A Scary Day at the Beach

The following intro on Wild Sensibility’s latest post made me think immediately of the beach. Granted, the beach is an odd thing to think about in the middle of December when I have to cover my rosemary every night so it doesn’t get too cold. But we do not always control the meanderings of the mind. Especially when they get a little direction.

If you spend time in the outdoors, eventually something will go wrong. It’s a law of nature. But if you survive, those epic failures become the best stories! We’ve all read about amazing accomplishments in the wild, but now it’s time to tell us about the not-so-great times and what you learned from them. Share your best #EpicTrailFail stories on your own page, include this paragraph as a header, and then provide a link in the comments here or here. We’ll curate and circulate the best stories in future posts. We can’t wait to read about what you’ve survived!
Arionis of Just A Small Cog and Rebecca of Wild Sensibility.

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Water and sand and play and sun.

The beach is supposed to be just plain fun.

How it almost turned deathly I cringe to recall.

What you must understand is that Sand Can Fall.

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I take you to the public beach in Boca Raton, Florida, where I in my young(er) and stupid(er) days brought three of my boys and had a terrible scare.

The key to understanding this situation is twofold.

  1. I am not a beach person, meaning I have not spent loads of time at beaches, which is to say I am unfamiliar with some of the inherent issues one finds at beaches which other people, less ignorant, would know from experience to be careful of.
  2. This particular beach was structured oddly. Normally a beach is flat and you walk on the sand straight into the water. The level of the sand sometimes drops off (sometimes considerably) when you venture a bit into the water, but normally it’s an easy, flat, level walk from your parked car to where you can get your toes wet.

Not in Boca.

There, for reasons I do not understand, the level of the sand drops off just before the sand meets the water, meaning you have to hop down if water is your goal. Likely this has to do with whether it’s high tide or low tide, but after this incident I admit I did not take time to look into it. I was too busy having heart palpitations.

A cross section looks something like this. At least in my still-trembling memory it looks like this.


It is not a big drop off. Maybe it wasn’t even that high. Maybe that’s just how I remember it in my nightmares. For my boys – Lincoln was about 10 and Bradley was 12 (and Samuel was too young to take part) – it was a great, fun jump, then a simple climb back up. Jump. Climb. Jump. Climb. In between splash around a bit. I was on the upper level, paying attention. So I thought.

They got tired of this jumping-and-climbing game and decided to dig. Wouldn’t it be fun to dig a tunnel from the bottom up and from the top down – at about a 45-degree angle – and wiggle through it? It wasn’t a long tunnel, maybe just a bit longer than my boys were tall. And the sand, being close to the water as it was, had enough moisture in it to hold the tunnel shape, like a sandcastle does until a wave washes over it. So I thought.

Then okay. Tunnel built. Lincoln crawled through. Triumph! Smiles, bravo, do it again.

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Lincoln is small, thin, agile, lithe. Always was.

Bradley’s turn. Bradley at age 12 had what you could call heft. He was a “big boy” – other descriptors include solid, wider than thin, robust.

You would surely see/anticipate/fear what I did not. The inner walls of the tunnel were likely compromised by Lincoln having gone through first. Plus, Bradley’s style of movement was more bull-in-a-china-shop than graceful or careful or any other style that might have prevented those tunnel walls from caving in.

In they caved indeed, with Bradley smack in the middle – no feet to be seen. No head!

Good God, he can’t breathe in there!

Now who was digging?! The foolish mother who let this happen, that’s who! Lincoln helped, as did a blessed bystander or two. It did not take long to uncover his face but it felt like eternity. Bradley was fine after gasping a breath or two, unfazed, emerging enthusiastically not unlike a jack-in-the-box. He jumped in the water to clean all the sand out of his hair and ears and played until we left as if nothing happened. A moratorium was called on tunnel-building though.

These are the moments a mother relives ad infinitum with a great deal of chiding and self-flagellation. Like Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, I asked myself a gazillion times How could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so stupid?

