Saturday, March 31, 2007

Breaking in a new restaurant

Establishing relationships with restaurants is another new experience we are undergoing here. Cafe Amanouz on Main Street in Northampton is the first restaurant I've eaten at in the Pioneer Valley that I feel sure I will return to regularly. I've been there four times now, twice with Dave and twice alone; I enjoy eating alone occasionally. Well, I guess I already do go there regularly.

It's just my kind of place, small, cozy, Moroccan. You order at the counter and they bring perfect food over to your table: stews with chicken and olives and vegetables over couscous for a cold wintery day, and platters of humus and grape leaves and pita for the warm weather; sweet mint tea and Middle Eastern pastries for dessert.

Going to a place over and over is a process of getting to know the place, the staff, the menu, the routine. The last time we ate there, the night of the Mary Chapin Carpenter concert last weekend, I could see my future at this restaurant, the predictability of the slow service, the crowded tables but frequent turnover, and I could sense that I will be eating there a lot.

As it's still so new, each time I look at that enormous blackboard listing tons of dishes, all sounding delicious, I still get overwhelmed. I don't know it yet. We still need to figure out portion size and what dishes are very shareable and in what combinations. But we will; we are. And not just my future but also my past flashed before me, as this cafe reminded me a bit of the Olive Vine on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. Not the Olive Vine national chain, this is a small local place run by Jordanians who make their own pita and pita pizzas.

Last weekend was our first official date since we moved here, with a babysitter and everything. It was Saturday night and all the fancier restaurants were packed with 40-minute waits. We finally decided to eat cheap, so stopped by this place. While it was also crowded we did get a table. We were lucky to see Lily's fabulous teacher, eating dinner with her fiance, and they helped us decide what to order.

We also really liked our meal at Paul and Elizabeth's, a vegetarian place in Northampton. My mother and step-father took us there for brunch a few weeks ago and the food was simple, fresh, reasonably priced, and really good. I definitely intend to return there, too.

Not just the quality and variety of restaurant choices, we have been really struck by how friendly people are in Northampton, too. At this Moroccan place we were sitting at a table for four and when we saw a couple desparate for a table we sat New-York-City style, just moving the other other half of the table over a couple of inches, and listening in on each other's conversation and observing menu choices. They were happy to have a place to park and eventually we started chatting and they were very friendly.

This weekend we had friends in from Brooklyn and we had an adventure-filled day, starting with pancakes at the Williams Farm sugar house in Deerfield, a tour of the campus of Lily's new school, a couple of real estate drivebys, a climb up Mount Sugarloaf -- perfect day, incredible view -- and ended up eating big pizza slices in Northampton and walking around in the sunshine. Lily met a woman with a dog, of course, a min pin who is usually very shy, apparently, but came right over and sat in her lap.

The dog couple had borrowed the animal from friends and were socializing her on the steps of the municipal building. The woman half could not get over how much she liked Lily and how much Lily reminded her of herself when she was young. She kept calling her a mini-me. It was pretty funny, actually.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Cruelest month?

April vacation is coming up and it's always the third week in April, to coincide with Patriot's Day, a Massachusetts holiday, and not Passover, as in and around New York City. This year I will be working, for the first time, and Dave is busy researching places for him to go with Lily and things for them to do. It's particularly hard because she doesn't have friends here who might want to, say, join her on a day trip to MASS MoCA or the Boston Science Museum. Lots of kids in Brooklyn would be thrilled. Oh well.

Patriot's Day, Wikipedia tells me -- and take that source for what it's worth -- is also celebrated in Maine and is held in honor of the revolution starting in Lexington and Concord in 1775. There's great parades in both towns, with guys dressed in colonial garb banging on drums and playing Yankee Doodle on fifes, Red Coats, high school marching bands, fire engines -- all the kinds of stuff I like.

I also know that the Boston Marathon is held that day, although I seem to think they wanted to switch it to Sunday, at one point. That was always a gas; we'd walk down to route 16 and hold out oranges for the runners. The first woman always got a big hand, as did the unusual; I still remember a family of Asian runners starting in ages from about 8 years old on up. We always walked home saying, admiringly, "and all the winner gets is a bowl of beef stew!" Well, those days are long gone. Now you can't even run in it if you haven't qualified in an earlier marathon. Pooh! At least they allow women in today. They didn't when I was a kid. Double pooh!

