Late Autumn is My Least Favorite Season of the Year

There once was a time when one could look down at my hometown of Owego. NY and see nothing but the green leaves of summer.

No more. Now you see red brick and white roofs.

It’s like a snapshot of the moment the instant the last leaves are gone but weeks remain between those last leaves and the first buds of spring. The Autumnal Equinox is a month away…not to mention the Winter Solstice.

It’s a long wait until the Begonias, and Tulips begin to appear.

Slowly falling snow, gently descending leaves and small buds waiting to yield a flower. The warmth of an august afternoon…with a kayak beneath your seat beats naked trees anytime.

The Irish in Me

I will arise and go now to Innisfree…

-WB Yeats The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I”m drifting off to sleep in the late minutes of March 17. I’m dreaming of Kilkenny, Sligo, Dublin and Galway.

What’s happened for me on St. Patrick’s Day? Actually, nothing that involved crowds and singing and rowdy behavior.

We cooked an Irish Beef Stew, listened to the Clancy Brothers, the Dubliners, and Enya and of course Van Morrison’s Raglan Road.

Then, we put on The Quiet Man.

We’re homebound. I feel so sorry for the Irish and all the others who are going through the same thing.

Such times, indeed.

The Busker in the Square

[Photo is mine]

See the guy? Not the one standing center stage…but the one just beyond him with a microphone and black guitar case at his his feet. Yellow flowers are behind him.

To me, he’s the Busker of the Square. He has secured a spot in the plaza in front of the University of Porto. Prime location indeed!

He knows his music. He has a great voice (he can echo the nuances of Dylan’s:

No, No, No. It ain’t me Babe.

He stands out there at least three of seven days. Always on weekends. He has mastered Simon & Garfunkel. I heard “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” at least three times a day. He does a wonderful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Three times a day?

His repertoire includes:

John Lennon’s “Imagine”, “Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and others we’ve forgotten. But, he’s always there and sometimes he sings me to sleep in the mid-afternoon.

I always drop a few Euros in his guitar box. I appreciate his love of music and his desire to share his talent.

Two Churches in Porto

I’m in Porto, Portugal. It’s not Florida and it’s not northern Dorset, and I’m not shoveling 4′ of snow in the Adirondacks.

But there is an interesting church across the square facing our apartment. Actually it’s two churches. On the right is the Igerja do Carmo, used by the monks of the Carmo. On the left is the das Carmelitas for nuns of that order. The interior walls are a mix of faux gold decoration and beeswax candles.

If you look closely, you will see a slender building with white window frames. That building is slightly over 1 meter wide. According my guidebook, it’s the narrowest building in Portugal.

So why is this tiny building there? At some point in history, a law was passed that stated that two churches could not share the same wall.

It may sound witty, but I find it heartbreaking. The narrow building was, perhaps built to separate nuns from the monks. This seems to be the prevailing theory.

Requited love? Unrequited love? Lust? Desire? A moral struggle? Legendary liaisons?

Only the interior walls, the statues of saints, and the God they believed in can judge those generations of souls.

I certainly won’t.

Little Christmas Joys

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Tree at the White Lion Inn

I’m snug beneath the blankets, in a cozy room of a six hundred year-old inn. The pub below us is crowded with men and women filled with ale, mulled wine and good cheer. I’m listening to laughter…I’m hearing Silver Bells On the sound system. I’m not disturbed by the sounds; they will lull me to sleep.

As I drift into slumber, I’m recalling some of the little kindnesses that we have been given during our first week in England:


No one has honked their horns at me when I stalled out in the middle of a roundabout…something that would never happen on the Cross Bronx Expressway.

The Sat-Nav (GPS) that came with the Ford Focus actually works!

Seeing the smile on my wife’s face as she enjoys her first Pantomime in Swindon. [“Look out, she’s behind you!”]

The opportunity to have lunch and enjoy part of Boxing Day with our longtime friends and hosts, the Ovenden’s. And we get to do our laundry at their house.


We are the only guests here at The White Lion. The co-owner graciously offered to open the kitchen on Christmas morning to cook breakfast just for the two of us. I don’t think a Motel 6 would have made the same offer.

Being greeted like family at a local pub called The Buffalo. Kate, the owner kindly invited us to Christmas Eve dinner with her family and friends. Every other pub was fully booked or closed.

The pleasure of being given a Christmas pudding by the staff of The Griffin Inn in Bath where we spent one night.

So, peace and joy to all our UK friends and those back home in America.

Christmas Pudding
Father Christmas

[Note: This is my first attempt at publishing a blog on my iPhone. All photos are mine.]

