Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Don't Push the River (it flows by itself)

Just came back from an evening at Bement, Lily's new school. She starts the Thursday after Labor Day. First there was a tea with new parents and teachers, and then the fourth grade parent reps threw a game night party for the kids with pizza and such.

The whole feel was so welcoming. To a man or woman, everyone said, I hope you like Bement as much as we do. I hope Bement will as good for your child as it has been for ours. I hope your family will be as happy as ours is.

We talked with Lily's new teacher, Mrs. Mullens, who was really nice and has been in the biz a long time. She's been at Bement for 18 years and taught before that, too. I gather she's the stricter teacher, which should be a good choice for Lily. She's originally from Nebraska (I could hear it in her voice) and that's a good sign. I like Midwesterners.

The Bement folks were very friendly and welcoming, as I say, and the best part was, there was Lily, laughing and running and shouting and playing with her new classmates. I love to see that, to see her comfortable and friendly after nearly a year of considerable stress. The whole Amherst time was so stressful, if only because it was all so new (and it wasn't just because of that).

Around the house front, yesterday we had a washer, dryer, and freezer delivered to the basement. Tomorrow the plumber will install them, along with a double sink. The current washer-dryer is going to someone on FreeCycle, and that little closet off the kitchen will turn into a pantry and a place for the broom, etc. Yahoo! We'll have to trek to the basement to do laundry, but that'll be good for me, and easier in the long run.

Also, eventually we'll have Sheetrock and a floor in the basement laundry room, and some storage shelves, and I hope a long table, so we can do some art work, batik, or tie-dye, or making paper. (Ha! Me doing arts and crafts--and enjoying it!) Dave got us a blender off FreeCycle this week and Lily can show us how to make paper. She learned at camp this summer. He also got the Klutz friendship bracelet book for half price and I am going to try making some more. Maybe Christmas presents? My hair wrap from Family Camp gets a variety of comments at work. I like it, though.

So this time last year I was wrestling with wanting to BE IN THE PIONEER VALLEY ALREADY but still needing to take the time to talk to Dave and process and slow down (!!) and check out all our options. We needed to sit with it, and see if it was the right fit -- well, you know the answer to that question...

Family Camp marks the anniversary of the thought of moving here truly being up front and present in my brain. The Sunday before we had a fabulous afternoon in Amherst, eating lunch at Judie's and swimming in the Fort River with a neighborhood beaver. I thought, I even said to Judie, I could live here. By the time we got to Vermont it was a more visible thought, and by the time we left I was telling others at camp that I was thinking about it.

Last week I told them the story about driving home in a driving rainstorm to NYC that Sunday after camp, down I-91 thinking, as we passed Amherst, "if you lived here we'd be home by now." And the terrible traffic, so bad that we pulled over and ate for an hour. And then past the airport on 684 and seeing the weird neon flashy light and thinking over and over, "We're being bombed. We're being bombed." I knew we weren't. But I also knew in my heart that I was done. It was time. Sept. 11 as an automatic reaction five years later erased any last doubts I had.

And now we are here, just three months short of a year. It's odd -- should I stop writing this blog? It was supposed to be about our move here, and we are here.

That was a rhetorical question, of course, and of course I am still moving in here, still transitioning.

But the last of the major transitions happens next Thursday when Lily starts school. The major tasks will have been accomplished -- house, job, school. Yes, there's always more to with the house, and Dave will probably get a job in the not so distant future (I hope it's part-time or consulting). Lily will need to BE at the school, make Bement her own. But she's already started to do that and if tonight is any indication it's going to take her about five minutes.

We spent a wonderful Friday evening in Coney Island last August, with Blair's sister, Barrie, and her partner and their kids. We ate that terrible fried food and rode on all the rides. We saw the weekly evening fireworks, what a show! And then we rode the Wonder Wheel into the night sky.

I'll never be able to listen to Wonder Wheel by Dan Zanes without tearing up:

now the sun is sinking low
lights of coney island glow
all the best friends that i know
are on the wonder wheel

going round and around,
it takes us up and it takes us down
i love the sights and i love the sounds
riding on the wonder wheel

As Barry Stevens says so well,

Thank you!
You were just what I needed!
I'll love you forever!
Good bye!

Brooklyn, my darling Brooklyn, good bye.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


I forget to mention how much I love the staff at Family Camp. Really a great group of folks who know so well how to guide our small group, maybe 100, into a tight community in just a few days. They and the entire F and W community show me how to live. I like living that way.

