Posts Tagged ‘parents’

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a beautiful small town in Southern Vermont.  The house in which I was raised sits on a pretty good-sized plot with a nice big front yard and acres of field in the back.   Certainly the land was big enough to farm but my parents (more gray flannel than Carhartt) opted to use the land for other things.   Like a vegetable garden that provided countless summers of wonderful fresh produce but sometimes fed more deer than family.   A somewhat short-lived chicken coop provided some entertainment for all of us, some nice eggs and, occasionally, some hearty meals for wild animals.

To this day, there’s always some discussion of what could be done with the extra land.  Ideas have ranged from a shooting range to a swimming pool to a red clay tennis court to a paddle tennis court to a curling rink.  Nothing’s ever come of it, of course.  And, when I journey home to that house I can tell you my heart warms so much more as I watch my little boys trudge through acres of natural fields than it ever would hearing them splash around in a pool or, god forbid, shooting clay pigeons.

My Dad’s a “hobbier”.  If that’s not actually a word, suffice to say he’s had a lot of hobbies.  And not small piddly hobbies like coin collecting or stamps.  No, no.  He got his solo pilot’s license.  He can build a mean duck decoy.  He’s a fly fisherman who ties his own flies and wraps his own rods.   He built gas-powered model airplanes large enough that I believed him when he offered to send Dick the Cat out for a test flight.   He can smoke his own meat for dinner, top it with his own batch of hot sauce and enjoy some of his home-churned ice cream for dessert.   I kid you not.

Eventually, the large field behind their house combined with my Dad’s never-ending hobby quests led to his longest lasting venture yet.   With a little help from some dear (now, sadly, deceased) friends, roughly 15 years ago he became a beekeeper.   Which probably sounds sort of scary and threatening but it’s really not.  Honey bees really don’t want to sting anybody and no one has ever gotten stung anywhere on my parents’ property that wasn’t screwing around with the bees’ hives in some way.  My Dad’s bees have produced countless bowls of honey-topped cereal and countless jars for clients and friends.  They even provided a little gift for our wedding guests.

** A little story for you as an aside.  Husband and I gave living in Vermont a whirl a few years back.  Full-time jobs, I worked weekends, and no one was making any money to speak of.  Still, we were near my parents and it was a great Vermont life while it lasted.  My Dad even got us set up with a few hives and Husband successfully kept his own bees.  Our house was across the street from a Catholic church.  One Sunday morning, Husband was tending to his bees just as church was letting out.  He’d neglected to properly tie up the wrist bands of his beekeeping suit and, consequently, learned his lesson the hard way when he discovered he had a dozen angry bees inside his suit.  I looked out the window (and church goers stopped in their tracks) to witness Husband leaping around the lawn, arms flapping, stripping off his bee suit with a fabulous array of filthy expletives flying out of his mouth.   It was hilarious.  Well, except for the fact that the doctor told us to just keep an eye out for any indication that his tongue was swelling and we had to spend the next two hours checking on it every three minutes.  “Tho, howthitlooknow?” … “Howthitlooknow?” **

Anyway, there have been some lovely midsummer days, when my Dad’s had as many as five hives buzzing with 50,000 bees each.  You doing the math?  We’re talking 250,000 busy bees who spend their days enjoying sweet Vermont clover, crisp clear water from nearby ponds and fresh air before returning to their happy hives in my parents’ back yard.   Idyllic, dontcha’ think?

There’ve been some bee challenges in the past.  There was a terrible virus that struck hives across the United States not too long ago and it wiped out a bunch of my Dad’s bees.   There’ve been some really bitchy Queens that have produced Angry Hives.   And, there’s always the small issue of how much the local post office just loves receiving packages marked “BEES ENCLOSED.  HANDLE WITH CARE!”

“Um, Mrs. Hills.  You can tell your husband his bees have arrived.  Tell him he can pick them up out back.”

So there’ve been challenges.  But none like this guy…

Yup.  They’ve got a bear.  And, as you know, bears love that honey.  This picture was taken with a motion-sensitive camera.

And, when the bear shows up, he wreaks havoc on the hive, killing thousands and thousands of the bees.

Here’s a hive pre-bear.

