Snapshot of the day

6:00 a.m.
Woke up and had coffee in bed thanks to my wonderful husband. Henry was the perfect boy and read books in his crib while I showered and got ready in my businesslady outfit and darker lipstick than made sense in daylight. Then I brought him to his grandparents BobbyDeeDee in his jammies for breakfast. They were kind enough to get him ready and drop him off at daycare for the day.

6:45 a.m.
Leave in plenty of time to get to my speaking engagement and set up.

7:00 a.m.
Realize I actually have no idea where the thing is and GPS it. I was at the wrong exit.

Photo credit Pam Fisher of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce
Photo credit Pam Fisher of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce

7:05 a.m.
Arrive and set up, despite some technical glitches.

7:30 a.m.
Awkwardly “network” by clinging to the people I know at the networking event preceding my presentation on branding. Eat dry toast and fruit because I don’t want to be a vegan pain in the a.

8:05 a.m.
Branding presentation. I think it went well. People had nice things to say and I had some good conversations. Pam Fisher from the Chamber is awesome. I have nice friends (Janet Nolin and Shari Olson, while I’m naming names.)

9:30 a.m.
Arrive at the Advokate office. Check email, talk up Matt Funiciello for Congress on Facebook, futz around tidying up.

10:00 a.m.
Artists drop off their work for the shop. Check email and get a few work things done. Appointment with Amity Farm Batik in which we work together creating graphics from her batik to make into scarves.

2:00 p.m.

The Advokate Boutique, now open Tuesday to Friday, 12-5 p.m.
The Advokate Boutique, now open Tuesday to Friday, 12-5 p.m.

Realize I can’t stand it any more and rearrange the shop. Hang shelves, arrange things in baskets, dust, arrange things in different baskets. Put jewelry here. Put jewelry there.

3:30 p.m.
More work. Fast, now. Time’s running out. Work on the Vegan Outdoor Adventures business card and website, and Glens Falls Arts’ November Arts Bulletin, and answer emails.

5:05 p.m.
Pick Henry up. He runs to me with a big smile on his face. It’s the best part of my day, seeing him do his thing in the daycare environment and then have that bright flash of recognition spread over his face like sunshine. I love when he runs to me.

5:15 p.m.
Vote. I teach Henry in the car to say “Vote Green! Vote Matt!” He says it to folks on our way out. While we’re there I bump into Patree, who I used to work with at The Chronicle. She says she just proofed my next article about trying to get pregnant and I ask her what she thinks. She says it will be interesting to people who have had similar experiences, which is my hope.

5:30 p.m.
Henry and I, side by side, make vegan chili and cornbread. He takes a break to poop on the big potty and (after washing his hands) he adds spices, stirs, throws the veggies into measuring cups, pours in all the cornbread ingredients and pours. He helps me do the dishes, too (by pouring water from measuring cup to measuring cup). I put beans in the fridge to soak overnight.

6:30 p.m.

A toast to Matt Funiciello!
A toast to Matt Funiciello!

He decides he is done with dishes and ready to eat dinner and goes and sits in his own chair. I remember that we have Skirts practice tonight and text that I’ll be late. Henry and I raise a Pane Bello toast (because the cornbread is not finished cooking yet) to Matt Funiciello. The chili is really good.

7:10 p.m.
Cory arrives home after voting and we kiss and Henry decides he wants to come to Skirts so we hop in the car and drive. I warm up by singing on the way. Henry just looks at the moon. It glowed tonight.

7:20 p.m.
Chatting in Laura Lightfoote’s kitchen with her and Stefanie O’Brien and Janelle Hammond. I have a Sierra Nevada.

7:30 p.m.
We move downstairs to practice. We’re working on Holding Out For A Hero, which I try not to get too excited about. I’m really excited about it. Henry plays with Laura’s son Mason, who is the same age. They’re adorable. Henry’s a good boy. Henry dumps his snacks in their play kitchen’s sink. It’s funny because Bobby DeeDee started that — they used to keep his snacks in his play kitchen’s sink, and we then followed their habit.

8:30 p.m.
Henry looks at the moon on the way home. We talk about it. I tell him the moon loves him.

8:50 p.m. 
We skip bath tonight because it’s so late and go straight to books and bub. I read Henry a book of poems from the library and he falls asleep on my lap. I can tell it’s coming and intentionally quiet my voice and make the poems into a quiet chant to lull him to sleep. He goes heavy in my arms. I ask if he wants me to finish reading and he says yes through his sleep so I do. It’s precious.

