Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The day before the day before Christmas

How 'bout that snow storm, eh? We only ended up with a couple of feet, but it basically snowed for three days here, starting Friday and didn't really stop until Sunday night. We all left work early to get home. I left at 2pm and that was a mistake; should have left closer to one, when the roads were still okay. There was tons of traffic and it was slippery and nasty.

We stayed in most of the weekend, although Dave got me and Lily out on Saturday afternoon while there was still some light to sled down Hospital Hill, the local awesome sled spot. Really, really fun. We need to upgrade our sleds, though. We've moved up in the world from saucers found at the dump for free. My last run I went down on our plastic toboggan face first and got a mouthful of snow and nearly broke my arm. That's just like me.

I'm sorry I missed the Solstice celebrations and the seasonal sings, but we had lots of fires, and did some cooking -- Dave made bread, and soups. By Sunday afternoon I was climbing the walls and Dave suggested friends for dinner and the next thing we knew we had eight of our neighbors for a potluck dinner. A true potluck: whatever you have in your fridge. Dave made some massaman chicken and rice and I made challah, but late -- we ate our fabulous meal with our fabulous neighbors, and the bread came out just as we were done. I cut us all pieces anyway -- I took my sister Cate's idea and made one big loaf instead of two smaller ones -- and it was steamy and warm. Our friend Doris said it was maybe the best challah she'd ever had, which I take as a supreme compliment, especially given that a) my challah is usually too dry, b) she's older than me, which means she's eaten a lot of challah, and c) she's Jewish, see "c."

We really have great neighbors. It feels like the game on this block is to see who can be nicer. Someone bought a snowblower a few years ago and now someone else uses it to clear everyone's driveways. Not ours, since we have a machine and Dave uses it, but during the last storm last winter he left me half at my request so I could try a little snowblowing myself. I got lazy though, and didn't get to it, and when I did, it was already cleared: Our neighbor had done it. Turns out he thought our machine had broken so he did it. And after they all left Sunday night, as the last of the snow was falling, there he was, clearing the last of our driveway. Really lovely.

I know this sounds out of touch with what most people already know, but this is my blog and my experience: Having two parents working full-time and a school-aged child is a really big deal. I had yesterday and today off and it was wonderful: I did laundry, Christmas shopping, grocery shopping, and took Lily to the dentist and for her annual physical. We didn't even put up a tree this year; we're worried the cat will tear it down. And I am off sugar so I didn't make toffee, either (sorry, all!). But we've been really busy, nonetheless.

The great thing about these two days was that I had had nearly three days already to read, listen to music, make a Christmas mix CD (not a good toffee substitute, I know), and sit in front of the fire. So I was ready to do errands with Lily. And I realized this afternoon as I dropped her off at some friends that we haven't had such concentrated time together, just the two of us, in a long time.

Now Beethoven's ninth is on, loud, and I just listened to Carmina Burana, loud. My end-of-the-year traditions used to include listening to these CDs, and Handel's Water Music, loud, and maybe some Aaron Copeland, and The Planets by Holst. Very joyful music. And then I'd cast some runes and see what was coming in the new year. I'd write in my journal about all the things I hoped to accomplish. And just take stock, in general.

It's really, really nice not to be alone any more, to have a family to share all this with. I was lonely for a long time. I wanted a partner, and a child or two. I wanted someone to take care of, and to take care of me. And thinking about those days now, pre-Dave and post-everyone else, I can see that I was really longing for something. I hope whenever I get frustrated with my commitments, my family, the emotions and the ties that bind, the sheer struggle of sharing your life with other people, I remember how wonderful it is to be with Dave and Lily. How we are a unit, the three of us, working and playing and being together. It's a wonderful life.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Green Potatoes

Lily sang in her first concert on Thursday night. One small-town thing I've noticed is that everyone assumes you know where something is located--and me too, once I know where it is. Case in point is Smith's Helen Hills Hills Chapel (yes that's the name, two Hills). The choral instructions said, meet there an hour before the concert. No address, nothing. And ditto with the next concert, at a nursing home in town. Just, meet at the Calvin Coolidge Nursing Home.

Not a big deal to google it and all, but it's an interesting phenomenon. And also interesting to note that yes, I do it too, as I say, if I know where something is. "Take a left at the Y." "It's just past Serio's." And there aren't a lot of places to learn, so yeah, you do figure it out pretty quickly.

I remember being 19 and going to a theater in Chelsea with my sister Bondi. We were meeting beforehand to have dinner and she said, let's meet at the corner of 23rd and 8th and see what's to eat on that block. I love love love that about New York City.

Anyway, the concert was really fun, lots of groups doing just a couple of songs. The kids went first and they sounded great. Adult and school groups sang, including several a capella groups sang. Last was a hilarious rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas sung by the boys group from a local private school. Here's the University of Michigan doing a version of it:

Hilarious. As usual we saw people we knew who we weren't expecting to, including my friend Peter's from Milton's son. Thank goodness Lily didn't do the local Nutcracker this year, she'd have had to race out of that performance to rehearsal (this was the big performance weekend).

Those of us in Northampton seemed to be okay with the awful rain and ice this weekend, but just five miles out of town it was really bad. People all over western Massachusetts and southern Vermont and New Hampshire don't have power. One woman I know in Colrain, Mass., has no heat and says she can get her house up to 50 or so with the fireplace. Yikes! Her street has only five houses on it so even though they lost an entire telephone pole they are not a priority.

And my poor boss! The ceiling caved in on our top editor's desk, right above her computer and all. She wasn't in, thank god; several of us spent an hour early Friday morning carting everything and trying to find places to dry it out. I have no idea the final damage total but at least her photos seemed okay, and other memorabilia. We've had a terrible time with our roof, which is flat, and apparently one of the drains must have frozen and the water built up, eventually leaking in and soaking her ceiling tiles. Of course those are essentially made of sawdust and paper and when they get wet, yuck.

Oh, the other yuck of the week: On Tuesday Dave made us a lovely dinner with homemade chicken fingers and oven fries. The fries tasted weird, but we ate them, unfortunately. Note to self: If food tastes bad there's probably a reason. These were green under the skin. Second note to self: Do not eat green potatoes. I mean, I knew that, and we couldn't tell that the flesh was green because we didn't peel them. We were sick, sick, sick. We didn't throw up but the two of us writhed around all night, passing each other on the way to the bathroom (no further details, I promised. Suffice to say we were miserable). Thank god Lily didn't eat them.

Today we did house chores, which typlically includes cooking for the week now, so we have lunch and dinner covered--or at least thought of. I did three or maybe four loads of laundry, cleaned the bathrooms and changed the sheets. Dave vaccuumed and made two soups, butternut squash and turkey chili. I made chicken paprikash yesterday and a beets vinegrette today. And we always make enough for leftovers. Tomorrow I have to cook a pot roast because it was out all day by mistake. But yes, Virginia, there is life after green potatoes.

Oh, one last thing: We saw Slumdog Millionaire and were blown away. Go see it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I hate driving

I got my first speeding warning a couple of weeks ago. Several times I've not seen pedestrians wanting to cross the road, who fortunately know enough not to try to cross until the car driving down both sides have stopped. I worry a lot about my driving. It's a constant battle to stay present.

I want you to know I no longer talk on the cell phone when I drive. I always used a remote when I did, but I read recently that talking on a phone, even if you are on a remote, is like driving drunk. And it played a part in my getting my warning too. So I ain't gonna do it.

I have no excuses. I mean, I could have: I got my license late, when I was in my early 20s. I didn't get a car until I was in my late 20s and I only drove it a year or two. I've lived in cities most of my life, where driving mostly means moving the car to the other side of the street twice a week for street cleaning. I've never had an accident -- well, I nicked a retaining wall two summers ago and took off the side of our brand-new Subaru, so I guess I can't say that any more. I had to file an accident report and it cost $2500 to repair the thing. Insurance paid for it but then our rates went up, natch.

The speeding warning was lucky and I was stupid. Ignorant. I was in the left lane on I-91 trying to get to Lily's school. Well, true confessions: I was talking on the remote. I hung up and noticed an unmarked police car behind me. I had no idea how fast I was going and I made sure to go 65, the speed limit. There are a lot of state police on this stretch of I-91 weekdays at 4 pm. I notice them all the time, waiting, stopping someone, cruising. This one was cruising.

But then I made a big mistake. A big, ignorant mistake. I panicked a bit and decided he wanted to pass me. He was right on my tail and I hate that. So I sped up. A lot. I had to pass the car in the right-hand lane beside me. I got passed the guy, and slowed back down to 65. And noticed the cop behind me again, but this time his blue lights were flashing. Oh, dear.

So I signaled and pulled over and pulled out my registration and license. He surprised me by coming up on the right-hand side. He immediately asked, have you ever been stopped before? For a ticket, a warning, anything? I said no. No, no, no. Keep it that way! I clocked you at 81. I was sufficiently terrified and nervous.

So I got my warning and I was properly scared. I said I was trying to get my kid at school and he said it wouldn't take long and it didn't. Of course I went the speed limit the rest of the drive. And as I drove, I got to thinking about it. I figured he'd stopped me because I might have been speeding when I was on the phone, but then it occurred to me that maybe it was when I consciously sped up to let him pass me.

