Welcome Back

As I sit here trying to put this post together after the 2+ month hiatus Gina and I took from Living Here and There (well, not from living here and there, but recording our experiences of it), I’ve found that my wheels are requiring gallons of grease and I’m needing to bribe myself with more than a few Netflix breaks in order to get rolling again.

I’m disoriented here at the keyboard and navigating around WordPress seems like wandering through a familiar but patently foreign land. It turns out that not all learned skills are as easy to return to as that bicycle and this particular practice, for me anyway, requires recalibrating and re-tinkering and time. As for sharing my thoughts (and my writing) with an audience of greater than one again…well, let’s just say I’m going to be here editing for awhile tonight.

That said, I’ve missed the company of my friend and the peek into her world over There, that this blog provides. That I got to enjoy a birthday lunch in SoHo with the actual, not virtual, Gina–as well as share a few meals and chats with her and the kids around my kitchen table–was a certain gift. Now, however, so many weeks later, our time together seems like a dream and I’m ready for some tangible, printable contact again.

Before we get started on what’s going on now though, here’s a little recap of what’s been going on Here, on this side of the ocean, for the past many weeks.

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August is my favorite month. Mostly because it was my favorite time of year growing up (my birthday falls during its first week) and while I don’t celebrate my birthday as whole-heartedly as I did when I was younger, Ray and Noah and I managed to do it up small this year and go on a birthday hike and out to dinner and eat cake. We also were able to see friends and family for various meals and cocktails during the beginning part of the month and soak up the still-strong sun and warm nights.

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Noah gussied up for my birthday dinner at Riverview.

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A late lunch that morphed into an early dinner at Michele and Dan’s.

The Hudson Valley is bursting with green in August and though sometimes the nights get chilly, the bounty of the harvest and the still-later-than-wintertime sunsets create an internal heat that keeps me from lamenting the coming fall (too much). In August even the river is balmy–the water temperature can reach upwards of 70 degrees–so Luca spends lots of time swimming and Noah and I spend lots of time chasing him around trying to dry him off.

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August sunset over Storm King Mountain.

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Swimming and stick-throwing.

Of course the cherry on top of my birthday week was Gina and the kids visiting us for a few days. To have them in our house again was so much fun and made me so very grateful for things like airplanes and trains and fossil fuel. The boys took up again like not a minute had passed since they were cavorting around Bologna last fall and, though Gina, Michele and I had to work hard to keep the yarns of our many conversations from becoming one giant, verbal knot of crazy, we managed to swim and hike and lunch and shop and drink a few gallons of wine. It was, to be trite, a divine time.

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Swimming at Michele’s.

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Gina & Leeloo considering the ducks on our hike around Little Stony Point.

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There’s always time for Minecraft (after lunch at Homespun).

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Snuggle pile in front of the TV. (Sometimes the moms get talking in the kitchen and forget that the kids get tired from all of the swimming and the hiking and the Minecraft.)

Even though leave-taking is becoming one of the brightest, no-longer-worrisome stitches in our relationship, saying goodbye to our friends is never easy and this time it especially sucked because our time together was so short-lived. (Here’s counting the days to Christmas in Philly!) Lucky for us, however, we saved our vacation until the end of the summer so we had something to look forward to once the Bouvarez clan had taken flight.

Cape Cod, Massachusettes here we come!

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Driving due east over the Bourne Bridge onto Cape Cod.

Cape Cod is a tiny spit of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Boston. My parents spend a good part of the year there and I’ve been visiting the place for most of my life, so in many ways driving over that bridge feels like coming home.

Our time at the Cape is slow and easy. What with the long days at the beach, long bike rides along the rail trail, trips to Provincetown (one of my favorite places on earth), yummy seafood dinners and plenty of sand and salty air, the Unwinding and Relaxing are sure things. This year, in addition to my parents being with us, all three of my brothers and my sister-in law were there. Noah had a blast swimming and playing with his cousins, and I had the chance to catch up with my beloved family members–all of whom I don’t get to see often enough because they live all over the world–which made this year’s trip extra special. The lot of us crammed into the tiny kitchen of our Cape Cod cottage and talked and laughed and ate and were very, very loud. Just like when we were kids.

