Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas lights

This is a link to some over-the-top Christmas lights in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Our friend Lisa Pines is a wonderful photog and she took them. Check out her portfolio, while you are there.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Pictures






This link gives you the best photos from the first 50 weeks of 2007.

And here are some recent shots.
The bread is what Dave made during our first snow storm last Thursday. The rest are self-explanatory, no?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

PS

Now I'm on posting videos, Dave has one for me: OK Go, a Swedish band, and this song is Here It Goes Again, a homemade video on yes, treadmills. You gotta watch this. Dave says he thinks of the song every time he's on a treadmill.

This snow thing is why I moved to Massachusetts. It's funny, here we are, the fire is blazing, Lily and I are side by side at the island in the kitchen on our laptops while Dave makes dinner in front of us. He's got a loaf of bread, yes, homemade, in the oven, too, and it smells wonderful. Am I trying to recreate and relive and upgrade and update my childhood? Maybe. You know what they say, right? "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." I hope Lily is having one.

I just walked out to the mailbox to get the mail, and it's snowed an other inch in the past hour. Yikes!

Note to Dave: We need a dog and/or a cat to complete the picture...

PS -- I just asked Lily if she was having a happy childhood, and she said yes. I said, are you basically happy? She said yes. So that's a good thing.

Snow Day

Well, the gods are being kind to me. They are sending me a big blizzard, and there's to be more over the next few days. Dave went to get Lily at noon and said the roads were nasty. A friend at work said it took her friend an hour and a half to do what is typically a half hour trip to Greenfield, the next town after Deerfield, where Lily's school is. Other reports coming in to the office were that the roads were terrible--it took one of my friends two hours to get home to Springfield, typically a half hour--and there was a sense that the snow would pile that much higher and it would be hard to get home and hard to drive on Marian Street and hard to get down my driveway.

Today at work I wasn't sure what to do about leaving, "should I stay or should I go?" Some folks were heading out early, often because the schools let out early and they had to take care of their kids. But by about 1:45, the folks who live in the Hilltowns to the northwest of us, who have good winter cars and were used to driving windy, hilly roads so they know how to drive in this stuff, were still there.

After thinking about it, I decided that being from New York City--and even though I grew up here and lived most of the first 28 years of my life in Massachusetts, I really am from New York City--I just do not know how to drive in this stuff, and I need to honor that. I need not to take unnecessary chances. I figured I'd better go while the going was good. So I left at 2 pm, and yes, it took 10 minutes to clear off the car, it's very powdery, snowy stuff, and a half hour to get home, 3 miles. The roads were very slippery and I never went above 20 and rarely above 15. Thank goodness I was going north; the road going south outside my office was bumper to bumper and not moving.

Here's the weather link for our area. Yahoo! Global warming, begone! This is why I moved here.

So now we have a fire going -- I am really into fires! -- and I am reading my friend Cynthia Fox's book Cell of Cells: The Global Race to Capture and Control the Stem Cell, published last spring to fabulous reviews. Cynthia and I went to high school together, Milton, and she's immensely talented and hard working. It reads really well.

On an entirely different, way-late-to-the-party note:
"Dragostea Din Tei" by O-Zone -- here is their site and here is Wikipedia on them -- a Moldovian group, is a great song and the original, in Romanian, apparently, is a fun video.

The song is also know as "Numa, Numa". Here is a link that has parodies -- I gather Gary Brolsma did the ultimate parody, and keeps doing them.

Here are covers.

And here are the lyrics.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The run-up to Christmas

Here's a cool webcam of downtown Northampton. They're calling for eight inches of snow tomorrow, starting around 1 pm. And Lily came home from school today saying they are talking about a snow day on Monday because of a storm predicted for the weekend.

She and I have started a Wednesday night dinner tradition, just the two of us. Dave drops her at work and she checks the giveaway table for books and occasional toys. Then we go eat. Last week we went to Friendly's and this week we went to Mimmo's, home of the gigantic pizza slices. They had some old photos that seemed incongruous but kind of fun, this one of the Rat Pack playing pool, and this one of the construction workers eating lunch. We talked about how chicken we were and we agreed neither of us could never be iron workers. I asked Lily what she wanted to be when she grew up and she said maybe a vet. When I said she had to know math, she said, maybe a vet's helper. Or maybe a writer, she likes to write. How about a director, I asked. Oh yeah, I'm bossy! she said proudly.

Just a year here and I have already been invited to more holiday parties than I ever was in Brooklyn. I think that's partly because I have a job now, and there are parties associated with that. But also Lonnie and Erika had a great low-keyed Hanukah party on Saturday night, with great conversation and good food. I made toffee, of course, and people seemed to like that.

The weather has been cold and kind of raw and damp. It's alternately raining and icing. Monday was so slick school started two hours late, and our driveway was sheer ice. I made it out in the car okay, although I heard a noise that I thought was something I'd run over (I think it was me losing traction on the ice), and when I got out to look the car started slipping back down the driveway. I made it to the parking lot, then slipped and did a jackknife on the ice on the sidewalk. I was okay, and happily surprised when a car pulled up almost immediately and asked if I was okay. I was, just a bit wet from the snow and ice, and a tad embarrassed.

In addition to the party, the weekend was very busy. Mum and Don visited and oohed and awed over our new windows -- thanks, Mom! Mum and I went shopping, and later Lily and I went shopping while Dave did a co-op barn raising thing on Sunday. We also had D&D here, which was fun, with a roaring fire, and leftover food from the Hanukah party. I've been going to the local YMCA so I did that Sunday morning.

The Big Event was the local Nutcracker, a massive community effort, with half the cast from our office, and kids Lily knew separate from my work. We went to the matinee, which was really fun--gotta love the music--and the audience was packed with families. The Northampton mayor was Mother Ginger on Saturday night.

(The only downside was getting rearended at the corner of King and Damon Road. A guy was asking for money and someone in a car ahead of us had stopped to give him some. The light changed, though, and they were still talking when someone banged into us, hard. She saw the green light, apparently, and hadn't noticed that the cars couldn't move yet. I am against panhandling at busy intersections like that. Dave got out and looked at the bumper but didn't see any damage so we didn't even exchange numbers.)

It reminded me of all the Nutcrackers I've seen in the past, including the Brooklyn School of Music's Brooklyn Nutcracker a couple of years ago, with Lily's friends Georgia-Rae and Ariadne. The neat thing was the Brooklyn angle: If memory serves, the mom and Clara (Georgia-Rae) are at a party and they get separated--kinda creepy Drosselmeyer scoops Clara away for a tour of Brooklyn. The mom's pulling her hair out with anxiety and Clara is having all kinds of adventures. The mice are actually some tough local kids who have a tap dancing competition with Clara. They tap very aggressively, and she responds by tapping back. Then the mice tap again, and Clara taps, and in the end the mice are impressed with her dance ability and everyone is friends. During the Arabia sequence Clara is on Atlantic Avenue, and during Tea she's in Sunset Park. Stuff like that just makes me love Brooklyn all the more.

My all-time fave remains The Hard Nut by Mark Morris, though. It always makes me cry, especially the pas de deux between Drosselmeyer and his prince; the snowflakes at the end of the first act throwing their handfuls of snow and then stopping to watch as Drosselmeyer trudges through them, oblivious; the Waltz of the Flowers, with Marie's mom celebrating her daughter's blossoming sexuality; and the ending, for some reason, with Fritz and Marie watching TV again, just like the very beginning, and this time the credits role. It all makes me shiver, makes me teary. Why is that? I don't know.

Tonight after dinner Lily and I came home and she had more homework, but she was cold. So we lit a fire and she did her math next to it at the kitchen table. She went to bed so easy tonight and after I tucked her in I stood by the railing outside her room, looking over our blue living room with the smoldering fire, the blinky 3-foot plastic Christmas tree Mum gave us a couple of years ago, the gerbils I cleaned at 10 pm last night because they really stank, and the too-hard puzzle on the card table next to the fireplace. And I just felt relaxed and happy and I thought, yes, despite this weird loft thing and this very public bedroom, when I snuggle in with Dave in our flannel sheets under our down comforter, as the house cools down and the woods through our new windows are so very dark, I am so grateful and peaceful and happy to be allowed to live here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Visiting Brooklyn

Yup, we were there. So sorry if we missed you! Work sent me to a conference in Manhattan on Friday so Dave and Lily came with me Thursday night. We stayed with Margaret that first night, Mike and Steph the second, and Grace and Michael, the parents of Lily's friend Sylvie, on Saturday. I had good long talks with Kim, Margaret, Mike and Steph, Helene, Ismene, and Mike and Grace, and we all saw Jenna, Curtis, and Harry on Sunday for brunch. Lily had playdates with Georgia-Rae, Nicky and Sabrina, Ariadne, Sylvie, and Harry. Dave saw Gone Missing with David. Whew!