As some of you know we live right by a state police barracks, so on the way home Lily sat in the car while I ran in. I figured someone would be there to ask questions, and there was. A really nice trooper was sitting dispatch, it looked like. I handed him my warning and said, I moved here recently from New York City and I need to know, is there an outer limit I can drive, and not get a ticket, like 70, 75? He looked at me a second, to see if I was serious, I guess, and said, I usually give people 10 or 15 miles, but it's up to the officer. Anything over 65 is speeding.

Okay, I said, so what if I'm in the left lane trying to pass someone on right, can I speed then? He really looked me over this time. But I am nothing if not sincere, and I guess he saw that because he just said, No. Anything over the speed limit is speeding.

And yes, even though I haven't figured out cruise control yet, now I never talk on the phone and I always go the speed limit, at least never over 70, and almost never much over 65 unless I'm not paying attention. I go the speed limit on local roads too, which actually scare me much more, in some ways, because of pedestrians.

Pedestrians. So in New York City they have to have a walk sign to cross a street, and everyone knows what to do. Of course there are jaywalkers, but mostly you're okay there because they know they're being bad so they're watching for drivers. Drivers have to watch for legal pedestrians, of course, but you know they're crossing because when you have the green, they have the walk sign. Here, pedestrians have the right of way no matter what, especially in crosswalks, of which there are many, many, many in the downtowns around here.

I try to be really polite as a driver. When I see someone going the other way waiting to get across my lane, I usually stop and let them turn, especially if there's a line of cars behind them. It's so easy to do and so helpful to the folks behind the turner. Today, on my way to get Lily, I saw such a car, and I stopped and let her turn into traffic. She didn't wave her thanks, but she had Jersey plates and looked about 12 so I figured she was a college student.

A couple of blocks later, a car turning into traffic from a street across from me caught my eye. I slowed but didn't stop because they could turn without my doing anything. But then I look to my side of the street and see a woman carrying some stuff, waiting to cross. Thank god she didn't start out. I screeched to a halt, right across the crosswalk, and felt really stupid. I figured I'd better get out of her way, so I started up again, looking in my rear view mirror to see if she was okay. She was, and she was staring at me a bit incredulously. The car behind me had stopped for her.

So, clearly I am at fault here, and thank god everyone is okay. I've been in this position before, and I hate it. No matter how careful I think I'm being, I still miss stuff, especially pedestrians in crosswalks.

Now my question is, how do I avoid this in the future? I think the answer is to creep through town and to always assume that someone is in the crosswalk, even though there usually isn't. Which I do! I really do! but this time there really was someone, and I hadn't seen her and it scared the spit out of me. I hate cars. I hate driving. I miss subways. That I miss about New York.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Thanksgiving trend piece

In the newspaper world they call a story like this a trend piece: What's the trend this Thanksgiving? Here's my idea, use it in good health:

Everyone I knew who was on the road this Thanksgiving had a HORRIBLE drive home, partly because of the awful rainy weather, partly because it's always bad on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, partly because many more people weren't flying, probably because flying is so expensive and gas is so cheap. Eamples:

-- we spent 6 hours on the road from Plainview, Long Island to Northampton and it should have taken 3.
-- Dave's niece left Long Island at 2 am on Sunday and she had a terrible and long ride home.
-- a colleague came back from South Carolina and said it was rainy and bumper to bumper through 10 states. She said the 15 hour ride took 20 and they got in at 2 am Monday morning.
-- another colleague said they refused to drive to southern Jersey, and the rest of the family got annoyed at them, but they just wouldn't

And here's the trend: Another colleague had Thanksgiving with family the weekend before. Everyone gathered and had the same meal and a great time, and the traffic and shopping hell of the holiday was if not entirely avoided, at least lessened a lot.

Thanksgiving is becoming like Passover, in that everyone wants to have the meal with everyone, so you end up having several meals, like several sedars. We had two, one on Thursday in Northampton and one on Saturday on Long Island. Dave's family didn't even get into town, all of them, until Friday afternoon.

So I am going to propose that it's not going to get any better, so let's do it the weekend before and be more relaxed and have more fun. That's what I'm going to suggest for our family next year. Wonder if they'll go for it!

Lily the swimmer

So the swim team thing with Lily is kinda cool. She takes lessons on Saturdays at the Y and each 6-week session has a different teacher, with a different style of teaching. Her latest teacher makes them swim a lot of yardage, like 400-500 yards at a lesson, and my drama queen is complaining. She says she gets a cramp, and she's tired, and she can't breathe, and she hates diving off the starting block because her goggles get mushed onto her face (I hate that too). I said I'd talk to the teacher.

So yesterday before I went on the treadmill, I talked to the swim teacher. There happen to be two Lily's in the class, and the teacher was trying to get clear on which one I was the mother of. I kept telling her my Lily was the taller one, and she kept saying, which one is she? which one? like she couldn't believe me. I was like, uh, yeah, that's my kid, the taller one, what's the big deal? I didn't get it.

Then along comes my Lily and the three of us chat a bit and she appears to feel reassured that she won't be pushed too hard. Go swim a 50 back, says the teacher, and Lily gets in the pool and starts to swim the back stroke. A 50 means two lengths of a 25-yard pool, up and back. And she takes off like she's being chase. Within a few strokes she's ahead of the (big) boy next to her who started out before her and was a half a lane ahead of her. She has this gorgeous, smooth stroke, and it looks incredible on her perfect swimmer's body -- all legs and long arms too, strong shoulders, and no body fat. The teacher and I are watching her swim down the pool and I started laughing and the teacher did too. Now you see why I was surprised! she kept saying.

Have you considered the team, the teacher asked me, and that gave me pause. I've been waiting for someone to mention it, but I wasn't sure Lily was ready or in shape enough. Truth be told, I am dying for her to do it, for many reasons: First of all, she loves, loves, loves to swim. The discipline of a team and a coach would be fabulous for her. She's really good at it now but she would get much better. She'd met a lot of other girls around her age, also all drama queens, the teacher tells me, and she'd get to go to meets and have fun.

We talked about it after class and Lily was excited by the idea, although she said she wanted to improve her breast stroke first and get comfortable enough to swim a 500. Makes sense to me. But then she switched, almost imperceptibly, into, naw, I don't want to, and kinda whiny. Yes it would be a ton of time and work, getting her there for a 90-minute practice two or three times a week,not to mention meets, and when would she do her homework, and when would she sleep, and she's been struggling with those tasks so much already. I obviously have my own ambivalence, but it was almost funny how quickly she went from excited to scared and tried to pass it off as something else.

I kind of think it might be good for her in other ways too, like help her become more organized and on the ball -- does she have too much open-ended time right now, too much unscheduled time? I thought I would never be a sports mom. I might be a theater mom, and it looks like I'm a chorus mom (her first concert with the Northampton Children's Choir is Thursday) but sports? Who knows. Stranger things have happened.

First snow

Stop me if I wrote this already: Did I mention that all the hemlocks in our front yard are gone? When the guys were here digging a trench across our yard in October so they could repair the electric, I mentioned that I wanted to redo the yard. They got to talking, the excavator and the electrician, and they said we could give the oaks to a lumber company for the price of taking them down and carting them away. They are very straight, tall, gorgeous oaks. We declined but I mentioned I'd like to get rid of the half dozen hemlocks scattered around the yard.

That's when the electrician said he'd take down those down himself, to heat his home, and I was all over that. A couple of weeks later he zipped through and now our front yard looks like a construction zone, with this swath cut through the pachysandra, and the fresh stumps. That happened to be the week all the oaks dropped their leaves, so we aren't exactly sure the reason for the sudden light in our living room, but I'm hoping it's the missing hemlocks. I love the light; it pours into the room in the morning. Lovely!

All by way of saying that we woke up to the first snow this morning but the hemlocks that always looked so cool covered in the stuff are now gone. Oh well! Small price to pay. Dave recently got us an indoor-outdoor thermometer -- you put a little monitor outside -- and it also predicts the weather. It had little snow coming down on the graphic this morning, kinda funny.

We need to grind up the leftover branches, and dig around in the yard and maybe start thinking about what plants and paths and other stuff to put in there this spring. But meanwhile we pull down our shade at night now, because you can see in from the street, and enjoy the light. We aren't doing much in the yard right now because of the season and the ground being frozen and all, but I did get to pitch our four or five pumpkins into the woods. We had one big one, 25 pounds maybe, and a big long green squash thing with several little pumpkins nestled inside. They've been there since before Halloween and someone has been noshing on them. There's seeds and pumpkin guts all over the path to the house. So I pitched them into the woods. I think deer have been at the big one because it was eaten away at the top. But I could be wrong.

Going to and from Lily's Star Wars role-playing game this afternoon we passed through some of Hadley's gorgeous farm land, with the Holyoke Range to the south of us, and all we could see was this expanse of sky, with heavy puffy fierce gray clouds. Nothing like living in the country to make you feel small and inconsequential. Whenever we go over the Coolidge Bridge into Hadley I tell Lily to look at the mighty Connecticut River -- it's always striking, no matter the weather -- and we try to come up with vivid descriptions. Nothing ever quite captures it, although Lily comes close. Today, as Lily said, it looked gray-blue and calm, and with the fierce clouds it was quite a sight.

