Friday, June 21, 2019

Summer Memories (the early years): Short-Shorts on a Theme

Mountain laurels thick as a jungle, we push through glossy green branches, searching for the sulphur springs. It’s an old-time resort turned church camp in the mountains of western Virginia, the air heavy and wet. We can drink straight from the stream, fresh water cold and living, but there’s this other water somewhere, piped from underground, famous enough that fancy people once came here to get healed. We’ve been newting, checking in the leaves for bright orange spotted bodies, little tame creatures we can hold in our hands and when it rains, columns of shin-deep water shoot along the gullies, warm and fast. We play as much in the rain as we do in the misty hot not-rain and everything we play is Explore. We adventure to a pond and I’m falling behind the rest when I come upon a coiled copperhead. I go running, lit by terror, faster than I’ve ever moved. I keep peeking behind me, convinced that it’s following me, slithering on my heels, ready to kill me dead and when it hasn’t, when I can’t breathe anymore and I’m safe, a wave of shame takes over. Maybe I made it all up. I can see the snake, burned in my mind, coiled and still. And I can still touch the panic, the strength of my legs, the doubt that comes after. In the woods, pushing back the branches, we doubted too. Why would once-famous springs be hidden like this? No path, not even the hint of one, all swallowed in the trees. But then we found it, a built rock fountain streaked with orange, swathed in moss. We're not not just Explorers now but Discoverers, touching the water that healed people a hundred years ago and then was forgotten by everybody but us.
    - Alison Coluccio

One summer evening — I was alone, as was the case so often. I thought stars were falling, and watched in amazement; then, growing bewilderment. As daylight dimmed and the sky darkened I woke up. Hundreds of fireflies outside my window pointed me toward doubt and the redemption of a formless reality. Last night, seeing only two fireflies outside another window I remembered; this morning, I begin to understand the message.
    - C. Robin Janning

We lived in a house with a pool for five years of my childhood. It was above ground, 4 feet deep and oval shaped with a shoddy wooden deck the previous owners had constructed on their own. After several harsh winters, the boards had warped creating painful tripping hazards. The deck was slippery when wet and splinters were common. Nails protruded. Bees nested below. We always warned guests to be careful on the janky deck. Injuries abounded, despite a strict “no running” rule. One could never fully let their guard down on our death trap of a pool deck. But I didn’t mind. I spent a lot of time in that pool entertaining myself. Goggles on, I’d take a deep breath and dive down to the bottom to examine the pebbly-looking liner in shades of blue and grey. I’d get as close as possible, staring intently, drifting by. It was quiet down there. Every now and then someone would lose an earring or a ring to the pool which would then blend in to the pattern of the liner making it difficult to find. This was always exciting to me. It would become my mission to dive down and comb the depths for the missing jewelry. I’d start close to the suspected drop site, then expand my search radius. I would look for a long time and then it seemed like someone else would inevitably swoop in and find the missing item immediately with fresh eyes while I was off in my own world: mesmerized by silence, pretty patterns, and dreams of glory. This usually ended a day of swimming. Exhausted from the hunt and saturated with chlorine, I’d leave the pool of hard knocks behind and return to solid ground and the familiar boredom of a summer afternoon.
    - J Kuonen

Ovaltine while Gramma pours her coffee. I watch her put her face into the steam and I do the same. We are best friends. I want to be just like her when I grow up. Today we will have sweet rolls. They are almost done baking in the wood stove. The kitchen smells of cinnamon and growing things from Grandpa’s garden. The sun turns everything yellow and happy. We keep talking and I listen to Gramma laugh. She likes to laugh. On other mornings, Gramma puts me in charge of the toaster. It is the old-fashioned kind with doors. She teaches me how to turn the bread without burning myself. It’s very tricky but Gramma says that I’m old enough. Next year I’ll be in kindergarten. (I’m pretty sure I’m her favorite.)
    - Jo Balistreri

After church on Sundays, we teenage girls were flushed with money from our part-time jobs. We would meet in front of the candy store wearing our Saturday clothes. We stood grasping towels and bags of sandwiches with wads of money in our pockets. Maybe two dollars each! This was grungiest Brooklyn as we headed to Coney Island. A long subway ride and in-depth discussion of last night’s party passed quickly. Finally we were greeted by salty ocean air as an old blanket was put down to avoid lying on the hot sand. As soon as we arrived, I stripped down to my bathing suit to rush into the water. I loved going past the second set of waves out to the wonderful calm ocean. My two friends fussed over the blanket claiming three gorgeous guys had stopped by. One of them was very tall. I dried off, ate a sandwich and left to soak up the waves again. When I got back, they were bored and admitted gorgeous guys were just mirages. Time to check out the boardwalk and all the amusement rides we could afford. The bumper cars were our favorites as we crashed into each other. The cyclone was a must. With no money left, we paraded up and down the boardwalk, peering into dusty, cool arcades. It was getting late, time for a sleepy ride back on the subway again. Have to go home, take a shower, get all set for the week ahead. Soon I would dream of riding waves with gorgeous guys.
    - Joan McNerney

All the stories of my childhood begin with my father. How could it be otherwise. He was a poet, my hero, and life with him was always a treasure hunt and a laughing fest. There are many little stories contained in the one big story. Little unforgettable stories, like how he looked in the fridge and said it looked like an elephant opened the bread. That was me. That was my style, and his way of responding. So charming. And how he shook the glass under the cold water faucet and made the water taste better than anyone else ever could. All these things made the Big Summer Story better . . . or worse! Independence Day turned into a mystery. It was the summer before college. I was eighteen. The neighborhood party was about to start. I could smell the food cooking on the outdoor grills, and hear firecrackers. I saw the open door and his suitcase in the hall. He left suddenly . . . leaving my loving mom, and the five of us children. He was just gone. After my first year in college I married the one high school boyfriend of mine that my father had liked, and I had my first child when I just turned twenty.
    - Kath Abela Wilson

The Susquehanna River is where we are expected to learn to swim. No contained pool with turquoise-painted walls. No smoothly-paved pool deck. Instead, a rocky bank, a riot of weeds, and a wide expanse of mysterious, moving water. We stand at the edge, barefoot and goose-pimpled, and stare at our goal, the bank on the other side. The river glares back at us, daring us to step into its secret eddies, to feel with little toes for its unseen bottom. We don’t even glance at each other. This is a solitary quest, a rite of passage. We each have to go it alone. Or so we think. Then we see our father, stroking strongly against the current. He glides into the shallows and smiles. “All aboard,” he calls. As the eldest, I know it is up to me to go first, so I step gingerly into the water and climb onto his back, wrapping my arms around his neck. “Not too tight,” he cautions, and I relax my arms a little. He launches us forward then and strikes off for the other side, over the deep part. I rest my chin on his head, dark and wet like a seal’s. The rhythm of his strokes, the sun glinting off the river’s surface, the splash of drops as he reaches forward again and again—all together, a waking dream. And I might have dozed if not for the excitement, the uncertainty, of the other side, coming closer and closer now. But he doesn’t leave me there. Instead, he turns smoothly, and swims back, over the deep part again, while my little brothers and sister dance on the bank, waving.
    - Kathleen Kramer

It was the magical summer of my fifteenth year. I had finally gotten rid of my “coke-bottle” glasses and was wearing contact lenses. I flew to my grandparents’ cottage on a lake outside of Detroit, where a group of their “progressive” (read socialist) friends had built summer cottages way back when, and I knew most of the people who would be summering there. This included a gaggle of teens, who I had reunited with summer after summer. I had a sleek new bathing suit that looked like tiger-skin, nicely displaying my curves, and I was in the prime of young womanhood. A young man came out to the lake to visit a friend, and he only had eyes for me. I had my very first passionate kiss under a full moon, with a white swan placidly gliding on the lake, as I sat embracing Steve under the willow trees. He kissed me again and again, while the frogs were making their music. The whole summer went on that way. Steve came to the lake as often as he could, and when he wasn’t there, I flirted with the others who were willing to be second-best. There were no cell phones back then, and I don’t have a single picture of that mythic summer, but it is emblazoned in my memory, Steve’s dark eyes gazing deeply into mine, no longer hidden behind panes of glass. The lake cottages are mostly year-round houses now, and I haven’t been there in years, but my cousin tells me there are still swans on the lake. Steve went on to become a tennis star, before we lost touch.
    - Katya Sabaroff Taylor

