Category Archives: Trout Towers

The real Trout Towers

Imported from the old blog, because people still ask:

In yesterday’s comments, Kristin said “you know, Susan, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t visualize Trout Towers, with the musicians and the upstairs neighbors and the chickens and all.”

I don’t blame her one little bit. I thought about her comment and thought it would be fun to encourage readers to describe the mental picture they have of Trout Towers. I would rather like that. Please go ahead and do that, even though I am about to spoil everything.

Trout Towers is a full Cape – two stories and a full basement. Fun Fact! The person who built it made the windows and chimney larger than normal to make the rest of the house look smaller. It is the clown car of houses.

It looks kind of like this:*

Or it would look like that, if it weren’t for a few curiosities we like to leave around the yard. Like the lawnmower. And a woodstove. Doesn’t everyone have a woodstove in their driveway? No?

This shows the woodstove in the front yard, which would be tacky. Ours is in the driveway and therefore totally classy.

I may have mentioned at some point that Chris likes to bring things home from the dump. Specifically, windows. He’s fond of shower doors, but those must be around on the other side of the house because I couldn’t find a good picture of them. Also, my mother-in-law’s electric cart which we forbade her to drive because she was a maniac. And blind. But whatever.

We are also great fans of the exercise thing and have various wheeled contraptions around the yard for that purpose. Mostly bikes, a tricycle and a jog stroller that birds may possibly be nesting in by now. I do not jog.

And let us not forget the chickens.

Lucky for everyone, Chris took down the geodesic dome he built and left to die on the lawn. It was going to be a garage, but never quite worked out that way. It was kind of an awesome, if overly large, sculpture – until we had kids and the kids had friends and the dome started to look like a really, really big home owners’ insurance claim.

So, it doesn’t look like that at all.

It looks like this.

* Whoever actually owns the house I used in this illustration, I am really, really sorry.

Help me pick a cover for my new book

We’re down to the wire on the book cover and I need help deciding. Please leave a comment and vote for your favorite version. Extra credit for reasons why you like it.

Thank you!

Eulogy for the broken

When a guest breaks something in our friend’s house, she tells them to make a wish. She says nine out of ten people say they wish they hadn’t broken the thing, and I say if ten people are running around your house breaking things you need to rethink your guest list. She tells me that’s not the point. Inviting them to make a wish turns breakage into a whole different kind of tradition – like wishing on a necklace clasp when it turns to the front, or driving through a yellow light.

I don’t do that. When I hear something break in my house I say “Was it the green one? My mom bought that when she was in high school. She kept an African violet in it when we were growing up.” Or whatever.

I don’t think of it as a guilt trip; I think of it as a eulogy. Having a mini Celebration of Life for a broken object is not something I do on purpose. It’s a reaction to the object’s life flashing before my eyes. Many of the things we have, especially the breakable ones, have rich and full lives during their tenure.

Don’t tell our things, but sometimes it’s a relief when they break. With great stories come great responsibility. And dust. I am a champion discarder, but there are some things I can’t bear to get rid of. You don’t realize how heavily a story weighs on you until it’s dispelled with a crash.

The last time we broke a piece of pottery (a favorite tea bowl that came from an art fair in Burlington, VT), I buried it in the yard to dissuade rats from tunneling into the chicken coop. I’m not sure if it’s working, but I do like to think of what future archaeologists will think when they find it.

If it surfaces, I hope the person who digs it up gives it a history – and makes a wish.

Fish makeovers

For Christmas we were given a hydroponic aquarium. It’s one of those things that you either love or send a thank you note that says “why would you do this to me?” People give us these things from time to time – things that make your kitchen explode or cover your bathroom in vegetable dye. We tend to love them.

The aquarium is designed to grow micro-greens on top while purifying water for the fish below. It comes with everything except water and a fish. Shortly after Christmas Chris took Sugarplum to the pet store in the big city where she picked out Antler.

Bettas are beautiful fish. I have had a few over the years and loved their grace and vivid splendor. They come in these crazy colors, as can be seen in a simple Google image search:

You can imagine my surprise when Antler came home and turned out to be a natural brunette like the rest of us. Out of all the fish, my daughter picked the beige one. That’s really nice, I thought. She brought home the one no one was going to buy.

“He’s Antler,” she said. “He’s supposed to be brown.”

We grew radish greens and wheat grass, most of which we ate or juiced before they turned to brown sludge. We replanted when the first seeds were spent and experimented with different greens with varying degrees of success (read: failure).