First, a plug for the Civilians, the theater company that is doing Gone Missing. I worked with Michael Friedman on God Hates the Irish when I was in my "I wanna be a stage manager" phase in 2005. Michael is a founder of the Civilians and wrote the music for both these shows. He's amazingly talented and I would say try to see anything he does, if you get a chance.

It was cold, and it snowed on Saturday night. I was dined at everyone's houses and talked myself hoarse. I walked around the cold streets a bit. I hadn't been back since March. How odd! Kim and I went to the Boerum Hill Food Company for lunch, for old time's sake. I was thinking, how odd that eating here is memorable! Something I don't do any more, and haven't done for a year. It was a year exactly, you know, Thanksgiving weekend.

We walked over to PS 261 and I didn't get to see everyone but I did get to see several folks, especially Justice and Nilsa and Nilsa's daughter, Kristine, in the pre-K trailer, and Nan, dearest Nan. I saw Lena, too, and a few other folks. It was lovely.

Lily and Dave met us there after spending a couple of hours in Manhattan spending Lily's gift certificates at the American Girl store (thanks Betsy, among others!), and as she had forgotten her hairbrush back home, she refused to remove her hood from her sweatshirt. Still, everyone ooo-ed and ahh-ed about how tall she was, and hugged her despite her protestations. Justice had her as a student when she was 3, for goodness sakes! Justice asked after my mother, who had gone on a field trip with them that year and clearly left an impression. I didn't see the parents I wanted to, but maybe next time. Oh, and Lily told Nan that her teacher this year, Teresa Mullens, reminds us of her -- She's just like you, Lily said. Bossy! I'd use the word powerful. Nan and Teresa are both wonderful.

The thing about Brooklyn is, now I have to figure out how to be there. Do I tell everyone I'm coming and make every effort to see everyone, if only for five minutes? Do we stay at one place, or several? How many playdates is good for Lily in one weekend? For me? And what about the rest of New York? What if I want to go to the Metropolitan for an afternoon, or the Mermaid Parade? Can I just do that?

Margaret asked me what food I was craving from New York and I had to say none. I miss good bagels -- I don't care what people here say, Brueggers are not good bagels -- and good pizza -- ditto -- but not much else, and how often do I eat those, anyway? I miss being able to buy fresh mozzarella easily, or the dumplings from that street window at that tiny place in Chinatown. Dave used to ride up on his bike and buy two bags of 50 for like $20 and pedal off. Yum!

I miss talking to Margaret about work and families and kids and politics. I miss yakking with Helene about the same stuff. I miss watching Ariadne grow up--talk about tall, her and Georgia-Rae! I miss having Harry and his folks right down the street. I miss Steph's amazing stories about her adventures in the school system. I don't miss having trouble parking, or overheated apartments, or watching people get arrested in the middle of the day at the subway. I don't miss the Department of Education and the nonsense Tweed is inflicting on those in public schools; they are taking a really outstanding, in many ways, public school system, and turning it into a business. Yuck. And I really don't miss the crowds, or the perpetual glow of the lights, or all the people. So many people.

I miss the community of PS 261 and I miss the ease of Lily being able to see her friends, some friend, at basically the drop of a hat. It's all a trade-off, right? I am so happy to have clean air here, and really fresh vegetables, and space, and true darkness, and a 10-minute commute. I really love my job, the people, the challenges, the rewards, and especially the final product.

I am still finding the balance thing hard, here, the balance between work and family and friends. I still don't quite know how to do it all, to find time to meditate and light a fire in the fireplace and clean the house and work out at the Y and walk to the lake and call my posse. I seem to be able to focus on one, to the detriment of the others. Oh well, I guess more will be revealed. And it's not like that balance would be any easier if we were still living in Brooklyn.

Dave and I walked Sylvie's dog Homer around the block late Saturday night and we came back down Warren, by way of the condo. It felt odd, because it didn't feel odd. It was not my place. It had been for so long, 11 years, and now it's not, but I didn't really mind. I just thought, I'm really glad we sold when we did, the top of the market, they tell me. I certainly don't miss Fifth Avenue! especially given how it's changed. Maybe if we could have moved further out. But I still would not have been satisfied, I don't think.

Is moving kind of like death? Am I still dying? Or reborn into a new place? How long does it take? Two years, my friend Karen said. I think one to move and one to land. Check this space in a year.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thankgiving!

Given my traffic phobia, we spent the night at Mum's last night so that we didn't have to fight the masses on the roads. As it was it took us twice as long to get past Springfield, due to all the bumper to bumper. Yuck.

They treated us to dinner at their fancy dining hall and we came back up and traded jigsaw puzzles. We hit the road first thing this morning, no traffic, a clear lovely day, and at the last minute Dave said, okay, let's take the ferry to Port Jeff. We were almost the last car on (no reservation) and it was a perfect crossing, a clear morning, not much wind, not many clouds. Port Jeff is so lovely from the water. We got to Dave's mom's before noon.

So now it's Thanksgiving, with Lisa (Dave's sister), Wes (her fella), his mother and daughter, Brian (Lisa's son), his girlfriend, Amber, and Sarah (Dave's sister's daughter), Randy (her husband), and Maddox (their son), who along with Wes et al. are arriving later tonight. Yikes! It'll be quite a full house. Dave and I are going to take Lily to see Enchanted and add our nickels to the company coffers.

No bears lately but lots of birds. The guys who replaced our window a couple of weeks ago hung up the Dave's birthday bird feeder outside one of our bedroom windows -- high enough so the bears can't get it, at least 12 feet -- and we've spotted lots and lots of chickadees and tufted titmice. Lily, who has been on vacation since last Friday, climbs into bed in the morning and gets all excited every time she sees something really unusual -- Tuesday it was a cardinal, juncos, finches, although not at the bird feeder. She studies the bird book intently.

We ran out of the sunflower seeds that came with the feeder so Dave refilled it with cheaper seeds, and the birds don't flock nearly as much as they used to, it seems. Oh dear. The lady at the birdwatcher store in Northampton (address to come) says all birds eat the sunflowers, and only certain birds eat the other stuff. So we'll see. The only real problem is we can't watch them while we sip our tea in the morning. But maybe we can rig up something until the bears come out of hibernation.

I miss the country. I am glad I don't live in the city. Here's a story about our literate hometown from the Times.

Happy Thanksgiving! Just remember, two down, two to go (Halloween and Thanksgiving).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bag Day

Today is Northampton's annual Bag Day. There's where you get a bag in your Hampshire Gazette, the local rag, and when you shop with it at participating Northampton stores, which is most of them, you get 20 percent off. We went to A 2 Z to cash in on Lily's main birthday present from us, a gift certificate. A 2 Z is a wonderful toy store -- they call themselves a science and learning store, but they also have a lot of great games and toys -- probably the best that I've seen. It was mobbed at 10:30 this Bag Day morning. They told me it was their second busiest day of the year, after Christmas Eve.

Dave says that on Bag Day our neighbors go to all their favorite restaurants and get gift certificates, which they happily use all year. We don't have a lot of disposable income right now so we just stuck to this one shop. But it was fun.

I realized this week that we are here. Today is the year anniversary of our moving to Amherst (well, the Saturday before Thanksgiving; I think the actual date was the 18th, tomorrow) -- and I've been on the job for eight months and Lily's been in school for a whole term and we've been living in this house for almost five months. I think the Year of Moving is over; now we're in the Year of Landing. When we were leaving a friend told me it would take two years to really settle. I was counting on one but after one I can see what she means.

So how does that play out? Dave's out on a nature walk in our woods, with a naturalist talking about what is out there. Vernal pools, I think. I really wanted to go, to hear what this guy had to say. That kind of thing is right up my alley. And I know I feel better when I stretch my legs and when I'm in the woods. Unfortunately, I felt too overwhelmed to go. I felt more compelled to clean the bathrooms and change sheets and do laundry. I just don't get time to do that during the week; I don't get time to be home. Lily is a bit of a lump like me, although, like me, once she gets out there she likes it. But of course she didn't want to go, either. So we put on Wicked and I cleaned and she straightened her room and then played.

Pretty lame, huh. Oh, well.

My friend said to me recently, this is about the time when you realize, I've landed. I'm here, I'm done moving, and oh, dear, I'm still here! I didn't leave me behind! I still have to deal with all this stuff, whatever it is. Good and bad. So much is good here. And there's so much I want to change in myself, too, so much I was hoping would change -- and did change -- when we moved here. I feel much less stressed, for instance. I don't cough as much. I eat better. I feel calmer and I am spending more and better quality time with my family.

But also, it's true what they say, once you leave the city you never walk again. Everyone has to figure out for themselves how to get exercise here, a new friend said recently. We joined the local YMCA and went to Family Swim last weekend. We might go tomorrow. Lily is now taking gymnastics there on Thursday afternoons. Dave is working out a bit, I've gone a couple of times, and I have an appointment with a trainer tomorrow to show me the machines.

