Rivers and Streams



Today is many things. It’s a Tuesday. It’s a work day. It’s another rainy day in November. It’s voting day (please tell me this isn’t a surprise to you).

And today is also the birthday of my book, Rivers and Streams!

I wrote it for kids aged 7-10, but anyone who likes nature and science can enjoy it. It’s packed with all sorts of goodies, including projects, jokes, resource links, and lots of cool facts that were double-checked by honest-to-goodness river scientists (how cool a job is that?!).

It talks about the importance of rivers to people, animals, plants, the climate, the earth itself. It talks about how rivers shape the land and how we shape the rivers. It ranges far and wide, through science and history and even a little poetry. It’s a little love letter to rivers.


It was a lot of work to write—and a lot of fun to write. And I had a lot of help from the terrific team at Nomad Press. You can order it from all the usual online suspects, and from your local independent bookstores. Please feel free to tell all the kids, parents, teachers,  librarians, and river lovers you know!

And now, I’m going to eat dinner and sip champagne and try to think only good thoughts about election results.

In our circles


Dearest You,

Here we are again.

Since I last wrote she did, indeed, go to college, and had a fantastic first year, and a happy summer, and now she’s back there again, a sophomore and doing well. We miss her like crazy, especially on the weekends, and on the weekdays, and the mornings, and oh yes the evenings. Which is to say, we’re really happy she’s there, and we really miss her being here.

So everything is normal, right?

Somewhere online this week I saw a poem about those bittersweet days of letting your semi-grown child make the first steps into adulthood. I didn’t care for the poem much, but one comment in reply to it has had me wondering. “That feeling when children start leaving, almost never spoken about…”

Wait? Is that true? Does no one speak about this? Surely that commentor doesn’t live anywhere near this house, where the topic of her awayness is never far from our lips. Are we weird to miss her? Are we strange to not see this as an opportunity to party without the kid? I think not.

But I didn’t come here to tell you about passing time. I wanted to tell you about our trip this August, a jagged loop of nearly 3,000 miles between Vermont and Michigan, where we visited the past. Wait, maybe I did come here to tell you about passing time.

The Loop

Note: The mileage on this map doesn’t account for all the side trips and back-and-forths and retracings that accumulated another five hundred or so miles on the odometer.

It all started with the possibility of a Maddalena family reunion in Jackson, MI. It had been probably about twelve years since the last time we were all gathered together in one spot, so we packed the Honda, downloaded the 60+ hour Sherlock Holmes audiobook (narrated brilliantly by Stephen Fry), dropped off the dog, and headed west.

Though this was to be a trip of revisiting the past, we included a few firsts, starting with dinner a few hours into our drive at Man of Kent in Hoosick, NY, a pub we’ve passed on nearly every drive to Michigan and often wondered about. It didn’t disappoint. It was filled with Friday night locals, the plates were heaping with good food, and the taps were brimming with all kinds of beer.

We pushed on late into the evening until we reached Little Falls, NY. After discovering that the local chain motel was fully booked, we found ourselves in an enormous suite of comfortable rooms in the quirky and friendly Canal Side Inn, which also houses an exceptionally good French restaurant (so we’ve read; we were too late for dinner).

At breakfast at the very surly greasy spoon next door the following morning, we realized exactly why the Inn is called “Canal Side.” We were dining on rubbery eggs and canned fruit salad just steps away from the Erie Canal. So, after repacking the car, we took a walk past the Mowhawk River (where H spied a gorgeous little brown mink playing on the rocks) to the trail that follows the Canal up to lovely Lock 17.

On our walk we saw egrets, a great blue heron, a flotilla of ducks, wildflowers, a rabbit, and M saw a giant fish leap out of the canal. It was a quite peaceful and beautiful walk, and good to shake out our legs before the next 10 hours on the road.

Then we were back into the car to finish the drive to Michigan by way of Pennsylvania and Ohio, with Mr. Fry and Conan Doyle as our entertainment.

The reunion the next day was perfect, if a little hot. We were hot all week really. It was August. In Michigan. During a generally hot summer. During a generally hot year. What did we expect?