Apparently, in another longtime tradition, the Red Sox always hold a home game on Patriot's Day at Fenway Park. So when my choices are baseball, parades, or the marathon, it's easy to see where I didn't go: I am so not a baseball fan, or any sports fan, and yes, I did work at Sports Illustrated for 10 months. Learned a lot there, too, including that no matter how many ways you look at it, you can't force an interest in something. I looked at sports from a theatrical point of view, as a sociological force, with a cultural eye and a business one. Nada. I just didn't care.

I will always be grateful to Sandy Padwe, my sports journalism professor at Columbia and a senior editor at SI, and Bambi Wulf, then SI's chief of reporters, for the job, though. Bambi, who grew up in my hometown and is now an assistant managing editor at Time, taught me to fact-check, a fabulous and thorough teacher. As horseracing reporter I went to the Breeder's Cup, held at Gulfstream that year, and I was sitting next to Arthur Hancock, the owner of Sunday Silence, when the horse won the Classic. Very cool. The job also positioned me to move on to LIFE, and the rest is history.

When we moved to the Pioneer Valley several people told me I could move to Massachusetts only on the condition that I not become a Red Sox fan. I said I was born here and lived most of my life here, so it was already preordained that if I rooted for any team, that would be the one. But then I hastened to add that I care so little about sports that when the Sox won the World Series I didn't watch. Not a single pitch. I just don't care. I like to play.

Still in Bardo, here, new job, lots of visitors, lots of obligations of various sorts. But I've made another new friend, a magazine editor whose 8-year-old daughter goes to Bement, spring sure is coming, the croci are popping up, we had a bluejay on the bird feeder, and every day above ground is a good one.

"May I suggest this is the best part of your life."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ella, Anne, Julie, and Lili

All right, I admit it, I'm a fan of the latest incarnation of teenie bopper movies, especially the ones with Anne Hathaway as a spunky girl snogging some cute male eye candy.

Lily gets home around 1:30 on Wednesdays and today, after she played Whiffle Ball at the playground with her dad for awhile -- I've got a mild version of the GI bug going around, and spent most of the day snoozing on the couch and reading over my pre-employment packet from Disney, which owns Wondertime -- we watched Ella Enchanted, based on the clever book by Gail Carson Levine. It stars, naturally, Anne Hathaway.

Levine's an inspiratin because apparently she wrote her book after taking an adult ed class at the New School in the Village on writing children's literature. She writes twisted fairy tales with fiesty spunky girls and women, modern takes in the classic setting. Not as intellectual as say, Georgory Maguire's retellings, the most famous of which is Wicked. Levine's books are meant for a younger audience, and Lily is at the perfect age for them.

I like both Levine and Maguire for different reasons; Maguire is making political and literary points with his adult novels, especially Wicked, which I really enjoyed. I also enjoyed Wicked the musical, which I've seen twice, even though, as with Ella Enchanted, the plot has significantly changed from the book. But the production values are extraordinary, the songs catchy, and Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth on the CD really belt 'em out.

Among the other teenie bopper movies Lily gets from Netflix -- did you know you can set up a separate list for members of your household? We are on the three-movie plan and we have our list and get two movies, and Lily maintains her own list, and gets one at a time -- I've also enjoyed Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries I and II, costarring the incomparable Julie Andrews. I mean, forget Barbra. Julie Andrews rocks. After her you can drop your voice, as my late dear friend Jean Kendall used to say.

Let's pause here and pay homage to the wonderful Julie Andrews. Just Cinderella, Sound of Music, and My Fair Lady, is enough to say wow. But she has a massive year career beyond that, as well as being a writer of children's books herself -- Lily's rereading The Last of the Really Great Whangdoddles again. Haven't read her but Lily likes this one.

Hathaway also starred as Lili in the 2002 Encores production at New York City Center of Carnival with the also incomparable Brian Stokes Mitchell. It's the theatrical version of the movie Lili, the story of the French girl and the puppets. Every spring the Encores series presents workshops four or five performances of 20th century American musicals. They are often quite obscure, but always well performed, with scripts in hand, some costumes, and fantastic dance numbers. This puppets in this production had scripts, too, which was pretty funny.

A separate musical, Carnival doesn't have the song Lili from the movie, though, which I rented when my Lily was first born. I played the song over and over so I could memorize it and sing it to my new baby. Everyone always sang me the first verse, which is very sad:

A song of love is a sad song, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo
A song of love is a song of woe
Don't ask me how I know
A song of love is a sad song
For I have loved and it's so
Hi-Lili, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo
Hi-Lili, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo.

