Into The Trees

Monkey’s off at Girl Scout Camp.

Her co-Cadette asked if she wanted to do a camp together, and Monkey was willing to give it a shot, so they are away together for the week. We’re not really sure what the week will hold for activities, but it sounds like tree climbing and zip-lining might be part of the plan.

She and I headed out on Father’s Day afternoon to take her to Camp Sycamore Hills, about 45 minutes north of us.

Let the adventure begin.

We had a lovely drive together. Lots of heart-felt sharing on both sides, and we stopped to save a turtle that was trying to cross the road.

The line to get into camp was already long by the time we arrived.

Excited to begin their adventures.

We dropped off her luggage in this shed:

The house elves will be along to take the luggage to the “dorms.”

Monkey’s cabin “Hilltop” is the empty row with the paper plate attached to the hale of bay above.

Interesting mental exercise for me: The counselors pulled up to load the luggage for Hilltop into the wagon behind a tractor. The tractor was being driven by a female Girl Scout counselor, which surprised me at first, then I was surprised at myself for being surprised, then I thought about how glad I was that Monkey-and all the girls-have the week to be with strong, hopefully kind, intelligent women in ALL the positions of power, including driving the tractor.

After the health check and dropping off Monkey’s meds., we met one of her two counselors, Ziggy.

One of Monkey’s counselors, Ziggy.

Ziggy is in the center in the picture above. She’s Australian, so Monkey will have that delightful accent to listen to all week.

I asked if I could see Monkey’s cabin before I left, and Ziggy walked us outside the mess haul where the girls were gathering to point out the directions to us. In that few minutes of quiet time with just the three of us, Monkey succinctly explained to Ziggy that she has some anxiety, and here’s how she wants to handle it and how Ziggy can help.

Ziggy was so understanding and respectful, and I could not have been prouder of Monkey for explaining so honestly and thoughtfully how Ziggy could best support her in having a fantastic week. This young woman never ceases to amaze and impress me.

Ziggy suggested we drive to Hilltop because it was a long, long walk. To a woman, every counselor who gave us instructions about Hilltop got big eyes and expressed their version of, “It’s a great cabin and beautiful, but it is a long, long way up.”

They weren’t kidding.

It’s a long way up.

Looks rustic: has great bathrooms and A/C.

We found Monkey’s co-Cadette already settled in, and she’d saved Monkey a lower bunk right next to her bunk so they could visit into the night.

Ready for a great week.

Co-Cadette’s mom and I have been talking about how strange it feels to have our eldest kids away for the week. I’m glad they are together. They are both wonderful, wonderful young women.

The house is missing a vital life-force, but I’m so excited to hear about the fun she had when I pick her up Friday.

Why No Posts?

Tempting fate.

It sounds superstitious.

It is superstitious, but part of the reluctance to post has been a concern about tempting fate.

This life we’ve chosen, it’s outside the norm. Our children; their path is different from that of the vast majority of children.

We obviously think the path we’ve chosen is best for us or we wouldn’t have chosen it.

Our children are happy. They have lovely, laughter-filled, learning-filled, interesting-to-them, family-filled day after day.

I’m happy. I’m living the life I want.

As part of hospice and end-of-life doula training you think about your perfect end-of-life options and how you would need your life to change to bring that about. What people would you draw close to? What people would you stop seeing? What activities would you finally do?

This life I’ve got; this is it. These people, the ones I spend time with and learn about, these are the people I want. The ways we spend our days, the trips we take, the hobbies I have; this is it.

Buds would have to write his own vision of the life he wants, but most days seem to be a chosen path he loves. Certainly this family space is his favorite place to be.

This bubble around our life, it is sacred space to me. It can vanish with a too-quick left turn in front of a distracted driver, a visit to the doctor with unusual blood test results, or harsh light from a society that does not welcome alternate paths.

Our family will spend several days in Massachusetts this summer as we gather with Buddie’s co-Ephs for his 25th year college reunion. In preparation, the reunion committee published an updated “Facebook” with autobiographical essays from those who chose to submit them.

Buds and I have been fascinated by these 25-year snapshots of human lives. You can read Buddie’s essay here.

This morning, I read Denis Gainty’s. I’m not sure if Buds knew him at Williams, but if they had met, I think they would have been friends.

We won’t be meeting Denis at the reunion this year because he died unexpectedly on March 26, 2017. He sounds like he was a splendid human (as most of us do after we die.) But, I really believe we would have all gotten along from the final paragraph of the essay he submitted for the reunion book before he died.

