Sap Moon

Drive north. Clenched fists want to strike or hold:
dissatisfaction
winter’s end
night blindness.

Spring’s sap moon rises, casting light across our mouths, stories we’ve been telling dripping out dark and liquid. But this cold never recedes; always ice underfoot, over our heads.

Cool and crisp as percale. Stinging and sweet like the songs we sleep to.

In moonlight we see the ghosts of what could have been, escaping our lips in uncertain breaths. (Branch snaps and blood runs cold.) In the rising and falling daylight this moment seems enough. We exist in this place so close to never being; changed by our wandering, our getting lost and everything we didn’t need to say.

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My Funny Valentines

IMG_7026To My First Baby:

When I first saw your face, a whole new kind of love was born in me. You taught me how to be a mother. During those first months and years staying at home with you, I realized true happiness. You were bright eyed, calm and very smart. You taught me that there is nothing better than taking care of someone you love. And that is who you are. You take care of others. You are responsible and motivated. There has always been a maturity and a seriousness to you, which I love. One of the first people to meet you after you were born said you had an old soul. I saw this to be true as you grew up. You spoke your first word at 8 months old and, later, conversation would become your forte. You connect to others through words. You love getting in on adult conversation. And you can keep up. I cherish the many special talks we have had over the years. You are beautiful and powerful when you ride horses. You are hungry for knowledge and you devour books. You are a gifted teacher to younger children. You and I daily teach each other the art of diplomacy. But when we aren’t both trying to be right, we are on the same wavelength. We share a love of nature and tiny houses and take great pleasure in eating food. You often know what I’m thinking before I say it. And I learn from you. Your creativity and curiosity astonishes me. Every material is a possibility; every free moment is an opportunity. You are a dreamer and a doer and that is a rare, and very special, combination.

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To My Middlest Baby:

You are my strawberry sweetheart. You have always had a smile and always been a people person. You draw others in. Since you were a baby I have heard from so many people, There’s just something about her. You are warm and gentle and generous. Your greatest joy is giving gifts to others. Gifts of time and help; cards and crafts. When you see something nice, your first thought is to give it away. A flower for a neighbor, a toy for your sisters. I cherished the years you were my bubbly baby girl and I loved watching you become daddy’s girl. It makes sense because you are so much like him. It makes my heart happy to see your face light up when he comes home each day. But you got a little from me, too. Your special weirdness; your interest in storytelling and writing; how music can make you cry; the depths of your sadness and the limitlessness of your joy. You are a lovely, passionate mix of wonderful traits. You are soft and you are strong. You hit every physical milestone like lightning; the day you turned 9 months old, taking your first steps all at once, sprinting. You like pretty, sparkly girly things. You love wearing my heels around the house (and wear them better than I do). You love comic books. You love animals; you have a gift with them and they respond to you. You have a knack for color and design. You bring such beauty into our world through your ideas and your sensitive heart. And one of my favorite sounds is your giggle because your love language is definitely tickling.

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To My Littlest Baby:

You were the one to climb into bed with me early this morning. You wake me up with snuggling most mornings but today you were as excited as if it was Christmas morning. You love love. You have a sweet tooth. For sugar and maple syrup and honey. Everyday you ask if we are having dessert. And everyday you ask for, and freely give, hugs and kisses. From the first day I met you, you did not want to be put down. You were always content in my arms, pressed against my heart. It seems you have always been contemplative. You guard your heart and I like that because it makes you careful and confident. When you let someone in, you are open and loyal; your relationships are sacred. You like to make friends with children who are much younger than you and children who are much older than you. You get along great with boys. You are funny and you are fearless. Our family needs the levity you bring. You make us laugh and you give us courage. You are a fast learner. Having heard your sisters’ homeschool lessons for years, you are often ahead of me when I think I am going to instruct you. And what you don’t know, you are eager to not only learn but master. You are small but you are loud and you don’t wait for others to lead. You are often running ahead of your big sisters, encouraging them to take risks and have faith. I always think of you getting new hiking shoes and saying, “I can’t wait to get these dirty!” and watching you run ahead up the mountain.

Detoured

10712699_375339435964424_2058721399275732656_nI love detours. Scenic routes. Surprises I would have missed flying by at 55 miles per hour. I think it’s a shame detour is frequently used as a euphemism for the difficult parts of our lives. The time you misunderstood driving directions. The dysfunctional relationship you regret. The year you were hooked on drugs. I call that being lost, not taking a detour. A detour, by definition, is an alternative route to a destination; unexpected, unusual, unplanned. There is nothing inherently negative about a diversion from point A that, no matter how roundabout, eventually gets you to point B. If you know me you know that I am not focused on point B. What’s waiting there, anyway? Career success? Material goods? Retirement? None of that is guaranteed. Only this moment. Here. Now. One detour at a time.

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My surprise trip to Europe was a wonderful detour. My husband’s plan unfolded detail by detail. Our first stop was Berlin. We met up with good friends and spent a day sightseeing. My only request was to visit the Berlin Wall and I was grateful to be able to see firsthand a landmark of such significance. We had a simple walking tour of the area our friends call home, had the best cup of coffee we had ever experienced and sampled bretzels, currywurst and döner (Berlin’s take on a gyro). Back at our friends’ flat, brimming with natural light, soft colors and cozy decor, we caught a nap before beginning the next leg of our journey.