It's so not calm tonight. The snow has stopped but it's roaring outside -- it sounds like a train's been going through for the past couple of hours. It's the roar of the wind and when I opened up the window to get a real listen it felt like I was inside it. "Doro-thee! It's a twister!" It unnerved me so that when I ventured out this evening to meet some friends and a branch flew into the car, I turned around and went home. I've seen what the wind can do to 150-foot trees here. And it spooked Lily enough that I had to put on some quiet music to drown out the roar and let her sleep.

I'd say we aren't doing much of anything at all these days except go to work in the morning, and try to get to bed at a reasonable hour. I'm not sure if it's the holidays, or the lengthening darkness, or the cold, or what, but we are really going to ground lately. Which isn't to say we aren't busy: Every weekend now we have things to do. Small-town living is really, really different from city living, and one thing I've noticed is that it's a lot easier to get involved, in a way. I have decided not to sit on the board of that theater company, but I could. And that this is not the time for Lily to join the Y's swim team (it meets either monday-wednesday-friday or tuesday-thursday from 6:30 to 8) but she could (see the other blog entry).

Right now the focus of our family is to adjust to Dave and I both working and Lily adjust to fifth grade and boys and social stuff and increasingly demanding academics, not to mention hormones that send her up and down the emotion meter. And that's about all I can do, that and do my own work. We're managing to keep the house relatively clean. Dave went out today and did some food shopping while I took Lily to her Star Wars game, and he's been cooking up a storm. Lily had two birthday parties this week and we could have joined the Mayor's Hot Chocolate Run, a fundraiser for Safe Passage, a local battered women's shelter. But we had to make some choices and that one was the only option.

I've been trying lately to be more present with Lily, to really pay attention, to focus on what she's saying much more, and to be with her at the times that are hard for her, like getting ready for bed or getting ready in the morning. If this weekend is any example it's better when I do. She likes the company and the attention and she doesn't act out as much. I'll ask her to brush her hair and get ready for bed, for instance, and if I don't go up with her, I'll find her a half hour later reading a book. If I do, I can putz in her room, put away clothes, straighten things, keep her company, and keep her on track to be getting to bed on time. (Sleep is so crucial! She needs 10 hours at least, if at all possible, which means bedtime is 8:30 on school nights.)

Sleep is so crucial. For all of us.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thanksgiving recap

So yes, I promise weekly postings, but but I get a bye over holiday weekends, like Thanksgiving. This is our two-year anniversary of moving here, the weekend before Thanksgiving.

We celebrated the holiday, as usual, with Dave's family on Long Island. that was one of those couple negotiations we settled when we first got together. The question was, where do we go for Thanksgiving and Christmas? I realized early on that it's more fun to spend Christmas with people, who, if they aren't exactly Christians, at least grew up with the holiday and don't think of it as a time to have Chinese food and go to the movies. Not that Dave's family did that. But I like hearing the carols and seeing the tree, and Jews, naturally, aren't really about that.

Plus, it was clear that Thanksgiving was Dave's family's holiday, because that's when his parents got married and celebrated their anniversary, and that's also his aunt's birthday weekend. So once we settled that, after a couple of years, things were much easier. Now I'm confused again about both holidays because a friend suggested Dave and I should have our own tradition and not fall into those of our families. But that's a bigger question and not one we're changing right now.

At any rate, this year I was feeling exhausted and was all set for the meal to be catered, or take-out, or anything but Dave doing it and me helping him. But then Brian, our nephew, stepped up to the roasting pan and said he really wanted to cook. It was lots of fun, actually, to my great surprise. Brian and I organized it, set the menu, with Judy's help, as she had already purchased a few things. First we sat down with her and drew up a shopping list. She told us what she had -- brussel sprouts, broccoli, sweet potatoes -- and then we filled in with the rest of the menu. Then Brian and Sarah and Randy did the shopping at Fairway (!!) and we split the cost with the others. They bought desserts knowing that Delia would bring her amazing chestnut dessert (she's Romanian so she calls it Romanian but I'm Hungarian and we make it too, so it shall remain nation-less).

Everyone made a dish, their dish. I am particular about gravy--I prefer WASP gravy to what is apparently Jewish gravy (I know several Jewish cooks, including a national food writer, who says to put the meat drippings in the blender! sacrilege!) -- and I also brought two butternut squashes, so I made those two dishes. Sarah and I double-teamed the stuffing and Dave prepared the turkey. Brian made some great mashed potatoes with bacon and cheese, Dave did brussel sprouts, I guess I just cleaned and steamed the broccoli, you get the idea. Lots of food but not too much. When Judy suggested spinach or Dave suggested peas, we said, no! we have enough food! And there was just enough to eat, with a few leftovers.

The guests brought other food of course and Brian also made the spinach dip you put into a loaf of bread that tasted very retro-eighties. It was fun. It felt like no one did too much. The table didn't look quite as gorgeous as when Josh did it, but as Gary Smith, the scenic artist I worked with at the Center Stage Theater in Baltimore and later in New York City, used to say, "Anyone can decorate, it takes a queen to make it art."Josh's tables were definitely art. Our table was barely decorated. And Lisa and Wes did most of the dishes afterwards.

And that was our second Thanksgiving of the weekend -- My sister's husband's brother let us invite ourselves to his Thanksgiving on the actual day (the LI one was on Saturday) and that was really fun. That's my brother-in-law's brother, aka Cate's brother-in-law, aka Jim's twin brother, aka our friends Eliot and Madge. The food was outstanding -- we just brought shrimp cocktail and ice cream, something simple -- and there was tons and tons of it. My sister Cate is the person to invite to your big party. She thinks of everything, works like a dog, everything tastes awesome, and she's cheerful and fun in the process. What more could you ask for!

We rolled out of there and headed down to LI that night, and traffic was a breeze. Alas, not so on Sunday. We left LI on Sunday a little before 2pm and got home after 7 . . . what with the rain and the bad driving and the very heavy traffic, it was a terrible trip. We can't complain, though, Sarah and Randy took something like 14 hours to go what should have been 10 to 12, and that was even though they left at 2 am Sunday morning. And a colleague at work drove back to Northampton from South Carolina and got in at 2am Monday morning and then she had to come in to work. Took 20 hours for what should have been 15. She said it was traffic and rain through10 states . . . so I can't complain one bit.

The question is, what do you next year? Sarah's thinking they'll just stay longer. I don't have the vacation time, and that's usually a closing week so I couldn't take it anyway. They say that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the worst travel day of the year, and the Sunday after is the second worst. I wish we could just stay home and let everyone come to us, but that's not an option at this time. Maybe some year.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Late November observations

So here's a tip: Don't mix toilet bowl cleaners. Not without reading the labels first, at least. My throat is still sore. My brother-in-law the doctor thinks I made mustard gas.

Here's another tip: Relocating is great, fun, hard, an adjustment, and never a cure for everything. Yesterday was Bag Day, a local shopping tradition. Bring a bag and you get 20 percent off a single item. I was downtown anyway so I went around and shopped awhile but it took me two or three stores before I realized it was a single item, not the entire shop. So, not so good. A friend at a party that night said my being there confirmed her theory that only people who didn't grow up here participate in Bag Day, kind of like New Yorkers would never go to the Macy's parade at Thanksgiving. She did say if she had already been there, as I was, she would have gone too. A neighbor goes around and buys gift certificates but lots of stores won't sell them at a discount.

I am not posting regularly, duh, but am going to try to post every Sunday. Here's the news about the house: Our electrician took down all the hemlocks in our front yard for free. He wants the firewood. We have piles of brush to chip, and the front of the house looks like a war zone, or maybe a construction site, what with the path of the excavator cutting through the pachysandra still visible. And we can see our neighbors -- yikes! and they can see us! We do like all the sun streaming through the windows, that's really nice, although that has to do with the leaves off the oaks all having dropped too. Winter is odd that way: Less light from the sun but more light because the leaves are gone.

I've been asked to sit on a local theater company, the New Century Theatre, and I think I'm going to say yes. I have a very full plate but this is a really great company, with lots of interesting, smart people, and they have a great track record, nearly 20 years going on an Equity contract and they are in the black! I haven't seen a show yet but now we have season tickets and I am excited to be working with these fine people.

This is a turkey weekend: Yesterday I made a turkey breast for a party last night and right now I'm making a whole bird, an 18-pounder, for a party tonight. We're going to Cate's brother-in-law's for dinner on Thursday and then to Long Island to Dave's family for the weekend. I actually like turkey but I'm going to have to pace myself, given that it's on the menu four times in eight days.

Dave's job is turning out to be good and interesting, although I think a union job at a state university is very different from a dot.com in Soho. We are both working 8 to 4 so we are all home by 5 or so, usually, depending on Lily's schedule. I'm getting to the gym more, although less now that we're closing the February issue. We've now got a white board that's actually silver and we write in the week's events, Lily's classes, my meetings, who is picking her up, etc.

And then I write what the menu is, so I don't have to have that "what are we eating tonight" brain freeze every time I get home. We are both cooking up a storm and freezing it. So we have lots of soups for lunch and lots of soups for dinner too. Today Dave made a lentil vegetable soup and I made some more apple sauce.