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The pilot & co-pilot hunkered down for the five hour drive.

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(Sometimes the co-pilot needs a nap.)

The minute we get to the Cape house we drag everything out of the car, put on our bathing suits and head TO THE BEACH!

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Cousins setting up the court for some kind of sand game involving paddles & balls.

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Noah and cousin Daniel braving the Atlantic with Uncle Dan.

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All set up for a day beneath the dunes.

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Obligatory sand pit photo.

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Clams the boys dug with help from Uncle Dan & Uncle Tom.

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Lobster Roll.

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My brothers and me. Rarely is it that we are all on the same sofa. Most of the time we aren’t all on the same continent.

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Grandma & Papa & the grandkids.

Each year Ray and Noah and I take a day to ourselves and head to Provincetown–a village on the very tip of Cape Cod–and each year, after we’ve had some lunch and a beer or two at Governor Bradford’s and walked the length of Commercial Street, stopping into our favorite shops and bakery, we seek out the real estate listings and try to formulate a plan to move there someday. It truly is one of the most magical places I know–artists and writers roam the beaches for inspiration, tiny piping plovers–an endangered bird that conservation groups rope off miles of shoreline for–roam the dunes for food and mates, and human beings of every color and stripe dress in sequins and glitter and bows and dance in the streets, whooping and hollering and being wholly and fully themselves. There’s a nude beach, a festival week that rivals Mardi Gras and more natural beauty than seems fair for one tiny town.

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View from the end of Provincetown Wharf.

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Noah on the boardwalk.

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Rules of the beach.

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Race Point.

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One last look back before getting in the car.

 

And then September arrived with all of its natter and noise. It’s a month laced with beginnings and endings–as I suppose any month is–but September’s changes seem stern and definitive and cruel. School started for Noah. I got a job. Ray is interviewing again.

The gazebo is empty now. This past Sunday we wiped down the patio furniture and took away the candles and hauled everything into the shed where it sits, packed away for the long, cold season to come.

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First Day of 7th Grade.

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Last gazebo dinner of 2014…unless Stef lets us ring in the new year out here. We could do it with a couple of heat lamps and a case of frizzante, no?

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Empty gazebo.

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Morning full moon over half-bald mountain.

 

I’m trying to stay positive despite this morning that came upon us with no warning about a week ago…

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As I was hiking with the dog the other day, , however, I (sternly) reminded myself to honor all of the beauty that autumn brings. The hills are on fire right now, bursting into a hundred shades of orange and red and gold. The sunsets are still stupefying. October will bring Halloween and Noah’s birthday and longer, darker, more restful nights.

And besides, homework isn’t so bad…

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and neither is reading your favorite book about your favorite holiday to your friend…

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nor September sunsets that look like this…

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The other day there were four bald eagles circling over the river behind of our house. Google will tell you that the meaning in this sighting is that illumination awaits.

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Two of the four eagles I saw circling overhead last week.

I’m looking forward to it.

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to Living Here and There! Before we launch back into things, it seems fitting to re-cap just a bit of what’s been going on over the two months since Christine and I took our summer break from these pages. After a busy June and July, the kids and I were just about to take off for our first trip back to the States in almost a year, and Stefan was off to Brazil to visit his brother.

Upon arrival in the US, we were met with a monsoon of love and attention from our family and friends who had planned all sorts of togetherness for us. There were orchard visits and pool days, long catch up sessions and family dinners, a visit to the warship New Jersey and Washington DC for Zoel, obligatory trips to our favorite big box stores, Target and Michael’s, – oh, if the Europeans only knew – and just a wee bit of singing and dancing too. And thankfully, there were also three days of hanging out with the folks on the other side of this page.