9:00 p.m.
I decide to write my day down while Cory reads The Chronicle and listens to NCPR about the results for the NY-21 Congressional Race. We sit on the couch together.

The Switch Witch saves Halloween!

The Switch Witch tote bag, just in time for trick-or-treating!

Last year, Halloween was easy. We took baby Henry trick-or-treating on our street in upstate New York, and my husband and I ate all the candy! Henry was only one year old, and we gave him a little dark chocolate and he was happy.

Now we’re vegan, and Henry is two. We avoid high fructose corn syrup and prefer all-natural, organic ingredients. How do we navigate the trick-or-treating side of Halloween? We don’t want to suck the fun out of EVERYTHING just because we’re trying to live healthy and cruelty-free.

I’m happy that I stumbled across this Mama Natural video about the Switch Witch.

The Switch Witch is a friendly witch who just LOVES candy. Candy is her favorite. And she loves it so much that she’ll trade you some awesome toys for it! On Halloween night, if you leave a big pile of candy for the Switch Witch, she’ll switch it for a present. Win-win!

(And then you can bring that candy to work and let someone else feel guilty about eating it all!)

I thought this was so clever that I decided to illustrate my own version of the Switch Witch.

Click here to buy a cute trick-or-treating tote bag with the Switch Witch on it!

Terrible Two

photoMy son Henry turned two on August 22.

On the eve of his first birthday, I went through his tiny baby clothes and heaved profound guttural sobs over the loss of my little newborn son.

I remember him seeming so big compared to his first onesies, and how tragic I felt that I’d never get to hold my snorgly sweet-smelling wee little bundle of joy again.

I thought I’d have a similar experience this year for his birthday, but it must be that the bright light of what’s to come vanquishes the sadness about what’s gone.

For sure, there are moments like the maple syrup incident, the nightly meltdowns about going upstairs to bed, and the roadside pants-pooping. It’s not like parenting is for the weak of heart — or stomach.

There are the days where I’ve been yelled at, peed on, and am on my hands and knees picking rice off the floor while dinner-covered hands are still smearing everything in sight.

If I’m out and about with him and try to carry on a conversation with an adult at the same time, I’m fairly certain I don’t say anything intelligent because I’m trying to mentally stay one step ahead of him so he doesn’t hurt himself, hurt someone else, break something, make a mess, blow something up, and so on.

But all that means that he and I are interacting more than when he was just a drooling hip accessory, and the most notorious “incidents” are lifelong stories we’ll tell; juicy family lore in the making.

Besides, they’re balanced out by other moments.

Moments like him singing happy birthday, one of his favorite songs, to anyone he feels affectionate toward. Like how much he loved the “up high” Ferris Wheel at Magic Forest. Like how he takes his time and says “excuse me” on slides when older, bolder kids barrel past him.

The squinting, showing-the-teeth smile he discovered when Auntie Erika asked him to grin for a photo. Him kissing my parents’ dog Heidi on the nose and sharing his spaghetti with her.

Moments like him chasing ducks at Crandall Park, asking Daddy to play blocks with him, and walking his dolly down Morgan Avenue in a pink stroller. Him yelling “DarkStar!” (the name of his Uncle Andrew’s hot air balloon, which he loves dearly) at an empty blue sky, willing it to appear.

Moments like when he puts his head on my shoulder — albeit a tactic he knows to use when he doesn’t want me to put him down for bed, because I love head-on-the-shoulder so much I’ll just hold him that way forever.

While I do feel wistful about the first days I held my tiny little boy in my arms, I am inspired daily. It’s all I can do to outwit him, outrun him and stay up later than him. Motherhood is great fun, despite its challenges.

I can’t imagine an age less terrible than two.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle‘s Adirondack Family Magazine in Autumn 2014.
Click here to download “Terrible Two” as it ran in The Chronicle.


Tomorrow I turn 31.

I just feel so tired lately. It could be because I haven’t been eating right. It’s hard to find time, and I’ve been picky lately. Skipping meals. It’s no good, because then I just feel drained, like I ran out of gas. Henry deserves better. I wish I had more energy. A good night’s sleep wouldn’t hurt, either. He’s teething and has these early-morning terrors where he just inconsolably screams. I know we could be better about what they call “sleep hygiene,” not caving to his wishes, but anyway, he’s still nursing a few times a night and lately he’s waking up early, too. It takes a lot out of me. I’m pooped.