It’s Not Easy

Elisa Pumpkins[Elias has to choose. It’s very important what to consider.]

[DEDICATED TO ELIAS MUIR GOLDSTEIN, MY GRANDSON]

It’s not an easy life being a child. No, the easy part of life is being a grown-up.  They can go to bed when they want, they can watch any TV show on the cable…like The Bachelor in Paradise or Hoarders, take a bath when they choose and even get to drive a car.

All is not perfect in child land at certain times of the year.

Like October. This is when the difficult choices begin to manifest themselves. The major issue at this time of the year happens to be pumpkins. Every year a child (except those that are home schooled and believe that Halloween is a satanic practice) has to choose the perfect pumpkin to display on the front steps of his or her house. This is not an easy matter. There are endless considerations to be made. To make a very long story somewhat shorter, I will use bullet points to illustrate my…points.

The usual first step for the parents is to take the child to a Pumpkin Farm. At such places, many choices come into play. Shall the child have a cup of cider? A candy apple? Or, perhaps a doughnut?

But then, reality begins. Choosing the absolutely perfect pumpkin. And this is the most difficult process of all. A child has to consider a number of factors in selecting the correct pumpkin. if I remember correctly from my childhood, this is what the youngster needs to consider:

  • How does the pumpkin heft? How do two pumpkins feel when held in each hand?  Is there a proper equilibrium?
  • How does the weight (or mass) compare with others with the same volume? This can be determined, in large part by the heft, but it is not based on solid scientific empirical data.
  • What is the carvability factor? How easy would the knife cut through the orange skin?
  • The size. Will the size support a proper face carving?
  • Is there enough surface area to support a carved face? Should it be scary or funny?
  • The specific gravity. How does the pumpkin relate to it’s volume in a bucket of water?
  • Does it have enough internal space (post-carving) to support a stub of a old dinner candle?
  • What is the Curb Appeal? Can this be seen easily from the street? Will it scare away trick or treaters or will it signal that goodies are to be had in the house that sits behind this special pumpkin?
  • What is the life span? How long can the child keep the pumpkin on the front porch before it becomes a moldy mass of yellow pulp that needs to be shoveled from the steps? Can it last into December?

So many things to consider when you’re a child. But the one thing that will not be a worry is that you will have a loving Mommy and Daddy that will tuck you into bed and tell you that the spooks and goblins are not real and that the candy will have to wait.

Then they can get back to Hoarders.

 

Sometimes Losing is Winning

[Friends Seminary. [Photo credit: Google Search.]

I spent New Years Eve, 1990 alone in a bar in Binghamton.The only kiss I got was from the off-duty bartender who had started celebrating early.  He kissed the top of my head and said: “I love you, man,” and then fell backwards onto a table.

I was at the wrong end of a bitter divorce.  Working as a ‘temp’ at IBM in Endicott, NY, I felt I had nowhere else to go but down.

Fate stepped in and made me buy a copy of the Philadelphia Enquirer. (It was a legit paper, not the Enquirer that your thinking of).  I found an agency that placed teachers.  Without losing a moment to think, I circled the ad and sent in my resume.

I was hired after a single interview at Friends Seminary in the lower East Side of Manhattan.  So I packed up and headed to the Big Apple.  A month earlier I was walking in a park in Binghamton.  The local NPR station ran a public service piece.  The host read a list of ten questions.  If you answered yes to five of the ten the advice was to seek professional care ASAP.  Clear signs of sever depression.

I answered yes to eight of the ten.  Was I down or what?

Without boring you with the details, I got a 26th floor studio on W. 92nd Street.  It was perfect.

So, I started teaching again.  This time it was in a Quaker school.  Make no mistake, only a handful of staff and teachers were Quakers.  But, I learned what a unique place it was the first time I attended an Upper School “Meeting for Worship”.  It was not religious at all.  The students just sat quietly and only stood to say what was on their mind when they felt the need.  I heard sad stories and funny incidents.  I learned more about the adolescent mind in the two years at Friends that twenty years in public and private schools.

I was happy there.  I taught my way, but as it turned out, it wasn’t the ‘right’ way.  The head of the middle school didn’t take to my methods and I couldn’t understand her demands of me.

By contract, the Head of School was supposed to observe you teaching once before your two-year probationary period was over. He came into my Astronomy class on the last day and left before the class was over.

The next day, he and the middle school head told me that my contract would not be renewed.

Did I feel cheated?  Yes.  Did I cry on the phone to Mariam when I told her the news? Yes.

