Wednesday, January 28, 2009

light blogging

Not that anyone is out there clamoring for an explanation, nevertheless, I'd like to explain the reason for the light pace of blogging lately. I've entered a very hectic phase of my work life. I'm currently directing two different plays, one at the high school, the other at the university. I still have my day job teaching full time.

At the high school, I'm directing the Steve Martin comedy, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and at EOU I'm doing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee. They open in April within one week of each other. I'm pretty enthused about both projects but....

I've never done anything like this before, and I probably won't ever do it again. Beth and I are doing a real high wire act with schedules and kids. So far so good. But something has to give, and it looks like it'll be the blog for awhile. I'll try to put the odd photo up just to keep folks curious.

In that vein let me just say that one of the things I'm most grateful for these days is the sound of laughter in our house.

It's such a tonic.

Friday, January 23, 2009

playing with two hands

Tess and Colm played at their piano recital last night. Both of them have developed a nice little habit of playing every day. They don't think of it as practice, at least not yet.

The difference between last year and this year is quite distinct. Both of them show a much sense of rhythm and phrasing, and both of them are motivated to learn new songs. In addition, each one is beginning to explore using the left hand.

Tess played so many songs (five, I think) that we started to worry about the natives getting restless. Her teacher, Ruth, is beloved by both Tess and Colm.

The feeling seems to be mutual.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Skiing Emily

We took Tess and Colm to the backside of Mt. Emily near Meacham today

for a little cross country skiing. Didn't go too far, but we had a good time. Beautiful day. Colm's favorite thing was to take off his skiis and try snowboarding on one of them.

I may have to take him to Anthony for a taste of the real thing. It's hard to imagine all of us together on snowboards though.

send in the barbarians

Our good friends Doug and Sharri used to tell us about a family that instituted a custom of eating one meal each month "barbarian style". They dispensed with utensils and ate with their hands. The idea, I guess, was to provide a little release and comic relief surrounding the dinner table every once in awhile. According to them, it was a great success in terms of providing the family with a memorable and fun ritual they could share, and it also had the effect of highligting just how different genuine table manners were from "barbarian customs".

Last week we sat down to eat at the end of what had been a rather long day for me. The kids too seemed to be at the end of their ropes and were sniping at each other and whining to us. There came a point, after having laid down a couple of ultimatums to them about all this, that I snapped and hollered in a very loud voice for everyone to stop shouting. The effect was startling to the kids, particularly Colm who began to whimper that I shouldn't say mean things. Needless to say, I was chagrined, and I immediately went to Colm and tried to clarify my intentions in a much softer tone of voice.

Beth, to her credit, did not aim any withering looks in my direction. More and more we seem to share a sense that when things head south for either one of us - there but for the grace of God go I. Instead she set about trying to rally everyone to the dinner table for spaghetti.

We came together round the table, a rather somber and dispirited group. I wished that somehow we could regain our good feeling, but it seemed a plaintive hope. Beth looked at the table and noticed that the silverware had not been put out. She got up to get some, and as she placed forks next to plates she said, "I guess we need forks to eat our spaghetti." Then she added whimsically, "Although, some people we know sometimes eat their spaghetti without forks. They use their hands. We could do that too, I guess."

Both kids looked up curious. "No hands?" said Colm.
"No forks," said Beth.
"What if we ate it with no hands?" said Tess.
Colm smiled. My heart warmed at the sight of it.
"Let's do it," I said.
"You want to?" said Beth.
Everybody was smiling now. Before us lay steaming plates of spaghetti covered in meat sauce and paramesan cheese. I put my head down and tried to get a nibble. It wasn't easy. Everybody else did likewise. Each of us managed a strand of pasta or two but we seemed constrained a little. Finally, I just went for it and put my face down into the pile of paste. I came up with a red nose and a mouthful of food. Before long we were all at it with our hands in our laps and our goofy, smiling faces smeared with red sauce. I looked at my barbarian family and was grateful to that the blues had been driven from our home.

It was a great meal. Don't when we'll do it again.

The key to Ennui

In school the other day, Tess was given a worksheet where she was asked to create drawings of things produced certain vowel sounds. For the long "e" sound she chose "ennui". I had no idea that she even knew that word, let alone what it means.

Her picture strikes me as a rather apt rendering of the idea. It's fascinating to see how her experience in France still has the capacity to inform her imagination, notwithstanding her indifference to actually speaking the language. A pencil in her hand is like a key that unlocks things stashed away in her memory.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Wapiti in the Elkhorns

The Native American word "wapiti" means literally "white rump". We saw over a hundred wapiti this weekend at the foot of the Elkhorn mountains near Baker City.

