Posts Tagged ‘New York’

Shaking-Up The Apple Tree!

October 14, 2012 7 comments

I’ve been known to shake-up the apple tree — on occasion.

My kids do too.

Every now and then.

After all….

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

So “they” say.

Actually, “they” are right. The apple, when it falls, usually lands right below the tree or very close to it anyway and if it sits there too long, without being picked up and taken home to be turned into a delicious pie, turn-over, sauce or eaten as is, it gets mushy and eventually stomped on and smushed. I know this to be true because I spent a glorious afternoon at Barton Orchards, picking apples with my family last weekend.

We’re blessed here in the Northeast with fantastic, fall foliage, spectacular autumn views and orchards open to the public for picking farm-fresh, delicious eats. Like cutting down your very own Christmas tree in December, it’s tradition around these parts, at this time of year, to pick-a-pumpkin, grab a gourd or avalanche a cascade of apples into your bag with a few good shakes of the tree.

Not only does Barton Orchards in Poughquag, NY offer palatable produce for the pickin’, they also have a petite petting zoo and playground, a crazy corn maze, walking trails, a bouncy house, live entertainment, magnificent mums, amazing apple-cider doughnuts, smiles galore and quality time with your kids. For the older goblins in your group, you can go for the scare, if you dare and take a tour of the Rotten Core Manor.  There’s something for everyone!

I love spending time with my kids but as they get older, it gets a little harder finding something we can all enjoy doing. This was a fun-filled, family day that lent itself to all kinds of opportunities for talking, walking and laughing together. Even the weather cooperated! It was the perfect temperature; just heart-warming enough to take the chill out of the cool October air.

What kinds of things do you do with your family?

Photo Credits: ©Karen Szczuka Teich &

Irene’s Grace

September 3, 2011 10 comments

Last Saturday morning, my daughter and I left our peaceful retreat in the woods, hoping to get home before Irene got there. We made it, just in time to clear off the pool deck and secure all fly-able objects before the first onslaught of heavy rains pelted our area. Other than a few severe but sporadic downpours that afternoon however, Saturday turned out to be more like the calm before the storm. Things started out slow enough but strange for us in the Hudson Valley. Early in the evening, I noticed a few displaced turkeys.

If nothing else, their presence on the median in our otherwise “turkey-free” neighborhood was a sign that something was justnot right.

It wasn’t until around 6am on Sunday that Irene picked up the pace, becoming faster and more furious, showing her relentless nature. Hour after hour throughout the day, she presented us with a deluge of rain leaving the better part of my front lawn under water by late afternoon.

A happy “singing in the rain” moment for my daughter perhaps but a menacing sight for her mom.

She's literally "singing in the rain"!

In her fiercest moments, two sump pumps, a powerful wet-vac and ultimately even a bucket brigade couldn’t keep her at bay. She streamed right into our basement through the glass doors that lead out to the back yard. There was NO stopping her. In the 24-hours or so that she hovered over our area, I back-washed at least 9-inches of water out of our pool, into an already over-flowing street drain.

Under dryer conditions, you can easily see the three steps that lead from the basement to the pool area.

Late in the day, the fire department closed off our street. They pumped water out of homes while we watched a variety of small objects float passed our house down the stream that is normally our road. By nightfall, she was gone.


Irene was “beast” as my kids would say, doling out her special blend of mayhem in the most sporadic of places. Perhaps she was a disappointment to some, not packing the punch that was anticipated by so many who took great measures to prepare for her arrival. But to me, her arbitrary selection of where to leave harsh destruction reinforced the fragility of life and the urgency to live it to it’s fullest without taking it for granted. She left just enough damage in my basement and neighborhood to earn my deepest respect. In the days following, as I watched report after report on the damage and heartache that was left elsewhere in her wake, she reminded me in no uncertain terms, that no matter how difficult things may seem, there is always someone out there who has it worse.

There are no limits to the power of nature.

So, I’m going to wade in gratitude for a while knowing that, there but for the grace of Irene……

The path of Hurricane Lee

Tell me, were you affected by Hurricane Irene?

Keep your eye on Lee, Louisiana!

Photo Credits #1-5: Karen Szczuka Teich and

Photo Credit #6: International Business Times Hurricane Lee


August 28, 2011 18 comments

And in the blink of an eye, it was over.  

Whether you have the summer off or not, everyone feels its’ end, most likely in a melancholy kind of way. With a slight pang of apprehension, I can’t help but recognize that the season has already begun to show hints of turning. The cycle has begun, again. Yes, in the blink of an eye, the summer is nearly over. That’s how life is though isn’t it? One minute they’re babies, the next they’re in school. Before you know it, they are driving and off on their own. I see it clearly now. Change is going to happen, regardless.

Life is fragile and passes quickly.

About a year and a half ago, I resigned myself to living in the moment the best that I could and as painful and beautiful as that has been at times and with all that’s transpired since then, I don’t think there’s much left that can surprise, shock or even hurt me anymore. Life is fragile and passes quickly.

And now, I am resigned to living it to it’s fullest.

The challenge for me, is embracing it in a mindful, peaceful way.

