Slice of Life Tuesday: Searching for furniture…and discovering stories

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I’ve been on a quest for furniture that will look at home in a farmhouse in upstate New York, a farmhouse which we will finally be able to call our own on Wednesday.  That quest has taken me to tag sales, and antique barns, where I’ve sifted through piles of this and that until something just right catches my eye- something that’s just a bit worn, of some age, with lots of character.  In the process, I discovered Craig’s List, which is a wonderful, ever changing catalog of piles of this and that, too.  And, i searching for furniture, I’ve been unwrapping stories: long ago stories, just-the-other-day stories, some well remembered and some just vaguely so.

I love arriving to examine a table or mirror, and then learning the story behind it – who built it, why, and how it was used.

I love the way people light up with smiles and warmth when they know you are listening, helping them hold on to their memories even as they part with a chair from Grandma’s house on the Jersey shore, or the table that always sat on their parent’s porch – the one with the chocolate brown Bakelite Philco radio.

I love leaving a driveway with a piece of history tucked away in the trunk,  a chair that will grace our new porch and look out on new views, even as it remains a living archive of other views, a repository of other memories.

My favorite will always be a pair of bent wood Adirondack chairs, purchased from a lovely woman, a poet, who was moving out to California and wished to shed her “east coast stuff”.  I admired them as we made our way to the book case (built in a Vermont town about 15 minutes from our farm) I had come to purchase, and she mentioned that they were bought for a farm they had once owned, “in a tiny upstate New York town you’ve never heard of.”

“Oh?” I said, “where? we just bought a farm upstate, too.”

“West Hebron”, she replied, gesturing towards a beautiful watercolor of a lovely white farmhouse, with blue shutters and a wraparound porch.

That, of course, is exactly where our farm is located, as well. Small world.  So there we stood for a few moments, in a living room in Mahwah, New Jersey – she knew where I was going, I knew where she had been.  “Those chairs have got to go home,” she suggested, and who was I to argue?

So, on Friday, they will journey back to West Hebron, to sit on a porch overlooking the Black Creek Valley, Green Mountains and Adirondacks once again.  A piece of connected, living history.

adirondack chair


Slice of Life Tuesday: Music in the house again

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Livy is home. Music in the house again.

All three of our children are musical and have a gift for it  – a gift from their father.  When they are home, there is always someone singing at the piano, strumming a guitar, or talking through a new song they heard, a new musician they have discovered.

While they were home, I was always aggravated by the guitars and their cases, and the sheets and sheets of music that I was constantly tripping over or having to tidy up.  But I loved working late into the night to the sound of their practicing, or the fact that every time they took a shower, I’d hear a song come trilling down the stairs – tile walls make for great acoustics.  And I loved the eclectic mix of songs and sounds I’d hear – from the familiar folk music of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez to strange new indie tunes I found myself humming along to as well.

Each had their own practice times: Elizabeth played the harp only after 1 a.m., Ben played every free moment he could find, and Livy most often practiced when no one else was home.  The best times were when they happened to be at home and decide to create music together – this was most often very late at night.  There were many nights when I’d be awakened by the sounds of song and laughter; as annoyed as I was to have my sleep interrupted, something also told me to just stay still and listen…this time would pass, and I would miss it.

I do.

But, Livy is home and now there is music again.  Tonight, she played her first after dinner concert for us, her audience of three: mom, dog, and cat.  We loved it.  We are ready for an encore.

Slice of Life Tuesday: When it’s icy…slow down!

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Sleety streets on an early Monday morning.  Sophie and I step and skate along gingerly, the ice crackling underfoot.  Schools have a delayed opening, and the neighborhood is hushed and still.  An occasional car whooshes by slowly, very slowly.

Suddenly, an SUV looms into view at the crest of our hill.  Sophie and I stop, transfixed.  The world, it seems, moves into slow motion and the truck swivels off to one side of the road and then arcs back to the other.  I can hear the wheels spin on the ice as the truck wheels around in one perfect, graceful circle, coming to rest, miraculously, pointing straight ahead on the correct side of the road.

Sophie and I are almost parallel to the driver now, and I can see into his window.  He is looking at me, too, as though to ask, “Did that really happen?”  All three of us let out a collective breath of relief.  Slowly, very slowly, he begins to move down the hill again.  And we, too,  resume our icy stroll.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Good stuff vs. regular stuff

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It was pitch black,  bitterly cold, windy and bleak when I reluctantly set out for school on Monday.  Winter Break was now a thing of the past, and all I could think about was how much I already missed it.  I felt more in tune with my sixth graders as I was driving (who were, no doubt, just as reluctantly getting ready for school at that very moment), than the mature, seasoned educator that I was supposed to be.

The classroom looked just as it did when I’d shut the lights off and locked the door on December 23rd., down to the whiteboard still covered with holiday messages. I guess our custodian didn’t have the heart to erase all those wishes for “happy holidays and an awesome break!” that stretched from one end to the other.  Reluctantly, I cleaned off the board and began getting ready for my kids.

