France 2016 (From the Archives)

Since we had taken two trips to France in 2014, one during the summer and one in December to celebrate Ella’s 18th birthday, we didn’t make a trip in 2015.

In London, 2016.
So Melinda’s and my next return to see our friends in Nantes was in 2016. This time, to do something different, we flew in and out of London, staying for a few days both times. It was my first ever time in England and I thought it was fabulous. Even though we weren’t in France, I tagged the days we were in London with the “France 2016” moniker so they will appear when you click the link below.

While in Nantes, we rented a house in the neighborhood in which we lived during the sabbatical year, just a couple of blocks from the Bertail’s. Part of what I loved about this decision is that it put us on the same tram line (Ligne 2) that I fell in love with when we were there initially in 2010-11. It also put me in close proximity of the Nantes racetrack (the hippodrome) which is where I began running in 2011. Each morning, I’d get up and go for a jog from our house over to and around the track, plus anywhere else that suited my fancy.

Also, this was another one of those trips that consisted of just Melinda and me. While we missed having the girls with us, there was something liberating about traveling “sans enfants.”

To easily see the posts from 2016, click this link.

France – Winter 2014/15 (From the Archives)

Here’s another one of those posts designed to take the dedicated reader (I think I mean myself) back in time to revisit my family’s various trips to France. This time, the blog time machine is taking us to December 2014/January 2015 when we returned to celebrate Ella’s 18th birthday.

It’s fun to visit a familiar place at a different time of year, especially one in which you’ve experienced all four seasons. Because of our work responsibilities with a school, returning in the summer was fairly straightforward. Going in December, even over winter break, required a little more coordinating.

We began this trip in Paris which is where we celebrated Ella’s 18th, much as we had done in 2011 for Chloe’s 18th birthday. What an experience – to be able to celebrate both girls’ 18th birthdays in Paris!

We also had both the Boudeaus and Bertails visit us in Paris before we all gathered back in Nantes. This time around, Melinda & I rented a wildly cool apartment inside the Passage Pommeraye in the center of Nantes. Having access to this place allowed us to show off some hidden Nantes treasures to our friends.

To see the posts from this trip, please click here.

France 2014 (From the Archives)

Last spring, I started adding posts that included links to Melinda’s and my return trips to France, something we vowed to do each year after our brilliant sabbatical year of 2010-11. I got away from that and am committed to getting back to it. So, yes, in the summer of 2014, we again returned to France with Ella and, um, a girl named Chloe*.

Boudeau Pool in Nantes, 2014
But not our Chloe.

Ella’s best chum in high school happened to be named Chloe* so back in 2014 I joked that Chloe*, Ella, Melinda, and I were returning to France. But I added an asterisk next to Chloe’s* name to indicate that this Chloe* needed a footnote.

Pretty soon, I just called her asterisk.

The trip includes an extended trip to Normandy and the WWII beaches for anyone interested in this kind of history. To see all the posts from this summer trip to France in 2014, use this link.

* not our Chloe

When I Learned to Tie My Shoes

(As a holiday gift in December 2022, Chloe, Ella & Alex provided me a gift subscription to something called Storyworth. Each week in 2023, I’m being provided a writing prompt designed to get me to reflect on some moment in my life. At the end of the year, my reflections will be printed in a bound book as a family keepsake. I have the option of editing or even selecting the prompts, as do Chloe, Ella & Alex. Here’s my fifth reflection essay, the idea of which came to me while reading an article.)

September, 1972: First Day of School – That’s me on the left, starting 4th Grade

According to Julie Lumeng, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, many kids learn to tie their shoes by age six, though some aren’t comfortable with it until they’re closer to eight. And in case you need a little refresher, age six corresponds to being in first grade and age eight to third grade.

So imagine my embarrassment when I hadn’t mastered the task by fourth grade.

I really don’t know why, looking back. What I do recall is preferring slip-ons, especially a pair of cowboy boots that I loved (except for the year I was a jockey for Halloween and rather than spring for a new pair of black boots, my mom put black fabric around the outside of my cowboy boots – c’mon, mom!) so it may have simply been a matter of me not getting a lot of practice. Or it could be that as the third of three kids, someone older quickly tied my shoes for me on those rare occasions when I had to wear laces.

As it pertained to school, this wasn’t any kind of problem since I wore a pair of lace-free Hush Puppies to school. I could just slip those babies on in the morning and no one would be the wiser at my inability to tie my shoes. But in fourth grade, we had to change our shoes in the classroom before going to the gym (being the creative sort, we called the shoes we wore to the gym “gym shoes”). They, of course, had laces. I can readily recall the stress over not knowing what I was going to do when it came time to change into our gym shoes at school.