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

In seeking peace for myself and in effort to make the most of my last week off before going back to work this Monday, my daughter and I drove Upstate to spend some time at our place in the woods. Her teacher joined us for a few days. As we puzzled and hiked and ate ice-cream, Irene was churning away, gaining strength as a category 3 hurricane in the Bahamas. I watched her unstoppable force rapidly move toward the east coast. I debated whether to stay put on the outer reaches of harm’s way for however long it would take her to pass or go home where my son was, much closer to her destructive path.

My heart belongs to two children. I chose to go home. But I leave here, a glimpse of the peace I found, with my girl, in the woods.


She's soooo Hannah!

On Thursday, we headed to the "upper field" for a hike.

A bobcat resting in the high grass interrupted our hike, sending Hannah, her teacher and I scurrying back toward the house! Not peaceful but definitely exciting!

Again, not peaceful but after our near-encounter with the bobcat, this fella was no challenge.

Evening sky....definitely, peaceful.

Before leaving, we baked Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies to eat during the storm ~ Baking always helps me feel peaceful!

Life is fragile and passes quickly. How do you find your peace?

Photo Credit #1: Blink

Photo Credit #2-14: ©Karen Szczuka Teich and

Unsolicited Journey

June 19, 2011 22 comments

Some days, weeks or months hold a certain significance in your life that trigger specific memories.

It was a year ago this month, that I faced my neighbor, Brian Quain, in court for a second time. I was given the opportunity to tell him about the impact his actions had on our family in a statement that I wrote and read during his sentencing. The first time we met in a courtroom, was five months earlier at the beginning of February, when he was being arraigned for felony charges of burglary and a few other misdemeanor crimes including possession of stolen property. He was wearing an orange jump suit and mouthed the words “I’m sorry” to me when I looked over to where he was seated next to an armed guard. This was a few days after he was caught coming out of our home by a young, smart, quick-thinking State Trooper who is a credit to his profession in every way.

NYS Trooper Timko, heard the “burglary in progress” call come over his radio and knew he had limited time. He also knew this was for real. He managed to get to our house in less than three minutes, coming from across town, nearly five miles away. Even though six local squad cars also responded to the call, Timko was the first to arrive on the scene. He’d been checking in with us throughout the winter after responding to our initial complaint in November. As a result, he knew exactly where to go to at our house and indeed, found the perpetrator coming out of our backyard. When Timko apprehended him, this tough (creepy) guy was wearing slippers, a hoodie and his sister’s sweat pants. He also had black gloves and a blue ski mask on his person. That would account for why my husband didn’t recognize him when a flurry of images showing a burglar in our home, were transmitted to his iPhone via email, thus prompting the 911 call.

The “burglar” was wearing the ski mask as he crept up the stairs to our living room.

Imagine this image coming through your email while you’re at work.  Brian Quain  would actually change into this outfit in our basement bathroom before coming up stairs.                                                                                          © 2011 Karen Szczuka Teich

Imagine now, seeing this and having no idea who this is, in your home. CREEPY.                                                 © 2011 Karen Szczuka Teich

Seven weeks earlier we hid a motion sensor camera in our living room at Trooper Timko’s urging and after being robbed six times in three months.

It was a Tuesday. I was off and had gone out for lunch with friends. Before leaving I did the same thing I’d done every day for the past seven weeks. I unlocked the window leading to a crawl space underneath our porch in the small bathroom just off the family room in our basement. I glanced around the family room confirming that there was a few dollars and some loose change lying around, ran upstairs to the living room, made sure the camera was on, dropped a five dollar bill on the coffee table in direct view of the camera’s eye, locked the front door and left.

When I got home, I poked my head downstairs just long enough to immediately notice that the money was gone.

“Oh My God — he was here!” I thought to myself. Although at that time, I had no idea who “he” was.

My heart pounded wildly as I ran upstairs knowing with absolute certainty, that the five dollar bill I’d placed on the glass coffee table two hours earlier would also be gone and it was.

The words tumbled frantically out of my mouth when I called my husband,

“He was here! Why didn’t you call me? He was here! Did you check your email?”

My husband had no idea what I was talking about. There was no email from the camera. No pictures.

I didn’t understand. What the hell happened?

This was burglary number seven and by far, the most invasive. This was the one where much of my jewelry was taken, including my engagement ring and the first pair of gold Italian droplet earrings my husband gave me 18-years earlier. This was the time when it was blatant that my personal drawer and private things had been touched, taken and rooted through. I couldn’t speak. I was devastated. The long wait was over and we blew it. Surely, he would never come back. Why would he? There was nothing left. He had cleaned us out. I went to bed at 4pm.

It took my husband all night and several technical support phone calls to learn that in fact, the camera received 45-minutes worth of constant “hits” which began 10-minutes after I’d left the house but because of a windstorm the day before (and unbeknownst to us) our internet was “down” that afternoon and no pictures were saved or transmitted.

Forty-five minutes of constant hits.

The next morning, I performed my daily ritual before leaving the house but truly, it was only out of habit. I was beyond discouraged and didn’t even bother to leave money on the coffee table.

That’s why it was so hard to comprehend what my husband was saying when he called me at work that afternoon and calmly said,

“I just called 911. There’s a burglar in our house right now. I can see him. He has a weapon and he sees the camera. I think he’s going to break it.” 

I was stunned.

