Three years ago I took my kids (Elena Grace & Christian, then 9 & 12) up to my parents’ house for Christmas. It was the first time in over a decade that I had been “home” for Christmas, and we resurrected every Christmas tradition I had grown up with. We baked my grandma’s famous vanilla-apricot sugar cookies. We decorated the Christmas tree with ornaments our family had accumulated abroad over decades of travel. We held a Christmas-caroling party on Christmas Eve, and my mother and I together sang our favorite descant to “Silent Night” to finish it up. We opened stockings while we drank orange juice out of great-grandma’s gold-rimmed goblets. We read aloud the whole of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” We made snow angels in the back yard and pelted each other with snowballs.
As we were driving to pick up the kids from my Ex’s house yesterday, Keoni commented that he always has a knot in his stomach at pick-up and drop-off times, wondering if the Ex (or his wife) will kick up a fuss of some sort. I get the same knot. And sure enough—yesterday we got another taste of pointless puerility.
We had reminded the kids to bring their sleeping bags because we’re planning a camping trip this week. They each have a nice down sleeping bag (I know this because I bought them, back when I was still married to their dad), and the arrangement is supposed to be that the kids can bring their own things back and forth between the households, regardless of which parent might have bought the items in question. The kids’ things are the KIDS’ things, and they’re supposed to be able to have their things with them.
However, instead of the down-filled sleeping bags, my Ex brought out a pair of old flannel bags that he and I had bought when we were college undergrads. They would be fine for a living-room slumber party, but in the Idaho mountains these weren’t warm enough when they were new—and that was almost twenty years ago. So I asked if the kids could please bring their warm sleeping bags, since we’re heading into the mountains.
“They’re in the trailer,” he answered evasively, clearly intending that retort to close the topic.
Can they please bring them?
“They’re in the trailer,” he repeated. (The tent-trailer in question was not ten feet from where I stood, and takes all of three minutes to open.)
Can they please bring them?
“They shouldn’t need—it’s July—they shouldn’t need them,” he blustered. (As if it hadn’t been a July-in-Idaho-mountains when HE got too cold in one of these same bags. They’ve served as picnic blankets ever since.)
In the mountains they might. Can they please bring their own sleeping bags?
(…reluctant pause…) “Okay… But I need to talk to you over here.” I followed him to the other side of the driveway, away from the kids, where he put on his most put-upon face and demanded to know: “How do I know they’re going to come back in any kind of decent condition?”
(Wait, what?? Seriously, where did that come from?)
What’s the productive thing to do at this point? He already said the kids can take their sleeping bags; but he wants me to have this “talk” with him first… If he truly had reason for concern, I don’t know what I could say that would reassure him. As it is, there’s no history or habit or past incident that would render this question applicable, or even explicable.
I learned a while back not to get diverted into pointless pissing matches with him, and I can’t imagine this “talk” fitting any other description. He still feels a need to take (or create) any opportunity to deprecate and disparage. Yes, I gave him a brand new High Horse to ride with my alcoholic relapse nineteen months ago, but he doesn’t seem to realize that his nag hasn’t had anything to feed on for a year and a half. (Maybe that’s why he’s grasping at straws? No, wait—horses eat hay.)
Bottom line? Never mind beating a dead horse—he’s still trying to ride it.
And I choose not to serve as his saddle any more. I chose not to engage in his inquisition about the imminent danger to the sleeping bags being released into my custody. If you’re not going to let the kids take their bags, say so and let me leave; if they can take their bags, let’s get them out so I can leave. I didn’t say that out loud, though; I just repeated myself… Can the kids please bring their sleeping bags?
Keoni stepped over to join us. The Ex told him to walk away. Keoni didn’t argue, but also didn’t move. I repeated my own question yet again.
How ridiculous does this get? Only one thing derailed the Ex from his desired discussion of the doubtlessly-doomed bags: namely, his stronger desire to deliver his diatribe to me alone. When Keoni declined to skedaddle, the Ex puffed up and tried again:
“Sir, you need to step away. This is between me and my wi— …me and my ex-wife.”
The almost-“wife” slip made me chuckle afterward (given that I’ve been Keoni’s wife for several years now, and that the Ex himself remarried just a few weeks ago), but at the time I just had one response: “I don’t have to talk to you alone.”