“I’m including a picture of me with my kids. Here’s hoping that, through some happy chance, they get to find their own Williams.”

How beautifully that complements Buddie’s final paragraph:

“My time at Williams was sweet. In this open, internet world, I don’t know what Williams my children will find. Change comes and we try to meet it with an open heart.”

This understanding of children as people, not simply an extension of ourselves; acknowledging that life is a series of events that, if we are truly blessed, may lead to happy outcomes.

How delicious it is to me that these two men, one of whom has finished his journey, recognize that their children will/may find their own Williams; their own peaceful beautiful path, if they can.

I fully reject the idea that children should be putting off living the lives they envision until “later.” There may be no later, so supporting them as they wander through all the different ideas and options and travels and adventures, that brings me joy.

And sharing that joy via the blog, to a wider audience, that feels tenuous to me.

Am I tempting fate by broadcasting this joy? This diversion from the typical?

Processing that is part of the journey.

Addendum: I talked with Sarah at Williams this weekend about Denis. She didn’t know him well, but her memories of a splendid, joy-filled human indicate my instinct was right. He and Buds would have gotten along well.

Belle Meade Civil War Experience

The classes at Belle Meade (the plantation down the road from us), are always so well done.

This time was especially fantastic. Gorgeous weather, wonderful re-enactors, fun activities.

Great explanation about women’s roles during the Civil War.

These faces.

Roll those bandages for the front lines.

This dress…

Then we learned about communication in wartime before cell phones and satellites.

Flags and telegraphs

Explaining the process.

Practice decoding the flag shorthand.

For you to try at home.

At this point, Buster and Monkey sat under a shady tree to tell each other stories while Yessa and I learned about the infantry.

The dedication of this Belle Meade gentleman; He did a fantastic job, and the kids loved it.

After the program was over, we headed down for Monkey to get her allergy shot, and I caught one last photo.

Yup, he’s taller.

Lovin’ this life.

Nearly An Atlanta Adventure

The plan was to play and learn in Atlanta for a couple days while Buds worked with his Atlanta co-workers. The plan changed when Buster spiked a fever our first day there.

Plan B was sending Buds off to work and enjoying time together in a cute little house, working, learning, reading, and getting well.

Plan B was a huge hit.

The house was perfectly located and a great size for us. I think it will become our “go-to” for Atlanta trips.

Awesome kitchen, except...

Awesome kitchen, except…

The microwave was above MY head. And I'm tall!

The microwave was above MY head. And I’m tall!

Cutest little pot in the world for heating our morning milk.

Cutest little pot in the world for heating our morning milk.

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Sunny living room.

Sunny living room.

Cozy Yessa bedroom, with stacked washer and dryer.

Cozy Yessa bedroom, with stacked washer and dryer.

Buster getting better.

Buster getting better.

Stairs to Monkey's attic space.

Stairs to Monkey’s attic space.

The best bedroom of them all.

The best bedroom of them all.

Buster and Yessa both commented on the Picasso print. So simple, so lovely.

Buster and Yessa both commented on the Picasso print. So simple, so lovely.

Buster felt well enough on one of the nights for Buds and me to keep the date we’d set up weeks before. In that way our very small world has, a Juice co-worker had gotten to be friends with Barton, one of our oldest friends. Barton’s wife was home with their sick children, but Mike and Bonny, Barton, and Buds and I had a raucous dinner filled with stories and laughter.

We did meet up for dinner with this guy. We all have a lot less hair than the wedding day, but still love being together.

We did meet up for dinner with this guy. We all have a lot less hair than the wedding day, but still love being together.

Wedding Day

Buster apologized several times for getting sick and “ruining” our time in Atlanta. Buds and I were actually grateful he timed getting sick so perfectly! By the time we started out on our drive to Orlando he was back to 90% better, which was a relief.

Upcoming…the Orlando Outing.

A Girl Scout Filled Day

A new homeschool troop was forming, and the girls were willing to give it a try. (Monkey with enthusiasm, Yessa semi-willingly since Monkey was going to do it.)

It’s a long drive, and we’re still learning everyone’s names, but the girls are making the most of this opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people, and grow as leaders.

They took part in their first cookie booths for this year and both said they’d be willing to do a booth again some day, which makes me consider the booth experience a stunning success.

Monkey and her co-Cadette prepare to sell all the cookies!

Monkey and her co-Cadette prepare to sell all the cookies!

She's ready!

She’s ready!