Let me pause here to encourage you to reflect on when you learned to tie your shoes and maybe even how. My hunch is that most of you don’t remember much about it other than maybe a faded memory of a mom or a dad or an older sibling saying something about wrapping the lace around a “bunny ear.” You probably learned the task without stress and your muscle memory kicked in to the point that you haven’t had to think about it since. If so, lucky you.

Part of my 4th Grade Report Card
Not so for me. Even today, I still feel a tinge of incompetency when I tie my shoes, something that reminds me that something as insignificant as tying our shoes can be a minefield of potential trauma for a child. As kids, we so want to avoid shame and embarrassment. And ages six and eight are smack-dab in the middle of Erik Erikson’s Industry vs Inferiority stage of development. In short, this means that we want to be seen as competent and this is especially important in front of our classmates. Now overall, I was a competent fourth grader. I had the times table down cold, reading was a snap, and I received mostly C’s (for Commendable) on my report card. But doggonit, I couldn’t tie my shoes.

I recall that our desks were in rows and that our gym shoes were kept in some kind of closet on one side of the classroom. A few minutes before heading to the gym, we’d be given permission to get our gym shoes, return to our desks, and put them on. It was during these few minutes that I was afraid my incompetency would be revealed and that someone would make fun of me. As a highly sensitive kid, getting made fun of was especially torturous. Not only would I endure the embarrassment of whatever I was being teased about, my face would invariably turn bright red and someone would point that out. In other words, I got embarrassed for getting embarrassed. And this kind of embarrassment didn’t have just a doubling effect. I think it may be how I came to understand exponents.

In my row, the desk in front of mine was occupied by a girl named Susan Kline. I don’t remember what she looked like – nothing about her height compared to mine, the color of her hair or eyes, the shape of her nose – nothing. The little recollection I have is that she was a good student, like me, but otherwise she was just a girl in my class. But I remember her name, even the spelling of her last name (Kline, not Klein). And I remember Susan Kline’s name because each time we had to change into our gym shoes, she would tie mine. And eventually, over time, she taught me how to tie my shoes.

4th Grade – Cub Scouts
I’m not sure how this got started and why she would have even noticed that I was having trouble. I know that most of us would be sitting in our desks bent over, having pivoted to the left to change shoes. And maybe it was in this side-by-side positioning where she noticed my shoes weren’t tied, or that I kept starting over, or that I was getting stressed. However it happened (Did she offer? Did I ask?), I remember the relief of knowing my gym shoes were going to be tied and the stress that someone might see her tying mine. Is it appropriate to tell someone doing you a huge favor to please hurry up?

I also recall that when Susan Kline tied my shoes she was on the floor opposite of me; basically, we were face to face. I think most kids learn to tie their shoes while sitting in an adult’s lap, meaning they will have the same vantage point. Susan Kline being opposite of me meant that I learned to tie my shoes “backwards.” While she made the “bunny ear” with her right hand and wrapped it with the lace in her left, to mimic her I made the “bunny ear” in my left hand and wrapped it with the lace in my right. It wasn’t that long ago that someone saw me tying my shoes and told me I was doing it “left-handed.”

You know, it would make a nice ending to this story by saying that Susan Kline and I stayed in touch, that we were each other’s date to the prom, or that at some point I tracked her down to at least say thank you. Heck, maybe that’s the version of the story that Hollywood would like told. But, no, my family moved across town near the end of my fourth grade year and then less than a year later we moved from Omaha to Seattle. Susan Kline disappeared from my awareness, other than being the girl who taught me how to tie my shoes.

Still, what might Susan Kline be doing today? What kind of embarrassment has she saved other people from experiencing over these last 50 years? I wonder… A quick Google search of “Susan Kline, Omaha” doesn’t lead anywhere. Maybe, though, I should try again, this time substituting “shoe tying expert” for “Omaha.”

Wherever you are, Susan Kline, shoe-tying expert, thank you! You made the world a better place for me.

What Were Your Favorite Toys as a Child?

(As a holiday gift in December 2022, Chloe, Ella & Alex provided me a gift subscription to something called Storyworth. Each week in 2023, I’m being provided a writing prompt designed to get me to reflect on some moment in my life. At the end of the year, my reflections will be printed in a bound book as a family keepsake. I have the option of editing or even selecting the prompts, as do Chloe, Ella & Alex. This was a suggested prompt and I made it my fourth reflection essay.)

In Denver, Christmas 1970, at my maternal grandparents’ house. My first rod hockey game.

I had many favorite toys as a child and the more I think about this question, the more that come to mind. I better start writing and ease up on the reminiscing or this essay will be book-length!