But did you know it has a happier second verse, at least in the movie?

A song of love is a gay song, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo
A song of love is a song of joy, a waltz for girl and boy
A song of love is a gay song, for I'm in love and it's so
Hi-Lili, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo

Sing to me, Mama, Lily said the other night when she had burned her tongue on hot chocolate so badly she couldn't sleep. I sang "Sweet Baby James" and a verse and a half of "Fire and Rain" but she stopped me and asked me to sing something else, it was too sad. So I sang our current favorite, the one about the island where the babies all live in trees. Next time I'll sing Lily "Lili."

Monday, March 26, 2007

Notes on living here

LIFE magazine, RIP

--Got a package delivered yesterday. FedEx guy knocked on the door, handed me the thing to sign, and spent a good five minutes telling us to put the padlock on the inside of our bulkhead to the basement, rather than the outside, so we don't get trapped in case of fire. "Please do it soon so I won't worry about you," he said earnestly, "Okay?" We said we would but in fact it has totally slipped my mind. Sorry, FedEx guy! We'll get right on it.

I don't have to tell you that while the Brooklyn UPS guy was really nice and would leave packages without a signature -- you always prayed not to have a package delivered FedEx because inevitably they missed you and you had to drive down to a wharf in Sunset Park to find whatever it was -- but he never once worried about my locks.

Note to self: Move lock inside, soonest, so the poor guy can sleep at night.

--I had to buy stamps yesterday and found to my great surprise and annoyance that there was actually a line! A long line, and only one guy behind the counter! What gives? This is Amherst, not Brooklyn.

--Turns out the reason Lily doesn't like her cousin's hiking boots is not that they were boy boots, as I suspected, but rather that they are way too small for her. Who knew she was a size three? And worse, where to buy hiking boots at what turns to be this late date? We went to Dick's on route 9 and got one of the last pairs of Gortexed Timberlands, size three. It seems boot season starts in January and they are almost entirely sold out. I hope I can still find cross-country skis for next winter.

--Dave gave blood yesterday at our local health club, and he reports that the juice and cookie quality is far superior to Methodist Hospital in the Slope. Go figure. He also says his blood pressure is very low, in a healthy way, and everything went smoothly -- last summer he hadn't eaten and passed out and scared me to death -- which I suspect is a result of his working out diligently at the gym. Who knew I married a jock? I am working out there, too, but not as religiously as Jack Spratt -- err, Dave.

--Note to self, number two: Be sure to join the Applachian Mountain Club, Berkshire branch, and Mass Audubon, so I can learn to tell to identify all those Quabbin birds.

--Note to self, final: Better get going on the summer camp sign-up, now that we know we are moving across the river. Problem is we don't know when we are moving, so we will have to factor carpooling into the equation. Lily's interested in art camp, riding, Shakespeare, all kinds of things, and we also hope we are chosen in the lottery for Family Camp at Farm and Wilderness again this year. Wouldn't that be awesome! Our five days there last summer was one of the big reasons I wanted to move here (but that's another story).

P.S. -- Dave and I drove by some houses for sale in Deerfield and Whately today to see if we wanted to look inside. We still haven't had a gut reaction of, oh, this is where I want to live, but we're having fun and getting closer. More is coming on the market in the next few weeks, we're promised.

Wilderness past and present

Here's a newsy entry. I've been a bit behind but hope to get back on schedule now. My goal is to write at least something most days. Who knows if I can keep to that, though. I have a lot to do before I start my first full-time job in eight years next Monday.

First of all, our trip to Brooklyn two weekends ago was fabulous and fun. I got to see several close friends I'd missed on my previous trips, as did both Lily and Dave, too. We went to PS 261 for a parent-teacher basketball game on Friday night and I caught up with several friends. Sure is a different school from the one Lily's at now, and it's more than just the colorful diversity. There is always a chaotic, slightly out of control sense about the place that can either drive you crazy or thoroughly inspire you. In my case, surprisingly, it always energizes me.

In particular Lily saw her third grade teacher, the fabulous Melissa, whom we all adore. She also told Zip, the principal, all about her new school and about how she has the best teacher in school. A big shout-out to Rachel Davis at Fort River! Ya!

