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 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.

One for the pocket

Junco wings

Snow day. Or ice day. The sky was raining frozen pellets at 6 this morning and school called to say stay home.

This is H’s last semester of high school. This time next year she’ll be watching snow fall outside her college dorm window and deciding for herself if it’s safe to hike across campus to her first class.

How many more school snow days will there be before spring? Maybe this will be our last? I shoved the bills and to-do list tasks aside. As M reminded me on his way out the door this morning, Save this day to put in my pocket for a rotten January day next year when she’s not here.

So I’m writing this down here for me next winter. Because I’ve missed a whole lot of lasts in my life without knowing it until it was too late, and I’ll be darned if I’ll miss this one.

So I’m putting this in my pocket….

The ice falling and collecting on the branches. The birds flocking to the feeder. The flutter of wings and the occasional muffled collision with the window. Her coming downstairs mid-morning, in a navy blue t-shirt and jeans, suggesting maybe we should try out some new facial masks she’d ordered.

Us sitting on the sofa, faces draped with cold therapeutic masks, watching “The Women,” laughing and repeating our favorite lines, heating up frozen chicken tenders for a mid-movie lunch.

Us sitting on the sofa with the TV on talking about the election and the march, about Aziz Ansari, about how sweet-neurotic the dog is, and how cute-weird the cats are and how we both wanted chocolate.

Us not talking, each in our own online worlds, but within arm’s reach of each other.

Us listening to The Weepies and Jake Bugg and deciding to make crepes for dinner.

Us breathing and being and often not even talking, just living in the same square footage.

Us waiting for M to come home and join us, to make and eat dinner, to do whatever we do as a family, the way we’ve come to be a family these last 17 years.

Me, folding this into a crane, or maybe a cardinal, and slipping it into a safe place in my heart.


What’s that you say?


<parental crowing begins>

H is Thetford Academy’s Student of the Month for February 2016?

You bet she is!

And oh! Her teachers wrote the kindest, most spot-on things about her. But I don’t mean to gloat. That’s H’s responsibility (though she never ever would, which is another amazing thing about her). I’ll just sit here and glow on her behalf.

But wait, that’s not all you get…

If you act now, you can also read her new poem, “Simple Anonymity,” published yesterday at GirlSense & NonSense.

Dang, she’s cool. (Am I allowed to say/write that? Oh yeah, it’s MY blog.)

</parental crowing ends>

Simple Anonymity

There are a hundred thousand things I don’t experience every day
   and there are a hundred thousand things that I do.
There are a hundred thousand things my mother and my father think about every day
   and there are a hundred thousand things that my mother and my father don’t.
My mother says her mind is scattering, scattering like light
   and she has a hundred thousand lists and calendars to keep the scatter contained.
My father’s brain is an encyclopedia of facts and notes that sometimes all come spilling out at once
   and sometimes don’t come out at all.
My mind is a video camera, one of the old ones, with crackling film and focusless images
   and it records a hundred thousand things a day.
If I could, I would plant her a tree to hang her hundred thousand thoughts on
   and I would give him an infinite page to record his hundred thousand facts on.
But I am no gardener
   and I am no paper-maker

I am a camera
   and I can watch
      and I can listen
         and I can appreciate the hundred thousand things a day that they think of
            and the hundred thousand things a day that they don’t.
The connection between a movie we watched together ten years before
   and the book he was reading this afternoon.
The rapidity of the weekend
   and the slow drag of the week.
The friendly anonymity of people whose dogs meet on the trail between here
   and there.

–Hyla Maddalena




Sweet as honeydew

The Decemberists stage

Not entirely by plan, but this summer became our summer of concerts: The Weepies, Idina Menzel, Neil Young, and The Decemberists, the last of which found us at the end of July on a lush green lawn on the grounds of Shelburne Museum.

There’s something thrilling about hearing live music outdoors on a summer evening. The acoustics of open air. The sad whine of the harmonica. The reverberating beat of the drum. The rhythmic jangle of the guitars. And the heat of the day and glare of the sun, at first nearly unbearable and then, as the evening draws on, imperceptibly dissolved into the atmosphere.

There’s something about it that can fix the moment so fiercely in your memory that you can nearly feel the heat of the summer evening and the sway of the songs years later in the remembering.

All the attached memories are there, too. Or will be. The funny guys waiting in line in front of the gate, talking about shows they’ve been to, and how to pronounce “biro” and “gyro”. The friendly couple behind us who, it turns out, had been to many of the same shows we had. Watching the crew prepare the stage. The opening act’s sound check. The gate opening and the crowd fanning out to claim the best spots on the lawn.

And then there’s the daughter, nearly 16, who finds her place to stand right at the foot of the stage, next to that friendly couple, while her old parents set up the chairs, beach towels, and a picnic.

During the opening act, the crowd by the stage is manageable. We can still see that 16-year-old’s head of gorgeous hair. By the time The Decemberists have appeared, the standing crowd has reached our blanket like the incoming tide arriving at our sand castle. I join the crowd while M stands his ground, preserving our tiny acreage.

The band is playing. They have a catalog of soft, sad, folkish tunes, but tonight is for rock’n’roll and it’s loud and we’re all dancing and singing La de da de da, de di de da de da until our voices are cracking with exhaustion.


I can’t see H. I can’t see M. But I know we’re all singing, nodding our heads, reaching arms into the air. I can feel the rumble of the bass and the driving beat of the drums through the ground, through my feet, up into my chest. We’re out of eyesight, but I feel bound to them by the music.

In just a couple years, that girl will be on her way, further from us than that July summer stage. That girl who would cling to us in tears at daycare drop-off, who wouldn’t willingly go to a birthday party or “play date” on her own. That girl is in the front row, making friends with people we don’t know, and having the best night.

At the end of the show, the audience scattered, but she hung out by the stage, hoping for a souvenir. She lucked into a used Colin Meloy guitar pick, but then felt compassion for the woman next to her who desperately wanted it, and gave it to her, and then immediately felt sad for giving away such a prize. To the rescue, her father, who convinced a stage hand to give her Colin’s set list, and then spotted one more pick lying on the stage. He’s tall and with a determined jump-reach he snagged it and put it in her hands. Parents are sometimes still needed.

Colin's set list

I think we would have happily listened for hours, but it was over and with so many songs we still wanted to hear. How greedy we are.

We have everything, absolutely everything, and still we want more.

Did I mention her smile? Did I mention how I danced in a crowd of strangers? Did I mention how, even now, I’m feeling a catch in my throat, thinking about the distance between that night two weeks ago and today and whatever comes next? Did I mention the moon? The huge moon, nearly full and rising behind us after the sun set behind the stage?