And that, I guess, is kind of just where I am at 31. If I had the brainspace to zoom out and look at the big picture, I think I’d be happy. But not only in family life, but also in my work life it has felt like I’ll just never catch up to this moving train. There’s always more to do than I have time for. There’s no such thing as doing something fast. Any time I try, it’s mediocre work and needs to be re-done. It seems like I’ll never get in front of this thing and have a minute to evaluate, fine-tune, revamp, organize. It’s just always a race to get it done. I feel all over the place with it. I could use an extra workday just to line things up.

But I guess if I look at things as if I were someone else, I’m all right with my life. It’s busy and I’m exhausted, but I like who I am in the community. I like my friends. I like my family. I’m proud of the things I’ve accomplished. I feel like I’m doing pretty well for the age I am. 31 doesn’t seem like much of a big deal in that way.

I’m feeling really bummed about tomorrow, though. We’re having a party next weekend so I probably won’t see any family this weekend, and Cory has to work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and so I’m solo with Henry. The logical side of my brain knows that it doesn’t mean I’m unloved, being on my own for the day. It’s just how it worked out. That’s sweet, in a way, to spend the day with my boy. But it’s a lot of work, too. He’s a busy guy, always on the go.

And I’m just so tired.

Bringing the sunshine to Florida

Yesterday we had Henry’s Gram and Grampa over for dinner, along with Uncle Andrew and Aunt Mindy and Great-Aunt Sandy. Gram and Grampa are heading to Florida for two months. I kept so busy with dinner and visiting that the bitterness of the occasion didn’t set in until it was time to say good-bye. It was hard, and caught me off-guard.

The good-bye kiss
The good-bye kiss

I’d known they were going, of course. Maybe I doubted that they actually would pack up and hit the road, knowing how attached they are to Henry (and he to them, of course).

They planned to leave on Tuesday, in the wee hours of the morning, and then because of weather that changed to early Monday morning, which changed to midnight on Sunday, which changed to 9 p.m. on Sunday. They actually left at 7 p.m. on Sunday night to avoid the freezing rain and anxiety of waiting. Maybe part of the surprising unprepared feeling I had last night was because I thought I had more time with them; and that Henry had more time with them.

They’ve seen him almost every day since he was born. The longest span of time they’ve gone without snuggling him, calling him Boober/Bizbee/Squisby/Doobie, waving toys at him, wrapping him in blankets… is maybe three days. Four, tops. They are natural-born grandparents.

Countless times, Cory and I have run over there to drop Henry off because we had to do something or go somewhere without him, or had forgotten that our busy lives now require foresight enough to line up childcare. Countless times they’ve watched Henry for an extra ten minutes, half hour, two hours, full day, when I thought I could get something done for work in a quick moment but it drew out longer than expected or I found myself unable to work around Henry. Always graciously taking on more Henry time than they signed on for. As they left, I felt sad that Henry didn’t know they were going. I wish I could explain what’s going on and why his routine will be changing. Cory said it made him feel homesick, knowing they aren’t just next door. It’s comforting to have them there, especially when my own parents are an hour and a half away.

Yesterday's dinner outfit
Yesterday’s dinner outfit

So it was hard to say good-bye yesterday.

The training wheels are off. We are parents now, like other parents out there. We have to think ahead and plan our daycare options out, take Henry with us when we go places, look to our friends for company and conversation. We’ll still video chat with them, and visit their house with Henry, but it will be different.They deserve this vacation, and it’s good for all of us to take a break and reevaluate what’s really fair to dump on them. They are more than willing to be there for us, but sometimes I don’t feel like I’m balanced when I lean on them so hard.

I am already missing them a lot, but I look forward to the challenge of a more independent motherhood.

Here goes. Let’s see how we do flying solo.

Deliberately, with love

A friend posted on Facebook asking what her friends did today to make the world a better place. I wrote: “Made Christmas cookies with my family. Raising Henry to be a loving, empathetic, soulful creature who is secure, generous, kind, confident and self-reliant is my project right now. A boy who will love, not hate; lead, not follow; and teach others to do the same. A chain letter of empathy.”

I haven’t been good about writing here. I don’t know what I planned to use for, and I’ve mused about it developing into a “mommy blog” or even just my thoughts about Henry, hopes and dreams, etc. Photos to share with family. But Facebook seems to fill the purpose more often than not.

But anyway, answering that question made me want to write more about it. About my purpose as a mother.

I don’t blame mothers for things their children do. I know that I have great parents and was a shithead in high school, through no fault of theirs. But being a mom, I feel like I have a chance at making the world a better place in a chain-letter kind of way. Not only through my own actions, but in the way I raise my son.

