Category Archives: The Island

All Alone

We’d hoped to see our friends at the lake, and when she realized they weren’t there she cried. I was feeling guilty and thinking I needed to find more kids for her to play with. Then I looked out at her there on the dock and realized that this was exactly what she needed.

First Few Weeks With Little K

I’ve been struggling with what to write about our transition with Little K, but I think I’ve identified the problem. See, I tend to write posts from the point of tension, conflict, grief or some new knowledge. It’s that creative writing 101 anthem of where’s the trouble. This is the problem. There is no trouble.

Little K is just pretty much perfect. The transition time in Dallas was great. The foster parents (FP) were so loving and caring and they had fallen madly in love with him. After the first day when we met him at the agency, we went to the FP’s house and we all played on the floor while he moved between us. He was so accepting and it was nice to be able to bring him back to his safe place at the end of every day. You could see him relax, exhale, sleep when he got home. It just gave us all a little breather and took the pressure off for a few hours. By the end of the week, he’d cry when we left the FP’s house without him.

The flight home was trying at times but nothing unexpected for a 1 year old. At home Josie was waiting for us outside and beside herself with excitement. She hugged him and kissed him and continued to play with him even after he captured two fistfuls of her hair. She bought him a red fire truck with sirens and lights and showed him how it worked.

Over the next few days, she gradually came to understand that she did not get to feed, change, and diaper the baby by HERSELF. She, of course, could help or, she could change her own baby while I changed K but that was never good enough. So, we’ve been spending some time coming up with a job description for a big sister and we’re open to your suggestions. What are the big sister’s primary duties?

The first week we were home, Josie went to school as usual and Paul and I watched him while he slept. He slept a lot but he also seemed to be adjusting just fine. He was fascinated by the dog and his favorite thing to do was stand on the couch and stare at her in the back yard. He likes to cuddle after his nap and he loves it when I chase him out of the kitchen. He giggles and shrieks and pats his hands on his chest as if to say hey, how do you like me now? He’s recently started clapping and he’s so pleased he can make that clicking sound with his tongue.

Things were going so well that first week that we decided to take long-scheduled vacation to the island the following week. The weather was awesome. We walked on the beach, swam in the lake. What more is there to say?

We see occasional glimpses into the difficult transition he must be feeling. Sometimes he has a hard time falling asleep at night or wakes up in the middle of the night, looks around and for his FP’s or previous caretakers. There’s lots of rocking then and if he really can’t settle down, we try the baby carrier (oh, my aching back!) or watch some Baby Einstein (awesome) at 3:00 in the morning.

Now Paul is back at work, Josie is back to school. I’m here folding laundry, weeding the garden, chasing the baby out of the kitchen and watching Baby Einstein and maybe an episode or two of The Office when I can’t fall back to sleep.

It’s a Bufflehead

It’s April, finally the time of year that we go back to the island. In the winter, when the baseboard heater can’t keep up with the cold on the other side of our single-pane windows, and the concrete slab floor feels like ice, and we have to drain the water heater every time we leave, and a certain three-year-old’s hands are cold, and she has to use the potty after you’ve turned off the water, and she’s tired and hungry for a snack, and you still have a boat ride before the car drive, its best to just stay home. But this time of year, when I start to feel spring coming, I get anxious. I can smell the lake water and taste the fresh crab. Almost. Here.

We made it up to the island last weekend. It was the first time we’d been up in a while and one of the crazy things about little kids is that they change so much so fast that it seemed like I was taking Josie to the island for the first time again. It’s not that she doesn’t remember it. Oh, she does and she loves it, but she’s so grown up, so mature that she sees new things and appreciates another aspect of the island.

We were at the marina. Walking down the dock, I noticed a duck-like bird. It was nearly all black with white wedge around the eye. Josie was walking next to me holding my hand. We stopped and looked at it. We described it to each other.

When it flew away we noticed that it stayed close to the water and it had a white stripe on its wing near where it connected to its body. Then we walked on.

When we got to the house we picked up the bird book. She sat next to me on couch. We looked through pictures together until we found one that looked right, then I read the description of the bird and we agreed that it was indeed a bufflehead.

Did you hear what I said? We walked down the dock together. We stopped to describe a bird. She SAT on the couch next to me. We looked at pictures. She LISTENED to the description. These are all things that I would not have thought possible six months ago, or even last month.

It wasn’t just a mallard, it was a bufflehead and maybe next time, maybe sometime before the summer is over, we’ll see a pink-billed oystercatcher. Really, anything could happen.

Happy Belated

I missed my blogiversary! What’s going on around here? Who’s running this place anyway?

On December 14th, HMN turned a year old. This was my very first post – I Apologize in Advance.