He did get the sleeping bags out of the trailer, for which I’m grateful—truly, I would have been worried about the kids keeping warm in those other bags. And I confess he did manage to strike a nerve as he grumbled while he got them out. He was complaining about Christian bringing his (expensive) ear protection for shooting, and both of them taking their (expensive) sleeping bags, and he said he’s “tired of buying all the expensive stuff because you won’t.” If he wanted to hit home with derision, that one did it—the difference between “won’t” versus “can’t” buy expensive things. As if I were blowing off the kids. And at the same time, frustration that he’d send them with inadequate equipment rather than focus on what’s best for them. And that he’d try to blame me for that (he’s worried I’d damage the sleeping bags? Oh please…) Why would he balk at letting the kids take their own (sufficiently warm) sleeping bags or their own ear protection?—it’s not as though I’M using his “expensive” stuff, so what’s the problem?
This is why I don’t talk to him alone. This is why I need a little time for prayer-assisted emotional recalibration after I do have to talk with him. His muddied view of our simple and joyful life can temporarily sully my own view of it until I manage to shake off his disagreeable influence. So here I am recalibrating, and looking forward to the camping all of us are excited about.
When Christian called earlier in the week with questions about his packing-list for camping, I told him we’ll be heading up to Silver City, a mining ghost-town that Keoni & I visited last summer when I wrote the cover-story for a travel magazine. On that trip we stayed in the 150-year-old hotel, but this time we’ll be pitching tents… And not in the established campground nearby, but somewhere along the river—REAL Idaho camping, for the first time in the kids’ memory. They’ve been out regularly with their dad and his wife, but the trailer (with its heater, stove, and running water) disqualifies those travels from the Camping-category, in my [snobbish-outdoorswoman] opinion.
They’ll have a lot of new experiences mixed in with some old-and-familiar ones. Setting up a campsite with tents, digging a latrine, panning for gold below the old mines, starting a fire with flint and steel, cooking in the campfire coals, target-shooting with the Desert Eagle handgun, exploring the ghost town and its cemetery, bait-fishing (and fish-cleaning, and fish-frying over a campfire), working on carving our walking sticks, some hiking-exploring, campfire sing-along, some reading aloud from my favorite Idaho-outdoors-author Patrick McManus… And I’ll be interested to see the photojournalism-perspective of each of the kids, now that they’re taking pictures.
There, see? I just needed to realign my mind. And no, I wouldn’t trade our joyful, rich-in-experience life for the Ex’s agitated, rich-in-trinkets existence.
Mother’s Day cards just don’t cover it. There’s not a one on the market that’s sufficient to express my thoughts about the awesome Lady who made me.
She’s fully that (a Lady, that is) when she has a mind to be, having grown up in days when her Girl Scout uniform included white gloves and a girdle… She could out-maneuver Miss Manners, parse sentences in her sleep, and navigate the complexities of any obscure set of social rules you could name. She taught me early on about the ins & outs of social niceties—from rules of dress and speech to etiquette, table manners, and deportment—all the protocols and proprieties of courtesy and culture and comportment… She was the Audrey Hepburn of our little potato-farming hometown–a class act, through and through.
In short, this awesome Lady does Lady perfectly… But she also knows how to kick off her shoes! She does dancing-in-the-sand as beautifully as she does “strait-laced.” (Which is just as well, because without a hefty dose of humor and flexibility, Mothering me might otherwise have landed her in straitjacket lacings…)
I think she knew even before we officially “met” that I’d be trouble…. While she was pregnant, I used to get terrible bouts of hiccups that would set her whole stomach to rhythmic jolting—particularly distracting when she was trying to teach! She nick-named me Sam during my belly-dwelling months–a name that could apply to either a boy or a girl, though she says she was preparing herself for a boy because she wanted a daughter so badly. You know that saying about being careful what you wish for? Well, she got me. And although people are puzzled by the name’s lack of relation to anything on my birth certificate, she has always called me Sam.
She taught me all the Lady-Rules, and it’s thanks to her tutelage that I’ve been able to move comfortably in social circles among people whose social standing, status, or “class” were well above my own means. Manners can be a passport to any situation, and she made sure I had all the visas secured before I reached adulthood. With a cardigan over the tattoos and a quick shift to a different vernacular, I can hold my own in any environment–from the PTA to speaking in a Senate Committee on the Hill. Hand me any role, and it’s something my mother gave me the tools to carry out.