The reason we went -- too soon! we've been there every month for the past three months! -- was to see Emerald and her family, our former neighbors. DeeAnn and I are like sisters and I realized talking to her and Steve how much I missed them, and how a large part of my motivation to leave was their leaving, first. Our family lost something when they left. It was fantastic to see them again, though, and we laughed pretty much constantly from Saturday night through Monday afternoon. It was a bit much to eat out every single meal, but one meal in particular stood out, the Chiles & Chocolate Oaxacan Kitchen, which has a sign in its window that says, this is not Mexican food, it's Oaxacan. They serve a wide variety of moles, and grasshoppers are optional. Yum.

Thursday, we took advantage of the time change and the goreous weather and dragged Lily to the Quabbin Reservoir's southern entrance after school, called the Enfield Lookout. (Man, it's like pulling teeth to get her outside, some times! She's worse than I am.) I've wanted to get over there for some time, now.

Finished in 1939 and completely filled in by 1946, this manmade lake displaced four towns and a half dozen villages when they created it in between the hills of the Swift River Valley. It's about 10 miles east of Amherst and 65 miles west of Boston, which is the primary user of its water. It's one of the three largest bodies of water in New England, is 18 miles long, 39 square miles, 181 miles of shoreline and holds 412 billion gallons of water when full. The entire watershed is 186 square miles and it cost $53 million to build.

Apparently because the sportsmen industry is well-financed, Quabbin is open to motorboats and fishing and limited hunting. No canoes or sailboats. And lots and lots of trails, which I can't wait to hike.

All that is from a cool little book I found in the Pioneer Valley section of the Jones Library called Quabbin: The Accidental Wilderness by Thomas Conuel, a journalist. I read it in about an hour after we finally made our visit. The Jones Library is our favorite place in Amherst, by the way, probably the best thing we've found here, and we will miss it and the librarians a lot when we move.

Quabbin is desolate and massive, an extraordinary wilderness in the middle of the state. There's loads of wildlife, birds, animals, fish -- it's even become a hotspot for eagles. Hundreds of families, 6,000 graves, and many houses were relocated in order to create this. And you can't help but look at this endless body of water and wonder what life was like before it flooded in, who lived in the houses whose foundations lie 90 feet below the surface, and what the remaining survivors and their descendents think when they see this view and think about this reservoir.

It's the exact opposite of the feeling I get when I think about New York City and read my latest book, The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto (this next shout-out goes to my friend Anne Hollister, who helped with the fact-checking). Partly because of his lovely prologue I keep imagining Manhattan as wilderness, with streams and forests. It's hard to picture Manhattan as wilderness, just as it's hard to picture four villages under this expanse of water.

What's interesting too about this book is the description of the drive for beaver pelts by the Dutch in early 17th century Manhattan. We dragged Lily out again yesterday after all our guests had gone. We parked at Station Road and walked on the rails to trails path, which is paved so not muddy, about a mile and a half to the Fort River and then back. Most of this section runs alongside beaver ponds, with lots of dams and dens. Again it was hard to get her outside, but it paid off when we saw a beaver in the water, just resting her nose on a piece of ice for a few minutes. Lots of trees were half-eaten through. Awesome animals, beavers.

My last news is that we hosted our first more-than-one-couple social event yesterday, a brunch for about 15 of my new friends. I made my so-called Greek baked omelet, which has leeks, zuccini, mint, dill, feta, and white rice (go figure). Delicious. I also made a Rosie's Bakery coffee cake that I thought was a bit heavy but everyone else seemed to like. Some folks made a fruit salad, we had fabulous Vermont Country Store cheddar cheese, and my favorite, homemade lemon-ginger scones with clotted cream. I loved how everyone showed up and pitched in -- at one point I came into the kitchen to see all the dishes had been washed -- and it feels like this little house is much more of a home, now.

Temporarily, of course. Now that I know I will be working in Northampton at Wondertime and Lily will be going to school in Deerfield, we are picking up the house-hunt and looking forward to finding a house we love somewhere over in or in between those two towns. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, March 23, 2007


So we've decided that Lily will go to the Bement School in the fall. While we never intended to put her into private school, we found that the public schools here don't offer enough challenges -- social, emotional and other -- the way PS 261 did. Now there is an amazing school.

So if you will indulge me, here's what I wrote on our application to the school, in response to the "tell us about your child" question:

A favorite family story, from when Lily was two and a half years old:
We were joking with her, and her father said, “Lily! Say, ‘I’m beautiful!’”
She responded obediently, “I’m beautiful!”
“Lily, say, ‘I’m smart!’” commanded her father.
“I’m smart!”
“Say, ‘I’m a grapefruit!’”
“You’re a grapefruit!” Naturally, we all exploded with laughter.