Things were going great. The fish was happy, the plants were happyish, and then the aquarium went from passable to an omg-where’s-the-fish? bucket of slime in less than 12 hours. The parallels between Antler and life in our house just never let up.

I went back to the fish store and bought a net and a sponge shaped like a fish because obviously you need a sponge shaped like a fish. I also picked up more food.

Antler does not eat just any fish food. Or maybe he does, but he’s doing great on what came with the Water Garden so I figured we should stay with what’s working. The thing is, the kind he eats come in two versions: regular and color enhancing.

I have puzzled over his color a few times since his arrival. For a little while I thought he might be a juvenile and hadn’t settled on a color yet. Like baby eyes. But could it be all Antler needs is color enhancing fish food?

I agonized over this decision longer than is sane. Antler is Antler. He is supposed to be brown. We love him and let’s face it, the chances of him attracting a mate in our dining room are slim.

Which is a shame, because he is seriously handsome.

Eat your greens. Live your life. Be your own fish.


Trouts on tour

We took an actual vacation.

We had a friend come to the house and take care of everything while we were gone, including feeding our chickens and Antler the hydroponic fish. We did not ask him to take care of Hazel because Hazel is a lunatic and we were not 100% sure she would let our chicken sitter in the house. This is fine for the chickens as they only come in occasionally, but Antler would have pitched a fit.

Hazel was a rescue pup and I wonder sometimes if the places where you leave your dog to go on vacation are reminiscent of where you leave your dog when you just go. So Hazel went to the spa.

When we signed her up we spread the brochures out on the kitchen floor and talked about how it was a place where she could claim her own experience in a supportive, nurturing environment. It was a time to connect with her inner puppy, spark her creativity, and find her peace deep within. We were all really excited about the retreat, including Hazel. Which is to say she at no time peed on the brochures.

Studley went with me to drop her off and was fully invested in the process. So invested, in fact, that he signed her up for all the extra menu items, spa treatments, and relax & renew mind/body workshops while I was in the restroom.

With all the animals accounted for, we went off to New York and walked 175,000 miles. We went to the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the Tenement Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, the Museum of Natural History, and the Breuer Museum.* We went skating in Central Park, walked the Highline, and went to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We ate 500 things and then had Indian food delivered because we could.

When we got home we picked up Hazel who now smells like kombucha. And I have to say, as great as it is to collapse from museum fatigue daily and have food delivered to your door, getting hugged by a dog is better.


*Sugarplum and I spotted the Breuer on our way home from consignment shopping, cruised the gift shop and had mochas in the cafe. Stop judging me.

Breuer laurels

Full contact foraging

If you have considered dropping out of society and living as an ewok, I found your training camp. I think there are a bunch of ewok training camps, but the one near us is the Adventure Park at Heritage Gardens, described on their website as an “amazing aerial adventure forest.”

I imagined it as a meditative walk through the forest canopy on a birch walkway, surrounded by chirping birds and whispering leaves, punctuated by zip lines. The human version of this zen xylophone, if you will:


It’s not like that. It’s like this:

Which is not to say it isn’t tremendously fun. It is. You are in a safety harness clipped to a cable from beginning to end, so there is no danger of plummeting to your doom. You just worry about things like dangling from your cable, weeping gently until help arrives should you fall. (They say you just pull yourself back up. I did not test this claim.)

I was only paralytic with fear once, in a segment that turned out to be one of the easiest stretches. Isn’t that often the way? It was a modified zip line, and once I muted the “I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this” voice, it was over before I knew it. Other stretches were not so simple. Imagine crossing a river stepping from stone to stone, but instead of being in the river you are 20 feet above it and instead of stones, it’s a series of trapezes. Good times.

Not only is it a lovely way to spend time in nature, it’s a total workout. Under normal circumstances it would take some athletic ability, but under my personal circumstances it required tensing every muscle in my body for 2.5 hours. Which is funny, because it turns out I do this stuff all the time.

Fun fact about me: I am a complete lunatic about foraging for food. Not mushrooms, mind you. I read Babar and know what can happen. But I am game for nearly anything else: fiddlehead ferns, blackberries, wild blueberries, cranberries, beach plums, rose hips – anything I can find. There was also the time I nearly killed my family with what I thought were chestnuts, but we’ve moved past that.