Wine-enhanced, candlelit dinner in the gazebo, check.

Long lunch on Michele’s terrace, check.

Sunday dip in the pool with the whole bunch, check.

Hike with Noah, Zoel, Leeloo and Luca, check.

Inspiring writing chat with Christine, check.

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Ray, Christine and me!

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Banks of the Hudson River.

Back in Philly, a Flower Tea Party celebration a la Cubana feted Leeloo’s 8th birthday, with her 20+ cousins and “cousins” taking over my parent’s house.

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75 cupcakes by the generous and talented Erin Nadeau!

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Mad Hatter Hat decorating!

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Best part of August for the kids… visiting with Nana, Abuelo and cousin, Milo!

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Stefan Salad, made for the first time without Stefan.

IMG_9849And before we knew it, it was time to say our goodbyes again – definitely the hardest part of this choice we’ve made to live abroad. Just 20 hours, two taxis and two planes later, we were pulling back into the vineyard in Casalecchio di Reno, greeted by flourishing fields of sunflowers, wheat, chick peas, plums, wildflowers, and of course, grapes. The feeling of having arrived home was definitely in the warm country air that day, not only because it was beautiful and because this is the place where the four of us have decided to hang our hats for the time being, but because papa (also known as Stefan) was there to welcome us after his trip to visit Uncle Sebastian (also known as tonton.) Three and half weeks was a long time to be without him and we were all happy to be back together again.

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Straight off the plane and into the fields. Ah!

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A little bit of Philly visited us at the very end of August in the form of my childhood friend, Andy and his lovely family, assuaging our leftover longing for the people back home. With them, we went back to visit Lucca, one of our favorite Tuscan towns, were we rode bikes atop its ancient wall and through the piazzas, chancing upon a vintage car show where we were able to get up close and inspect the beautifully detailed interiors and gorgeous exteriors.

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Our friends were even here to send Zoel and Leeloo off to their second year of school in Bologna!

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And what a difference a year makes! There were no morning jitters this time, unlike last year. Instead, we easily slipped back into our comfortable routine and were excited to rejoin our little international community after almost 3 months of not seeing anyone. The school yard was buzzing with parents and children just like the September before, but now instead of hearing booming noise, Italian words (and English, and Spanish, and French…) were discernible. The kids ran right over to their friends and launched into recaps of their escapades while Stefan and I were just as warmly greeting with Ciao’s and Bongiorno’s, Hola’s and Bonjour’s.

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So far, the start of middle school for Zoel and third grade for Leeloo has been beautiful. Rarely have I been so pleased with the efforts made by their teachers to get them motivated and curious at the start of a new school year! As a result, both of them have dialed up their efforts, and it’s been amazing to watch their determination to get new concepts and improve were they can.

While they’re at school, Stefan and I continue to move our projects forward (some of which I hope to share with you here over the course of the year!), sometimes only inch by inch, but forward nonetheless. After drop off one sunny September morning, we got to participate in our second vendemmia (grape harvest.) With clippers and plastic buckets in hand, we hit the fields with our neighbors and happily freed giant succulent bunches of grapes from the overtaxed vines. Earlier in the month, the director of the vineyard had walk us through all the steps they take to process the grapes and store their various kinds of wine, making our small part in the journey that more meaningful, and the glass of pignoletto frizzante that we had with dinner that evening that much more special.

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A few days earlier, Leeloo made herself at home on the wheels of the giant machine that shakes the grapes off the sturdier, younger vines.

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As we move into the heart of the Fall season, we’re planning some trips, projects and events that I look forward to chronicling here for you, along with the beautiful things that we find  here in the country and on our charming Bologna streets. Thanks again for coming back to join us!