During our trip to Albany for a nuchal translucency screening, when we found out at 12 weeks that we were having a son, the first thing to loudly clang in my head was the last line of Andrea Gibson’s slam poem Blue Blanket, which is a jarring, raw poem about rape:

Hold your kids tight.
Hold your kids tight.

she’s not asking what you’re gonna tell your daughter
she asking what
you’re gonna teach

your SON

What am I gonna teach my son?

That we’re all just people, with blood and bones and guts. We all have feelings, parents, things we love, things we’ve lost, triggers that make us happy and sad. No matter what we look like or how we come across, we have a lot in common. It spans not only color lines and gender differences and sexual orientations, but city vs. country folk, people from other countries, workers vs. customers, people who are bitchy to you – everybody.

And so we treat one another with empathy and respect. As we would like to be treated. Across any organized religion, the golden rule is king for a reason. It’s not only the right thing to do to put yourself in another’s shoes; it’s the way you’ll understand the world, and the way you’ll get by in it better.

Treat people with respect because you understand them, because you have tried to visualize and feel for yourself what it’s like to be them and why they do or say things.

I’ll admit that I still snap sometimes; that I bang my head against the wall trying to figure out what the hell someone is thinking and why they’d say such-and-such a thing to me. I’m not a perfect saint who always turns the other cheek.

But deeper, when I think it through, underlying everything I do, I’m trying to see it all from another’s perspective.

We were all this loved
We were all this loved

And I want to pass that on. I think we’d all be okay if we did, too. It’s near impossible to just be mellow and peaceful all the time, but if we aim to make it a constant practice of realizing we are all wearing the same skin, with the same hearts pounding beneath, seeing one another as mirror images of ourselves (“maybe we’re all tomatoes“) then less bad things would happen.

I’ve had this clarity, being a mom myself now, about all of humanity. Everyone who is alive right now had someone who cared about them enough to make sure they’re here now. To feed them, buy them clothes, wake them up in the morning to go to school. Even if it was the bare minimum and they had horrible parents, even just the basics takes a giant act of love and sacrifice. It makes me realize that we are all loved, or were as children, at least. And that doesn’t really go away over time, does it? No matter who you are, if you are alive, somebody has loved you and taken care of you.

Anyway, it was really important to me to make sure that Henry and I bonded immediately after birth, because I think feeling alone is what makes bad things happen. When people can’t recognize that we’re all just doing our best and trying to get by. When they think of everyone else as “other” or feel like they themselves are “other”. Instead of as one.

And if we open our arms to hold one another and also trust that there are open arms out there when we need them, we’ll realize that we aren’t alone.

We have each other.

Henry's iTunes Playlist

Running through the background of videos of my first few months on earth and all my childhood memories were the tunes from a black cassette tape with Kate’s Birthing Tape written in my dad’s penmanship on it. It’s a mix that my parents made together that they meant to bring with them to the hospital but forgot. They still played it all the time after I was born, though.

In my adult life, there have been times where I’m in a grocery store checkout line and one of the songs from The Tape comes on and suddenly I’m a baby again, in our Bridgewater house, feeling safe and loved. These were songs just for me. Each track reminds me, to this day, that I was very much wanted and loved even before I was born.

And also that my parents have a great sense of humor since songs include the Beatles’ I am the Walrus and You Make It All Worthwhile by the Kinks.

So I’m here making Baby Austin-Avon’s iTunes Playlist. I want to include some songs from Kate’s Birthing Tape, along with songs I’ve always loved either on my own or because my parents loved them, songs with lyrics that hit me hard about time or pregnancy, songs Cory and I have found meaningful together, songs Cory has always loved, and some goofy songs with the name Henry in them.

I want to pass along that feeling of comfort-anywhere and a sense of who my parents were before they had me (and who we are before parenthood) to our son. My dad also would sometimes just play a few tunes on his guitar and had written some (mainly silly) songs. I love that Cory also plays guitar and has written some songs, a few of them silly. A man I love playing the acoustic guitar in the living room and singing to nobody in particular is a familiar, comforting feeling and makes me feel like I’m home. It’s a tradition I’m glad is continuing.