Bradley always had an adventurous spirit. He loved skiing, having grown up in Vermont next to Smuggs and Stowe. He watched Warren Miller films – the ones showing crazy skiers in settings both gorgeous and treacherous – thinking Those guys are awesome rather than Those guys are crazy. He worked at Alta ski resort in Utah one winter just to be able to ski on his time off. You know, triple-black-diamond, around-the-trees-down-the-steepest-slopes kind of stuff. When he was about 20 he traveled for six months with his best friend Tim to southeast Asia, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand. They worked some, played a lot, tried to spear poisonous fish (perhaps succeeded), sent photos designed to unnerve me – Brad with a full beard on a park bench somewhere in Sydney holding a sign that said Will Work For Food comes to mind.

I never forgot the beach day though. Some years later while reviewing my parenting missteps (everyone does that, right?) I took the rap (should have been smarter, should have anticipated the tunnel collapse, etc.) and added, “Bradley, I think that’s as close as you’ve ever come to death.”

“Well, Mom,” he began, about to (I could tell) give me other, better examples of events that had nothing whatever to do with me – possibly an effort to relieve my guilt – events that made the day on the beach look like a walk in the park.

“I don’t wanna hear about it,” I said firmly.

As if I need more mental images of near-death that include any of my children. As if I need any mental images of near-death. But I know that danger is a part of every adventure, and I thank God we get through most of them unscathed. What lessons did I take away from Tunnel Terror? Nothing I didn’t know before. But all worth remembering.

  1. Sand falls. It is an unstable substance despite how solid it might look.
  2. Children do not have the best judgment sometimes. They forge ahead with no clue as to possible unwanted repercussions.
  3. Adults do not have the best judgment sometimes. They fail to anticipate possible unfortunate consequences.
  4. Life is precious. A death or near-death event (no matter whose, so long as we know the person) is one of the best reminders of how much we love the people we love, how much we cherish our time with them, how much the world would not be the same without them.
  5. We all do the best we can. Distractions, missteps, fatigue, confusion, fear and a multitude of other factors all complicate the picture, all color the diligent attentiveness and sound decision-making and responsible actions we want to think are ever-present, ever-applied. We’re just not perfect. We can’t know every risk, can’t stop every bad, can’t fix every hurt. We can just love each other, protect each other, forgive each other and deal with whatever life throws at us, each day, every day, as best as we can. That’s a tall enough order, I’d say.

My Phone, My Buddy

I stirred in my bed this morning before there was any color in the sky, reached over as usual to the space next to me and found what I always find. Only it was dead. Cold. Unresponsive. Useless.

It was a little, just a little, like the story I’ll never forget about my Great Aunt Emily. She told me that as the youngest child in her family she had watched her siblings one by one tie the knot and then begin one by one to have troubles – troubles she associated with their unions, troubles that uninspired her to say yes to the man who asked for her hand. Whether she closed the door after that or was never asked again, she didn’t tell me.

For most of her adult life, Aunt Emily lived with her mom. For practical reasons they had slept in the same bed. Once, when I was a child, we visited her at the one-bedroom apartment in New York City they had shared.

You see where I’m going, right?

So, okay, finding your phone – cold and unresponsive – an arm’s reach away from you in bed is not the same as waking up next to a dead body, not the same as all the sadness, weirdness and subsequent suffering that go along with the unenviable life experience that Aunt Emily had. I get that. But when that phone is your connection to living people, when its job is bringing you out of dreamland and reconnecting you to the unsleeping world, when it serves to comfort you in its sameness yet always gives you something new to think about, when you depend on it to tell you not only the time and the weather but also who thought of you in the night and what happened during those sleep hours that you need to know about – well, you see the parallel. I hope.

Wait. How did this happen? How did our phones become a thing we reach for, a comfort, a kind of lifeline to the world beyond the space we stand or sit or lie in? How it is that I routinely fall asleep next to mine? Why did I, first thing in the morning, before making tea, before brushing my hair, before even turning on a light, find the charger and plug it back in?

We must have connection. In so many ways we like, we crave, we depend on connection with others – whether that be the ideas they present, the music they make, the comfort they provide. My phone died because I fell asleep to the podcast I was listening to. But it made me reflect on what the alternatives might be – or might have been. What do you like or need or depend on to get you over the bridge from Awakeland to Asleepland? After you brush your teeth, arrange your pillows the way you like them, set your alarm, and do whatever else is in your bedtime routine, how do you tuck in and make the transition?