The best thing about summertime was playing softball. I lived for it and took it very seriously. I hated school and couldn’t wait for it to end so I could get down to some interesting activities once our city field opened up for us. There was only one girls team, our town was so small, but we were good. We practiced twice a week and also played two weekly games against nearby towns. We traveled around southwestern Kansas to tournaments and sometimes brought home trophies. I was a runty kid, I was told. I didn’t agree and focussed in to make a better name for myself somehow. I was only seven when I started with the team and was stuck in right field for the first few seasons. I didn’t care that I seldom got a ball hit to me. I still paid attention to every play and taught myself to think about who I should throw the ball back to, if it ever did come my way. I graduated to centerfield when I was nine years old. And that’s where I stayed through my senior year in high school in 1965. Metal bats didn’t exist back then. We only used wooden bats and I learned how to listen closely to the sound of the ball connecting with the bat. It gave me a slight head start in the right direction — especially when it was a hard crack. I would start running toward the sound and often that made a difference in the catch. My favorite thing in the universe was to grab that ball out of the air and feel it lock into the pocket of my glove. And if a runner had assumed the ball wouldn’t be caught and got halfway to the next base, a good throw from me would give my team a second out to add to my catch. What sheer victory for this most excellent runt of a girl.
    - Marty Blue Waters

Childhood summers always started on Memorial Day, when we invited the neighborhood kids over to help clean out the pool behind our garage where we would all subsequently spend our barefoot days. A hand-dug, concrete-walled construction a yard above the ground, as long as the
garage, maybe ten feet wide, and four-to-eight feet deep, this pool had neither drain nor filter. We'd siphon the water out every year at summer's end, but over the winter it would get enough rain to raise families of frogs and algae, and collect wind-blown plant parts which all had to be cleared away before we could fill it again. Sorensons, Morans, Taylors, Bairds, Fitzgeralds, and Follansbees would arrive after breakfast, ready to scoop out the water with sardine tins flattened on one side and take it away in bucket brigades, hand-to-hand. The green algae scent arose as we scrubbed the smooth concrete with stiff brooms and brushes, then hosed it all down to the deep end, thumbs tucked over the nozzle for spraying. Water fights were ubiquitous but we all wore bathing suits, and hosed ourselves off when we were finished. Happily exhausted, our efforts rewarded with barbecued hot dogs, colas, and ice cream, we lounged in the backyard butterfly chairs while my father started running water into the pool from the nearest spigot. All night you could hear the water snaking past the garage, slithering into the pool. Seeping into my dreams. The next day, summer officially began — with a splash!
    - Mimi Foyle

Wet skin on sun-baked pavement. Steam rising from each cheek, pressed in turn against the scratchy hot surface. Seared and scorched, running between the house and the church to cool, shaded, pool-blue water. Sitting on the curb. Shoes and socks off. Sticking toes in hot tar bubbles. Hiding in the neighbor’s tall grass, distracted by clouds and cooling summer breeze, the shouts of “olly olly oxen free” don’t lure me back to the game. Thick, humid West Virginia summers. Tin Can Ally, Kickball and Hide and Seek move me through the suffocating air. Bologna and mustard sandwiches on the back porch with too-tart lemonade and fresh peaches. Red, blistered skin scraping against tangled sheets. Drying sweat on my neck and hair provide small comfort. Jumping from the swing at the highest point. Arms raised in flight, coasting on my bike down the steep Vermont Street hill. Racing the fastest boy on the block for a little power. Propelling myself out and away from the porch onto the hard pavement for a moment of freedom. Summer evenings on trampoline beds, the sweet pause of weightlessness in mid-air. Spitting watermelon seeds from the back porch of my grandmother’s house. Dreaming of the watermelon patch that would grow. Six of us, each taking turns cranking the barrel of the ice cream maker to earn a precious, sweet spoonful. Lazy afternoons, reading on the cool living room floor, lost in The Boxcar ChildrenThe Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Wind in the Willows.
    - MJ Richmond

Our family never had summer vacations at the beach when my siblings and I were young. But for some reason my mother always bought a beach ball for us at the start of the summer. It came in a small package, folded up. Flattened out before inflating you could see the brightly-colored segments, like the segments of a peeled orange: white, red, yellow, green, blue, orange. Unrolling it always released that oh so familiar smell: beach ball plastic. We always tried blowing it up ourselves, but we didn't have the breath for it. So it was my father's task to inflate it. Even after it had turned into an almost lighter-than-air ball you could still smell that plastic smell. By late summer we were bored with the ball and tired of having to ask for it to be reinflated. By the time we returned to school it was forgotten in some corner of the porch, flat and spattered with dirt from the yard, quietly exhaling the last scent of summer.
    - Nancy Osborn

I still feel the smooth, cream-colored carpet, the sage-green satin drapes and transparent curtains that hid the street and kept out Atlanta's summer heat. Smell the faint scent of mildew and damp at the back of the house where we slept on cots and polyester sheets. Hear the katydids arguing endlessly all night, and the calm hermit thrush and towhees in the cool, misty morning. I hear my grandmother’s burbling, nonsensical chatter and soft, southern drawl, calling us “Sugar” and asking us to go with her to Sunday School. She was a tiny bird, pencil-thin, with translucent white skin and pale red curled hair. She wore thick, beige hose under floral print crepe dresses and soaked her arthritic hands in hot paraffin. There was a whisper of undergarments as she moved. She talked almost incessantly in a high, soft, and happy voice that drove my father crazy. If Grandmother was a bird, Grandfather was a tree. I knew that he loved me from the glint of his gold-capped teeth and the way he lifted me above his head, just that once when I was very small. They both wore thick glasses that hid their expressions but I felt my grandmother’s longing for us three girls, despite our Yankee lack of southern charm or manners. She showed us a wooden box of toys in the attic, a hot, dusty space under the peaked roof. The best toy in it was a little girl doll with a glazed ceramic head attached to a wooden body clothed in a faded and stained petticoat. Her lips were red, paled by age and handling. Even her hair was ceramic, a curled bob chipped by handling and play. I so wanted to keep the doll, but the answer was no.
    - Patti Witten

Remember the summer we were 17 and we were working at Peacock’s packing sardines? Eugene Greenlaw was our supervisor. We would often take the afternoon off to go to Gardner’s Lake. The summer I started going out with Dana. Eugene would be disappointed in us if we didn’t come back after lunch. It was hard to work when the weather was good. I had mom’s Dodge Dart that summer. Dana had to cut a pair of jeans into shorts to go swimming. I remember waiting outside his house for a long time wondering what was taking so long until he came out with the cutoffs. We were so young. And, I had Amy there that summer, too, and she was only three, so I had to be careful not to get into trouble with Mary and Alvin for skipping out of work to go off with friends. We worked on our tans at the lake and the water felt so good; I always felt clean after we went swimming. The future seemed like it was waiting especially for us. That was also the summer Eddie Rier and you took mom’s car to get more beer for the party and the cops stopped you because you were driving too slowly, without a license. You never did get your license.
    - Peggy Stevens

When I smell gardenias I think of my first kiss, the summer before ninth grade. I met Dwight Harris at band camp and when I got home he called me up to see if he could ride his bike over to see me. We hung out in our back yard. I remember that the gardenias were ripe with scent and that Dwight suddenly leaned forward awkwardly and kissed me on the lips. His lips were cold and slimy. It was disgusting and I was sure I would never want to kiss anyone on the lips ever again. And I didn't, until I shared a seat with Ozzie Smithwick on the band bus to the first out-of town football game later that August. It was dark and quiet on the bus on the way home. We leaned in to each other and kissed — my second kiss — warm and smooth and dreamy. I changed my mind about kissing.
    - Reba Dolch

It was summer camp in the Catskills, and we were having our “color war,” which was a competition organized by the counselors, lasting several days among several groups of boys. There were many activities on the agenda, but the one I remember was the swim meet, because I came from behind and won by one stroke for our team, The Warriors. I was awarded the team banner, a large painted sheet, and I proudly hung it on my basement wall at home, flanking our ping pong table. I was often reminded of what I had done for our team, interestingly spelled on the banner: “The Worriers.”
    - Richie Holtz

My sixth summer is filled with visitors, human and otherwise. Cousins Tim and Nancy have come to visit with their parents. On the Fourth of July, we settle down in the front yard to watch fireworks. During the grand finale, something dashes by, flies under a car. Tim, intrigued, finds a tiny kitten huddled behind one of the wheels, shivering and scared. We name her "Mouse" for her diminutive size and soft gray fur and keep her in the playhouse out back, offering her saucers of milk and table scraps. For two weeks, she survives but never gets much bigger. Her striking blue eyes stare through us. They almost match Nancy's. The day after my relatives drive off, headed back to Texas, Mouse is nowhere to be found. I miss the wisp of a kitten and her cerulean eyes.
    - Theresa A. Cancro

It was a long time ago that the radio warned of possible tornados. On our upstate New York dairy farm that hot summer day I had to take a long walk down the road and then up into the hill pasture to bring the cows in a big semi-circle back to the barn for milking, through the sticky mud hole near the frog pond and down the rocky lane. I was 7. Mom was afraid of the weather — was Dad away? So she made me wear a yellow rain slicker complete with stiff pants and with kind of a pointy hood, way too hot, stifling, but it was the best she could do to calm her fears. When the little herd of cows saw me in that get-up, they panicked, raising their tails and running like crazy, stampeding all the way to the barn. I laughed an awful lot for someone alone in a field but then I dutifully trudged on, wearing the rain suit all the way home.
    - Tina Wright