It’s fitting that there’s an apology in the title. That I start out apologizing for what I am going to do. I realize now that when I became a blogger, I made a presumption that my experience, knowledge and/or writing were valuable to others. That’s a huge presumption and at times feels egotistical and totally against my nature and I have to crush the compulsion to just shut-up and apologize for taking up your time.

Its one thing to write in the removed fortress of a book but it’s another thing to write and have people actually read your work and respond… Immediately. A friend once asked what surprised me most about blogging and that was my answer – having readers.

Every time I post it’s hard not to imagine people taking time out of their busy lives to read my words, and to imagine their reactions, and to assign totally fictional thoughts and critiques to totally fictional people. This is only fueled by the excitement of learning your carefully-chosen words about cancer, race or your child have been read by hundreds or even thousands of complete and total strangers. My imagination runs unchecked bringing out my inner, apologetic, critic who just wants to stay out of the way.

Almost every time I post something I have a mini-crisis. I’m probably having one right now. I’ve heard things about mean people in the blogosphere and I know, eventually, one of those people will find me. And they’ll find a flaw in my writing, or more importantly, my character. They’ll point it out and there it will be for everyone to see. It’s only a matter of time.

But that hasn’t happened. Maybe someday it will, maybe someday it won’t, but for now I’m going to celebrate that worst fear unrealized and I’m going to revise my answer to my friend’s question. The thing that surprises me most about blogging: how nice, loving and generous everyone has been with their comments. And for that, dear reader, I thank you.


The cousins arrived.

Santa came to grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. Who do you think was most excited?

He came back that night and filled stockings with band-aids, scotch tape, play-doh.

Then we went to the island.

Now we are here. We wear down vests and mud boots all day. We walk. We sit on the couch and talk about investment portfolios, book contracts and potty training. We dig through the bin of 50 cookie cutters and try to guess the animal for each. It’s surprisingly difficult. Is that a giraffe or a llama? Paul fixed the faucet. I steam cleaned the carpet that Josie smeared with Aquaphor last summer. I’m enjoying a book (Out Stealing Horses) for the first time since I read Cutting for Stone. I read while sitting with my feet close enough to the fire to melt the tread off my slippers.

We promised the girls a trip to the lake after their naps. We took them even though it was almost dark.

Happy New Year everyone!


Norah’s a swimmer, not just a fetch-the-stick kind of swimmer, but an I-can’t-see-her-anymore, she’s-been-gone-for-an-hour, the-neighbors-called-to-say-she’s-headed-for-the-straits kind of swimmer.

One morning on the island we’re walking to my parent’s house at low tide, and while Josie and I turn over rocks looking for tiny crabs Norah leaves land to swim after a seagull. The crabs all scurry into the water and mud or under other rocks before we can catch them. All except the hermit crabs that stop where they are and retreat into their shells. Josie picks one up and pets it with her index finger.

Thirty minutes later, we’re done playing with crabs but Norah’s still gone. I scan the water looking for that tiny dot of a blond head on the horizon. Once she’s offshore, once her feet have left the rocks, we can call her all we want, but she will not come. She’s irretrievable. We’ve thought about leashing her on the beach but she loves the long swim so much and our fear of her drowning doesn’t seem enough to keep her from it. Instinctually she must know when she’s getting tired, right? We’re trying to trust that she will come back even if it’s an hour or so later.

This time when I spot her head I also see the brown heads of three otters. These aren’t the cute little sea otters that float on their backs, cracking open clams. These are river otters, overgrown brown rats that live in family groups of a dozen or so. There’s an island rumor that they lure dogs into deep water where they attack with their claws.

One otter dives and pops up further out. The other two stay at her sides – she’s surrounded. I think I’ve mentioned before that Norah is not really my favorite, beautiful, dream dog. She’s good with kids and nice enough, but she’s a black hole of screeching, whining neediness. People have recommended training, but really, I just don’t care. I’m trying to convince an almost three year old to hold my hand in parking lots, to wipe when she’s done with the potty and to use her words instead of her fists. And, after living with a dog who had a bad habit of biting people, a little (or a lot) of screeching doesn’t seem like a trainable offence.

Even so, Norah has grown on me. She’s become part of the family. I’d be sad to see her go if she slipped under the water never to return. But I cannot handle the thought of death by otter. I cannot handle the thought of her suffering. I cannot handle the thought of her blood spilled on the sand.

An otter dips under the water and pops up a few feet further out. It looks back at us and back at Norah. It dips and pops up again. Even though I know it will do no good I stand on the beach screeching Norah’s name. Once, I think she turns to me. I think she hears me but then she’s swimming out after the otter again. I yell her name over and over and over “norahnorahnorah.” She turns her head but it never lasts.