Marcy was the first one in.  She didn’t bound in as she usually does…she shuffled in.  Instead of her usual, peppy greetings, she sighed and muttered, “I’m sad.”  No further explanations were necessary.  Soon, she was followed by the rest of my morning class – each one just as dejected and tired as the next.

“Back to regular stuff,” one student said.

“Yeah,” another sighed, “regular stuff.”

It was going to be a rough Monday.

After our morning announcements, I took one look around the room and knew I had to do something. Clearly, a mini lesson on types of feature articles was going to fall flat as the proverbial pancake. Looking around the room, I had a feeling that I knew exactly what was on each kiddo’s mind: winter break memories, winter break fun.

So, all of us, including me, pulled out our writer’s notebooks and got to work writing them down, capturing them before the little bits we wanted to hang on to the most had wafted away just like the snowflakes outside our window, melting into forgetful oblivion.  The room was silent as we scribbled away.  I glanced up briefly and spied my kids smiling to themselves as they wrote.  Even Marcy.  She looked up and caught my glance, and then broke into a wide grin.

“Happy?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m happy!” she said,  “so much good stuff happened over break!”

Sometimes, you just have to write about all that good stuff before you can get on with the regular stuff.  So, we did.



Slice of Life Tuesday: The dream bike.

The Tuesday Slice of Life Writing Community @ Two Writing Teachers

If there is one thing I wish I’d learned to do as a kid, it would have been to  ride a  bicycle.  But,  I didn’t.  I did try to make up for this lost opportunity as an adult, three times…and wound up in the hospital and on crutches after each effort.  My family will no longer support me in any let’s-try-to-ride-a-bike adventures, and I have given up all hope of ever cruising down the street on two wheels.  I have always had the sneaking suspicion, though, that the reason I had such disastrous experiences was because I was riding the wrong type of bike.   With the right type of bicycle, though, I would have discovered the competenthighly co-ordinated inner biker in me.  I would have been awesome.  And, on Sunday, walking to my car after coffee with Bonnie, I saw the perfect bike:

It sat sunning itself on the sidewalk, coolly confident  and utterly perfect.  It had all the gears and gizmos to guarantee a smooth and steady ride, and yet it had an old fashioned bell and the best little contraption I’d ever seen to transport a favorite book to read, a writer’s notebook to jot down wonderful ideas and stories, and room for TWO Venti Skim Chais.  What more could one ask for in a bicycle?  On a bike like this, I could:
Pedal around town in style and comfort.
Feel the warmth of the Sunday sun and Fall breeze.
Set off on marvelous adventures around lakes, trails, and beaches.
Make a style statement.
Wave to astonished family members as I sail past – no need to worry, folks, I’ve got this covered…and how!
With a bike like this…

Slice of Life Tuesday: Malala Yousafzai makes my day.

The Tuesday Slice of Life Writing Community @ Two Writing Teachers

Last Friday, one of my personal heroes, 16 year old Malala Yousafzai  visited the White House.  I just loved this photograph of Malala with the President Obama, Mrs. Obama and their daughter Malia .  I loved the way she sat, so poised and graceful,  so purposeful in everything she said and did.  And I also loved the way young Malia looked upon this courageous, young woman – she looked utterly captivated, and thrilled to be in the company of Malala.  
There is something so comforting about seeing a young person like Malala, especially a young person who has suffered and risen above tragedy, go out and about in this crazy world of ours, doing good things and lifting souls and spirits.  There is a simplicity about her, and yet she is also profoundly wise.   That Friday, as adults in our nation’s capital were busy making a mockery of our democracy, it was a lovely moment of grace to come upon this photograph, and know that there are good people trying to do good things in this very imperfect world of ours.   Thank you, Malala.

And here she is, having the same effect on (of all people!), Jon Stewart:

Slice of Life Tuesday: Finding our port in a storm

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The storm broke just as the dismissal bell rang.  A window blew open and sent books crashing, papers flying.  Struggling to latch the window again,  I could see sheets of rain whipping across the school lawn and the road beyond.  The sky was a weird yellow- gray, and I recalled that my husband had forwarded an email earlier: “tornado warning…be careful going home!”   
The lights dimmed just as our Principal’s voice came over the school speaker system: the faculty meeting was cancelled, and all after school activities  were cancelled,  too.   Well, I thought to myself, I certainly wasn’t going anywhere yet, so I may as well settle in for some grading until things outside had quieted down.
One journal into the forty journal pile, the door opened to reveal four drenched and bedraggled looking students-from-last-year.  
“Can we hang out here? It’s kinda scary outside.”
No sooner had they settled into the comfy chairs, than there was another group, with much the same request.  And then more….and even more.  I passed out the lollipops.  They called home.  
The rain and wind whooshed and sloshed outside.  The lights dimmed from time to time.  We huddled together, my students and I, taking comfort in our very own port in a storm.