This makes me sick, to see Brian Quain creep beneath the picture my daughter drew of me and my husband when she was in Kindergarten. © 2011 Karen Szczuka Teich

The “weapon” turned out to be a screw driver. He unplugged the camera and saw the police coming through a bay window. © 2011 Karen Szczuka Teich

It was shocking to learn the thief, was our neighbor; 20-year old Brian Quain, a boy who had been helping himself to our money and jewelry, who had ripped our screen windows, cracked our doors and broke into our lock box. It was someone we knew, who had gone through our little girl’s bedroom removing holiday money from jars on her dresser and cards in her drawers. It was the boy next door, who had taken my son’s little, silver bear-bank filled with coins, the one that held the picture of him as a smiling infant in his crib. A quick and cursory search of  my neighbor’s bedroom by law enforcement agents after his arrest, uncovered a few personal items that belonged to my family. I identified them and they were taken into evidence.

Once the initial shock wore off, we had a brief stint with elation. It was over. Over. Woohoo! We had caught this CREEP ourselves and it was finally over. Or so I thought. What I didn’t realize, was that it was just the beginning of yet another long journey I had no idea I, we, were meant to take. It began with five months of dealing with phone calls, court dates and an overworked Assistant DA who seemed confused by our level of “participation” and whose comment to me that he just couldn’t get over “how interested” we were in our case, left me dumbfounded and disheartened. Luckily, we had a DA friend from a neighboring town, who coached us along the way.

Sometime at the end of last summer, a NY State Trooper’s car pulled up onto my lawn and Trooper Timko came to my front door. He was personally returning the items found in a sock at the bottom of a closet in my neighbor’s bedroom during that cursory search after his arrest. Returned to me was one of my Italian droplet earrings, a gold “K” charm my dad gave me as a child and the now empty, silver bear-bank that was taken from my son’s room.

Of all the things he took, the one thing I miss the most, is the little round picture of my smiling baby in his crib that sat in the frame attached to the bank. It bothers me, a lot that he removed that picture.

And even though we were awarded full restitution of over $10,500, honestly, I would just like to have the picture back.

It was a year ago this month that I began a new and unsolicited journey, one that opened a Pandora’s box and hasn’t seen fit to close itself yet. One that has taken me to a place in my life now, that I never expected to be, interspersed with equal parts of immense joy and pain. One that in the past year, has brought forth many surprising twists and turns in the form of a variety of people, places and things, bringing me face to face with who I am and who I strive to be. It has re-surfaced old truths; the hard kinds, the ones that have been buried for a long time and will no longer go away. This journey leaves me a little sadder but much stronger and more determined than I have ever been. It’s difficult at times but it’s also hopeful, open-ended and holds great promise for the future and clearly, it is far, far, far, from over.

#realifeburglar #brianquain #thief

Previous posts related to this subject: My Edward and Life’s Terms – Not Mine

Photo Credits: #1, #2, #3 & #4 –  © 2011 Karen Szczuka Teich. All rights reserved.

A Wet Haven

June 5, 2011 4 comments

Think back to when you were a kid in grammar school. What would it have been like for you, if you were able to throw a bucket of water over your “favorite” teacher’s head without fear of retribution? What if, once a year, you were allowed, encouraged even to get the principal or head of school soaken wet?

My girl soaks her math/science/this is how you build a rocket, teacher!

And what if, even after you left that school, you were still allowed to come back at the end of the year and take part in a wild and wet, water-splash-out of students vs. teachers and parents?

My boy gets to come back and relive this thrill even after being gone for two years!

Six years ago, I began working at the small progressive school my kids attended so I could be near them and see firsthand, what it was all about and why my kids barely got any homework. Coming from a catholic grammar school and an all girl catholic high school, I was a little skeptical of the progressive education that I’d signed on to for them. I ended up getting an education for myself, on what it means for a child to be in an environment that nurtures their curiosity and fosters the development of a life-long love of learning. For eight years my son went to the Randolph School. He left after 5th grade. My daughter is finishing up 4th grade. Next year will be her last. I’m already feeling sad.

The curriculum at Randolph School is project based. Several months are devoted to one study at a time, such as birds, Native Americans and human flight. Math, English, Social Studies and Science all get incorporated into the study using a hands on learning approach. These kids are out and about, seeing, doing, building and loving what they’re learning. They’ve done some pretty awesome things too, like making paper and cooking an annual ThanksGiving meal with vegetables they planted and harvested themselves. They’ve tapped maple trees, collected sap and boiled it down to make their own syrup for a pancake lunch. They’ve been schooled on tracking people and animals, building shelters in the wilderness and trebuchets in the back field. They know how to use the resources they have to solve a problem. Each child builds a rocket and launches it every year and each year ends with an adventure day which usually involves a hike along the Hudson river or in this year’s case, a walk across the Hudson River on the newly opened, Walkway Over the Hudson. After the adventure there’s an all-school barbecue. After the barbecue, the older kids, students in kindergarten through 5th grade, get to camp-out behind the school with parents and teachers. Tents are pitched at the bottom of the same hill the kids and teachers, sled down during the winter. A bon fire is made, songs are sung, stories are told, s’mores are eaten.

Somewhere in-between the end of the adventure and the beginning of the barbecue, a twenty-plus-year-old tradition lives on. It began when two teachers who overheard a plot being hatched by two students to bring water guns to the camp-out, staged a surprise counter-attack, fully equipped with their own loaded water-guns and behold, a no holds back, teacher-parent-student water splash-out filled with 100% pure fun was born!