She modeled the fact that a woman can play whatever different roles she chooses. In her case, literally–she’s a natural ham and has been playing lead roles in community theater productions since her teens, beginning with the role of Anne Frank (who, like Anne of Green Gables and other denizens of stage and page, shared my mother’s stress on the spelling of Anne-with-an-E). I loved the black-and-white photo of her in a hoop-skirt as Anna in The King & I, I remember watching rehearsals of Oklahoma when I was young, and we often filled the time singing show tunes from her favorite musicals when we rode in the car.
My favorite of her roles was the Nunsense part of Sister Robert Anne–the Jersey-accented gym teacher with red Converse sneakers beneath her habit and a wicked penchant for causing trouble. And my favorite element of that role was her pre-show warm-up when she “worked the crowd” in character, signing up volunteers for an imaginary Catholic basketball team, teasing and joking, and enchanting the audience before the curtain ever rose for the scripted first act. I’m in awe not only of her ability to perfectly mimic any accent on the planet, but also her hilarious on-the-spot ad-libbing. The world lost a great stand-up comic when she went to law school.
A couple months after that show, the local GLBT community invited the theater group to put on a couple scenes from the play as part of the entertainment line-up for a fund-raising Drag Show. My mom volunteered me to take the place of an original cast member who couldn’t make it, which is how I ended up attending a drag show with my mom, both of us dressed as nuns.
Among her many other talents, my mother is the uncontested Queen of Crafts. She took fantastic photos and kept scrapbooks for each of us long before “scrapbooking” came into common use as a verb. She sewed almost all of our clothes, from Easter Dresses to play clothes and swimsuits. (Though I’ll say that my younger sister got the bum end of that deal; every time she grew out of her clothes, she’d get a hand-me-down set of the exact same clothes…) She made entire matching wardrobes for our dolls as well, and crafted every Halloween costume we ever wore. She baked our birthday cakes in shapes to celebrate a favorite item or activity each year, spent hours constructing miniature pieces of dollhouse furniture, and was the creator of many of our very favorite toys (sock bunnies & rice mice, just for a start!).
At Christmas she suggested we put out carrots & water for Santa’s reindeer, in addition to the brownies & beer for Santa himself (she pointed out that he was no doubt tired of milk and cookies). We would wake to find reindeer-prints around the emptied bowls, and personal letters from Santa along with our stockings. The Tooth Fairy also left notes, which developed into a full-blown correspondence with my sister, who asked for help building a mailbox so she could continue writing even when her teeth weren’t falling out. This is how we came to find out, among other fascinating details, that “Tooth Fairy” is a fairy-job, not unlike a paper route, which our particular Tooth Fairy accomplished by means of a flying toy-motorcycle, towing collected teeth behind her on a cloud. (Eventually her little brother took over her route, first securing my sister’s permission to use the canoe belonging to her dollhouse-family as his vehicle.)
Mother is also a helluva “handyman”–so when I got a house of my own, I always saved my DIY projects for her visits. She was far more useful than my first husband on these things, and we managed between us to replace ceiling lights with electric fans, install laminate flooring for the entire first floor, assemble a new barbecue, build garden walls, xeriscape the front yard, and various other projects. I never have been able to match her energy in the do-it-yourself arena. (Or any arena, come to think of it. I challenge any person to keep up with her at the mall! Sometimes I wish she could still put me in a stroller when we shop together…) I think about her summer garden and fruit trees (and the resulting dried fruits, canned vegetables, and rhubarb pies), the sewing machine in constant use, the impeccable cleanliness of our house, and the gazillion volunteer jobs she undertook–and I get tired just thinking about it. I have no idea where she hides her super-hero energy source.
