Hudson River Homeschool

IMG_6609This school year marks the start of our fifth year of homeschooling. I suppose it’s time we step foot into modern history. While waiting for our shiny new books in the mail, we visited the Farmers Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown. We missed the early morning rain but the day was left wet and there was a nice autumn chill in the air. Between clouds the sun cast hard shadows, mesmerizing; like the spray of milk on metal as the girls helped milk a cow, the brushstrokes in the Thomas Cole painting, the hiding places in the labyrinth.

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Back at home we cooked up a batch of vanilla ice cream topped with ripe peaches and lavender-infused sugar. The ice cream was hand-agitated using rock salt and the help of little friends who were spending the day with us. All five girls have never heard of Thomas Jefferson (we’re all on the chronological history tract, evidently) and they’re too young to question the nutritional value of Jefferson’s recipe which calls for six egg yolks, a half pound of sugar and four pints of cream. And, technically, we are still a couple hundred years from the 19th century. But in terms of the span of human history, who’s counting centuries (or calories)?IMG_6355IMG_6406

Our relocation, as related to homeschooling, seems rather fortuitous. For once, my snail’s pace has paid off, resulting in an alignment between our syllabus and our setting. The Hudson Valley and the Catskills, the Capitol and New York State as a whole offer a rich, living educational backdrop. Day by day we are learning within a cradle of art, nature and history. The inspiration and greatness of the past is at our fingertips and under our footsteps, the pages we study coming into view in our own backyard.

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Mountains to Metropolis

IMG_6507Upstate New York is home. Lucky for me, we’ve always had a reason to stay. The start of autumn marks our first month as Albany residents. While the northernmost part of the state won me over in a big way, I’m looking forward to our newest assignment in the state Capitol. Albany is geographically close to where I grew up but for all intents and purposes it is a world away. Aside from a few school field trips and a little time spent here as a young adult, it is essentially a new experience.

We drove through Albany many times in the last few years and each time I said, “I could see us living here.” I want my children to be rural at heart but I want them to have minimal street smarts, too. When we knew my husband would be taking a job in Albany, we ruled out a long commute to a country setting and I ruled out the suburbs and so downtown it was. After a very brief search of neighborhoods we put a deposit down on the first place we looked at. It was so similar to the house we previously owned in Ballston Spa that we felt at home from the start. Bonus: we get to rent rather than mortgage it.

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My little mud faeries are adjusting to urban living. My daughter marveled at seeing a group of people at a crosswalk. “There are twenty people waiting to cross! In Plattsburgh we usually only saw two!” (Her amazement was tempered by a subsequent weekend in New York City. “Albany is really just a big town, right, mom?”) We all feel pretty good in our big town; at ease with time and place. We’re all moved in, getting to know new neighborhoods, looking forward to spending time with old friends and making new friends and, yes, basking in the variety and culture that we kind of forgot existed.

Between days of downtown exploration we are still making sure to get plenty of greens. Our proximity to Thacher State Park was integral to my being at ease with leaving the North Country. In less than half an hour, I can get lost on the trail and in the trees and even see my beloved Adirondack mountains. The miles and hours that separate are condensed in one fantastic view. It is a comfort. As is Thacher itself. The color of the earth, the patterns in the trees and scent on the air creates nostalgia. Running through the woods as a child and then later long autumn afternoon bicycle rides into dark. Somehow I find myself standing seamlessly between the known and the unknown. And it’s a very peaceful place to be.

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Camp Life: Epilogue

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Summer has always been a time of possibility, newness, indulgence. Fifteen years ago I fell in love in the middle of July. My babies were born in the heat of July, August and September. This summer has also been one of the most memorable of my life. For every new source of stress (avoiding skunks during nightly- yes, literally every single night- walks to the bathroom with sleepwalking kids) there was something wonderful that balanced it (walking back to the camper at 3 a.m. under stars and moonlight and the first drops of a summer storm). I also decided steamed edamame balance out roasted marshmallows. I am a major proponent of everything in moderation. Summer is not a time to hold back.

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Only the Lonely

IMG_3802I’ve been thinking about the concept of a hardship post. The term has come up more than once in conversation over the last two years. Plattsburgh hardly qualifies as a hardship post but on a very small scale it embodies some of the qualifying characteristics. Isolation. Harsh climate. Scarcity of goods. When we set out for the North Country in the early summer days of 2012, friends and family saw us off with farewells bordering on ominous. It was as though we were leaving civilization behind and setting ourselves up for disaster. But downcast proclamations have a way of bolstering my confidence; projected pessimism is an excellent challenge.

Like anything else in life, there was an adjustment period. Complications with selling our house made it difficult to settle in. But I soon found things about this region I really connected with and found, well, myself. In the last couple of years I have thrived in this hardship post. It helps that I haven’t had to worry about a hostile government or parasitic infections. But the isolation and severe weather and limited stuff is all real. And all really wonderful for someone like me. (Hibernating all winter with a stack of books in front of the fireplace between walks along the frozen shoreline? Count me in!) It is as though long dislocated pieces of who I am finally fit together in this undesirable destination. Continue reading

I Let the Waves

IMG_5545I let the waves
climb my body like a clinging child,

hair floating in clouds;
there is no center here.

