January 31, 2011

Even the seaway was closed

When the seaway is closed

On Saturday, my extended family descended on a north country town to eat lunch at café and then to visit an old mansion that’s been turned into an art museum. The art show that had just opened included a painting that my father had entered: fittingly, a scene of our dock in winter. The accommodating staff had given us permission to use the room off their kitchen so that we could have birthday cake. So we wandered around the building, looking at paintings and sculptures, and then gathered to sing happy birthday to my father.

Tie-dye Brother-in-law had volunteered to buy the desserts, and he brought more than just birthday cake. So we were all happily full, ready for a walk in the cold air, by the time we left the art museum to walk on the pier.

“There’s got to be 60 degree temperature difference since the last time we were here,” said Urban Sophisticate Sister, as we tramped through the snow to get to the pier. The last time we’d all gathered on the pier was on a sweltering hot day last July. In fact, it had been so hot that most of us had stripped down and jumped into the cold water. Urban Sophisticate coaxed the kids into recreating the photo she’d taken of them diving off the pier: Boy in Black even did a handstand on the ice, pretending he was in mid-dive.

An unexpected sight were the row of channel markers: huge buoys, red and green, that we normally see when we’re out sailing, marking the seaway so that vessels can navigate the channel. At the end of December, which is when the seaway closes, a tugboat pulls them out of the water and lines them up on the pier, where they stay until March. I’d never seen them out of the water before; it was fun to be able to walk right up and inspect them up close.

Channel markers in winter

That's my father and brother, looking at the buoys, with other family members down on the ice in the distance.

On the river

On the river

To celebrate my father’s 80th birthday, we wanted to hold the party in a landscape embedded with family stories and memories. Since the whole family gathers on the river every summer for holiday weekends and a whole week during July, celebrating up on the river seemed the logical choice.

Of course, my father was born in the winter.

Many of the businesses in the little town nearest my parents’ camp shut down in the winter, since there are no tourists to support them. For anyone living in Snowstorm Region, traveling to the north country in the middle of winter is kind of crazy. So we did it anyhow.

Thankfully, we didn't get a snowstorm. We gathered, 22 of us, and we did something we’ve never done before: we stayed in a hotel on the river. Instead of cooking over a campfire and eating on picnic tables, we ate in restaurants. But we also spent time outside, walking on the frozen river and admiring the way the snow transformed the familiar landscape. It’s been years since I’ve been to the river in the winter time, and it was just as beautiful as I remembered.

January 28, 2011

Backyard in winter

Backyard in winter

On a blustery winter day, it does feel like I live in the middle of nowhere.

January 26, 2011

From skyscrapers to silos

“Let’s sit in order, from urban to rural,” I said. Our desks were arranged in a circle, so I figured it would be cool to see the spectrum. After all, we were reading urban nature literature, and where we were from would affect what we could contribute to the discussion.

At first my students just stared at me, not sure if I was serious. It was only the second class of the semester, but already some were beginning to suspect that I’m crazy. But then they stood up and started moving around the room, comparing notes as they chose chairs.

To my left, I could hear the rural kids. “Where you from? Is there a McDonald’s in your town? Is your driveway paved?” One kid was listing his qualifications: “I live on a farm. I work in a farm store. I own a chainsaw.”

To my right, the handful of students from Big City Like No Other were arguing that Manhattan was more urban than Brooklyn, and they were pushing the Long Island kids down the line. “Long Islanders wish they were part of the city, but they’re not,” one student said jokingly.

Across from me, in the middle part of the circle, the kids from the mid-size cities were trading notes. “We’re known for chicken wings,” said a kid from Bison City. “Chicken wings and ... well, not much else.”

Once everyone had settled into a spot, I told the students to tell us what stereotypes they’d heard about where they lived. We began with the city “where you will get murdered by a gang member with a gun if you walk the streets alone at night,” and ended with the country “where you will get murdered by a guy with an ax if you go into the woods alone at night.”

“How come horror movies are always set in either the city or the country?” Plaid Shirt asked. He was a local kid, and he seemed a bit jealous. Clearly, it’s cooler to be from a place that is supposed to be dangerous.