Let’s see. You could fall asleep in the arms of your lover. Anyone who has known such a pleasure would surely rank this above falling asleep while listening to a podcast. Yes. Definitely. Some people are blessed with nights on end of such joy. Some have it sometimes. Some had it and now miss it greatly. Some only wonder if that kind of comfort is not just a myth.

Being with someone you love is super nice. Being warm is a need. You could fall asleep just trying to get warm. What if your bedroom were cold enough to wear a hat to bed? Nightcaps were a thing you wore on your head before they morphed into a strong drink you enjoyed in the wee hours. Hot water bottles with cute, knitted sleeves can take the chill out of cold sheets. How about a bed warmer, used in the days before electric blankets to heat a bed. Wikipedia cites Cora Millet-Robinet (1853), Domestic Economy: “A copper warming pan is indispensable to a household. Take care to have a big enough quantity of embers, above all some red cinders, when you want to heat a bed. Get it smouldering well before you use it, otherwise the fire will soon go out and the bed will not warm up. You must move the warming pan constantly to avoid scorching the sheets.” This bed warmer from the Netherlands gives you the idea.


Falling asleep with a lover to keep you warm seems about perfect to me, but I digress.

You could fall asleep just listening. For some it’s music, for some it’s traffic, for some it’s clatter. In my world the sounds I am likely to hear include my heat pump as it kicks back in to keep my house at a steady 68 (ka-chink, but some things I am willing to pay for), some howling coyotes (God only knows what sets them off sometimes, but they are usually pretty far away by the sound of it), the perfectly tuned wind chime hanging above my back porch (if the air is not still), or the rumbling of the train about half a mile away through the woods (a most reassuring sound – if the train is running, something is right in the world).

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You could fall asleep in front of the TV. I am old enough to remember how the TV produced a grainy, fuzzy “snow” on the screen, well after midnight I guess, when programming actually ended for the night. I don’t think it does that anymore but I wouldn’t know. I never had a TV in the bedroom, never wanted one. Which speaks to how complicated and unreasonable we silly humans are sometimes. A podcast is okay but forget a TV. There is not much difference perhaps.

You could fall asleep while reading a book, on purpose or not. Some people use the book as a way to fall asleep, getting through one paragraph at best on any given night before being unable to keep their eyes open. It’s a sleeping pill akin to a shot of Bailey’s or your drink of choice just before bed. Not a terrible bridge to walk over.

You could fall asleep praying, though I want to think we do this when we are more coherent. I want to think we pray throughout the day, reflexively, within our daily situations, as a part of our course and not so much as a designated activity. I want to think we fill in the gaps of our days with silent pleas, a kind of continual communion. But as with so many of our life choices, the individual way we each go about prayer is as varied as everything else about us.

You could fall asleep in conversation. I don’t mean the kind where words come out of your mouth audibly. I mean the kind where you hear futuristic or past dialog in your head. This might be an imagined meeting in which you decide what everyone says. What if I said this or that instead? How lovely if he/she/they said that. How might the flow of the dialog change – or even the outcome – if the spoken and unspoken words were different? Or you might replay a significant scene that occurred between you and someone else that you are trying to make sense of. Did I hear that correctly? How unexpected was that reaction! What did he/she/they mean to suggest by doing that? I wonder if only introverts do this dialog review and construction.

You could fall asleep thinking. Just thinking. Most recently I have had porch-building dilemmas to solve, test results to ponder, familial history to find my peace with. The world doesn’t end if you don’t come to workable solutions or solid footing before nodding off, but time spent working through a problem in our heads is under-appreciated, I think. Not everything has an instant solution. Not everything is immediately understood. Some things stick in your craw. They don’t resolve, they stay annoying or difficult or challenging. Maybe that’s because you aren’t there yet, you aren’t done thinking, you haven’t figured it out. Maybe just before fade-out is the right time to make a little progress on that issue.

Maybe your phone even helps you. I don’t think it’s all bad that we sleep next to our phones. They give us lots of information and connect us with people who are far away. But some day, someone studying this time in history will note a shift in human habits right about when cell phones became universal in our culture. They will see what we can’t see – how this technology played out both for good and not so good, how we adapted, how we changed, how our relationships changed. I wonder what they will say. What do you think they will say?

