Life as Lorianne

Fern forest

Yesterday, I met A (not her real initial) for a walk at Rock House Reservation in West Brookfield, MA. We’ve been to Rock House several times in the past: enough times that we recognize some of the rock formations like familiar landmarks, but not enough times that we don’t have to consult a map when we come to a trail junction and have to decide This Way or That.

Fruiting fern

We’d considered meeting at Peaked Mountain in Monson, MA, where we’d hiked in September 2018. But given a choice between a hike up a hill or a stroll in the shade, we took the road less rigorous, and that made all the difference.

Although A and I had wondered whether traffic would be heavy due to the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the drive to and from West Brookfield was uneventful, with lots of other motorists on the road but traffic never coming to a standstill. At Rock House, it felt like A and I had the place to ourselves, parking side by side in an almost-empty trailhead lot and seeing only one other hiking party from afar.

Carter Pond

Sometimes when A and I meet halfway between her home and mine, we want to try something new…but other times, we want to enjoy a familiar-enough setting where we can enjoy the scenery without worry of getting lost. Yesterday the forest floor was carpeted with Canada mayflower, pink lady’s slippers, and fruiting ferns, and A and I had ample opportunity to catch up with everything that has happened since the last time we talked.

Pink lady's slipper

Reflective heron

On Thursday night, I went to the Zen Center to teach the meditation intro class, then I stayed for the weekly Dharma talk and Q&A. A man sitting behind me asked the Senior Dharma Teacher about his first meditation retreat, beginning his question with a sheepish admission: “It didn’t go how I expected.”

False Solomon's seal

Immediately other long-time practitioners and I erupted into laughter: yes, indeed! Retreats never go how you expected, because life never goes as expected. As the man sitting behind me described how he’d hoped the week after retreat to go smoothly with plenty of time to practice, but instead his time had been frittered away with unplanned obligations, I smiled and nodded. Been there, done (and continue to do) that.

Highbush blueberry

I submitted the last of my Spring semester grades this past Monday, then I had hoped for a gentle reentry into Summer leisure. Instead, I’ve spent the week checking off to-dos, some planned and others unanticipated.

Canada mayflower

This week I had a routine mammogram (check), scheduled eye exams for later in the summer (check), and found, booked appointments with, and completed seemingly endless new-patient intake forms for a new dentist (check, check, check). I made a list of summer tasks–so many things to clean, weed out, or organize–and I started filling my calendar with Zen Center obligations, weekend outings with J, and a July trip to visit family in Ohio.


All of those tasks were expected–things I’ve been meaning to do for months, but were delayed until the end of the semester, when I’d have more time. What I didn’t expect, however, was for the heating element on the dishwasher to die–a repair I’ll schedule next week–or for Roxy to eat an entire leather leash yesterday, necessitating an emergency trip to the vet for x-rays today. Who would expect a dog who has never been a chewer to suddenly develop an appetite for leather?


Tomorrow J and I have tickets to a Connecticut Sun game–plans we’d made months ago–but whether or not we go is contingent on the state of Roxy’s digestion. Will she vomit chunks of leather like she did this morning, meaning a return trip to the vet, or will the special food they prescribed help everything “come out in the end” quite literally?

Heron and goose

Only time will tell. In the meantime, I never expected I’d spend this morning sifting through dog vomit, looking for chewed bits of leather, and I never would have predicted that now I’d prefer to find bits of leather in Roxy’s poop instead.

Webster Woods

Today’s photos are from a short walk I took at Hammond Pond Reservation after Monday morning’s mammogram, before the week turned hectic.

Roxy sunbathes

Whenever colleagues or friends ask if I teach during the summer, my response is immediate: “Not a chance.” I teach at two colleges during the academic year so I can have the luxury of teaching nowhere in the summer. The lazy months of summer are my reward for all my working weekends the rest of the year.

I submitted Babson grades on Monday night, and I’ll submit Framingham State grades later this week. But this morning, I stepped away from my paper piles to renew my summer ritual of refilling the well by reading and writing on the patio after taking Roxy for her morning walk. It’s a cherished chance for both of us to find a spot in the sun before tackling the rest of the day’s tasks.