So today I remembered the blackberries were ripe. The berries in the easy to reach spots were disappointingly slim, but Sugarplum had mentioned a whole bunch in a bush she couldn’t get to. Sure enough, it was thick with giant berries, ready for picking. Not even the birds had made the required effort.

I have sustained bodily damage foraging before (usually related to poison ivy), but the possibility of falling into a blackberry bush with branches as thick as my arm had never occurred to me.

It still hasn’t.

I am the Kung Fu Panda of aerial adventure forests. I can’t jump from one suspended log to another or catch a fly with chopsticks, but by golly I can catch a dumpling in mid air and I most certainly can balance on a wobbly log if it helps me reach the top branches of a blackberry bush.

Just think what I could do with a harness.

World’s Best Parenting Trick (and why I hate doing it)

running-for-snacksStupid Facebook.

Someone recently posted one of those “ask your kids these adorable questions about you” things and of course I fell for it. Let me tell you, there are reasons people warn you not to take these quizzes. No, it did not steal my birthdate, blood type and mother’s maiden name. It did something far worse.

It all started a few months ago with the world’s best parenting trick. Seriously. I am a genius. You’re going to wish you had thought of it.

Last fall my son’s soccer coach suggested he get extra running in so he wouldn’t have to stop periodically and look for four leaf clovers. He gets that from me. I have never been a runner, despite frequent attempts. I am a wheezing, gasping, sweaty mess by the end of the driveway. I stop at the end of the driveway because no one in the actual outside world needs to see that.

First I had Studley run around the block, but the block’s not very far and he got bored. Driving alongside him worked until they kicked me off the bike path. And then I remembered Couch to 5k. With Couch to 5k you start with nice long walks speckled with short bits of running. I bought the app, laced up my sneakers and hit the road with my son.

I discovered these truths:

  1. A running partner whose legs are literally half as long as yours is a good thing.
  2. Sixty seconds of running is hideous and nausea-inducing.

I also discovered that people see what they expect to see – and that people are kinder and more generous with their expectations than is reasonable.

What happened: I miraculously kept my whinging to myself with my son trotting alongside.
What people saw: A great and supportive mom, slowing it down for her kid.

I kid you not. People were practically throwing flowers.

I can’t tell you how great this was. Half my problem was how embarrassed I am to plod along in public. Suddenly my snail’s pace was making people’s hearts swell with gratitude for this obvious evidence of kindness and good parenting.

Admiration and approval is very motivational – even if the admiration is founded on a lie. You might think that I’d respond by becoming the mom people mistook me for, but something even better happened: I got to know my boy.

We were both out of breath most of the time – me starting with the tying of the shoes and him after the first spell of running – but I noticed that he was willing to talk while gasping for air, which distracted him from the stopwatch. So I asked him questions. Short, monosyllabic questions.

I learned what was going on in school, what he liked, what he was excited about, what projects he wanted to do, and all sorts of things I still have no idea about but are probably apps. On the trail we could talk about anything and everything.

I asked things like “what’s that?” “what’s it do?” and “tell me more” to keep him going. This will sound ludicrous, but I actually wanted my single-digit aged son to keep talking. I especially tried to get him on a roll when the app was about to say “Let’s Run!” so I could pretend to miss the cue.

He always heard it, and we ran.

We ran for six weeks and made a lot of progress, staying with the program despite the voice in my head telling me we were going to die. And then the weather changed and I had to beg out because who knew cold air burns the lungs like freaking acid?

After a couple weeks of waiting for the searing to stop, I decided I was off the hook and could give up running with a clear conscience. I had given it a good and valiant effort. Soccer season was over and so was I.

And then that stupid Facebook thing happened.

Months after we stopped, his answer to “What do you enjoy doing with me?” was still “running.” And not “running for the best spot on the couch to watch Mythbusters,” either.

For extra guilt-inducing credit, his answer to “what makes me happy” was “me.” Remind me of this when I’m gasping for air on the next non-sub-zero day, running at a pace slightly slower than a brisk walk.

I don’t know why he likes running with me. I am whiny, slow and probably unfashionable.
But I suppose it must be done. The entire town must be worried sick, wondering what happened to that darling little jogger boy and the best mom ever.

And he’s right – he is what makes me happy.

Maybe – somewhere under all the wheezing – I really am the mom people mistook me for.

If you have any tips on how you can run in cold weather and not cough up a lung, I’d appreciate them.

Just don’t post them of Facebook.


