Sunday, April 28, 2013

Baby Caden

So our train arrives and Dominic meets us at the Alexandria station.  How wonderful to see him! My son, now a father.  I long to see him in this role.  We quickly arrive at his beautiful home in Arlington.  And there are Stacia and Caden waiting for us!  My new grandson in my arms!  And Liana's!

The weekend is almost magical.  Dominic and Stacia's home is a quiet retreat.  It is light and airy and peaceful.  Sunlight streams throughout and the tall windows bring the outdoors in.  And the outdoors at this time of year is amazing!  Flowering trees adorn every home in the neighborhood--pink and white dogwood, redbuds and fluffy cherries.  Shrubs of all sorts are blooming; every home has an explosion of azaleas surrounding it.  Daffodils, tulips and hibiscus accent the lawns. At Dominic's house, a mother blue jay sits on a nest of five eggs within arm's reach of the front porch. The sky is bright blue and filled with bird song.  The fresh green of spring is dazzling.  New life outside, new life inside this house.  A precious baby boy has been born into our family.

The next day Dominic takes us to Capitol Hill, his old neighborhood before he had a wife and son.  We push baby Caden in his stroller on this bright spring day.  We stroll through a farmer's market and taste cheeses and fruit. We walk along the streets and Dominic goes inside a shop to buy us special coffee.  I hold my tiny grandson tight against me, wrapping my jacket around him in the chilly wind.  A street musician plays a couple of children's songs just for Caden. Liana is soaking up the atmosphere, snapping dozens of pictures. She is unusually quiet, maybe like me, she is caught up in the magic. Later, Caden sleeps on my shoulder as we enjoy lunch at Chipolte and then I feed him his milk under a magnolia tree with shiny leaves as we drink real ginger ale that Dominic got for us.  Caden will not remember this day, but I will--always.

And the day is not over.  That evening Dominic and Liana prepare dinner while I soothe Caden after his busy outing to the city.  Daylight is fading and Dominic puts on some music that adds to the tender moments of the day.  Caden is in my arms and I dance with him across the polished hardwood floors. Tears come as I think about tomorrow and saying good-bye to this sweet baby boy with the big blue eyes.  He will be so changed when I see him again.  I'm reminded of a Longfellow poem.  This night is a song and all the cares of the world slip away as I dance with my grandson.  There is peace in this house.

"Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away."

Dominic and Liana present us with a feast--risotto cakes stuffed with leeks and bacon and mozzarella cheese, fresh green beans from the market we visited today, cucumber salad.  Stacia takes her baby so he can have his own feast, and then Caden sits peacefully on his mother's lap and I look around the table, wanting to hold this little family and this day in my heart forever. 

Someone once told me that every place you visit leaves a mark on your soul and you will never be the same.  Your eyes and your mind are filled with new sights and sounds and you are forever changed.  It's true.  I'm grateful for this weekend. 



Liana and I are heading off for our grand adventure.  We're going to visit Dominic, Stacia and baby Caden in Arlington. Poor Arielle has been sick and can't go. She is disappointed but she and Fred have other adventures planned.

In light of the events in Boston, Fred and Arielle escort us to the big city station. Fred wants to make sure we board the right train safely. We actually find it is quite easy to take the local train to the Amtrak station where you can go anywhere in the country.  I haven't ridden Amtrak since my father died and I headed down to North Carolina for his memorial service. Maybe that ride back home is on my mind because I am just a little uneasy about train travel this day. Back in 1987 an Amtrak train crashed in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and I was on the train just behind it. We were delayed for hours and ended up boarding buses to our destinations.  Today, the armed men with dogs and guns roaming the station add to my anxiety.

Also, due to events in Boston and that train station closed down, our train is very late.  By the time it finally arrives, people have had plenty of time to become impatient and rude.  Even though we have been standing in line so long, a belligerent man has his way and we are at the end of the line to board.  The train is extremely crowded. Liana and I walk car to car, dragging our suitcases behind us.  There are no seats together, and there are not even any seats where we could sit separated yet still see each other.  I will not leave Liana alone like that.