We gathered under the roof of a big picnic pavilion that included a kitchen, ceiling fans, and a bathroom. We laughed and ate and talked the afternoon away. We welcomed the newest member of the family, thirteen-month-old Adrian. He won’t remember a minute of our passing him from sweaty hug to hug, but maybe someday he’ll go hunting through his past and find this photo of his very hot and happy family.

Reunion Selfie

While in Michigan, we spent much longed for time with M’s parents, catching up, recommending each other books, admiring H’s new birthday hat, and just appreciating being together.

At St. John Cemetery, H found the graves of her great grandparents (thank you findagrave.com). We spent a glorious, relaxing afternoon on Otter lake in Bob and Sal’s new boat. We spent another glorious evening with Adam and Liz, eating a fantastic diner at The Knickerbocker in Grand Rapids, and spending the rest of the evening playing Ticket to Ride while laughing and eating outrageously good cupcakes in their beautiful new house.

And we finally visited the John K. King bookstore, a huge warehouse of used books in Detroit that we’ve known about for years but had never managed to get to until now. It was hot. Oh yes it was hot. And also wonderful. And though I told myself the last thing in the world I needed was another book, I bought one. Of course I did. M and H did us proud as well. We left with a John K. King cloth tote bag filled with books for us and others.

Also while in Michigan we got snacks at Zingerman’s (how could we not?), ate breakfast the Roxy Cafe, ate a sort of sad dinner at a Mexican restaurant whose menus were on iPads running out of power and whose cleaning staff decided to wash the floors with a strong bleach solution while were still eating, and ate at Chinese buffet that featured frogs legs among the other more typical Chinese dishes. We laughed a lot about it all.

Then we said our goodbyes and bundled ourselves and Mr. Fry back into the car for a drive through Ohio, across the Ohio river and into West Virginia to visit to dear friends in Charleston. We were 30-odd years overdue for a visit to their home, but they held no grudges. They greeted us warmly, cooked us a fantastic meal, then sped us over to their favorite bookstore so we could see it before it closed for the evening. Then back to the house in time to catch a beautiful sunset, eat dessert, and spend the evening talking about everything—past, present, and future—while cuddling Bode the Jack Russell terrier.

Our visit there was much too brief. We’d didn’t get to see enough of our friends or their beautiful city, but we had a schedule to keep and an Airbnb apartment rented for the night in Pittsburgh, so we gave friends and dog big hugs and much gratitude and then reunited with the highway north through the beautiful West Virginia hills.

While West Virginia was brand new territory for us, we and Pittsburgh have history. I lived there when I was very young, while my father worked for Mister Rogers and WQED and my mother studied for her Masters degree at the University of Pittsburgh. Many years later, M and I lived there while I was studying for my Masters at Pitt. Circles within circles. This was our first visit back in over 20 years.  And this time we had H.

Sure, there are plenty of jokes about Pittsburgh, and it used to be quite a dirty, smelly place when its factories were belching smoke and poison into the air, but Pittsburgh can be a really pretty city, and she shows off some one of her best views when you approach via a bridge from the south.

Our days in Pittsburgh were a flashback in altered states. There was so much we recognized, and so much that had changed. Things felt brighter and cleaner in places, more built up (“I remember when this was all abandoned lots!”), and more cosmopolitan. And then again, there were the run-down neighborhoods. The old falling apart garage behind the house we rented in the early 90s was just as decrepit as ever (and closer to our house than we’d remembered).

The infestation of pot holes seemed cured. But the stop signs on the entrance ramps to the highways remained. Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning stood exactly as it had when I was a student studying in its vaulted main floor, but the awful fast food restaurant in the basement had been replaced by a bright-looking cafe and state-of-the-art mail center.

The french fries at “The O” didn’t seem as good as we’d remembered (but, then, we’ve logged a lot of miles and eaten a lot of duck-fat-fried-artisanal french fries since the old Pittsburgh days), but now there are amazing, funky restaurants and a French bakery that makes magnificent yet affordable pastries.

