Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pelee Island: A Primer

When I mention Pelee Island in passing, listeners sometimes envision Hilton Head or Maui, Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard. Yes, Pelee is much like Martha's Vineyard minus the shops and restaurants. Minus the potable water and the paved roads. Minus the photographers and the Kennedys.

No matter. I love it still. What Pelee Island lacks in amenities (basic services, even), it makes up for in rustic charm and sheer beauty.

Of course, not every visitor sees it this way. Dad once greeted a potential cottager at the dock and drove him across the island to show him beach front property. Well, seems the wind had shifted and brought with it the dreaded biting flies.

And they are bad. 

Something out of a Michael Crichton novel bad.

Mr. Potential Buyer got out of the car, walked to the beach, met the biting flies, returned to the car, and said, "Take me back to the dock."

No sale.

For the uninitiated Pelee Islander, here I offer a primer, a brief orientation, helpful givens that I've gleaned over forty years of visiting the island.

Given #1 - There is nothing to do.

No putt putt, no movie theater. No golf course, no tennis courts. You can't run to the grocery store, since there really isn't much of a grocery store. Out of mustard? Make do or do without or wander up the beach to borrow some. The upside is that since there's nothing to do, you don't really have to do anything. You could spend two weeks at Pelee and never get in the car, never put on a pair of shoes, even.

Given #2 (And Irony #1) - There's so much to do.

Basic functions -- trash and water, specifically -- take an unusually large amount of time.

A visit to the Waste Transfer Station, AKA The Dump, is practically a field trip and should be filed below under Required Outings. Veteran Pelee Islanders remember the bad old days when "the dump" was exactly that -- a thoroughly nasty pile of refuse you'd approach breathing through your mouth poised to quickly hurl your contributions before speeding away. Today things are much more eco-friendly and much less pungent, but somehow the process of gathering the trash, driving to the far end of the island, and driving home seems to take half a day.

Re-supplying the water is easier than unloading the trash, but requires keeping in mind the variable hours of the Co-op, checking to see who needs water, gathering the empty tanks, and getting to the Co-op before closing time. 

Given #3 (Irony #2) - Relaxation can morph into lethargy.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Nothing To Do has a downside and that is that you end up doing nothing. Life on Pelee lends itself to a schedule something like this: Stumble out of bed. Caffeinate. Brush your teeth by noon. In lieu of a shower, jump in Lake Erie. Rustle up some lunch around 2:00. Play a little Scrabble or Euchre. Think about dinner about seven. Consider a shower but opt for another dip in the lake. Feed everyone. Play some more cards. Switch from coffee to wine. Play some more cards.

For reasons I can't fully explain, basic personal hygiene becomes dicey and not just among the kids. For reasons gross, contagious, and undetailed here, I once left Pelee determined that our next visit would involve daily showers (not to be confused with daily swims) and a large supply of Dial soap.

Relaxed is good. Grungy can take on a life of its own.

Given #4 - Required Outings

We have our requisite Field Trips that no one but me seems to want to do. Since I come but once a year, everyone indulges me. 

We usually begin with Lighthouse Point. 

We gather cameras and water bottles. We ignore plaintive cries of children objecting to a forced march. We drive or bike up the road. We let George and assorted cousins run up ahead to search for snakes. We scream and carry on when they show off their finds. We take pictures. We look for sea glass. We head home.

And then there's Fish Point.

We gather water bottles and insect repellent. We ignore plaintive cries of children objecting to yet another forced march. We walk through the woods and note that this year's crop of Poison Ivy is thriving. We walk back along the beach. We stop by Coneheads for ice cream.

And that just about exhausts the list of tourist attractions on Pelee Island.

Of course there's fishing. We supply the men folk with drinks, snacks, and all the children we can possibly pawn off and outfit in life-jackets. Euchre, peace, and tranquility while they're gone! Fish and chaos when they return!

Given # 5 - Getting to the ferry requires a crisis.

We have had crises big (time consuming run-ins with customs' authorities) and crises small (missing shoes, toddlers in need of a bathroom), but there's always something to gum up the works.

Click here for a truly riveting tale. This year's trip provided only slightly less drama, but I'm happy to report, no blocked toilets. 

Long story short: on this visit, my dad and sister ending up leaving the island early due to health issues. I was to follow a few days later with Mom. And it was all good because we had our van on the island and another sizable vehicle parked on the mainland. All we had to do was get across the island to the dock  -- in a seven passenger van, with six Dolins, my mother, her dog, her wheelchair, my nephew, and eighty-three pieces of luggage. 