The main difference with us both working, it seems, is that the house is dirtier. But I try to keep after the laundry, sheets, and bathrooms. That's how I poisoned myself this morning.

The temperature doesn't rise above the low 30s lately, and we see flurries often now. Everything feels pretty stark, cold, dark, the bare trees are skeletal against the sky. And there's so much sky. The sun is cold, even if there's no clouds. Did you know that during the winter, Earth is actually at its closest point to the sun in its elliptical path? It's just that the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, so it's chilly and dark. Astronomy 101. Thank goodness Wellesley had distributional requirements, much as I didn't like taking them at the time.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Small town fun

So, it's almost Halloween. Lily is going to be a gypsy. Tomorrow is the annual Halloween work party, which is loads of fun. The leaves are mostly gone from the trees now and are now all over my yard, but they were lovely while they lasted and I still see some nice ones, occasionally. I turned a corner the other day and drove through a row of bright yellow trees. Gorgeous. How do you write about this stuff? I need a poet. Calling a poet!

The sky is incredible these days, just huge and expansive. I never realized how enormous it is, and that's here, in a valley with lots of trees. I've never been to Big Sky country and I can only imagine why they call it that. Our clouds are huge, not wimpy little puffy things on deep blue fields of blue, as in the summer, but dark and full. Harry Potter clouds -- ever notice how it's always gray and cold in the fall, and they are always playing Quidditch in it? That's what it's been like these past couple of days, rainy and gray, and today we even had snow flurries, although I didn't see them. A colleague at work did, and so did Lily, who was hiking for a school geology field trip. She'd gone out of the house this morning with just a sweatshirt and no winter jacket, despite my reminding her. I didn't realize it 'til we got to the bus, and our wonderful driver agreed to meet us at the state police barracks near our house, which is on the way for him, while I raced home to get her snow jacket. When I got her this afternoon after school she looked freezing. She'd been outside almost all day, visiting three different places, and she looked raw and worn.

Small town living includes not just more awareness about the weather and the environment in general, but also things like corn mazes, including Mike's Maze in Sutherland, which has a cool theme to it every year. This time it's The Odysessy, and you go from clue to clue, reading descriptions of different parts of the story. There's a spud gun, that shoots potatoes across the field, 2 bucks for three spuds. There's a pretty good grill for burgers and fries, and a few other things for kids of all ages. Really well done and I'm sorry I missed Louis Armstrong last year, which apparently had musical clues.

On another recent weekend we went to the open house at the Northampton Fire Department, and climbed inside an ambulance and a ladder truck and a hose truck, whatever it's called. We met a lot of safety folks and saw a ton of very excited small children. We watched while the firemen demonstrated how to extinguish a fire in your oven or on your burner. And we watched them suit up when they got a call and take off. Apparently they were responding to a call about smoke in a house. On Monday I casually asked someone I work with how her weekend was, and she said, "fine, except I turned on the furnace for the first time in my new apartment and the room filled with smoke." Small town, huh?

Then we went over to the agricultural open house at Smith Vocational High School. We patted the cows and horses and Lily would not leave the rabbit cages. She went on a hay ride and the whole time she talked about what she would study if she went there (there's quite a range of areas). The first time she said it I had to bite my tongue and not inflict her with my class issues. My kid's not going to a vocational high school! I thought. She's going on to an academic school. I'm not proud of my reaction -- hey, she can be anything she wants to be, right? -- but there it is. I've met great people here who are farmers and health technicians and hair stylists and auto body workers, and if Lily can find happiness at Smith Voc, god bless her, I'll support that.

I mean, I'm the one who has always told her that she doesn't have to go to college, which is probably my reaction to feeling like I had to go, when I really wasn't ready. (I lasted one semester at Johns Hopkins before I packed it in and took off to work on crew at Farm and Wilderness for six months.) And I mean it too, she doesn't, although that doesn't mean she can sit around the house eating Oreos all day. She'll have to get a job and pay rent. Dropping out of college was the best thing I did at the time. When I finally went back I knew what my alternatives were, and that motivated me. So now with Lily I have to honor and respect her choices, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Chance updates

This cat is pretty hilarious. First of all, she loves to bite. It's play to her but it gets a bit strong and I have to dump her on the floor. She loves to attack my feet through the stairs as I'm walking up to my room. She loves to sit in the bathroom sink, especially if you've just run water in it. Go figure. She talks to me like she understands, and I know she does.

As I head up to bed I say, c'mon Chance, come to bed. C'mon now. C'mon, kitty! Usually she's zoned out in front of the Gerbil TV. She gives a little whine, a longing, maybe, but she's too attached to her ever-constant attempts to get at them. Dave came home one day and she'd gotten the two logs off the top of the cage and had worked the bungy chords to the edge, close to coming off. Just the latches on either side remained. So he did some engineering magic that involved propping her up to the top of the shelf she's inside and putting another piece of wood in front (you gotta see it). At any rate, they're oblivious, they've never been hunted, what do they know?

Do you wish you had thumbs? Dave just asked her, as she was playing with a magnet. She loves to climb on the tables and counters, but only does this at night so she won't get caught. She's still got that weepy eye, which may have nothing to do with the puncture she got as a kitten but in fact may be kitty herpes. She can open almost every door in the place. And she very thoughtfully
doesn't wake me on Sunday mornings, the one morning I don't get up at 6am. She lets me sleep in.

I don't know how I lived so long without a cat. When she curls up in my lap as I read or watch TV, it's heaven. I love her sleeping in between my legs at the end of our bed. One night I slept in Lily's bed and she slept under my arm near my head. (Dave won't let her near our heads or under the sheets.) And I remember all the cats I ever had, and that's always great. Don't be jealous, Felicia!

Reading aloud to Lily

When I was a kid I saved all my children's books because I wanted to share them with the children I knew I would have. So I was pretty bummed that Lily never seemed interested in any of them, and more -- If I expressed interest, she'd never touch the book. When she was reading Harriet the Spy I made a comment about it and she didn't pick it up for a year.

Last spring I read something that said just because your child knows how to read doesn't mean you should stop reading to them. I knew this, of course, but the moment Lily could read she told us very clearly we were not to read aloud to her any more. (During our first winter in Amherst I did read Tom Sawyer as we sat around in the kitchen, a great one to read aloud because you can do so many fabulous voices, but we never did finish it. Injun Joe had just jumped out the window of the court room. Some time we'll pick it back up.)

Next, I picked up a CD set of Madeline L'Engle reading my favorite book of all time, A Wrinkle in Time, which we all listened to in the car. I'm not sure how much Lily got of it but we ended up getting out of sync, I'd listen when I went places on my own, and Dave would listen, and Lily stopped listening, I think. I finished first, and then one day I found Dave sitting in the car in the garage listening to the lasat chapter. Not sure I could have read that book aloud, anyway, as parts of it always make me very teary. I think Lily ended up reading it to herself later.

After school got out I decided to read The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander to her. This was my favorite fantasy series from when I first read it in, oh, third grade. It's the retelling of Welsh myths and it's extraordinary. That's also when I defined for myself what a good series is -- a set of books that essentially tell one long story, where the characters reappear every time, loose ends are tied up in the end, and yet each can stand alone on their own merits. The definition of Harry Potter, and the reason I never cared for the Narnia series, which were all over the map and didn't include all four kids in every book. Plus I got impatient with the overt Christianity.

This trick ended up working great, and it helps that I love to read aloud: I started the book and read a chapter with all my best voices. Lily begged for another one, and I'd either read it or not. But after several nights there was no good stopping place, it was all exciting, and when I came in the next night she had picked it up on her own and read. This happened several times. At first I was to reread the parts she'd read, but eventually she finished the book. I started the second one, The Black Cauldron, and same thing happened there. By the time she got to the end by herself she no longer needed me to start the next book, she simply barreled through the rest of the five on her own.

I think The Good Master by Kate Seredy followed. This and its sequel, The Singing Tree, were very important to me as a child because my father is Hungarian and these are about a Hungarian rancher and his family around the time of World War I. Again, Lily ended up finishing the first one herself, but we couldn't get into The Singing Tree, which is about the First World War. It's a little intense and talks about heavy things like anti-semitisim and the rise of fascism; also Seredy is trying to absolve the Hungarians of their complicity with the Nazis. Maybe Lily will read it when she's older, or maybe I'll finish it next summer.

The last great read-aloud of the summer was Gentle Ben by Walt Morey. Do not confuse this with the dreadful TV series and TV movies. It's a great book about a salmon-fishing family in pre-state Alaska who adopt a full-grown brown bear. Dave would come up at bedtime just to hear the next installment. I got embarrassed because I cried while reading a couple of times, but they were very nice about it. Lily never did read it on her own, thank goodness; when she does that I find I also have to finish the damn thing myself again.

By the end of the summer, as school was starting, I tried to read her the Little House books, which hold a special place in my heart. I learned to read because of the cover to Little House in the Big Woods: I was dying to know what was going on with that girl and her doll and the smiling bearded dad and the rifle over the door. One day, when I was four, Cate sat me down and said, it's time to learn to read, and showed me Dick and Jane, and that was it. I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder in flash.