We drove to the Catskills every summer. My father was an angry driver and yelled 'bastard' out the window to the other drivers. We stayed at the Palace Hotel where all the mothers cooked for their families in the huge communal kitchen. I ran around with the other kids and played in the grass. I felt wild and free. My mother played Canasta, a card game, on the porch with her friends all day. All the fathers drove back to the City to work and came up on weekends.
The other kids and I walked into town to buy penny candy every afternoon. So many different candies. My favorite was the fireball. It got so hot in my mouth that I had to take it out and hold it in my hand until my mouth wasn't so hot anymore. It was like an adventure. There was a young boy selling the candy in the small grocery store. He was different than we were. We were all Jewish from European families and we lived in NYC. This boy lived in Fleischmanns all year round and had dark skin. When I bought my candy I would look at him and he would look at me. I felt something I never felt before. It made me nervous and curious. Nothing ever happened but I never forgot those first feelings, that first look. Somehow, it made me feel like life was filled with excitement and possibility beyond what I could even imagine. That simple exchange was a kind of awakening in those lazy summer days in the Catskills before I knew anything about life and the world.
    - Yvonne Fisher

I’m fifteen, spending two months in the mountains in something called a Work Camp, where I learn how to build cabins. These are meant to be useful skills — using a saw, hammering, painting — but of course after that summer I never do any of those things again. The entire group of us work-campers, about a dozen, drive to the Newport Folk Festival in a VW van. We become instant Richie Havens groupies. I buy a button from a hippie with the car-rental slogan We Try Harder printed in red on a white background. I consider it every bit as profound as that Zen koan about one hand clapping. I wear it all over Newport and every day after, for the rest of the summer, on the collar of my denim work-shirt. When I go home at the end of August my mother throws them both out — the work-shirt and the button. It takes me a couple of days before I realize they’re gone but when I do I throw a very loud and self-righteous fit: “How could you do that to my property, it was my private property, don’t you have any respect for private property?” To which my mother replies, “It was garbage.” “But it was my garbage,” I say. “I didn’t realize you were so bourgeois,” she says. That shuts me up.
    - Zee Zahava

Monday, May 27, 2019

Lots and Lots of Questions: a collective list

Is this a question? How did I get to this age without knowing the name of that early morning bird who performs for me so beautifully? What is your idea of a perfect day? Who do you want to be when you grow up? Why do live performances always make me cry? What is your favorite book? What book are you reading now? What is the last thing you said to the last person you saw today? Are you happy about the last thing you said to the last person you spoke with? What is holding you back? What is moving you forward? What if everything is exactly as it is supposed to be right this very moment? What if you told someone exactly how you feel? Is there something you need to do right now?

Will the sapsucker return to the hole it started making in the aspen tree right outside the kitchen window? Is the wren sitting on eggs yet? Do you see the hole in that old post leaning on the side of barn? Did the chickadee go in there? How many eggs are in the dove’s nest? Will we get a barn swallow in our new barn? Do you remember the robin’s nest in the tractor wheel? How does that robin make such a turquoise blue egg? Was it last year we kept hearing the cheeping of baby birds in your greenhouse and could not find where they were? Will the oriole find a mate? What makes you visible to yourself? Will I ever live at the ocean again? Will my new jade plant recover from sunburn? Will I continue to count my steps in the future? What happened to curiosity?When will people stop rushing? When will people stop adoring their material objects? Will clouds become ice cream in heaven?

Why do I cry every time I see an elephant in the movies, on TV, in a zoo, in photographs, in dreams, and even when I think about them? Do all animals dream? What animal will become extinct next? Why do I hate the sound of lawn mowers and leaf blowers so much, when I don't mind the sound of tractors? Do other people love laughing so hard that it is hard to breathe, the way I do? How long will planet Earth exist? Why do we say “as the crow flies” and not “as the bluebird flies”? Why do I lose brain cells and not fat cells as I age? Why do we waste technology on building weapons when I need a housecleaning robot? Why does a peanut butter and jelly sandwich taste so good after four hours on a hiking trail? “Why,” my mother asks, “do I keep losing friends when I am only telling people the truth about their bad traits”? Why didn’t I keep my poodle skirt from the 1950s? Why do my matzo balls turn out like lead when my grandmother’s were so light and fluffy? Why are some people funnier than others?  Why am I only funny when I don’t put much effort into it?

Do you remember the day we met? Was it raining? What was I thinking? Did I talk too much? What was the name of that Mexican restaurant, remember, the one with the funny names for all the dishes? Wasn’t it hot for May? Were you wearing those sandals with the faded black straps? Did we touch? How did you know? Was it my eyes or my hair? Can you still hear the sound of the water burbling in the creek and the wind swishing the pines? Did I make you laugh? What did we find to talk about in the car? Do you think we could see the future, like a reflection in a blurry photograph?

Where will I be when I die? How many stars can you see in the nighttime sky? Whatever happened to my college friend, Maggie, who used to make me strong, sweet espresso and black beans and rice? Is there a chance I might climb Mt. Everest? Does my birthmother ever think of me? Why do I never consider my birthfather?  Can you ever have enough hugs? Can making art calm my restless mind? Will the scent of lilacs stay in my nose until fall? How can I do more to fight racism, homophobia, and all forms of hate? Can a positive outlook truly heal the body? Is it possible to memorize all the words of every Cole Porter song ever written? Is red wine truly good for the heart? Have I missed this season’s harvesting of ramps? In what ways will I be a better person in the year ahead? Will anybody notice? Will the Great Blue Heron return to our creek soon?  Is there a chance for a late-in-life growth spurt? How many shades of blue can I see? Is there life after death — and if I get to choose, can heaven have a dance party? My mother puts her exceedingly-cold hand in mine, and asks, “Have I died but forgotten to lie down?”

What is the sound of a falling star? Do spiders think while they’re spinning? Do ants need a map after they run through the grass? Why is a mosquito? How does a cabbage feel when it is being boiled? Why did the smoke alarm go off at 4:16 a.m.? What do I learn by simply breathing? When will my hair turn white? Will evolution ever end? May I live in a castle in Scotland, please? Would you mind telling me how that tree got to be so tall? Will I finish what I started? Am I who I think I am? Are the roots of the trees under the park more beautiful than the park above ground? Why does time seem to go so fast? Will I ever catch up with myself? Do trees still grow in Brooklyn? Which crow in the murder is designated as the lookout? Can robots be programmed to iron shirts? How can I reach the “catbird seat”?

How did my mother play the piano so effortlessly? What compels my dog to eat bees? How do I forgive myself? Why can't I sleep? Why do I eat things I don't like? Why do I worry about almost everything, like my mother did? What  makes ants come into the house when it's so nice outside? Why did it take so long to become friends with myself? Why did it take me so long to move away from the people who weren't kind to me? Why does connectivity consume so much time? Why are public bathrooms so much more expensive in Colombia than in Ecuador? Why do brown pelicans always fly north along the Pacific coast? Why do I continue to hope when despair is so easy? Why do intense experiences come in threes? When I read through my old journals, why am I always so surprised and embarrassed by the me that was? Why don’t I ever recognize my own recorded voice? Do we really shed our skins, like snakes, every 7 years? Why is it easier to talk with strangers than with friends about deeply personal  experiences?

Where are the rabbits this spring? What other garden have they chosen for their young? Why did the thyme winter over so poorly? How did the parsley persevere? Why have only four branches of sage come through? When did the wild rose lose hope? Why is there no nest in the corner eave of the porch? When did the old lilacs fall? What will I sow and nurture? Where will I put my work? Who sees what I see, and who doesn’t? What would it feel like, in my body, to be a man instead of a woman? Where does that white fluffy stuff, like polyester pillow stuffing, that is always scattered around the yard, come from? Is the plum tree that flowered bountifully just weeks ago, and now only has a few sickly leaves, dying? What will it feel like to be my mother’s age? What did she feel like at my age? What did I feel like at my daughter’s age? How will she feel at my age? What did my grandfather think about while, as an old man, he did his yoga shoulder stands next to the lake wearing a saggy navy-blue speedo? Why does my cat so often sit mesmerized by the neighbor’s compost bin?

Why does the end of the month arrive before I’ve come to grips with the beginning of the month? At what point in one’s life is it okay just to be yourself and not worry about your reputation, your worldly accomplishments, or your social status? How many times have I reached for my glasses or my keys or the remote control or my slippers or my favorite pen, only to realize that I have not left that object in its “usual” place? Is there anything as glorious as the cottonwood tree gearing up to make it snow cotton puffs in early June? Isn’t it important to say no to someone who is convinced that they, not you, know exactly what is proper for you to do with your life?