Another student from Snowstorm City said, “Hey, we have parking garages. Think about it. In the movies, any time a person goes into a parking garage, you know someone is going to jump out with a gun or hit them with a car.”

Plaid Shirt brightened. “Yeah, we have tons of parking garages.”

“How many kids were in your high school graduating class?” one woman asked the group. “About 900,” answered one student. A student at the opposite end of the spectrum said. “Wow. We had 24.”

Some of the students came up with stereotypes that they said were based in fact. “You’ve heard that cab drivers in Manhattan honk their horns constantly? For no reason at all? Totally true,” one city kid said. “And what they say about everyone being in a hurry? Also true.” The kids sitting next to him laughed.

Once we were done comparing notes, we turned our attention back to the essay we were discussing, but it was exciting to see the range of life experiences we had in the classroom. It’s going to be a good semester.

January 23, 2011

Another dimension

Because I get motion-sick, I’ve avoided 3-D movies. But when my husband and I took Little Biker Boy to the movies last week, the man behind the ticket counter handed us glasses. “You can just shut your eyes if you feel sick,” my husband said helpfully. “Judging from the previews I’ve seen, you won’t miss much.”

Even before we saw it, we knew that the movie Little Biker Boy had chosen was pretty awful, with a predictable plot and some silly slapstick comedy. We didn’t exactly have to fight crowds to get good seats. We were, in fact, the only three people in the theater.

It was fun to have the whole theater to ourselves. My husband stayed in his seat and guarded our popcorn and drinks, while Little Biker Boy and I ran to the front, and pretended to be on stage. Then we tested out different seats, making noises to hear how the sound would be.

Finally, the movie started. The plot was idiotic, but I have to say, the 3-D technology is pretty amazing. Little Biker Boy kept yelling, “Can you see that? IT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!” and I’d yell back, “I KNOW! I can practically touch it!”

Any part with motion did make me feel a little sick so sometimes I just took off the glasses, closed my eyes, and listened to Little Biker Boy’s narrative. “DID YOU SEE THAT? THAT SLUG! CAME OUT OF HIS NOSE!”

My husband is the kind of person who stays absolutely quiet during a movie. But even he was moved to comment. He said to me in a whisper, so that Little Biker boy couldn’t hear, “I think this might be the worst movie I’ve ever seen.”

I had to agree that the plot was pretty painful. But still, the experience was worth it. As we gathered up coats and candy wrappers, Little Biker Boy said. “That was such a GREAT movie!” As we walked out, he held my hand and said to my husband, “Didn’t I pick a good movie?”

“I had fun,” my husband said to him. “That was a good idea you had – going to the movies.” And then we walked out into the snowy parking lot to drive home.

January 20, 2011


I could hear Shaggy Hair Boy’s cell phone ringing, but I couldn’t see where it was. Shaggy Hair Boy himself was sound asleep in our living room, on the floor underneath the orange tree that he planted many years ago. Like me, he can sleep anywhere, anytime. When he’s tired, he’ll just lie down on the floor, no matter where he is, and he’ll be oblivious to the world within seconds.

I didn’t mind stepping over his body when I walked though the living room, but the ringtone on his cell phone was obnoxious. I looked at the windowsill, the chair, and the piano, to see where he’d set it down, but it wasn’t in any of the obvious spots. Then I found it – carefully balanced in a crook of the orange tree.

In the orange tree

January 18, 2011

Green kneesocks and auld lang syne

Last week, I got a message on facebook from someone I’d gone to elementary school with. She had decided, on the spur of the moment, to plan a mini-reunion of our eighth grade class. It wasn’t anything formal. She’d picked a date, chosen a pizza place a few miles from the old brick school building, and then announced the event on facebook. That was the extent of the planning. No committee, no phone calls, no flier, just a facebook message.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure, I’ve stayed friends with Kindergarten Friend (and her husband, who also went to elementary school with us), but some classmates I hadn’t seen since 1975, the year we graduated from the small, Catholic elementary school. Now and then, I’ll run into an old classmate at the grocery store, or at a school function, or at a funeral, but mostly, we lead different lives.