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From Berlin we all drove overnight to our final destination: an expenses paid trip to Poland. The big reveal was that Unforgiven:Rwanda, the documentary our German friends asked us to collaborate on, had been nominated for best documentary at Camerimage in Bydgoszcz. Though the name was new to me, Camerimage is the most prestigious cinematography festival in the world. For more than two decades it has brought together filmmakers from the international community for a week of film screenings, lectures and workshops with the best in the business and extravagant galas. Though my husband is the filmmaker, I love cinema and was more than happy to hang with the likes of Caleb Deschanel, Roland Joffé and Alan Rickman. (I was more than a little crushed that just 2 years prior David Lynch was present to receive a lifetime achievement award.) World premiers at the festival included Birdman and Wild. I was super excited to watch The Shining, which I find visually stunning, on the big screen. My husband and our friends were honored to have Unforgiven:Rwanda nominated among a select group of great documentaries.

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Eastern Europe was everything I hoped it would be: cold, gray, rainy. We literally didn’t see the sun for a week. It was perfect. But the people were very welcoming and pleasant. We devoured quality time, both as a couple and with our very dear friends. Being put up by the festival in a ritzy hotel, nightly invitations to indulgent parties and a week of all things cinema made for an extravagant, if not exhausting, week abroad. We even listened to Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls and jumped on the bed while throwing hundreds of zloties up in the air. Well, at least I did. In the middle of the week my husband and I traveled to the neighboring city of Torun, which managed to escape bombing during WWII, and therefore boasts some of the only true Gothic architecture in Poland. We toured thirteenth-century castle ruins on the Vistula River, saw the birthplace of Copernicus and had dinner at a pierogi restaurant. My husband bought me a rose from a street vendor and gingerbread in the shape of Copernicus’ head. It was really nice to get out and see a bit more of Poland because by the end of the week we were turning down galas and movies; there really can be too much of a good thing. Except coffee. We consumed as much fine European coffee as we could.

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We drove back to Berlin with an evening to spare, wanting to spend more time with our friends in their home.  They introduced us to Raclette for dinner (Cheese as a main course? Yes, please.) and quark for breakfast (Which I’m still craving.) My husband practiced what little bit of German he has taught himself. We spent time snuggling their babies and getting in as much laughter and conversation as possible and promising to come back to Berlin someday with our girls. And, of course, to reciprocate the invitation and host them again in the states. Our friendship is so natural and so important to each of us that it is hard for us all to believe we met only two years ago.

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On the flight home I thought about how blessed our family has been in the past couple of years. Our interest in meeting new people, developing deep friendships and creative collaborations, working on meaningful projects and traveling ended up all being intertwined. I believe opening ourselves up to diversions made it possible. We don’t have any more time or resources than the average person but what we do have we direct toward experiences. We make the most of where we are right now in our lives. Yes, we should live in the hope of the future– but our only reality is the present. What is the rush to get to tomorrow? Today is always the perfect day to take a detour.

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A Homebody Abroad

IMG_4275At the beginning of November, while discussing our upcoming Saturdays and Sundays, my husband told me to block out two weekends. This was serious. Losing two full weekends of lazing around? This better be really good. Turns out I brought this on myself. When I casually mentioned a couple weeks ago that I wouldn’t mind being surprised every now and then (not so easy with a slightly obsessive compulsive wife who likes to be in control and has pretty specific tastes) my husband accepted the challenge.

I was thinking, like, cupcakes from a really yummy bakery. He was thinking 10 day trip abroad. To an undisclosed location.

This is NOT normal. We aren’t exactly jet-setters. Heck, we’ve never even traveled overseas for a vacation. For us, foreign travel is synonymous with work trips to developing nations. Otherwise, we tend to stay local. I’m a homebody through and through. For real. Sometimes on the drive to church I realize I haven’t been in the car since the previous Sunday morning. As the work week is wrapping up, my husband asks do you have any plans this weekend? In my head, I’m thinking, yeah, I’ve got a list:

  1. Coffee in bed.
  2. Reading.
  3. Cold pancakes at noon.
  4. Writing.
  5. More coffee.
  6. More reading.
  7. Nap.
  8. Dinner.
  9. Lounging on the porch with a blanket.
  10. Reading in bed.

It seems we have different ideas of what constitutes plans. His idea of a successful Saturday is leaving the house right after breakfast, driving somewhere with an itinerary and coming home after dark having been thoroughly enriched and entertained. And I like those Saturdays. We get our cultural tanks refilled. We get some exercise. I remember there are other people outside of our four walls.

It might seem crazy to want to spend the weekend at home after five days of domesticity. But Monday through Friday my home is my workspace. Morning routines and teaching and cooking and cleaning. On my feet for 12 hours. When Friday rolls around I like to have all our chores wrapped up so that we can just enjoy being home Saturday and Sunday. Give me a clean house and a full fridge and I’m a happy woman.

