Out of Whack

The last time I played tennis, I did – several times – a thing tennis players do. I adjusted the strings of my racket. The impact of the ball at the moment of contact shifts the strings ever so slightly depending on many things like whether the shot has backspin or topspin, how tightly the racket is strung to begin with, the speed of the racket as it heads toward making contact with the ball, the physical strength of the player (mine being not much). Watch those players during the USOpen or Wimbledon and see them do this quite often between points.

Roger Federer likes his racket strung loosely, so the strings easily (considering his spin and strength) shift and get out of their perfect perpendicular formation and into all kinds of wacky, wavy patterns. He often has to adjust the strings that get, one could say, out of whack. Rarely (possibly never) can I use that phrase without remembering when Samuel was five and watching me adjust my strings. I explained what I was doing and he said, “Momma, why can’t the strings just stay in whack?” (Hold that thought.)

federer with strings

See how Roger stands there looking at the racket, fingering the strings?* All us tennis players do this sometimes. (Did you catch that: “All us…” 😊 This is, in fact, one of the only characteristics I have in common with players who really know how to play the game, but I’m darn proud of it!) Besides bringing your strings into correct position (which makes for a better next shot in theory anyway), this activity gives you a moment of focus to (if you are Roger Federer) rethink your strategy for the next point or (if you are me) mentally beat yourself up for the last bonehead shot that was so easy – how could I miss that!!??

Cheryl, Scott, Pat and I play as often as we can on the har-tru hydrocourts at  Keswick Golf Club, a holdover perk from my years as Resident Historian there. Here is an old photo to give you an idea of the lovely setting.

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Cheryl, Scott, Pat and I spend close to as much time talking as playing, but we do play, and we occasionally have great points – deft angles, slamming overheads, forehand alley shots that slip right down the line past the net person. We congratulate each other, go collect the ball(s) that went astray and set up for the next point.

So there I was, mid-game, waiting, feigning focus, fingering strings, when I saw something astounding: DIRT!! Tennis is a clean game, I assure you. Dirt??!! Do you see it?

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In case you don’t, allow me to show you.

dirty tennis racket_LI

I puzzled. I wondered. I was fully distracted from the next point. Then I remembered Willow.

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Willow was here, beautiful Willow, a dog that will chase a tennis ball all the day long. I’d been out there with her as often as I could, more times per day than I kept track of. Imagine what happens to a tennis ball that gets hit onto a gravel driveway bordered by some grass and a lot of dirt and then mixed with dog slobber? Here she is post-chase taking a quick break under the car with her disgusting prize.

Willow under the car (2)2mp

Ah, that’s where the dirt came from! The thought of her boundless energy warmed my heart as I stared at the dirty racket. She had brought that ball back to me over and over again, and I (with my garden gloves on when I remembered them!) had picked it up and whacked it with my racket yet again and off she would tear in hot pursuit. No wonder my strings were dirty!

As you see though, (and I noticed sadly) my strings are not out of whack. Pathetic, weakling stroke I must have these days. Maybe the workouts at the gym will remedy that, but alas, another conversation.

Now back to the phrase: Charming and adorable as Samuel was at five (still is at 25!), we simply don’t say that the strings of a tennis racket are in whack! What else don’t we usually say?

Lincoln was talking about Sandy the other day, about how he keeps going despite sometimes not feeling well. Lincoln said, It wouldn’t do for him to think he was vinsible.

Why do we say right as rain but not right as sunshine?

Why do we say the kiss of death, not the kiss of life?

Why is it always discombobulated and never combobulated or simply bobulated?

Why do we tell people not to be a wet blanket but we never encourage them to be a dry blanket?

Why do we call a small person (in jest of course) a shrimp and not a plankton?

Why hasn’t the handwriting on the wall morphed to the printout on the wall?

Something  with this system is surely out of whack!


Thank you, WSJ, for the Federer photo!

A Golden Visitor

It’s quite impossible to describe softness in words. Or curiosity. Or grace. The best we can do is give examples and hope that our meaning is clear. Yesterday afternoon all three of these words found a beautiful example in one incredible animal. Millie came to visit.

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Millie is a six-month-old golden retriever. She came with my Airbnb cottage guests Frankie and Steve, who graciously let me enjoy some time with her while they went off to an event downtown. What is it about a golden?

I have always been partial to them. For twelve years, this beauty named Candy was a big part of my world. She was a birthday present for Lincoln when he turned 12 and one of those loyal, gentle, intelligent, perfect dogs that come along now and then in this world.

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She accompanied me to school when I taught in an upper elementary Montessori classroom. As the classroom dog, she brought comfort and cheer to the students every day. I remember one fifth grade boy named Jay saying to me as he sat on the floor with her stroking her fur, “If you’re having a bad day, or someone hurts your feelings, you just go to Candy and pet her, and everything is okay again.”

She seemed to be seriously weakening in the fall of 2012. I had planned a trip and was going to be away for almost two weeks. One morning before I left for work, she was lying on her bed, hadn’t moved yet that day. I got down with her to stroke her lovely head before leaving as I always did. “Candy,” I told her, “you go before my trip or after, but not while I’m away, okay?” Later that morning, Bradley came to me in my office and said, “Mom, I’ve never had to do this before.” He had to tell me she was gone.

How does a dog get so attached to our hearts? I cannot say, but I knew Candy would forever be attached to mine. In her memory and honor, I named my property Golden Hill.

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It all came back yesterday when Millie arrived. I’ve had guests with goldens before but have not been able to spend time with them as I could with Millie. We spent hours outside. I sat with her on the deck of the cottage stroking that amazingly soft fur. We walked over to the coop, she staying right with me as a good dog does. I watched her stare at the chickens – totally, utterly intrigued.


Around the perimeter of the coop complex she padded noiselessly and gracefully, as if seeing them from a different angle would answer the question written all over her gorgeous face: What are they?


What are those noises they make? How do they balance those odd bodies on those two ridiculous legs?

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No, I mean seriously: What are they?

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Maybe if I get a little closer…


Maybe not.

And this one, with the fluffy head… What IS that?


So I let her inside to see what she would do. Her curiosity was just as intense.

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The chickens, as you can see, were not as interested in her as she was in them.


Their MO was to get as far from her as they could. Clearly a face-to-face would not be possible without a little help. So I introduced her to them up close and personal.


No, still no idea…

Millie may have remained baffled, but my day was completely wonderful – I got to enjoy this perfect golden for a few hours. She is and will undoubtedly henceforth be a joy beyond words to Steve and Frankie. I am so thrilled for them. It is not everyday that a dog like this comes into your life.