Negotiating work, family, exercise, and my spiritual practice is such a balance. Mostly I want to be with Dave and Lily. But the other stuff is great, and feeds me -- I can't believe how much I like working again! -- and I need it, too. So, it's all balance.

We're in Brooklyn the weekend of Nov. 30. Give a call if you can get together!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A reason to get a cat

Betsy sent this clip. Hilarious, especially if you like cats.

Christmas card pics?


















These are from our hike in the woods a couple of weekends ago with our friends Anne and Billie. They brought their wonderful dogs, Australian shepherds, who had a wonderful time smelling everything. We had Dave's overnight waffles from Mark Bittman, and not-too-burned bacon (that's 'cause Dave was watching over it.)

In the group shot we are on the Fairy Rock that sits at the intersection of the Coles Meadow and Marian Street trails. Lily is wearing her Bement headband. Yesterday they shopped at the Bement school store and she bought a bumper sticker, a license plate frame, and a pencil, all with "Bement" on it. Gotta love that school spirit! (Whenever I start to get cynical about this stuff I consider the alternative, as in, she hates school. I much prefer the pride of bumper stickers and pencils.)

The one of Dave is taken at the dam, about two miles (?) a mile and a half (?) through the woods from our house. Isn't he handsome!

We're arguing about the distance; Dave thinks a mile, but it takes us at least an hour to walk to the lake and back. The bird blind is 45 minutes+ round trip, and I think it's still a good half mile from the dam. Can you assume a 20-minute mile on a mostly flat hike in the woods? Yes, it's got some up and down, but then, so does New York City, where the rule of thumb is that it takes a minute to walk a block running north and south (and twice as long for an east-west block, the avenues) and it's 20 of those blocks to a mile, so that's a 20-minute mile pace.

Of course, those are Manhattan numbers, but they mostly hold up in Brooklyn, too. You might have to slow down in the woods to get around a rock or something, but again, between the tourists and the strollers, that holds true in New York, too.

Tasos, we need your GPS!

PS from Dave: Our friend Lonnie was quoted in the paper last week about the mayoral election, and Chris, a kid from D&D, is on the cover of the Living Section today in an article about Big Brothers. We live in Small Town, USA.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

This is hilarious

I meant to blog this when it came out last week. Steven Colbert writing Maureen Dowd's column. "There, now I've written Frank Rich's column, too." Check it out.

It's cold in my studio. In order to meditate in there I have to fire up the pellet stove in the family room next door and leave the doors open a while. I go in long enough to read my email and then dash out. So I've been meditating in our den, the downstairs room with all the books and the piles of boxes, and turning on that pellet stove. And I have my laptop on the island counter in the kitchen.

I hope to rig up something more permanent once the den is cleared out. And with any luck, that'll happen in the next week or so. The laundry room is almost finished -- last I heard Alex the Carpenter thinks this week -- and just needs finishing touches, like paint and doors. We need to decide on the flooring and put that down soon, as the floor is cement and very dusty. And we need to get shelving in there. Then we can put the boxes in there and free up the den for more than just storage.

Last week I spent the day with some Northampton and New York colleagues at some offices in White Plains and chatted with a designer from Family Fun. She's an artist and had lots of ideas for how to set up an art space for Lily, including an all-color bulb (?) I forget but it's better than the glaring fluorescents overhead now. And a shelf for her supplies, and a table, of course, and a radio/CD player. I feel inspired.

Oh, and we have a laundry chute! It has an opening on both the first and second floor. It's a luxury, but fun. Dave has big plans for the pantry off the kitchen, now that the chute is mostly done. And our new windows look great! They need one more coat of something, and the walls around their edges needs to be re-painted. But they are snug and warm and much bigger and let in much more light. We like them a lot, especially the three big ones at the end of our bed, looking into the woods, that replaced two little ones. We hung a bird feeder up there, way away from the bears, and most mornings it's the place to be for those with wings.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lily is NINE!

Our darling daughter is now nine years old. We've had a great birthday weekend, starting with Mexican food at Mi Tierra in Hadley and The Bee Movie on Friday night. The food is good and definitely worth a trip if you are local. Also the service last night was much better than in the past. The movie is pretty good, if you don't mind listening to Jerry Seinfeld for 90 minutes. I fell asleep for awhile (as Mike says, the seats were very comfortable), so I can't quite tell you what happens. But it was amusing and kinda even brings attention to the plight of bees nationwide. It was also preceded by an ad from Burt's Bees about the topic of the great aviary die-off.

Late Friday night Betsy and Tasos arrived from Washington, D.C. She moved there from Athens in the late summer and he moved from Congo by way of Athens about a month ago. We haven't seen them for two years, when they visited us in Brooklyn with his mother and daughter. We all went out for a lovely dinner at Convivium Osteria one evening with Helene and Dimitri and were witness and party to all kinds of "who's picking up the check" machinations. It was really a great evening.

Anyway, they came in and crashed in the family room all snug with the pellet stove fired up. We had pancakes yesterday, at Lily's request, and then walked down to the lake for a nice brisk stroll. We now have a practice of leaving pretzel crumbs on the railing in the bird blind and the chickadees see us coming and swoop down. They seem practically tame, they come so close. This is probably a bad thing and we should stop.

We told stories about the day and night of Lily's birth, naturally, although I haven't told her how they took her from me and wouldn't give her back until my midwife called the pediatrician and he called the baby nurse and yelled at her to give me my damned kid.

We made it back in time to get a quick bite before taking Lily to Build-A-Bear in the Holyoke Mall. Not my or Dave's idea of a great time, a birthday party in a mall. But the high school senior who was our Party Bear was very friendly and enthusiastic and the kids had a great time picking out their animal and their outfit. I was pleasantly surprised to see even the boys having a great time. Really nice boys there. One put his bear in a karate outfit and one in a fireman's.

Then we went down the row of stores to Ben & Jerry's where another nice high school student gave us our pre-ordered ice cream cake. We had remembered plates and napkins and a knife, but we'd forgotten candles, so I'd run across to Spencer Gifts, a raunchy that is still around (!) and of course the only candles they had were the kind that don't blow out. So Lily and her friends blew them out a while until Ren's mom, Peggy, noticed that they were way smoky and we were right below a smoke detector and sprinklers. So we pinched them out. Lots of pics were taken and will be posted eventually.

Then we gathered at home to have pizza. Peggy and her crew came in much later than expected, and it turned out that her car was creamed by some jerk trying to cut across several lanes of traffic. Airbags, cops, kids very upset, Peggy very upset, her minivan totaled, the other driver blaming her--it was all very ugly. She had to call for a ride to our house, and her husband, who she was supposed to pick up on her way, had to find another way home.

We were able to offer pizza and tea and a roaring fire and lots of sympathetic ears.

I slept hard all night, thankfully. Today we will show Betsy and Tasos Northampton. Lily has D&D and then we'll all eat lasagna and garlic bread, one of Lily's favorite meals. It's 23 degrees right now so it's good warming comfort food, too. Yea, Lily!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Windows

Here's a link to that puzzle.

Our windows are being installed as I type! Where we had two smallish windows on our bedroom wall across from our bed, we now have three much bigger and longer windows, essentially a wall of glass but in three frames so we can open them. It looks out into our woodsy backyard, and will be so nice all year round.

Dave has pictures of the pumpkins on his blog -- see address to the right -- and I will ask if he can also put up the window installation shots. Our man Alex is also finishing our laundry room in the basement, the room off Lily's playroom, and that's going to be awesome. He's Sheetrocked it all in and also had an electrician in to put in some more outlets and change some of the circuits. This room will also get a drop ceiling and some sort of floor, either a roll-out linoleum that can be relatively easily removed in case the floor gets wet, and some strong lights overhead.

He's also constructed the laundry chute (!) and cut some holes in the floors to install it; he needs to move some heating vents, unfortunately, but we are all hoping that's not a big deal. The chute will run from our bathroom upstairs through the pantry in the bathroom off the kitchen down into the basement next to the washer. Fabulous!

One of the first things we did was install a double work sink in that room, and Dave built a shelf above it for the dehumidifier and ran a tube right into the sink. The basement seems dry, in that it doesn't flood, but it does get too damp when you don't have a dehumidifier going constantly. And who wants to empty that all the time? When it runs continuously the basement stays dry. It's excellent having a sink right next to the laundry, too: I leave towels soaking in Oxyclean to get the mildew smell out, for instance, and then move them directly into the wash. This kind of thing feels small but huge, you know? A luxury worth paying for. The laundry chute is more of an extravagance, but it's fun, so what the hey. Nothing wrong with fun.

Also in that room, I think I've noted, will be storage shelves, so we can move the boxes out of the so-called den into there. Once the den is cleared we can put in a futon or something, along with another TV and DVD. It has its own pellet stove and gets very snug, and is also cool in the summer, so it might be another good place to put overnight guests.