Can I count the number of times I've walked up my front steps? Can I remember how my mother's hands looked when she sat holding a book and read after dinner? Will I ever want to give up paper maps for a GPS system? Will I ever have enough time? What was my first question? Who answered that first question? Was my first question to a person or to the universe? What is dawn for? Do I feel differently as the moon moves through its phases? If I lived near the ocean, would I sense when the tide is high? If I lost my sight, would my fingers be able to tell me when my poppies are ready to open? Can I identify my friends by their breathing? When I meditate, do the thoughts which pass through my mind lay around me like cast-off clothes? Why are poetry books always so slim? Do my books know how much I love them?

Why do some people always print while others write in lovely cursive script? Who imagined the idea of ink so writers would have a way to capture their thoughts? Do I have space in my life for more friends? Will it matter to the earth that I tended my few square feet of garden with love and care? What did people see before the color blue? What lies beyond this life? What does fear have to gain? Where is the love? How does one open the cells to healing? Where does inspiration flow from? Can someone please translate the baby dialects? Is active listening more attuned and compassionate? Is the ability to wait a prerequisite for wisdom? Can we all agree to disagree, in kindness? Is a lie made of caustic acid for both the teller and the told? How many heroes are left in the world? Does bravery mean facing one's fears?

Does anyone have an extra ordinary that they might be willing to share? How many good years are still left for me? Why not celebrate this very moment? When will enough be enough? What will anything matter, a century from now? Are we doomed to repeat our mistakes? What are the birds trying to tell us? Are the angels just waiting to be employed? Does a great hug bring harmonic resonance between huggers? If it's all been said before, isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Does the study and understanding of a little known author make them one of the grateful dead? Are perspiration and perseverance prerequisites to publishing? Where are all the cool kids now? Does everyone's opinion have inherent worth? Is winning the lottery really a viable retirement plan?

Is that concrete? Why is there a pipe there? Did you turn the water on? Do we need so many different types of flower and plant spray? Why do Lily of the Valley flowers make me think of the theme music to The Exorcist? Do you think the dog senses storm ions in the air? Do you think moth balls will keep the groundhog from coming into our yard? Do you want more coffee? Did you water the lettuce? Where is the watering can? Is it a watering can if it is made of plastic? Do you think it will rain enough so that we don't have to water? What if it doesn't  rain? Was there a goddess of rain? Who  is the goddess of gardening? Did you see the Wonder Woman and Batman watering cans at Lowe's? Why did the Batman watering can have arms and a head but the Wonder Woman can only has her initials? Does rain make a sound if there is no one there to hear it? What does it feel like when you skim your hand across the top of water? What does the rain sound like when you are in the car and it's pouring?

Is it possible to forgive in reality, not just in theory? Is anyone else haunted by the song “row row row your boat” — wondering if life really IS but a dream? How certain are you that the “true” stories you tell about your life are really true? What does it take to be a really good friend? Who knows where the time goes? Have you ever been looking for something and you can’t find it and then you walk away for a minute and when you come back and look in exactly the same place there it is, the very object that seemed to be lost? Do you feel unbalanced all day if you wear mis-matched socks, or mis-matched earrings? Do you find it challenging to live in the present moment? Do you have tricks you do that help you fall asleep at night? Do you believe in magic? What were you taught in elementary school that you still remember today? Do trees like to be hugged or do they find it intrusive and presumptuous? How do I know if I’m in denial? Was I born bossy? Whose face will be the last face I see on this earth? Am I too enthusiastic? Which is more important to me: the questions or the answers?

Thank you to all these contributors:

Anne Killian-Russo
Annie Campbell
Annie Wexler
Barbara Cartwright
Beth Browne
Chris McNamara
Elizabeth W. McMahon
Ian M. Shapiro
Jim Mazza
Jo Balistreri
Joan McNerney
Joanna M. Weston
Judith Andrew
Kath Abela Wilson
Louise Vignaux
Marian Rogers
Marty Blue Waters
Mary Jane Richmond
Mimi Foyle
Nancy Osborn
Rob Sullivan
Saskya van Nouhuys
Susan Annah Currie
Zee Zahava

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Maybe I Should . . . . a collective list

With Big Thanks to Marilyn Arsem, who provided this phrase as a “spark”

Maybe I should lighten up; take myself less seriously, and also more seriously; sing, with no shame; learn how to bake; sit quietly, longer, first thing every day. Maybe I should read all the books I haven’t gotten to yet before I buy anything new; wear less black; have kinder thoughts about the people I do not think kindly of; fill a new blank notebook with drawings; plan a little vacation. Maybe I should say yes more often; say no more often; have my hearing checked; organize my junk drawer(s); vacuum the rug; live more in the present and less in the future; think big; embrace my contradictions

Maybe I should stop binge watching TV and curl up in bed with a new book. Maybe I should drastically cut down my sugar intake to lead to a healthier body; maybe I should not have been such a pain in the ass as a little kid in Flushing, Queens. Maybe I should become a vegetarian; stop answering 90% of the e-mails I receive; stop answering the telephone since it is hardly ever a real call from a real person who wants to talk to me; stop apologizing for taking afternoon naps.

Maybe I should go for one week without wearing any purple, including purple earrings. Maybe I should be more patient; not expect other people to share my enthusiasms; focus on one thing at a time; not feel guilty about anything; weed my sock drawer; eat a piece of fruit every day. Maybe I should express anger, disappointment, sorrow, fear — instead of pretending not to feel any of those things. Maybe I should stop talking to myself out loud; learn how to drive; sharpen all the knives in the kitchen

Maybe I should get one of those tile things that helps you find your phone when you lose it; believe what I feel more than what I see; be more willing to take risks and be fine no matter the results; stop listening to the news, stop questioning people’s sanity, stop waiting for a change I cannot effect. Maybe I should be satisfied with how I effect the world, not worrying so much about railing at the masses. Maybe I should get a little robot to keep track of my phone, my keys, my sneakers, my purse — just maybe

Maybe I should resume getting up at 4:30 a.m.; just drop everything; leave; stay. Maybe I should leave myself alone. Maybe I should leave teaching; hug my students; accept this ritual I do; not give up sugar; just let love not be a verb but a gracious noun with no edges. Maybe I should not doubt my efficacy; not feel the need to explain myself. Maybe I should just wake up as myself every day

Maybe I should forget about deadlines; be easier on myself; retire sooner; get rid of most of my books; hire someone to clean the entire house; start taking walks again. Maybe I should stop being so productive; listen more; plan a dinner party; run down the trail; walk backwards uphill; revel in snow, rain, clouds; start knitting again

Maybe I should love my older sister better and love my younger sister less; call my mother; become an activist; try again to play guitar; stop thinking about work when I am not at work. Maybe I should try walking a little farther today despite the pain; clean everything; declutter; get a dog. Maybe I should be braver, take a chance, fail, succeed

Maybe I should bake a cake today; drink less coffee and more tea; plan a trip; take up a different hobby each year; go to the movies more often; drink more champagne. Maybe I should stop remembering darker episodes of the past; read philosophy instead of poetry (but maybe not); experiment more with different intensities of chocolate; plant exotic vegetables this summer. Maybe I should plan my costume for Halloween right now

Maybe I should take a moment; breathe; cut myself some slack; speak up; stop overthinking. Maybe I should live in the moment; stop romanticizing memories; try again; stop asking for permission; stop pretending. Maybe I should listen; take ownership; go climbing; stop giving up my power; remember the good things. Maybe I should just get the tattoos.

Maybe I should stay quiet; help more; say that I care; grow up; start all over; grow more flowers. Maybe I should dare more; be less honest; cry; fly away; go with the flow; live more freely; stop listening to others. Maybe I should be fierce; be gentle; buy a dictionary; remember to water my one plant; take myself out for dinner and order anything/everything I desire

Maybe I should stop worrying about what I should do; forgive my sister; move to California; compost; move to New Orleans; learn how to play bridge; never cut my hair again. Maybe I should move to Mexico; say yes to the dress; pick up my camera again; go on a silent retreat; laugh more often. Maybe I should get my charts read at this point in my life; get in the car and keep driving; have people over for dinner more often; go to a sunny beach for a week or a decade; say “I love you” more often

Maybe I should quit my temporary job as a dishwasher; look harder for the croci coming up now since spring bulbs blooming fight depression; contact Ben and see if he wants me to drive tractor this spring; walk on a hiking trail I’ve never known before.

Maybe I should learn Spanish; work on weekends to catch up with everyone else; get comfortable with downhill skiing; get an air filter for my room, change the pillow, ditch the down comforter; sleep more. Maybe I should spend more time cleaning the house; read less news, more literature; volunteer on a campaign, make phone calls, give more money. Maybe I should replace all the plastic with glass — really, all of it.