I wasn’t even sure if anyone would recognize me. I figured maybe I ought to braid my hair, put on a white blouse and plaid skirt, and wear some green knee socks. Last time any of these folks saw me, I was a skinny kid wearing glasses and braces. Right away, I could see that an elementary school reunion had a real advantage over a high school reunion: I might be turning 50 this year, but I still look better than my eighth grade self. It’s a pretty low bar.

When I arrived at the pizza place, I wandered about, squinting in the dim light, wondering if I’d recognize anyone. I’d just talked to Kindergarten Friend on her cell phone, so I knew she and her husband were on their way.

Just then I heard someone call my name. FirstTwin walked up to me and gave me a hug. “Hey! You’re here!” he said. He acted as if he’d just seen me the other day. “I think we’re the first ones. Let’s find a table.” We sat down and began chatting. His twin wouldn’t be joining us, he said, because he had moved south. Soon we were joined by a couple of guys from our class, who said hello and then began joking around — just like they used to in school. More classmates trickled in, until we were a group of ten, drinking and eating pizza and talking.

It felt no different than when we used to hang out and eat french fries while bowling on Friday afternoons back in eighth grade. I listened to the talk around me and felt right at home, like I was with family. There was just one difference. “I never used to talk to boys,” I said to FirstTwin. He laughed, but it’s true. I was painfully shy in elementary school, at least in the early years. It wasn’t until puberty that I shed the last shyness and became the extrovert that I am now.

None of the men seemed to remember how shy I was, but the women did. “You were the shyest person in the class,” said Brown Hair. Kindergarten Friend nodded.

We stayed for about four hours, later than any of us had planned. When one classmate confided in us that he’d had cancer last year, we listened to his story and then FirstTwin looked at him and said, “I’ve been there.”

“I remember when you had cancer,” I said. We all did. In fifth grade, the doctors gave him six months to live. We said prayers for him in school, and we made cards, which the teacher sent to him. His twin brother and two of his first cousins were in our class, so we got daily reports on his condition. When he came back to school, the chemotherapy had made all his hair drop out; the oddest thing was that he suddenly looked different than his twin brother.

“I’ve still got that box of cards you all sent me,” he said. “Every time I move, I look at them. It’s one of the things I couldn’t possibly throw away.”

Before the night ended, we began making plans for another get-together. Kindergraten Friend says that next time she'll bring the videotape she's got of us all dancing in second grade; we figure maybe we'll put it on the big screen in the bar.

We brainstormed for other classmates who could come. A surprising number still live in the area. As we talked, we were able to account for just about everyone in the class. Two have died, and some have moved away, but we pretty knew where everyone was. Except for the kid who left in fifth grade.

“He got called out of his class because his father died,” said Kindergarten Friend. Her mother was the fourth grade teacher so she had inside information. He was called out of class, and none of us ever saw him again.

“He and his mother moved to the West Coast,” said FirstTwin. “He and I were close friends, and he called me once – on my birthday – but I wasn’t home, and no one wrote down the number. I never heard from him again.” We all paused for a moment, thinking back to the kid we haven’t seen in 38 years.

Ice Fisherman was the first to leave. “I’m giving everyone hugs,” he announced. "Well, at least, all the women." Soon we were all putting on our coats and heading out to the dark parking lot, where we said goodbyes and hugged each other. “Safe driving,” everyone kept saying, the routine parting in this part of the country, where the roads are often icy. But most of us didn’t have far to go. We’ve never left home.

January 17, 2011

Weather report from Snowstorm Region

Let it snow

Last week, we had snow in almost every state, and it seems like everyone on the internet, even blog friends in the south, were posting pictures of snow. I felt like I should start taking photos of something other than the winter landscape outside my own window. After all, there's nothing particularly exciting or newsworthy about snow in this part of the country. It's the norm.

But I can't resist posting a photo anyhow.

For the record, it's not actually snowing in this photo. As you can see from the shadows, the sun is shining. About a foot of snow had fallen overnight, some of it clinging to branches. The first wind of the day is blowing snow off the branches and swirling it about my backyard.