Legs touch slippery-warm
(how we forget what is most familiar).

Waiting for the wave to carve its impression
the way it returns to the rocky outcrop,

surface creased like fabric/flesh,
the rock waits to coarse with the sea.

Careless but not uncaring,
trying to remember how it feels to be

so small in such a great expanse.
Pressing past turquoise map folds

where you wait with ideas and
earth and I surprise you with hands full.

Cold footsteps after dark,
sea and sand exchange temperatures;

lights line another shore,
always, though some days I forget

to look, believe that I can reach
such luminescence.

All color and light,
a hundred moons reflect a hundred more,

a fixed distance
no matter how hard I swim.

Yes, Virginia Woolf, There is a Double Standard

IMG_1197This month’s trending social media challenge asks people to post five photographs where they think they look beautiful. I have only seen women participating, which is to be expected. There are also the ‘no-makeup selfies’ many celebrities are apparently sharing, with some Upworthy headline calling it brave. And there was the buzz surrounding an “article” about how women in their 40s have suddenly become sex goddesses in 2014. Before that they were resigned to a shackled, maternal, sexually dysfunctional existence out of the light of day as they awaited death. Thank God women finally got the hint and dug deep to find another decade of desirability. Not that I put much stock in the magazine that printed that tripe but I think the writer most likely lives on another planet.

In an ongoing discussion with a group of fellow female artists, we have expressed frustration over societal expectations put on the female, the artist in particular. As creative types, my friends and I have all struggled with how personally our work can be critiqued. The success of a piece of writing or a painting or a photograph is often mixed up with our body language, our lifestyle, our parenting decisions. Honest, intimate work is mistaken as an invitation to overstep boundaries. Continue reading

All Or Nothing

This month I have lived moment by moment, day to day. It is out of necessity and it takes everything I’ve got. Without the convenience of appliances my time and energy is leached by daily chores. Cooking and cleaning and meeting my children’s basic needs. Continuously organizing and rearranging in order to maintain reasonable living space in a tiny camper. But setting my clock by sunlight and getting down to basics has also forced me to be in the moment. I have a more immediate appreciation of each day’s gifts. Wildflowers gathered by the girls for my table each morning. Wading in shimmering black water under exploding fireworks. Dinners with friends too abundant for a single picnic table. Watercolor art sessions on the beach. Releasing a birthday balloon into the sky with a 5-year-old wish. Gifts as varied as spin art and help with towing and buckets of fresh picked fruit. Falling asleep each night with the people I love best within arm’s reach, watching stars through the open window overhead. Life has become all or nothing.

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Off the Grid

IMG_5454I have written extensively about the desire to live simply, intentionally, in the moment. Minimalist, anti-materialist living is kind of an aspiration of mine (a lofty one I will never truly realize). Taken far enough, one enters into conversations about living off the grid. It is one thing to fantasize about such an extreme existence while maintaining a much more mainstream lifestyle. It is quite another to actually go for it when the opportunity presents itself. This is the situation we found our family in this summer. For two years we have rented a lovely house just outside of Plattsburgh. My only complaint has been that it is too much house. Too much empty space to clean and heat and look conspicuously spartan. Continue reading

Glow

IMG_5006One of our favorite family activities is watching the annual sunrise balloon launch at the Adirondack Balloon Festival. There are few things that motivate me to be up before the sun. Easter morning. All-nighters. Road trips. Hot air balloons. That’s pretty much it. This week we happened to be in the Saratoga region during the first ever balloon fest at the Saratoga Fairgrounds. Friday night we went to the Balloon Glow, where a field of tethered balloons are inflated and illuminated at dusk. We ran into cousins and ordered crêpes and it seemed the sun could not set fast enough. Evening was cool and windy and we were drawn to the heat of the roaring burners. Life has been hectic and it was a relief to be in a crowd of quiet strangers, everyone gazing together. We stayed until the balloons were deflated around us, the silky fabric billowing and sounding like wind rustling leaves. The girls tiptoed away from the collapsing softness big as buildings. Brushed the colors with their fingertips. Summer arrived on an eve of illumination.

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A Feminist Shout-Out to Fatherhood

IMG_4622Growing up, one of my favorite stories was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Though to some the book may seem sentimental and folksy, Alcott counted Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller as family friends. Alcott belonged to a group of intellectual transcendentalists and as an adult supported women’s suffrage and the abolitionist movement. As a young girl I was drawn to Alcott’s affinity for family and feminist ideals. What spoke to me in particular was the profound connection she wrote about between mothers, daughters and sisters. I grew up in a family of three girls, though my sisters are 8 and 16 years younger. The fact that we were never peers only added to my desire to be a mother, as I grew up taking care of children and loving them as I now love my own girls. I was thrilled to end up with three daughters. I truly love living in a house full of girls. Continue reading