Family Camp

So we're back! We've been away since last Sunday, and I realized this is kind of my first official working vacation since Lily was born. I always felt a bit weird taking a vacation before, like I didn't quite deserve one because I wasn't really working. Au contraire! I was working hard.

At any rate, this was a great time away. I thought about my life back home, but I really got away from it all in my head. I was very present where I was and I felt very close to Dave and Lily, too.

We left Sunday morning early to visit my dear friend Blair and family at their 100+ year-old Adirondack camp for a couple of days. They are in the woods and they tell me there are no farms for 100 miles, so we brought Pioneer Valley bounty, including tomatoes and corn.

I also brought a blueberry buckle, just like Mom used to make... she really did, actually. The recipe linked here is the same and it also gives a little description of what a buckle is and why it's called that. Check it out. The blueberries were from the gallons we picked at Nick and Emily's the week before. It was so good we did not share any with the kids! The four of us ate it in two days.

We went for a hike up the mountain near them, and saw some great views. Unfortunately this week was not much of a camera vacation. You know, sometimes you take pictures and sometimes you go, eh? This was an eh. But if any of the ones we got are good I'll post 'em.

Oh, and the Adirondacks were freezing! We slept with like a million blankets the first night--it went down to the 40s. I was afraid for our week in Vermont, but there we were plenty warm enough.

On Tuesday we made the trek over to Farm and Wilderness for Family Camp. Again, it was great. It was kinda funny, actually, Google maps failed us for the first time, taking us there via an old fair-weather gravel CCC road, through the Coolidge state forest. One camp staffer who lives in the area says he takes that road twice a year because he doesn't like what it does to his car. Google's actual directions took us five miles down a dirt road that ended abruptly. On the way back we drove in the right direction to see the sign that said, "road closed to snowmobilers."

At any rate, we got there, got unpacked in our fabulous cabin, Mabel's, for you former IBers, the cook's cabin, which is named after the long-time Indian Brook cook. Mabel's has a sink and electricity, although the kybo (outhouse) (this is a pretty funny link that actually gives possible credit to F and W for the term) was at the bottom of a steep hill, and who wants to go all the way down there when nature calls at 3am? None of us.

I work hard at Family Camp, partly because we all have chores we need to do just about every day to keep the place going and the prices down. But also because there's always someone ducking out of their assigned task, or maybe forgetting, and there's always more to do, anyway, that isn't assigned. So Dave and I scrubbed a lot of pots, and cooked, and cleaned. The weather was a bit bleak on Thursday so I ran a tea party, making a triple recipe of peanut butter chocolate chip bars (from a cookbook called How to Cook for 50) and included ingredients like, 3 pounds of chocolate chips. They were delicious.

But I also got to make some friendship bracelets, and macrame, and play my flute (Lily and I did a couple of duets at the talent/no talent show last night). We swam and went out in a row boat. And I finished two books, including Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, about Paul Farmer.

[An aside here: I have read two other Tracy Kidder books, House and Hometown, because they are about my new neighborhood, but I don't like his writing. I really enjoyed Mountains, though, and not just because I knew Ophelia Dahl through Wellesley College, although that's why I picked it up in the first place. Ophelia is Farmer's longtime professional, and past romantic, partner, and she's about as fine a human being as I've known. I admire her and Farmer and the work their organization, Partners in Health, does, and this book illuminates their history and message very well.]

At a loss for a book yesterday I tried picking up The Hobbit but I just don't think it's going to happen. Someone said if I didn't read it at age 16 it was too late, and I have a hunch that's true. I was so bored I couldn't finish the first chapter. Forget it.

This week we also sang a ton, every chance we could. I learned some great new songs. The talent/no talent show was particularly fun, as usual, and so was the dance party on Friday night. Next year I want to be good enough--or have enough courage--to play in the house band. I danced the best Salty Dog Rag I ever have before, thanks to John, our co-director's, instructions. Great dance. We also danced Zodiac again. The lyrics are too long to put here; be sure to ask me--or better yet, Lily--about them. Another great dance.

The food was fabulous, as always, and the anchor of the program in a way is the very solid cooking staff. It must be that their primary quality, besides being able to cook, is to always be calm and to have a very dry sense of humor. We also start each day with a short Quaker meeting, and I was reminded again of how hard it is for me to sit quietly, and how important.

I could go on and on about My Summer Vacation, but suffice to say it was really fun, loads of fun, with interesting, kind families participating. I can't wait til next year.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dave's jokes

What's big and black and lives in our woods?
A bear.

What's big and black and naked and lives in our woods?
A bare bear.

What do you call a naked cub?
Barely a bare bear.