Since we hadn't yet visited The Waste Transfer Station, we also had a monstrosity of a garbage bag to tote across the island. Those wise folks at the new dump charge by the bag for trash drop off, and my dear father saves a few bucks by buying contractor sized garbage bags we dub body bags. They're about eight feet long.

So as we sped to the dock to catch the boat, we put the body bag in the only place it would fit in that seven passenger van now holding eight people, a dog, a wheelchair, and eighty-three pieces of luggage. That place would be the roof. When Dave took a corner a tad fast, I tapped him on the shoulder and gently reminded him that there was a week's worth of trash car-surfing on the roof. 

"Is it still there," he asked me.

Well, I was perched on about two inches of the middle bench wedged in between John and Ainsley with Cody, the psychotic dog affectionately known as Bitey, very nearly in my lap. Wholly unable to crane my neck far enough to see if the body bag was still with us, I hoped for the best. Dave dropped me at the dock so that I could assure the fine folks at the ferry that we were, in fact, planning to sail, while he, my mom, the kids, and the dog toured The Waste Transfer Station one last time.

The ferry requires a crisis. 

Rustic charm and sheer beauty -- that's Pelee Island.

We'll deal with the water and the dump, the biting flies and the ferry, as long as we can keep the lake and the bike rides, the wheat fields and the sea glass.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mothers of Walmart

I came home from Walmart and told Ainsley to grab a stack of books. I planned to spend the next chunk of the afternoon curled up on the couch with my girl reading Cinderella and Dora, Sleeping Beauty and Pooh.

I'm not a follower of People of Walmart. Do I really need to feed disdain for another soul? No, I don't. Sadly, I manage to manufacture quite enough disdain on my own, thank you very much. No outsourcing necessary.

Today as I toured the aisles and filled in the gaps on our back-to-school lists, I mentally compiled a montage of Mothers of Walmart. I'm glad it will never appear on the net because it was sad.

Beyond sad.

Mean-spirited, really.

Bordering on cruel.

I could issue the usual disclaimers. I've been the grumpy mother, the frazzled mother, the biting mother. I've had children meltdown over a matchbox car in Kroger, disappear in Publix, vomit all over a cart in Walmart. Even when nothing newsworthy occurs, shopping with small children or many children or even a single, solitary, ornery child can be trying, trying, trying.

I know this.

Motherhood is hard.

Not Oh, I broke a fingernail hard. Not I've got way too much to do hard. No, it's I can't do this another five minutes let alone all night let alone for a lifetime kind of hard. Ragged edge, crying out to God, seeing our own limits with absolute clarity kind of hard.

My dear and brave friend Amy recently put into words what so many of us have experienced in the bleary, lonely hours of the night. I've been there and done that, and if having been there and done that has accomplished any good work in my soul, it's that I am far less prone to judge another mother who's on the edge.

But today.



Why speak to anyone like that much less a toddler?  A baby, really. Not whining, not grabbing, not shrieking, just being.

Just being.

And so I pray for these mothers, one in particular. And for those children. And for me. And for my children.

And I started to type "I realize reading books to my daughter won't fix all that ails the world around us" but then I stopped and I thought, "You know what? I actually think it will."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Missing You

Still alternating between astonishment and joy that my baby is five. My mind is nothing but cliche heaven. My mechanically gifted husband managed to fix our VCR the other day. (Yes, we own a VCR and VHS tapes). The kids have had a ball watching home movies of Kolbe learning to crawl and Tim learning to read.

I'm amazed at how dim it all grows -- the chubby cheeks and the sweet lisping voices, the beloved toys and the favorite books. I'm glad I recorded on video, and I appreciate what I've archived here.

While I'm enjoying my soon to be kindergartner, here's the baby I miss.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bobby Jones Expressway

In my month-long sojourn North, there was one element of Augusta life I did not miss, not one little bit. The heat, you might guess? No, no, it wasn't the heat. The humidity? Nope.

The answer in three succinct words: Bobby Jones Expressway.

Please don't let the term "Expressway" confuse you. There's nothing quick or convenient about it. Bobby Jones may be the death of me, though I  hope this is not literally true.

Some people seem to carry a map in their heads and are able to find their way around town even when the usual routes are closed. I am not one of those people.

I blame it on the Land Ordinance of 1785.

I grew up outside Detroit. The suburbs of Detroit are laid out in a perfect grid, per the requirements of the aforementioned Land Ordinance. It's hard to get lost when the roads are Eight Mile Road, Nine Mile Road, Ten Mile Road, etc.. I don't know how high the numbers  go, but I worked at a camp on Thirty-Three Mile Road. Those roads meet at  precise and clean ninety degree angles with other major streets spaced precisely one mile apart.

