There Is A Rose In Spanish Harlem (Me!)

We have always said that the day we take our youngest child to college we will not come right home that first night. Awash in nostalgia, we would wipe our tears, turn north to New York City, and drown our sorrows in exotic cuisine and art exhibits and parks and architecture and layers of history until we find that we are perfectly fine and content being Siegenthaler, party of 2, once again.

Well, two things about that.

In His goodness, the Lord ordained that our nest won’t be empty after all. My niece Erica is going to live with us for a while and work and study here.  And we are most glad. We weren’t really ready for empty nest anyway.  And, second, my new business dictates that I be home for a class early the next morning after I make Will’s dorm bed in Belz Hall and leave him under his own recognizance.

So, as Robert Burns said, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley, and the NYC transition plan seemed to be ganging agley.

But by God’s grace it is going to happen, just a little early – today! Hooray for an early-August lull before the school year starts.  And for an Airbnb “third floor walk-up. Will that be a problem?”  Not at all, I scoff from my one-level rancher. And hooray that our lair is in Spanish Harlem on a street called Tito Puente. Allow me to romanticize it.  And for the Manhattos Indians and the early Dutch settlers and every homeless, tempest-toss’d immigrant yearning to breathe free! Right now, my children are really glad they aren’t going with us.  I’m unbearable when it comes to the grand human story.

Our plans include the following, quite out of order:

*Walking our feet to bloody nubs
*A walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and a tenement-appreciation moment; that chapter of NY history slays me
*Biking through Central Park
*Dining in Queens with Ben and Kim Kaufmann, true food connoisseurs
*Amateur Night At The Apollo in Harlem – you’re jealous over this one, aren’t you?
*Freedom Tower and the Memorial Pools of the World Trade Center
*The Museum of the City of New York
*MoMA- photography exhibit
*Shopping at Century 21; Andrew for sunglasses and me for a new school bag (CCS co-workers, I finally threw out the tattered pink polka-dot one with no rubber left on the wheels)
*Browsing some antique shops and finding a little piece of the city to take home
*The Highline – thanks to Will Hogue for this pearl!
*Columbia University, St. John the Divine, Riverside Church and its tall tower and view
*Greenwich Village literary hotspots and Washington Square
*Abyssinian Baptist, Harlem YMCA, The Cotton Club
*Pizza in Staten Island with the Baldinis – Hey, y’all!  DeNino’s for “The Garbage Can”?
*Book stores, ethnic food, and coffee better than we can make at home which is saying something
*Subway and bus lines
*People-watching, picture-taking, blogging it all in
*Post cards from the bodega
*Another week of Andrew’s beard growth for the general amusement of Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church
*Time to talk and laugh and read and think and sleep a little
*Return quenched with cool urban cultures and glad to be back in time to take Will to college and to welcome Erica to our favorite little town

In short, a leisurely, knockabout week.  🙂
And if you don’t think we can accomplish all this, 
then you don’t know Andrew.


It Was The Kind Of Day . . .

~ It was the kind of day when every dog on my running route barked, not with the joy of being a dog, but AT me.

~ It was the kind of day when I had a technological success that I can never repeat because I have no idea how I did it.

~ It was the kind of day when the crepemyrtles were one scant day past their perfection.

~ It was the kind of day to buy Adirondack chairs at the new Walmart and then place them in a neighborly, Joanna-Beatty-Taft way in the front yard, recline, sip tea, and glimpse through the hemlocks the back of the new Walmart.

~ It was the kind of day when a friend told Andrew to send something to her phone and he responded that he didn’t have a Smartphone because he is a luddite, and she said yes she knew what a luddite was because she looked it up on her Smartphone.

~ It was the kind of day to regret never mastering algebra and calculus because I have to teach kids in a few weeks how to score high on a test that includes both, but also a day to pull myself up by my bootstraps and resolve that any woman with a grain of sense can ‘simplify a cubed root with variables’!  It isn’t rocket science.  It’s a recipe for cooking down an herbed rutabaga stew.


~ It was the kind of day to visit the girls – and allied children I claim as mine – and marvel at who they are.




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13702396_1106462936094388_954237630_oAdrienne, Eliot, Mad-Dog, Abby, Eliza, Justin, Callie, Will, Sarah

~ It was the kind of day when a dollar bought a squeeze bottle for soap at the kitchen sink, because pretty matters.

~ It was the kind of day to discover that if I lay on the left side of the bed, I can see the mountain as I read the Bible – “Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee. How great Thou art!”

It was that kind of day.