I taught the last of my Spring semester classes on Thursday, so yesterday I took a break from my grading piles to meet A (not her real initial) at a mall cineplex to see Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which was as good as the book we both grew up on.

A and I have been celebrating the almost-end of semesters with root beer for more than fifteen years, at least. This tradition is so entrenched, we selected a movie venue not because it is equidistant between us, but because it’s about twenty minutes from our regular purveyor of fried seafood and ice cream.

The movie was wonderful, and equally so was the conversation A and I had afterward. Are You There God is about many things: periods and boys and bras, for sure, and spiritual quests as well…but both the book and movie are also about female friendship.

The movie more than the book depicts the frustrations of Margaret’s mother, Barbara, who quits her teaching job when the family moves to the suburbs, and it also highlights the loneliness of Margaret’s grandmother Sylvia, who in one heartbreaking scene quietly crosses “solve crossword puzzle” from a daily to-do list whose only other item is “dust.”

Happily, by movie’s end Margaret learns the value of true rather than fake friendship, and both Barbara and Sylvia find new passions: Sylvia by saying “yes” to new love, and Barbara by (eventually) saying “no” to soul-crushing PTA tasks.

My favorite aspect of the film is that it both begins and ends with scenes of spontaneous girlhood joy. Much of becoming a woman is, frankly, a hassle, as Margaret learns when she tries on her first bra then admits she can’t wait to take it off. (“Welcome to womanhood,” Barbara knowingly intones.) But among the headache and hassle, there are moments of sweetness, whether that involves jumping into a pond at summer camp or driving an hour or more for lunch and a movie with your bestie.


There comes a time every semester when The Fantasy returns. The Fantasy involves me slipping away to an undisclosed location where I check into an inn where my room has nothing but a bed, desk, reading chair, and a view of the trees.

In its mildest form, The Fantasy has me holed away for a solitary weekend with nothing but my books and notebooks: an impromptu writer’s retreat. But when the semester turns dire and I am woefully behind with grading, I fantasize instead about slipping away to the aforementioned room with my laptop, books, and notebooks to get some uninterrupted grading done.

Last night two of my girlfriends and I booked an Airbnb house in Northampton for a summer weekend getaway: nothing too far or too fancy, but a chance to hang out for a weekend rather than an afternoon. After A (not her real initial) booked the rental, I created an Airbnb account and installed the app to view our trip. And that is when I made a discovery that will change the nature of The Fantasy forever.

Airbnb has an entire category devoted to treehouses.

Let me say that again for emphasis: Airbnb has an ENTIRE CATEGORY devoted to TREEHOUSES. When I was a kid, I fantasized about having a treehouse, and now that I’m an adult occasionally dreaming of weekend getaways, I discover that all you need to book your own treehouse is a smartphone and a credit card.

So now whenever The Fantasy descends, I won’t just dream of a room with a view of the trees, but an actual room in the trees.

Stone labyrinth

Because I track weekly goals rather than New Year’s resolutions, every Monday morning is a chance to check and reset. On Saturday, I drove to Northampton, MA to walk and share lunch and cocktails with A (not her real initial), and on Sunday morning I gave interviews at the Zen Center. Both outings were soul-nourishing, but spending time away from my desk means I fell behind with both blogging and grading.

This is, I’ve learned, how every semester goes. You make good progress, then something interrupts your stride.

Every semester, I warn students about the Week 5 doldrums: the start of what I call the Dark Night of the Semester, when the honeymoon period of a new term wears off and work starts to pile up. During Spring semester, there’s also a phenomenon I call Week 11 lethargy. Spring Break is over, and the end of the semester is more than a month away: too long to start counting days.

Spring is sort of here, but not really: the ground is bare of snow, and there are scattered crocuses and daffodils making a brave appearance. But right here, right now, we’re stuck between Spring and Summer Breaks, with nothing but the present moment (and our looming to-do lists) to entertain us.

It’s the time of the semester when we muddle in the middle, both students and instructors alike, waiting for a someday, eventually, that will come only after we finish all the work in the interim.


The earth never tires. This line from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself always comes to mind on days like today when I come home from teaching bone-tired. At least there is something stronger than me, the earth continuing to turn day after day, year after year, pumping out perennials with abandon despite the discouragements of snow and cold.