In the meantime, there it lies, my phone, my buddy. Don’t ask me why I put stickers on the back. I have no idea. Hey, it just occurs to me that a bedside table would be very handy!

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Leftover Mashed Potato Soup That’s Kinda Sorta Corn Chowder

On Thanksgiving I got a surprise. There’s a lot going on when you have 12 people coming to dinner, and a lot of oh-wow-how-can-I-be-this-tired afterwards. But I like to share the joy so later that evening I sent this photo to my friend Claudia of us all about to partake in the feast.


Do note Mom’s fancy rosette napkins on the paper turkey plates. I am not a paper-plate kind of girl but exceptions are allowed! Our meal included turkey and gravy, spiral cut ham, butternut squash, green bean casserole (the one with the French fried onions on top), creamed onions, stuffing (mine has sausage in it), mashed potatoes, warm pineapple pudding, cranberry sauce from a can (the only thing not homemade), cranberry chutney (because it is one of my favorites), and bread and butter.

Claudia responded to the photo as kindly as usual and ended with: “My soup with the leftover mashed potatoes was very tasty.”

What? Leftover Mashed Potato Soup??

Why did I never think of that?! (And I have leftover mashed potatoes!)

I asked her to tell me more about her soup and got a voice message instead of a text message – how wonderful to hear the voice of a friend who lives so far away! She said:

Well yesterday I sautéed some onions and added some leek and potato – no, not potato – and pieces of squash and carrots. I put some water in it and used the leftover mashed potatoes to just thicken it. I put the potatoes in towards the end. Another option is if you have squash left and mashed potatoes, you just sauté some onions and leek if you have and carrots or other veggies and then you just puree everything and then you have cream of vegetable soup. Something really nice is if you have some bacon cubes – you just fry them in a pan a bit and before serving you put them on top, and maybe some grated parmesan cheese. You have a whole meal if you add some mini-rolls or something like that.

You all will have deduced several things from this, including: 1. Claudia doesn’t measure much. 2. Squash is squash apparently, doesn’t matter what kind. 3. Bacon is available as or able to be cut into cubes in Germany. 4. No one is vegan or vegetarian or against carbs in our world.

In the spirit of Sure-Why-Not, I decided to play around with my own Leftover Mashed Potato Soup on Sunday after everyone had left. It was raining – that raw and cold kind of rain that does not invite outdoor play – so it was a perfect day for creamy, hot, thick soup that would take practically no time to prepare. Plus there’s that emotional hole that a soup like this lives to fill. My description/ instructions/ recipe may be only slightly more helpful than Claudia’s because I didn’t measure anything either, but at least I know about how much. Mine, unlike hers, is Kinda Sorta Corn Chowder.

I had intended to make Kaesespatzin, a cheesy-homemade-spaetzle dish topped with sautéed onions, on Wednesday when Lincoln and Julia and the girls arrived, but I got too tired and we made calzones instead. Having already sautéed the onions however, I put them in a jar figuring they would come in handy another day. For my soup I started with these. I scooped out a couple spoonfuls and warmed it up in a saucepan. I would say the amount I used was the equivalent of about one chopped onion sautéed in 2 tablespoons of butter.

I then took about as much leftover turkey as would fit in my hand (if I were holding it) and chopped it up fine — the pieces were about the size of raisins, maybe a little bigger. I added a cup or so of chicken broth from a $4.99 Sam’s Club rotisserie chicken we had had on Tuesday when I was also too tired to cook (which is what happens when you make three quilts in two weeks) – that carcass in a pot with water covering it and a bit of time over a flame had provided this. Bouillon or a prepared (canned/boxed) stock would work as well, as would leftover turkey gravy mixed 1:1 with water.

I had half a small bag of frozen corn so I added that; it was about 1 cup of corn. Then, following Claudia’s instructions on this point anyway, I added the leftover mashed potatoes (“toward the end”) – it was about two cups. The thickness of this mixture told me to add water so I did. I added water to the consistency of chowder, which is a thick soup anyway, and who doesn’t love a thick, creamy soup on a cold and rainy day? The potatoes were perfect in it!!

A little salt and pepper and that was it!! I was tired. It was simple. Done!

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The very idea of mashed potato soup was a surprise for me but now that I think of it, why not? Thank you, Claudia!!