Bozen Kill Preserve

I’ve had a really busy month. There was a wedding in Buffalo, a weekend wine fest in Rhinebeck and two Albany events last Saturday. I’m not complaining about the state of my social/work calendar at all, but I do feel as though Jeter has been a little neglected recently and I can’t coast on his Wellfleet week forever. So, Sunday afternoon he and I took a drive out to Altamont to the Bozen Kill Preserve for a little quality time together.

How I came to select this particular spot is kind of funny. I knew I wanted to get him outdoors for a hike, but was unwilling to drive any real distance. As I was considering where I might take him, my Facebook feed offered up a recent  CivMix post  and the first option struck all the right notes – not too far, welcoming to dogs and with the added bonus of clean water for my boy to take a dip. After Waze-ing the drive, we were off.

The ride was pleasant with hints of fall’s shades of orange and red just starting to make a splash in the foliage. I don’t drive out that way very often and am uncertain what surprised me more – how very crowded Indian Ladder Farms is or the fact that someone thought it was a good idea to increase the speed limit to 55 mph just before this way-too-popular place is visible. Someone really should re-examine that decision.

After another few minutes and a series of turns we were past any apple picking crowds and parked in a small lot that contained only one other vehicle. We was in the country! Leashed and ready, Jeter bounded out of the wagon and I signed us in at the nearby trailhead and off we went, following the white trail across the field and into the woods.

Our path was well marked with the occasional mild incline. Once we were about 10 minutes up the trail, the sound of cars faded and we were alone with only the birds and the occasional tiny toad for company. As far as humans, we only encountered one family on our walk. giving me the sense that I had traveled far further than a mere 15 miles.

Eventually we found our way to a gentle stream, aka Kill, which Jeter happily stepped into for what may have been his last swim of the year. As promised, the water was pristine.

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Filed under beauty, Exercise, family, Hiking, ideas, Local, Recommendations, road trips, sunday, upstate New York

For the love of sixth grade

Can you find me?

When I was in sixth grade, I had the coolest teacher ever. I now suspect that Mr. Warbrick, the first male teacher I ever had, was fairly new to the field. Teachers who so enthusiastically do their own thing, I’ve come to learn, are either fresh and green or comfortable veterans.

The memories that stand out to me from that year of school are consistent for the way our activities made me feel – excited, interested, capable, respected and fun. Aren’t those the emotions school is supposed to inspire? Our classroom, the former library, was a suite of three rooms. We were tasked, as a class, to agree upon a theme (we chose jungle), sketch out a design and then paint our main classroom space. The smaller room on the right became the designated reading room, which we furnished with a couch we had fundraised to purchase. The smallest of rooms was a kitchen and, again, we worked together to raise the money needed to buy a secondhand refrigerator which we used to keep our lunchtime ice cream sandwiches frozen until class movie time.

I learned a lot that year. Things like how to do the hustle, what it feels like to be recognized as more than merely the girl who’s always reading and the possibilities of what can be achieved with collective effort. It was a fantastic academic year for me despite the fact that I recall nothing of what we studied during official class time. The lessons I learned were more about how to be a human being.

As I approach my twenty-fifth year in my profession, I find myself becoming more reflective of who I have been as an educator – and who I want to be. I’ve shared a library for the past fifteen years and, while collaboration can be stimulating, this year I am feeling compelled to break out a bit and do things a little differently. My way.

I want to create an atmosphere which allows children to grow, while also reflecting my experiences and viewpoint. I want the library to be welcoming and comfortable and I want to make connections – between myself and students, kids and books, and information and the world.

I got started last week with 15 orientation classes for 6th graders. It was a hectic three days, but I was exhilarated. We talked about areas of the library and dystopian literature and the amount of pressure – social, academic and athletic, students feel and I vowed to not add to that burden. That doesn’t mean we won’t tackle academic tasks, just that we both need to remember that these students are eleven years old.

My students were awesome and I’m filled with gratitude that my job is to work with all these kids. I’m so lucky – and my goal is to make as many students as possible feel exactly the same way. I think it’s going to be a very good year.

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Why do the buildings keep falling down?

That was the question that 18 years later I can still clearly hear my 4 year-old son asking me. Nearly two decades later, I still don’t have a good answer.

It was my second week of school teaching in a new district. A vendor with whom I had a scheduled appointment was late and explained as he arrived that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I pictured some yahoo in a small private  plane somehow making a horrific mistake.

My library’s television wasn’t on, but I did have a computer. The sales rep and I sat down and watched as the second plane hit the tower. I initially thought it was a repeating loop of the first plane, not being able to conceive of two different planes hitting this symbol of New York City. It was unimaginable.