The first toy that comes to mind is my slot car track. This is an electric toy in which small cars are placed on a track, held in place by a device on the bottom of the cars that is set into a slot on the track. You power them around the track with a hand controller. This was something that was a neighborhood activity when I was a kid, both in Omaha on 69th Street and after we moved to Bellevue. This toy was so significant that I recently acquired a small vintage set for my office in our recently remodeled Seattle home. It’s become a talking point with some of my online students.

The second toy that comes to mind is my rod hockey game. To play, two players sit opposite of each other with the game in between. You each control five rods, one for each player on your team, and a slider for the goalie. You pull and push the rods to move your players up and down the “ice,” the game’s tabletop. You quickly twist the rods to pass and shoot the oversized puck, and you move the goalie side to side to try to make saves. I loved, loved, loved this game, so much so that I included it in the mental fire drills I practiced when my fertile imagination of worry got the better or me. When (not if) our house caught on fire and I was trapped in my bedroom because of the flames, I would first throw the game into the firefighter’s net to keep it from burning. After it was safe, I would then jump.

Note to readers – our house never caught on fire.

The third toy are the Walkie Talkie sets my brothers and I had. These days, what with the ubiquity of cell phones, the idea of Walkie Talkies must seem quaint. But to me as a single-digit-aged kid, they were the epitome of cool. You’d have this little battery-powered device that allowed you to talk to someone else with the simple push of the button. Imagine! I could be upstairs in my room and Steve could be down in the basement and we could talk to each other. The actual toy, though, the specific Walkie Talkie that comes to mind now is a Christmas present I got one year. It must have been around the time of “Get Smart,” that silly TV show about spies and a spoof of the popular James Bond movies. My gift was a plastic briefcase that had a built-in Walkie Talkie. I pushed a button, talked into the briefcase, and could be heard on one of those hand-held devices. I could also hear someone talking back to me through a built-in speaker. Too cool! I remember the inside of the case was red and that the toy had a pretty distinctive plastic smell. I don’t think it was made too well, though, as I have a recollection of it not lasting too long.

The other toy that comes to mind, and the one I’m most significantly writing about, is my stuffed animal, Bunny. I believe I got him in a large Easter basket, the kind that involves plastic grass, candy, and a stuffed toy, all covered in colored cellophane. While I don’t trust this memory as being accurate, where I was when I first got him was in a car in a large empty parking lot, the kind that might be part of a high school or church. Why we were there and who I was with, I don’t know, my mom, perhaps. I was in the backseat and got to remove the cellophane, thus uniting Bunny and me for the first time. And while I ended up having a lot of stuffed animals, so many that I successfully lobbied to have a double bed in my room after Steve moved out because of my night terrors and our bunkbeds being separated, Bunny was always my favorite. Pooh and Kanga may have gotten married, but it was Bunny who performed the ceremony.

This is me at the end of my double bed. I don’t have any pictures of Bunny but I do have this one from when we raised bunnies!

Like the famed Velveteen Rabbit, my Bunny grew super-flabby, dirty, and worn. While he could sit up on his own, he really didn’t have any hind legs and only two small stubs for front legs. The way he sat and the way I played with him made his front legs seems more like stunted arms. I bounced him around on his soft backside by holding his neck in my hand, my thumb on one side and four fingers on the other. Over time, this pinching action caused his inner filling to separate and his neck to flop to the left. The fur on his neck all rubbed off and eventually the fabric wore down, first to threads like the knees of my jeans, and then to a hole. I would try to replace the lost stuffing with Kleenex in order to prop him up.

Bunny went everywhere with me, including on vacation. Once, while on vacation, I nearly lost him. As a kid, if I ever wanted to take my breath away with one of those fear-based “What if?” stories, all I needed to do is remember this event. We were driving, from Omaha to either Colorado or Wisconsin to visit a set of grandparents, and stopped at a rural gas station to refill. I went to use the bathroom and when I came back, Bunny was on the ground under the car. Seeing him there really shook me up. What if I hadn’t found him? That worry (of something that didn’t actually happen, mind you) could put me in a tailspin of concerned panic at any point in my childhood thereafter, sometimes keeping me up at night. To this day, I can still recapture that anxious feeling in my stomach when I think about it.