Right when I have reached my frustration limit, we reach the dining car. Why do I get so stressed out?  God always provides for our needs. But at this time 30 minutes have passed since we left the station and we are still wandering.  I see a beautiful conductor woman in the dining car.  I simply tell her we cannot find any seats.  She jumps into action, asking two women in the car to move their laptops over and tells Liana and me to sit down.  Then she points to a man and woman in the adjoining car that we can see.  She says they will be leaving at the next stop and to get up when we hear it called and take their seats.  She even takes our suitcases down next to these people.  What an angel she is!  So we end up with two very fine seats on the train. 

The best part of the trip is getting off the train and seeing my son in his white dress shirt, hugging him hard, and having him take over.  He carries our bags and loads us in his car.  We're here!  I can't wait to see my new grandson!

In conclusion, I highly recommend Amtrak travel.  The ride home on Sunday was so relaxing and comfortable.  Time flew by as we ate the yummy snacks Dominic had given us and played several games of Quiddler.  Once we got to Philadelphia, we saw that we had exactly two minutes to board the next local train.  And we made it!  When we pulled in our station, there was Fred waiting at the end of our journey.  Home!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Science Camp

The girls did not go to camp.  I did.  What was I thinking?  This I wrote at 5:27 a.m. on a Saturday morning:

I've already had a shower. Of the over 50 women in our bunkhouse, only one other person is up. Lights were out at 11 p.m. the night before, but I couldn't sleep. It was a hot, restless night in a sleeping bag on a bunk, a shelf really.  I was on the bottom near the floor, my friend above me, and another bunk above her. I could have been home in my own comfortable bed next to my husband!  But here I am at a women's retreat, a science camp, to learn fun ways to teach science to our kids.  I'm a science teacher.  This will be good. But I miss my family.

We arrived last night at a beautiful campsite in Amish country.  We checked in at the community center, a nice airy room with many long tables set up laden with fun stuff like science project kits, books, workbooks, colored pencils and huge tubs of chocolate.  They know what women like. We chose our t-shirts and claimed our bunks and then had a buffet dinner with the over 100 other women (two bunkhouses full) who also came to the retreat. There was a lot of food, wheat overload, so I couldn't eat much. So I had some cheese and my gluten-free crackers from home. Then we hiked down to the center for our first session.

Coffee, tea and hot chocolate would be provided 24/7!  Okay, this isn't so bad. We had fun meeting some of the other women, some who had driven over 5 hours from several other states to be here. We are all homeschooling mothers and teachers and we want to learn. I met women of all races with many different accents, young moms and old.  This night we sketched with our pencils, filling in anatomical drawings.  It was not so much to learn the information, but to learn how to present.  I often have my biology students sketch and color, so I guess I'm doing something right.  We found out all the interesting items on the tables are not for sale but are prizes!  Moms like prizes. Unfortunately I didn't win anything until the end when they said anyone who did not get a prize could go up and get one. I got a blood testing kit for Liana.  She has been wanting one.  The grand prize was a life size skeleton!  I would have loved that!  But to win it we had to decorate a plastic frog dissection apron.  When I saw the artistic skills of some of the women, I gave up trying. 

We sat and talked a long time after the session, hoping to get sleepy enough to crash once we got back to the bunkhouse. That didn't happen. I don't know how I'll make it through the day.

And the next day...

Breakfast, heavily processed, wheat everything.  Lunch the same. But at $25 for the whole weekend, I shouldn't complain about the food or the accommodations. We enjoy getting to know some of the women.  I sit next to a woman from Washington, D.C., a tall, elegant woman with long dreadlocks and a colorful scarf.  She just took her high school-aged son out of school.  He sounds brilliant and she wants to expose him to some of the many opportunities available to him in our capitol city.  Another woman told me her history of immigrating from South Africa as a young woman.  Two Chinese women from Connecticut with heavy accents were fascinated by my family and I loved hearing their stories. A strong, beautiful woman from rural West Virginia added another dimension to our conversation.These people made the event worthwhile.  So many women from such varied backgrounds but all of us with a common goal--to educate our children as we see fit, education specifically tailored around our families' values and our individual children's needs.  All these women are striving for excellence and want the best for their children.

Science all day!  9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with just a short lunch break. We did blood testing and extracted DNA from our cheek cells. I am full of ideas on how to make science more exciting for my girls and also for my students.  But my friend and I can't imagine another night in the bunkhouse.  So we bail out early and miss the dissection planned for Sunday morning.  (A pregnant sheep uterus. It would have been fascinating.) 