After watching her paddle after the otters for 15 minutes I have to leave. I take Josie up the stairs to my parent’s house and leave Paul to the dog. When I get to the top I can’t help but watch from the deck. I try to let it go; to leave it up to fate.

Forty-five minutes later, Norah crawls up on shore unharmed, thin and shivering from the cold. She trots up the path to the house and gives me a good shake and her usual what’s your problem look. I realize how similar that look is to the one I give her when she’s screeching at me. I pat her head and she walks past me without a hint of neediness to her favorite spot on the deck where she stretches out in the warm sun.

Toe Biters

I’m just going to tell you right now, straight-up, there is no point to this post. I don’t want to lead anyone on. There is no moral or important information to be gleaned. Perhaps it could be considered part of my insect series or maybe it could be classified as a cautionary tale. It doesn’t really matter why I’m telling you this little story. Like many traumatic experiences, I’m compelled to share. It’s part of my healing.

I’ve been swimming in the lake on the island all my life. There are few things I love more than diving into a giant cool body of water on a hot day. I love the initial sting of cold that takes my breath away. I usually dive off the dock and sprint until I no longer need to scream in pain. Then I slow it down a notch until I feel like I can breathe again. Eventually when I’m about half way across the lake I turn around. I wear goggles and dive deep, swimming underwater for most of my return, watching the sunlight refract, lighting algae like dust particles in a patch of sunshine.

By the time I get back to the beach area, I’m usually swimming among the milfoil looking for the rainbow trout that lurks just under the dock. I came face to face with him once, the day after he took off with my olive wooly bugger fly. Of course, I don’t know it was the same fish, but it happened right there and he looked guilty. 

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was holding Josie’s hand as she flung herself off the dock… Wait, that’s not really how it happened. I was pulling Josie out of the deep water after she’d refused my hand and jumped off the dock when I felt something nudging my calf. I looked down and saw what looked like a pinecone. It’s not unusual to come into contact with the occasional minnow, tadpole or a drifting leaf. I couldn’t really identify this thing but I shook it away and went back to my flailing child. A few minutes later it was back and this time it had legs. I looked closer. It was unidentifiable and like nothing I had ever seen. I screeched like a fourteen year old girl and jumped onto the dock. My childhood friend and my husband both rolled their eyes. I searched the water to defend myself, but nothing.  

The next day we went back to the lake, and this time there’s something in the bucket on the dock. I lean over and take a look. It’s about 2.5 – 3 inches long and greenish brown with legs, several of them, and big pinchers on its head. It’s bumping into the walls of the bucket, just like it was bumping into my leg the day before. I collect my redemption from the husband and the childhood friend (see!) and leave Josie to put her head in the bucket to holler unintelligible garble at the bug.  

I’ve seen pinchers like that before. We were in Namibia eating at a picnic table when our truck driver hollered and jumped onto his bench. We moved the furniture and he showed us the big black bug that had bitten his toe. (A few minutes later he said: If you see one like that with a white stripe, run. It can shoot poison in your eyes from 3 feet.) This one was a different color but its pinchers looked just the same.

That night I dreamt about those pinchers and in the morning I Googled ‘big water beetle.’ Sure enough, the giant water bug lives in fresh water lakes, eats tadpoles and small fish, lays eggs by the hundreds and is also commonly known as the toe biter.

My lake swimming will never be the same, but now that I’ve shared, perhaps the healing can begin.

Those Delicious Summer Nights

There are a few nights a year when it’s hot enough on the island to sleep outside. I love those nights. I pull the old futon mattress out from under the bed, pitch it from the loft onto the couch downstairs then drag it outside to the far end of the deck. I lay out a blanket, pillow, sleeping bag, and nestle in. It’s always cool out there in the evening unlike the loft where all the heat of the day collects and waits.

A few weeks ago, I had one of these delicious nights. Sortly after my head hit the pillow my friend the brown bat came to visit, flitting overhead in the fading light. In the middle of the night I got up to use the bathroom and when I came back I startled a heron from a nearby Douglas fir, sending him into an awkward, squawky flight. Then I fell back to sleep to the sound of the water shuffling the rocks on the beach. I slept soundly until I woke to a screech.

It sounded like cats or rats fighting on the beach. There was a sound that was kind of a rattle and kind of a growl. It was a little like purring only mad – really mad – and then more screeching and the sounds of nocturnal animal bodies crashing into the rocks. This went on and on. I tried to picture them; at least one was a river otter. Maybe they were both otters. One could also have been a raccoon or maybe some kind of rat. I wondered what they were fighting over. Turf? Dominance? The remote? Who would do the dishes or fold the last load of laundry? Did someone forget to take the garbage out again? (Perhaps I over-react.)