A teacher who taught Participation in Government brought his class down to watch the library’s television and for the first time I heard the name Osama bin Laden. I had no idea who that was, but that teacher became a dear friend from whom I’ve since learned many additional things.

School closed early and faculty and students filed out of the building in a remarkably quiet fashion. Under the bluest of blues skies I drove to pick up my children from their daycare, eager to have them in my arms.

In the days which followed the sky continued to shine inexplicably blue. I drove the NYS thruway west to work as tractor trailers headed south laden with huge generators to provide power to those seeking survivors and recovering bodies of those lost.

In the weeks that followed, people were kinder to one another, voices were softer. There was a sense of appreciation for the heroism displayed by the police and fire fighters who risked their lives. Our country, while broken, was whole. We were United States.

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Goals unmet – Serena Williams and I

There was a time when I had no interest in watching a tennis match. It was just so boring to me and the scoring made no sense with some points being worth 15 and others 10 and what the hell was advantage and deuce? No, thank you.

But, then I learned how to keep score and began to understand the rules, and there was Andre Agassi, and I was hooked. I no longer minded when big matches were on television and even attended the U.S. Open a number of times and just loved it. What a great game.

During most of my time appreciating tennis, the Williams sisters have been on the scene. I’ve seen both of them play a number of times and even met their Dad, Richard, one year at a match and found him to be approachable and pleasant. While Venus was always the more appealing player to me because of her quiet demeanor, Serena awed me. Her strength is remarkable and she plays, like all my favorite players, with her heart pinned to her catsuit sleeve. She can be confrontational and combative, but damn it, she is a warrior.

There’s been a lot of talk about the number (23) of Grand Slams which Serena has won and the record (24) being within her reach. I personally don’t know if it is Serena’s goal to match or beat Margaret Court’s achievement, but if it is and she’s feeling disappointed or frustrated after losing in last night’s final to a woman half her age, I’d like to offer her some advice.

Goals can be motivating and provide focus. It can certainly be positive to have a target for which to aim. Training and practice can be grueling and keeping an eye on the prize can provide the inspiration necessary to keep one going.

Earlier this year, I decided that I wanted to run 1,000 miles this year, a feat I accomplished a couple of years ago. I also declared that I’d like to run 25 half marathons before I turn 55 in 2021, feasible with a dozen under my belt already. Both of these goals were achievable, I thought.

But, then my body started to complain. My feet hurt and the first few days of my vacation were remarkable for the limp I had related to discomfort in my hips. It was painful to walk, which made running impossible, and I essentially took the entire summer off running a total of 8 miles in two months. I watched my goals get away and was left feeling badly about my perceived failure.

I’ve gained a little perspective, though and have come to appreciate that not every goal is meant to be achieved. Life, babies and physical limitations can get in the way and demand our attention at times. Honoring our bodies and treating them with respect is essential for our long term health and wellness and that’s the most important end result to me. When it comes to goals, sometimes, you’ve just got to let that shit go.

 

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When silver is golden

Twenty-five years ago today I got married. It was a beautiful day filled with special moments and memories I will never forget. The photographer complained  that the skies were too blue and lacking clouds, yet he still managed to capture images that illustrate what a great day it truly was.

I was 27, nearly 28, on that Labor Day weekend Sunday. I thought of myself as an “older bride.” Friends and family came from miles and miles away  to join my groom and me in Washington Park where it seemed that the flower beds had conspired to fit our color scheme, It was everything I had ever imagined my wedding day to be.

The reception was held in a historic Shaker meeting house where guests enjoyed a delicious meal catered by the only restaurant to say “We’re caterers. Tell us what you want and if it’s possible, we’ll do it” instead of “You must have three hot h’or d’oeuvres and three cold h’or d’oeuvres and 2 salads and…” People talked about the food for years. We had so much fun.

But, as you know, a wedding day does not make a marriage. A marriage is hard work under skies that are not always blindingly blue. Learning and growing together takes effort and sacrifice and communication and maybe I wasn’t really as old as I thought I was on that gorgeous summer day.

Somewhere along the way we got lost. Our marriage ended and, while I take no joy in that, I am so very proud of how we’ve together parented the children our love created. We have always been able to put our children and their well being first and avoid the ugliness I’ve seen in far too many divorces.

While I may no longer be in love with the father of my children, I’ll always love the years we shared and that part of my life. It was a really good chapter.

 

 

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Picturing Rock and Roll – Herb Ritts at the Fenimore Art Museum

Madonna in all her natural beauty

The final week of summer vacation has arrived and with it comes a mad dash to enjoy activities and events that seemed easily achievable way back in June.
One thing I’ve had on my radar was a photography exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum, a place I’ve never before visited. Knowing that the opportunity to see this collection of Herb Ritts’ photos was limited (the show closes 9/2) I got in my car yesterday and made the 90 minute drive to Cooperstown and boy, am I glad I did.