She was determined that my sister and I would have the Girl Scout experiences she had enjoyed as a child and teen, so she started Girl Scouts in our hometown. Every girl in my first-grade class joined the Brownie troop she established, and she encouraged us in travel opportunities and leadership challenges as well as some of the “classic” activities like camping. Give me a Dutch oven and a (one-match) campfire, and I can cook outdoors like nobody’s business! (Strangely enough, I never picked up the corresponding skills in an actual kitchen… She had probably given up on me as a hopeless case by the time she sent me off to college with a cookbook titled “How to Boil an Egg”…)
No one I know can outmatch her outdoor skills, though. She used to lead two-week canoe trips through the Canadian wilderness, and her girls would “show up” the boys’ groups when they crossed paths, the tiniest girl in the group flipping a canoe above her head and trotting off solo into the woods on a portage while the boys struggled two-to-a-canoe… She and I used to giggle conspiratorially whenever we saw someone (sorry, guys–usually a man) struggling to control his canoe while actually making more work for himself. She’d taught me the finesse of various steering-strokes, and I carried on the tradition of “showing up” the boys on my own canoe trips, always borrowing her personalized paddle on which she’d painted a dancing Snoopy. Motherhood didn’t seem to slow her down any; even when I was a toddler, she and my dad would go camping and canoeing with me (and the cats!), wedging my baby-walker into the center of the boat and letting the cats roam in its bottom…
My mom has always had a wicked sense of humor, and she’s a prankster into the bargain. My parents’ stories from married-student housing (while my dad worked on his Ph.D. at University of Montana) nearly all involve the ongoing series of pranks on their downstairs neighbors, who would later become my godparents. For that matter, she can take a joke as well–after all, she still married my father after he sent her a package of shark fetuses (from his dissection lab) through campus mail! I always liked the story of how she handled her own dissection lab–she got tired of stitching up the animal at the end of every class… so she installed a zipper in her cat! That’s my mom for you…
I’ve written several times about my admiration for my mom’s storytelling, but she’s also a story-magnet. There’s something about her that just draws strangers to talk to her and tell her their stories. I remember standing on a street corner in West Germany–I think we had stopped to ask for directions–listening to a complete stranger pour out his heart about his wife who had been killed (with their unborn second child) in a car accident, and how he wore bright colors on the outside for his daughter’s sake, but wore black underneath. My whole life, I’ve been accustomed to turning around in the supermarket or fabric store to find my mother holding a stranger’s baby or listening to a stranger’s personal stories. She’s the kind of person who knows her seatmates’ life stories by the time she gets off a plane, or the history of the person behind her in a supermarket line by the time they get to the cashier. (One of her airplane-conversations, in fact, resulted in a new client who flew her to Fiji to work on his estate-planning there…) She takes herself on a dive vacation every year to some exotic spot–and never fails to forge friendships with other adventuresome folks, who sometimes meet up with her the following year at a new location.
I got my “travel bug” from both parents, and although our family was always comfortably well-off financially, we weren’t rich. Our travels were primarily the product of my dad’s amazing planning capabilities–he planned and prioritized and budgeted to enable us to enjoy the extensive travels we did. And within the context of Dad’s detailed planning, it was our extroverted mother who modeled for us the gems that stem from people-interactions on any adventure–the collected stories, the off-the-beaten-path recommendations, the new friends… In addition to our two “big” European trips, we road-tripped all over the continental U.S. and Canada, and made some hops over the border to the south as well. In Mexico, Mother was never shy about putting her somewhat-rusty high school Spanish to work to haggle over prices in an open-air market, or ask for suggestions on an unfamiliar menu.
As I wrote when I was describing the sailing trip for which she joined us, she’s the perfect companion for adventuring. When I was attending University of Hawai’i, she took me up on my spontaneous suggestion that she should come visit and hang out with me, and we had a terrific mother-daughter week of adventures. While I went to classes, she entertained herself in Hilo’s Old Town and hiked rainforest trails to the waterfalls, and when Friday rolled around, we headed around to the sunny side of the island. We found a room at a little hotel—full of character and right on the water—where the owners lived in one of the first-floor rooms and hosted breakfast (fresh tropical fruits and Kona coffee!) every morning on the patio by the saltwater pool. She hadn’t yet gotten her Scuba certification, but we snorkeled with turtles, visited sites ranging from an old Hawai’ian heiau (temple) to an intricately-painted missionary church, attended a luau, shopped along the Kona boardwalk, soaked up sunshine on the postcard-perfect white sand of Hapuna beach, and girl-talked till late at night with our feet propped up on our balcony rail above the surf, and a bottle of local wine between us… In many ways, that week was the turning-point in our transition from our respective teen-and-parent roles to the adult friendship we’ve enjoyed ever since. (Well, as “adult” as it’s going to get, anyway, for two women who both refuse to grow up!)
