Sunday, August 28, 2011


In 1906, to build school unity, a group of high school students spent six hours hauling lime, sand, and rocks up a nearby mountain. They were going to leave an emblem of their school upon the hill, three letters long. But after six hours of heavy labor, only the middle letter was finished, and they abandoned the project.

Today, the single letter still stands, about 380 feet long, on the side of the mountain, visible for miles and miles across the valley in the summer when the snow is gone. This year, it has been less of a school symbol to me and more of a question.

Why? It asks. Impassively. Uncaring. Why?

Since the snow melted this winter, I've been wondering that question a lot.

In early May, I heard that my request for early promotion had been denied at the VP level, no reasons given. I was calm and polite as I heard the news, but it really hurt. And then for the next several days, I would leave work and see the question on the mountain, calm, imposing, without offering any answers. Why? Tall and stern, it seemed to be a warning that I needed to reflect, carefully, upon my job, upon our location, upon whether or not this was really a good place for our family to be. Why? Why should it be?

One of the people who is most dear to my mother in the whole world lives a few houses away, across the street. In July, she lost a son. Her immediate family rallied around. And me, I didn't know what to do. I wanted to be able to do something, anything, to help. So I offered to walk the dog for a week. Carrying bags of dog poop with a massive animal on a chain, I walked up and down the hills nearby, under the shadow of the single letter. Why?

Today I heard, from my mother, that a second tragedy has struck the woman's family. Why? Why twice in a single summer?

It's a solemn letter, and a sobering question. I suppose no one in this valley is immune to having to ask it, although perhaps, if they don't look up, they can forget it is there. You can see it from the Empty Sea, where young people stop on their way to give up two years of their lives. Why? it asks, and they must be certain they are serious about their sacrifice.

You can see it from the interstate, where traffic lanes have wobbled drunkenly under two years of bridge construction. Why, commuters? Why do you put up with this? And they hunker in their cars and wonder.

And the college students see it from their dorms, and it haunts them as they sign up for classes, study for finals, choose a major. Why?

I wish those high school students had bothered to finish what they began back in 1906.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Park City

Jonathan and I were in Park City, Utah, last week, while I was at a conference.

I have to travel a lot for work -- something about working on research with people scattered around the world. But travel gets tricky, with a family that I like to be with, and a husband who also works full time. This last week was particularly tricky, because Jonathan's summer camp was over, but school hadn't started. And then I recalled some queries earlier in the summer, and started looking again, and found that a couple of the major ski resorts in Utah have their own summer day camp for kids. The kids go swimming, ride the gondola, take field trips to Salt Lake, make arts and crafts, and do all sorts of fun things. So this time, Jonathan came with me, and we left Tim home by himself.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, he was at his camp, and I was at my conference. Evenings, we went to the hotel pool, the conference picnic, and watched Sponge Bob on the widescreen TV in our room. Thursday, we took an extra day, and bought Alpine Slide tickets at the Park City Mountain Resort. We rode the ski lifts up and back, and tried out the Alpine Coaster, and roasted in the record hot sunshine. Sunburns for both of us. Phew! But it was fun to get to spend a little more time with my boy before school starts (tomorrow).

What about the conference? One important aspect of travel for work is the boring evening stuck in a blah hotel with nothing to do but work on that research you came for. I did certainly miss that this time around. And yet -- I think next time I have a conference in Park City, I'll take Jonathan along again. Maybe we'll invite Tim.


Saturday, August 13, 2011


Ben M. was the first person who made me think that I might be beautiful.

But not how you think.

In 11th grade English, Ben wrote an essay that was a parody of our class discussion, and Mr W. thought it was so funny, that he read it aloud to us in class.

Um. I played some part in the said 11th grade English discussion, as I decided on my own, late at night, that Lady MacBeth was the unfortunate victim of a misogynistic society, and compiled a page of Shakespearian citations to back myself up. This long list, giving detailed evidence of Lady MacBeth's innocence, I presented the following day to an unsuspecting class of 16-year-olds. Rock. Solid. Evidence.

Anyway, Ben thought the ensuing discussion was hilarious, and he wrote about it in his little essay, which Mr. W. thought was hilarious, and read aloud, to all of us.

And honestly, I have no memory of what Ben said about the validity of my arguments, but I do remember the way he described me. He said I was, and I quote, "beautiful and intelligent."


Did he really think I was beautiful? Or did he just put that in for dramatic effect? Probably dramatic effect. Because in all honesty, as a 16-year-old, I knew which girls were really beautiful. They were the ones who were getting asked to prom, for example. Or maybe they were just getting an ice cream or going bowling, but with a boy. Because boys like beautiful girls. I, on the other hand, was spending my evenings digging references out of Elizabethan literature in an attempt to vindicate imaginary Scottish women.

But you know, it stuck.

Me. Beautiful.

Fast forward a handful of years, to me, late at night on Saturday, looking at myself in the mirror, deciding I could really use a haircut. Right Now.

So I turned to my friend Google, and asked her how I could give myself a haircut, and she helpfully pulled up a few clips on YouTube, and within an hour, I had given myself a very modern layered cut and style.

And looking at myself in the mirror when it was over, for some reason I thought of Ben M.

Wow, I said to myself. I am beautiful.

But unfortunately, the haircut looked like I'd turned my head upside down and clipped off the end of my ponytail.

I wonder what Lady MacBeth would think of that?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Late summer

Technically, summer begins around June 21 and ends around September 21, so we are technically only mid-summer here at the end of the first week of August.

But with only two weeks until Jonathan goes back to school, and only three weeks for me, this is pretty much the end. I'm taking Jonathan with me to a conference in the mountains his last week, and then the following week when he's in school, I'll be Miss Meeting, so I'm calling this week my last true week of summer.

Now, I know I abandoned you back in Paris in June with this blog, and we didn't even make it to the science museum there, which was one of the best stops on that trip. And then I have a whole pile of July posts that haven't been published yet, including how my sister-in-law and I boogie boarded in the Pacific during that 4th of July week -- off the Oregon coast. I'm planning to describe how we nearly got hypothermia, but as a trade off, the beautiful pristine beach belonged only to us. The crowds were down in So Cal in the sunshine.

I also still plan to describe my brother's visit with his three kids, and how we climbed, questioning, up the front of a nearby mountain to take in a view of a thunderstorm. And how it really wasn't that great of a climb, because Jonathan whined the whole way up, and one of the other three tripped and limped, bleeding, the whole way down. But we got our thunderstorm.

And I haven't described picking fruit, walking the dog, hosting the water gun party, the weekend at the northern lake with my other brother.

The whole summer has slipped away, leaving only a long to-do list.