A wet haven for kids of all ages! Splash-Out June 2011

It’s tough being a kid. Society is drenched with all kinds of peer pressures and technological enticements. Finding a place in early childhood where children are free to be themselves, free of some of these stresses just long enough to give them a solid footing is a blessing.

So much of parenting is like playing pin the tail on the donkey. Without foresight, you point yourself in what you hope is the right direction and move forward, praying that you hit the target. Sometimes, you get lucky and hit it dead center.  Other times, you veer way off to the left or the right and have to go back and try again.

Sending my children to a school that encourages kids to be kids was a “hitting the target dead center” move — a blessing.

The result, is that they love to learn, they always will and I am very grateful.

What do you love about your child’s school?


The Power of Three

May 22, 2011 6 comments

To me, there’s no sweeter sound than that of a child’s laughter. It’s comfort food to my ears and fills my heart with a strong sense that something is “right” in this world. When it’s a giggling girl, it’s a little piece of heaven, add two BFFs and it’s an all-out party. That’s what it seemed like anyway when my 10-year old daughter had her two gal pals over for a play date this week. Ten is such a joyous age. It’s the pre, pre-tween-age of self-discovery, where everything is new again and funny.

After a brief stint of one-on-one-on-one basketball, there was the discovery of a blue bird’s egg on the front lawn and the nest that was knocked from a bush. They huddled around it with great concern trying to figure out what happened and what they could do to save it. They played on the over-sized swing-set that dominates a good chunk of our backyard and seems to get less and less attention as the years go by. I was happy to hear the boards creak again as they ran across the wooden bridge linking one tower to the other. Then they did what girls often do and tried on clothes for the next hour. My girl is a bit taller than the other two and has grown two sizes this year alone. One by one, they came out of their giggles to model their outfits. I was checking my Facebook on the kitchen computer as they cat-walked the runway for me.

A friend had posted the now infamous pictures of President Obama and his national security team as they were briefed about the demise of Bin Laden. I wondered what (if anything) three girls in the fourth grade would think about the removal of prominent government officials, who just happen to be women, from a government issued photograph in two news articles that recently circulated in Brooklyn, New York.

Without going into the detail behind the original photograph, I asked them to look at both pictures and tell me what they thought of them.

They immediately recognized that they were the same picture but that the two women who were in the first photo, were missing from the second and they wanted to know, why? In very simple terms I explained that it was a cultural decision.

“But it’s not true. They were there!”

10-year old girls believe in the truth.

“Isn’t that what they call sex…um, sex-ist?”

10-year old girls are smart and a force to be reckoned with.

“I don’t agree with it and I do find it very offensive but it’s their culture.”

10-year old girls are tolerant.

“That’s just wrong. I’m a Jew and that’s not my kind of Jew. I don’t like it.

Let’s go play.”

10-year old girls speak their mind and really do just want to have fun.

And they should.

I take great comfort in their play and all that it encompassed in just one afternoon. From their savvy athletic skills in basketball, their great display of compassion for the unborn bird and it’s home and their fantastic, imaginative adventure on the play structure, to their sophisticated sense of fashion on the runway of my kitchen, the promise of strength in these little women is evident.  And while one may be able to “faux-toshop” them out of a picture someday, I don’t think for one second, they will ever be out of the game.

They are powerful indeed and in a tough spot, this power of three. It’s the end of the school year and they are very much aware that one of the points that keeps this triangle in flow, will not be coming back next year. With a class size of ten, losing one makes a big difference, especially when they’ve been together since they’re two. It’s difficult for them and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to help them honor their growth, celebrate their friendship of eight years and acknowledge their parting of the ways as a natural part of life, albeit a sad one.

Sometimes we need to say, “goodbye” to the people we love in order to become all that we can be.

Life after-all is a series of “hellos” and “goodbyes“, some lasting longer than others, some merely preparation for when we meet again.

So, if it’s up to me, for now, I think I’ll just let them play as much as they can or want to, together.

Photo Credit # 1 & #2:  ©Karen Szczuka Teich &

Photo Credit #3 & #4:  Yahoo! News The Cutline

Beyond the Fence

May 1, 2011 5 comments

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”   Henry David Thoreau

There are so many beautiful places in the Hudson Valley. Our scenic landscape is plentiful with lovely day-trip opportunities chock-filled with hidden alcoves and woodsy trails that run along the majestic Hudson River.

A few years ago, another mom and I began a weekly walk in the woods at just such a lovely place. This mom and I meet during school hours at the same location and time, every Thursday. We spend an hour following one of a few hiking trails that lead down to the Hudson River. The terrain offers great exercise, which was the initial motivation for this weekly excursion. Rarely, do we miss a week during the school year, switching days if we have to, in order to keep our walking ritual. We’re committed. In the winter, my walking partner even brings snowshoes for us to wear.

Over the years however, our weekly jaunt has become so much more to me than just another walk in the woods. Aside from being one of the fastest passing hours of my week, it is by far, one of the most meaningful and treasured hours of my week and it is spent with another mom who has become a cherished friend.