I had to kind of insist that she continue to read them at first, but once Lily got into them, she was hooked. She finished The First Five Years a few weeks ago and has already reread These Happy Golden Years a couple of times. She hasn't gotten through Farmer Boy but she's read the rest and ogled over the photos in some related House books I have (there's quite an industry that's grown up around them).

There's a few others. I found They Loved To Laugh at a book sale this fall. She's not interested. And I do wish she'd try King of the Wind and Born to Trot by Marguerite Henry, two books I read over and over and over as a kid. But she is utterl y uninterested. Maybe those'll be next summers read-alouds.

We have to cull through the stuff she's not interested in again, although she still reverts to the occasional Warriors (I think she's finally outgrown The Babysitters Club, thank god) and Harry Potter (can't judge her for that). But she's also reading a lot of other stuff now and I think she's turned a kind of literary corner. One of her favorite words these days is "inappropriate," as in when Dave and I kiss, that's inappropriate, and a novel she was reading that I picked up at work recently mentions training bras and something about pee. Inappropriate, indeed!

Two-income family

So for the first time since we had Lily, we are both working full time. It's a change, but it's going to be great, I think. We've all made changes--Dave's working (programming at UMass.), I'm working 8 to 4 (we both are), and Lily has to stay at school an extra hour, until 4:30. But that all seems to be okay.

Last week I was a bit anxious about it, and cleaned house furiously, and I've been cooking for three days. I made red sauce and pasta for friends for dinner on Monday night, plus potato-leek soup, much of which we froze. The next night I made three-bean chili with the beans I'd soaked on Sunday and cooked on Monday, along with turkey meatloaf topped with bacon ends I got for cheap at Hatfield Beef. (That's a wholesale meat place that buys from the Amish in Pennsylvania. I'm not sure how Amish food came to stand for tasty, but I bet the meat is pretty clean.) Dave poached some fat chicken breasts and we ate those for dinner on flour tortillas with the tomatillo green sauce he made from our farm share veggies, topped with red pepper, lettuce, a little cheese, and a bit of tomato. Very nice.

I think all this cooking and cleaning is an attempt to stay on top of what I'm afraid will be stress and exhaustion. And I do enjoy to cook, especially in cold weather. And what's not to love about a clean house? But actually what I'm finding is I have tons more time now that I've changed my hours. I get Lily several times a week at school so that gives me a chance to return phone calls -- on my Blue Tooth! -- while I'm headed up I-91. And that means I get to spend a lot more time with her, now that I'm not racing home at 6 or whatever.

I hear from others on flex time at work that the hours make them more efficient, and I see that too. I love being in the office at 8 am: The quiet is lovely and I do get more work done. And I must leave by 4pm sharp or I'll be late to get Lily. Then we get home at 5pm and have the evening. Wonderful! One of the pluses of moving here is that Valley time is closer to my time -- I'm naturally an early bird and go to bed early too. We worked 10 to 6 at LIFE and it screwed me all up.

This is a big change for us, both of us working, and I think Dave will like it too. He's worried he didn't fully use his two years off but I wonder if that's just typical transitional angst. I think it would be for me. And I think this is good for Lily in some ways too.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Brooklyn lessons

So this time our visit felt very different to me, more different than ever before. This time I did not cram it with every friend who could possibly meet me, I didn't go to the places I always go to, and we didn't sleep in our usual crash pads. This time we drove down Saturday morning for a change and I spent the early afternoon with my dear friend Sylvia in the Botanic Garden. Then I went over to the park and hung out there, watching the people. It was a gorgeous day so the place was jammed. It was lovely and I am again reminded of how frickin' enormous New York is. Just big.

Later I visited Helene -- we met up at the farmer's market at Grand Army Plaza and that surprised me not only by being much huger, with many more booths, but there were also many more vegetable selections; New York is so much farther south and a lot of the farmers were from New Jersey.

I also saw Helene's renovated kitchen, and then we ran into Mike and Steph on the street, and then I went to our hosts for the evening, Grace and her daughter Sylvie, Lily's friend since they were two. And then Dave came in and I went to the Upper East Side with my friend Alyssa. This was a big deal: I never go to the Upper East Side. And the significance, I realized, is that I no longer visit New York as a resident, now I visit as a visitor. I no longer need to see everyone whose name I ever knew, and I can actually visit places I've rarely if ever gone to.

Sunday we hung in Lincoln Street playground (ah, there's a flash from the past, and it was that much more fun because I didn't feel I had to go there in some misguided sense of retracing my footsteps), ate at Los Pollitos, yum (another flash), went to an open house for my friend Char in her new digs, and then to visit Grandma on Long Island. Then home to our minimal electric. Ah, well.

Next I need to be even more touristy and get Lily to some theater, namely Gypsy and South Pacific, if we can get tickets. Or maybe Chicago. Maybe we'll just plan a weekend for just that. Give a shout if you want to join us.

Mecury in retrograde

So Dave told me Mercury was retrograde when we came back from NYC on Monday night and discovered half of our electric was out, just like last May. Tuesday the rest of it went out with a fizz and our carbon monoxide alarm screaming, so naturally I called the fire department. It was out for good, and that meant the furnace too.

The excavator and electrician from May got together and dig what they could, but they needed National Grid to turn off the power at the street. Just before noon on Wednesday, after probably a dozen emergency calls to the electric company over 12 hours and one in-person visit by yours truly, we still had no one to turn off the power. Oh, and they cut the cable/internet/phone line because Dig Safe had marked it wrong.

Then I made one more call to the emergency number, and the operator knew all about us and said the truck was in downtown Northampton and would be at our place within a half an hour -- but hold on and she would get her supervisor to call the dispatcher to make sure. She comes back to me and says yes, 30 minutes.

A truck pulls up two minutes later. The guy says he just got the call. He was at D'Angelo's (a mile away) getting lunch. It was the first call he'd gotten. Oh, and he'd been on the next street over the entire day yesterday.

It was then that Dave told me Mercury had gone direct about 1o minutes earlier . . .

At any rate, we got power by about 3 pm, but no cable/internet/modem until Friday afternoon. And Dave wants me to note that we lost a snake in the process. It may or may not have been Sylvia, who lives in the wall next to our garage, but whoever it was, she was flattened all over the driveway. Even if it wasn't Sylvia, but he thinks it was, it was very sad.

I spent most of my vacation week reading Harry Potter from start to finish again, so hey, it wasn't a total bust. (And cleaned the house, and spent good time with Lily, and got grumpy with Dave about the electricity.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Announcement, Announcement!

I forgot to say congratulations to my sister-in-law, Lisa, who married her sweetie Wes on the 4th, I think, in Edmonton, Alberta, where he lives. We've met Wes several times and we met his daughter and his mother last Thanksgiving, and we all think he is AMAZING and WONDERFUL and SWEET and he and Lisa seem to have a whole lot of fun together.

Congratulations! I am so happy for you both.

vacation's all I ever wanted

Am off for a week today, which is really nice. We are off to Brooklyn for the weekend, and I think I may be getting how to do this thang, this visiting thang. First off, my goal is to get Lily extended periods of facetime with her friends, one a day, if possible. Two maybe, but no more. I made that mistake already.

Then, I schedule myself around having to move her around. I have made contact with several friends and now have a lunch date set up and an evening date. Then, instead of being overly scheduled, seeing a friend every two minutes, I'm bringing books and journals and stuff like that and I intend to sit in the Tea Lounge or the park and do some work. Sunday we are seeing more friends, I think, while Lily plays with her friend, then going to a housewarming, then heading out to Long Island. Back Monday afternoon.

The idea is, no expectations (or few). Also, this is a new city. I am going with my friend Alyssa to the upper east side on Saturday night. I can't remember the last time I was up there, for any reason. But Alyssa invited me, so why not, right? One of the cool things about New York, of course, is that no matter how much I think I know it, I barely know it. It's so massive and it's always changing.

My friend Karen said it would take two years, and you know, that Karen, she's smart, it's two years at Thanksgiving. Thursday night I had coffee with a friend I met through the Wellesley alum office. She's slightly older, her kids are grown, and when we first met she was mostly listening to me as I tried to process this whole move thing. But then we got busy and this is the first time I've seen her in, oh, a year. And I realized as I talked to her that I was no longer talking about the move, I was talking about what was going on with Lily and Dave got a job and work is really good, intense but good.

My point is, I live here now. I live here now. I've lived here almost two years, and it's becoming my city, my 'hood, and we have some friends and we are making a place for ourselves. Friends are thinking of visiting next weekend and I had to say we are really busy all day Saturday and we have dinner plans, for which I picked up the phone and got a sitter in five minutes. I've been to the dentist more than once. I live here now.

There's something about moving. No matter where you go, there you are. Lately I've been thinking, jeesh, I can do anything I want to! I can move the whole fam-damily to Portugal if I want to. I can take a year off and ride my bike across the country to bring attention to the plight of the rain forest (well, maybe I can't do that) (or is it that I choose not to?).

And I've realized that actions have consequences. Not walking like I used to in Brooklyn is having a direct affect on my health and my, er, physique. (Maybe we do need a dog.) I have been going to physical therapy since early August because of an inflamed rotator cuff on my left shoulder. Too much poor form in my weight lifting. Living in a small town on the edge of the country has consequences I can't even articulate, good and bad. There's something to be said for having a wonderful studio-office-space that feels like it's in the trees, with windows all around, and my books, and my pretty things. There's something to be said for quiet. For fresh air. For wood floors and a gray cat nibbling at my feet.