Maybe I should stir the roux; soak the beans; get on down; punch the clock; give ‘em a break. Maybe I should choose a hobby and become devoted to it, whatever it is; keep fresh flowers in a vase on my desk; only write with purple ink; dust my collection of empty boxes; pat myself on the back more often (literally)

Maybe I should always put my wallet in the same place so I don’t end up leaving home without it; think twice before I speak; climb more flights of stairs; get another cat; knit a sweater or two in a lighter fiber; go through all the books that are piled up by the bed and see if I will ever read some of them. Maybe I should donate the books I won’t read to the library book sale

Maybe I should get a new pen that doesn’t smudge; make decisions about all the choices I’m stumbling over; plant my tomato seeds soon; take up sewing again; drag out the electronic keyboard and try to learn to play; never ever eat another jelly bean

Maybe I should move to India; go to the headstand clinic at Circus Culture; feed my cat canned food instead of dry; wash the salt off my shoes; wash the salt off my car (or maybe I should wait and do that in a few weeks). Maybe I should be less vulnerable at work and more vulnerable at home. Maybe I should have slept more last night; have packed a lunch; have chosen a different book to read today. Maybe I should do my taxes this weekend. Maybe I should have done my taxes last weekend

Maybe I should run away and start a new life; speak French; dye my hair pink. Maybe I should write down all the forbidden thoughts and pin them to my wall so they at least have a place to live; bring home every stray dog I see; make a winter bug, mouse, and squirrel sanctuary and anyone who shows up is welcome, as long as they know they have to leave when spring arrives. Maybe I should go out the front door, leaving it ajar, while I walk until I don’t want to walk anymore — maybe I will make it to an ocean

Maybe I should wash the dishes; walk all day in the woods; visit my old friends in Colorado; replace the light bulbs; finish the paper I started writing 21 years ago; plant an oak between the hickories. Maybe I should trust my intuition; shut off the computer every day at 4 p.m., refrain from gossiping; be more forgiving; write down my dreams; focus on one thing at a time. 

Maybe I should start thinking of aches and pains as friendly reminders; travel more lightly; drink one less glass of wine, occasionally; take up painting; thank my lucky stars

Maybe I should try braiding my thin white hair into tiny little strands all over my head; see if I can locate that old friend I owe a big apology to; try to become a contestant on Jeopardy and hope the categories that day make actual sense to me; make big money by selling my junk on E-bay. Maybe I should sit down at the keyboard and work on a piece by J. S. Bach instead of just thinking about the joy that would bring me; work daily on developing my lip so I can have the chops to play the highest notes on my euphonium. Maybe I should look through my closet and pull out all the shirts and coats and jackets I have not worn for many years and take them to the Thrifty Shopper; take a load of books to the Friends of the Library even though I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. Maybe I should learn the difference between significant family history and sentimental accumulation

Maybe I should move away to some remote place where the trees stand majestically tall and the sun is forever setting and I can be quiet — no words — no voice — just listening for all those who have suffered and want to tell and retell their stories. Maybe I should count backwards each time I have a birthday, and I will get younger and younger, not because I regret aging, but because I want to play with my child self again. Maybe I should go back into the dream I had last night and try to find my mother; she sounded sad, wanted me to come and be with her, but her voice trailed off into silence before she could tell me where she was

Maybe I should see everyone as Divine Mother, in need; choose with care, then abandon; give back a few of the million-minutes-wasted; see the lesson in each hour of my day. Maybe I should loosen the weight of the world from my shoulders; allow others to be who they are; break down and cry; stop trying a little harder; move in rhythm with the tune my heart is humming; say a little prayer for the ones I hate. Maybe I should rejoice and celebrate; give more than five hugs a day, everyday; mentor, with no malice or forethought; express, in response to inspiration. Maybe I should be very quick to love

Maybe I should get a new life; learn to make furniture; have a real garden again; move to another country; cut my hair. Maybe I should cook something new at least once a week, maybe twice; do something pleasurable at least once a day; take a class and really learn Chinese; give away everything that I have accumulated; move to a new house; get another cat; change my name

Maybe I should plan a surprise getaway for our family for this weekend, just the three of us. Maybe I should pull up Google Maps and randomly pick a location and that is where we will go, whether it turns out to be Budapest, Idaho, or even Owego. Maybe I should pretend I’m a ghost while walking down the street and if someone smiles at me I will put on a concerned face, lean toward them, and whisper “you can see me?” Maybe I should tell my friend Peaches that her earrings remind me of sparkly little peacocks and that I appreciate their twinkle

Maybe I should take a train across America by myself; learn to ice skate; organize a high school reunion; learn German and go to Germany. Maybe I should go into a trance and visit with my mother — I miss her. Maybe I should throw away (recycle) everything in the basement instead of sorting through it all; watch every movie at Regal Cinema this weekend; buy a new wardrobe (but first buy a lottery ticket); play more dance music while I cook. Maybe I should buy a whole new set of Smart Wool socks to replace all of mine which seem to have worn out at once; rent an apartment in Manhattan and get over being scared of large city living; get a reading list of fabulous books from four different people

Maybe I should be quiet sometimes; celebrate every minute when there is nothing hurting in me; call my parents more often; look for a book whose cover I don’t like and read it. Maybe I should try to find all my pair-less socks and make puppets out of them for the children to play with; stop obsessing about using my time well; redefine success in my head; stop telling my kids “I’ll be right there, hold on.” Maybe I should collect more seed pods of trees since I find them so enchanting. Maybe I should decide to grow in new directions, towards ideas or the shimmering light on the surface of the open sea

Maybe I should put together an art installation; make everything I do an artistic endeavor; sing from the rooftops; live big and full for as long as I can; keep painting my fingernails blue; keep the excitement going despite everything. Maybe I should calm myself down; not be so grandiose; take things a bit slower

Maybe I should use perfume again; let my hair grow long again; do all the mending that has piled up for two years; start using a fountain pen again, with some outlandish color of ink; try planting more tulip and daffodil bulbs. Maybe I should get serious about organizing my photos; learn how to live in a smaller space; face the fact that I don't really need all the clothes that hang in my closet; finally get around to finishing that quilt I started in 1980; set up that small portable greenhouse on my back porch so I can grow basil year-round; find a way to enjoy the grayness of an Ithaca winter. Maybe I should express gratitude every day; try watercolor painting again; give away even more books; send more snail mail and fewer emails; try to keep a diary for the last 20 years of my life; give up on my plan to read War and Peace and settle for having read Anna Karenina

Maybe I should take a more vocal stand for the rights of others; apologize more often; apologize less. Maybe I should dye my hair pink or purple or blue; pull out that old ukulele and re-learn those lost chords; polish my tap shoes; sing at the top of my lungs outside of the shower. Maybe I should hold the hand of my sweetheart more frequently; remember to breathe deeply several times a day; stop wearing shoes and let my toes breathe, too. Maybe I should simply toss out those four boxes of papers labeled "to file.” Maybe I should or maybe I shouldn’t


Aino Waller
Chris McNamara
Happy Snyder
James Spitznagel
Jayne Demakos
Jennifer Marshall
Jennifer VanAlstine
Jim Mazza
Laura Joy
Marian Rogers
Marilyn Arsem
Marty Blue Waters
Mary Louise Church
MJ Richmond
Molly Buck
Nancy Osborn
Patti Witten
Peaches Gillette
Reba Dolch
Rob Sullivan
Saskya van Nouhuys
Sheila Dean
Stacey Murphy
Sue Norvell
Susan Currie
Tahera-Rafia Kassam
Tina Wright
Yasmin Kassam
Yvette Rubio
Yvonne Fisher
Zee Zahava

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Kitchen Stories: Short-Shorts on a Theme

With its one tall and narrow window facing North,
this kitchen always has cold light. Through the ample maple crowns beyond the window, flickering patches of light create their shadow-play on the low countertops and on the mint-green cabinetry that only reaches halfway up the wall. White stone walls, white porcelain sink. One long crack in the wall that runs from the corner above the cabinets all the way to the adjacent wall above the door. The worn hardwood floor is covered by a threadbare oriental runner. On the wall next to the entrance hangs a heavy chestnut panel that once chimed calls to the housekeeper. Its oxidized metal bookplates hold paper slips entitled Living Room, Parlour, and Dining Room, all in faded Cormier typeface. An eternity has passed since its little bulbs last lit up, summoning servant to servee (that word seems archaic now; when spoken it draws the corners of your lips far back, too far for comfort). Time stands still here in the faint smell of wall plaster, dust, and floor wax. War-time tea tins repurposed for flour and sugar, plain or adorned with embossed figures of smiling women with red lips and white teeth, aligned neatly on open shelves. This is the kitchen in my father's childhood home.
    - Aino Waller