Finally, Alex has ideas about building a shelf that hangs from the wall in the laundry room and opens into the room, as needed. I'd like that for a place to fold laundry, as well as for Lily to do any kind of messy arts and crafts. We have an old blender, for instance, that we want to use to make paper.

Finally, we are building a coat closet off that room. The idea will be that when you come in from outside you head downstairs first, where there will be more open space, and a bench to sit on and take off your boots. Not exactly sure what it will all look like, but I'm thinking the hallway will also have some empty pegs for guests to hang their jackets. We will also have some shoe and boot racks. This way we can keep mud and snow in a concentrated area. We'll see how it all works, I guess.

Sometimes I think, oh, my, we are really putting a lot of money into all these home improvements! It really can be endless, can't it. But we really want to be here for the long haul. It's a bit far for Lily's school, and getting her up at 6:30 in the dark is a chore; living in Deerfield would be a lot easier for her, at least. But it's 8:30 now, I have to be at work at 9, and I won't be late. My office is two miles away. We are on these lovely woods, but we have supermarkets and a soon-to-be food coop within spitting distance. We can hear the distant roar of I-91, but it's easy to tune out, and I love that we are a mile from the exit.

The more I think about living in the wonderful Hilltowns, say, north and west of here -- and they really are in the country, those towns, they don't get cable and they don't get DSL and we could have gotten quite a lot of land and a great house with the money we spent on this place -- the more I am glad we are here. It's the best of both worlds, to be on these wonderful woods at the same time as being so close to town. And I'm not sure it would have been a good idea for someone like me, who'd lived in New York City for 18 years, to be so isolated in the country, or for Lily, a city girl and only child going to a private school 20 minutes away and so doesn't really know very many local kids.

Yes, our bedroom situation, with both bedrooms opening on the bathroom, and one wall of our bedroom open to the cathedral ceiling over the living room -- ie, not a lot of privacy -- is a little wonky. But I have an amazing studio, Dave has an office, Lily has a playroom, our kitchen-living area is great for entertaining, we have two other rooms to hang in (family room and den), and it's close to town. Couldn't really ask for more.

This was the right choice.

PS -- HAPPY 10TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY, OCT. 31, TO MY MOM AND DON !! I'll write the story of how they met some time, it's great.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Puzzles

Lily and I gave Dave a 1,000 piece puzzle of birds of the backyard for his birthday. The next day I set up the card table next to the fireplace in the living room and the three of us have spent two lovely evenings putting this puzzle together. Lily has a knack for finding just the right piece! It feels very collaborative.

Dave said, Lily, the reason we moved to this house is because your mother wanted to do puzzles. It's pretty much true. My sister Bondi and my mom always have a puzzle going, well, I don't know if Bondi does still, but she used to like doing them. This one is hard enough but not impossible--and yes I have to refer to the picture on the box as I don't know my bird types, but this is helping me learn them, somewhat.

Last night I started humming something from Caroline, or Change, and Lily said, put that on (she's heard it a lot because I played it all the time a couple of years ago), and Dave said, I wouldn't mind hearing that--and I couldn't believe my luck! So I hooked up my iPod and we listened to the first act, and chatted, and worked the puzzle together, until Lily's bedtime. It was really really fun. We turned the music down after she went to bed and Dave and I worked another hour on the puzzle, and then I practiced my flute--did I mention I'm taking lessons again?--while the soaking tub filled with really hot water, and then I had a great soak and got really warm and slept solidly all night. He's right, this is why I moved here.

Next time, I told Lily, we'll listen to Wicked, and then The Producers.

"For there's no place else on earth I'd rather be..."

Halloween and the Red Sox and Dumbledore and...

So happy Halloween -- so not my holiday, but Lily had a great time. Work had party yesterday, the two parenting/family magazines getting together and and decorating and dressing up and all. It was so sweet to see how everyone, every single person who works there, is really into kids. They all love kids. I mean, sure, they should, but they really do! They walk to talk. Gotta love that.

Then tonight Dave and Lily went a party in Amherst, hosted by Peggy, Ren's mom, the Party Queen, and co-host of the weekly Dungeons and Dragons game. This was good old fashioned musical chairs, duck duck goose, and all that, and all the kids had a great time, I hear. Then they went trick or treating. I got home by about 6:30 and had one group of kids (more probably came by earlier but I gather the street usually just gets a few). Dave and Lily had made a couple of great jack o' lanterns and I lit them up. If his pics came out I'll post them.

It's struck me lately that Lily, who will be nine on Nov. 10 (!!!), is really growing up. She wants to be alone while she's in the bathroom brushing her teeth and all in the morning and night, and (while Dave and I are both suspicious that she might not be actually brushing her teeth, we are giving her the benefit of the doubt. So far her teeth aren't black) she just seems older.Like, I'm happy she still sits on my lap and hugs me and jumps into my arms when I come home, but I keep wondering when it will stop.

School is great, I hear from Lily, and we are very happy parents. Sunday night we went to the headmistress's house for a buffet supper for new parents. It's a great way to meet other parents (there are four new kids in Lily's grade, three of them in her class), as well as the powers that be. I told the head that it was very kind of her to host a party for Dave on his 45th birthday and later, when we went around the circle and introduced ourselves, he said, I'm Dave and she said, and it's your birthday! and we all sang a rousing round of Happy Birthday. It was a nice touch.

More and more it's clear that Mrs. Mullens is the greatest gift for Lily this year. I can see Lily struggling to stay loyal to Brooklyn, but it's increasingly hard, and Mrs. Mullens is a big reason for her comfort. Over the weekend Lily was very excited about the Red Sox, well, very excited is pushing it, but she talked a lot about it and was glad when they won the Series on Sunday. But yesterday she told me she wasn't a Red Sox fan, she's a Mets or a Yankees fan, whichever, she's not really a baseball fan.

So, I asked her, as I do every now and then, what she's thinking about Brooklyn these days, and she said she will always be a New Yorker and she would move back there now if she could. I said, Really? And what about Mrs. Mullens? And Bement? And all the kids who are coming to your birthday party (at Build-A-Bear in the Holyoke Mall! Kill me now!), what about them? You wouldn't see them. She paused. And didn't answer. And I shut up.

I am going to lay off, but I am desperate to hear her say she's glad we moved here. Of course, this is Lily we are talking about, so the more I want it the less likely it will happen. She is very headstrong, asserts her independence. I wonder where she gets that! And it doesn't really matter, because she is here, and she does like it, although she still does miss her hometown. It's hard to switch loyalties, especially because we all adored Brooklyn and cheered it frequently. "Brooklyn, rah!"

We had two nice visits last week, from our friend David, who introduced us, for a couple of days (hi, Dave!) and from Grandma Judy. We tried a restaurant, Butternuts, in Hadley, for the first time. It wasn't bad. David was here during the week so I didn't see him as much as Dave did, but the three of us did stay up late one night knocking around Harry Potter, and Dumbledore the poof, and Snape, and the ending, and all. I have reread parts of book seven many times and was able to expound on it gloriously. It was fun.

About Dumbledore, I think the reaction to Jo's announcement is hilarious. I love all the self-righteous comments, especially along the times of, "She can't do that! The books are over!" and endless discussions about why she would do this, and if she really wanted to support diversity and show a positive character she'd have made a major character gay (I think Neville, no?), and what were the clues, anyway (a good half dozen in book seven which one queer critic says he and his friends caught and debated all summer) (I picked up on a couple but decided I was reading into things and quickly dismissed it). Rebecca Traister on Salon had a great essay; read some of the comments following it.

My feeling is, she's J.K. Rowling, the most successful author ever, and she can do whatever the hell she likes. Thank god she let Harry defeat Voldemort; thank god she's all about love, and not hate. That must bode well for our world, no?

I find it extraordinary how we Harry fans seem to feel that these people are real, at least some part of us does. We feel a sense of ownership and a clear idea of what happens to them all post-Voldemort; I think it's Traister who says Jo's wrong, Harry would never go work at the Ministry, clearly he becomes a teacher at Hogwarts and eventually headmaster. I could see it, but I think he would prefer being an auror. He would never want to be stuck behind a desk--and an authority figure, to boot. But hey, I feel like she does know them best, and it's her book, she gets to say whatever she likes.

Grandma was our weekend guest, following David, and she helped me cook an Indian feast for Dave's birthday celebration on Saturday. His friends/college roommates Lonnie and Jay came, with their families. It was a lot of fun. Here's the list (I started at about 8 am): Curry chicken, potatoes and cauliflower, chickpeas, spicy rice, lemon rice, cilantro chutney, walnut chutney, raita, I feel like I'm missing something. Didn't have time to make the cabbage. Oh, and Lily and I made a yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting, too. All from scratch. Oh, yeah, I made the batter for veggie pakoras and fried cauliflower and fried paneer, and Dave fried that up. And I heated up some breads, paratha and so forth, that I had purchased. It was great!

