
I love the gracefullness of the limbs.

Tree Reflection.

Taking a swing around the end of the esker opens up another stretch of water, heading either to the stretch known as the Flow or through the Clear Pond loop. My brother, nephew and I did the Clear Pond loop one afternoon. As we have many other times, my nephew N sat at the front of my cockpit (I've got a very open cockpit on my boat).

N riding
N looking back at me.

This was not the only kayaking N did this year. He's finally big enough to handle a boat on his own, so one afternoon he had a paddling lesson. We got him into a boat, I took hold of the line on front and swam nearby while he practiced his paddling skills.

N paddle1
Note the intensity on his face.

N paddle3
Concentrating on proper technique.

Once we were comfortable that he wasn't going to flip his boat or throw the paddle, we hooked his line to the back of my boat and headed off on a short trip from the afternoon beach to Boot Bay and back. N did very well and made it just over 2/3rds of the way before he got tired, after which I towed him the rest of the way.
N paddle2
Early on during the trip.

Stay tuned for more about kayaking on Rainbow Lake. (I'm tired and this post is long enough.)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summer Project

Recipe for summer woodworking fun.
Project parts - in this case for a boat.
The dowels, both large and small, serve to align the other parts.
Additionally, the large ones are also the smoke stacks.
The darker parts are walnut, the lighter (except dowels) are maple.

Tools - clamps, glue, dead blow hammer, glue brushes and sand paper.
We ended up only using the large clamps.

Eager helper.
My nephew, N, 5 years old.
If you look closely (click on the picture to make it larger) you'll see the holes for the dowels.

ready to clamp
Ready for clamps.

Clamped and drying - time for a kayak ride.

look what I made 2
Look what I made!

(If you look closely you'll notice that the boat still needs sanding and finish.
We'll have to do that the next time we get together.

A couple of design notes: I'm not entirely happy with the prow of the boat.It needed some more shaping but I was having trouble getting my head wrapped around how to do it so it looked right. Oh and the kid better not drop this on his foot, cause it's heavy!

You may have noted that we used regular wood glue, not waterproof glue, to hold the pieces together. This was intentional . If I were building this by myself I'd have used polyurethane glue. However, as anyone who has ever used it will tell you, it's really messy and if you get it on your skin it turns your skin brown. I wasn't comfortable using it with a 5 year old.

As far as I know, the boat has not been tested for seaworthiness. At some point we will have to see how it floats.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cape Cod Visit

My sister and her family are currently camping on Cape Cod with a friend and her son. After umpiring Monday night I headed to PTown for a quick vacation warm-up. I went armed with supplies for a project to do with the boys, who are now 9 and 7. Below are a few shots from our wonderful day together.

First step to the project was having the boys (Sassafras Mama's JT and my nephew D) draw pictures of what they like to do on 'The Cape'.

I don't have any in process pictures of the project, but both Sassafras Mama and the fabulous Shelley (D's mom) took a bunch, so you should expect to see them once they return to civilization.

Two of the six shirts we silk-screened. The blobs are the result of trying to silk-screen on a picnic table, without a flat surface. From my perspective the project was less than successful, but the boys pronounced them "awesome" which is all that really matters. The object between the trees is a tent, and the people on the right are speeding downhill on bicycles.

After we finished with the shirts we headed to the pool at my hotel. D spent most of the time on the pool deck.

JT, meanwhile, spent most of his time jumping off the edge trying to catch the ball D was throwing.

Check out the dimple!

Future tennis star.


We wrapped up the day with several games of Stratego. And Wednesday morning I headed back to reality.