The girls had a long, two-hour shift, and for an hour of that Monkey was alone, except for me. They did a fantastic job, and worked hard on presenting Girl Scouts in a positive, productive way to all the folks who walked by on their way into Kroger.

And they sold a lot of cookies!

Getting a couple hours of reading in while waiting for his sisters.

Getting a couple hours of reading in while waiting for his sisters.

Earlier in the day, Monkey and her Sister Cadette completed their “Leader In Action” badge by preparing and leading the entire meeting for their troop’s Brownie Scouts. (As is typical for many homeschool troops, the girls belong to a multi-age troop with girls from ages 6 to 14, meeting together under one troop number, but breaking out by age for their meetings.)

FYI: Monkey is a Cadette level scout. Yessa is a Junior level scout.

Monkey and her co-Cadette did such a fantastic job presenting science activities and other fun lessons around the theme of “Wonders of Water” for the Brownies.

Meeting prep.

Meeting prep.

Thinking and planning

Thinking and planning

Presenting the lesson.

Presenting the lesson.

These Brownies are a hoot!

These Brownies are a hoot!

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More fun and games.

More fun and games.

Between the meeting and the cookie booth, we had a couple hours to play, so we headed to an fantastic park on this glorious day.

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Having children who still love a great playground, but who are also old enough to plan and lead; what fantastic ages they all are.

Would You Like Some Chocolate With That Hairnet?

Ever on the hunt for fun things to do with our tribe, the whole lot of us headed to a local Nashville chocolate company, Olive & Sinclair to see how they hand-make delicious chocolate products (and gummy bears).

As is often the case, a tour of a food factory begins with a hairnet.

Do I look cute?

Do I look cute?

She looks Amish.

She looks Amish.

This keeps the hair out of his eyes.

This keeps the hair out of his eyes.

Cute as ever.

Cute as ever.

The children couldn't wait to get T & J into their hairnets.

The children couldn’t wait to get T & J into their hairnets.

J's hairnet cleverly hides under his hat.

J’s hairnet cleverly hides under his hat.

I was hopeful that Eddie would have to put on a beard-net, but that didn’t happen. I may pay extra for that next time.

After we were netted up, we headed back to learn the process. The company employs 10 folks, which includes 3 full-time “wrappers.”

Our tour guide was interesting and fun. She moved to Nashville only 4 months ago to work for Olive and Sinclair after tasting their white chocolate at a chocolate show out West.

Our tour guide was interesting and fun. She moved to Nashville only 4 months ago to work for Olive and Sinclair after tasting their white chocolate at a chocolate show out West.

Our guide walked us through the entire process. We were surprised to learn the cocoa pods grow on the trunk and branches of the tree.

Image from: http://www.worldagroforestry.org/treesandmarkets/inaforesta/images/chocolate-ripe.jpg

Image from: http://www.worldagroforestry.org/treesandmarkets/inaforesta/images/chocolate-ripe.jpg

Olive & Sinclair breaks down the pods to get to the beans inside, which they divide up into 25 pound buckets for easier dumping.

Image courtesy of: https://coconutcreamcare.files.wordpress.com

Image courtesy of: https://coconutcreamcare.files.wordpress.com

The picture above shows a dried pod with a bowl of cocoa beans. The beans are roasted in their huge roaster, 75 pounds at a time, and then cracked to get to the nibs inside, which are what they use to make the chocolate products.

Our guide cracked a roasted bean, which broke like a coffee bean, so we could each try a bit of plain nib. It was interesting to try, but few of us were fans.

After the nibs are shelled (This is done mechanically at O & S, but our guide told us of a chocolate company who has that part done by hand, just to provide more jobs for folks.), they are taken to the stone grinders. One is for the brown chocolate grinding, the other has their white chocolate grinding done in it.

Tons of grinders make the nibs smooth, but it does not make them delicious.

Tons of grinders make the nibs smooth, but it does not make them delicious.

Up to this point, I’ve been impressed with my memory of the tour. That breaks down going forward.

After the chocolate nibs have been ground smooth, the creamy goodness (That actually tastes like peanut butter when you put a sample in your mouth, but quickly turns bitter.) is hand scooped out of the stone bin to continue the process.

From here, things get made. I listened during the tour, but began to lose focus.

I do remember sampling their Bourbon Nib Brittle. That was memorably delicious.