On Sunday we took Grandma up to Bement, and Lily's classroom was unexpectedly open, so Grandma got a tour. Cool beans! Later we walked around Northampton looking at all the little shops. There's great gifty stuff for the upcoming holidays, some great stores. Watch your stockings!

Grandma was snug in the family room with the pellet stove fired up all night, the glow of the flames and the soft ping of the drop of pellets lulling her to sleep. Trust me, it was cozy. No, don't trust me, come see for yourself!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tidbits

It helps to understand I am not alone in my Global Warming depression. Oops, the link is gone. It was about British kids being depressed about the environment. You can look around for it on that site.

Yesterday we made up the houses of our house: Dave is in Arborpuff, I am in Edidor, and Lily is in Lilypad. We get points when we do something clever or helpful--make a good joke, clean the bathroom, get to the bus on time. No one is keeping track. It's just a nice way to appreciate each other: "Twenty points to Edidor for cleaning the soaking tub!" (That was hard!)

Newsflash: Dumbledore is gay, and was in love with Grindelwald. Gotta love that Jo; she really understands the British public school environment, doesn't she.

We stood in our first long lines Saturday night. We drove with some friends up to Goshen to go to their annual haunted village/fundraiser for town recreation. It's a big deal, like 1,000 go through, I think. It was only open Friday and Saturday only from 7 to 10 and it rained Friday. We got there around 7:30 on Saturday and finally got on the tour at 9. Not a pretty sight, with several exhausted, cold, bored 8 and 9 year olds. Set in a summer camp, the haunted house is eight haunted cabins. You could go on a scary tour or not so scary. The actors knew by the color of the guide's glowing necklace. Not so scary was red. Lily lasted one house and called it quits; her friend Leandre lasted two. It was fine by me. I don't do scary, or even not so scary. It was all really well done, though. My favorite part was the roaring fire that Lily and I stood near until we met up with Dave and Leandre.

Yesterday, while Lily had a playdate in Deerfield, Dave and I drove over to nearby Mt. Toby and hiked up and back. Those last 500 vertical meters were hard--I am very out of shape--but the trees and ferns and the light were all amazing. I love the different microclimates as we pass out of one kind of forest into another. And at the top was a fire tower. I don't do heights well but got almost to the top and had a 360 of the horizon, ringed with mountains. We could see the Holyokes to the south, of course; they are nearby. But also Monadnock in New Hampshire and I guess the lower Greens in Vermont.

I had no appreciation for how much I walked in Brooklyn. It's very hard to find time to exercise here. We are thinking about joining the Y but haven't, yet. I have ridden my bike to work a few times, but that's not a lot of fun for me. Really, I like walking. I am bucking for a dog so I will be forced to walk it (I know I will live to regret those words on rainy cold mornings). And I will feel safer in the woods if I have a dog. Otherwise, I don't particularly want to walk alone, especially at 6 am. I like bears from my kitchen window, not up close.

Speaking of windows, we are having ours replaced in the next couple of weeks. The big projects are a more interesting kitchen window with a shelf and three larger windows in our bedroom, not two smaller ones. We've turned our bed to look out and soon we will be able to see the trees even better.

We are also hiring a guy to finish the laundry room and build us a coat closet. He''ll start Wednesday. Once that's up we'll buy some heavy duty shelves to store old files and Lily clothes and whatever else needs to come out of the den and garage. And if there's still room, maybe we can set up a table of sorts that I can use to fold laundry and Lily can use for art projects, making paper, etc. We'll see.

Finally, we are probably having an open house/holiday party the first or second weekend in December. Watch your email for an invite.

Oh, PS -- Dave just told me the Red Sox won and are off to another World Series. I'm very happy for all you Boston fans. I could care less, as you know, although we did watch for about five minutes last night. If I root for any team, it's the Sox, of course, so this is good news.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Coupla things

1) My bank's ATM gave me $150 today, an amount I withdrew because I was dying to see how it would appear. Turned out to be a bunch of twenties and then two fives. What ATM gives you FIVES? Gotta love this place.

2) This is the site I should have been looking for: an interview with JK Rowling after book seven came out. Lots of backstory and what happened in the missing 19 years.

3) A moment of apology. This blog is too redundant and too long. I owe you, my faithful reader, better than that. This is the first of my shorter entries.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Global Warming Grief

I want to know if the corporations and our foolish government who are fighting any significant--or even insignificant--changes to our basic lifestyle, even as simple as requiring higher fuel economy, are willing to pay for therapy for the millions of us who are depressed at the loss of our environment and life as we knew it.

I gather it's just a question, now, of how bad. Within 30 years we in the Pioneer Valley will either live in Washington DC, weatherwise, or North Carolina. The maple syrup industry is on its way out--the warm days and cool nights of late February typical in New England just won't be happening as much any more. This past spring they had half the sap they typically get. Skiing, cross-country and downhill, is taking a heavy hit. Berkshire East, where Lily took skiing last January, had to close the slopes on several occasions because there just wasn't enough snow and their snow machines couldn't make it, not in 70 degree weather.

I never understand when I hear people say they could never live in New England because it's too cold. I don't get it. I moved here for the cold. New York City was getting too hot. I moved here for the snow and the strikingly different seasons, the deep fall colors and the bleak winter landscapes, the excuses to layer and wear heavy sweaters, the newly-green spring and the lush and abundant summers. I moved here for snow storms and snow days and fires in the fireplace and swimming in the local rivers and chilly days picking apples. I really like the variety.

Those days are going fast. The summer was fine, mostly, as far as I can remember. The fall has been not so great for my morale. In a word, it's been hot. It was 73 when I came in tonight at 10pm and it's been like that for days. It's been very dry, which means the leaves are all falling prematurely; when it rains it downpours like a monsoon, like a tropical rainforest downpour. It's pretty sudden, quite intense, and it doesn't last long. Did I mention it was warm? When it was seasonably cold last week people in the office were relishing wearing sweaters. Now it's muggy and warm--did I mention warm?--and it just feels so wrong to wear shorts in early October (never mind January).

Dave is sick of me moping about this so I am dumping on you, my loyal readers. Hear this: I am suffering from weather orientation dissonance (it'll be in the DSM V) and I need a trained professional to help me work through my feelings and accept the reality--and my overwhelming sense of utter helplessness. Does anyone really think that if we all rode our bikes to work and chose paper over plastic it would help stop global warming?

Netflix sent Network with Peter Finch last week--remember the famous "corporate cosmology" speech by Ned Beatty as the head of the company that owns the network that airs Howard Beale's show?

"You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won't have it, is that clear? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT and T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon--those are the nations of the world today!"

Change a few names and this is what I believe and I don't think there's anything I can do about it.

We need a complete about-face, internationally, a values-transplant, and I just don't believe that's going to happen in the big arena. I do believe in spreading love and acceptance person by person, and that's pretty much what I've devoted myself to these past few years. Trying to be a better person so I can help everyone I know, or interact with, or simply momentarily encounter, have a better day. We are all one, says Buddhism, so what hurts me hurts them, and vice versa.

Maybe I just need help getting unstuck from the grief stage. Maybe I gotta reread 1984. I'm sure George Orwell has some wisdom for me. Sorry to be so depressing. Now you need therapy, too! Can't we get all those corporations to pay for it?

Parents Day

Ed. note: The November issue of Wondertime is out and I encourage you to pick up a copy. There's some great stuff, as usual. If you still see September/October still on your newsstand, get that and then go back for November. It's a great magazine, no I'm not biased; one childless friend in her forties says she found it interesting and useful and she doesn't even have young nieces and nephews.

Last week we were closing an issue and Friday I was to be at Bement all morning for a parents open house thingy. Thursday night I was late at work, and I said to my editor, resignedly but with acceptance, I was supposed to come in late tomorrow because of this school thing, but I can skip that and come in to work on time, to get this story through. She said, of course not! Go to school! This is just work. That's your daughter. We can move this story without you.

This is the great thing about working for a parenting magazine that actually walks the parenting talk. And because many of us have young children, we all have the same sort of schedules--open houses, pre-school events, parent-teacher conferences--that all occur around the same time of the year, public or private. It helps that most folks are in the same boat.

So Friday Dave, Lily, and I went to Bement and hung out and met parents and sipped tea and talked to teachers and listened to the kids sing and watched them in class. It was a gorgeous blue-sky day and we all, parents and kids, spent most of the time outside. Bement has several buildings on its campus, so we went from one to the next, as needed. Lily's building was recently constructed but it's post and beam so it looks like fancy barn and it feels old, which is cool, given that she goes to school in Old Deerfield. It's kind of like going to school in a museum town, and in fact the fourth graders are studying the colonial era this year, touring seven of the original buildings and culminating in a colonial ball.