What do you call an annoying naked cub?
An unbearable barely bare bear.

And if there are two?
A pair of unbearable barely bare bears.

And if they are eating fruit?
A pair of unbearable barely bare bears eating pears.

Now add yours.

Fall is imminent

Rearranged the house again today. Well, just the living room. When we moved into Warren Street all those years ago, Dave's mom said it could take a year or two to know how to arrange everything. I had no idea what she was talking about, but now I do. Boy, was she right! And how great to kinda know that, to say, okay, it'll take time, don't worry, it will fall into place.

Last weekend we moved that lovely but massive cabinet/shelf/piece that the kind owners left for us out of the living room where it blocked the stairs and the light from the front door and into the family room. Our friend Mike did it with Dave. It's great, looks like it was made for that spot. Today we moved the sofa away from the wall and into that spot, and also relocated the stereo cabinet they also left us. The living room looks more open and welcoming now, to my eye.

Dave straightened the garage this week, among other things, and today he and I discussed our plans for the laundry room/storage area and Lily's playroom. Where to put his tools. The basement in general. We will have the laundry, a freezer, and storage shelves in there, as well as a double sink so we can continuously run the dehumidifier. The plumber is coming after we get back to install it all. We're still hoping we can have a laundry chute!

I hoping hard that Dave will also get a door between the laundry room and Lily's playroom, or a wall, or something. And he has been thinking about building a coat closet, too. He put up a shoe rack at the bottom of the stairs already.

We're just going to need this stuff, boot racks and coat closets, once the cold weather comes. Even with global warming we still had cold and snow last year, just a bit later than usual. Still, the seventies in January was pretty disheartening... I've realized many people really look forward to the winter, and I am just one of them. The conservation land in our back yard makes for great cross country skiing, we're told, that's obvious, just looking at it.

Another reason for the cleared garage is to make room for the three tons of pellets that Dave's ordered us, along with a half a cord of firewood. I will enjoy every minute of watching and feeling all that fire heat, 75 percent, go up the chimney. We do expect to be heating a lot by the two pellet stoves this winter. I gather it's a lot easier than firewood. I do love a fire, though, and have not had lived with a fireplace since I was four. So I can't wait.

Won't be long, either. More often than not there's a chill in the air now, apples are coming in, and peaches, and tomatoes like there's no tomorrow. Leaves are starting to turn. Fall is coming.

Today we also packed for family camp and again, I think it's going to be cold. It's colder up there anyway, it's in Vermont and it's in the mountains, near Killington. I am packing lots of long-sleeved shirts and sweaters and things. Wool caps. For all of us. Warm sleeping bags. Polartec blankets. Also flutes, so we can do a duet for the talent show.

Tomorrow we go see dear Blair, and I am bringing her some favorite music. I made a mom songs mix, and a house mix, the one I gave to our realtors. And we are bringing piles of fresh veggies from our farm share. If I get inspired I may bake something tonight but it's getting late.

Another clothes item: Lily has to wear a collared shirt every day at school this fall, and no blue denim, not in pants, not in skirts, not in jackets. No sweatpants or sweatshirts. Nothing like that. I realize now I must have broken the rule when I wore a sweatshirt to the Spring Fling -- if the kids can't wear it, the parents must not be able to, either. No one was, no adults. Oh well.

Anyway, we've been searching out collared shirts. We got her school sweater, which she wears every Monday. It's enormous on her. We also need to arrange her desk a bit better so she has a place to do what I anticipate will be pretty serious homework this year. She's up for it but I know it's going to be a big adjustment for us all.

PS -- two notes from last weekends visitors: One was that Lily took Nicky and Sabrina to the door of her playroom and made them close their eyes. When she opened the door and told them they could look, they were in awe! Wow! they said. Awesome!

And the other was that Nicky couldn't sleep that night because it was too noisy, with crickets and frogs and such. Funny.

I feel like I've lived here forever.

Friday, August 17, 2007

ursus americani

Be sure to check out the new photos of the house that Dave has posted, in the links to the right. This is our house now, with our paint and furniture. We await you, our invited guests.

We had lots of company last weekend. Mike and Steph came for the night with Nicky and Sabrina. Other friends from Brooklyn stopped by for an hour on their way from picking up their older daughter at overnight camp -- we are on the camp circuit here -- and for awhile all five kids were frolicking all over the house. It seems to be a great house for kids to play in, although no matter how many playrooms, family rooms, and outdoor spaces there are, they all still want to play on Mom and Dad's bed. Pretty cute there, though.