Ten or so years ago, I was hanging out at a neighborhood park while my daughter Ella was at her weekly soccer practice (learn more). Wandering around, enjoying some alone time, I came upon a telephone pole with one of those “Lost” posters on it. I assumed it would be for a lost dog or a cat, certainly cause for sadness if I imagined a family missing their cherished pet. What it was for, though, was a missing stuffed animal. Bam, I was back in that car on my family’s vacation, caught up in how awful I would have felt if Bunny had gone missing. I’ve seen similar posters a couple times since. Each time, my heart breaks a little bit for the child missing their beloved toy. I can’t stop myself from imagining them at bedtime, lost and forlorn without their sleeping companion, much as I would have been without Bunny. As an adult and parent, my empathy extends to the parents, too, who undoubtedly are trying to cheerlead a replacement, “Maybe Bearie can sleep with you tonight?” Clearly, any parent who takes the time to help their child create a “Lost” poster for a missing stuffed animal is worthy of my attention.

There was always a downside to having stuffed animals, too, at least for me as a boy in the 1960s and 1970s. First, I don’t remember either of my older brothers having them, something that convinced me that stuffed animals weren’t “boy toys.” Supporting this, I don’t recall any of my friends having them, either. Their sisters, yes, but not any boys I knew. As such, I was embarrassed that my friends might discover that I played with “dolls” and begged my brothers not to tell anyone about them. Seeing how important this was to me, I think they by and large honored this. More accurately, they probably didn’t really care about it and it was more in my head than something they thought about.

Still, this didn’t keep my brothers from giving me a hard time about my stuffed friends in the privacy of our house. One time, perhaps the first time our parents didn’t hire a babysitter (I can only imagine how long Scott had been lobbying for this), the three of us were home alone. I was supposed to take a bath but was busy doing something else. Somehow, eventually, Scott got me in the tub. But once in, I didn’t want to come out. I mean, how much fun is it to be in a tub of water with a bunch of toys and a washcloth parachute? Besides, I’m sure I sensed the power I had in NOT coming out. Something I could hold over my big brothers, look out!

Steve, as I recall, even though closer in age to me than to Scott, was a lot more mature than I was and liked being Scott’s partner in moments like these. So as long as I stayed in the tub, I had some semblance of power over both of my brothers, holding their attention, as it were.

I can’t say which brother came up with the idea but before too long, my stuffed kangaroo, Kanga from Winnie-the-Pooh, was being dangled above the bathtub by one of my brothers. They were threatening to dunk her if I didn’t get out of the tub. Why they chose Kanga, I don’t know. Maybe they realized that holding up Bunny would be too traumatic for me. More likely, she was the first one they saw when they went to get one of my stuffed animals off of my double bed.

I started screaming but it was really half-hearted as I knew this was a bluff. The penalties they’d face for dropping one of my stuffed animals in the tub were simply too great. So how what happened next actually took place, I don’t know. I suspect it was an accident, that they really didn’t mean it to happen, that perhaps one of them bumped the arm of the other who was holding Kanga. What I do remember is Kanga moving in some kind of slow motion flipping action, like a replay of an Olympic diver on TV, before splashing into the tub.

All hell broke loose then, Scott, Steve, and me each lunging for her. The longer Kanga stayed submerged, the more water her stuffing would soak up. I was out of the tub at this point, naked, wet, and cry-screaming. Scott was trying to reassure me that she’s fine, his new life of no-more-babysitters undoubtedly passing before his eyes. He’s got Kanga in a towel, I’m yelling that he hand her over, him being reluctant to do so, and Steve being torn between supporting Scott and soothing me. What I actually remember quite vividly is Scott telling me that Kanga is super lucky because she’s going to get to take a ride inside the dryer and no stuffed animal has ever been this lucky. It’ll be like going to Peony Park (a nearby amusement park), he said.

How the rest of the night went, I’m not sure. Clearly, we all survived this ordeal, Kanga ending up the worst for wear. Her fur was forever matted, never the same. I was a bit traumatized about her bouncing around inside the dryer but it was more show at that point, me testing to see where I held some sway. I think I did gain something, at least for a little while, some power with my brothers who I think felt genuinely bad about what had happened. Still, that didn’t prevent other forms of elder brother-imposed terror on my stuffed animals, like when Scott held Bunny to his backside and farted into him.

While I can still see his face while he did it, I’ll save that story for another time, although I do want to add that pouring your father’s Old Spice after shave on your little brother’s favorite stuffed animal doesn’t mask the smell, it just creates a new one. And Old Spice plus flatulence is not an aroma I’d recommend.

What Ten Albums Form the Soundtrack of Your Life?

(As a holiday gift in December 2022, Chloe, Ella & Alex provided me a gift subscription to something called Storyworth. Each week in 2023, I’m being provided a writing prompt designed to get me to reflect on some moment in my life. At the end of the year, my reflections will be printed in a bound book as a family keepsake. I have the option of editing or even selecting the prompts, as do Chloe, Ella & Alex. I selected this as prompt #3.)