In the summer I live without a kitchen, just a counter with a hot plate and a small fridge underneath it. In the morning food is prepared and eaten with a view of the lake and sounds of morning; ducks, orioles, and lapping water. Hot cocoa and cold cereal are served up in metal camp cups and bowls. All dishes and silverware are washed outside in cold water, with hopes that the sun has taken off the biting edge. When you live and cook mostly outdoors tasks take on a different meaning. Food is limited, but it tastes sweeter, and the fresh open air takes the place of vitamins. Before breakfast a swim in cold water tingles every nerve and prepares me for my day. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
    - Barbara Anger

It is a kitchen in flux, without a remodel. Everything in continual motion — around the island, which holds the sink — perhaps, to accommodate its many guests, or to include the cook. Washing the dishes becomes a family event. 100-plus-year-old cook stove still put to work. Winter warmer. Leavener box. Cast iron becomes a fixture. How many times have I heard them say, "This year we'll be moving that old giant out — how many of us will it take?" Homemade pizzas. Late night snacks. Giggling girls. A kitchen of chaos. A kitchen of calm. A kitchen built on love. With rounded corners, like loaves of bread. Warmth. Warmth. Warmth. Pottery through glass panes. Screen door slamming. Hand-woven rug with resting pup, ears poised in hopes of falling casualties during meal prep — the only eager member on the cleanup crew. The clock on the wall runs fast, then behind — we lose all sense of time.
    - Heather Boob

The year Charlie died I had gone to France for the summer and left without a place to come back to. “Who knows maybe I won’t come back." But then Charlie was diagnosed and I came back. Someone found me a little apartment on East Hill with a sad little kitchen. It was long and narrow in an apartment squeezed out of a nothing house like an appendage. The kitchen was so narrow, probably the owner could have been sued for body bias if the wrong size person showed up to rent it. I was desperate and also the right size. Now I get a great deal of therapy in the kitchen. But I have no memory of cooking anything in that kitchen. It was not made for cooking, for inhabiting. The following summer, a year later, I left for France to bring Charlie’s ashes to Plum Village. My life was more messy than ever and bigger than any kitchen therapy could address. It really didn’t matter, the weirdness of the kitchen. Everything was weird, somehow. I couldn’t find the door out. So I got on a plane and ended up in France. I know my mess both followed me and was left behind, like the long tail of a bird in a dream, a tail as long as the journey. I heard of the mold and infestation of ants, alone, from the garbage can I failed to bring out to the curb before I left.
    - Jayne Demakos

We remodeled our house seventeen years ago — all for a Thanksgiving dinner. For more than thirty years, Nancy and I hosted a large "Thanksgiving Weekend" for her family and mine, and for the many found-family members who had become central to our life over the years. To host 20 or 25 people and to prepare an elaborate meal, or meals — as, over time, Thursday dinner grew to be a Friday dinner, a Saturday dinner, and a Sunday brunch — required a larger dining room and something significantly more than our galley-style kitchen. And so, a complete remodel of our home, an eight-month construction project, was underway. Walls were moved, new I-beams and doorways added, plaster completely torn out and replaced, floors refinished, and tiles and bathrooms and new windows installed. The kitchen itself received the most attention. Design and layout took hours of configuration and reconfiguration on the pad of graph paper I used to plan the new space. Where was the sink to go? Was the refrigerator in the recommended place forming the fridge-cooktop-sink triangle? Where would the two ovens that were considered essential to the design fit? It was hours and hours of planning, talking with a professional designer and our builder, and making endless choices of cabinet finishes, tile textures, and countertop colors. Finally, after weeks and months of planning, all of the details came together and, in the end, we had nearly the kitchen we wanted. I say nearly because — while most of the details were right, the finishes gleaming, and the function well thought-through — this larger kitchen . . . was only two-feet longer and one-foot wider than the one it replaced.
    - Jim Mazza

I had just turned seven when we moved to Sasebo, Japan. Our private rental kitchen had one small window looking out into the vacant lot next door. Electricity, cycling off every other day, powered only a few light bulbs. In winter, we used smelly, dangerous kerosene lanterns and heaters, lit only as long as needed. My pregnant mother kept one heater in her bedroom to dress, then carried it to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. We rescheduled our American Thanksgiving dinner as we had electricity on Wednesdays and could use the stove Father bought. A wooden icebox stood in one corner of the kitchen. Blocks of ice delivered twice a week kept food cool. An old man carried a block from his handcart to our icebox using iron tongs. We rescued chunks of ice dropped on the floor immediately to suck on hot summer days. Food waiting to be cooked got stored in the ice box, no leftovers. Mother put all our leftover food in a box outside the front door. Homeless people came by to eat the food every night. They knew our routine as well as I did.
    - Joann Grisetti

I sautĂ© the onions and garlic, glance out my wide windows occasionally, at walnut, maple, douglas fir trees, winter skies, and chickadees at the feeder. Then, in a heart-beat, I’m back in Mother’s kitchen of long ago with its stone sink, small window, narrow view of bleak hop-fields half-obscured by blooming winter jasmine. Here, today, I have counters to work on, a fridge, stainless sinks; she had a scrubbed table, cold “safe” or larder, a small stove, a flagstone floor that was hard to clean, and a stone “copper” for washing sheets. I work in the quiet of my house but in a distant background I hear Mother singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and am content.
    - Joanna M. Weston

One kitchen was not enough for my Italian-American grandparents. In their modest three-bedroom ranch house on 60th Street in Niagara Falls, they needed more than a single stove to cook a proper Sunday dinner. So, my grandfather set up a range across from the washing machine in the basement. On Sundays when I was a child, I would walk into the main entrance to their house around 4 p.m. to join my aunts and cousins for a dish of macaroni. I could hear my grandmother stirring the sauce in the upstairs kitchen, to my left, and my grandfather swearing in Italian as he tried to fit all of the gnocchi into a vat of boiling water in the basement. My grandfather, now 95, still lives in the same house. But after my aunt died of breast cancer in 2008, and then my grandmother died of Alzheimer’s in 2012, we stopped going to his house for Sunday dinners. The basement kitchen fell out of use. There is still a cooking range across from the washing machine, but the large vat that used to boil gnocchi no longer sits on it. It has moved to my parents’ house, who now use it in their own basement kitchen, where they boil pasta for my grandfather and whoever else wants to join them on Sunday afternoons.
    - Julie M. Lind

Probably our last kitchen. And so we let loose. No cabinets, no doors, all open shelves. Everything on display. A museum of broken things. My mother's ashes in two small beautiful etched silver urns on the top shelf. Only the odd and unusual essentials in plain view. The blown glass tiny vases from Florence. My computer on the counter, waking up. My mother's family portrait over the stove when she was five. My grandmother in Alexandria sipping tea a hundred years ago. It keeps getting better and better. First thing in the morning, almost twenty years after the renovation, I throw or give something unnecessary away, and add something new and precious to the mix. Souvenirs. A dessert tray of pink stones from Santa Fe. A finger-shaped stone from the Finger Lakes. The painted tile from Puerto Rico that reads "Do Not Disturb / Poet at Work."
    - Kath Abela Wilson

It might have been a canyon, that dirt road running between our houses. Our kitchen window looked at yours across the divide. Daily, I saw you sweeping yellow dust off your porch. As from a little weather house, your tiny figure emerged mechanically sweeping, then re-entered, the door closing behind you. You came and went about your Baptist life, we about our Catholic. You to prayer meeting, your empty purse on your arm, for fashion’s sake; I to Mass, mother’s lace hanky bobby-pinned to my hair. It wasn’t said aloud, but the exquisite litmus of the young recorded it — you were the Other Grandmother. I have only a handful of memories of you, clinking together like the few coins given a child for the collection basket. Among them, one gleams most brightly: My bike had thrown me on that very dirt road between our houses. I presented myself, bleeding knees, chin, and palms, on your front porch. You opened wide the door, your arms, and took me inside your warm kitchen, that place of my father’s memories —ketchup sandwiches, spoonfuls of sweet condensed milk, endless grace at table. You lifted me to the drainboard by the sink and poured peroxide on my wounds, murmuring words of love. With bent yet gentle fingers you loosened embedded stones and grit. You smiled your sweet baptist smile and with your apron, wiped away my catholic tears.
    - Kathleen Kramer

Thirty years ago, my husband, toddler, and I had four days to find a house in Tallahassee, as Tom had just gotten his dream job there. We hired a rental agent to show us around. I knew for sure I wanted a big kitchen (“big enough to dance in”) with lots of light. Nothing we saw fit that description. One afternoon our realtor dropped us off at the motel, and my husband went for a run. He came back grinning. “There’s a for-sale-by-owner, right on the city park,” he declared. We took our little girl and raced over. It was a darling bungalow set high on a ridge, facing the park. Once inside, we saw huge windows in every room. When we walked into the kitchen it was love at first sight. The room was indeed large enough to dance in, with big windows, a bench with padded cushions where our table would fit perfectly, and a big double sink. All these many years I have made meals in this kitchen, had my morning coffee, written in my journal on the same table where my daughter always did her homework. This well-lived-in room has truly fulfilled its promise.
    - Katya Sabaroff Taylor

