Friday, October 31, 2014

1000 gifts: autumn in upstate New York

I'm finally catching up with my 1000 gifts list. I write these for myself and for my family. I don't expect anyone else to read all these details (this month's list is especially long!!!), but I decided to leave these posts "public" just in case they might inspire someone else someday to start keeping a gifts list. Keeping this list has changed my life.

These gifts are from October, and most are from my trip to Pittsburgh for a cartography conference for work, followed by my husband flying out to meet me and then the two of us taking our belated 15th anniversary treat, a visit to my hometown of Buffalo in western New York and beautiful Letchworth State Park.

902. Three days of beautiful maps and inspiration
I wish I'd taken pictures of some of the beautiful/useful/interesting/inspiring maps I saw at this conference (NACIS: North American Cartographic Information Society annual meeting)

903. Dramatic tunnels and bridges of Pittsburgh 
I've never been here before, and it really impressed me! The downtown area is on a small triangle of land at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, merging into the Ohio River. Driving into Pittsburgh is so dramatic: you plunge into a tunnel through the high river bluffs, then out immediately onto a bridge crossing the river. There are at least 5, maybe 6 bridges connecting downtown Pittsburgh. I walked across three of them.

904. The National Aviary
My last day in Pittsburgh I visited the National Aviary and got to see some amazing aerial displays and a huge range of exotic birds up close (even got "buzzed" twice by low swooping birds). Highly recommend.

905. Waiting for my love at the airport
B. flew out after the conference to meet me, and he was going to get the rental car and come pick me up at the hotel, but I was tired of waiting so I paid for a shuttle back to the airport so I could be there to meet him. It was wonderful after being alone all day to look up and see him coming down the escalator smiling at me.

906.  Maximus - our rental car upgrade
B. was really excited when we got a free upgrade for our rental car to a Maxima, which he nicknamed Maximus. It was definitely fun to drive and I really, really like the sunroof! Unfortunately, the motel I booked in Buffalo was a dive, but at least it was the only low point of the trip.

907.  Erie Basin Marina and Lighthouse
One of the first of many of my favorite places in Buffalo that we went to visit. Here I am up at the top of the lighthouse overlooking Lake Erie on one side and downtown Buffalo on the other. Must have climbed up here hundreds of times as a kid.

908. Living on the waterfront for two years
From 1982-1984 my parents and I lived in one of those white condos right on the edge of the marina where we kept our sailboat.

909. Delaware Park
This is the park where I spent so much of my childhood and teen years. I was on the cross-country team for my high school and ran many, many miles around Delaware Lake and also around the golf course part of the park.

909. Japanese Garden
Another favorite place in Buffalo. My high school senior pictures were taken here; here's one with a good friend of mine from high school, Maureen, whom I'm still in touch with. And my beloved golden retriever, Leia (named after Princess Leia, from Star Wars!)

910. My house during my high school years, "Haleigh"
This is where I dragged B. next. Actually, he's been here before, because our wedding pictures were also taken at this house on Morris Ave in north Buffalo. The top picture is of the house as it is today (unchanged!), and me and my dad on the staircase of the house in 1999 right before my wedding. Can't remember exactly where I came up withe name Haleigh, but I thought it was really cool to name a home.

911. my last home in New York, Windwood Farm
Next we traveled about 40 minutes south into the beginning of the hill country, to my favorite home, where my parents moved during my college years (I lived there just short of 2 years).  It hasn't been a real farm in many years, but it is still 40 acres, mostly forested (and a pond right next to the house). This is where I got my first horse, Rebel, and rode him all over the country side. I also visited my friend Sue who still lives on the road behind ours. We used to ride our horses together.

912. My old backyard forest and stream
We hiked back into the woods behind our old house and Sue's house. B. and I scrambled down the steep ravine so he could get this picture of me along the little stream I called "the Roamer." My mom and I loved to stream-walk along here.

913. Viddlers 5 & 10 store
This is my favorite store in East Aurora, one of the  little towns near Windwood Farm. It as a real ol' timey feel.