January 16, 2011

Four hands, one piano

Four hands, one piano

As a Christmas present, Shaggy Hair Boy gave With-a-Why a binder filled with the sheet music from video games like Donkey Kong and movies like Jurassic Park.

In this photo, Boy in Black and With-a-Why are playing a duet called Krook’s March from Donkey Kong Country 2. The duet is meant for two pianos, but since we’ve only got one piano here, the boys just play right on top of each other, reaching across each others' arms and sometimes even hitting the same keys at the same time.

They don’t talk when they play, they stare intently at the sheet of music the whole time. Trying to play the piano in that situation would drive me crazy, but it doesn't seem to bother either of them in the least. And the resulting music? It sounds pretty good.

January 14, 2011

Fresh air in the city

Walking through the park

After a few days of riding trains, walking crowded sidewalks, and listening to late night jazz, Shaggy Hair Boy and I went to Central Park. He’d seen it on the map, that big green rectangle, and he kept exclaiming about it. “There’s all these buildings, crowded together, and then this big-ass park right in the middle of it all.”

We started at the southern edge of the park, with the plan to just wander north until we came to the Museum of Natural History.

“It feels good to just stretch out,” said Shaggy Hair Boy. “Everything in the city is so cramped.” We’d eaten bagels and soup at a deli earlier that afternoon. To fit at the small table that was shoved up against the window, we’d had to move pull our chairs out one at a time and then slide in sideways. I don’t notice those things because I’m small, but my son has long arms and legs.

The afternoon sun was warm. We walked past ball fields covered in snow and a big pond filled with ice. Every once in a while a horse and carriage would clip clop past. A group of kids were throwing a Frisbee disk on one lawn. Trees curved their branches over our heads as we crunched over the icy paths. “It’s so funny to find this whole park here,” Shaggy Hair said again, looking around. “Trees and everything. What a good idea.”

Across the pond

January 12, 2011

Shaggy Hair Boy plays Washington Square

Playing Satin Doll

The night we left from smalls (well, actually, it was more like morning by then), I said to Shaggy Hair Boy, “Maybe you should have taken a turn at the piano.” The jam session folks all seemed pretty friendly and nice: I’m sure they would have let him.

“This was our first time there,” he said. “But maybe if we come back in May, I will.”

The next day, we decided to walk to Washington Square. I figured it was probably too cold for the old men who play chess there, but it’s still a cool place to hang out and people watch. As we walked through the big arch, we noticed some guys playing hacky sack. They were incredible: one would kick the hacky sack ridiculously high, practically to the top of the arch, and another would kick it back.

The fountain was filled with ice instead of water, and two little kids were running and sliding on the ice. We sat on the edge of the fountain, the best place to absorb the afternoon sun. That’s when I noticed the piano.

It was on wheels, and the front panel was off so that you could see the hammers and strings. A young man in a dark coat was standing nearby, talking to a woman, his hands in his pockets to keep them warm, and I could see buckets of money on either side of the piano. He clearly owned the piano and was taking a break.

“You don’t often see street performers with pianos,” I said to Shaggy Hair Boy. He’d noticed the piano right away. He’s far more observant than I am.

A teenage girl walked up to the piano, tentatively, as if she couldn’t believe it was there. “Go ahead,” the man in the dark coat called out to her. “Play a song.”

She looked up, startled, and walked away quickly.

I nudged Shaggy Hair Boy. “Go ask if you can play a song.”

He grinned at me. I figured he’d be too shy, but to my surprise, walked over to guy who owned the piano. The next thing I knew, Shaggy Hair Boy was sitting at the piano, playing Satin Doll, a jazz standard. Since we’d begun our trip by taking the A train, a Duke Ellington number seemed completely appropriate.

What’s funny is that tourists walking through the arch came over and took photos of him, and dropped money into the buckets as he played. Yep, three days in the city, and my son had become a street performer.

My son, the street musician

January 11, 2011

All that jazz


During the daylight hours, Shaggy Hair Boy and I wandered around the city, walking through neighborhoods that reminded me of Sesame Street, stopping to buy bagels or hot soup, going into churches with big stained glass windows, and taking the train whenever we felt like exploring a new section of the city.