The earth never tires because the earth doesn’t care. She doesn’t get her hopes up: the earth, in fact, neither hopes nor despairs. The earth continues to bear the weight of all our human souls, all our human heartbreak, while floating in the icy isolation of space. The earth neither waits nor wants–the earth simply turns, simply orbits, simply soaks sun on one side while blushing into shadow on the other.

The earth sometimes shudders with quakes but is largely immune from the paroxysms of human pain. The earth doesn’t care about your day, your week, your life: the earth simply soldiers on, heeding nothing but gravity and her own magnetic impulses. The sun is her star and the moon her vassal.

The earth never tires, but I do. I tire and I waver. I am prone to mountainous highs and valley lows. I ebb and flow–I tire by night and am revived by morning. I am heliotropic, my moods manipulated by light, hunger, and the vicissitudes of time. The earth never tires, but I do: I rise and fall with the sun, my spirit willing but my body weak.


Roxy and I are back from our morning walk, and I just finished my weekly goals review, where I look back on the previous week and record which of my perennial goals I met and which I didn’t. (I’m doing well blogging and writing postcards; I’m lagging when it comes to reading books and getting 17,000 steps a day.)

I do this every Monday: this semester, I review my weekly goals in the morning before heading to Babson to teach my afternoon-into-evening classes. Today, because of the Presidents’ Day holiday, I’m not teaching on campus, so I’ll take Roxy on a second afternoon walk, play with Djaro in the dog-pen, prepare tomorrow’s classes, and grade papers.

For me, there isn’t much difference, work-wise, between a Monday holiday and a typical teaching day: the main difference is where I’m working and how many things I’m juggling while doing it.

Young reader with scarf

Today is sunny and cold, the inverse of yesterday, which was warm but gray. I check the weather app on my phone every morning to determine what coat I should wear when I walk Roxy, and sometimes the coat I wear in the morning is not the coat I wear in the afternoon.

Last night I dreamed about coats: or at least, one coat. J and I were going to an outdoor sports event–something major like the Super Bowl, but not the Super Bowl–with a nameless group of friends? Extended family? The specifics are fuzzy, but we were car-pooling to the game with this group, so we had to coordinate getting everyone ready.

For some reason, we had to dress up for this unspecified event, and someone had bought me a stylish long tweed coat: the kind of coat a fifties starlet would wear in a movie while tearfully saying goodbye to her secret lover at a train station.

The coat was pale brown, and it was determined by our faceless friends that the cream-colored infinity scarf my personal shopper had chosen to go with the coat definitely did not, so I was rummaging through closets trying to find either of two crushed chenille scarves I used to own–one olive green, the other chestnut brown–in the hope one of them would be a better choice.

After much delay in which I couldn’t find said scarves, we determined online that a store in a nearby mall had a wide selection of scarves, so we tried to gather our entourage–which by now had wandered off, bundling on then off again their own outfits and accouterments–into our carpool convoy. I have no idea if we made it to the game on time.


Another Sunday morning, the end of another week. This is how we inch incrementally toward Spring, toward the end of the semester, toward the end of days. How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives, so choose carefully.

This morning I’ve already done my morning chores, already walked Roxy, already posted a comment (from my phone) to this month’s Facebook book group discussion. I try to touch frequently the things I value: yesterday I finally found a spare half hour to continue building the LEGO Space Shuttle J bought me in June, and every night, I try to read at least a little, even though I never have as much time as I’d like.

Right now, I’m writing these words, and later I’ll write a letter and perhaps some postcards. I don’t have a lot of time for any of these tasks, but I’m a firm believer in what I call tiny touches: better to check in briefly and frequently than only occasionally in longer bursts.

You get in shape by taking a short walk daily, not by running a marathon monthly. As much as I would love (deeply) to have a weekend writing getaway–just me, my books, and notebooks in a cozy, quiet inn somewhere–how I actually write is just like this: a daily half hour squeezed between daily chores. Slow and steady, ad infinitum.

I often remember a grad school colleague who finished her PhD by working on her dissertation one afternoon a week, during the time her mother could look after her kids. There are, I’m sure, people who have long, uninterrupted chunks of time to pursue their passions. I am not one of them.

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