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.