But at night, we went to jazz clubs.

Shaggy Hair Boy plays both classical piano and jazz piano, but he doesn’t get much opportunity in Snowstorm City to hear live music. In Big City Like No Other, there were so many venues to choose from that we couldn’t fit it into three nights, although we tried our best.

The first night, we went with Brooklyn Friend to Birdland, the famous midtown jazz club. We’d heard the pianist on youtube so we knew the music was going to be good. On the train, Shaggy Hair said to me, “How big of a place is this going to be? Like … the size of a gymnasium?” I think he was thinking of the music festivals his older siblings have gone to; they sometimes have to stand in big crowds of people for hours just to get a glimpse of the performers.

When we walked into Birdland, Shaggy Hair Boy was surprised and pleased. It’s a smallish restaurant, with three semi-circles of tables. “This is sooo much nicer than I thought,” he said. We chose a table about 15 feet from the black grand piano. It’s an elegant place, with white tablecloths, men in suits and women in black dresses, delicious food served quietly. Since I don’t drink and Shaggy Hair Boy is underage, I told Brooklyn Friend she was our designated drinker, and she obligingly ordered a glass of wine. Shaggy Hair Boy ordered tiramisu, even though he had no idea what that might be, because he thought the name sounded cool.

The little tables are quite close together, like they often are in urban restaurants, and I know the etiquette is to ignore the people right next to you, but naturally, I couldn’t resist talking to the man next to me, a well-dressed distinguished man who seemed to know everyone in the place. I told him that Shaggy Hair Boy played the piano, and that’s why we were sitting where we could watch the pianist’s hands.

Distinguished Man said, “Oh, your son must meet him.” He went off somewhere and returned with a man in dark suit, whom we recognized as the pianist we’d come to see. He walked around the tables to come shake Shaggy Hair Boy’s hand and introduce himself. He chatted with us for quite a while, asking Shaggy Hair Boy who he was taking lessons from, where he was going to college, and that kind of thing. I introduced myself by saying, “I’m Shaggy Hair Boy’s mother.” He laughed as he took my hand and said, “What? You don’t have a first name?”

He couldn’t have been nicer. He talked with us until the drummer signaled him from the bar area, and he went to take his seat at the piano bench. Shaggy Hair Boy turned to give me a big smile and then focused his attention back to the piano. Six more musicians came out— three violins, a cello, a bass, and the drums — and we settled down for a wonderful night of music. I think Shaggy Hair Boy had expected to hear some of the jazz standards he’s learned, but instead we heard lots of contemporary music, jazzed up. We stayed until the end, of course – as did everyone in the room — and then Shaggy Hair Boy went over to buy a CD and talk again to the pianist, who said to him, “I have no doubt we’ll meet again.”

That night, when we got back to Brooklyn Friend’s apartment, Shaggy Hair Boy was so filled with adrenaline that he couldn’t sleep. He used Brooklyn Friend’s computer to send an email to the extended family; he knew his grandfather in particular was eager to hear about the night. He ended up writing a ridiculous long email, including such details as, “This place had the longest crackers I’ve ever seen,” and “My mother didn’t know you could buy Metro cards out of a machine until I showed her.”

The next evening, we met my sister Urban Sophisticate at Smoke, a jazz club on the upper west side. It was a long narrow restaurant, with white tablecloths, great food, and red velvet curtains hanging behind the quartet who played while we ate. “When your great grandmother was growing up, she lived 20 blocks uptown from here,” Urban Sophisticate told Shaggy Hair Boy.

I’d forgotten that. My mother’s mother lived in Harlem near the beginning of the last century. Her father was the rector at the church, and my sister has actually gone back to the same church, which is still there.

After we said goodbye to my sister, who had to work the next day, we took the train down to the village to go to a small jazz club a friend had told me about. The club was marked only by a little neon sign that said smalls. (I’m not even using pseudonyms for the names of the clubs because they already sound like pseudonyms to me.) We walked down a staircase into a narrow, dimly lit basement room that held a bar, a bunch of random chairs, and at the very end, a black Steinway grand piano that someone told us was over a hundred years old. There were mirrors and posters and musical instruments in dark cases piled up the corner.