Lily really likes her teacher, who we agree reminds us of Nan O'Shea, her extraordinary second grade teacher at PS 261. In fact, Lily says the first time she heard Mrs. Mullens' voice she thought, "What's Nan doing here?" She's been at Bement for nearly 20 years and has taught before that, too, so she's got lots of experience. Many people have told us that she and maybe one other are the best teachers in the entire school. That says a lot, and yes, I can feel it when I hear Lily talk about her, and when I myself talk to her. I'm a sucker for elementary school teachers, anyway, having been raised by one. And Mrs. Mullens is smart and kind and in charge and confident and really understands and enjoys kids, and those are all lovely qualities to have in your kid's teacher.

It's been harder for Lily recently. The honeymoon is over. The homework is about 45 minutes a night. Last year in Amherst she had about 10 minutes a night, less than she had at PS 261 in the second grade, and that particular teacher, herAmherst third grade one, was known to give a lot of homework!. Now she gets more both because it's a private school and because of fourth grade, which is a pivotal year: two years before middle school so they have to start ratcheting up the expectations. That's true in every fourth grade, public and private, from what I understand.

Here, if Lily doesn't get it done at night she stays in at recess to finish it. That sucks and it happened a few times in the last couple of weeks. So now Dave has to focus on bringing her home right after school, giving her a snack, and sending her up to her room, or to the dining room table, to do her homework right away. We decided to skip starting up the individual flute lessons again for now, so that she can get her feet under her. She'll continue to take chess on Tuesdays after school--she took it at PS 261 but dropped out because she was the only girl; not an issue here, thankfully-- but we are keeping an eye on that, because it means she doesn't get started on homework until 5:30 or 6, rather than, say, 4:30.

She's also not eating, really, until she gets home at like 4:15. My kid. Sigh. I know 7 am is awfully early for breakfast (we have to leave to get her to the bus at 7:30) and she doesn't want to even try the morning snacks (usually graham crackers or fruit, etc) or lunch (typical but tasty school lunch). So so she often just has bread and butter for lunch and by the time she gets home she's ravenous.

We've been talking to Mrs. Mullens, who says she's perfectly capable of doing the work and suggested things like going straight home and getting started right away, and skipping flute for now, and seeing if she can handle homework on chess Tuesdays. She will make sure Lily's adult at her lunch table (the lower school eats together at long tables, family style, and mix up the tables every two weeks, so she could eat with, say, the first grade teacher, and a couple of third graders and kindergarteners, as well as fourth graders) gets her to try different things.

Mrs. Mullens said to me, you know, we are asking a lot of her, what with a new school, higher expectations (cursive is required; she finally has to memorize her times tables; they are learning grammar, and French, etc.), and a whole new environment, from the city to the country. Yes, she's been here for a few months, but now with this school and this house it's much more real and grounded. Now she can relax--maybe test and push!--but also relax, as she realizes that things are now stationary and not changing so much any more.

I do think this is best for our family and we all settling down into it. I was chatting with a friend yesterday and mentioned something I'd heard here, "oh, years ago" that was actually last winter. So, okay, we have not been here a year and I am already thinking in terms of having been here for years. I have certainly acclimated-- but hey, it's my home state, so it's not as big a jump. Dave has too--it's similar to the environment he lived in when he was at SUNY-Stony Brook, I think--and while he could probably use some regular work and more people around, he seems to enjoy his homemaker/primary caretaker/house-fixer-upper status right now. I know he'd been wanting a break from work for several years and we are fortunate enough to be able to afford it. Barely, but so far, okay.

I always say this transition is the hardest for Lily, who had never known anything other than Brooklyn. And it is the hardest. But she likes it here. She has seven friends, four boys, four girls--four kids from Bement, two from Amherst, and two from Northampton-- who she wants to invite to her birthday party next month. Not bad for being here less than a year. She likes school (the campus includes a brook, and woods! she builds fairy houses at recess!); she likes hiking in the woods, despite herself; she likes the space in this funny, open house; she likes how much room she has to be here.

And I think she likes being the displaced New Yorker, in a way, the kid from The City. (That sense of uniqueness may change once the boarders start coming from Singapore and Taiwan and Seoul.) I know part of me does, although I think I'm more doing the, "I'm cool because I lived in New York for so long and then moved out because I could tell the city wasn't doing it for me any more." Or some weird thing like that. But that's another blog entry.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dogs and Holes

So Lily and I really want a dog. And Dave kinda doesn't. I mean, you move to the country, you get a station wagon, you buy a house that backs onto 650 acres, you get your wood delivery--isn't a dog the logical next step?

I want a black standard poodle so I can recreate my childhood. I'd be okay with a Moyen. (We had a fabulous Moyen at work called Cole, who had the run of the building and would come visit us from time to time, especially when they had ordered in bbq lunch for the staff. But his owner no longer works there so now he's not around any more.) Lily wants a cocker spaniel. We'd both settle for a mutt. But neither of us is home during the day, so it'd be Dave taking care of it, and as he's the least interested, that doesn't seem quite fair.

The hard part is knowing that really, Lily would like a little sister. We were thinking about adopting or foster parenting, but this house isn't quite set up right for another child. She'd settle for a pet, preferably a dog, but a cat would be okay. She's even willing to go with a snake or an iguana. But she's lonely. I know a dog is a great thing for a kid, especially an only kid. Maybe we can work something out.

On a different note, I know I'm behind, but has anyone out there read Holes by Louis Sacher? Dave was on Long Island this weekend and I picked up a copy at the Bement tag sale and couldn't put it down. Who knows if Lily will ever read it. But man, I finished it Saturday night and it was great. I recommend it, and I hear the movie is good, too. It's kind of Everything is Illuminated, but better; kind of Cool Hand Luke, and--well, not better, but still good. It's funny and understated and really smooth. I liked it a lot. No false notes.

Friday is Lily's school's open house and I am going to attend in the morning. It helps to work for a parenting magazine; they understand these things. Lily still likes school but has now hit a snag where the homework is lengthy and relentless and isn't going away. She's exhausted, I think emotionally as well as physically, and I suspect all the changes and increased expectations are taking their toll. It's kind of like she can finally relax, emotionally; she's landed. So lately she's been regressing a bit. At least that's my theory.

So we are cutting way back on stuff. No playdates after school--not like we had any, but still--just come home and have a snack and do homework. Practice the flute. We're all adjusting to this new school and new way of life. One day at a time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

typo

that should be TILTED track, not titled.

Hard to proofread this stuff. I get bleary-eyed. Kind of a busman's holiday.

In general, please forgive my typos.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Belchertown Fair PS

I forgot to mention the other big highlight of the fair yesterday: veggie races. Kids were sticking wooden wheels into veggies, either cucumber, zuccini, potato, and half a butternut squash, and putting them on a titled track and racing them.

Hilarious. Everyone took it very seriously, but were having fun, too.

I was speechless. All I can say is, this was yet another "Never in Brooklyn" moment. The cukes were the fastest, from what I could tell. Apologies for not having our camera with us.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mt. Holyoke

Hiked up Mt. Holyoke today. We have a nifty little book called Hiking the Pioneer Valley, which we have dipped into quite a few times, always successfully. Nifty book, very clear, accurate directions.

This hike was mostly up, pretty steep, and amazing gorgeous views at the top of the whole valley. On a clear day you can see Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire and Hartford to the south. Mt. Holyoke is the tallest in the Holyoke Range, which is just south of Amherst and runs west from the Connecticut River. It was a perfect fall day, leaves starting to drop, the air moist and cool, mostly.

The river is extraordinary spread out before us, looking like something something out of my high school geology text book, with all its bends and turns. It goes on and on and when it overflows its banks, as it did massively in 1984, it spreads all that good silt on the fields and we reap the bounty.

On the top is the Summit House, a former hotel from the early 19th century. Some folks are restoring it and it was cool to walk around and imagine being a lady in all those skirts come to take the country air.

Then we hiked back down, stopping by Devil's Football, a huge basalt boulder just off the road, to see if indeed its iron content threw off our compass (not today) and went over to the Belchertown Fair. This is a wonderful community event, clearly a big fundraiser for school and community groups, and something the whole town not only looks forward to but participates in. The horse pulls were my favorite, these massive animals pulling 12,000 pounds of concrete a couple of feet. It was a lot of fun, the best local fair I've been to, I think, precisely because it was so homespun.

On another note (no pun intended) we've been sad here because we no longer hear our thrush, which Dave says was killed by the neighbor's cat. He says thrush nests are low to the ground and the birds are small, and he came upon Snowball right after he had pounced. I miss it. Lily asked me to post its song for your listening pleasure.