Here’s what I have so far:

Carry On My Wayward Son (Starship)
I am the Walrus (Beatles)
You Make It All Worthwhile (Beatles)
Golden Slumbers (Beatles)
Carry That Weight (Beatles)
Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Our House (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Wonderful Tonight (Eric Clapton)
Longer (Dan Fogelberg)
I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (Beatles)
Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) (John Lennon)
Love is a Song (Columbia Symphony Orchestra)
Henry’s Dance (The Wiggles)
Henry’s Spinning (The Wiggles)
I’m Henry VIII, I am (Herman’s Hermits)
The Wall Flower (Roll With Me Henry) (Etta James)
K-K-K-Katy (The Blazers & Bob Wilson & His Varsity Rhythm Boys)
Bouncing Around the Room (Phish)
God Only Knows (The Beach Boys)
Love and Mercy (Brian Wilson)
Forever (The Beach Boys)
First Day of My Life (Bright Eyes)
Transatlanticism (Death Cab For Cutie)
Cat’s in the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Stay Gold (Stevie Wonder)
Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) (Billy Joel)
Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)
Playground Love (Air)
Anyone Else But You (Moldy Peaches)
My Guy (Mary Wells)
Daydream Believer (Monkees)
A Song for My Son (Mikki Viereck)
Birthday Song (Spookie Daly Pride)

Austin Family Pilgrimage

Today was one for the history books.

I asked my grandfather Poppy if he would take me to the Homestead, the house that his great-grandfather Nathan Austin built in Upstate New York, where Poppy used to spend his summers as a boy. He’d take the train down by himself and work on the farm for the season. There was one year that he spent the entire year there, and he has many fond memories. Mimi and Poppy have a watercolor painting in their dining room of the Homestead. Poppy’s cousin Eloise Draggett (who he says is like a sister to him) lives a couple hours away and agreed to meet us there and show us around.

So yesterday morning, Mimi, Poppy and Dad picked me up and we went for the drive!

Hitting the road!

We stopped for lunch at Neptune’s in Oneonta, where I went to college for two years at Hartwick College. I got a rice pudding for the road since Mom always likes their rice pudding and it seemed a shame to visit without having some.

When we arrived at our hotel we checked in and Poppy started talking to the front desk clerk, asking her if she knew any of the names on this old map he had. It seemed to me like a long shot, but it actually turns out she’s a cousin of our distant cousin who owns the Austin Homestead these days, and is interested in our trip.

We got settled at the hotel and then ventured out to putter around Wellsville, popping into a couple of shops. In one of them I started talking to the owner and it sounds like a situation similar to Glens Falls where the shop owners are pioneering the downtown improvements.

Dinner at Wellsville Creative Arts Center

We ended up at the Wellsville Creative Arts Center for dinner and there was a bluegrass band tuning up for that night’s gig. Poppy and I started a game of chess while we waited for our food to arrive. He won.

Mimi and Dad gave me their pickles that came with their meals. Giving me your pickles means you love me. It’s a nice feeling. My parents have always shared their pickles.

We came back and Dad napped and Mimi watched TV in the lobby and Poppy watched college women’s softball for a while and then showed me a folder of documents he brought that were about our family history, including his father’s diary from when his father was about 17 or so.

Then everyone went to bed and I went out to the lobby to see if there was a photocopier so I could have my own copy of the documents and then went to bed. I woke up at 2:30 and 4:45 to go to the bathroom and at 4:45 it was really hard to get back to sleep because my hips really hurt and Dad was noisy. At one point it occurred to me that Poppy was making some sleep noises, Dad was definitely snoring, and Baby A-A was kicking me… All the boys across the generations keeping me awake! Rascals!

Then we packed up and drove out to Phillips Creek (Poppy pronounces it “Crick”) and met up with Phil and Eloise, Lucille Austin Phillips’ children, a brother and sister. Phil had gotten the Homestead key from his brother-in-law. We hugged and piled into two cars and went to the Homestead. Eloise drove.

The Homestead is off Route 244, up Stuck Hill Road (where the school bus would drop Poppy off and he’d have to walk all the way to the Homestead, which is a ways up Stuck Hill Road and then up Austin Road). There’s an Austin Road!!!

Austin Road!

We pulled in and stood in the yard for a minute and then Phil opened the door and we went inside. I guess I expected an empty house, but there was a bunch of stuff in it from the cousin who owns it and it was rodenty and dusty and a little bit buggy, but the good thing was that there were places to sit and talk, and some old things to look at like photos, books and newspaper clippings.

Homestead living room
Poppy and Eloise looking at old pictures with Phil in the background

The first room we went into was the main living room. There was a potbelly stove that used to be in the middle of the room. Eloise said her grandmother Sadie used to sit in a chair in a corner with her feet on Jimmy the dog, and he would just lay there and she, wearing big thick old-timey shoes, would push off him and rock herself. The first bedroom on the left was Miner and Sadie’s room. Miner is Poppy’s father’s cousin, and the two cousins were very close, like brothers. Miner and Sadie were the ones who inherited it from Reuben, who inherited it from Nathan, who built it back when.