I found an agency that pointed me in the direction of The Town School on the upper east side.  I taught a class in front of the science head and others

I got the job and I never looked back.  I spent ten years at Town.  I was asked to join the board of The Association of Teachers in Independent School of New York.

I was even the science department chair a few times.

Sometimes it’s a glove…sometimes it’s a shoe or a coat.  But you always know in the end when the perfect fit happens.

[The Town School.  My best fit. Photo credit: Goodle Search.]

 

 

 

North Dorset Once Again-The Excurinist III

[A London Pub. Nothing to do with this post.]

We’re with our friends in North Dorset…once again.  I met Tim when he was a rookie teacher when I was an exchange teacher in the mid-1980’s.  Now he’s nearing retiring.  His wife, Jo, is a major player in the local school, psychologist, and tutor.

We love these folks.  They have provided us with a free loft bedroom for two months!  That will allow us to travel to Spain or perhaps Norway.  We have two months.  We’re free and unencourmbed.

Mariam drove on the left for the second time today…to the local grocery market.  I was a nervous passenger, but she did so well.  It’s not easy when all we could book was a standard shift. So many things to thing about whether as a driver or a passenger.  Full disclosure : I have driven on the left since the 1980’s.

Anyway, we are fine and the lack of blogs has to do with the difficulty of getting photos from my camera.

WiFi is difficult in England and in Europe in general.  Most hotels say “free wifi” but the reality is quite different.

Hopefully, I can get inside the wi-fi issue and post more amazing and incredulous posts.

One note: We saw a magic show in London. In the hotel pub.  The woman was a world-class card trick player. I am humbled by what she did since I have two card tricks I can do.

Cheers!

 

A Fair Swap: The Excursionist I

On Friday, February 1, Mariam and I will be exchanging this:

[The Hudson River on January 26, 2018]

for this:

[The Yorkshire Dales, England]

It’s a pretty fine change of scenery if I do say so myself.

Once upon a time, back in the day, I loved winter.  How could one not love winter…when you’re twelve years old and you’re skating on the Brick Pond in Owego, NY?  I had a toboggan, a sled and the ability to make a superb snow person.  I owned a pair of old snowshoes with leather hide webbing.  An Eddie Bauer Arctic Parka hung in my closet…and still does.  I camped out in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks when it was -28℉.  My ice skates, black and weathered, hung on the wall leading to our attic.  Every time I would pass them, on a stifling day in August, I would think of the coming winter and the frozen pond only a few hundred feet from my front door.

I couldn’t wait.

Then in 1974, a personal tragedy visited me while hiking in the Adirondacks and winter became a little darker in my heart.  I no longer saw the snow as pristine and pure and calming as I had for almost two decades of my life.

The years went by.  I woke up one morning and looking into the mirror, I saw a middle-aged man looking back at me.  The salt & pepper hair had gone mostly gray.  My back hurts after shoveling.  My skates no longer fit.  my bones ache and my muscles get sore when I am forced out of our house to deal with a two-foot snowfall.  Winter no longer holds a spell over me.  I layer up with wool and fleece because I always feel chilled.  I love to watch the snow fall slowly onto the lake near our house.  I love to walk in the moonlight, feeling the peculiar crunch of the ground on cold nights.  But where I’d really rather be is sitting near our wood stove and reading a Nordic Noir novel.

In the mid-1980’s, I spent a year in Dorset, England.  It changed my life.  Footpaths and pubs abound in the chalky hills of Thomas Hardy country.  The mossy gravestones surround the mossy churches.  And, the green is breathtaking.  England may not have the twenty-eight shades of green that cover my beloved Ireland, but it’s a close second.  Sometimes, at our home in the Adirondacks, I will gaze out of the large window that faces Rainbow Lake and see a monochromatic world.  My eyes strain for some color.  A last brown leaf on a dormant maple or even a patch of blue sky beyond the leaden skies.  But no, it’s a world of white and gray.  I yearn for a dandelion or a trillium…anything with color.

So, we’re off to spend the remainder of the winter in Dorset, hosted by friends I met in the 1980’s.  We plan on doing a lot of walking, and I will carry an L.L Bean pole to lean on if my back begins to trouble me.

I guarantee that there will be a stone wall to sit on and rest.  There will be a quiet pew in a forgotten little church in a out-of-the-way village where I can write in my journal.

Yes, I will sit in that quiet pew and think about trading white for green, mild days for thumb-numbing cold mornings and ice for muddy footpaths.

And, I shall have some peace there…without fleece, without down and without cares.