I was eleven years old when my mom applied to law school, and I’m still wondering how she managed. We teased about her study-habits, referring to her as a Mole who didn’t come out in sunlight, and to her basement-study as the “Mole Hole.” I made a poster for the door which read, “This is the Hole / Where dwells the Mole / Whose single goal / is to pass every test”–accompanied by a drawing of myself hollering, “Mommy, Mommy, the house is on fire” and her (nose in a book) responding absently, “That’s nice, Dear.” But in truth, she was as available to us as ever. I would come home from school, hoist myself onto the second desk in the Mole Hole, and regale her with every sordid detail of the day’s junior-high dramas. She had dinner on the table every night, continued running my sister’s Girl Scout troop, sang in the church choir, and kept dozens of other balls in the air… And all the while, she maintained her standing at the top of her class–to the dissatisfaction of male classmates who told her to her face that she belonged “at home with her children” rather than taking “a man’s rightful spot “in the class rankings! My sister and I knew better, though, because our mother has always showed us (not just told us, but modeled for us) that a Woman can do whatever she damn well pleases! Mother opened a private law practice, and fifteen years later my sister took her own place as Deputy Attorney General for the State of Idaho.
As a parent, I’m continually grateful for the “lessons in parenting” our mother provided (in the form of her parenting of us). She was strict but never harsh. She had high expectations of us, but always celebrated us when we met them. She always separated our deeds from our selves–she never told me I was a Bad Girl, only that my latest mischief was a bad thing to do. Manners were mandatory, hugs were abundant, imagination was encouraged. She had us each reading long before we hit Kindergarten, and she participated in every imaginable game of make-believe. She was reasonable and flexible (though my teenage-self would never have admitted it), but she never left room for doubt that SHE was the Mom. She is absolutely the model for my own Parenting.
When I told her she was going to be a grandmother, she decided that (although she was certainly ready for the grand-baby) she wasn’t “ready to be Grandma.” She settled instead on”Grandy“–an adaptation of her Girl Scout camp-name of Andy–and I can’t think of a better descriptor for her! She IS Grand.
I think my daughter was three or four years old when I styled my hair one morning in what has become my mom’s signature hairdo: a sassy, classy up-do. My daughter took issue with the imitation, however, and made her objection known in no uncertain terms: “You are NOT a Grandy. You are JUST a Mommy!”
Point taken–there’s no competing with the SuperWoman who is my mother. But I’m honored whenever I’m told I’m like her. In my world, there’s no higher compliment.
Tricia Mitchell just posted a lovely blog about the castle in Heidelberg, Germany–accompanied by some of her own photos and memories of this castle over the years, and posing the question of whether her readers had memories to share. I wrote to her that although it’s been almost three decades since I’ve been there (and although I was only nine at the time) the details stick with me–like the memorable remains of the exploded powder-magazine tower.
Actually (here’s a bit of synchronicity), the inaugural entry in my 1984 European travel-diary was dated twenty-eight years ago today, as we headed across-country from Idaho to Chicago O’Hare, visiting family members along the way. Less than a week later we were flashing past the blue lights of the runway and out over the blackness of Lake Superior–hours past our usual bedtime–launching our first-ever off-the-continent adventure. My father the Planner detailed a six-month itinerary, looping and wandering through eighteen countries, some of which no longer exist on today’s maps. And our mother customized our rented bright green V.W. bus–which would serve as “home base” for half a year–with drawers under the seats, hanging-rods across the back, multi-pocket organizers hanging from the seats, and other “homey” touches.