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School’s inner court yard with leaves falling on PE class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Weekend in New England

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 5.42.45 AMWe’re sticking pretty close to home this summer but this past weekend we ventured out into the world for a few days–driving all the way to New London, New Hampshire–a little town in the central part of the state where my brother and his family live. It was one of those impromptu trips that you decide to take on a Tuesday night at 10pm after a phone conversation with a family member or a friend reminds you how much you miss spending time with someone. Despite Skype calls and text messages and Facebook posts, which allow me to see the faces of my family members who are scattered all over the globe, nothing can compare with the sweet nectar of face-to-face time, the sharing of a meal and just quietly sitting next to a loved one over morning coffee.

All sentiment aside, this particular brother (I have two others) also happens to be husband to my fantastically fun sister-in-law and father to my niece and three nephews (one of whom is Noah’s exact age and close ally) who provide tons of energy and an instant party, just by gathering in one room. All that camaraderie, our shared history and our eagerness to be together–combined with with the picturesque lake that they live on (and the plethora of kayaks, Sunfish boats, water skis and hiking trails that abound) added a perfect variation to our hitherto, extremely quiet summer.

New England (a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) has a unique cultural and aesthetic flavor, distinct within in its borders and markedly different from the border state of New York, where we live. New England’s heritage and culture was shaped by waves of immigration and its earliest Puritan settlers came from eastern England, contributing to the distinctive accents, foods, customs, and social structures found there. It’s also ridiculously pretty and clean.

We’ve visited New London on many other occasions, but almost all of the trips have been during the winter months–the region is known for its skiing and snowsports much more so than its boating and sunbathing–and we thought it might be nice to see the mountains swathed in green instead of buried under ribbons of white snow. We also decided to avoid highways on the drive north and, instead, took old, winding roadways that meandered through small villages and towns and along miles of land that remains untouched by urban sprawl. It was so different than the undeveloped land where we live–which either needs to be incorporated and protected as part of a land preserve or is for sale to the highest bidder.

Along the way we enjoyed a delicious lunch at an organic deli in Vermont, we stopped for gas and snacks at a quirky little station in the middle of a field in rural upstate New York and when we arrived in New Hampshire, wine and pizza waiting for us–along with a weekend filled with swimming, s’mores and succulent fun.

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Unexpected Charm on the Atlantic Coast of France

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Marrying a French guy has turned out to be a pretty good deal over these last 17 years. One of the perks has been getting to know the bits of France where Stefan’s family has roots like Paris, Marseilles, Cannes and Provence, but nothing had ever lured us toward the Southwest until this month, when a family reunion of sorts, for a special birthday, led us to the Bordeaux region. When Stefan mentioned where we were going, we had a laugh over vacationing in a wine region, because that’s exactly what we need… more wine. We didn’t think much more about it, knowing that we’d be flying into three days of scheduled festivities, and so wouldn’t have much say over where we visited or what we did.

We had no idea that Bordeaux also includes an area of small ocean towns surrounding the Bay of Arcachon, and Europe’s highest dune located in Pyla-sur-Mer, our final destination. We were surprised on the way from the airport to our hotel as the roadways became smaller and smaller, soil transitioned to sand alongside them, the smell of salty air swirled in through the windows and finally the sight of the dark blue water of the Atlantic Ocean started streaming past us. Where were the vineyards and the French country villages? We were staying at the beach?! Yippee! I was reminded of past arrivals in beach towns from  Wildwood, New Jersey, that I mentioned last week, to the North Fork in New York, from South Beach in Miami to Cannes in the South of France, all very different, and yet, at some level, absolutely the same. It must be the rhythmic movement of the waves and salty breeze that immediately calms everyone down and slows life’s relentless (and maybe unnatural) pace for all who enter these coastal territories.

