I’ve been known to shake-up the apple tree — on occasion.
My kids do too.
Every now and then.
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 & http://www.Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com
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 just–not– 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.
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……
Tell me, were you affected by Hurricane Irene?
Keep your eye on Lee, Louisiana!
Photo Credits #1-5: Karen Szczuka Teich and http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com
Photo Credit #6: International Business Times Hurricane Lee
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.
Life is fragile and passes quickly. How do you find your peace?
Photo Credit #1: Blink
Photo Credit #2-14: ©Karen Szczuka Teich and http://www.Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com
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 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.
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.
It was shocking to learn the thief, was our neighbor; a 20-year old 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.
Photo Credits: #1, #2, #3 & #4 – © 2011 Karen Szczuka Teich. All rights reserved.
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?
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?
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 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!
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?
To me, there’s no sweeter sound than that of a child’s laughter. It’sto my ears and fills my heart with a strong sense that something is “right” in this world. When it’s a giggling , 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 myon the kitchen computer as they cat-walked the runway for me.
A friend had posted the now infamous pictures of Presidentand his national security team as they were briefed about the demise of . I wondered what (if anything) three girls in the fourth grade would think about the removal of prominent , who just happen to be women, from a government issued in two news articles that recently circulated in .
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 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 theand 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 & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com
Photo Credit #3 & #4: Yahoo! News The Cutline
“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