I have fantasies of joining the masters swim team, once my shoulder heals, the one that practices at the junior high. And taking a regular yoga class. Lots of that around here. I miss Red Tide, my team in Manhattan before I had Lily. I miss Yogasana, my yoga place -- wait, do I miss these places? Or do I just need to find similar resources here? I had wonderful, wonderful body workers in New York, shiatsu and massage and acupuncture and kinesiology. Here I have found a great chiropractor, so different from all my New York people, but she makes me laugh -- the last time I saw her, just before she adjusted my neck, she said, "you're the best client ever!" and I cracked up -- and she really helps me think about things differently. She's introducing me to folks here who can help me too, massage, acupuncture, etc. I'm actually building resources, now, I'm not really searching for them as much any more. (And hey, it took a long time to find them in New York, too, to realize I even wanted them, even.)

Resources. The woods smell heavenly these days. I get out of the car and it just smells, I don't know, rich. Strong. Pungent. Sometimes I smell wood smoke. We've had a fire, and lit the pellet stoves a couple of times. Work is incredible, a true gift to be working with these fine people. Dave and Lily -- my heart's delight. Money, well, we have less of it, as the stock market crashes. But we're okay. Family and friends and bodies that work and access to really good food and Dave got a job and he's starting on the 27th, and we are visiting friends in Brooklyn tomorrow and all is well with the world.

PS -- I am sorry if this moving stuff is dull and repetitive. I guess it just takes a long, long time to process.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The debates are a farce.

Democracy Now will tell you all about it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ch-ch-ch changes

I've been having a lot of regret about the house we bought, which is lovely but has some issues. Also, Lily has been struggling socially at school, and we are considering letting her spend a couple of days at a Waldorf school in town, Hartsbrook, to see if she likes it enough to switch. Bement, where she goes now, is a traditional prep school, so this would be a big change, although Hartsbrook is traditional in its own way.

She would have to go back a grade, however, because there's no room in the 5th grade but there is in the 4th. The cutoff is later in NYC so she's the youngest in her grade now. She'd be right in the middle if she were in the fourth grade at Hartsbrook.

Anyway, I've been feeling some regret about putting her in this school and not even considering Hartsbrook (I let my anti-Waldorf prejudices blind me) and about moving to Amherst, and not Northampton originally, and about buying this house and not another one, blah, blah, blah.

And then, at 1:00 am this morning, I woke out of a sound sleep to a strange cry that sounded like maybe a cougar snarl, followed immediately by a very loud "who-who-who-who." We are right on the woods and in fact do have things like cougars here. But who knows, maybe I dreamed it. And I realized as I woke up from whatever dream I was in, with these lingering regrets, that I didn't make a mistake two years ago. I was just different. And now I've changed.

I moved here to embrace change, and I have changed, and my needs are now different. The move has done what I'd hoped--although when you start to change things it's hard to remember that you don't get a say in what changes, necessarily, or what the results are of the changes. But that's okay. And anyway, realizing that I simply have changed made me feel a lot better and more relaxed about the decisions we've made.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My favorite Paul Newman movie . . .

. . . is hard to choose, but he gave an incredible performance in one the Times obit didn't mention, Fort Apache: The Bronx. What an incredible actor, and what an incredible humanitarian too. He saved The Nation a few years ago when it almost folded. Now that's a bailout I can go for. RIP, Paul Newman.

Two new Chance stories: One night last week, Lily was taking a bath in the Japanese soaking tub and Chance crept in there, sniffing around and batting at Lily when she peered over the edge at the cat from inside the tub. Lily likes it shallower and cooler than I do and I wasn't sure when I would get to take my turn, so after she got out I waited to fill it up with hotter water until after she went to bed. As she headed upstairs to bed I -- thoughtfully, I thought -- left the door open so Chance could go back in and look around.

I tucked Lily in and turned out the light. My mom called, and as we chatted, Dave putzed near me in the kitchen. Then we heard, SPLASH!!!! I looked at him and said, "I left the door open!" before either of us could move, this very wet cat came tearing out of the bathroom and into the living room, leaving a small stream of water behind her. Dave grabbed my towel, the one I'd left near the tub to use afterwards, and grabbed Chance. He wrapped her up tight and she peered from his arms looking very bedraggled. It was hilarious. Between drying her and cleaning up the said stream the towel was soaked.

She still likes to go in there and even jump up on the edge of the tub -- did she slip in that time, or did she actually jump in, not realizing it was half full of water? -- but I trust/hope she's learned her lesson about swimming. Thank goodness it wasn't hotter, and that she was somehow able to scramble out.

The second story is that Dave was on his way out one morning and she was sitting in the window near his desk and threw up her breakfast all over the window sill, the desk, and the floor. Yuck. He'd rather clean up kid puke, he said, and I agree. But as my friend Mary says, cats puke. That's the deal. So, okay.

She's a great cat. Lots of personality, very smart -- my stepfather gave her a cat toy, some small balls that she can bat around the house, and last night she dropped one down the stairs. It doesn't roll on the carpet down there and before Dave or I could get it and bring it upstairs, she appeared in the kitchen, with the ball in her mouth. She had gone down and picked it up and carried it up so she could keep playing with it.

She loves to play. She gets over-excited and nips a bit, but in those cases we say "no" firmly and drop her on the floor. Forget that. She's a love, loves to sit in your lap and purr and be petted, and we love to oblige, of course. I haven't lived with a cat since my dear roommate Anne moved back to Germany and took Mikesh, and that's just too long. I missed having a cat. I miss Anne, who was so despairing of ever recovering from chronic fatigue that she took her own life in 1996. RIP Anne. We loved you.

It's the season for picking fruit. This time I went way overboard and picked way too many peaches. With the help of Dave's mom I blanched them, some of them way too long. I did send some home with Judy and the people she rode up here with, but still, we have have tons more than last year, and they are pretty mushy. But I love them in my oatmeal or granola, and they're fine to cook with. We also picked and froze four quarts of raspberries, and made about two pecks' worth of applesauce. Gawd! Nothing like homemade applesauce!

I am discovering the wild world of FaceBook, and consider it all as research for when Lily becomes a teenager. It's fun to reconnect with friends I haven't talked to in years. I think a lot about friends, how to make them, be with them, keep them, move on from them. And it's nice to get more chances to learn these things, you know?

Yesterday Dave and Lily went to the Bement fall bazaar, and Dave got snowshoes and life vests for her. I went to the town's annual second-hand book sale -- another way to pass the seasons here is the annual sales at the vocational high school, which also includes skiis and skates, and plants, in the spring -- and came home with a big box of great stuff for all three of us. I spent part of the rainy afternoon alternating between The Story of English (companion to the PBS series from 20 years ago) and Howard Zinn's Declarations of Independence, where he handily articulates what I've been thinking for a long time, and backs it up with lots of direct evidence. If you want to understand why Ralph Nader continues to run, and people like me continue to vote for him, read this book.

One last thing -- Lily has been struggling in school, socially. Dave and I met with her teachers last week and came away feeling listened to and as though our concerns will be addressed. Some if it is her behavior, some of it is others, and some of it is the age and the fact that for whatever reasons -- she's an only child; she's younger than the rest of her class; she grew up in Brooklyn; she's a Scorpio -- she relates to people differently than a lot of her classmates. At any rate, we're looking at the local Waldorf school, called Hartsbrook -- love to hear from anyone with experience with Waldorf -- but we are going to work with Bement as far as we can and see if this will work for her. She is doing well academically and really likes that part of it, likes what she's learning. More TK (to kome), as they say in magazine publishing).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chance by chance

Look at those legs! Lily's, I mean. And those enormous feet! She has her father's feet.

taking a Chance

So I promise not to mention Sarah Palin (gawd, did you see Tina Fey on SNL last weekend?) (read the Mudflats blog about Palin) or the plummeting stock market, including my ever-more-measly 401K . . . read this article about what the press isn't doing and should be during this monumental election season, courtesty of David F.

Oh, okay, here's Tina Fey:

Mostly I am here to talk more about the lovely and mischievous Chance, and how hard Lily is working these days. And read this hilarious article from Smithsonian magazine by Megan Gambino, who may or may not be related to you-know-who.

We took Chance to the vet yesterday and everything checks out fine. She's a good weight -- and as an indoor cat we have to keep her at that -- and she seems very healthy. Her ears had some wax, which they cleaned. Her eye is weepy and it's not from a kitty cold, it's probably to do with her injury. She gets to see the opthamologist soon, lucky her, but it mostly seems okay.

She's certainly more lively now that she's making herself at home. Over the weekend we all woke up at 1 am to a crash! -- she was on the counter, which she never does when we're around, and knocked over a drinking glass. Two nights ago she pulled the log of firewood off the gerbil cage. What a clever cat! Now there are two there. She loves playing with the hippie beads hanging in Lily's doorway, and she goes for fingers and toes at a moment's notice.

But she also purrs up a storm and sprawls happily in your arms for a tummy rub pretty much every time we pick her up. And she's great for Lily, who has something to squish, and boss around, and take care of. She is learning to be around animals, and cats in particular, and doing a great job. She cleans out the litter box every day (or when reminded) and she does her share of feeding and brushing and changing her water.