The car pulled up on a roundabout of La Co(o)rniche, a Philippe Starck designed hotel, beautifully ironic given the sentiments expressed on Stefan’s recently released I Used to Love YouDespite the song lyrics, even Stefan had to agree that Starck had created a comfortable yet modern, peaceful yet entertaining space that fit well within the rugged nature surrounding it. Over a 4-day weekend in this lovely part of the world, we climbed the dune to discover a giant forest that spanned out as far as the ocean on the other side of it, we road the waves on motor boats to visit pretty nearby villages like Cap Ferret, where we were treated to some of the freshest seafood we’ve ever had (the area is known for its oysters, which unfortunately none of us eat!), and got to spend time with a wonderfully eclectic group of family and friends. Sometimes traveling with no expectations is truly the best way to go! IMG_1082 IMG_1175

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Midsummer’s Mirth & Melancholy

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‘Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing’ by William Blake

Today is July 15th so technically it’s well past midsummer here in the Hudson Valley. When the term is used correctly, midsummer denotes the celebrations and festivals that mark the summer solstice and the longest day of the year–an occurrence that falls at the end of June. Today–three weeks after the longest day of 2014–the earth has already begun to tilt its northern hemisphere away from the sun, incrementally adding minutes to our nights and steadily marching us towards winter and darkness. Midsummer, at this point, really is just a dream.

But forget science and poetics for a minute. I’m taking license with the term and using it to describe the fact that today feels to me, psychologically anyway, like the middle of summer; the safest, best part of the year. It’s equidistant from the end of the chilly spring and the arrival of the chilly autumn. We’re living inside the few weeks of the year when it is completely and truly Summer.

Here at the riverside we’ve fallen into a slow and soothing routine–no school for Noah means long, relaxing mornings in our pajamas when we make waffles and Nescafé and walk the dog together before heading out to camp or on the day’s errands. Some days we’ll have a fancy lunch outside and coax Ray out of his office to join us for a little while. Afterwards we’ll water the herb garden, check the tide and maybe go on an afternoon paddle. Longer, brighter evenings mean late dinners in the gazebo, sunset swims with Luca and candlelit games of chess accompanied by pizza and wine. Even though Ray’s work is busy and I’m still (frantically) looking for a job, the pace of our days is unhurried, and I find myself bursting with contentment, especially on nights when it looks like we’re doing nothing at all.

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Checkmate.

There’s magic in the air right now–and not only because of the canopy of blinking fireflies covering the yard and all that birdsong at dusk. Sitting outside at 9pm, barefoot and wearing a sundress, IS the very definition of summer to me. It’s that simple. The humidity pressing against my skin is healing and the cool flagstone underneath my feet is comforting and the  gentle purple twilight creeping in over the river melts away all of the stress from the day’s job search and softens the worry about paying next week’s bills. Peace descends with nighttime in the summer. And surrender. During winter, night falls like an ax, violent and deadly–uprooting all of my anxiety and leaving it exposed and writhing at my (sock covered) feet.

Laughter is easy during summer, too. Even when storms move at us across the river and threaten a perfect evening. We always stay outside until we hear the first rumble of thunder and then Ray and Noah and I quickly blow out the tea lights and gather the dishes and the chess board and run inside, trying (and not trying) to dodge the fat drops of warm rain. We race around the house closing the windows and comforting the dog (who hates storms) and eventually end up on the couch together, damp and laughing and out of breath. These are moments when lightening seems like a blessing. Or an answered prayer.

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“15” is half of something, right?

But each passing day, as lovely and mirthful as the cumulative moments of them might be, is just bringing us closer and closer to the inevitable season(s) that come next. Three of them. Three of them that are mostly made up of days and nights that are dark and gloomy and cold.

This reality came charging at me the other day when I went outside to water the garden and noticed that one of our tomatoes had turned red. Ripened tomatoes on the vine, along with the early corn you can now find at farmers’ markets around here, are a sure sign that summer’s song is coming to its inevitable end. After all, the ripening of said fruit is the final stage in the life cycle of this plant; and of this season. All that’s left is the thing falling to the ground and decomposing or, you know, me cutting it up and eating with a nice fat wedge of mozzarella and a sprinkle of salt.

Harrumph.