From the moment we meet in the parking lot a conversation begins. We never really know what direction it’s going to take and we often cover many topics. By the short time it takes us to get down to the entrance of the trails, we are in our walking groove; me on the right, her on the left, always.

There is a large fence with a small opening that you need to pass through to gain access to the where the trails begin.

Beyond the fence, magic happens. Every time.

Instantly I begin to feel all that is heavy on my heart and mind lift and dissipate. Everything about my life comes to a soft, grinding halt. I can breathe again and I do, deeply. The tempo of the woods is slow. The environment is serene. I am safe to say whatever I need to, knowing, that what is said in the woods, stays in the woods. There are no judgments there, only trust. It’s where peace lives and friendship grows.

Sometimes, we sit on a wooden bench over-looking the train tracks that run along side the river and take-in the beauty that surrounds us. It’s so easy to lose track of where we are in the forest, although we never get lost. And while time seems to suspend itself, I hardly ever check my watch and we always end up back at the fence in just about an hour’s time.

Inevitably, we leave much behind to rustle among the leaves and rest upon the limbs of the trees we pass each week. A collection of thoughts, hopes, fears, tears and an abundance of laughter mark our path. And Undoubtedly, I always leave, taking more with me; more clarity, more gratitude, more courage and more hope.

Spring Break and an amazing trip abroad with her family has kept us from our weekly ritual for the past three Thursdays. I am missing the secret keeping woods that magically remove me for one hour, once a week, from life’s daily stresses. I’m missing my friend, my confidant.

I’ve never taken our woods, walks or words for granted. I treasure them all, more and more, each week.

And I’m not going to “out” my friend or the location of this special place as much as I did my Book Club.

I’ve only taken four people beyond the fence.

Sometimes something that special needs to stay that way. Special.

What I am going to do, is say:

“Thank you, for taking me beyond the fence, dear friend.

I look forward to seeing you again, next week.”

Tell me, do you have a special place, ritual or friend that you cherish?

Photo Credits:  me


March 20, 2011 3 comments

Did you know that dialing any combination of 9-1-1 connects you to a 911 operator? It’s true.

For instance, if, let’s say, you are a nine year-old kid and your mom has a cell phone that has a 914 area code and you live in an 845 area code, when calling her from your home phone, you have to dial 1 (for long distance) 9-1-4… to reach her. At nine years-old, you may not be too land-line savvy. You might be a little slow on the dialing or you don’t always remember the “4” fast enough because you have to remember the 1 at the beginning. If there is any hesitation in getting to the 4, just dialing the 1-9-1 combination connects you to 911. And if you’re nine, no matter how many times this happens, you just think the call isn’t going through so you hang up and try again. While you’re trying again, the 911 operator is calling you back to make sure everything is “Okay” but you’re not answering the second line because you are calling your mom again on the first line, remember?

Did you also know, that when you don’t answer a 911 operator’s call back, in New York at least, they automatically send law enforcement to your house. And when they come to your house, in addition to making sure everything is “Okay“, they request to see and speak with the 911 caller.

How do I know this?

They’ve been coming to my house for years. It used to be once or twice a year since the time my son was a toddler and would find his way into our basement office and “play” with the fax machine. I never heard the return call on the fax machine from the 911 operator so, a police officer would be dispatched to our house. It took three visits before we figured out it was the toddler and the fax machine. I used to think it was only local police that responded to 911 calls but lately, it’s been a NYS Trooper. And over the past several months, the Troopers have come to our home so often, that last month when the Trooper pulled up in front of our house and my son saw him from the bay window in our living room, he simply called out:

“Hannah! Someone’s here to see you!”

Yes, it’s my nine year-old Hannah, who is responsible for our more recent meet and greets. It seems that nearly every time she tries to call my 9-1-4 cell phone, a NYS Trooper ends up at our door. No kidding!

And as of this month, it’s not just our door either!

A few weeks ago, when I went to pick up Hannah at school, I noticed a State Trooper pulling out of the parking lot as I was pulling in. I’d say that would raise a curious eye brow for any parent picking up their kid but it was me who the “porch” teacher met at my car. He came bearing the news that after trying to call me from the school phone unsuccessfully, 911 was accidentally called by my daughter. Hence the State Trooper, who apparently had a “nice little chat” with Hannah. This, was so not surprising. And it’s probably a really good thing that I work there three days a week.

I think it’s important to nurture a sense of independence in children. I think they should feel they can be trusted and shown that you have confidence in them. And it’s only in the past several months that we’ve felt comfortable enough to resume moving forward in this effort. So, I was pleased when Hannah opted to stay home alone for the 6 minutes it would take me to drive my son to his tennis lessons and come back, about a week ago.

Ah, I should have known. I hadn’t even shut the door behind me after returning when I glanced over my shoulder and saw the all too familiar, navy blue vehicle with yellow lettering pull up onto my front lawn.

“Hannah?”, I called inside the door, “Any idea why the State Troopers would be coming to our house?”

“Oh, um, yeah” she said, “that could be me.”

Between the tennis run last Friday and a quick jaunt to the post office a little later this week, the Troopers were at my house, twice. Yes, that’s twice in one week’s time.

I wonder if calls from our house are somewhat expected now or have become part of the training program for the new guys? A different Trooper comes every time. The last fellow that came was awfully, young. I suspect it’s also possible that our address has been “red flagged” for other reasons. Either way, it is always a State Trooper and, they come fast!