The Strip district with its food stalls, fish markets, and tourist shops seemed busier and maybe a bit mall-ified and cleaned up, but also largely the same. The mung bean pancake stall was, in fact, on exactly the same corner where we left it 25 years ago, serving the same delicious hot food.

And, of course, there was Kennywood Park. Truth be told, this was one of the main things calling us back to Pittsburgh. Kennywood is where I learned to love roller coasters and we were excited for H to ride a classic wooden roller coaster while they still exist. Kennywood has three of these beauties, the Racer, the Jack Rabbit, and the Thunderbolt. We rode all three—the Thunderbolt twice—and they were just as much fun as they always were. It’s a relief to know that some gold things can stay.

While in Pittsburgh, we found the Colfax school, where I attended Kindergarten and some of first grade, where I learned to read (I remember that light bulb moment clearly), where I learned to love parachute day in gym class, and where I learned to loathe cafeteria tater tots. The school was closed for the summer, but M, being persistent and not at all shy, rang the bell and knocked on the door until the gracious principal welcomed us in and showed us the main hall and offices (much of the first floor was off limits because they were being cleaned and buffed in preparation for the new school year). Inside, I found the Kindergarten room (now a library and media room), exactly where I remembered it, almost 50 years later.

On our last day in Pittsburgh, we visited the paving stone my sister and I placed in memory of our mother. This is one of 10 memorials we’ve placed in her memory in locations that were meaningful to her. This one has a view of her graduate school stomping grounds.

And then we were on the road again, passing through the Squirrel Hill tunnel where, miraculously, no one slowed down (Pittsburgh, you have changed!), and then on to State College, where my personal circuit began in 1965 while my parents were students at Pennsylvania State University.

This was my first time back since we moved to Pittsburgh when I was four. I came armed with an address that is on a box of plastic cookie cutters my mother mail ordered when we lived in State College. I have no idea how the cookie cutters survived all these years , let alone the original cardboard box, let alone the mailing label on the box, but they did. And the cookie cutters led us to this house in State College, Pennsylvania, home of some of my earliest memories, including holding my baby sister when she was a newborn.

Whitehall house We stayed at Penn State long enough to get lunch and take some photos, but we were in a hustle to get home. H’s 19th birthday was the next day and one gift we could give her was waking up in her own bed on her birthday. We slid past Bellefonte, where I was born, then northeast through Pennsylvania, stopping briefly to ogle the immense Starrucca Viaduct in Lanesboro, and then for a pre-birthday steak dinner outside Albany, NY.

M finished the drive through the mountains to home in the rain. We were in our driveway at 1:30 am on August 12. We trundled the birthday girl into the house and decided to unpack the next day. We did that, and made birthday cake with swiss meringue buttercream, and did very little else.

Now we’ve been home for over a month. The hot summer is long gone. H is back at school again. Tomorrow is fall again. The big maple tree is scattering its leaves on the lawn again.

Here we are, looping around the year. Again and again and again. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to keep repeating the loop for a long long time. Sometimes we’ll even get a chance to spiral back, to follow the old paths at a different altitude where we can see the past from a distance with tenderness and love, without sadness or too much regret.

Meanwhile we get today, and friends and dogs and books and chocolate chip cookies and rainy afternoons and old movies and all the sweet memories.



Graduation 2017


Five days later and I still can’t think about Friday without emotion.

It was a long day of ceremony, starting at 8 in the morning with a whole-school awards ceremony followed by Senior Class Day, where my resolve not to cry began to unstitch the moment I heard the first notes of music in the senior slideshow that H and Reshma put together.

1706_untitled_065.jpg 1706_untitled_202.jpg

I’m quite sure I had tears in my eyes or on my cheeks from that moment until I sighed myself into bed that night.

Through the awards, the class will, the tributes to classmates and teachers.

Through the grey day that threatened rain in the morning but promised sun in the evening.


Through the parade of gowned students.


Through the birds flying overhead like some familiar metaphor.


Through the flower ceremony, when Reshma surprised us.


Through the special awards, when the school surprised us.


Through a perfect song.


Through the moment we had come for but still were somehow not prepared for.