And Lily is really growing up in lots of ways. Her year has started off very full but I think okay, although she came home from school two times this week in tears because some boys were teasing her. It's always about stupid stuff. She reminds me of me at that age: thin-skinned and no sense of humor about myself. She's also working like a dog in school and has hours of homework every night. She is taking flute lessons but has yet had a chance to practice, and I'm not pushing her, because of all the other requirements on her time.

I guess we are learning how to help her work this schedule. Aside from school shas choir on Tuesdays from 5 to 6:30, so that means she'll stay at school until 4:30, doing her homework. Or, like last night, she'll come home after choir, eat some food, and start working at 7:30 or 8pm. Actually yesterday was odd because we took her to the vet -- we wanted to make sure she came along too, at least for Chance's first time, so she could see how it all works, the exam and the questions and everything -- and then after choir we went by a party at the food co-op. She begged me to go and it was ending by the time we got there but we stayed a bit and she had some pizza for dinner. That's why homework was late.

I can see why these private school kids need such long vacations! They work so hard. School starts so early in the morning and they have so much homework every night. She has been quite emotional about it lately, especially as she gets back into the groove of it (math is a particular bear) and every now and then I say, you don't have to go to Bement. And she says emphatically that she wants to stay there. So, for now, she is there. It's a lot for a kid not yet 10, unlike most of her classmates.

I feel strongly that she needs to do the choir and the theater improv class because she really needs some friends, especially local ones. Plus she likes these classes a lot, duh, or we wouldn't do them. Oh, and she's taking swim lessons on Saturday mornings, which she is also very excited about all of it. The lesson for me is that I really need to be around home most of the time, and as present as I can be (which means I need to meditate regularly), especially on weekday evenings, so I can help get her going and stay organized and focused.

Tonight she had a particularly large amount of work, including a draft of an essay, so when she finished I tried to help with the little things, like get her clothes out for the morning, and pare down her notebook so it would fit in her backpack, and dig out her weekly K-BAR sheet (where she marks down how long she's read that day) after I remembered she forgot to ask me to sign it. (I'm psyched because she's finally reading the Little House books; she started By the Shores of Silver Lake tonight.) All stuff I would normally say, you do that. But this time I wanted her in bed before nine if possible. She almost made it but that's without bathing -- she's going to try a shower in the morning, in an effort to help her get to sleep sooner.

All this before Dave starts working full time. I guess this means no dog right now. We got too much to do. My goal is to stay calm and focused myself.

Does everyone's kid go nuts when they don't understand the math assignment, or they can't find the word in the dictionary? It doesn't help that the math sheets she brings home are incomprehensible at times. I'm not a huge fan of Chicago math.

OHHHHH !! PS !! one thing I forgot to mention: An angel came and answered our prayers: Two girls have moved in around the corner! Lily, age 9, and her sister Adeline, age 6 I think. They go to the Campus School downtown and their folks are divorced. This is their father's house, where during the school year they live two nights a week and every other weekend. They're great great great kids, love pretend and Broadway musicals. The father and I chatted and he went to college and grad school with half of my friends from high school -- small world. Turns out they went to the Y camp this summer together too, and the Lilies were in Grease together, even.

The girls had a great time playing all day Sunday afternoon, first at their house, then at ours. They can walk between the houses alone, which is kinda neat. It's just around the corner. Happy days!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Lily and Chance

A little dark, I know. This cat is a love. She's cuddly and squishy and still young enough (2) to be playful and kittenish. She has a tiny little squeaky meow (what a change from my Siamese, the late Felicia, who, typical of the breed, sounded like a baby crying) but she makes her needs known. She discovered the gerbils last night during dinner (ours; she didn't get them, although she sure did try) and we finally had to relocate them to a shelf under the living room window. It fits perfectly except we have to put a couple of logs on top just in case. Now we just have to remember to feed the damn things. Our friends who have this set-up call it Kitty TV . . .

Lily took Chance to bed with her on Sunday night and was still awake, an hour after turning off her lights. She said the purring was keeping her up and she wasn't used to someone else on her bed. Wicked cute. Last night she couldn't sleep and crawled into bed with us around midnight, so all four of us were there for a couple of hours. Too small!

She's really a sweet, sweet cat. We did good.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Welcome, Chance!

Our little family has grown: We got a cat today, this sweet two-year-old gray named Chance. We got her at the fabulous Dakin Animal Shelter in Leverett, about a half hour east of here. Dakin is terrific place to adopt cats and dogs, and they check you out thoroughly as owners before they give you an animal. They will remain a resource for us as we live with Chance (isn't that a great name?).

We looked at the cages first, the kittens -- I was convinced Lily would want a couple and they sure were adorable, but she said they were too bitey and scratchy -- and the adult cats, and then found Chance in the cat community room, where she was chillin' with a half dozen others in an enclosed room. She was looking out the window and I patted her and she turned around and checked me out and came over to be stroked. She's walking around the place now, hasn't said a word, hasn't scratched or drank or peed or nothin', just sniffing in every corner. Occasionally she lies down -- she likes the hardwood floors, it seems -- and relaxes.

She's very cat-friendly, the Dakin folks say. I was set on two cats but now I'm thinking we'll see how this goes, see if she seems lonesome or bored. I'm exhausted, for some reason. This is a big day for all of us.

PS -- yes, she has what appears to be some cataract in her left eye. Dakin took her to an opthamologist vet who thought she had an eye injury when she was very young. They think there's nothing wrong now (she does have a bit of a weepy eye, which Dakin thought was a kitty cold; I gather there's lots of stuff for these guys to catch while they're at a shelter) but to keep an eye on it.

Isn't she pretty!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Return To Camping!

So one of the reasons I wanted to move here was to go camping again. I figured it'd be easier from a place like Northampton than from Brooklyn. Indeed, it is! We just got back from a night camping at at the DAR state park in Goshen, about a half hour northwest. Goshen's a Hilltown and I really felt the difference in the environment as we drove up route 9 through Williamsburg. The temperature dropped, the trees closed in, and you could tell we were in the Country now, for real.

I haven't camped since before Lily was born and I was a bit nervous about that, and also about the fact that Tropical Storm Hannah was expected to hit late that evening. Getting a warning flyer from the rangers at the entrance didn't help. They said they'd been hearing predictions of 3 to 6 inches of rain, which could easily wash out the main campground down by the lake. For various reasons we were up at the group site, a couple of miles away, which has room for 25 at least and I think more like 75 usually stay there. (It's pouring pouring pouring right now, and I am so glad to be home, unpacked, showered, and dry. Wow, it is really coming down.)

This reminds me: I feel as though we had no nature in Brooklyn. I mean, sure we had rain and snow and sun, but it always felt removed from my life. If it rained hard it meant my pants would get wet on my way to the subway; if it snowed it meant I had to be really careful crossing streets: first climbing over the snow bank at the corner, and then avoiding the huge--and always deceptively deep--puddle on the street. Dave once helped an older woman get across a street in Manhattan. She'd been stranded for some time.

At any rate, we had to sort through all our camping gear on Friday afternoon, most of which I haven't seen in about eight years. I had to pitch the wooden stir spoons that were turning green from the damp garage where they've been stored. No big loss. And then put together our food and all that, and go get Lily at school. We got the car packed up, full to the brim, and got the kid, and then I realized we didn't have a tarp to put under the tent, so we went back to the Evil Wal-Mart and bought one and got to the site about 4:30.

It was cloudy and damp but the evening was still lovely. The site was gorgeous, wooded with large hemlocks mostly, and on a small pond. No water there but a composting toilet. There are a couple dozen picnic tables scattered around, with small firepits at each, and also a much bigger firepit with four huge logs around it to sit on, and several picnic tables nearby. Our friends Peggy and Todd and their son, Lily's friend Ren, weren't there yet but we figured they come any time.

We set up the tent near the big pit in the most level, least rocky site we could find. I was careful to spread my new tarp under the tent. We have a three-person domed tent, and I am here to tell you it's fine for three when your third is 3 or 4 but not when she's almost 10. No problem, we were just there for the weekend.

My dormant interest in camping has also been revived by a story I edited by the really wonderful Catherine Newman for the July/August issue of Wondertime, which includes a very complete list of gear. Very useful on this trip to remind me what to bring, although I added a few things and we are without a few things. When I was getting the tarp I also picked up a solar shower, at her suggestion, to use for dishwashing. Even though there was no sun so the water was cold, it was useful.

The tent's small space was immediately apparent, as Lily and I set up the sleeping pads and the sleeping bags. Yuck. And I made the mistake of thinking we needed clean clothes for the weekend -- not! We had a bag with two pairs of underwear and two T-shirts etc each. A change of clothes for the rain, yes, or as Dave says, changing into clean clothes after you swim or shower, maybe. But neither of those were options this time.

