Up North: Seen (2011)

Posted by jdg | Thursday, August 25, 2011 | ,

While viewing these photos, you should imagine the musky odor of Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap in the air.  Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap is the official soap of Northern Michigan. After several months of exclusively using Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap myself, I am happy to say that on this vacation my wife also started using it. Being married to a woman who smells like a burning tire factory almost makes up for not catching any bass on Wycamp Lake (hearing the loons call to each other while paddling through the dusklit water was also nice). There's always next summer, fish. 

Last year: Up North: Seen (2010); also, Taking Care

Slow Children Playing

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, August 23, 2011

There is a sign in our neighborhood that warns:


The other day we were walking the dog past that sign and my daughter casually mentioned that she doesn't like it. Sometimes I forget that she's old enough to be learning to read. "Why does it say that when we're not all slow?" she asked. "Gram's not slow. I'm actually quite fast."

What an adventure lies ahead for her, to discover and push the limits of what words can do. For now we're taking it slow.

* * * * *

We've been spending a week or so up north, staying in a rented cabin on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. It's more than nice up here, but we could be in a yurt on the Mongolian permafrost for all that really matters: vacation means my kids see their mother all day, every day, and revel in it. We are in the same cabin we rented last year, a quiet place where it's easy to let the days slip away with the waves unscrolling on the sand. We've marveled at how big our kids have become, watching them in this place we were a year ago, at the edge of the water. What was his first word? we asked ourselves, but it was so long ago neither of us could remember. You must have written about it, she said, but I didn't think I had. By then this website was read by enough strangers I wasn't comfortable just noting such things down like it was some kind of baby book. Remember last year when we first got here, how he toddled towards the water asking us about the "scissors of gold"? We had no idea what he was talking about until he pointed at the blades of beach grass glowing in that last gasp of sunlight. I had almost forgotten. I'll write about that one, I said. I'll be damned if I forget his first metaphor.

Fifteen minutes in the car with children fighting and my wife is daydreaming about desks and teleconferences, case files and quiet lunches. Reveling in their mother's attention often means more whining than usual, because they long ago learned that whining to me accomplishes little. Their mother has a softer heart, but a quicker temper. My son throws his shoe at his sister. She retaliates. Their mother warns: "If I was the type of mom who spanks I would so be spanking you right now!" This accomplishes the desired result, but leads to a series of endless queries and a six-year-old's speculation about the ineffectiveness of corporal punishment. You should have written more about all this crap too, my wife tells me, Otherwise we might forget and somehow think that parenting them was always fun and easy.

County Fair: Seen (2011 Edition)

Posted by jdg | Monday, August 08, 2011 |


2011 Monroe and Lenawee County Fairs. Last year's fair pictures. Get to yours before it's gone.

Stained Palms

Posted by jdg | Friday, August 05, 2011 |

When we were at the thrift store the other day I found a copy of The House on Hackman's Hill, a much-loved book from my own childhood. It wasn't the the newer edition, but the fantastic old 1980s Scholastic cover with the photo-realistic painting of the two cousins breaking into the titular house. In the book, the mansion has been abandoned since it's owner (an Egyptologist) disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1911 along with his mummy. Unlike most spooky books written for children, this one avoids the Scooby Doo Ending where the supernatural forces turn out to be disappointingly natural. This haunted house is actually haunted.

My daughter and I read it together yesterday during my son's nap. She sat next to me on the couch, inching closer and closer with each chapter until we got to the second half of the book (titled "The Horror"), when every few pages we had to stop and she'd forcibly pull my arm around her. Occasionally she'd even demand to read it herself so that the "scary words couldn't sneak up on her" (a laborious, if comforting process). Several times I suggested she might be too young for this book, an idea she found as offensive as the possibility that I might stop reading it to her. When nervous fingers stymied my lips, and she peppered me with questions ("Did you peek at the words on the next page? Were they scary?") it occurred to me how powerful even a silly book like this can be. A child's imagination is naturally an untamed place, a landscape too often domesticated by the drudgery of Dora or Disney or overwhelmed by invasive CGI that leaves nothing to it. But a good story tames it into focus, and makes it a place where anything can grow.

* * * * *

None of this really has anything to do with picking mulberries. I am just looking for an excuse to share some pictures. We didn't pick mulberries in the parking lot of the spooky abandoned hospital this year. One of the stories my kids request most is the one about the things I saw when I went inside (which may include a few embellishments. . .such as a ghost called the "Surgery Screamer"). That's just one of a hundred other stories about things I may (or may not) have seen inside all the ridiculous abandoned buildings in this town (my son's favorite: the guy living in the wall of the book depository). Yeah. I didn't drag them over to the haunted hospital to pick mulberries this year. They might have grown suspicious by how quiet it was.

Instead we found a mulberry patch within covered-wagon distance of our house, and it was surrounded by fences and far from any busy street. I even let them climb the ladder to get high up into the branches. Last year's batch of mulberry jam was easily their favorite out of the dozens of fruits we canned. Mulberries make great preserves. We went back three times, picked enough for twenty jars of jam. No ghost stories, but I may have told them a yarn or two about the raspberry patch in the field next to my childhood house, where the berries grew thicker than hair on a dog and I once accidentally ate a berry with a wasp who took up residence inside my stomach.