I never get rattled though, when I see a Trooper pull up to my house. In fact, I don’t think it’s the worst thing for my neighbors to see the company I keep. Besides, I find things like a 6ft cardboard cut-out of a vampire and NYS Troopers at my front door, comforting these days.

I also happen to be a bit partial to NYS Troopers and to one in particular, whom I will forever be indebted.

To all the other Troopers that are perhaps, taking turns coming to my house, meeting and speaking to my Hannah, I thank you for your service to our community and most especially, to my family.

I Heard the Plunk of Hope This Week!

February 19, 2011 Leave a comment

I love living in New York. I enjoy the seasons and like to feel the weather change. Variety is a friend to me. I’m not real big on extremes. It’s all about balance. So, after we were hit by our eighth snowstorm this Winter, I started to get a little wary. Actually, (like so many other moms, I’m sure) between the shoveling and baking on our already too many school days off, I’ve just about had it! But thankfully, it’s February and February, is like Wednesday. It’s the hump month of Winter. Get through February and Spring is like Friday, you can see the end in sight. It’s right around the corner! February is also fickle. It’s weather often provides a teaser to what lies ahead; Spring plays a game of peek-a-boo. That’s fine. I’ll take it because I am ready.

Like a snake that sheds it’s skin, I’m ready to rid myself of this winter’s dread, trying not to let it bog me down or suffocate me like I know it wants to. It’s hard not to just succumb. I need encouragement from the environment to hang in there! For me, Spring is a time of renewal and I have a lot of renewing to do! My life requires a complete overhaul and I want to get to it. In general, I’m not a procrastinator, so when the doldrums of Winter seem to be hanging on, putting Spring on the back burner, I tend to get a little antsy. Like everyone else, I’m eager to go outside with out the fear of freezing. I want to literally smell the roses again. Okay, I realize I  may have to wait until May for that but there’s no harm in thinking ahead, is there?

Thankfully, this week I heard the plunk, plunk, plunking sound of sap dripping its way into those aluminum buckets hanging on the maple trees at the school I work in. It’s truly a sure sign of proof that Spring is indeed hovering in the air. It is the environment, clearly and loudly telling me,”Hang in there! We’re at the front door of brighter days!” After all, the sap only flows right before Spring, when the nights are cold and the days are warm.

Yes, I heard the plunking sound of sap this week! Oh, the sweet sound of the plunk! Now, I have hope.

After a few days of hope, gratitude will seep in and with gratitude, all things can be accomplished.

Categories: Comfort, Life Tags:

Freaky Frieda and Her Wiener Dog, Heidi!

January 9, 2011 6 comments

This is a (true) story I’ve told my kids a hundred times. They never tire from it and always want to hear it again and again….

My dad had a red Volkswagen bus when we were kids. The kind with a sliding door on one side. Every summer for many years we would pack up the bus on a Friday night and make the 14-hour trek from New York to South Carolina for our family vacation. (Think Little Miss Sunshine without the dead body and you have us pegged.) My Dad is from Germany and had older friends, also from Germany, in Carolina who we visited. Frankly, we were less than thrilled to be going to see them but happy I suppose, to be going anywhere.

Powell and Frieda. Powell didn’t say a lot. He pretty much ignored us, unless of course he needed help shelling shrimp. Then he’d waive us over in the backyard and simply point to a bucket of hundreds of shrimps he and my Dad had caught the night before. There we’d  sit, shelling and de-veining shrimp for hours on end. A kid’s vacation dream. Frieda on the other hand was quite vociferous. Although she rarely spoke to us and when she did, it was in German, assuming we knew what she was saying. Her face was stern and wore a permanent frown. Her hair was black and shortly cropped. She had very pale skin which she highlighted with a deep red lipstick; a bit scary as I recall. She was rather stout and fond of wearing the same outfit every day; neatly ironed shorts with a button-up, sleeveless, white or yellow cotton blouse. This left the extra skin under her arms free to flap loosely in the wind whenever she got excited and raised her arms (which was often). We stayed at their house twice. After that, we rented. It was during our second visit that things came to a head and it was clear that Powell and Frieda’s tolerance for children was well, below sea level at best.

We rolled in on a hot Saturday afternoon in mid-July to what appeared to be a birthday party reception. There were decorations, hats and even party blowers nicely arranged on the kitchen table in their small, immaculate home. When we asked whose birthday it was, Frieda flapped her arms in the air and replied excitedly, Heidi‘s! The thing about this, is that my older sister’s name is Heidi and her birthday is July 15th but just what had changed we wondered from the previous year when they pretty much ignored us? Children have a keen sense about adults who don’t like them and quite frankly we were suspect. Rightfully, so.