And, here’s the hive post-bear.

Yeah.   So, he’s no Gentle Ben.

So, after speaking to the local game warden, they were given permission to shoot at the bear.  Which bothers me a little bit (ok, maybe more than a little bit) but I figure the game warden knows better than I, right?  And, plus, the choice for my Dad is either to give up beekeeping or get rid of the bear.  Clearly, as you can see from the pictures, the two cannot co-exist.

But, keep in mind fellow animal lovers.  The bear comes at night.  And my Dad, despite motion-sensitive alarms and relocating his bed to the living room, continues to SLEEP at night.  He’s slept through the alarm a number of times and, although he’s gotten off a shot twice, he admits he was shooting in the direction of the bear’s obscenely potent stink of BO, rather than at anything he could actually see.  The odds are clearly tipped towards the bear here.

They did have one fabulously inspired idea that I was convinced would do the trick.   Sure, camera-flashes, ear-piercing alarms and gunshots didn’t faze this guy but this next idea was bound to send him running.

A first lady in a pantsuit?



No.  Apparently, in Vermont, even the bears are democrats.

Stay tuned.

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Since Husband is more than a little convinced that if I blog about going away for a few days, we will return to a house stripped for parts like an old Chevy, I wouldn’t normally tell you this.  But, because he’s not joining us and would therefore greet you with at the door with a Louisville Slugger, I’ll let you in on that fact that I’m packing up the kids and the dog today and heading north to my beautiful hometown of Dorset, Vermont for a few days.

And, I can’t wait.   The boys (lazy yellow labrador included) and I are heading up for a few days filled with tromping through backyard fields, walking the golf course with the dogs, hiking child-sized trails and enjoying the company of beloved Marnie, Jeff and (the anti-lazy yellow Labrador) Daschiel.

Like in Marblehead, they’ve had a boatload of rain over the last month or so.  Which means the Green Mountains will be Ireland-green.  The flowers will be up, the trees blooming and, while I’ll miss the whiff of ocean in my own town, I’ll smile as my children and I breathe deep the smell of fresh cut grass, fresh cut FRESH, fresh cut CLEAN.   Ahhhhh.   Do you know that smell?  If you don’t, go find it.

Between us and Vermont, however, remains the chore of packing endless bags of sh*t needed to sustain two young boys, a dog and me for five days.   While my Mom kindly stocked the fridge of essentials for us, I need to get off this computer and get moving on packing the clothes, shoes, favorite blankets, favorites lovies (Baaah and Bunny), diapers, wipes, Kandoo, kibble, games, DVD player, kid CDs, Zhu Zhus, car snacks, juice boxes and booster seats.   Then I will stuff whatever I can into giant black garbage bags (classy, no?) before throwing them into the new car.  Because the big, hairy dog will be with us (bye, bye new car smell) and I could knit a sweater with the hair he will shed through the trip.


But, we will arrive.  And breathe.  And play.  And love.  And be loved.

I used to drive home from college in my Hyundai (seriously), without a darn care in the world, and play this song over and over on my 8-track cassette player.   Of course, I know it’s about West Virginia and not Vermont but it still makes me think about going home.

So, here you go.  Take me home, John.

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When I was a little girl (an only child growing up in a small Vermont village), my parents seemed particularly concerned with not spoiling me.   They started out a newly-married couple without much more than their degrees (Tuck Business School and Wells College), entrepreneurial spirits and a love of the country life.  They weren’t handed anything from their own parents.   They worked very hard to build a catalog business together and saw it reach great heights of popularity during the mail order boom of the 80s.  Their business was launched in the basement of our house, then moved to bigger space in the neighboring one-light town, then they bought a big chunk of land, built their own warehouse and office space and grew right into that, too.   More warehouse space, more land, more employees, more money.   Eventually, my parents sold their home-grown business to a larger catalog conglomerate that was, at the time, very busy collecting other niche mail order companies (like Golf Day and Talbots).  This left them with no business but a whopping big warehouse that became home to Burton Snowboards.  Their story is a model of successful business building.  And, they did it side by side.   All day, every day — which I almost find even more impressive.