We took two chairs right up close to the piano, so that we were basically sitting with the musicians. One trio played, and then another, and then somewhere around midnight, they began what they called the After Hours Jam Session. That was the coolest part. A trio of musicians would begin a melody, and then another musician would join in, walking to the front of the room, and taking a solo. First a man with a trumpet, maybe, and then a woman with a saxophone. Eventually, they’d end that song, and someone different would sit down at the drums, or maybe the bass, and then they’d start another. More and more musicians showed up as the night went on, and I lost track of how many different ones we heard.

Every time I looked around, I saw people unpacking or packing up instruments. It seemed like many of them just came for a song or two, or maybe a drink, and then they’d leave, and other musicians would arrive. Some of them seemed to know each other, but sometimes also I’d hear people introducing themselves to each other just before a number would begin. We were sitting so close that we could hear all the conversations.

When I was a kid, my father and his friends would jam in the basement of Picnic Family’s house. We kids would play on the floor beneath the music, just hanging out as they played. This place wasn’t much bigger than that, and the informal feel was just the same. We stayed until the place closed, sometime after 3 am.

We heard other music too on this trip– a woman playing jazz piano at Arturo’s, two different groups of musicians at Fat Cat, and even a young man playing piano in Washington Square — but Birdland and smalls were what made the trip really special. And of course, we’ve still got a long list of clubs to check out next time ….

January 10, 2011

From the top

From the top

Usually when I’m in the city, I’m with Urban Sophisticate Sister or my parents, and they try to stay away from the tourist attractions. But Shaggy Hair Boy was quite willing to wander around and see the parts of the city that he knew from movies, television shows, and even computer games. Pretty much everywhere we went, he would start talking about a scene from a movie. When we were in the public library, for example, he said, “I’ve seen this place before! Except in the movie, it’s flooded and there are wolves and a big freighter outside.” Most of the movies he mentioned were disaster movies, although sometimes there were superheros who arrived in the nick of time to save the city.

When he and I were on our own one afternoon, he said, “Let’s go to the top of the Empire State Building.”

We had to stand in line and then jam into a hot, crowded elevator. “This is why we never do tourist stuff,” I grumbled to him. I hate elevators. But then we got to the observation deck.

A cold wind came rushing at us. We were on a dark balcony, with guard rails all around. People were running about, pushing their way to the railing, posing with their friends, and the dashing back into the building to get warm. Cameras kept flashing. It was exciting to look down on skyscrapers, the lights making patterns in every direction. I could make out the bridges and water: I’d forgotten, I think, that we were on an island.

“Look! The skating rink!” Shaggy Hair Boy said. He nudged me. I could see it, a tiny white rectangle far below us. I could just barely see little dots of dark moving around on it.

We walked around to get the view from every angle. It was dark and cold, and the wind went right through my winter coat. Everyone was screaming and laughing and snapping pictures like crazy. When I’d stand closer to the edge of the rail and look down, I could feel that tingling, scared feeling in my stomach. It was so much fun.

January 09, 2011

Quiet spaces


Big City Like No Other is a fast-paced, noisy city where vehicles seem to honk their horns constantly, and people on the streets walk very fast. I kept saying to Brooklyn Friend, “So why is that cab honking? I can’t see why he’s honking his horn,” and she’d laugh and shrug.

When we stepped inside the big public library, the hushed atmosphere was a soothing contrast to the busy streets outside. My hands and feet began to get warm again as we roamed the building, admiring the architecture. Brooklyn Friend showed us the reading room where she’d worked on her dissertation. I snapped just one photo before noticing a sign that said, “No photography.” Guiltily, I put my camera away, as we walked back down the stairs to return to the cold night air and busy streets.

Library entrance

January 08, 2011

The scrape of skate blades


When I was a kid, we skated on the little pond in my parents’ yard. My father hung a spotlight in the willow tree, which lit the pond nicely. Just beyond the edges of the pond, shadows stretched across the snowbanks and beyond that, the white snow disappeared into darkness. Snow muffled the rural landscape, and the scrape of skate blades against ice was the only sound I heard as I skated around and around in the cold night air.