My 18th birthday in my bedroom in Bellevue (photo credit – Marc Burns)

A few years ago, Marc Burns, a buddy of mine from high school, challenged me on Facebook to post ten record albums that I love, a soundtrack of my life, so to speak. I was to post one album a day for ten days. Explanations weren’t necessary, just include a picture of each album cover. Being a storytelling-kind-of-guy, I couldn’t resist giving a little detail about each of my ten choices.

I recently came across the archive of my choices and thought it would be a great addition to this memoir-writing activity. So here it is with some slight edits, although I wrote this “for Marc” and have left in the cutesy references to him. Of importance, the year in parentheses is the year I first heard the record, not necessarily the year the record came out. As a soundtrack of my life, I presented the albums chronologically from when they first entered my awareness.

#1 — “Armed Forces” — Elvis Costello & the Attractions (1979)

Okay, Marc, I have to start with “Armed Forces” since it was the first album I bought with the idea that I would actually own records myself instead of listening to my brother Steve’s records (or the radio). That album led me in many important directions. From a memory and person standpoint, “Armed Forces” was not only a staple of the poker night soundtrack, I have a distinct recollection of singing along to “Oliver’s Army” with Lisa Halpern in the parking lot of the Lake Hills Community Center in Bellevue. Lisa had the kind generosity to compliment my singing.

#2 — “Cloudy, With Occasional Tears” — Skeeter Davis (1982)

So, Marc, I’m presenting these albums chronologically from when I discovered them, if that matters. And today’s album is one I discovered as a 19 year-old deejay in Seward, Alaska in 1982. Every third song we played on the radio was supposed to be a country song and I found myself drawn to the older stuff. This Skeeter Davis album quickly became my favorite, so much so that one night I played it in its entirety while waiting for the monthly meeting of the Seward City Council to start, which we broadcast live. The challenging part was flipping the record over to play Side 2 while talking about it…

#3 — “Foreign Affairs” — Tom Waits (1984)

So, Marc, I was in Tower Records on The Ave in Seattle in 1984 and spotted this album, “Foreign Affairs,” being sold for what they called a “Nice Price,” something like $3.49 for an LP, practically giving it away. It was winter time and snowing slightly. I had a date, a woman named Paula, coming to my apartment for dinner so I was out shopping for dinner food (you’ll understand why that included a stop at Tower to buy a Tom Waits record). I don’t remember what I made for the main course, but I do know I made a mint chocolate pie with an Oreo cookie crust for dessert, the recipe coming from a box of Jello pudding. So picture this. I’m back at my apartment crushing Oreo cookies to make the crust, the turntable needle on the record. On comes the Tom Waits — Bette Midler duet, “I Never Talk to Strangers.” It was a perfect moment, honestly. Snowing lightly, a date coming, Oreo cookies, Tom Waits on the hi-fi. Not even the fact that Paula stood me up could ruin the perfection of this record. I think of it every time I play it.

#4 — “The Cole Porter Songbook” — Ella Fitzgerald (1987)

Well, Marc, here is record #4, Ella Fitzgerald performing the Cole Porter songbook. The album came out in 1956 but I place it in 1987 in my chronology because that’s when I started listening to it. My copy belonged to my mom who bought it new back in the 50’s. Come 1987, she wasn’t listening to vinyl anymore so I took some of her more choice albums down to Olympia where I was living while attending The Evergreen State College. It’s a double album so it has four sides, lots of great music with Ella’s beautiful singing. I have distinct memories of sitting at my work table doing research about brain injuries and writing reports about cross cultural special education practices while listening to this record. Did you know that there is no word in the Navajo language for disability? I found that very enlightening. Still do, actually. Final note: I eventually passed the record on to Nick, my nephew, Steve & Deb’s son, who loves having vinyl. That this copy belonged to his grandmother makes it all the more special.

#5 — “Workers Playtime” — Billy Bragg (1989)

Marc, I had always appreciated Billy Bragg’s early albums, the really pared down Billy-alone-with-his-electric-guitar-post-punk-protest songs. But there is something about 1988’s “Workers Playtime” that makes it my favorite Billy Bragg album by far. It could be that I played it regularly in 1989 when I moved into the favorite of my many solo residences, a $240/mo attic in downtown Renton. But I think the bigger reason I’m crazy for this record is for the love songs on it. I had been trying my hand at songwriting (more like lyric writing, to be honest) and found out how difficult it is to write a non-sappy love song. Billy seemed to have figured it out, all while respecting women and communicating in simple terms that relationships are complex. An important romantic relationship for me ended during this time and this album is part of that soundtrack, maybe IS that soundtrack. Decades removed from the attic, that relationship, and “Workers Playtime,” I look back on it all with great fondness and appreciation.