All the while, there was me.  A baby in a #10 box, a toddler with a mailing tube trumpet, a pre-schooler in packing peanuts, a kindergartener in customer service.  A middle schooler that thought…well, that thought she was pretty darn cool.  And, pretty sure that things were really going to start getting pretty cushy in the world in which I was living.   But the amazing thing about my parents is that, despite the fact that they were starting to do quite well, they never really showed it.  We lived (and my parents still live) in the same house they stretched themselves to purchase in the mid-70s.  My Dad has always driven a Ford pick-up truck and I think he likes his trucks better once they’re somewhat beat-up and rusty with dog scratches on the door and a, mostly unused, gun rack in the rear window.   My parents purchased a wood burning system to forego oil in the winter and my Dad, at age 65 and an implanted defibrillator later, continues to schlep load after load of wood down to the basement to fire that sucker up every day because he prefers to “burn wood, not money.”

So, any thoughts I may have had of all the trendiest fashions, a car for my 16th birthday, big weekly allowances, whatever?  Sadly misguided.  I was not indulged.  But, don’t get me (or them) wrong.  I certainly didn’t want for anything I truly needed (and I admit to attending a tony private high school) but all the really superfluous spoiled only child stuff you might expect?  Nope.  Not even vaguely up for discussion.

But…there was one thing I loved.  That almost every child loves.  One thing that I was allowed to have.  In excess.


In the time that I resided under my parents roof, they also accepted residence of the following:  two cats, six dogs, two guinea pigs, two hamsters, a bird, an opossum, a rabbit, baby chicks indoors and countless varieties of backyard chickens.

And, I’ve probably forgotten some.

Sweet, huh?  Letting their little girl have a menagerie of pets?  Mostly, yes.  But, there’s this one other thing about that.  You see, the first pet that was officially mine was a kitten.  A black, fuzzy thing as cute as a button and only about twice as big.  And he was to be mine (all mine!) with one condition.  My Dad was going to name it.   Sure!  I’d take that deal any day.  I mean, how bad could it be?

Blackie? I suggested.  Nah, said my Dad.

Kitty? Nope.

Midnight? Uh-uh.

We’ll name him Dick.


Yup, Dick.  That’s what my Dad named that cat.

You laugh, don’t you?

Want to know what he named my hamster?  Dick the hamster. And the bird?   Dick the bird. I kid you not.   I lived with this.  Repeatedly.

I laugh now, of course.  And, truth be told, I’m a BIG FAN of giving pets human names.  Our other pet names (you know, when we already had a Dick in the house – snicker) were Mickey, Bonnie, Sam, Sonny, Katie, etc.

When I was in college, I went out and got a guinea pig (my roommates were not so excited but they grew to love her.   I think.)  We named her Joyce.  As an aside we thought we were naming her after that saxophone playing Muppet.  You know, the one with the crazy hair?  Turns out her name was Janice but whatever.  Joyce stuck.

Ross and I got a dog together after we were married and named him Bernie (after #51).  We’ve already decided our next dog will be Jorge (#20) although I plan to pronounce it “George” and Ross will likely drive me crazy by actually calling him “Hoar-hay”.  Just rolls off the tongue, no?

I’ll bet there are a lot of things that my parents are proud they passed along.  Things that I carry with me every day in the form of my happiest childhood memories.  And, there are also probably some things they hoped I’d forget.

I wonder where the memory of “Pets Named Dick” stands in their minds?

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When my friend Liza, who was my matron of honor (she hated the “matron” part) and is undoubtedly my most-tenured friend, recently asked me what the hell a “Serial Swooper” was, I realized I probably owe anyone reading this blog an explanation on its title.  Because, if Liza doesn’t get it….probably no one gets it.

I’m bilingual, you know. And so is my husband and, now, our kids.  I speak English and I speak Hills (my maiden name).   Because my Dad has always used a few words that are, as far as I know, completely of his own making.   Or, he takes words that mean something else and incorporates them into Hills vernacular with an entirely new definition.  One of these many words is the verb form of the word “swoop”.