My sister was six and I was nine when we set out, and our parents gave each of us a little Kodak camera, a bag full of 126 film, and a cloth-bound journal for the trip. One of the most interesting things, in looking back on the whole adventure, is the unique KID-perspective on our travels…
While the grownups took postcard-shots of cathedral towers, my sister gave us a running account of what was in the garbage cans we passed… We bought lace gloves at an outdoor market and donned them to pretend we were princesses when we explored castles…
When we stayed with dairy-farming friends near Stratford, we sneaked up and down the servant staircase in the century-old stone farmhouse, and took a whole roll of film posing my sister’s teddy bear, Tony, around the farmyard. When we stayed in an apartment converted from the basement servants’ quarters of a London townhouse, my sister came bolting out of the bathroom in excitement to tell us, “There’s a special bathtub just the right size for Tony!” Neither of us had yet been introduced to the concept of the bidet…
My mother has often said that if she ever wrote a book about the trip, its title would come from a now-family-famous quote from my sister… After months of encountering every imaginable method of flushing a toilet–from push-buttons and pull-chains to levers and foot pedals–my sister emerged from a Yugoslavian bathroom looking very self-satisfied, and announced, “I can flush in ANY language!“
When we descended into the underground areas of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, three of us didn’t think twice about the folding chairs set up for a recent ceremony. My sister, however, stopped in her tracks and cried out (to the amusement of every tour-group in the crypt), “There are DEAD people under this floor, and someone has gone and put CHAIRS on them!!”
Some of my parents’ friends wondered aloud what on earth would possess them to take such an extensive trip with such young children in tow, but we’re SO glad they did! (I think they are as well… At least, now that they’ve had a few decades to recover!) It’s a trip that couldn’t be duplicated by our adult-selves, even if we were to retrace our steps exactly–our imaginations ran rampant, and we found places-to-play everywhere.
We visited Anne Frank’s hidden attic in Amsterdam, and I began to read her diary that night, able to picture precisely the little suite of attic rooms. After Auschwitz, we talked late into the night about the horrors of the Holocaust. We read Classics of literature while visiting the locales where they were set. We visited tombs and birthplaces of historical figures, and sat in the bench of Anne Hathaway’s cottage where Shakespeare is said to have sat when courting her.
When our parents set aside half a day for the Louvre in Paris (thinking that’s all the art we’d be up for) we dragged THEM back for a second full day. We weren’t wild about the Impressionists, but we were fascinated by the rest. I bought a stack of postcards-of-paintings, tucked them into my sketch-kit, and tried to draw my own versions. (Though I do remember my mother suggesting I add underwear to some of the naked people I was drawing after dinner in a fancy French restaurant…)
And even in places where the “Ugly American” tourist-stereotype preceded us and affected local attitudes, our parents found that having young kids in tow often gained them a warmer reception. (I’m reminded of my son’s response when his second-grade teacher complimented his consistently kind manners: “She doesn’t realize that Manners aren’t optional when someone has you for a Mom.” OUR mom is like that too.) We learned to say “please” and “thank you” in the appropriate language for every border we crossed–and my dad also figured out how to say “Can you please suck the Diesel out of our bus?” in French…
We stayed with family friends in England, Scotland, West Germany, Poland, and Holland; we stayed in bed-and-breakfasts and pensiones and inns; we spent one week in a Tuscan villa, and we a camped in England’s Lake Country and in the Loire Valley of France (where we could hear the bells of the four cathedrals from the song our mom used to sing to us). The French campground also had peacocks wandering about–charming, no? Well, no—not charming when we discovered they roosted on the restrooms at night and screeched at anyone making a middle-of-the-night trip to the toilet…
I still marvel at my mother’s packing-job for this trip. She had sewed a mix-and-match wardrobe of red-white-and-blue for my sister and me (with matching outfits for our two dolls) and joked that if she lost one of us, she could point to the other and indicate “one just like that.” Failing that, she could use one of the dolls. She sent ahead caches of English-language books for us to pick up along the way, but other than the reading material, the four of us lived for six months out of five suitcases–one each for clothing, and the fifth with camping gear.
We each celebrated a birthday–I turned ten on Germany’s Rhine River, and my sister turned seven in Versaille, near Paris. We met up there for a double-celebration with our Great-Uncle Clarke, whose birthday the day after hers (he joked) made him a day younger. By this time my sister had gone through her own reading-material and started in on mine, so she surprised Uncle Clarke by inquiring, as they traversed a Paris street hand-in-hand, if this weren’t one of the locations in A Tale of Two Cities.