#6 — “Diva” — Annie Lennox (1993)

I’m jumping ahead to 1993 now, Marc, the year Chloe, my oldest daughter, was born. Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe that people as youthful looking and vigorous as Melinda and me can have adults for children. Anyway… Melinda went into labor on February 27th and didn’t tell me anything about it until about 7:30pm, at which point, due to a bad cold and the comfort of Hockey Night in Canada on TV, I was dozing on the couch. She said something to the effect of, “When do you think we should start timing these contractions I’ve been having?” Let me just say, that is a question that counteracts the effects of NyQuil, Don Cherry, and comfortable couches. Four hours later we were in the birthing center at Virginia Mason, and less than four hours after that, Chloe was born. I had brought along a couple of CDs to be the first music our baby would hear as a breathing human, kd lang’s “Ingenue” and Annie Lennox’s “Diva.” As I recall, Chloe came into this world to Annie Lennox, hence its presence here.

#7 — “Songs From Einstein’s Violin” — Frank Tedesso (1998)

Hey Marc — I don’t remember how I found this album although I do know I kind of stumbled upon it. It might have been on CD Baby or some other seller of independent music. What I do know is that the songs on the album have touched me like few others I’ve heard in the last 30 years, which is why I’m including it here. It always makes my top 10 list. I’m placing my awareness of the album as being 1998, the year we moved into our Seattle house, although I know it came out in 1996. I was able to track down the performer, Frank Tedesso, and we even had a short email exchange 25 years or so ago. I bought some of his other songs from him, along with a book of his poetry. It’s all good, but this record, for me, is great. It may be of interest that it was produced by William Ackerman, the founder of Windham Hill Records whose most famous performer is probably the pianist George Winston. Oh, one more thing about this record, Melinda can’t stand Tedesso’s singing voice so when I play it, I have to do so when she’s not around.

#8 — “Rabbit Songs” — Hem (2005)

So, Marc, back in 2005 or 2006 I made a mixed tape for Melinda (okay, it was a mixed CD but that just doesn’t sound right) called “Songs I Wish I’d Written for Melinda.” To be clear, the idea wasn’t to make a mix for Melinda of songs I wish I’d written, although technically that would have been true. The idea was to make a mix of songs I wish I had the brilliance to have written FOR Melinda. Like with her in mind, you know, and coming from her husband/best friend… On that CD, err mixed tape, I placed a song from this album by Hem, “Stupid Mouth Shut.” The brilliance of the song comes from the singer knowing she should tell her partner that she loves him (her? them?) but when the opportunity comes she just keeps, you know, her stupid mouth shut. Why I wish I had written this song for Melinda is because she thinks I should tell her I love her more often than I do. Go figure. Do note that the album didn’t make this list of 10 because of this song alone, though. It’s packed full of lovely songs, including “Half Acre” which was used in a Liberty Mutual TV commercial.

#9 — “The Reluctant Graveyard” — Jeremy Messersmith (2011)

Back in 2011 while living in France, Marc, I discovered the music of Jeremy Messersmith via Paste Magazine, to which I had an online subscription. That spring, his album “The Reluctant Graveyard” was played more than any other in my iTunes library, so much so that it still ranks as the most-played album in my listening history as recorded by, and by quite a bit. We returned to Seattle that summer and in 2012 Jeremy launched what he called his Supper Club Tour. He’d find someone to host a potluck dinner in their home and after eating together with the attendees, he’d play an intimate show. I bought two tickets for his Seattle engagement which took place in a pretty small house in Wallingford, perhaps 25 of us packed into the living room. I tried to get Melinda, Chloe, or Ella, my other daughter, to go with me, but they weren’t interested so I went by myself, squandering one ticket. It was so much fun and I had a great time talking to Jeremy about his music. Since then, Ella has become a fan and regrets not going. The lesson here, children? Listen to your parents.

#10 — “Tree of Forgiveness” — John Prine (2018)

We’ve come to the end of my 10 albums, Marc, and I’m wrapping it up by presenting John Prine’s “Tree of Forgiveness.” In making John Prine my last entry, I’m doing so with a nod to his career which is as impressive as any as far as I’m concerned. I bought my first John Prine record in 1984, even though his first album came out in 1971. I don’t recall really knowing who he was until 1984 and I try not to beat myself up about that. But those 13 years seem kind of wasted and I’ve spent the subsequent nearly four decades trying to make up for it. I’ve followed everything he’s done since then and regularly get in my musical time machine to go back to listen to what I’ve missed. If anyone has ever been able to sum up what it means to be an ordinary human, it’s John Prine. Like everything John Prine does, this record is really good. Some time, Marc, if you want, let’s go out for a beer and I’ll tell you about taking my mom to see John Prine in concert. It may be the best concert experience of my life.