914. brick roads
I'd forgotten that part of Main St. East Aurora was paved in brick. I love brick roads!

915. Greek gyros at my old high school hangout
After dragging B. all over city and countryside, we met another old friend, Heidi, and her family at our old hang out, Kostas on Hertel Avenue - oh how I miss good Greek gyros! (they are hard to come by in Wyoming)

916. friends for forty years
Heidi and I have been friends for 40 years (almost, just shy a year) - we became friends in kindergarten, 5 years old. Here we are in 2014, and 21 years ago at a New Years Eve party.

917.  Not needing the umbrella I just bought
Our second day in Buffalo, I planned for us to drive to Letchworth State Park and hike around the beautiful waterfalls there... but when we woke up it was raining. We decided to go on the hike anyway, so we stopped and bought a big umbrella - but about 10 minutes later the skies cleared up and it turned into a perfect sunny day!

918. the falls at Letchworth State Park
There are at least 3 big waterfalls at Letchworth, about an hour from Buffalo. I remember when my mom first brought me there as a kid, I was stunned by the beauty of the gorge and the river and falls (this picture doesn't do them justice!), which I think are even more dramatic than nearby Niagara Falls. Nevertheless, I couldn't resist including a picture of B. and I at Niagara Falls right before we got married.

919. lizard road crossing 
While I'm generally known as being horse crazy, I also have this odd soft spot in my heart for lizards, so I simply had to take a picture of this snake and lizard wildlife crossing sign at Letchworth State Park!

920. sugar maples, hemlocks and giant old oaks
My three favorite trees that I don't get to see in Wyoming. I'd forgotten that it's the sugar maples that turn really bright red during eastern autumns.

921. autumn scent of fallen leaves
I could have lumped this in with gift #920, but I think it deserves a spot of its own

922. Mood rings
We stopped at the Letchworth gift shop and bought a souvenir ball cap (for B) and mug (for me) and I bought mood rings for the four girls; I remember loving the changing colors of these rings when I was a kid and sure enough, my kids loved them too when we got back home. (Many thanks to my parents for watching the kids while we were gone)

923. Route 20A
I think this is one of the most beautiful roads in western New York, between East Aurora and Letchworth.  Even the giant wind turbines that have been built on the hilltops couldn't detract from its beauty.

923. Names of places where I grew up
Meadowview Place, Medaille, St Josephs, Depew Avenue, Harbor Pointe, Erie Basin Marina, Morris Ave, Buffalo Saddle & Bridle Club, Delaware Park, Nottingham Ct, Amherst St, Buffalo Zoo, Parkside Lutheran, Voorhees Ave, Starin Ave, Hertel Ave, Bob & Johns, BQuick (now Dash's), East Aurora, Colden, Mill Rd, Falls Rd, Bleistein Rd, Hayes Hollow Rd, Maple Rd, Center Rd, Blanchard Rd.

924. Buffalo wings
Our last night in Buffalo we stayed with my college friend, Dianna, and her family, and feasted on Buffalo wings... couldn't miss out on this most famous food from Buffalo!

925. Perfect weather for visitors and Indian summer riding
Then we flew home again, but we brought Dianna's two daughters, Corally (15) and Kalyn (11) with us to hang out with us for a week. We had perfect weather and took our visitors horse back riding almost every day. After a rainy, cold August/early September, all of October was warm and sunny, a perfect Indian summer.

926. wood hauling team (with ice cream afterwards)
Our two visitors were so helpful! They even helped us load firewood and I dare say hauled a lot more logs than my four girls combined.

927. Riding in the back of the pickup
Of course the pickup was full of wood on our way out of the forest, though at one point some of us chose to get out of the pickup and walk (there was one stretch where the road was so steep and narrow, I was too scared to be in that heavily loaded truck with its equally loaded trailer, esp. when another vehicle came the opposite direction and B. had to squeeze pass them. But the road had stunning views of the Centennial valley, so I didn't mind walking for a little bit).