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first tomato

It takes a pretty cynical soul to lament the arrival of a garden’s bounty, but the folks who know me best won’t be surprised by my perspective. Maybe I’m extra sensitive to  summer’s mellowing because of the very long, very snowy winter that we endured this past year and I just don’t want to be cold again. Maybe in my older age (I’ll officially hit the ‘mid forties’ next month) I’m simply more aware of the passage of time.

My suspicion, though, is that my melancholy is the result of something else; specifically my inability to recognize and feel gratitude. Yep. Gratitude. I mean, sure, I say “thank you” when it’s socially appropriate–I’m not a exactly a heathen–but the thanks I give is, at best, intellectually driven. I can be obsessively polite and self-denying to a fault, but the “thank yous” I offer seem lifeless and gaunt and, at times, insincere. Like my appreciation (or, rather, my lack of) for that tomato and the soil and all that sunshine and rain. My suspicion is that I’m mistaking sadness for gratitude. It’s midsummer after all, and not time to lament. We’re heading to New Hampshire to see my brother and his family this coming weekend and Gina will be here, sitting at my kitchen table, very soon. In a few weeks we’ll get to party in Philly with my favorite adopted family and then, just a day later, we’ll party at the Cape with my real one.

The thing is, it is summer NOW and it’s high time I realized that before it’s not anymore. Thank goodness I have half a season left work it out.

Summer Nostalgia

When I was a kid, our family summer vacation always included going to the beach, and then doing next to nothing for a solid week. During the rest of the year, my dad’s schedule involved working 10-hour long days, usually six days a week, and my mom’s consisted of holding together everything else during those long days (and nights.) Given this, it’s not at all surprising that vacation meant parking ourselves under an umbrella on a hot, sandy beach with a cooler filled with sandwiches, soda and beer, and absolutely nada on the agenda. That kind of full stop is what I’m craving right now as we race past the middle of summer, with 2 trips out of the country, a few road trips, 3 sets of guests, and more than a few local events under our belt, and with much more to come before the end of August rolls around.

All of this movement has me thinking about one of my parents’ preferred locations for their restful summer pause from the stress of everyday life, Wildwood, New Jersey. If you’ve never been, Wildwood is a one-of-a-kind East Coast beach town populated by 1960s art deco motels, many of them conceived with a design theme like the Casa Bahama or Lollipop Motels. 

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It’s just a 3-hour drive from Philadelphia, but we’d get up extra early to pile all of our things into the Buick, and make it to the shore before lunchtime. I remember the excitement in the car as we neared our destination, and started to smell the fishy air of the bay and feel the warm, salty breeze coming in through the rolled down windows. Vacation began at that very instant. We packed our sony walkmans, mad libs, tiger beat magazines and invisible ink fun pads back into our sacks, knowing that soon we’d be winding through Wildwood looking for our colorful ocean side motel.

There was yet more anticipation as my dad went into the motel office to get the keys to our room. Which floor would we be on? Would we be near our cousins? Would the strangely alluring ice machine be closeby? Would we face the pool? The beach? Would we have a balcony? Which bed would my sister and I get? Would the room have a kitchenette? It was enough to keep two little girls giggling and bouncing around the giant backseat of the car for hours. Luckily for my mother, it was over in minutes, as we raced after my father to uncover all the mysteries held by our motel room. By that time, the cousins had probably arrived and were doing the same. A lot of running back and forth between rooms usually then ensued as our parents lugged in our bags and beach gear.

Shortly after a quick lunch at the motel’s diner and a change of clothes, we would all climb the stairs down to the beach to set up our spot for the day. Beach towels were arranged side by side, two or three umbrellas were driven into the sand and opened, the cooler was strategically placed between my dad and uncle, and our bags of multi-colored buckets, shovels and sand sifters were dropped close, but not too close, to the adults. And that was it. There we would exist, between the motel and the beach, the beach and the motel, for five or six days. Well, that was almost it.