Though the view of the mountains and the sun bouncing off the ragged clouds. And the people who love H there to celebrate together. And the white tent on a hill in front of the school we all called home for the last six years. And the full moon steadying itself to rise.

It was a day that “marked the edge / of one of many circles.” Circles of H’s life, looping over each other, opening out to the next. Circles of our lives, once centered together and now beginning to drift, still overlapping, but no longer entirely concentric with hers.

It was a day of crows calling out and the gentlest raindrops and the hidden movement of stars overhead. The ending of one thing and the beginning of so much more, I can hardly catch my breath.


p.s. You can see all the photos I took during class day and graduation here.

Baccalaureate 2017


They assembled on the green on Thetford Hill for a group photo on Sunday evening in blue and white robes (according to their taste), then went into the church two by two.

The program of events had Hyla giving her speech right after the processional, so up she went and hushed the crowd with her words. As her parents, we can’t help but be a little biased, but we thought it was a beautiful speech.

I didn’t cry then, not much anyway. In fact, I almost felt a little numb: very still, very quiet inside, just absorbing the moment and the room, the dull grey light of the drizzly June evening somehow turning gold as it came through the large windows, the words of our daughter spinning out across the hall, from her brain to her lungs to her larynx to her mouth to our ears to our brains to our memories.

You know when I cried? It was when members of the school band got up and played The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun.” Not so much for the meaning of the song itself (isn’t it a wedding song?), but because, as songs do, it acted as a worm hole that sucked me back through time to my own childhood, to a moment when I put that very record on my record player.

How did we get from childhood me, alone in a house in the western suburbs of Chicago, to an old wooden church on a hill in Thetford, Vermont, watching our seventeen-year-old daughter confidently take the podium in front of her entire class, her teachers, her friends, her parents? How did all of this happen so slowly and so quickly? How do I have my childhood and hers in my memories all at once?

We were sitting in the church where her preschool still is, kitty corner from her elementary school, a short walk from her middle and high school. Time and geography and memory felt so tightly bound up in those moments last night. The past, the present, and the future. How it was. How it is.  How it will be.

Splendid is how it was. Splendid is how it is. Splendid is how it will be.


Grape vines

Processional Speech


Breathe. Hope. Love.


p.s. If you’re interested, you can hear a recording of Hyla’s speech, or read it. And, here also, is the Baccalaureate speech given by Kelly Welsh, one of H’s favorite teachers.

Our darling buds of May

Apple blossoms

For the first time since the kids were born, May gave us a true spring day (an afternoon, at any rate). Poor Darcy had been cooped up in the barn for nearly a full week. It was time to throw the doors open.

The rest of the herd was down in the pasture, so I closed the gate between the pen and pasture, just to give the new family time to adjust to one thing before the next. Then I opened the barn door.

Darcy fairly bounded out, loudly calling to her babies to follow her. It took them only a few minutes to let curiosity override fear, and then all three were out in the sunshine. In her happiness, Darcy did a twisting joy-leap off the high drive, and galloped down the hill to the back of the barn. The babies followed with their first real run down the slope, their sturdy little legs gathering and reaching beneath them as if they had always known how do to this.

After awhile, Darcy, with her gaze focused on the pasture, started calling. I’m guessing she was calling after her last-year babies (the 3Gs). Soon the rest of the herd had assembled on the other side of that gate and I let them in to the pen. Everyone huddled around the fresh kids and there was much sniffing. Darcy kept an eagle eye on the babies, nickering constantly, butting away anyone who was a little too interested. The unconcerned babies were everywhere, trying out their running and balancing skills on the rocks and ledges. I’m sure poor Darcy felt like she had toddler twins loose in a busy shopping mall.

Eventually, everyone got busy eating hay, except for Gideon, who was fixated on the little ones (whether it was interest, curiosity, or jealousy, I don’t know), so Darcy kept checking him, heading him off, butting him, pushing him away. She was gentle as these things go, but persistent. After a time, he got the hint and left to eat some hay. I hung out for quite awhile, sniffing noses with goats and snapping photos until my camera battery died. And then I went inside to leave the herd to themselves.