I have read that the kitchens of Ireland have couches so that people can hang out and keep the cook company. What a warmhearted custom this is. I also remember Joyce Carol Oates's novel Them where she writes about how people living in poverty were forever hashing things out at their kitchen tables. My great-aunt Florence's kitchen was like that; people rarely went into her living room, but sat around gossiping with her as she circulated endlessly around her kitchen and her mother's antique coal-burning cookstove. My own mother was more of a don't-cramp-my-style cook, and so were all my friends' mothers. In my ex-husband's mother's house, though, you could poke around in her cupboards and refrigerator, and that was among the few things you could do that she wouldn't yell at you for. Who has influenced me the most? Well, I welcome people coming in to listen to NPR with me, and am thrilled when I can get someone else to help me chop vegetables: I must be more of an Aunt Florence. Sometimes, too, a radio story is so good that I'd like to make the whole family come in and listen. So I am damn near Irish, as well.
    - Laurie Petersen

We often said that you could live for years on the food in my mother’s pantry. It was a big walk-in space, with shelves from floor to ceiling, stocked with supplies: cans of soups, all sorts of tomatoes (whole, plum, diced, crushed), hominy, hominy, hominy; boxes of broth, every shape of pasta, brownie, cake, muffin mix; bags of flour and sugar, bins of onions and potatoes; jars of jam, applesauce, condiments; bottles of vanilla (the good kind from Madagascar), olive oil, vinegars; multiples of plastic wrap, wax paper, parchment paper. Towering overhead on the top shelf was the 64-cup coffeemaker with spigot whose brew had driven people home from dinner parties in the 60s and 70s, a tureen or two, a dutch oven, and other random pieces of cookware too big for the kitchen cabinets. The last time I was with my mother in her kitchen, we took a tour of the pantry together. She shuffled to the door, pulled on the light, looked around, up and down. “Where did all this come from?” she asked. I tried to think of the last time she had made a meal, walked into the pantry to get ingredients. It was less than a year, but in her mind long ago. She wondered at the abundance, the forethought of whoever had gathered all that food, made all those meals. “What shall we make?” I asked. “I can’t even start,” she said. And we laughed together. 
    - Marian Rogers

My mother was an excellent cook. When I was a kid growing up in western Kansas, I enjoyed watching her pull a dinner together -- especially if fried chicken was on the menu. She did everything with ease and expertise. But when she got into her '80s, she became a real sucker for kitchen gadgets. For example, she saw a TV commercial for "the amazing Salad Shooter," and was immediately hooked. The idea of being able to chop up a giant bowl of salad just by cranking a handle was really exciting to her. She called up and ordered one for herself. When the Salad Shooter arrived in the mail, she found the instructions very hard to follow and got terribly frustrated that making a big salad with this small white plastic machine wasn't quite as easy as the TV ad had promised. When she realized she needed to chop all the vegetables into smaller sizes so they could fit into the small round feeding hole, she threw up her hands and said "Well I might just as well finish all the chopping myself if I'm going to go to all that trouble first." So the Salad Shooter sat idle on her kitchen counter for many months, getting in the way and constantly taunting her with its grandiose promise of simplicity. Finally, she gave it away to Good Will and stopped expecting any magic from it at all. Every now and then, another gadget was advertised as being a miraculous time saver in the kitchen. Mom would cave in once in a while and put her order in. But, eventually, she always returned to the old fashioned ways and cooked up a storm of deliciousness all by herself from start to finish. Some things just can't be improved upon!
    - Marty Blue Waters

It was a small kitchen, the one from my childhood. It had a miniature, shuttered window used to pass food into the dining room for Easter and Christmas dinner. If I was sure that my father was not around, I would take a risk and climb up on the counter, slide through the small opening on my belly and slide head first down onto the china cabinet. Jumping down to the floor I would hold my breath so I could hear danger approaching. With barely enough time to conjure a story of being chased by pirates or avoiding the snapping jaws of imaginary crocodiles I would run back through the pantry and fly up onto the counter to close the small doors, hiding the evidence of my crime. The light blue enameled kitchen table was usually pushed up against the windowed wall to make room for the crowd of six that marched through each day. Meals were served there unless my father joined us and then my mother would pull the table, with solemn ceremony, into the middle of the room to create a place of honor. There was a low, round infant chair, not high at all, against the other wall. It was a space that had held each of us as we entered the family and before we could sit alone in a chair at the table. My sister Becky was the baby but soon there would be two more, the twins that my mother was carrying inside her. The tiny kitchen was where I could almost always find my mother. She would be on her hands and knees, scrubbing the floor after a full day of teaching first graders, even though a perfectly good mop sat in the kitchen pantry. But usually I would find her with her back to the door, standing over the stove in deep concentration, attempting to create a meal for six, and most importantly to please my father (or to not displease him). I watched. I stood by silently but was never invited to participate. It was too important a task to share and my mother was too tired and too behind in her chores to see me there beside her. I understood as only the oldest can.
    - Mary Jane Richmond

Our kitchen occupies the northwest quadrant of our house, its two half-walls open to the rainforest and main entrance to the north, and overlooking the garden and nursery to the west. We begin and end each day here, attuning ourselves to the world around us. This kitchen is our natural refuge; a welcoming space at the heart of the house, with a bench and small table for guests and helpers along its eastern side. It is also a living organism, an alchemical kitchen where the fire with which we cook and the spring water we drink enter into experiments together with the fruits of the fields, the people present, and whatever creative inspiration comes to hand, to produce pleasurable and nourishing feasts. It's an environment where "inside" and "outside" co-exist peacefully: tiny bell-like fungi and slick algae cycle through their lives on the moist sides of our wooden sink; hummingbirds whizz past our heads; night lights attract spiraling clouds of moths; toads hunt insects and leave wet tongue-prints on the kitchen floor. It is a magical kitchen, filled with the transformative wonder of life in the tropics, and I love it with all my heart.
    - Mimi Foyle

My mother is washing my hair in the kitchen sink, why, I don’t know, but maybe just because it’s a treat. I am nine years old. This is our new house, much larger than our old house, with six doors leading to the outside deep in the woods, a long drive from anywhere. I am leaning over the counter, my head tipped over the porcelain lip. My mother uses the sink sprayer to rinse the suds from my hair and I squeeze my eyes shut. Water bubbles in my ears and I can taste the soap even though I am squeezing my mouth shut as tight as my eyes. Over the sink is a window looking out through a small porch where my mother has hung a bird feeder. She keeps it full of sunflower seeds tight in their little black and white jackets. The birds LOVE the seeds and my mother identifies them for me. Chickadees — black and white like the seeds. Blood-red cardinals and their olive-colored mates. Big blue jays looking very intelligent and knocking a lot of seeds on the ground. Nuthatches — also black and white — hanging upside down from the feeder. Snowbirds — more black and white birds! — who are only there in winter. She says if I stand very, very still, the chickadees will land in my open hand and take a seed. It’s true — and yes, they are light as a feather.
    - Patti Witten

I love kitchens because they remind me of my mother. If my mother were a dancer, the kitchen would have been her stage. Her body built and defined over countless years by the exercise of feeding her family. Her body gracefully moving to the rhythm of the dwindling daylight as she mixed dough and chopped greens. Her hands floating through flour like clouds along the sky, her fingers like a soft rain sprinkling salt and pepper and just the right amount of vinegar into heated pots that sat on the burners of our old, worn-down stove. We, her children, her exuberant audience, eagerly waiting for biscuits to emerge from the oven and the collards and black-eyed peas to simmer down. And while we waited, in the interval of her performance, she would wash her hands and pull the laundry in through the window, the large kitchen window all dressed in yellow curtains, the same window that allowed the setting sun to illuminate her culinary talents. Back then, my mother's cooking was more than utilitarian, it was a way of giving of herself, a way of giving us more than we had, because we had very little. My mother was a woman from another place and time — she was born in 1911, abjectly poor. She was born in a place and time where brilliance was measured by the degree that one knew how to provide for their family, and like a great magician,  she turned a scant amount of ingredients into something that nourished us completely. For her, her strength as a parent was shown by making sure her children did not go hungry, and had a roof over their heads.  She was from another time — an amazing woman who once told us that no matter how little you have, you always have something to give. Yes, a woman from a time wherein your resolve was shown by your ability to simply survive, not just out in the larger world, but within the walls of your home and the warmth of your kitchen.
    - Peaches Gillette