Marc Burns on my 18th birthday in my bedroom in Bellevue (photo credit – me!)

France 2013 (From the Archives)

So as I mentioned in previous posts, toward the end of our sabbatical year, back in the early summer of 2011, Melinda and I began dreaming of the idea of returning to France, and specifically to Nantes, for the better part of a month each summer. We worked out the details at PSCS to make this happen and in 2012 we returned with Chloe and Ella, as summarized in my previous post.

In 2013, Melinda and I returned to Nantes without the girls. At age 20 and 16, they kinda liked the idea of having time by themselves in our Seattle house.

How odd…

While not having the girls with us provided a lot more flexibility, I’d hate to suggest that we didn’t miss them. To be honest, some nine years later, I don’t really remember missing them. I do remember posting on the blog little tests for them, cryptic photos of places in Nantes that I invited them to identify. So clearly, I was thinking about them…

The point that really felt different without the girls is when Melinda and I spent extended time in Paris, just the two of us. That was, indeed, a glorious time.

To gain easy access to all the posts from our 2013 trip, use the France 2013 tag or, even easier, click here.

Return to Nantes 2012 (From the Archives)

In my last post, I talked about how Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I spent 13 months in France beginning in July of 2010. These 13 months got dubbed the “French Sabbatical” as Melinda and I were granted paid time off from our jobs during that time.

From our “bonus” night in Iceland after missing our connecting flight to Paris.
Not surprisingly, while we there we grew quite fond of living in France, especially living in the city of Nantes. I’m not quite sure how to describe this, but living as we did in Nantes, as well as traveling to various destinations in France and once to Italy, felt completely ours. It was different than anything done by other members of our family and carved out a super-special context in our lives that the four of us will forever share.

Melinda and I would go on regular walks while the girls were at school and it was on one of these walks that we talked about taking a month off from work each summer to return to Nantes.

We spent our first week in Pornichet where it was unfortunately quite rainy and cool.
We starting seeing this as a focal point for the next phase in our lives, one that would ultimately settle with us living in Nantes and Seattle for maybe 6 months each year. At first, though, because of work and other responsibilities, this would need to be a single month in the summer when school wasn’t in session.

So in 2012 we put the plan into action. Our good friends in Nantes, the Boudeaus (who were responsible for us choosing Nantes in the first place) and the Bertails (who lived around the corner from us during the sabbatical and had become among our closest friends), were only too pleased to help us. And it was Christine Bertail who found a place for the four of us to live for the month of July, 2012. A colleague of hers and his family would be in Spain that month so it worked out for us to rent his house.

This is more like it. Summer in Nantes!
As I had done during the sabbatical year, I decided I would post to my blog on a daily basis while we were there. Truth be told, I had kept doing this once we had returned to Seattle in August, 2011. All of these posts can be found here by using the “Monthly Archive” pull-down menu below and selecting one of the months. Still, the idea of returning to France in 2012 and not posting daily seemed sacrilegious in some way.

So here was are in 2022, nearly ten years after our “Return to Nantes.” It’s hard to believe that much time has flown by. Because of the pandemic and other reasons, it’s been five years since we’ve been back but we do have plans to go this summer! And, yes, we did return in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. I’ll be focusing on each of those trips in future “From the Archives” posts.

For now, I invite you to explore our trip in 2012 using the “France 2012” tag.

French Sabbatical (From the Archives)

From our first visit to Paris in October, 2010.
One of the highlights of my life, of Melinda’s and my marriage, and in our role as parents of Chloe & Ella was the 13 months we spent in France from July 2010 through July 2011. We were granted a sabbatical from our jobs at Puget Sound Community School (PSCS), both as a tribute to the work we had done to get the school going and keep it running since its humble beginnings in 1994 AND to provide the school community an opportunity to know it could exist without its founders being present (ie: the infamous “Pie Truck Scenario” – perhaps I’ll explain that in a future post).

The concept of the sabbatical being a real thing began while Melinda and I were on spring break in 2008. The concept of living in France with our children began as a pipe dream we’d tell each other before we even had children. That this could become a reality is a tribute to a lot of people, most significantly the PSCS board and staff at the time. I can vividly recall the months leading up to our departure like they were last month, not twelve years ago.