“To swoop” is to remove something from somewhere else, usually in a quick motion, in an attempt to neaten up. To use the word in a sentence (a sentence often used as I was growing up)…”Marion.  Did you swoop my Wall Street Journal?”  Most likely, my father had been reading it, got up to do something else, left it on the couch (with all intentions of returning to it momentarily), and returned to find it was gone.  Not likely thrown out, mind you.  Most likely just “swooped” into a pile somewhere.  Because my mother’s style of “cleaning up”, like mine today, involved a number of well-organized piles.

And, no one is immune to my swooping, either.  Christmas week, as I lay in bed for a few extra minutes as Husband and my mother-in-law got up early with the boys, I hear this exchange from the living room.

“Yes, Big Brother”
“Where did you put my little chair?”
“I don’t think I did anything with it.  Did you ask your Mom if she swooped it?”
“Yes, Grammie.  And, she said you swooped it.”

There are more Hills words, of course.  And whole phrases.   Such as…
Zeeks — men’s underwear.
Panackacakees — pancakes.
FROST! — what you yell when someone (usually a teenager who isn’t listening) says “What?” for the hundredth time rather than “Excuse me”.   The explanation on this one is long and drawn out.  Just believe me when I tell you there actually IS an explanation.
Ratzenfratzen! — When something kind of bad happens and “Rats!” just isn’t good enough.
Really with you? — One of my favorites.  This, roughly translated, means “You can not be serious.”  Used situationally: “I think Elin should take Tiger back.”   “Really with you!?”
Rack — A synonym for “Yum”.  And if something is really good, you may even use the stronger emphasis form of Rack and say Rickety Rack.   And if it’s so good you can hardly stand it you might go as far as to say Rickety Rack, Reeky Fack.

Laughing out loud to myself.

You all must think we’re a pack of crazies.   But, seriously, my kids are using these words.  And, I’m actually pretty psyched about it.

So, anyway.   That’s why I’m a Serial Swooper.  Now you know.

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…to get with the program again after two long weeks of not Watching my Weight. This includes but is not limited to refusing any and all invitations from my sweet children to “have some, Mommy?” when the item in question comes from the frozen foods section or comes with a packet of bright orange powder.

…to get out all of my thank-you notes all my non-family thank-you notes by the end of this week. Firstly, this includes the friends who love me best and do not give my children presents with 750-easy to assemble pieces or anything with sand, doh or marbles in the packaging. Secondly, I suppose, it will also include the friends who my children love best because they didn’t give a damn what I thought about the mess their awesome gifts would create. To those devil woman friends of mine who fall in the latter category…just wait ’til next year when your kid gets a drum set from Aunt Swooper.
…to hug more, yell less. There were many, many crazy moments over the last two weeks in which my boys were racing around the house like whirling dervishes, chanting synchronized nonsense at the top of their lungs together. Together. And, much of the time I was shushing them or telling them to stop touching each other. Touching each other. And when it got really “bad”, I was even threatening time-outs to separate them. Separate them?   No.  Perspective.  Deep breaths.  Perspective.
…to wear lingerie, matching, prettier under garments.  ‘Nuff said.
…to do something other than home chores on my child-free Tuesday and Thursday morning. Ideally, something at the gym that involves sweat, my iPod and sneakers. Where are those things, anyway?
…to host a party little get together.  Because we owe people and because I’m social. Best start working on Husband now about that. (see resolution listed two up from here)
…to forgive. And realize that people are rarely capable of dramatic personality change (particularly those of an older generation). Faced with too many untimely deaths of late, it’s time I get a clue and take the hint. It may not be the conventional relationship but he loves me. He does. And, I him.
…to stop giving a hoot about Facebook, Farmville, Fish World and Cafe World and pretending that Big Brother is the one most interested in them.  “Hey, Big Brother!  It’s almost bedtime!  Have you harvested the watermelons?!”   Really, Swooper?

…to be more grateful for the life I’ve been given.  To look my husband in the eye every day more often and let him know how much I love being a stay at home Mom and how much I appreciate how hard he works to make this life for us.   To look at my boys and really see them.  Their innocent faces, their tiny hands, their boundless energy and their completely distinct and loving, little personalities.   To embrace them longer, close my eyes and really feel them in my arms.   It won’t be long before they decide I’m totally so uncool.

Happy 2010, everyone.   I wish you all the best.

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