When I checked a little while ago, the adults were all lying in the straw and grass, sunning themselves, while the little ones explored the run-in stall and the rocks of the barn’s foundation.

Just beyond the pen, the apple trees are budding pink. Dandelions have sprung up out of nowhere and I saw honeybees sipping from them. The lawn is suddenly long enough to mow. The snowshoe hare we’ve caught glimpses of this winter has turned mostly brown again. The goldfinches are brilliant gold. There’s no stopping us now.

p.s. If you have an insatiable appetite for goatling photos, you can follow along as they grow by visiting their album on my Flickr page.

Surveying their kingdom Heels Both sides Meeting the family Mother and son, reprise

Here we are now

Darcy kept us waiting six days. She seemed unbothered by it all. It was just the humans who were anxious, all the way through yesterday morning when I suggested maybe we should talk to the vet to see if we should be concerned.

Of course, that’s what did it. Like taking an umbrella along to ensure it doesn’t rain, if you express your concern to the universe, the goat says, “Ok then, I guess I should oblige.”

It was around noon yesterday and I was going to give her one more check before going for my usual dog walk. No sooner had I stepped outside than I heard a bellow from the barn. I scooted out there with a confused dog by my side and found one wet baby lying in the barn bedding, with Darcy and several other members of the herd assembled around her in a protective semi circle.

I moved Darcy and baby 1 into the prepared birthing stall, then ran to call M home from work. Back out to the barn and Darcy was cleaning that first little one, a girl, whose fur was turning light as she dried.

M arrived in plenty of time to watch baby 2, a boy, arrive. He’s lovely, darker than the girl, and with funny ears that flop around and won’t stay out straight like his sister’s.

They are both doing well. Nursing, napping, being cleaned by their mother, working on learning how to use those little legs.

Outside, it’s raining. I hear it’ll rain for a week. That’s as good an excuse as any to hang out in the barn, listening to baby goats dream.

Being born is exhausting

Boy, still to take on goat appearance

Family portrait Learning to nurse

The ears Cleaning cleaning cleaning




Sometimes the only way to start is just to start.


The cats and I are playing a game today. The game goes like this: they sit on the windowsill to my left, close enough to my ear that I can hear their ears twitch. I get out of my chair and they dash for their food dishes in anticipation of a meal that is at least an hour away by my clock. I sit back down. They spread themselves like speed bumps on the rug behind my chair. I get up; they scatter. I sit down; they start knocking things off of tables. I get up; they race for the bowls. I sit down.

I can do this for hours.


Darcy the goat is pregnant, so we believe. She’s round and her udder is full and by our calendar’s reckoning she was due to kid last Friday. She has not kidded. She remains round and calm, lying sedately in the stall we’ve prepared for her, chewing her cud like a bored receptionist chewing her gum. We check on her at all hours. Early morning, late at night, sometimes the middle of the night. We get up in the shivery wet, pull on our jeans, slip into our boots, flick on the flashlight. She rests, and chews, and chews.

She can do this for days.


Spring is notionally here. No, I’m exaggerating. Spring is definitely here, but so reluctant it’s nuts. The last few days have been cold, the last 24 hours full of (welcome) rain. If I weren’t so lazy I’d build a fire, but I’ve had it with splinters and now I’m not even sure where I put the matches on that innocent April day when I thought spring was a bird in the hand. Every few days, spring puts on a bit of a show, peek-a-booing a few new buds, pushing up something vibrantly green from the brown earth, sprinkling the evening air with peeper song. Then we swing back to sweaters. This morning I was shivering in a little cafe, waiting for my car to be repaired, winter coat around my shoulders, hot mug of tea in my hands. On my walk back to the garage, spring scattered daffodils along my path.

She can do this for weeks.


What we are doing here right now is waiting. This is a good place to be, even when it feels frustrating sometimes. We are waiting for things to begin without having used up any of the things we are waiting for. I’m greedy and want it all: the warmth, the rain, the flowers, the warm tea, the moment before everything begins, before the curtain lifts for the next act.

The cats just want their dang dinner.