O & S products are for a sophisticated palate. Their white chocolate bar is seasoned with salt and pepper. The caramels come in two flavors: duck fat and sea salt and vinegar. The children were not completely impressed, although they all sampled various items, and Yessa tried the cherry cordial that T shared with her. T’s Dad is a huge fan of chocolate-covered cherries, so she bought out the remaining cherries to take home to him for Christmas.

We purchased an assortment of products to try, and then headed back to our house for a chili dinner and playing and visiting.

Virtual Reality was a hit with T.

Virtual Reality was a hit with T.

I love this crowd.

Post-tour, hairnets a thing of the past.

Post-tour, hairnets a thing of the past.

Williams 25th – The Permanent Record

Williams asked me to write a 25th anniversary summary of what I’ve been up to. Since this is the Gemignani permanent record, here it is. Names have been changed, because we are spies.

I had the extreme good fortune to meet Ginnie, my wife, partner and love shortly after graduation. We bonded over a blind date ballroom dancing (though not with each other), a shared love of L.A Story, snark and tackles.

Twelve years ago, I cofounded Juice Analytics with my brother Zach (erhm, Uncle Z). We’ve seen ups and downs and ups (and…). It’s been a great partnership. I’ve gradually transformed into a software developer, or even an engineer on my best days. I love building community, sharing my days with talented and dedicated folks, and honest laughter. Years at big companies (mostly Citibank) left me with more political weasel than I’d like.

Three beautiful, funny and quirky children share our nest. “Monkey” was born in 2002, “Buster” in 2004 and “Yessa” (She’s a girl!) in 2006. They’re now an age where their tongues are as sharp as rapiers, their memories like elephants, but their bodies still occasionally as snuggly as church mice. We homeschool and that’s allowed us freedom to travel. Last year included 7 weeks in Italy. One word, Sicily.

Ginnie and I ping-ponged from St Louis, Missouri; West Lafayette, Indiana (Ginnie’s move); Newark, Delaware (my move); Des Moines, Iowa (Ginnie’s move and where all three kids were born); Reston, Virginia (my move). Today we’re in Nashville, which feels like home. We’ve loved and buried four pets, found Crossfit and Unitarian Universalism. We’ve happily gone our own way, a small tribe of quiet half-rebels.

My time at Williams was sweet. In this open, internet world, I don’t know what Williams my children will find. Change comes and we try to meet it with an open heart.

Graduation with Sarah, Ellen, and Pete.

Graduation with Sarah, Ellen, and Pete.

Our family this year in Vinalhaven, ME

Our family this year in Vinalhaven, ME

Ladyfriends.

Ladyfriends.

Our wedding in 1995 with the Williams Crew.

Our wedding in 1995 with the Williams Crew.

Dyed In The Wool

The crew and I headed to Belle Meade this morning to experience some of the work involved in living as a settler.

We had the opportunity to churn butter:

Butter and the chance to try it on pita bread.

Butter and the chance to try it on pita bread.

Monkey takes a turn.

Monkey takes a turn.

As an aside: Thanks to Family Movie Night from a few weeks ago, Monkey was able to point out to me that Mr. Butter had a voice a lot like Pee Week Herman. Cultural reference for the win!

We watched the spinning wheel in action:

So many different types of yarn to see.

So many different types of yarn to see.

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Ms. Spinning Wheel had samples for us to feel from the typical items: wool, flax, and silk, but she also had bamboo, corn silk, and baby camel.

We got to play with the old-timer toys:

Old Fashioned Games

Old Fashioned Games

This is the point where Buster grabbed the jump rope with wooden handles and asks, “Why do they have nunchucks for little kids to play with? Oh, wait, it’s a jump rope.”

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Jacob's Ladder will always be fascinating.

Jacob’s Ladder will always be fascinating.

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Mr. Blacksmith was glad for the cool day.

Mr. Blacksmith was glad for the cool day.

Ms. Beth, the sheep lady, was the person we listened to for the longest. She talked to us about sheep shearing and their wool, and also about dyeing the wool. As fate would have it, I just finished a murder mystery about Indigo Dying yesterday, so many of the facts Ms. Beth shared felt familiar.

Showing us the way the wool looks after being carded and rolled.

Showing us the way the wool looks after being carded and rolled.

We learned about the origin of the phrase “dyed in the wool.” As Ms. Beth explained it, when wool is dyed before it is spun into yarn or cloth, the color goes clear through and won’t change. If it isn’t dyed until later, the color is on the “outside,” not all the way through. So if you are a “dyed in the wool” homeschooler, that’s what you are through and through.

We learned about the roots and plants used to make dyes.

These skeins were dyed with indigo.