I am so happy to see my family again!  But now we are preparing for our next grand adventure.  More on that after it happens.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Yard Work

We had a very tall tree in our backyard that bent and swayed in the wind, looming over the roof every time we had a storm.  It was an accident waiting to happen. The trunk was rotting away, destroyed by carpenter ants. Fred finally called a tree service to have it taken down.

The four of us must have spent a good two hours watching the tree men.  Forget about school--this was far more educational and entertaining.  A crew arrived on time and got right to work.  The girls noted they all spoke Spanish, which we are trying to learn so we can understand.  The "climber" strapped on some kind of contraption to his shoes and he scooted up that tree as fast as a squirrel, all the time holding a big chainsaw in one hand!  He was not attached to any rope or anything else to secure him in case he fell.  He took the tree down branch by branch and then cut the trunk ABOVE his head.  He seemed to know just where it would fall.  The huge pieces of wood fell to the earth with tremendous force. Some speared the ground like giant daggers standing upright in the grass. The guys on the ground seemed to know just where the branches would land too because they were always in the right place out of the way.  The climber leapt from tree to tree, trimming other branches from nearby trees.  It was cold and windy and he would swing from side to side as the tree swayed, stepping out on impossibly small limbs to get the job done.  I went out on the deck to take a couple of pictures and then thought better of it.  I was afraid for his safety because then he seemed to show off a bit, taking more risks.  Whatever this man gets paid, it is not enough.  He has amazing skill and courage.  His talents will prevent damage to our home in the future. 

The rest of the crew sawed the branches, taking the small ones into their chipper and leaving nice logs for us to use as firewood.  They neatly cleaned up the yard and drove away all in about three hours, start to finish.  That included taking down one tree completely and trimming three others!  Such hardworking, efficient men. Fred has much work to do splitting all that wood.  But he doesn't mind.  We are thankful for this provisiion of fuel for next winter.  God always provides.  We rarely used our furnace this past winter because of other wood we were given. 

Now we are working on our vegetable garden.  On a lovely, warm, insect-free day we spent the afternoon in the garden.  Fred put up even MORE fencing, this time to keep out the rabbits.  We've fought the groundhogs and deer in previous years. The fence gets higher and deeper in the ground. The squirrels won their battle with the corn and we couldn't figure out any way to keep them out, so now we just don't plant corn.  Last summer the rabbits found a way in through very small openings in the mesh of the fence.  Fred is ready for them this season. Then as Fred tilled, the girls and I pulled out clots of weeds and grass.  The breeze was warm on our faces and the rich soil was cool to our hands.  Hands and knees, we crawled behind the tiller and it was joy to connect with our little piece of the earth. I raked the garden smooth and then planted our greens.  Swiss chard and collards, mesclun, spinach, arugula and escarole.  Another season of new life, nutritious food.  We are thankful for vigor and good health.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Headlong into Spring

Wait!  How can it be that winter is almost over?  That soon we will be planting a new garden and spending our evenings outdoors?  I'm still holding the stories of the first three months of this year that I haven't written.  Too much time has passed and the emotions of those events are hard to describe.  What I didn't write about:

My baby's 13th birthday!  How did this happen?  All of you with little babies right now--people tell you to enjoy these days because "they grow up so fast."  Believe me, it is true.  There is no way to recapture those lost days.  But Fred and I will rejoice in a new stage of life with two teenage daughters! 

On a wintry night in February with a Nor'easter moving in, we drove to our school for a talent show.  My Arielle played a beautiful song with our good friend Julia and one of my students on the drum. I was just getting used to my new camera and did not take any good pictures.  I even thought I'd taken a video, but no, it didn't work.

Also in February we celebrated Joey's first birthday.  It was a big party NOT at our house!  How liberating!  It was fun to all be together at Anthony and Kim's house.  They put out a big spread and welcomed us all. 
And now we come to Easter. It was a rainy, cold day and we had a wild egg hunt in the house.  Everyone brought good food and we made it a casual dinner.  Liana and the little girls played American Girl dolls (love it!) and Arielle joined the adult conversation.  This picture was not taken at my house, but little Jordan portrays my sentiments exactly at the end of the evening.
Our newest family member was missing from this celebration!  We will be leaving soon to meet baby Caden. I can't wait until he is here in Pennsylvania to meet his many cousins and join in the fun.