My sister lost five or six teeth during the trip, and the Tooth Fairy had to keep paying off in different currencies. We hiked in the Swiss Alps; we donned white coveralls and slid down wooden bannisters into a Polish salt mine where the miners had carved fantastical statues out of salt; we played “Queen of Idaho” in the extravagant Bavarian castles of “Crazy Ludwig”; we bought tulips at a Dutch flower auction; we rented paddle boats on a Hungarian lake; we hired a gondola in Venice (from a gondolier who said he couldn’t sing–so we sang Rounds to him instead); we made brass-rubbings of tombs; we collected charms for a memory-bracelet; we attended performances of yodelers and bagpipers and ethnic dancers; we rode trains and ferries and subways and carriages and double-decker buses; we went with a Dutch friend to be fitted for wooden shoes (not touristy, painted ones, but the type she wears in her garden); we tucked messages into a bottle for a Scottish friend of our dad’s to build into the tumbled-down bit of a 400-year-old dry stone wall he was re-assembling along his field. Maybe another farmer will find our notes a few centuries from now when the wall needs repair again.
My favorite stop of the entire journey was Portofino, Italy, with its steep cobblestone streets, its colorful buildings lining the Mediterranean harbor, and the gorgeous two-masted sailboat at anchor among the fishing boats. We ordered our first “authentic” Italian pizza here, selecting the menu option that offered “Olive, Pepper, and Mushroom.” When it arrived, the pizza had one olive, one pepper-ring, and one mushroom. (And in reviewing the menu, we ruefully realized they hadn’t promised plurals…) “Portofino” was the first poem I ever got published.
We traveled behind the Iron Curtain, and watched at the border between the Germanies while Soviet soldiers spent hours removing absolutely everything out of our bus, reading my mother’s diary, and unwrapping our Christmas presents. At the Polish mine, a hard-used miner my grandfather’s age approached us, removed an enameled shield from his jacket, and pinned it onto mine. Our Polish friend translated his quiet, almost shy explanation: it was an award for saving a life in the mines, and he wanted me to have it because he liked my smile.
We had a National Geographic map of Europe with us, and every evening during those six months we would open it up to trace the day’s adventures with a highlighter. The more permanent paths, however, were being highlighted in our minds. We may have been raised in an Idaho potato-farming town of a just few hundred people, but our parents gave us the gift of understanding–early on–that we’re citizens of the World.
This is my second installment of playing with researching social networking websites and sharing the “field notes.” After my first installment (Expedition Journal #1: Prospecting on Pinterest), a couple folks posed the eminently reasonable question of why we go looking for more things to fill our time (and Inbox) when we’re already bombarded by so much social media.
Part of my answer is the fact that there are some specific functions I’m looking for… Pinterest, for example, is far tidier and more efficient (not to mention more visually appealing) than my previous habit of copy-pasting stuff into a catch-all PowerPoint slide if I thought I’d want it later… Now I can “pin” an item with a single click, and pinning it saves the source website for future reference as well as the graphic itself. Works for me!
I’m actually on a mission to streamline and simplify my life, by finding the best tools for the things I want to do, selecting those few to use, and then re-evaluating and unsubscribing from any tools or networks that aren’t adding value to my day. My experience in the blogging-community has taught me to value the “social” aspect and the friends I meet online, so that’s a plus with other tools as well, though not necessarily a must-have. So that’s a little more explanation of my Expedition as a whole–but on to today’s topic…
One of the specific functions on my list-to-look-for is an online photo site. The crash-and-burn of my laptop (and its files) a few months back brought home to me the necessity of keeping precious pictures safely online. I have used Picasa (for photo editing) and the associated online Google albums for several years, but the online albums themselves have recently been “upgraded” to a new design which is decidedly user-UNfriendly, with fewer capabilities and worse navigation than the original, and I find myself needing a less frustrating option.
And free. Our budget isn’t up for paid-membership sites.
So if you wondered where I’ve been the last couple days, the answer is that I’ve been “test-driving” different photography sites looking for The One that I can start using for our family photos and photographic travelogs. Oh, and I had an eBook on Vitamins to write. (And I admit it–I was playing on Pinterest as well…)
In the event that anyone else is wanting to sift through the gazillion photography websites out there, here are my impressions of the ones I tested out. Obviously I didn’t devote tons of time to all of them, though I did stay to play for a while on the few that seemed to be likely prospects. I should also add that there are literally dozens more photography social networks to choose from–so my search actually started with combing through reviews to narrow down the list of likely prospects to check out. Here’s the run-down of my impressions (or you can just skip down to the Winner)!