We’d be deliciously exhausted by the sun, sand and water every evening, but managed, at least 2 or 3 nights out of the week, to make it over to Wildwood’s Morey’s Piers, a seemingly never-ending wooden boardwalk, packed with rides, games, food and t-shirt stands. I only wish I had a picture of the totally rad air-brushed baseball shirt that I got on the boardwalk in 1980… light pink sleeves and a white torso, a black and white checked background on the chest, my name in graffiti emblazoned over the top, complete with sparkling stars. In addition to getting totally awesome shirts, we tried our luck at picking yellow plastic ducks out of a spinning pond for prizes, devoured delicious funnel cake and cotton candy, and then tried to keep them down while spinning on the super loud music express train.

But in the morning, we’d be back at the beach with nowhere to run to, nothing on the schedule at all, no monuments, no historic sites, no lunch reservations, no crazy dinners, no event start times, and no summer homework. It was great for us kids, but frankly, we probably would have been fine anywhere school was out. I realize now, that for our parents, it may have been an even more special place, and the perfect way to rest their bodies and minds. They were too far from home and work to be weighed down by their normal responsibilities, yet the surroundings and people were familiar and comfortable. They weren’t tethered to a smart phone beeping with messages or news from the world outside the beach. All they had to focus on was not losing their joy-filled kids and keeping the overflowing cooler in the shade. Magic.

I’m very grateful for all the things were able to do and see over the course of one summer, but next time around, I’m going to keep Wildwood in mind, and make sure there’s at least one week of the summer just like it. For now, we’ll have to steal some lazy moments when we can, like this rare occurrence from yesterday, all of us sitting at the same time, in the same place. Magic.

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Hudson River, New York, USA

This summer is turning out to be a ‘stay-at-home’ time for our family here on the western edge of the Atlantic. It’s not that we’re trying to be sedentary, but life’s predicaments, as they sometimes do, have dictated a season of job searches (for me and Ray) and local day camps (for Noah) and we’re trying to make the best of it. Honestly, it’s been a pleasure to stay home, as we’ve never really spent an entire summer here, watching the leaves get greener and the endless parade of storms pass through the valley. Other years we’ve traveled during summertime; looking out and over there for inspiration and delight.

Lingering at the edge of the river is not only proving to be beautiful and serene, but is offering us plenty of opportunities to observe difference and the reshaping of the world that is happening all around us, all the time. Sure, this physical staying in the same place requires discipline and a keen eye when it comes to noticing the world–it’s easy to stop seeing the sunset over the river each night or our resident cardinal’s daily breakfast routine. Attention to what is happening around you is a necessary element of remaining open-minded and not developing tunnel vision about one’s life. It is vital to immerse oneself in difference and to discern variations in the natural world, a practice that is automatic when traveling but less so when you’re staying in one place.

When you’re staying in one place some transformations, typically those that take weeks or months to happen–think springtime or tomatoes ripening on the vine–can be missed or noticed only after a change is so pronounced (the snow is GONE, the tomato is RED) it’s impossible not to see it. In those instances we miss the melting, the subtle shades of pink and that’s a shame. Sometimes, though, changes are abrupt and forceful and are good to notice for just that reason. Here are a few photos taken from roughly the same location over  the last week or so. Variation, indeed.

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Paddling

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First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to Stefan on this, the LAUNCH DAY for his book and music projects and the official introduction of the considered life to the world! I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of witnessing a few moments of its development over the years and I promise you, neither the book nor the album should be missed.

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In other news, summer is here! I think I’ve mentioned this a few times already, but I’m just so doggone happy to be puttering around the house in bare feet with the windows open, the sloshing of boats on the river the soundtrack echoing through our house as the people and animal who live here settle into the rhythm of the season.