Turf. It was probably turf. Maybe one of the otters had a totally swank den, a totally private little haven on a point with views of three other islands, where the beach transitioned from rock to pebbles to sand, next to the cove where the crabbing was best. Maybe someone else wanted their little piece of paradise. I hoped they’d work it out, for the sake of my sleep and for them, but I could hardly blame them. It was worth fighting for. When it continued on and on I finally got up, dragged my sleeping bag inside and climbed the stairs to my perfect, cooled-off den.

She Can Be Cute Too

For the five nights my sister’s family stayed with my parents on the island, Paul, Josie and I packed up our contributions to dinner and headed to their house (aka: the mother ship) at cocktail hour. The weather was beautiful and as the sun stretched long over the horizon we clustered around my parents’ glass table and ate our dinners family style.

The day the cousins left we planned to have a quiet dinner at home. While I cooked, Josie messed around in the carport. We’d just returned from swimming in the lake and her inflatable boat was in the center of the flagstone. I looked out and she’d climbed inside. I asked where she was going and she replied that she was going to Bumpa’s (Grandpa’s) house. OK, have a nice time (is she really playing by herself? Awesome.)

A few minutes later I peek out the door again and she isn’t there. I walk to the other side of the house toward the beach. She isn’t there. I walk around the side of the house quietly, afraid I will disturb the rare, elusive, self-occupied toddler (I didn’t know it existed!). Finally, I see her walking up our long, steep dirt driveway toward the road with her inflatable boat raised over her head. This is, of course, the same driveway that she cannot possibly walk all the way up when her parents are around to carry her. But here she is walking and holding a boat over her head. Not only is she occupied but she’s wearing herself out. It’s like Christmas over here. Sure, she’s headed toward the road but it’ll take her a while to get there and there aren’t many cars and they don’t drive very fast and, well, she’s playing by herself. Needless to say, I don’t want to break the spell.

A few minutes later when I can no longer see her I hoof it up to the end of the driveway. I expect to find her resting somewhere along the way, distracted by a bug on a leaf or maybe playing next to the road but there she is sitting in her boat right in the middle of the road. Oh stop looking at me that way, there wasn’t a car in sight and if there had been, it would have driven really slowly and have I mentioned that she was playing by herself?

Anyhoo, Josie tells me she’s going to Bumpa’s house. I explain to her that if a car comes, I’m concerned the driver won’t be able to see her down here in this boat. When she gets up three plastic plates, two knives, a plastic frying pan, and a plastic piece of lettuce clatter to the pavement. While I move the boat to the side of the road, she starts walking. It’s about a half mile to Bumpa’s house and I’m pretty sure if I let her she would have made it fine without getting lost. Finally, concerned that the non-plastic dinner is burning on the stove, I talk her into returning to the house to find Daddy. Maybe after dinner Paul will carry her up the driveway, because she can’t possibly make it to the top herself, and we’ll all walk over to Bumpa’s house.

The Reward

Ah, vacation… It’s not an easy thing to get a family, especially one with a young child, out of town. There’s so much preparation. There’s the food planning, the grocery shopping, the packing (you have to make sure you have cute yet practical clothes for all weather conditions, the good sunscreen, the sun hat, and for goodness sake don’t forget Baby Chloe and Monkey).

Then there’s the drive and the screaming when the girl decides she’s bored and had enough. There’s the running around at the rest stop. There’s the car snacking and the tears when you run out of ‘ting cheese (string cheese). Then there’s loading everything onto the boat, bribing the child into the life vest, leashing the dog and trying to keep her from pulling you into the water as you walk down the dock. There’s the boat ride where you’re trying to keep the kid awake because you know if she drifts off the real nap will not happen. There’s the unloading of the boat and the loading of another car and the driving to the house.

Once you get there, there’s putting the girl to bed for her nap and unloading the cooler and the totes full of groceries and removing sheets from furniture and opening blinds. By then it’s pretty much time to start dinner. There’s the cutting, the chopping, the marinating. There’s packing up dinner fixings and the vitamins and the sippy cups of milk and going to the parent’s house. There’s the greeting of the nieces and the combining of chopped items and marinated meats and there’s kids and dogs and more kids everywhere, running, there’s the running, then there’s the crashing and the crying, and the requisite stealing of toys.

Then, finally, it’s cocktail hour. There’s the pouring of beverages and the consumption of guacamole. There’s the sun as it begins its descent, there are hummingbirds at the feeder, there’s the dying wind and the still water and the one ferry boat passing by the one fishing boat tied to one buoy. There’s a set table and kids around it (or close enough) and dogs sprawled out sleeping in the sun and there’s this family and this gin and tonic and grilled ribs and salad. There’s the sun warming the back of your neck. There’s this perfect moment when everything good and worthy comes together and you sit with your people in the most beautiful place you know and exhale.   

I hope you’re all finding lots of these moments this summer.