The room on the right of Miner and Sadie’s bedroom, I think Poppy said, was Lucille’s room when she would stay there? It was partially converted into a bathroom. And the next door over went upstairs, but I’ll talk about upstairs in a minute.

The room to the left when you walk in the door was the parlor, where they would entertain. In there, Eloise said there were three big pictures hanging on the wall. The one in the middle was oval shaped and had a picture of someone in the family who was Native American.

Straight ahead when you walk in the door is the kitchen. Standing in that doorway, to the right in the kitchen was where a big wood stove used to be and they would cook big breakfasts. Mimi said since it was a farm they would get up early and go work and then have a big breakfast and use the potatoes left over from the night before (which they would store in the built-in cabinet, also to the right). There was a big table in the middle of the kitchen. When I saw it, it was outfitted with a sink and regular stove.

Dining Room of the Homestead

Through the kitchen was a small vestibule and through that was a big outdoor room that was kind of like a barn/shed. It had farm tools and other stuff in it, but Poppy said that’s where they would stack all the wood. There was another door that used to open to the outside and they’d stack it full of wood. Poppy pointed out the old gas lanterns and a saw they’d use to cut wood (but there wasn’t the two-person saw there like they would usually use) and the manure pitchfork and the hay pitchforks. The sunlight was shining through the barn board and it was really beautiful. There was a steam trunk up on the loft that seemed familiar to Poppy.

In the shed

Back inside, there was another room that was the dining room that they would only really use for special holiday dinners. In the winter they would block off that room and use it as refrigeration and hang up sides of beef. Sadie also canned beef and Eloise said it was so good. And they’d drink some kind of pretend coffee that I have never heard of called Postum.

Everyone was worried about me getting upstairs since there was kind of a spiral staircase and it was very steep. But I made it without falling! And to the right off the stairs was the room that Poppy used to stay in.

There was a long open hallway and another guest bedroom on the other end of the house, and in a closet type of space (along with some wasp nests) was some storage; a mix of old Homestead stuff and new junk from the current owner. Poppy pointed out a chamber pot that he would keep under the bed instead of having to go out to the outhouse in the middle of the night. Eloise found a list that might have been some kind of list about a wedding Sadie was planning but we weren’t sure. We went back down the stairs and Poppy and Phil talked some about the old times they used to have.

One of the stories is that Poppy and Phil would drive the… I can’t remember if it was a plow or tractor. And there was just one speed but Poppy kept saying it was too fast! And then when they switched and he drove it it was still too fast. And there was a story about saying “Woah” to the horses so that they would stop fast and people would fall forward in the buggy. Poppy pointed out the granary and hay barn.

The "three holer"

I had to go to the bathroom and we went and checked out the outhouse (a “three holer,” they called it). Poppy said I shouldn’t go there so I squatted by a log. Then I sat on the porch with Mimi and Eloise and Dad for a bit, and then we took photos in front of the Homestead.

Poppy’s grandfather was born in the Homestead. Poppy said his father (and his grandfather’s brother Frank) was born up the road a ways, but the house wasn’t there any more and Eloise said the road was too rough to go up there so then we dropped Phil off and then went to Alfred for lunch.

Austin headstone

Then we drove around Alfred University and to the Alfred cemetery. Right there in front were Eloise’s mother and sister’s gravestones. Then we went up to a big Austin headstone where more family members were buried. We looked around and I took some pictures and Eloise and Poppy walked up to see one of her friends’ headstones and Mimi and Dad and I sat in the shade by the car.

Then Poppy said Nathan Austin was buried on the other side so we drove around and found his headstone and took pictures there too, with the gravestone of the guy who started it all.

4 generations by Nathan Austin's grave - Poppy's great-grandfather

Then we went to see Alfred-Almond Central School, where Poppy went for a year and where Eloise went. They had added quite a bit on since then and it was a really big school, but Poppy showed us the track where he ran, and I took a photo of Poppy and Eloise in front of the school.

Eloise and Poppy in front of the school

Then we went back to Phil’s house to drop Eloise off and visited for a little while in the sun before driving back to the hotel. And that’s the story!