What was different we soon found out, was Heidi. Not our Heidi but their Heidi. Heidi it turned out was their new baby; a four-legged dachshund doxie baby but their baby or at least Frieda’s baby, none the less. Heidi was a wiener dog. And it was her birthday they were celebrating. We were okay with that, after all, a party is a party and quite frankly, the wiener dog provided a little hope for us. Maybe this vacation wouldn’t be so bad after all. WRONG! Unfortunately, not only was there no cake and no ice-cream at this party, there was absolutely no blowing of the blowers either and the next few days set the stage for a resentment build up of epic proportions against Heidi

Heidi, Heidi, Heidi! Every other word out of Frieda’s mouth was about Heidi. “Look at Heidi. Where is Heidi? I wonder if Heidi is hungry?” Don’t play with, chase or scare Heidi. Don’t walk Heidi. Do not touch Heidi and for God sakes, don’t leave the door ajar or Heidi will run out of the house! As for Heidi, the spoiled little wiener dog, I swear she would start yelping like crazy if one of us even walked passed her, sending Frieda into a screaming, arm flapping, frenzy about how we were tormenting her poor, little Heidi. This domino-ed into my Dad yelling at us for upsetting Frieda, leaving us longing for the year before when Powell and Frieda just ignored us. By mid-week, we hated Heidi and Frieda even more. We were miserable and the only bright spot came when my parents announced we would be going to Myrtle Beach. Finally, some reprieve!

As cool as my dad’s VW bus was, it didn’t come with air conditioning and much to our dismay, Heidi the wiener dog was coming with us to Myrtle Beach. My dad and Powell sat up front. Mom and Frieda (with Heidi on her lap), in the middle seat, the human Heidi, myself and our younger brother, Peter were cramped together in the very back. Upon our departure, Frieda announced it was Heidi’s napping time and we were meant to be “quiet” while the dog slept for the hour’s ride. It was okay however, for Frieda to huff and puff and complain loudly about the heat for the first 30-minutes of our trip though and we watched the back of her head bob up and down wildly, while she waved her short stumpy fingers frantically in front of her face like a fan, sending sweat from her brow flying throughout the bus .

“Oh, mein Gott ist das so heiß!”

(Oh, my God it is so hot!) she repeated over and over again in German.

I’d say it was midway to Myrtle Beach when Frieda reached her boiling point– literally. Without warning she stopped waving and began to unbutton her yellow, sleeveless blouse. At first we weren’t sure what she was doing but once we saw her pass the garment up to Powell to hold, it was clear, the portly German woman in her late 50s who was sitting in front of us had just removed her blouse, completely! Seeing the thick white straps of her brazier alone, was enough to send us into an uncontrollable “snicker” as my mom would call it but when the now freaky Frieda turned around to see what all the ruckus was about, the reality of what she had done was just too much to hold in.  And now, there was all kinds of moist, milky-white skin flapping in the air in front of us as we came face to face with the largest bosoms squeezed into the biggest, white-est, lacy-est, cross your heart bra, any six, eight and ten-year kids had ever seen! Needless to say, the frontal view sent us gasping for air as we tried to contain the “snickering” which quickly turned into pure unadulterated laughter. Even mom who at first put the “sshhh” finger up to her lips behind Frieda’s back was now turning a crimson red, desperately trying not to bust a gut with her own laughter. Frieda didn’t see the humor or anything wrong with removing her blouse in the car on a hot summer’s day.

Honestly, this bra doesn't give the visual we were exposed to as youngsters justice but it's close and you get the idea.

We’d just about calmed ourselves down when Dad pulled into one of Myrtle Beach’s parking lots. With miles of beach before us, Dad snaked in and out of endless rows of cars to find a space. Maybe it was the heat of the moment or the heat itself, the need for air after all that belly hurting laughter or perhaps it was just a kid being a kid but for reasons we’ve never cared to discuss, the moment Dad pulled into a space and brought the car to a stop, my little brother jumped out of  his seat and opened the side door. What happened next is indelibly etched in my mind’s eye and I’m somehow able to replay the event in slow motion, moment by moment, which is truly a gift and leaves me forever grateful for it.

At the sound of the door sliding open, Heidi the wiener dog, bolted from freaky Frieda’s lap making the leap of her life for freedom and vanishing into the sea of cars, in the blink of an eye. Frieda, in absolute hysteria was next to take flight, leaving her blouse behind and frantically screaming “Heidi, come back! Heidi!” while chasing the yelping dog through row after row of cars. This buxom babe was bouncing all over the place in the parking lot, in her big, white, lacy, cross your heart bra for all to see! For just a moment, the three of us stood there by the open car door with wide eyes and dropped jaws, stunned by what we saw. Next went Powell, yelling in his thick German accent… “Vait! Frieda, stop! Come back! Vait! Vere are you going?” And finally, my Dad jumped out of his seat and ran after Powell who was running after Frieda, who was running after Heidi. Mom, (bless her) stayed back, unable to control herself as we all were by then, unable to control the howl of laughter that roared from the deepest, purest part of our happy souls.

Categories: Laughter, Life Tags: , , , ,

Oh, Go Ahead and Cry For Me Argentina!

December 6, 2010 3 comments

I am trying to recall the fateful infraction that made my mom go from being awesome to embarrassing when I was a kid.  I can’t quite pinpoint the exact offense but I think I was around the age of 12 or 13.  Sadly, I think the image change is all part of the natural process of separation and signifies the beginning of our break- away to independence.  As a parent now, I’ve been careful to keep the public displays of affection toward my children to a minimum.  It’s a conscious effort to prolong the process and hang on to the image of  “awesome” for as long as I can.  Well, it was anyway.  It’s just another pipe dream now.  The cruel truth is, nature stops for no one.