To begin, I don’t know much about photography or the folks who have elevated it to a fine art, but I was aware of Herb Ritts’ name and, as I learned yesterday, some of his work. I’m sure you are too. Before his death in 2002 at the age of 52, he photographed some of the most iconic celebrities and personalities of contemporary culture. Ritts also, upon urging from Madonna, became a highly sought after director of music videos eventually working with, among others, Michael and Janet Jackson, Chris Isaaks, Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey.

Prince, King of gold

The exhibit ($24 admission) is downstairs in a newer wing of the museum and in addition to photos, includes some cool memorabilia. I fangirled over an impeccable black suit, complete with top hat, worn by Madonna and a dress that belonged to Joan Baez, but I could see guitar players being even more impressed by the beautiful instruments on display.

Courtney Love, Framed Angel

While some of the images were familiar, with many having been originally published as covers for Rolling Stone magazine, the captions and original contact sheets added an entirely new layer of context. An accompanying video in which a number of his subjects, colleagues and his brother appeared, helped to provide details about Ritts’ motivation and process and caused my heart to break a little as I considered how many more photos he might have produced had his life not been cut short, like so many other talented individuals, by AIDS.

Sting, the first crush to inspire lust – at least for me.

After taking in the show and checking out a few other museum galleries, I thoroughly enjoyed a picnic lunch on the terrace overlooking beautiful Otsego Lake. I was unable to resist the call of the tree lined path to the lake and eventually found myself on the shore testing the water temperature and wishing for an opportunity to swim or paddle board. For that, I guess, there’s always next summer.

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America is not the greatest country in the world

I’m first generation American, a position that gives me, I think, an interesting perspective on this country. I was bilingual until kindergarten when I came home from my half day of school and informed my mother that “this is America and we speak English here.” After that, I no longer was willing to speak German, a genuine loss when I visit my family in the Black Forest where most of them still reside.

Speaking a second language was not considered an asset in this country which arrogantly calls itself “America,” despite the fact that that is the name of two entire continents of which we are only one single country. In contrast, my mother spoke 3 languages while living in Europe, learning her fourth, English, upon arriving here in the mid-60s.

Growing up, we were encouraged to work hard in school because my mother saw education as the only means available to create a life better than the one into which we were born. My brother is a doctor and I hold an advanced degree. We own homes, have retirement accounts, travel, and generally have comfortable lives. In spite of childhoods consisting of a single parent home, Medicaid, and the shame of food stamps and free lunch, we made it.

Through hard work and social programs, my brother and I achieved what in many regards is considered the American Dream. So, why aren’t I more of a believer in the claim that America is the greatest country in the world? Well, it seems like there are quite a few reasons.

The income gap in the United States is outrageous. I don’t know about you, but I will never be convinced that a CEO is entitled to receive a salary that is on average 361 times the salary of the average worker. I’m not suggesting that the rest of the world is perfect, but America really excels in compensating executives at a more outrageous level than any where else in the world.

Do you have any idea how much our country spends on the military? How does the number $649 BILLION sound to you? It’s an amount comparable to the spending of the next eight countries – combined. Granted, this amount is less than what is budgeted for K-12 education,  but it remains an incredibly large number.

Speaking of education, when I was in Greece last month, I spoke with a couple from Scotland and asked them how college “worked” in their country. How much does it cost? Who pays for it? Their response – tuition is free and students are only responsible for related expenses such as room, board and books. The cost of those items can be met with loans, which essentially have an interest rate close to zero with repayment of the loans not beginning until the borrower reaches a certain level of income. Doesn’t that sound a lot more fair and reasonable than our government, which is the largest lender to students, earning interest off citizens trying to improve their lives?

During my travels I’ve been struck by the price of groceries (low) and the quality of public transportation (high) in the European countries which I’ve visited. Access to health care, while not perfect, does not seem to bankrupt families in the way I’ve observed it occurring in this country.

Solar and wind energy seem much more common in Europe and vehicles are more compact and fuel efficient than those found in America. Homes are smaller, not requiring the same resources to maintain, heat and cool. Vacation time is more generous, as are family leave policies when it comes to child rearing, with tax incentives available to soften the blow of losing an income while a parent stays home to raise a child.

America has been good to my family, but it is not the greatest country in the world and we need to recognize that. While it once may have been a true beacon of freedom and opportunity for all, that time has passed. A country which separates families seeking asylum, fails to provide preventative healthcare to the poor and the underemployed and has different justice and education systems for people depending upon the color of their skin really doesn’t sound all that great to me.

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