The sound of skate blades against ice reminds me of that scene. I can close my eyes and picture frozen cattails, a little pine tree half-buried in a snowbank, the dark night sky overheard.

When Brooklyn Friend took us to an urban skating rink, I heard the clatter of skate blades against ice — that same noise. But all around me, rose tall buildings, with light spilling out of display windows. Hundreds of people, all in dark clothes, rushed along the sidewalks, sometimes talking but mostly silent. Tourists stood in clusters to take photos. Music blared from speakers. Security men guarded the big Christmas tree.

Down on the ice, kids were doing the same stuff we did as kids: learning to balance, grabbing each other’s hands, screaming at each other to wait up, slow down.

We didn’t have time to skate; we were on our way to a jazz club, and Shaggy Hair Boy wanted to be there when the doors opened. But I wandered around for a few minutes, happily taking pictures and ruminating about urban nature, and what happens when you created a skating pond in the most urban setting possible. When I looked up from my camera, I realized that I had lost Shaggy Hair Boy in the crowd. There were just so many people rushing about. But then he appeared, almost magically, by my side.

“Oh, good,” I said. “I was afraid we had gotten separated.”

“It’s so easy to find you in the city,” he said. “You’re the only one wearing a red ski jacket.” He grinned as he pulled up his own dark hood, and we followed Brooklyn Friend down a side street toward the jazz club.

January 07, 2011

The wind through her strings

View from the bridge

The goal of our trip to Big City Like No Other was to listen to some jazz. Shaggy Hair Boy plays so much jazz piano these days — music is definitely his niche — that I wanted to give him a taste of the city jazz scene. And it was excuse for me to visit Brooklyn Friend, who is always telling me I’m welcome to come sleep on her couch. When we arrived Sunday night, Brooklyn Friend had already chopped up vegetables and was ready to cook us dinner. More importantly, she’d had her piano tuned. Shaggy Hair Boy made himself at home by sitting down at the piano, while Brooklyn Friend and I talked.

The best way to see any big city is to visit with someone who has lived there her whole life. Brooklyn Friend obligingly took us to all the tourist attractions, beginning with the Brooklyn Bridge. Despite the winter weather, the bridge was filled with people — some talking as they walked, some stopping to take pictures, some hurrying along in silence. The views were lovely and the architecture is impressive, but coolest thing about the bridge is that stream of people, all moving constantly, talking in different languages. Every once in a while, Shaggy Hair would nudge me and say, “Get out of the bike lane” and a kid on a bicycle would go zooming past, pedaling like crazy. Below us, I could hear the rush of traffic. I could feel that energy waking me up as we walked.

Walking the bridge

January 02, 2011

Off to hear some jazz

The last few weeks, my house has been crowded with family and friends. All my kids have been home, and a bunch of extras as well. We've spent most of our time talking and eating, just hanging out. Yesterday, I spent the day with a bunch of women friends, gathering on New Year's Day for a potluck as is our tradition.

Today, Shaggy Hair Boy and I are sneaking away to Big City Like Other. We're traveling light so that it will be easy to negotiate buses and trains, and I won't have a computer with me. But I'll return with stories and photographs.

January 01, 2011

Beginning the new year

New Year's Eve jam session

We decided to spend a quiet New Year’s Eve at home. Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter and Sailor Boy took over the kitchen and made finger foods. They dipped fresh strawberries in chocolate, baked asparagus stalks wrapped into dough, and made fancy pinwheel hors d'œuvre. Young people crowded around the kitchen table to eat and talk. Quick stirred up some kind of special macaroni and cheese. Sparkly Eyes and Film Guy arrived with cupcakes and brownies. A bunch of us worked on a jigsaw puzzle in front of the fire.

After midnight, Quick sat down at the drums. Skater Boy plugged a microphone into an amp and sang while he played his guitar. Boy in Black got out his guitar. With-a-Why and Shaggy Hair Boy took turns on the piano. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t so quiet after all.