I may have freaked out a little. If you looked around our house (which I will not permit), you would understand. It’s a disaster. There’s an outlet lying on the dining room floor. An empty Tupperware on the kitchen floor. A sock here, a dryer ball there, and all manner of whatnot in between. Every room is covered with abandoned stuff – none of which makes any sense.

“This is not how people who like their homes behave,” I said. “It looks like no one cares about the house.”

Sugarplum, who is the most neat-wired of the family, agreed. But then she said, “those houses where nothing is out of place look like no one cares, too. It’s like no one lives there.”

She stresses “lives.”

She inventories the infringements: no mail on the dining room table, no piles on the stairs, etc. “It’s kind of creepy,” she concluded. This is a problem with which we are unfamiliar.

Honestly, I don’t even know where she saw a house like that. If it’s your house and she came over to visit your kid, we can’t be friends anymore.

She has a point, though, and I need to remember that “lived in” is not always a euphemism for a giant pile of domestic rubble. We do, after all, live here. We love our house and – as far as we can tell – our house loves us. It holds our mail, catches our crumbs and lets us sort laundry in the hall. When we’re busy, it serves as a launching pad. When we’re tired, it gives us shelter.

Our house is like a mom – grabbing our lunch box after school, handing us our cleats, and telling us to have fun as we run off again without a backward glance. Sometimes it has stains on its shirt and is still wearing slippers as it stands waving at the door. It may also have forgotten to shower. These things happen. They don’t mean we appreciate it less. If anything, we appreciate it more.

Not every night can be bath night. Not every day is fresh-laundry-folded-and-put-away day. Our house looks put together when it wants to, but it has neither time nor patience for a wash and set.

Maybe when life is less hectic, our house will be tidy. Mail will be sorted at the door. No one will trip over sports equipment in the dining room. It will be dressed and made up, ready to change out of slippers to greet company at a moment’s notice.

But even then, I hope it never looses the feeling that all are welcome. That it’s okay to dump what you don’t need, grab what you do, and go live. I hope there are signs of life. It would be awfully lonely otherwise.

Everyone has their own place of comfort – probably somewhere between “social services needs to intervene” and “Stepford Wives.” For us – right now – the place of comfort is “clean on bath night.”

For us, baths are best when you’ve earned them.

The Apocalypse (or, if you prefer, Thursday)

Chris says the ground opened, which is what it feels like. Most of the lights don’t work and the house smells like melted appliances. The ground opened, and in we fell. I didn’t think this was supposed to happen until December.

Electricity is coming into the house at 220 because the ground wire went down in the latest storm onslaught. That’s not a good thing.

We’re not sure what survived, appliance-wise. When we open the refrigerator it looks like an alien spaceship is coming at us. (I mean the light, not the leftovers.) The kids are psyched because first everything was dark and then, just as they were done getting ready for school by flashlight, the house went into Demonic Possession mode. They’d flip a switch in one room, and a light would come on in another. It was awesome. I could barely get them out the door.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my mother-in-law has short term memory loss so we’ve been over what’s going on a million times in the last 15 minutes.

Note: There is something uniquely horrible about not knowing what’s going on and having to tell someone the specifics of what you don’t know and have no power over, repeatedly.

We started with the long story, and then moved to the abbreviated version:

“There’s no power.”

“Is someone going to make me some toast?”

(Rinse. Repeat.)

I think if we stabbed a piece of bread with a fork and then stuck the end of the fork in an outlet, it just might work.

NSTAR deemed it dangerous and advised us to throw the main breaker until they could send a crew.

(Long pause in which we wait and then give up, going to bed at 9 because what else are we supposed to do? There’s no internet and I am all caught up on my counted cross stitch by candlelight.)

I wake up to an authoritative knock on the door. A tall, handsome NSTAR man is in my garden. Behind him, my lawn is crawling with utility workers in foul weather gear.

You don’t realize how many windows you have until you are sitting in total darkness, with searchlights bouncing off every wall in your house from outside. It’s like a movie. Let me just say that I really hope the people who are inches from my windows, scaling my walls and shining searchlights all over my lawn in the dark of night are always using their power for good, not evil.

If the neighbors ask what all the search lights were for, I’m going to tell them Sugarplum lost her gerbil.

Appliance death-toll to come. Stay tuned.

P.S. Thank you, NSTAR

Death Toll: furnace, oven, toaster, coffee maker, mother-in-law’s radio, assorted lights…. (still taking inventory)