A horse drawn wagon takes you to a feeding area where the elk are supplied with hay to help them winter.

Calves born last spring, enduring their first winter, cows carrying next spring's calves inside them, and bull elk displaying massive racks all congregate here.

There's nothing like coming across elk in the wild. Two times stick out in my own memory. One summer, years ago, my dad and I were on horseback up on Jim White Ridge near the Minam River when we came upon a herd of elk grazing. Because we were on horses, the elk seemed not to mind our approach and we were able to get pretty close to them. More recently, about three years back, Beth and I took the kids for a walk out on Cricket Flats in late autumn. We happened upon a herd in an aspen grove which began to move as soon as it sensed our presence. I remember being mindful of their size and their number and how the sound of elk breaking through brush was a reminder to not make the mistake of being in the way of wherever they might choose to go.

This weekend's experience, by contrast, was pretty tame. Nevertheless, it's kind of cool to be able to get close to them.

Monday, January 05, 2009

snow day

In the week running up to Christmas break Oregon got hit with some pretty wintry weather. The west side of the side pretty much found itself paralyzed by snowy roads. Roads were closed and school was canceled just about everywhere in the Portland area. Even Pendleton and Hermiston closed schools one day that week. But out here on the east side of the Blues, we just rolled our eyes and kept slogging off to wherever we were supposed to go. The weather over the break was dramatic to say the least, and we spent at least one day and night snowed in out at Cricket Flats where there were white-out conditions and the county snowplow did not run for a couple of days.

Last night though it seemed like things had returned to normal and we had every expectation of getting up and going to school Monday. We had closed out the holiday break by showing the kids the second Star Wars film, Empire Strikes Back. Exactly one year ago they watched the first one. That first film had been the kids first encounter with a cinematic character embodying pure evil. Darth Vader and his Death Star kept our kids huddling and cowering on the couch as Beth guided them through the experience. A year later, they were excited about the next installment. Once again, Beth prepped them for the story. Tess and Colm each brought their own oversized teddy bears to hold on to and to shield their eyes at the right moments. We didn't so much watch the film as we announced it, blow by blow, keeping a half step ahead of the action, responding to prompts like, "Is he going to die?" "Is he bad?" "Is this where he gets frozen in carbon?"

I'm not sure how much peeking they did from behind their bears but by the end of the film Beth and I had earned our stripes as film commentators. One of my favorite lines came from Tess who remarking on Luke's surgically implanted new hand said, "Where do they get those hands? From bad guys?" Did my daughter envision harvesting limbs and body parts from people who had forfeited their right to keep such parts? The moral universe of a seven year old (the age of reason according to traditional Catholic teaching) prone to despotic tendencies. It is a framework not yet congenial to the subtle promptings of Yoda. One day she may be a Jedi but not yet.

I woke up and discovered that I had some shoveling to do. The snow was still coming down pretty good but I figured that I might as well clear out what I could while I could before going to work. I'd barely begun when Beth stuck her head out the door and told me that the school district had announced a two hour delay for the start of the day. I nodded and kept at it knowing now that I'd have time to finish the job and have a leisurely breakfast and manage to get Tess going in the right direction with time to spare. A two hour delay was a new one. I couldn't remember us ever doing that. Oh well, I thought. There was at least six inches of fresh snow on the sidewalk and driveway, solid not powdery but not heavy either, not yet. Snow was still falling steadily and I imagined that if the winds were blowing out in the valley, some of the roads were likely pretty miserable. I was working my way around the car when Beth called out again. School was canceled, a blizzard was forecast throughout the day. I could see Colm through the living room window. He was dancing on the couch in his underwear. He looked like Gollum with his Precious. I was pretty sure Tess was still asleep. I looked behind and could see that the walk I shoveled first was already carpeted by a gauze of snow. Snow day.

When the Star Wars films were first released, we had to wait for about a year to see each new installment of the trilogy. Today of course, one can experience them consecutively or even chronologically without having to defer the experience. I go inside and suggest to Beth that today could be about sledding and a movie, maybe even the Return of the Jedi. Beth smiles at the idea of being so indulgent, but then she wonders aloud. What if we waited another year, she says. I'm reminded of Yoda's complaint that Luke cannot learn because he lacks patience. I know that each of us is tempted by the romance of waiting. I wonder if we will.
After all, Luke didn't.

Thursday, January 01, 2009



clocks break fasts upon a round platter
festooned chronologically in slices minute
enough for us to monitor our wait or devour
dwindling seconds as if it were no matter.

Calendars, meanwhile, provision us with portals -
anniversaries, appointments, extend telescopically...
But see too remote archipelagos of empty boxes,
heralds feting human hope, unbound and immortal.

Kevin Cahill