That’s our daughter: precocious, verbal, funny – and of course beautiful and smart. Indulged as an only child, we fear, but also struggling to find her grounding with parents who both have strong personalities.

We work hard to stay one step ahead of her, in terms of her interests, enthusiasms, discipline, and structure, which she likes a lot. We seek her opinions on decisions and various topics, and work hard to deal with behavior issues with clear, unemotional language, respect, and firmness. She responds well when she’s asked to be trustworthy and she craves her independence, as long as she knows she can come back at any time.

Lily is very much her own person. She loves people and she’s very friendly. Once she warms up to someone, which takes about 30 seconds, she will talk non-stop, asking questions and telling her story. More than anything she loves to read. Her book choices range from Harry Potter and Lloyd Alexander to the Babysitters Club and biographies. She loves her weekly book group at the public library and she will happily spend most of a day reading. She also enjoys music – she has taken a year of piano and music theory and began violin in December – and theater, and is particularly interested in studio art, and crafts including crochet. She can be fearful about learning new skills, such as riding a bike.

As a rule Lily gets along well with us and with her extended family and friends. She has a half-dozen very close girl friends her age in Brooklyn; their play still includes pretend and fantasy, and they seem to have the usual issues with sharing. She has made a couple of friends in Amherst but we don’t think she’s found her tribe here yet. Still, she works hard at her friendships and seeks children out, including those of different ages.

We feel sure that Bement would be wonderful for Lily. We know the school will keep her challenged intellectually: She will adore the variety of subjects, the small class size, and the close attention from grown-ups. The entire Bement School seems both demanding and loving, with structure and discipline, but also affection and appreciation for the individual. Lily thrives in that kind of setting.

We expect her to thrive too in the family atmosphere, enjoying close relationship with adults as well as other children her age and not. We long for her to overcome her perfectionism to the extent that she can enjoy working in areas where she lacks confidence, such as math, as well as try new things. We are confident Lily will find herself intellectually, socially, and emotionally at Bement, and work hard to be a respected, contributing member of the community.

In response to another question, we told Bement about that the first couple of months here were hard for Lily, that "she loved PS 261, her old school – we all did – and had no interest in moving away from the only home she had ever known. Despite this, she’s finding her way in this new and strange land where we drive everywhere, can see stars and the horizon, and live next door to pedigreed dairy cows.

She has a great deal of personal power and we don’t want to squelch her enthusiasm; we work hard to be consistent and set limits, saying that her feelings aren’t wrong or bad, just her ways of expressing them. It sounds obvious, but she’s much easier to be with when she has a lot of focused attention from each of her parents; a Saturday afternoon game of Brooklyn in a Box (Brooklyn Monopoly) makes the evening to follow a joy."

So we'll see. Summer camps are still undecided, and really, the next big question is where I end up working, and thus where we end up living. But knowing Lily will be at Bement helps ground us; we know we will be somewhere near Deerfield, so that she doesn't have a long commute. More will be revealed.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Stormy weather

So there's a storm the press is calling a nor'easter coming tonight. Or is it tomorrow? Trying to decide if we should go to Brooklyn tonight or first thing tomorrow morning, I pulled a rune out of my bag.

I have used Ralph Blum's Book of Runes for ages, a decade or more, and find the stones to be very useful, a kind of Rorschach card for my unimaginative brain. I get direction from the images and ideas, and I love the way Blum writes. It's not brilliant, necessarily, but it's very spiritual.

Anyway, we couldn't decide whether to go down tonight or tomorrow morning as originally planned, what with the weather predictions so dire and all. So, musing on "New York City," I reached into my trusty bag of runes and pulled out Kano (click here and scroll down to "n"), which looks something like a less-than sign, and reading the corresponding entry, burst out laughing. The first word my eye lit on was "morning."

The runes never fail me. I don't always understand their message, and they don't always tell me what (I think) I want to hear, but they never fail me and I am almost always quite entertained in the process. I pull out a rune and laugh out loud sometimes. Check 'em out.

So tomorrow morning, we're off to Brooklyn again, way too soon for me, because Emerald, Lily's best friend from when they were 10 months old (their birthdays are a week apart) is coming to town almost two years after moving to Pharaway Phoenix. We have plans of all sorts, friends and meals and sleepovers and dinners, and maximizing as much time as we can with Emerald and her family. It'll be cold in Brooklyn, so I hear. Funny to hear me complain about going, right, when my last entry was so melanchology about missing it. I am a textbook example of a body at rest wanting to stay at rest.

