Monday, September 24, 2007


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.