Beautiful. Logical. Helpful to the geographically impaired among us.

The second set of roads are named, not numbered, so this requires a little memory work. But, still, if you say, "The restaurant's at Ten Mile and Southfield," everyone knows where it is and about how long it should take to get there.

Bobby Jones, the handy- dandy non-expressway  near our house is under perma-construction, emphasis on perma. Last year as we drove to swim team, I said again and again, "Just think, kids. Next year we won't have construction to contend with!"

Just call me Pollyanna.

Not only is is Not Done, it's far, far worse than last year as in they're working right here, right now, on our entrance ramp. Conditions were grim yesterday when four lanes converged into two; this morning one scrawny lane was open. The up side is that traffic was slowed to just about a crawl so merging into that one lane wasn't quite as terrifying as it was yesterday.

I don't drive well under pressure. Years ago I moved from Augusta to North Augusta. When you cross the Savannah River, you change states and if you change states, you change your driver's license. Note to self: If you should do this again, do not let the former license expire before securing the latter else You Will Have to Take A Driver's Test.

A Driver's Test.

At age 24.

Many people remember a driver's test at 16 and the terror, perhaps the shame, that went along with that. I do not remember these things because I never took a driver's test at 16. I should clarify that I did take a ten question written test prior to receiving an unrestricted license to drive. Michigan, it seems, was flat broke in 1980. Among the austerity measures taken was waiving the road test given to new drivers.

All this is to say that taking my one and only road test at 24 was nothing short of terrifying.

As I said, I don't drive well under pressure, and among the maneuvers I bungle when stressed, backing up tops the list. One day I pulled Dave's truck into a crowded church parking lot. I don't drive the truck if I can avoid it. It is large. I am small. I am very comfortable with my boring van. I find the truck unwieldy. Well, this Sunday found me attempting to fit a large truck into a small parking space. And next to my small parking space was parked a Gleaming Lexus whose owner had just exited the vehicle. He stood off to the side watching me maneuver Large Truck. And I thought, "How kind. He's here to help me out. You know, do the a little to the left, a little to the right thing and help me get Large Truck parked just right."

No, no.

He was just looking out for Gleaming Lexus.

And, lucky me, I was stuck doing my least favorite maneuver in my least favorite vehicle with an audience.

Head bang.

And I flashed back to my road test at age 24. I drove and turned and braked and used my turn signals and adjusted my mirrors and even rocked the parallel parking. And then the nice instructor told me to back up. Even in my trusty Nova without Gleaming Lexus and Glowering Owner staring me down, I broke out in a cold sweat. I threw it in reverse and backed up. Nice Instructor shook her head and began furiously scribbling notes on a clipboard.

I passed.

Thank you, good and gracious God, I passed.

Failing a road test at 24 would have been too much.

But that gut-wrenching panic of parking Behemoth Truck in front of Gleaming Lexus and Observant Owner, of taking a driver's test at 24, all of it comes back to me each time I merge onto Bobby Jones.

We returned home late from the pool last night. The road working crew was out in force, working late under bright lights. God bless them and protect them. It certainly isn't easy work. I will breathe a little easier when it's done.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

And the Baby Turned Five

Ainsley's birthday party was upon us, so I was busily hanging curtains in John and Kolbe's room.

Don't analyze this.

Really, don't even try.

Would anyone be entering John and Kolbe's room during the party? Not if I could help it. No, no, no, no. John and Kolb'es room was designated The Repository of All The Things. By Things I mean the treadmill that we are finally getting rid of (but not before the party). And the computer that is housed in a public area. The fish tank we think we're in the process of restoring to use. And anything else I rendered superfluous when a legion of little girls (and by "legion", I actually mean six) came through my front door. John and Kolbe could enter their room at a low crawl and exit through the small window on the far left. The one sporting a new curtain. Dave stumbled into The Repository, surveyed the damage, and quipped, "Hmmm, I like what you've done in here."

You know, I am not an entertainer.

I wish I were. Really, I do.

I love the idea of just opening my door and being all gracious and inviting and relaxed. And I can do this. As long as you don't call the event A Party. Call it Hospitality and not Entertaining, and I do just fine. I have a long and checkered history with regard to Entertaining and probably am in need of prayers for healing. I think it dates back to Tim's First Communion which was a lethal combination of bad weather, little sleep, lots of guests, burnt ribs, wildly fluctuating hormones, and a late miscarriage in progress.

Seriously, a nightmare. Night. Mare.