Perhaps, the natural process of aging and the separation process, go hand in hand.  In the last year or so I’ve started to hear myself saying things like, “Excuse me, can you repeat that please?” or “Pardon me? I missed the beginning of that.”  It’s bad enough when you are speaking in your native tongue to not hear everything but now imagine being in a foreign country, say Mexico for example, where I’ve been for the last 10 days and where they speak Spanish and I don’t.  My kids do however and I’ve relied on them often to translate for me.  Although, there is a certain level of comfortability that comes with visiting the same city for eight years in a row.  You pick up words and phrases after a while and feel confident using them.  Let’s face it, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand simple things like “hola” or “gracias”.  Heck, everyone knows that means “hello” and “thank-you” in Spanish.  So, when the nice gentleman in the elevator, or the waiter, house keeper, hotel clerk, driver or merchant would kindly wish me a “good afternoon” in Spanish over the past week or so,  I simply smiled, repeated back what I heard and went along my merry way, at first anyway.

After a few days however and many, many “good afternoon” exchanges, I began to notice bewildered looks, odd expressions, a smirk here and there and the most common; a blank look accompanied by a hollow smile, in return of these greetings. What??  Was there something stuck in my teeth?  I didn’t get it.  Not until my 12-year old son was with me one afternoon that is.  As per usual, with a huge smile and an air of confidence, I kindly reciprocated a store merchant’s “good afternoon” with a very cheery, “Buenos Aires!”  Again, the perplexed look and hollow smile was received in return.  It wasn’t until we were out of ear shot and the store that my son turned to me with a look of pure mortification on his face and said, “Mom, what did you say to that guy?” “Buenos Aires. Why?” I replied.  “Why did you say Beunos Aires?” he asked.  After explaining I was just trying to be nice and insisting I knew what I was saying, after all I had been “Buenos Aires-ing” people all week now, he looked up at me with that ‘I am so embarrassed by you’ look in his eyes and said, “Oh, my God mom, come on! Buenos Aires is a city! That’s like someone saying good afternoon to you and you replying, ‘New York‘!  They are saying Buenas Tardes not Buenos Aires!”  (Apparently, the “t” in tardes is silent. Who knew? Obviously, not me.)

Good Lord, now it all made sense though!  Okay, so people were wishing me a good afternoon and I was cheerfully replying with the name of a city in Argentina.  Nice move mom.  Now my 12-year old son (who has been showing signs of approaching that point of separation over the last several months as it is) won’t even go to the hotel lobby with me. Yes, it seems I’ve lost my “coolness”, at least for the next 5 or 6 years where he’s concerned anyway.  Nature set its course and me and my slight loss of hearing were in it’s path.  Inevitable.

So by all means, go ahead and cry for me Argentina and all the other parents who are in the same or soon to be same boat!  But before you do, please tell me your “I used to be awesome until..” story.  You know what they say, misery loves company and I know I can’t be alone on this one.

Categories: Life, Parenting Tags: ,

Where did the Curtain and Lever Go?

November 11, 2010 5 comments

“Mom, where did the curtain go? That lady standing next to us is looking at your paper. Why do you have to fill in those bubbles now?” These are just a few questions my 9-year old daughter started asking me during our voting experience last week. I say “our” because she’s been voting with me since she was a baby and is rather familiar with the process, well she was anyway.  Like so many other bewildered New Yorkers this year however, she too wondered…”what the heck?”  What was so wrong with the previous system?  I actually enjoyed the privacy of the curtain drawn by the lever.  I didn’t feel rushed or as though someone was looking over my shoulder like the way someone was literally, looking over my shoulder this time. And it’s not just me, my 72-year old mother openly admitted to looking over her shoulder while voting. In fact she “noticed” that my 70-year old dad, who was in the station next to her, was voting for all the “wrong” people, so she felt compelled to point this out to him and made him erase and fill in the “right” bubbles, right then and there. Isn’t someone supposed to be watching out for this sort of thing? And what if, I mean just what if, he was actually voting for who he really wanted to be voting for? I’m just saying. That would have never happened with the curtain and lever system.

Oh,  this new system is easy enough for most and for me, the bottom line is that I am still grateful to live in a country where I can vote but filling in bubbles with a number 2  pencil? Honestly, is that the best we can do for the $50,000,000  price tag the NYC board of elections has put on this leap in technology? That sure is a lot of pencils! I may just be a middle-aged mom but it seems more like a step back in time rather than a step forward in technology to me.  And what is the deal with the big cardboard sleeve? It “hides” the ballot while walking from your station to the scanner.   “The ballot needs to be inserted into the scanner far enough that the feed rolls can catch the ballot and slide it the rest of the way in to the machine leaving the voter holding the now empty sleeve.” Actually, I felt silly carrying it. It looked silly.

My daughter was ultimately fascinated by this new process and that evening it wasn’t the process by which we voted but the fact that we voted that was the topic of conversation. So what I am truly grateful for is that the act of voting and exercising that right is what had the biggest impact on her.  I strive to be a good power of example for my children and without a road map to follow, I don’t always take the right path, so it’s a little comforting to know that while I do miss the curtain and lever, I didn’t miss the mark and the example set on this day, was a good one.

Tell me New Yorkers, did you vote? What did you think about the new voting system? Did you miss the curtain and lever as I did ?

Categories: Parenting, Politics Tags: ,
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