A change like this often comes with moments of bewilderment and it was during one of those murky mornings late last week, when Noah and I were bumping into one another in the kitchen and Ray was trying to get out the door to catch a train and Luca was whining because he wanted to go for a walk that I decided we needed to do something different–you know, in an attempt to flow with the slower pace and the looser structure of the day and not, ahem, paddle against it. Noah and I talked about finding a movie to see or going to the mall or, even, hopping on the train with Ray and heading into the city for a museum visit and lunch, but the sky was crystal blue and the breeze was gentle and warm and it wasn’t a day to be inside. So, I made the rare choice to go kayaking. You know, without our resident water expert around to guide us.

It’s not that I don’t ever go out on the river without Ray, but often it’s just easier and, to be honest, more palatable to have him with us. For safety and security reasons and because it’s obviously more fun, but also because he’s good at dragging the kayaks around and warning us about the changing tide and keeping Noah and I, two starry-eyed neophytes, focused on looking out for motor boats and tankers and other detritus that must be avoided whilst splashing about on this giant body of water in a plastic vessel the size of a bathtub.

Noah, ever the adventure seeker, was thrilled and did not miss a beat. Of course we could do it alone! No worries! He wanted to pack lunch. He wanted to find a swimming hole. He wanted to try to take the dog in the boat with us, too.

Luckily, I was able to keep my wits about me and made the executive decision to leave Luca home, but after making Noah promise to help me with the dragging-of-the-boat-down-to-the-beach and the paddling-up-the-river and the paying-attention-to-the-tide, we packed some snacks and a few jugs of water and headed out onto the Hudson.

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Happy.

We were treated to calm waters and beautiful scenery and we had a truly magnificent afternoon. It’s so interesting to visit places you’ve seen a thousand times before, but from an alternate point of view. We are lucky enough to live at the river’s edge and we watch it, awestruck, every single day. Our viewpoint, though, is always from above. We look down at the river and across at the mountains, perspectives that give us a sense of dominion or, at least, of safety over all that water and land. But to see everything looming above us, except the water of course–which itself seemed far more copious and deep once we were floating on top of it–made both Noah and I silent with appreciation. For the day and for one another.

 

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Our gazebo, seen from below.

Our house is perched up on a rock wall and even during the most violent storms (Sandy, Hurricane Irene) we never feel like there is a threat of danger or flooding. Once you’re down on the river, though, that certainty starts to shift. Sure the water in June is warm(ish) and the gentle lapping of the small waves against the boat seems comforting, but you also realize the river’s power and potential peril. When you’re depending on that water to keep you steady and moving, when the mountains form a bowl around you, when you are surrounded by rock walls that seem impossible to climb, you can get to thinking that maybe a storm could come through and send waves in through the back door.

You paddle on. Not afraid, but reverent and still. And curious.

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Our fellow travelers on the river–like these big tankers (we passed four or five) carrying everything from other boats (the one above is loaded down with yachts) to cement and gravel and oil–demand respect as well. While we enjoyed playing in the waves of their wake, we mostly stayed away and admired them from a distance.

Combing the riverfront we were treated to features of the shoreline we don’t usually get to see: driftwood structures built by campers or teenage revelers who find solace (and sometimes trouble) at dusk along the narrow beaches;

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and marooned logs and uprooted tree stumps, battered and smoothed down by water and sand.

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Even our beloved village’s waterfront, a place where we regularly walk the dog and eat ice cream and sit on one of the benches to read or write, seemed unfamiliar and exotic and strange.

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I’ll end today with a quote from The Considered Life:

“Escaping our familiar contexts seems to me one of the better and more tangible reset buttons that life, in its wise wisdom, has seen fit to make us believe was our idea…Such migrations do not necessarily have to mean visa-stamping and language-learning…The foreign-soiled experience can be had anywhere that feels alien to whoever you think you are or home to whoever you want to be…For I know that the crossing of borders and the changes in points of view, literal and metaphorical, supply me with a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of what has come to mean so much to me: the quest for quality of life.”

Yes.

It’s going to be a good summer.