The Rings stayed the night before heading to Boston for a night, and we grilled some chicken and had fresh corn. Later we went into Northampton to get an ice cream and walked around town. It reminds me of Park Slope in the evening, with all the bustle and variety. We ended up at Faces, one of those great stores that has dirty tee-shirts and many silly toys for kids and adults alike, as well as cheap furniture suitable for a dorm room. The kids were enthralled and it was hard to play the meanie and say no we're not buying anything.

But everyone missed the now routine bear sighting: On Sunday evening, at about 6:30, I was here at my computer and looked out the window to the deck. There was a large bear trying to decide if she should climb the deck stairs or not. I shouted bear, which may have scared her away, and while Dave and Lily scrambled from room to room try to follow her path around the house, I first heard then saw two bears through the bushes in our neighbors yard. They were fighting over peaches -- the neighbors have a peach tree, or I should say "had," after Sunday. They broke off one of the two main branches in their efforts to get peaches. Afterwards we walked over and found the ground torn up, half the tree destroyed, a few pits, and a half-eaten peach.

This is about the fifth time one of us has seen them, I think. We didn't have bears in Brooklyn! I also feel more confident in my unease at walking in these woods alone. We went to visit Nick and Emily in New Hampshire last Sunday. They are now just an hour away(!) and we went to raid their massive blueberry bushes. Acres of 'em. And perfect this year. We talked about picking -- Emily is a neat picker, Dave and I are sloppier. She doesn't have to pick them over after she gets them home, but we do, to clean out the green ones and the twigs, etc.

Anyway, Emily says she still gets nervous walking alone in her woods and she always takes a dog or two with her--she has Labs. And I don't think she has bears. I realized, if Emily is scared, then I should be at least apprehensive. I don't have a big dog to warn me or protect me about strange people or animals.

If you've been reading this blog you know our house is on conservation land, and one of the access paths is straight out our back door about 100 yards. But there was so much underbrush we didn't know quite how to get there. Now Dave has carved out a path, and Lily and I helped last Saturday, and it's much clearer.

Lily has finished up summer camp and we are all off to family camp next week. Sunday morning early we're going to visit Blair and David in the Adirondacks, first, though, and I can't wait. We are bringing all our farm share veggies, as they are really in the forest, with no farms within 100 miles. Just a gorgeous private lake. On Tuesday we'll drive over to Farm and Wilderness and go to Family Camp. It was a year ago that we went to Family Camp, the first time I had been back at F&W as more than an overnight guest in 27 years, and the first time I'd been there since I'd interviewed co-founder Susan Webb about her concept of God for LIFE in 1990.

My life changed at Family Camp last summer. It was there that I suddenly realized I didn't have to live the way I had been, not just in New York City, but also with my own self-imposed limitations. It sounds silly to say it but I have never been much on arts and crafts, always too judgmental of my work. And last summer I made a friendship bracelet for myself, and one for Dave. I tie-dyed a shirt for him and one for Lily. I learned to juggle two balls (and sort of three). I hosted a tea party for a dozen kids. I dressed up for the fashion show. I played Ultimate with the teenagers -- and made a spectacular flying catch. It was like I was a kid again, but the kid I never was.

And as we were driving home down I-91 in driving rain storm, we passed Amherst and Northampton and I thought, if you lived here you'd be home by now. When we got to 684 it was night, and still the rain, and as we passed by the airport we could see a very weird kind of flashing light. It was clearly for the planes but all I could think was, we're being bombed. We're being bombed.

We were not being bombed. But I knew then that I wanted to move. I didn't say anything at first. At first I sat with it, telling only Dave. But then around Labor Day I tried it out on Jenna. A couple of weeks later, Sylvia, who said, if it's meant to be it will happen easily, and the next week Dave's company closed. That was the end of September and as you know, by Thanksgiving we had sold our condo, rented a a house in Amherst, and enrolled Lily in school. So this is a big anniversary week.

I don't regret it one bit. I don't regret moving sooner, either. I think we left at just the right time, although it was hard for poor Lily. Transition is hard, these past eight or 10 months have been hard. But now that we have a house we love and I have a job I love and Dave is getting some needed free time and rest and Lily has made some friends -- the Bement camp was great for that, for meeting some of her future classmates and making friends with them; she's had a fabulous summer -- I am even more sure that this was the right move.

It hasn't always been easy, to be sure, but facility isn't the gage of anything. And in the big ways, it's been ridiculously easy. This is where we were meant to be. I have no regrets, and I don't think Dave does. Lily misses Brooklyn, but hey, they don't have bears in Brooklyn.