It Occurred To Me: Random Reflections In Midsummer

It occurred to me today:

~That as move-in day approaches for Will, and thrilled as I am he is mountain-bound, my secret dreams somehow include him going to ALL THREE of his college choices because I enjoy picturing him living each very different life. And though he would die of mortification to hear me say this, I know, as a mother knows these things, that he could be quarterback of all their football teams. Or the soccer equivalent.  Or basketball.  Actually, all three.

~That for all my mockery of those craft fair people, just pull out the paints and in two seconds I am looking around for saw blades and rocks to paint.  Lesson:  You are who you mock!

~That God does for sure have a sense of humor.  I’ll let it go at that.

~That hummingbirds are sugarwater-snobs just like the rest of us.  Last year we used some of my dad’s top shelf sugar water from an outdoor gear shop called Werner’s and enjoyed a front row seat at the Hummingbird Opera which reached its theatrical climax when a wasp defended his place at the water jar and took the field.  Gripping! Epic!  This year, we mixed our own humble sugar water.  So far, two hummingbirds have deigned to fly by and get our hopes up, but neither hovered.  And that’s it. The shame and rejection are reminiscent of an 8th grade banquet I went to – dateless and foolish enough to order a second coke for which I was required payment at school on Monday before all the upperclassmen.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?


~That that one-too-many thing piled on my to-do list always ends up being a source of blessing and joy.  It happened to me again this week.  Note to self:  Thank God on the front side, even while it still seems to be a burden.  It’s not; it never is.  Even if I tattooed “It’s never a burden!” on my forearm, I am faithless enough to still be shocked when rain produces flowers.  Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!

~That God allows me to call Him ‘sweet’ when I am telling Him I love Him, even though He is also righteous judge, enthroned king, mighty and terrible. I am so glad I serve a God who is not box-able, but who is still mine.

~That the brokenness of the fall means we are all mismatched.  Some friends long for things that others have and wish they didn’t. So much cracked when Adam and Eve disobeyed on our behalf.

~That there is something about the violin that plays not just to the ears, but to the marrow and cells.  Especially if Joyah Pettus is playing it.

Well, that’s what occurred to me today.

Little thoughts are worth cataloguing.



Out The Window Of The Montreat Church

Stained glass windows – milky –
Open on old-timey hinges,
Mingling hallowed and hillside air;
Still, this air is sacred,
Sanctified by the day and the Word preached on it.

How many elbows have touched on this smooth pew’s armrest?
How many worshippers sitting still and thoughtful,
Up against the mica-rock wall,
One ear to the messenger, and one to baby voices;
A sailor dress and smocked yellow ducks in the church yard?

How many Sabbath eyes looking inward
Have also looked out that lovely rectangle
At mountain?
At rock stack, at stem, at glint and sloped green glory,
And found messenger and mountain fellow choristers?

How many work-clad bodies come to the mountain
And to this stone sanctuary
From hot valleys,
Seeking water,
And finding it, like all who came before.

God is on mountains.
I have known this.


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Adrienne and Eliza, Montreat, NC, Summer 1996

You and Me On The Bike Trail

hoto by Bertha Siegenthaler

Good thing we rented bikes.
The rental bike’s tires were made for this scrunchy trail, weren’t they?
Hear that grit and crunch?
Seventeen gentle, downhill-graded miles, they said.

Oh, the fern and laurel; Look!
The river trestle bridge,
The sudden clearings of hay field, barn, and bale.
Isn’t the air cool soft, hot in the clearings and crossings, damp
In the canopy, mulchy-smelling?

Let’s fly down, for once loving speed,
Jarred, jolted, intent on motion,
Longing to stop and admire, but too caught up in the flying.

“On your left!”

A green world of Queen Anne’s lace, moss,
Water-rounded rocks the size of watermelons, and
Dirt that glistens with stray sunbeams on mineral dust.

Midway, the cafe! Thank you, trail-builders,
For knowing we would need hot, fried stuff. And “World-famous chocolate cake.”
A leaf’s purpose is to join its billions of siblings and catch the wind over creek and picnic
Table where a family breathes, laughs, endures.
A tow-headed child picks his mother a flower, presents it, arm out, open heart.
And we watch. Happy.

Onward. The seat is sore when remounting, and blisters on the handgrips sting hot.
Arms itch from the job of shock-absorbing.
But the song of the wind and the water over the rocks is mesmerizing;
It calls the body to follow it down, swaying, curving, looping. We join its graceful reel.

And the river leads back to the bike barn.
Tired family droops on benches until all stragglers and delighted dalliers wend in,
Each with his own stories,
Her own clutched leaves,
Sated with beauty.

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