928. Playing dominos
The girls must have played a dozen games of dominos together (Mexican train dominos is one of our family favorites!)

 929. Doing home school with friends
Kalyn and Corally are also home schooled, and it was interesting to see what they do for school (I got some good ideas). They were a pleasure to have, very polite and helpful, and I was amazed at how they tackled their school assignments on their own, without any prodding from me. Much more motivated than my girls! They were bookworms too, and such strong Christians - great examples of faith to the girls. They were even keen to come to church with us.

930. Sketchbooks
Last but not least I loved that our visitors both brought sketch books with them; whenever they weren't reading they were usually sketching, and they were both extremely talented. It got Blaze and Dreamer motivated to draw more  (wish our friends' reading habits had also spread to my girls too)

931. Starlet crying when Kalyn and Corally left 
Too sweet not to include. We all hope the girls can come back again!

932. Wanting to keep awful uncle Andrew as a pet
Finished reading the Magician's Nephew to the girls, and we completely cracked up over the part where the Narnian Talking Animals are trying to figure out if Digory's uncle is alive or not, and what sort of animal he might be, and then they decide they want to keep him as a pet!

933. October tomatos
My mom grew some tomato plants in her backyard, but we had such a cold summer (and such an oddly warm October) that she didn't harvest them until mid-October. Only in Wyoming! (but oh my, they were good!)

934. "But Tuffy and I are one!"
Again, October was so nice that we got to ride out on the cross-country course for practice. This was Dreamer's first time jumping the beginner jumps on this course, and she and Tuffy did great, all except for one moment when Tuffy spooked at a stray grocery bag  that was caught in a bush. Dreamer handled it just fine, until she saw B. and I laughing, which upset her. We told her we were laughing at the horse spooking at an empty plastic bag, not her, she exclaimed, "But Tuffy and I are one!"

935.  Halloween horse show (riding in costumes)
There was a costume class where the girls all got to ride in their costumes, even the twins. Dreamer also got to jump Tuffy at her first real horse show. Tuffy gave her some trouble at one of the fences but she didn't give up and kept bringing back around to the jump until she got him over it. So proud of her. Also proud of Blaze as she and Spring competed over the biggest jumps they've yet jumped (3 footers!) - and their first timed jump-off.

936. Sailor girls, flapper girls, ninjas and pilgrims
I loved this year's set of costumes, even though Blaze opted to wear the same costume as last year. Next year I'm going to try to get her to dress up either in a viking girl costume (like Astrid, from How To Train Your Dragon) or a Maleficent costume.

937. Blaze asked me to read the Bible to her before bed
Blaze confessed she'd watched a scary Halloween video on YouTube, and she was so scared she couldn't sleep in her own room but back in her old room that she shared with Dreamer until this summer when she turned 13 and moved down into the basement room. (I wouldn't want to sleep alone in a basement room after a scary movie either!) But even sharing the room with her sister couldn't get her settled. So she asked me to come up with her and read the Bible with her before bed. We took turns reading the first three chapters of John.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Simply sitting in a beautiful place

This post isn't a book review, it's really how a book helped me discover something about myself I'd almost forgotten. And it also provided refreshment for a time when I've been struggling with doubt. I was warned that there would be seasons of doubt with home schooling, and this fall has certainly been one.  I'm struggling to balance my part time job and school (feel like I'm always rushing from one thing to the next!); struggling with finances as the cost of everything continues to increase (and our wages decrease!); struggling with a teenage daughter that argues with me about everything I ask her to do (at least, it feels that way). 

But there are good times along the way, too. Some days we have great discussions about books we've read or about science we're learning; some days I get surprise hugs;  some days I'm blown away by the connections the girls make with things they're learning presently and what they've learned in the past. Some days, I discover a wonderful treasure like Pocketful of Pinecones, by Karen Andreola. This book was a wonderful reminder that you don't have to travel far or attempt great things in order to find delight and wonder in the world, or to help our children see it either. 