Now, about the information in those folders Poppy had:

One thing that’s lasted generations is helping the neighbors out. It’s nice and old-fashioned and something that was very common in Poppy’s father’s diaries and is something Poppy has always done, helping his neighbors out.

But the main thing about those papers that has stuck with me is about how I learned how to run a business from watching my Dad and his dedication, goodwill, integrity and honesty, and a creative and natural sense of entrepreneurship – but he didn’t just come up with that out of nowhere.

Nathan Austin used this in 1857; I use QuickBooks in 2012 - 155 years later!

Reading about Roofer’s Supplies and how it was started makes me realize that my Dad learned it from his Dad, and Poppy learned it from his family. If you go way back, they were all farmers and carpenters and running businesses – with dedication, integrity, goodwill, honesty and a creative and natural sense of entrepreneurship.

Mimi talked right before bed last night about Keswick and her early childhood and religion and her sister and family. And I realized something that both Mimi and Poppy have in common.

Poppy branched off from Roofer’s Supplies because he didn’t like being in sales. So he went into construction, which was how the folks who started Roofer’s Supplies got started in the first place, anyway.

It’s funny because it’s a similar story with Mimi – her family was very religious and many of them were missionaries and really pushed that lifestyle and Mimi decided that wasn’t her thing. But she went into counseling and is a very spiritual person.

They both decided not to do what their family trade was, but they didn’t stray very far from the essence of it, either. I like being a part of the rebel branch of the family! And while I have some regrets about not going into building and carrying on the business that Poppy passed to Dad, I am also not straying very far from the essence of it as I run my business with those same core values that have been passed along by example.

My Dad went about as far as he could once he graduated from high school, taking a cross-country meander and landing in Tennessee for a while, but ultimately landed back near his folks and worked with Poppy in the family business. There’s a fair amount of rebellion in our family tree, but it’s not angry and it doesn’t ultimately go very far from home base.

And to think, nobody ever told me about this legacy and I just ended up here on my own! This trend runs in the family. I hope to, as the parent-to-be, have the strength to let go enough for my children so that they can naturally land in that place themselves.

That’s a nice feeling, to really know that you have somehow ended up exactly where you are meant to be, and as the product of many generations – happily doing your own thing, but with the good roots that you were given.

Four generations in front of the Austin Homestead

Climbing through the branches of the family tree

this is for the grandmother who walked a thousand miles on broken glass
to find that single patch of grass to plant a family tree
where the fruit would grow to laugh
– Andrea Gibson, Say Yes

This weekend I am going to Alfred, New York, with my grandfather Poppy. Mimi and probably my Dad are also coming to help with the driving. Poppy’s going to show me the Homestead; a house built by his great (great?) grandfather Nathaniel Austin and where he spent his summers as a boy. It’s still in the family, but in another branch. We’ll meet cousin Eloise, visit some family graves and see Poppy’s old school.

A few of my family members have expressed their disinterest in all this genealogy stuff. I thought I’d write about why I care.

Mom and Dad uncovering their 25-year-old love letter written in cement at the West Bridgewater house
Mom and Dad uncovering their 25-year-old love letter written in cement at the West Bridgewater house

To start at the beginning, I’ll tell you that I wrote my name on the inside of my closet doors at my parents’ house when I was a kid. It didn’t occur to me at the time that closet doors can be replaced. I didn’t want whoever lived in the house after me to never know that I existed and that I had lived there. It was something I did very young, and wished I did in our old house before we moved when I was five. My parents wrote their names on a cement block out in the backyard of that old house, though, and maybe I thought that was enough. We went and uncovered it from beneath overgrown bushes before they finally sold it in 2008.

“But what does that mean–‘ephemeral’?” repeated the little prince, who never in his life had let go of a question, once he had asked it.
“It means, ‘which is in danger of speedy disappearance.'”
“Is my flower in danger of speedy disappearance?”
“Certainly it is.”
“My flower is ephemeral,” the little prince said to himself, “and she has only four thorns to defend herself against the world. And I have left her on my planet, all alone!”
– Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I remember thinking as an elementary school-age kid I wanted to carve my name into rocks; to send time capsules out into space; to do something extremely horrible or extremely great to go down in history books.

Le Petit Prince and his flower
Le Petit Prince and his flower

My point is that I was never okay with the fact that life is ephemeral and that I might be forgotten about in a few generations’ time. In high school I bought aephemera.netand still own it (and the username “aephemera” in a million different places) to this day, more than 10 years later.

It’s always been something that bothers me. So it has been a long time that I’ve been aware that life is fleeting.