MyShutterSpace.com—This site targets “digital photography enthusiasts,” but it’s definitely a showcase-space. The blog and forum entries by members are mostly brags (“My work was on TV!”) or sales pitches for their own work. Doesn’t feel to me like a community experience–more like a bunch of people jumping up and down saying “look at ME!” without looking at each other. Not interested.
PictureSocial.com—Almost identical layout and offerings as MyShutterSpace, except this one seems full of floundering photographic newbies. Not interested.
jAlbum.net—I didn’t get to try this one out; the “validation email” never arrived to allow me to complete my login. I requested a re-send, but it still didn’t show. Negative score on customer service. Moving on.
SlideShowPro.net—Looks like a great resource if you want to put together a professional looking video-slideshow with neat effects… But it’s limited to that one use. I’ll keep this in mind if I ever need a slide show, but it’s not what I’m looking for.
DivShare.com—Looks useful for online storage, and files can be shared, but there’s no “community” or social aspect, and it’s not specific to photos. That’s great if you’re looking for an all-purpose online storage option, but it’s lacking the specific tools for album-making and handling photos. Not interested.
Flickr.com—This was almost my pick! It’s a service specifically devoted to collecting and organizing your own photos, with easy drag-and-drop organizing, the ability to name and attach descriptive text or stories to each photo, and a healthy & active social community. Flickr is also easily plugged into many other applications and websites, and it’s definitely the “big name” among photo websites. Its navigation is a little on the clunky side (moving among editing and album tools) but not so much as to put me off entirely. One thing missing from my wish-list: I could name photos, but there weren’t any “tags” that would enable me to grab a certain category of pictures (e.g. “fishing” or “Suzy-cat”) from across multiple albums.
Shutterfly.com—Very much like Flickr, but with a harder “sell” for purchasing prints, and is less used by other sites and apps. This one I might use, if I hadn’t already seen Flickr.
And I might use Flicker, if I didn’t go on to discover the Winner, which blew the competition out of the water.
And the Winner is…
PhotoBucket.com! This is it!I can upload photos, organize them into albums, tag them with topics (yay!), title them, and add descriptive text or stories. The navigation is straightforward and intuitive, the tools easy to find.
PLUS, I can edit photos right here, as opposed to editing with a program on my Mac before uploading. Tons of editing tools and photo effects–purely awesome.
I can apply themes to the albums, and I can create slideshows, plug it directly to the iPhoto program on my Mac, and even connect it to my computer’s webcam.
I can share with Twitter, Facebook, or email, and choose whether an album should be public or private.
There’s an app I can download on my phone so I can use PhotoBucket directly from my phone, including uploading photos taken from the phone into any of my albums.
There seems to be an active and healthy social community here, and (oh dear) I can look at my statistics to see if I’m getting visitors.
PhotoBucket has all the stuff I was looking for–and some things I hadn’t even thought of. I declare this expedition a success! Here’s a page from my first PhotoBucket family album…
Post-Script: A Bonus Find
I found one more gem this week–something I wasn’t looking for, but which I think I’ll use… Actually, I have to thank blogging-buddy Kathy McCullough, who posted a beautiful birthday post to her partner Sara, with a link to Sara’s photo-blog… And so (with lovely synchronicity, given the week’s search-topic) I discovered BlipFoto. Thank you, Ladies!
BlipPhoto is an entirely unique idea–it’s essentially a photo journal in which you’re allowed to upload one photo per day–and the photo has to be taken on that day. No cheating–when you submit a photo, the site checks your camera-data and rejects photos taken on earlier dates. (I actually had to correct my camera’s “date” setting after my initial submission didn’t go through…) It’s straightforward–no themes, no widgets, no extras–simply the daily photo with your title and text (if you choose to add any). And the social aspect, with the ability to follow, comment, and rate photos just as we do with blog-posts here on WordPress.
And although this isn’t what I went looking for this week, I’m intrigued. At the end of the day, what’s the one photo that represents your day? Or, if you don’t take pictures every day, what will move you to grab the camera with the daily post in mind? I’m giving it a go–here’s my first post earlier today:
“Dragon Surgery. Our son Christian brought his injured dragon to my husband for surgery–his stuffing is coming out, and it catches fire when he sneezes! All prepared for surgery–and a dragon recovery-drink for afterward.”