This morning I’m writing and breathing in the heavenly aroma of banana bread baking in the oven. My husband regularly bakes with the girls on Saturday. It’s twofold: the girls need quality time with their father and the bananas I watched decay all week need to get used up. The girls like baking with their daddy. They get to fling batter off the beater blades and sprinkle flour in the silverware drawer and slosh dishwater all over the floor. But I let them eat raw cookie dough, so, ya know, it evens out.

I don’t know where I’ll be waking up the next two Saturdays. I’m excited and open to whatever itinerary is in the works. Hey, if my husband is going to deal with all the stress of planning everything, I can commit to busy days filled with activities. Besides, deep down inside I’m holding out hope that I’ll also get to kick back and drink coffee and read books and get in a couple really good naps in a foreign country.

 

 

Flyby

Stones in the wide shallow run
unseen are drying up
from averted searching eyes
the seemingly crooked lean
of mournful parallel lines
gold harbinger or anamnesis
harmoniously nonintersecting

at night the stream expands
into a downy blanket abyss
rains raises oils in the black
impenetrable loft
under speeding cars and
the walking dripping
cold against the flare

the metal notes of the bridge
sing and scatter to nothing
like hours and miles
it can never be enough
I park the car and get in bed
planes fly low over the roof
recurrent dream of regret and descent

 

Take the Train

IMG_6881I wake up in a strange bed, too much light in the room. I hear a recognizable but unfamiliar sound. The 7 train and I remember I am at a friend’s apartment. Beside me on the bed the blankets are thrown back. My daughters are sleeping in the other rooms, dreaming of their first day in the city. And the headlines, boldface, wait. A catchpenny list: extremist, epidemic, terrorist, threat, militant, virus, radical, massacre. And on my daughter’s birthday the mayor and the governor edit the front page. There was a press conference on the train about the imminent non-credible threat to the New York City subway system. Still, there will be a heavy police presence throughout the city and we are advised to report anything suspicious. Be on the lookout, as always. For what?

I’m not good with profiling and I have a low threshold for clickbait so I skip the “news” and respond to a text from a friend.
– The one weekend I’m dragging my children through tourist traps!
– Second thoughts about walking the Brooklyn Bridge?! haha
My husband, on his way to a day of freelance work at Lincoln Center, sends me a picture of Sunnyside. Looking very sunny.
– Kids have been asking to ride the subway forever. Ugh.
– You and I were in Rwanda this time last year, don’t forget. Be the brave mommy.

I wasn’t brave in Rwanda because I wasn’t afraid. And I’m not afraid now. I’m sad. Sad that there really are people out there who want to blow up Americans and anyone else. Today or some other day. Sad that there are Americans who want to bomb, fight hate with hate. Sad that we’re losing our minds over Ebola but had very little concern over it for the last 40 years when it was contained to central Africa. Sad that this is the world my children have inherited. Thoughts like these hit me like a flood of postpartum hormones; wanting my children to be hidden safe, embryonic.

I let more light in through the windows and I dress in the room that is not mine. I find my daughter reading on the couch and we whisper for a few minutes. I get in the guest bed with the younger two who are still sleeping peacefully. And the first words out of my littlest girl’s mouth are Mama, are we going to ride the train today? And I casually tell her yeah, of course. And I pull them out of bed and pull clean outfits over their heads and pull the birthday girl away from her book. There is nothing I want to do more than navigate the city with these little girls, ages 5, 7 and 9, their faces bright with equal parts eagerness and focus.

Crosswalks and breakfast as we’re walking and I point out the Empire State Building from Queens Boulevard. The girls saw it glowing yesterday when we drove into the city after dark, everything lit up like perpetual Christmas. The girls argued over who got to drag the suitcases a block from the car to my friend’s apartment building. And to them every sight and scent and sound was something to behold. This morning they suppress smiles, standing, crowded on the train. I tell them to hold on. And it is one thing to tell myself sensible things but it is another to load my children into a train and into another train and another. And to wait for the train to stop and the doors to open except the train has slowed to a crawl through the last dark length of tunnel.

I close my eyes and think well, what if? I think of my daughters, happy and optimistic, and I think of the train full of strangers who all have places to be. Words come to me.

God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

All I feel in that moment is love; sincere, full. For my children and for these strangers. For life and all the people who populate it. For everyone whose everyday is a threat. It is impossible to feel this serene sense of love and simultaneously feel fear. And I love my daughters too much to allow fear to rule my thoughts and actions.

There is the day waiting for us. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. The rush of Times Square because they have to see it after seeing the pictures. Roasted peanuts and pizza slices. The girls making plans to move to the city when they grow up and me telling them about the colleges I visited once upon a time. Passionfruit and orange-chocolate gelato. Indian summer in Central Park. Museum tours. Leisurely late afternoon refreshment at the café. Miles of walking and laughing at how my 5 year old somehow seems to be in her element. After dark, the day will turn from hot to warm, lush; the girls will press their foreheads against the window to take in every last light of the city speeding by on the train ride back.

 

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