But back to the birthday party . . . I made the birthday thing easier on myself by not sending out invitations but merely texting a few friends saying something like "I'm having a few girls over for Ainsley's birthday." Somehow erring on the side of Get Together versus Party kept my panic at bay.

I forced myself to remember the fact that they're five. No matter what I did, they'd love it, right? A little chocolate, a little fluff, balloons or bubbles, and we'd be good.

I headed over to Pinterest because that's what we do these days. Just when I think I've got the girly-girl thing moving in the right direction, Pinterest dispels this illusion once and for all. Myth busted, busted, busted. Really, head over there and search "little girl's tea party."

I dare you.

Cookies in the shape of lipstick.

Cupcakes garnished with -- and I'm not even making this up -- nail polish.

More tulle than the Spring Formal.

Dining rooms more lavish than a wedding reception I once attended at the Ritz Carlton.

Did these mothers paint their dining room chairs pink just for the party? Or did they rent them?

As for me, I washed the tea pots. I bought balloons. We had place cards -- Ainsley wrote them out. With red crayon. Does that count? We had tiaras and wands. True, they came from the dollar store. Do I still get credit? I think I do.

No matter.

I may be out of my league with all things fluffy, but we had a nice tea party, a very nice party indeed.

I made cucumber sandwiches. The girls went for the Goldfish and M and M's. They chose milk over tea. In a sad and cutting development, they were thoroughly unimpressed with the sugar cubes that I located after scouring store after store.

Three stores and $5 for 8 ounces of sugar cubes. It's all in the details, people.

But those girls giggled and blew their horns and ooohed and aaahed and were everything that is sweet and fun about little girls.

The baby is now five.

Quirky and funny and smart and full of life she is, my girl with the blue eyes and the yellow hair, the soft cheeks and the flair for the dramatic.

And I'm so glad, so very glad she's mine.

Love, love, love you, Ainsey Boo!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Two Kids and a Snake

My annual visit to Pelee Island invariably tests whether or not I have overcome my phobia of snakes, and after this last trip, the answer is a firm and indisputable No!

I fancy that I've come a long way since that dark day in rural Kentucky when I was exploring an abandoned barn. Someone found a six foot long snake skin, and wouldn't you know, some helpful person causally mentioned that a snake doesn't stray far from where he left his skin.

I'm fairly certain that is nothing but bosh, but, let me tell you, it was enough to make me Freak Out.

Big Freak, Big, Big Freak.

But, over the years, mostly born out of determination not to pass every last one of my neuroses down to my children, I have made a concerted effort to chill with regard to snakes. I don't pick them up. I don't want them in my house. But I go into the reptile house at the zoo. I can look at them from afar. I don't freak when I see one in the road.

And then this trip.

My two sisters have lake houses on Pelee Island. Sister A -- we'll call her Frantic --doesn't like snakes anymore than I do. Sister B -- we'll call her Loony -- has a pathological fear of them.

Well, Loony, see, she is also horribly allergic to Poison Ivy. Gets it every year. Starts itching at the slightest brush. In an effort to rid her wooded property of Poison Ivy, she has dispensed generous amounts of something akin to Agent Orange, and though she still manages to get Poison Ivy every year, her property is all but snake free.

Meanwhile Frantic's property up the beach is a teeming mass of reptiles. Our two weeks in Canada brought some of the most beautiful weather we have ever enjoyed up north. Breezy, cool, gorgeous. On hot days, the snakes stay in the woods where. they. belong. On cool days, they head to the beach for a little sun. And if you should be bringing in a batch of towels or folding up the beach chairs, you might just step on one (or three).

(Note: The names have been changed to protect the guilty from the pesky Ministry of Natural Resources. Our Canadian neighbors take their snakes very seriously indeed.)

A few years back I was staying at Frantic's house and met a friend of hers, Ivy, who hails from South Africa. I commented on the plethora of snakes and wondered if they bothered her. No, turns out that Ivy grew up with a next door neighbor who rarely cut his lawn. His unkempt property attracted -- are you ready for this? -- Black Mambas. Yes, Ivy grew up avoiding one of the deadliest snakes on the planet. 

If that had been me, I guess a little Lake Erie Water Snake probably wouldn't ruin my day either.

The following photos were not staged. John and Ainsley encountered a rather large specimen on Frantic's beach and here I present evidence pulled straight from Genesis: God put enmity between the woman and the snake:

John meets Mr. Snake.

John harasses Mr. Snake.

Ainlsey throws up her hands and shrieks, "oh my!"

In the spirit of her mother and Aunts Frantic and Loony, Ainsley makes a mad dash.

But goes back later for a tentative look.