We set up the "kitchen" and I started putting kindling on the ashes in this massive firepit, when Lily noticed it was still smoldering. Tsk, tsk. The previous group should have doused it. Dave took Lily to get water at the main campsite, although I yelled at them as they started to drive away when I realized I'd be all alone in the middle of the woods with no one around for at least a couple of miles, the campground promised bears and moose and raccoons at the least, and no car to jump into. But as soon as I said that I realized I could light a fire, and as they drove away I was happy to see the kindling smoking; I didn't even have to use a match. It burst into flames and I felt that age-old sense of relief that my New England ancestors must have felt when they light their fires in the woods. I felt like a city-slicker to the max, but a conscious one: I try to be conscious of the fact that I have lived in one city or another, or a suburb, for my entire life, and not been in the outdoors as much as other city-dwellers.

Wow, it is still pouring out.

I fed the fire and Dave and Lily came back and still no Peggy, Todd, and Ren, and they had the grill. So I lit my trusty one-burner Coleman backpacking stove that I've had since I was about 22, and put some water on for Lily to have pasta. And just as Dave and I had decided we'd have a good time even if it was just us, they showed up. Yea! Another family who had said they were coming didn't, which was disappointing. But the six of us had a great time cooking and eating and piling wood on this fire and poking it and roasting marshmallows for s'mores.

Sleeping in this small tent was not so much fun -- the bag of clothes went to my feet and if I wanted to stretch straight out I put my feet on top of it -- and I woke up from time to time. I was asleep when I heard the rain start, and Peggy jumped out of her tent at the same time and turned on her headlights so we'd have light to see as we covered our stuff or put it in the car. The rain came down harder and harder, and I panicked, was the 3 to 6 inches starting now and where we going to washed out, and I envisioned us throwing all our gear in the car and driving off as Dave tried not to kill us.

But in the morning it had stopped and Dave made French toast and I made bacon and it's true, everything really does taste better when you're camping. I rebuilt the fire and we hung out near it most of the rest of the day. Everyone went over the pond for awhile, which gave me a chance to read Out Stealing Horses, which I finished, and really love, and now I feel like all the sentences I'm writing here are long and full of detail about my family and the environment and profound insights, but of course they aren't. We ate a lot, and they caught a bunch of minnows and a biggish perch and they made a neat boat out of vines and sticks. It had a little sail.

For awhile the sky was bright, if not sunny, but Peggy had heard that it was going to start raining around 5pm and as the wind picked up and the clouds got heavier we started to take down the tent and pack up the car. We took our time and just as we sat down by the fire it started to drizzle. So we doused the fire with about five buckets of water, stirring the steaming ashes and watching the water boil. And went home.

And oh, to be home! I loved being there, relaxing, doing nothing but smelling the fire and listening to a few birds, chatting, eating, reading -- but to be home, soaking in the Japanese tub! Having a garage is so handy if you want to do stuff like camping -- Dave backed up to the door and we unloaded everything into the garage and sorted it all out from there, left the tent draped over the car to dry a bit, spread the sleeping bags around the family room to do the same. (The floor and the sides of our little tent got soaked, as did much of our sleeping pads and the feet of our sleeping bags. Should I have not put down the tarp? There were several puddles in the morning.)

If this were Brooklyn we'd have stayed longer because we would have driven so far to get there we wouldn't want to leave so soon. If we'd left at 4, as we did today, we might get home by 7 or 8 instead of 4:30. Once there we would have double-parked in front of the apartment and unloaded everything. Then one of us would have tried to find a spot on a rainy night and the other would have carried everything inside and downstairs to sort out and clean and put away.

And yes, I'd have had theater and music and the city as the alternative to easy camping. But weekends like this one remind me that I made the right choice, that I didn't get to much theater or many museums and my work wasn't satisfying.

It's been interesting watching the friends shake-out now that we've moved -- I think I have many fewer true friends than I had imagined, which is probably just as well -- and really, friends were all that was keeping me in Brooklyn, in the end. We don't have a lot of friends here, just a couple each, and my closest new friend here just moved to an island off the coast of Georgia. But while that scares me -- what does it mean not to have a lot of friends? -- I am also glad to be starting with a bit of clean slate here. How often do you get to recreate yourself?

By the way, it's still pouring like the deluge. It stops momentarily and then starts up again.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Lily's first day

So she's started fifth grade. That sure makes a parent feel old. Next year she'll be in middle school, and I told her she could get her ears pierced. She's too much of a chicken to do it, doesn't want it. I also am considering getting her a mini-iPod so she can listen to music.

Last weekend I downloaded iTunes to her laptop and showed her how to upload CDs. She is totally into music now, all of a sudden, like within the last couple of months. She listens to musicals mostly, thank god, but also the occasional Miley Cyrus, and she had been asking if she could go on my computer and listen to my music.

So now Lily has her own music and can add more. And I now allow sharing on my iTunes, so she can listen to my music, some of which she knows and likes already. Dave isn't so sure this is such a good idea, but part of my motivation is keeping her up with the Joneses in class, helping her to stay current with what her classmates are doing, so she doesn't seem like a Luddite and she isn't cut out of the social loop. It's why I sometimes get a hot flash and think, we should get fancier cable, so she can watch Hannah Montana and stuff like that. But then I sit down and let it pass.

Speaking of which, she seems to really like her new homeroom teacher, Mr. Riddington, also her math and science teacher, who is friends with my sister's husband's brother. Got that? He's new this year, although he used to teach here a few years ago. Lily already knew she liked Ms. Lutsky, her social studies and language arts teacher.

She's going to take flute lessons at school, thank god (we struggled with her flute and practicing all last year and I think the structure of lessons will go a long way). And she's going to be taking a theater improv class on Thursday afternoons in Florence, not far from our house, and she's auditioning for the children's choir at the Northampton Community Music Center. They say almost everyone gets in, except if they are really young, and that this is a good way for kids to learn to sing. She loves to sing so much and I think if she has some help she will really enjoy singing even more, and be less fearful about singing in front of others. I've been playing her 5's on the piano and trying to help train her ear.

Finally, I am encouraging Lily to audition for the local Nutcracker, at the Pioneer Valley Ballet Company. It's a commitment for the fall -- rehearsals every Sunday afternoon -- but she'd meet a lot of local kids and get to work in a real theater. And she doesn't have to know how to dance. I am all for this. We'll see if I can wear her down . . . I mean, she doesn't want to play soccer, and these are great ways to meet kids with similar interests. Or maybe she should just take swimming lessons, so she gets some exercise besides her daily P.E.

The Oregon report

I feel so old and so hip, all at once: I've joined Facebook. It's really addictive at first, trying to find all the old friends and colleagues I can think of to see if they are on too and want to be my friend. And it's lovely to get back in touch with these folks, especially the dear Andy Reinhardt and my little bro, Marc Lowenstein. And to see Marc's delicious baby girl! Wow. Life does go on, doesn't it.

Tomorrow we are going camping at the DAR campground in Goshen for two days and I am looking forward to it but it's also something I haven't done in, oh, 15 years. Camping, I mean. I don't know if we have any fuel in the stoves, I don't know what's in all those camping boxes in the garage, I don't know if I'm even going to like this. What if we all get devoured by mosquitoes? Should I just be grilling at home and sleeping in my bed? Could be.

Something about seeing all those familiar faces on Facebook makes me think back to all these various parts of my life, LIFE, Milton -- I've been reading John Donne recently, first time since high school. I'm on the pro-Donne side, in case you were wondering.

A brief Oregon report:
Bondi showed us a great time. We ate wonderful food, enjoyed her lovely renovated home, went to two local town pools, had dinner with my aunt and uncle, went to the Japanese garden and the Rose garden, Lily and I spent the afternoon at the wonderful zoo, on and on. Just a lovely city, kind of what Northampton would be like if it were city.

The other part is that we visited Dave's cousin and husband near Hood River. They took us on a fantastic hike through some wonderful Pacific Northwest forest, those big old moss-covered cedars and doug firs, I guess, and after about a mile and a half we came to this extraordinary waterfall. It was awesome and awe-inspiring and a bit scary, especially when Lily stepped back toward the churning punch bowl in order to take our picture. We both said, "No!" at the same time and climbed back up to the path to go back.

That night they told us to sit in the hot tub while they made dinner, so we did, looking out over the Gorge and the cliffs and the trees. Really nice. The next day we drove part of the Fruit Loop and turned off at Mt. Hood, which towers above everything around it like this gigantic ice cream cone. Or maybe a sundae, with whipped cream on top. It's Oregon's Mt. Fuji, Dave says. It hadn't registered with me that it's volcanic, but of course, it's volcanic. Duh. The whole place is, with extraordinary cliffs framing you and pumice everywhere on the ground. Lovely. We ate lunch at the Timberline Lodge and had a chance to revel in the glories of the New Deal and the WPA.

Then we drove a couple more hours to Bagby Hot Springs (also here) and hiked in a mile and half through old-growth forest to these wonderful hot tubs hewn out of cedar logs and heated with 136-degree water piped in through sluices to your own private bath -- you let the water in by plugging the tub with a big wooden bulb and pulling up the wooden door. Then you go to the cold water tub with a bucket so you can cool the hot water enough to soak in it.

The logs were big enough for the three of us, although we got into the group round tub instead. That felt pretty risque 'cause the men there were naked, but one guy had his seven-year-old and she and Lily got on well. I guess the party starts as the evening comes on so we hiked back out after about an hour and a half. But it was awfully relaxing -- I gather the water has lithium in it, among other minerals.