We don't hear nearly as many birds now, and it's not just because it's the first day of fall. I noticed the Hallelujah Chorus, as the previous owners called the morning song bird exaltation, fading out by, oh, July. Then for a while we heard tons of peepers. Then it was crickets and some other insects. We still hear the crickets, but lately I've heard a lot of crows and, most recently, Canada geese. I thought I'd hear song birds, sort of, all summer until they went south or wherever they go. But I guess not. Not so many song birds now. And I do miss our thrush.

Dave and I were commenting today on how alive and changing our woods are. We don't even get into them woods that often, so our observations are based on their presence right up to our door. Watching them through the kitchen and bedroom windows and listening to the changes. We haven't seen bears in some time, not since August when I saw three, including two destroy part of our neighbors' peach tree. Just walking out to get the paper I notice that the air smells fabulous, alive is the word, rich and meaty. I think we'll have to walk to the lake again tomorrow morning. Maybe we'll have to get that dog, a perfect excuse for a walk...

We've decided not to wait and to have our windows redone this fall, as our original, early '70s windows, that are really pretty crappy. It may be in the seventies in January again but you can't count on that, and I don't want to be cold in my home this winter.

Anyway, I mention it because, while we're at it, we're going to put a third window in our bedroom in between the two already there. We moved our bed this week so we now look out the windows when we are lying down. And the new ones will have to be up to code, so lower and larger. I can't wait. It'll be a lovely way to wake up in the morning (thank goodness I'm a morning person).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lily update - another long one

Well, Mum, you were right. Lily is really happy at Bement, happier at a smaller school with lots of one-on-one; friendly, kind classmates; stimulating work; clear expectations; and lots of structure. She's meeting friendly, bright kids who like to do well in school and are interested in being active members of a community. Private school is not necessary or even good for everyone, but for this kid, it's going to make all the difference.

She had a palate expander put into the roof of her mouth last week and instead of making fun of her, her classmates all gathered round and peered inside. (The week before the installation I was getting very frustrated with her reluctance to try new foods and said, "Lily, you need to expand your palate!" And she shot right back, "Mama! I'm having a palate expander installed next week!" We laughed a long time over that one.)

She comes home every night and sits at her desk in her room and does her homework. All of it. She is a good kid, picking up when we ask her, setting the table and clearing her plate and helping me find kindling. She and Dave go grocery shopping or to the library after school. Tuesdays she's started chess, now, which she really likes.

She is meeting some nice kids--her new friend Michaela (I work with Michaela's mom, Rachel) says she really likes Lily because she's silly. They are going to take a pizza-making class together next weekend at Lamson & Goodnow, a kitchen store in Northampton, and Michaela has invited Lily to her birthday party in October.

Lily's also meeting nice kids at Bement, boys and girls, and Dave and I can both see her visibly relax as she settles in. Relaxing so much that she chose the Bement tag sale on Sept. 29 over a trip to Brooklyn. Now that says something! Tonight we were talking about PS 261 at bedtime and she said something about leaving Bement in a couple of years. And I said, Lily, by the time you graduate from the ninth grade, you'll have been at Bement longer than you were at PS 261, and she cheered and punched the air. I think she's had enough change for a while.

Dave and I went to the lower school open house tonight, where we all sit in those too-small chairs at those too-small desks and read the notes our kids have left for us and listen as the teacher tells us about how the start of the year has gone. We all met in the gym first, the teachers were introduced, and then we went off to our classrooms.

I knew we weren't in public school any more when the head of the lower school, in a pink sweater jacket and pearls, stood up in front of us, lined up all the classroom teachers behind her, and sang a song introducing them all to the tune of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? As in, "these are our wonderful teachers who all have wonderful features." Actually I don't remember the words and they were more clever than that, but you get the idea. It was all very good-natured -- she has a nice voice! -- and unselfconscious, and the teachers went along with it with smiles on their faces. Genuine smiles.

I kept flashing on PS 261, that old auditorium, the very mixed audience, ages, races, appearances; the mic that never worked well as the principal tried to talk over the low murmur of chitchat, the parents whispering to each other or their small children or trying to keep their babies quiet long enough to catch a few words. Each specialist teacher -- music, art, science, PE, etc -- would talk just a tad too long, although you didn't want to miss a word. And then we'd split off to our classrooms, same deal with the small desks and chairs and stuff all over the walls, but three times as many parents (Lily's classroom has 12 kids), much higher anxiety levels, much more concern about homework and test scores and how to cope with the various independent projects coming our way.

PS 261 had is own charms and excitement and I am going to blog an open letter to the school community, telling the parents they don't know how good they have it and thanking the teachers and administrators and encouraging them to persevere against all the Department of Education odds. The farther away I get from it the more I think it's a unique community, genuinely built on love, and if we had stayed there Lily would have been fine. But while I loved Lily's third grade teacher in Amherst, I don't miss that school one bit; I suspect few schools, public or private, are as extraordinary as PS 261.

For better or for worse, though, we have moved on, and tonight I felt it. It was wonderful to be in this quiet, very small classroom, the tons of work already, in just two weeks, on the walls for us to read. It was lovely to hear Lily stories from her teacher, who obviously gets her and enjoys her. (We've been so lucky, all these years; all of Lily's teachers, right from the first year at the Montessori Day School, have "gotten" her and loved her.)

The first thing Mrs. Mullens said was, "She's going to be an actress!" Apparently Lily had told her classmates the first day of school that she was not consulted about moving from Brooklyn to Bumbleville, or something like that. (She was very dramatic, apparently. Hard to believe, I know.) Now that's what I call relaxed.

The hardest part for me, aside from not being there for her after school any more because I am at work, is that she doesn't have nearly the playdates that she did in Brooklyn, where she had so many old close friends and it was so easy to get together with someone. Now she spends weekends with us picking peaches or whatever we are doing as a family. Or she reads or does art work or goes on the computer or watches TV. I'd love to get her one playdate a weekend, although now that the summer is over, Dungeons and Dragons has resumed with some Amherst buddies.

But I'm coming to think all that downtime's not necessarily a bad thing. She's had all these changes, as I say, and she and all her classmates are tuckered out from their intense school. Says us, says her teacher. Maybe just hanging around and being with Mom and Dad is enough, right now. The air is getting colder, the leaves are changing, we turn the heat on in the morning now. There's frost on the windows.

Moving is hard, isn't it, when you are young. We moved when I was four and that changed me for the rest of my life. I lost my dog and I lost my fireplace. One down...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fire, Fire















Just a quick note to say, this is our first fire! We made it last week,and we've made several more, since. Today I wanted Lily to be outside longer so I sent her to get kindling. She a) knows what it is and b) knows where to get it. Now that's pretty cool.

Dave's blog has the backstory on our wood pile, including pics. It's fun. Check it out.

I'll write more about Lily and her new school in the next week or two once she's been there a bit more. But suffice to say it's a great match and if she doesn't love it yet, it's just a matter of time. She looks and acts at home there, seems to really fit in with the kids, likes the teacher. And they are working her hard, which is a good thing, but not too hard, which is also good. Big shout-out to my friend George for suggesting Bement. We're very happy as a family.

Apples, peaches, and raspberries


























Dave said today, as he took some pictures of us picking raspberries, that everything that used to be a Kodak moment is now a blog moment. This was one of those weekends:

It's been a harvest weekend. Yesterday Dave's friend Ki-Yun came for lunch, up from the New Haven area--he's on his way to work for Google in L.A.--and we all went apple and peaching picking. Really nice farm in Whately, Quonquont Farm, owned by two friendly women who let Lily play with their Aussie-Border Collie mix while we three trudged up the hill to the peach trees.

Ki-Yun is a veteran fruit-picker and oriented us newbies to the sport. I realized, too late, that we actually live 15 minutes away from these farms and we don't have to pick like we live in Brooklyn still and won't get back to the country again for another year, at least. We got too much to deal with in two days, in other words. Read on...

Peaches are on their way out but we still got lots and they are small but really tasty. Dave and Ki-Yun were ooing and ahhhing about peaches they were tasting when I brought over a white peach for them to try. Dave was ecstatic, couldn't believe how delicious it was and how much better than the nasty old peach he was nibbling on. I have never really cared much for fruit and I think it's because supermarket fruit, or any fruit that's traveled a-ways, just isn't always very good. But this stuff! It's to die for.

We picked got apples, which are just starting to come in, at this farm. No macouns yet, but lots of macs and empires and jonagolds, which Mark Bittman says are pretty rare (at least in supermarkets), as well as some varieties of delicious. Ground fruit was half-price, so I picked that, especially for the applesauce, and let Lily have fun getting stuff off the trees.

Today the three of us picked Nourse Farm raspberries, which are just into their brief fall season. Both days were gorgeous, after the rain ended yesterday morning. I am a sick puppy: There were probably five acres of raspberries and at most 20 people picking, and I started panicking that there wouldn't be enough for us, that they were taking all our berries. Sick, I tell you. We filled up our buckets and hadn't even gotten half way down our row. Dave convinced me that what turned out to be 11 pints of berries was enough, and he was right, of course. And of course we can always go back next weekend.