These skeins were dyed with indigo.

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In the photo above, the skein Ms. Beth is holding was dyed with madder in its pure form. All the rest of the skeins of that group were also dyed with madder, but by adding different acids or mordants, Ms. Beth achieves the array of colors.

The entire process.

The entire process.

There was a demonstration about the process of doing laundry back in the days when water had to be hauled from the creek.

Makes laundry look fun!

Makes laundry look fun!

I asked the children if laundry would be more fun for them if I wore a long dress to reenact the olden days. They were not interested.

I asked if it would help if I wore a bikini while they did laundry. (Don’t ask why I asked. It’s because the image was cracking me up. If you aren’t sure why I’m doing something, just assume it is to make myself laugh.)

Yessa replied that that would only make a difference for Buddie and it wouldn’t be because he was interested in the laundry. (That child always gets the winning point.)

This Anne of Green Gables image:

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made me think of the bonnet that Nonni gave Monkey that she loved to wear when we’d go on special outings like this one.

Yessa in the bonnet.

Yessa in the bonnet.

The Buster brought a book along for when he was tired of the activities.

The Buster brought a book along for when he was tired of the activities.

These two.

These two.

There was one type of harvest the settlers at Belle Meade didn’t mention.

Freshly-baked kitten.

The dough before rising.

The dough before rising.

After your kitten dough has risen. Perfect for frying.

After your kitten dough has risen. Perfect for frying.

Thanks to my crew for heading out with good spirits.

Dappled sunlight.

Dappled sunlight.

A Joyful First!

Buds and I were in the midst of a workout in the garage when I looked out the windows toward the front garden, and there, fluttering around the butterfly bush with 10 blue butterflies, was…A MONARCH!

Blurry, but beautiful.

Blurry, but beautiful.

I planted milkweed three years ago in the hopes of this moment.

The whole family came to look in response to my excited shouts.

And as the children were clustered in front of me, watching the flutterby (As Monkey used to say.), I said to their backs, “Let’s kill this one and pin it in a glass frame to commemorate this moment.”

That got a shout of laughter from the Buster after he turned to look at me in shock and saw the twinkle in my eye.

I knew he’d appreciate the humor.

Fingers crossed for more orange beauties in the future!

Semifreddo, “Italian” Lights and Knockerball

Editor’s note: Videos included. View at mommie2zs.com.

Monkey made semifreddo (soft ice-creamy dessert) early in the week and it made us all dream of Italy.

Ready to begin.

Ready to begin.

Measure, measure, measure.

Measure, measure, measure.

The mixing took forever!

The mixing took forever!

Crumbled cookies ready to be covered.

Crumbled cookies ready to be covered.

Filling the cups for the freezer.

Filling the cups for the freezer.

The delicious ending.

The delicious ending.

Nashville has an annual festival called “Italian Lights.” Since Monkey had been craving “real” Italian food for several days, despite getting a semifreddo fix, we thought we’d give the festival a chance.

We picked up Buds at the end of the work day on a Friday, and headed to Bicentennial Park in downtown Nashville. (FYI, Bicentennial Park is not the same place as Centennial Park. If you are at the Parthenon in Nashville, you are at the wrong park…Nashville is weird.)

As we headed toward the tents and banners, we could hear the crooning of Frank Sinatra songs. (The Chris I dated before this one I married was a huge Sinatra fan, so I know lots of words to Sinatra songs.)

Frank Sinatra cover artist, a food stand that sold meatball subs and ziti, and a gelato food cart, that was where the “Italian” connection ended, but we had a great time regardless.

No one seems to be listening to the Pope.

No one seems to be listening to the Pope.

Buster wants the oar.

Buster wants the oar.

Where are we headed?!

Where are we headed?!

There were two highlights of the evening. The children all loved playing Knockerball!

We’re pretty sure we never saw these in Italy, but maybe we just never wandered to the right part of town.

When the tall kid joined the game, things got fun!

When the tall kid joined the game, things got fun!

Worked up quite a thirst!

Worked up quite a thirst!

After Knockerball, Buds was excited to show me the homemade pickle stand, which had lots of free samples. We came home with bread and butter pickles, fresh dill pickles, and hilarious memories of Buddie trying the fiery hot pickles and getting a look of widening shock as the spices hit.

Yup, it's getting hotter.

Yup, it’s getting hotter.

It was a beautiful night to be out and about, and if we’re craving Italian food again next year, we’ll probably go to an Italian restaurant… then go to the festival to play Knockerball.