Our first family photo taken on July 6, 2010 in our adopted hometown of Nantes.
Officially, the sabbatical began with the school’s 2010-11 fiscal year, meaning on July 1, 2010. But we didn’t leave for France until July 4th so we had a few days in Seattle on our own. Because we were renting our house (note, this link takes you a site we created in 2012 to promote the idea of swapping houses with someone for a month that summer) to another family for the year and they moved in on July 1, we were staying at a friend’s. The day of the 1st, Chloe was out with some friends on one of her many goodbye tours and Melinda & Ella were doing some last-minute shopping. I was alone in an unfamiliar house with my laptop for company.

I had recently been reading how a person had documented his life for a full year by posting a daily photograph and some quick comments on a website. The idea appealed to me so that afternoon, alone in the house, I investigated how to do something like it. I knew a tiny bit about WordPress since one of the PSCS teaching staff members had taught the rest of us how to use it to post our class offerings to the students. On a whim, I created a WordPress blog, calling it “frenchsabbatical.”

Outside the Castle of Nantes (Château des ducs de Bretagne)
I had promised myself and told others that I wasn’t going to over-commit myself to projects while on sabbatical. I wanted some practice of living more spontaneously, freed from the daily requirements of being a school director. Indeed, Melinda and I would have parenting obligations but beyond that, I wanted a sense of freedom. That the PSCS board had agreed to supply Melinda and me with a monthly stipend helped tremendously with this.

Little did I know that the whim of starting my “frenchsabbatical” blog would propel not just me but many others on a daily adventure, one I never regretted for a minute. Beginning on the 1st of July from the home of our friends, I posted every day until our return (truth be told, I kept posting every day after that for another year or so, all of which you can find here). Conversations emerged, first just among Melinda, Chloe, Ella & me – “You could put that on the blog.” And, “Don’t you dare write about that.” To, “I get to approve any photos you use of me.”

The blog features a lot of silly posts, like my fascination with the sexiness of French fire hydrants.
As the months went by, our French friends got in the act. My dear friend Laurent made sure I had a way to post when his family took ours to their cabin in the French Alps that didn’t have an Internet connection. I also learned that part of his morning ritual while we were there was to read what I posted the night before.

Around the corner from our house in Nantes we met the Bertail family, people who have become among our closest friends in the world. There are so many stories to tell about them, from Christine, the mom, twice stopping by to introduce herself to us only find Chloe and Ella at home, to how they helped me celebrate my 48th birthday in style.

Then, of course, there were our friends and family members back in Seattle who used the blog to keep in touch with us. As a writer, I often would picture a member of our family as the audience to what I was writing. Michele, my mother-in-law, my brothers, or one of our nieces were common “targets.” Certainly, my mother was always in mind (she’d regularly send me edits – catching my typos with her usual flair).

To this day, I pay WordPress a fee each year to keep ads from the site and to maintain its unique domain name, meaning you can find it in its entirety at Two years ago as a holiday present, one of the best I’ve ever received, Chloe & Ella had the blog posts made into a two-volume hardback book set that will forever hold a place of prominence in Melinda’s and my home.

I took up running while in France. Here I am crossing the turf track at the Nantes racetrack to get to the inner trotter track where I regularly ran after dropping off Ella at school.
Last week, in order to have all of my personal blog posts in one spot, I copied the content to this site, my ongoing personal blog. So if you’re interested in seeing what we were doing on a given day, you can do so right here. In fact, in the footer you’ll see a pull-down menu on the left for a monthly archive. Choose a month from the sabbatical year, July 2010 – July 2011, and enjoy some reading.

You can also use the “French Sabbatical” tag (you’ll see the posts in reverse order) or simply start with the first post I wrote on July 1, 2010 and go to the next and then the next…

Some nights when I’m feeling especially nostalgic, I’ll pick a month and do some reading, remembering what an amazing year we had.

Heartman Comics (From the Archives)

HeartmanHeartman was a character I first created when Melinda and I began dating in 1990. Heartman was my alter ego, the superhero part of myself that would go on with his day while my real self, “a small man,” missed Melinda.

When Chloe was a kindergartner in 1998/99, I brought Heartman back. Each morning I quickly drew on a sticky note a comic involving Heartman and put it in Chloe’s sack lunch. Each image had something to do with what I had recently done, often with Chloe, and with Heartman waving to her and saying, “Hi, Chloe!” Some of these images made it home each night and I stashed them away.

Some time ago, I found a sandwich bag filled with the drawings and created a scrapbook of them. Then, in the summer of 2013, while seeing a Keith Haring art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, I was inspired to scan these drawings and present them online as a way to preserve and share them.

I posted them in order of their creation, one at a time, with a little commentary tossed in for good measure. To start with the first, go here. Note, the drawings got better as I went along so for a really good one, check out this one, noting the chocolate pudding spilled on it.

To access all of them, go here.