Certainly your friends and family will remember you after you’re gone. But likely only for a generation or maybe two or three if you’re lucky. Then you might just be a photo that’s found somewhere; maybe a recipe or a jumbled version of a funny story – a name on a genealogy project at your great-grandchild’s elementary school, and nothing more. Your whole life, just reduced to that. What I actually remember about my great-grandparents or even my grandparents’ childhood is limited and blurry. When I try to retell the stories, they swim together in my brain and it comes out like “My grandfather’s parents owned some kind of… well, a… It wasn’t like an inn, but it was a place where people stayed. I think the people who stayed there were ex-alcoholics and it had something to do with their religion why they were there. And his dad was really into the garden and helping these people out.” I’ve got crummy recall. This was a person’s whole life, and that’s all that’s left to pass to future generations!?

It doesn’t sit well with me.

So I’ve been trying to iron it out and nail it down and to get my parents and grandparents and Cory’s parents to write this all down so it’s not completely fudgy for my kids and great-grandkids and great-great-grandkids and so on. So it’s not just completely lost or garbled.

Excerpt from Lois Wyse's "Funny, You Don't Look Like A Grandmother"
Excerpt from Lois Wyse's "Funny, You Don't Look Like A Grandmother"

There are generations upon generations of my ancestors that lived their lives so that they could offer something better to their children, as in the Andrea Gibson poem I quoted at the top of this post. I want to honor them with more than just that better life for myself. I want to pass along some recognition of them. Not only their legacy and sacrifices made flesh, but their story as well. Not because I’m so into old stories, necessarily. But because it’s my duty if I want my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren to make sure I’m not forgotten, either. There’s more to pass along than just my own generation’s story.

This is bigger than me, too. There is so much to be learned about the past (and not just the boring stuff you cram in your brain in high school) that has already been done, studied and recorded. I think that my generation and the future generations sometimes reinvent the wheel. I realize that there’s some of that to be done anyway; that we need to learn from our own experiences. But how much further along would we be if our children and grandchildren could instantly upload our entire lives of learning into their brains and start from that launching pad into a whole new lifetime of learning rather than starting from square one?

Internet meme that's been bouncing around
Internet meme that's been bouncing around

Of course, when my mom tried to show me her poems from the tough times she went through in her teens and early twenties I wanted nothing to do with it, saying I’m sorry she had a rough go of it but it was nothing like my own personal misery. Which is and isn’t true. So why am I saving mine for my children? I guess I have hopes that my kids will somehow realize that we have gone through all this before, and hopefully so they won’t have to. That they can take the things that their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on have already gone through and avoid that path on their way to even more glorious things.

And I know that the success I have is a result of my ancestors caring about their offspring and the future generations. Why else did they come to America, in some cases alone and young and at great risks with only $15 in their pocket? Why else did they work so hard at their many jobs? Why else did they raise families? Why do I work hard at my jobs? Why do I care about the future and try to make the world a better place?

I can only think that it was to offer their children and future generations a better life than they had. I owe them for that. I can at the very least learn about who they were as a thanks for the upper-middle-class upbringing and great childhood I had, and try to pass that to my children too. Nobody else is going to do it.

Holding hands in the sunshine

Peanut and I had a lovely Mother’s Day with both of his grandmothers, my Nonnie and Auntie Jo (who is herself a grandmother-to-be)! We went to the buffet at South Station and I ate too many cream puffs and chocolate-dipped strawberries. This morning I had a stomachache, probably from eating so much… And Cory gave me a Mother’s Day gift and card from Baby A-A, too – a plaster handprint kit from our registry. Of course I cried.

Our friend Matt Funiciello mentioned us in a Mother’s Day post on his blog at the Times Union:

Kate – The expectant mother. I saw Kate with her husband Cory yesterday walking in the sunshine downtown and holding hands. They are both friends of mine. They are exceptionally good people and great members of our community. They are going to be amazing parents. Seeing them together made me hope that their child will truly appreciate how lucky he is to have them. So many children do not have smart, engaging, committed parents to raise them. He will.

It’s been something that folks have said to us a lot about being amazing parents, but it’s still scary thinking about what’s in store for us. We know that we are incredibly lucky to have more than a lot of people – more support, more family, more friends, more education, more love, more stability, more health – and we’ll be using that “more” to give Baby A-A a leg up in life as much as we can, but it’s all new to us. It’s nice to hear it from the outside because internally we’re nervous!

And I hope that the world is a better place for us having a baby. It’s my life’s goal to leave things better than I found them, and I hope to pass that on.