If I'm lucky our next visit will coincide with the most glorious week of all in Park Slope: the week in March or April (global warming has thrown all seaonal predictability into a tailspin) when the callery pears that line 5th Avenue for a half mile burst into glorious white clouds all at once. Lily and I have spent many a walk down the avenue trying to come up with poetic language for the stuff. Clouds, goose down, snow, nothing quite cuts it, especially at that magical moment about 7:00 p.m. when the sun is setting and the street lights are a soft orangy glow. Magical. Lasts about a week, and then it's gone, until next year.

News flash! Lily has triops, a gift from our former neighbors Sam and Eva on their recent visit here a few weeks ago. They picked them up for Lily during our visit Dr. Spooky's Animal Museum in Deerfield. We went away and the first round of eggs all died. This time we have a little bugger who's about a month old, and he really looks prehistoric. These are not sea monkeys. Dave took a photo, I'll see if I can post it here.

Hope to see all my fine friends in the Slope tomorrow and beyond. There's lots to catch you up on here in the Happy Valley, including these cool things called sugar shacks that, Brigadoon-like, only open during maple sugaring season in late winter. People wait two hours for their pancake breakfasts. And something else called mud season that happens between winter and spring. I tell folks that in New York we either walk on snow on pavement or dirt on pavement. No mud. The parking area outside our house is a muddy lake. Definitely mud.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Well, if it's snowin' in Brooklyn

I've been away, both physically, in Brooklyn, and mentally, in my brain. Time to get back on the blog horse and write some more. It's hard to write this because we are still so unsettled and I still wonder, at times, if we made the right decision to move here, and to do it so suddenly. Well, that was of necessity, because Dave's company closed. Still...

It's also hard to write this because I self-censor in the fear that if I don't I will say too much and The Wrong Person will read it and I won't get that job, or I will hurt someone's feelings, or I will reveal too much to the world.

Having said that, I've been thinking about two things lately: Brooklyn and skiing. Our trips to New York are based around Lily's playdate schedule. We try to maximize her friend time and we squeeze in our visits around those. This time, over President's weekend and into February vacation, she saw three or four friends for good chunks of play time.

What made me sad was her sorrow at saying good bye. Lily used to see Ariadne several times a month for playdates, and daily at school. With the exception of some younger sisters of some of Lily's new friends, no one here seems to play pretend the way Ariadne does. And Ariadne's mom says the same thing: No one in her Brooklyn friends plays pretend the way Lily does. The heartbreaker: As we drop Ariadne off with her mom on our way out of town, Lily waves and says sadly, over and over, Miss you. Miss you.

When do you get over the sorrow? Am I destroying my child's life? I hope not. But I don't honestly know.

This week was my birthday, 46 on the 28th, and thank goodness for the little bit of snow we do have. Wednesdays are half days for Lily so we picked her up at school -- she was very disappointed she couldn't take the bus, the big event of the day these days -- and drove a half hour up route 63 to Northfield Mountain to cross-country ski. Now, it's been many years since I skiied. I only skiied cross-country and I only did it for a few years, pretty much stopping in 1988 when I moved to New York. Besides, my shoe size changed after I had Lily and I could no longer fit into my boots.

This day I kind of remembered how to move my feet, though, and we headed off in an interesting direction that turned out to be harder -- read, steeper. I spent some time walking down the hills. After awhile we backtracked a bit a novice trail. All in all, not bad for the first time in oh, 20 years. I only fell a couple of times, well, we all did, and only panicked once, when I could not get either my boot unhooked or my skiis uncrossed. The other two did great, of course: Dave has skiis and used to go out in Brooklyn once or twice a year when there was snow. Lily has been downhill skiing this winter. She's a natural.

We got a good couple of hours in, and while my jeans were soaking -- gotta get some snow pants -- I had fun. Afterwards we had dinner at Mi Tierra, a small good Mexican place in Hadley. Homemade torillas. A fine way to spend a birthday.

Today Lily went to a Purim carnival with a friend and her little sister who likes to play dolls. So Dave and I walked on the bike path in Amherst for an hour, just from Station Road to Southeast Street and back, but it was hard going at times in the icy, chunky snow. Beavers live all along this part of the path, and we saw some terrific dams and dens, as well as some of their snack trees. The path has enough snow and is quite flat, so perfect for cross-country skiing. Gotta get some skis.