We picked a lotta fruit. Here's what we did with it back home:

-- We made a dozen quarts of applesauce yesterday. Even Lily liked it. She said, "This is the best applesauce I ever had--it tastes just like store-bought!" Err, yeah. She asked for it for breakfast, though, so I guess we're onto something.

-- Today I froze a half dozen quart bags of peaches, including those luscious white peaches, and I just put two more trays of slices into the freezer, which will translate into another half dozen bags. (You are supposed to blanch the peaches very quickly, 10 seconds, and that makes the peeling, pitting, and slicing a lot easier. You put the slices on a tray lined with Saran Wrap or plastic because the peaches are very wet and juicy at this point and will stick. Once they are frozen you transfer them into plastic bags. When they are frozen they aren't mushy and won't stick to each other. I measured them out two cups at a time to use in future recipes.)

-- I froze three gallon bags of raspberries--you freeze them on a cookie sheet and then transfer them into the bags. How best to freeze all this fruit comes from my mother who, I believe, learned these techniques from one or both of my sisters. Credit where credit is due. I did not measure them into two-cup portions because the blueberries pour out so easily I figured the raspberries will, too. So I can just pour out two cups, or whatever, at a time.

And let me just digress here to give more credit here to Emily Noyes, who showed us how to suck the air out of a ziplock bag full of blueberries using a straw. Way cool. Emily has also taught me a lot about picking and freezing and cooking. She makes an extraordinary blueberry pie, and I am not a big fan of blueberry pie.

-- In addition to foodmilling all the applesauce and helping me with the peach blanching, Dave made eight jars of peach jam today. Don't you wish you were on our Christmas list!

All this is on top of many bags of whole tomatoes and cooked tomato sauce that Dave had already made, along with some gallon bags of corn from leftover corn on the cob. (We'd get a dozen, eat four or five, and then scrape off the rest. I love corn chowder, especially in the dead of winter.)

The kicker was that for some reason (I guess I'm in nesting mode and I'm eager to try out our new freezer), I had decided earlier in the week to defrost the chicken backs and necks that Dave had gotten for me at Whole Foods. I was thinking this would be a great weekend to make stock. Dave reminded me this morning that I had defrosted all this chicken, and that meant I had to cook it up. So I now have a half dozen quarts of rich chicken stock in our new freezer, as well.

I suppose all this food prep and making our own sounds really fussy and anal. Why not just buy chicken stock or frozen corn? Why not open a can or dial for take-out? Of course, we are not above doing all that when we have to.

But one of the first things Dave and I found we had in common was our love of food--he would say, "I want as much food in my food as possible." That's as opposed to preservatives and additives and artificial chemicals; did you know that "natural flavor" means "artificial flavor"? Celestial Seasonings has "natural flavors" in many of their teas. Dave would also say he didn't like to eat something he couldn't conceivably make at home, which lets out Twinkies and Coke, more or less.

I come from a family where what you ate and how it was cooked was important, and I have been on various food journeys of my own. Together we have found that the flavor of homecooked food simply tastes better. Homemade stock in soup is better, IMHO, than water, or a bullion cube, or even a box of pretty good stock. That's just me.

Besides, I decided tonight, as I was musing over all this, exhausted, bleary, my back and shoulders aching, my hands sliced up and dried out from all my chopping accidents and all the dishes I've washed for these two days: I enjoy it. Go figure.

Come visit us and taste the difference.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Kripalu vs. Omega

So I went to a retreat at Kripalu this weekend. It's a yoga-based retreat in Stockbridge, a few yards down the road from Tanglewood. I had a great time, met some nice folks, ate really good, really simple food, took 6:30 am yoga classes both mornings, slept on a top bunk by a window overlooking a lake in a room full of two dozen other women sleeping in similar beds, and really got away from it all.

I have been to a couple of weekends at Omega, in Rhinebeck, NY, and I find it impossible not to compare the two. I decided the difference is that Omega is much more geared toward the New York City crowd. Kripalu, which started as a yoga retreat, is just more laid back. Both are fine, but Kripalu did make me slightly insane at first. You can take the girl out of New York City...

Kripalu and Omega: Compare and contrast

Coffee Kripalu doesn't serve coffee in their cafeteria. You have to buy it at their cafe. Omega has a half dozen varieties.

Cafe/bookstore The Kripalu cafe is only open until 8 pm. Ditto the bookstore. I think that's insane. The Omega ones are open until 11 pm. They probably open earlier, too, but I didn't register that info.

Clocks None of Kripalu's were correct. Apparently they had had a power outage a day or two earlier. But no one had bothered to sync them. I can't imagine that at Omega, although I could be wrong.

Check-in This was the most infuriating part about Kripalu. It's Friday night, the start of the weekend conferences and retreats, I get there straight from work and have about 45 minutes to register, find my room, eat dinner, and get to my workshop. And there's 10 people in line and just two at the registration desk. I had to wait at least 20 minutes. (I have to say, however, that Omega doesn't serve dinner on Friday night to weekend retreatants, and Kripalu not only fed us, the cafeteria was open until 7:30.)

The first time I went to Omega, I got on the very long--15 people--registration line, sighed, and pulled out a book. But within five minutes I was checking in. I couldn't believe it. They must have had six people doing registration. I told them, "This is not the Brooklyn post office!" And they laughed and laughed. I wrote about it to Omega and Omega published my story in the catalogue and gave me a 20 percent discount for my next workshop.

So the next year at registration I told the guy checking me in that I had been so impressed with their efficiency the previous year, and I mentioned my line about the post office. And the guy got all excited and said, "You're the Brooklyn post office! You're the Brooklyn post office!" My reputation preceded me.

Environment They are both very similar in the feel, lots of mediation and yoga classes offered, lots of opportunities to have a variety of spa and holistic treatments and consultations, gorgeous settings--Omega on the campus of a former Jewish red-diaper baby sleepaway camp; Kripalu in a former Jesuit center on top of a small mountain overlooking the stunning Stockbridge Bowl, a large lake.

I like both but their settings are quite different. Omega has little camp buildings all over the place. Kripalu is all in one big building, which meant I could go barefoot everywhere except the dining room. Kripalu is also, therefore, year-round and Omega isn't open in the winter, although they do offer workshops elsewhere.

I was disappointed Kripalu didn't offer more in the way of mediation and tai chi classes. They only have one a day of the former and none of the latter. They did have a great Dancekinetics class that looked like a ton of fun but it hadn't occurred to me to take it and they only offered it once that I could do. Next time.

Of course, the best part about Kripalu is that it's just an hour away. I commute to workshops there--I bet lots of folks do. I'll be back, I'm sure. Look up a workshop on their website that you might like to go to, and let's do it!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

Sad News

Josh Ruderman, RIP
1/4/58 - 9/2/07

Dave's brother died last night after battling HIV and AIDS for more than two decades. He had had full-blown AIDS for at least 15 years, and we are pretty sure he was infected in the early '80s. So it's something of a miracle he lived as long as he did.

I'm really glad he did, because he was able to watch his beloved nieces and nephew grow up, and to be there for his father when he was dying. And by living with her, he allowed his mother to remain in her home for several years after Dave's dad died.

Josh had been sick all summer. He was diagnosed with lymphoma and had been in great pain and in and out of hospitals. He was taken by ambulance this past week -- apparently Riley, one of his dogs, was very upset when they came to move him and had to be restrained. (Poor Riley, who was still grieving the still recent loss of his canine brother.) We had an inkling but you can never predict these things. So when they moved him into the ICU yesterday morning and put him on a respirator, I think Dave and Judy and I were all surprised. It felt so sudden!

When Dave and I heard that development we came down immediately. Thank god. We got here at 8:30 last night, just in time. The hospital called at nine to say Josh had had a cardiac arrest and they had revived him, but they suspected he was neurologically compromised. Dave and his mom went to the hospital immediately and were able to authorize a DNR order. Josh died peacefully at 11 pm, about an hour after the docs turned off most of the machines and the medications.

I have a photo of him with Lily that I'll post when I can find it. It was about six months before Dave's dad died, and they are clinging tightly to each other and laughing. It's great. Gay uncles are the greatest, Dave's cousin Rebecca said to me, and it was the truth. Lily loved to sit on his big leather sofa watching I Love Lucy reruns on his enormous projector TV. He's left her his Lucy DVD collection.

It's weird to be here, no dogs barking, no Josh telling them to shut up and Lily picking Riley up and carrying him around the house, no hanging in the kitchen gossiping about family and talking about the state of the world. No Lucy reruns on the TV, no more overblown Thanksgivings with two turkeys and a ham for a dozen people, in case anyone goes hungry.

I will miss him for these things, and more.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Long Island Association for AIDS Care.