The book is "a teacher's guide to nature study, cleverly disguised as a heartwarming story written in the form of a mother's diary" (set in 1935-36). I didn't feel like I was being taught about different home school techniques; I was simply reading a story... and learning along the way.

Before the great busyness of marriage and motherhood took over my life, I used to constantly be out hiking and camping, looking things up in my nature guides as I went, or just simply sitting in a beautiful wild place. I didn't sketch anything, as this book recommends, but I was always journaling, writing about everything beautiful that caught my eye, or my heart (I called such inspiration "Skya" - and when it fired up my imagination to write stories, I called that inspiration "Akina," a "keen urge to write"). The book reminded me of my own great love of learning about nature through simply being outside in the midst of it, soaking it up, and taking time to observe all the details. 

I have missed that stage of my life so much, but immediately after beginning this book I took the morning off from homeschooling, picked up two sketch books and a pack of colored pencils, and drove my girls and I up to the nearby Medicine Bow National Forest. How often have I appreciated that we can be from the city into the wilderness in just a 15 minute drive? Into beautiful places like the beaver ponds off of Happy Jack road, or the amazing rock formations of Vedauwoo. The girls sketched trees, stumps, acorns, birds, and squirrels. I sat on a rock in the center of a tiny creek and watched golden leaves float past me, listened to hawk calls and felt moss under my fingertips and smelled sun-warmed pines. My ten year old asked me to carry some pinecones she’d found in my pocket, as her pockets were already full. That made me smile – a Pocketful of Pinecones, indeed. 

We go to Happy Jack and Vedauwoo quite frequently, but it's been a long time since I've slowed down to really soak it in. To take time to notice all the details. For some reason this also reminded me how at the beginning of the school year I taped up a pretty piece of note paper on my cupboard door where I keep my tea cups, so I would remember to look at it every day: it's a simple list of things I want to remember to do. Like remembering to sing a song to my girls when I tuck them in at night. Remembering to share my favorite verses with them. Remembering to be a help-meet to B. Every morning I open that cupboard and get a mug and a teabag, and stand there waiting for the electric kettle to boil. I just stand there... but how often do I remember to look at my note? It's right here in front of me! How easy it is to miss what is right in front of you! 

A bit more about the book: the fictional diary of Carol begins in 1935 in New England, as she begins to teach her two children about nature study in city backyards and parks, and transitions to the countryside later in the book. She writes a little about Charlotte Mason and her philosophy and methods of home school, which seem simple and yet wonderfully wise. The diary includes good days and bad days, happy days and sad ones, wash days and canning days, snowshoeing days and sleigh ride days, shopping days and simple stay at home days. Carol writes of many things that would worry a mom in the 1930's and that continue to worry moms in the present.

Some of my favorite parts: 

My students have a lifetime ahead of them in which to observe and discover – to become self-educated in their leisure, so to speak. My job is to allow their feet to walk the paths of wonder, to see that they form relations with various things, so that when the habit is formed, they will carry an appreciation for nature with them throughout their lives.

When asked about why she’d taken her children out of school: 

I don’t know how to fully explain my desire to teach my children at home myself. The classes in the school are so large and Emily was labeled as “slow” in reading and arithmetic, but it’s more than that. Don was losing his sense of wonder. He was bored. It seemed that his lights were going out, for lack of a better expression. Emily and Dan were losing a spark of curiousity and a love of knowledge that they had when they first started school. I wanted to get it back. And I think I am getting it back by homeschooling....
Another quote: 
I wrapped my shawl around my shoulders more tightly and stood in the doorway of the children’s bedroom, brooding over them while they slept. I sometimes do this at home when Michael works late. It gives me comfort and it’s easier to pray for them this way.
 Ah, thank you Lord for a good book to remind me to simply sit and soak up the beauty you put everywhere: whether in a golden autumn forest, by kitchen cupboard, or outside my children's bedrooms late at night.