Lately I feel clumsier than I used to be. I came home and while searching for something in the fridge I bumped the door and a plastic jar of iced coffee fell and spilled on the floor. A slowly spreading cold, dark liquid seeped across the grout lines of the large beige tiles and expanded like a shallow layer of viscous mud, spreading under the refrigerator and soaking the edge of a light green scarf hanging over the back of a chair, turning it the color of old, dark wood.  I dashed to grab a handful of dish towels from the drawer and threw them into the pile of muddy liquid, even the stiff one from Hawaii with the fuchsia and orange flowers that my mother-in-law brought me that I never use; even the very soft white one that is only to be used on the gleaming stainless steel of the refrigerator and not meant for mopping the floor, as it may become entwined with tiny specks of grit that can later scratch the surface.
    - Phoebe Jenson

It is true that the kitchen in my home is about to be completely transformed. It’s been a long start-and-stop process of planning, considering, selecting, and learning. I’ve learned more than anyone really wants to, I’m sure, about the edges of countertops or differences in the ways cabinet doors can be built. It’s almost time to pack up our kitchen stuff to make way for the demo team. Time also to get rid of unwanted or unneeded items.  I also want to be mindful of energy to purge from this old kitchen. I didn’t get off on the best foot with it when we moved in 11 ½ years ago. I had loved my old house. Almost every direction I looked in, in that house, I found something to smile about. I have not felt this way much about our current house, especially not the kitchen. I will pack our belongings, and get rid of annoyance about the food being in the too-low cupboard with bad shelving. I will also toss out resentments over all things related to these four walls. I will let go of feeling crowded. Or burdened. And I will look for other things to let go of that I don’t realize are there yet. There will be abundant space, and light, and room for new possibility, and a sense of joy and welcome.
    - Stacey Murphy

I am in love. No, I am in lust! Kitchen lust! In House Beautiful, there are photographs of gorgeous kitchens. You know the ones: “Country Serenity,” with the requisite, exquisite collection of jadeite, blue and white ironstone, or vintage canisters that peep from behind sparkling glass doors in the white-painted custom-built wooden cabinets. A sea-green granite counter gleams, the appliances are state of the art, the white floor is artfully accented with an area rug whose tones pick up the colors of the cabinets’ contents and the sea-green granite. The “City Chic” kitchen sports immaculate white dinnerware on pristine glass open shelves. The walls are deep, saturated purple, blue, or blazing scarlet. The granite counters are white, the floor is reclaimed wood from an 18th century Parisian mansion, of course. What is wrong with these pictures? Where are the photos of our granddaughter, one for each of her 21 years, stuck to the fridge? Where’s the tiny, ancient TV perched on a small ledge for my husband’s morning dose of news? Why no favorite mug, chipped, waiting on the Formica counter? And where did they put my step-stool? Would I dare cook in any one of those kitchen? Perhaps, but I’d make such a mess! On second thought, my lust has evaporated. The affair is over.
    - Sue Norvell

See this photo of me in the kitchen with Teo. It is our first night home from the hospital, the third night of his life. I don’t know what I am warming up in the microwave, can’t remember what I ended up eating. In my face, see the softness, but the new edge, too. This is the face of somebody’s mama. See the pride: I grew him. I pushed him out. See the way he belongs. See the way the wrap I’m using to carry him is tied all wrong, though I practiced and practiced with a stuffed bunny while still pregnant. See how I don’t know it. See how I look like I know what I’m doing. See the way you just can’t know what’s to come. See me standing in the kitchen on Albany Street, believing I can fathom what it means to really love somebody.
    - Summer Killian

My grandmother’s kitchen, in Parchman, Mississippi, had a tiny pantry tucked away in a corner of the room. My grandfather had put in ceiling to floor shelves as well as a pull out counter for extra prep space. The shelves held colorful, beautiful jars of jams, jellies, canned vegetables, and jars of pickled everything. By everything, I mean not just pickles from cucumbers but things like peaches with cinnamon and cloves floating with the peaches, bright pickled corn relish, and green beans. There were big bins in the pantry holding flour, sugar, and cornmeal. She often went to the pantry, pulled out the counter and an enormous blue bowl (that my brother now has after I gave it to him in a sentimental moment) and she began making buttermilk biscuits. She never measured anything but simply spooned flour, baking powder, and salt into the bowl. She added butter or lard, crumbling it all together with her fingers, and then she added buttermilk that had been delivered that morning. Some of the milk she set aside to be churned into butter. She had a glass jar churn with a crank handle and all of us grandchildren clamored to be the one to turn the handle until — magically — butter appeared. She poured off the milk, scooped out the butter, and patted it into a stoneware dish that imprinted a design of a wheat stalk onto the top of the butter as it chilled.
    - Susan Annah Currie

It was a long ago July and I was 12 years old. After several relentless days in the car, my mother, brother, and I had traveled the last 12 miles by boat to install ourselves in a turn-of-the-century summer cottage on the Georgian Bay. My father would join us from our year-round home in Texas on the 1st of August. The dwelling was large and sprawling. The kitchen boasted a four-burner wood-burning stove, a pump handle fixed to the wall just inside the back door for pumping water straight out of the lake, an enamel dishpan, a kettle for heating water, and several drawers of utensils and tea towels. An electric light hung from a high rafter and a string was pulled to turn it on and off. There was a large window made of screening only, covered on the outside by a heavy wooden shutter. The second morning we were there, having breakfasted on bacon, I’m sure—there was always bacon—my mother decided to find out just what was in those drawers under the window. The first one she opened held a collection of ironed and folded tea towels at the front. But it was a deep drawer and she kept pulling it out as I watched. All of a sudden she screamed and snatched the drawer out, dashing it to the floor. My mother jumped up on a chair. I jumped up on another chair, as a clutch of tiny naked baby mice writhed and wriggled on the green linoleum floor. We looked at each other from our perches atop the chairs, my mum and I. And I laughed at her, and she laughed at me, and we stood there for the longest time just laughing atop our perches before we descended warily to the floor. I’m not sure what happened next, but I believe my mother used a broom to sweep the entire mess out the door. By the end of August, I had learned to bake a rather excellent cherry pie in the oven of the wood-burning stove.
    - Susan Lesser

My Italian grandmother was certainly mistress of the kitchen wherever she went. I remember visiting her in Manhattan when I was very little. While she waited for us at the top of the steep staircase to her apartment, my nose filled with the scents of oregano and garlic emanating from above. I'd look up, up, up to see her beaming face as I climbed each step. She'd laden the table in the cramped dining room with many of her specialities: spaghetti with meat balls, braciola, eggplant parmigiana (my favorite), sausage, and various fresh breads. When Grandma moved to New Jersey to be closer to family, she brought her kitchen with her. I remember eating her inimitable thick-crust pizza piping hot from the oven. Once when I was running late to a babysitting job, I put a wedge of veal parmigiana between two slices of her bread, wrapped it in foil and stuffed it into my purse to savor later. I've never quite figured out the exact combination of spices she used. She loved to add bay leaves to all of her sauces as they simmered on the stove. But I'm sure there was something more.
    - Theresa A. Cancro

I love my camping kitchen — enclosed in a big blue rubbermaid container heavy enough to sway the closet shelf, didn’t bring it in from the jeep until almost Christmas. Grills aluminum and cast iron, pot holders and a towel, detergent and sponge in a dish tub, kindling twigs and newspaper, a long lighter, matches and food gloves in a plastic bag, a small first-aid kit, paper plates, towels, and cups, sharp knives and a few utensils for fire and food (also a few plastic utensils in case of guests, you never know), a thin “cutting board” like a placemat, one checkered tablecloth and a nice blackened pot and lid. There’s a box with salt, pepper, sugar and terrible instant expresso that tastes great when I am relaxing at a picnic table near my tent, morning campfire almost ready for a bit of sirloin — first grilled last night — and bread that will toast with black stripes.
    -Tina Wright

His kitchen should have been a dead give-away that our upcoming marriage would not work in the end. Granted, there were high end appliances, copper pots, and Le Creuset cookware. But there were also Flamingo pink cabinets. What man paints his kitchen cabinets bright pink?  Blinded by love and the view of the Pacific ocean from the kitchen window, I took this palette choice as a sign of his rejection of our culture's restrictive social gender constructs. Here’s a man in touch with his feminine side, right? Curiously he spent little time in the kitchen, choosing to eat out whenever he could. His work as a gourmand and wine promoter required that he appeared frequently at restaurants and winery dinners. When he did entertain at home, which was rare, he hired a chef. Over time I came to realize that the kitchen’s pink cabinets were one of many signs of his narcissistic personality disorder. It was in the kitchen that his cruelty and subtle abusive behavior showed up for the first time. It was in the kitchen that one day I realized our marriage was in trouble.
    - Yvette Rubio


Many years ago I lived in London, in a bed-sitter not far from Hampstead Heath. It was a small room with a narrow bed, an over-stuffed chair, and a large clothes cabinet that tilted slightly to the left. There was a bathroom down the hall, and I had access to the back garden, but there was no kitchen — just an electric kettle for boiling water. I drank a lot of tea. I was a Bronx girl doing my best to appear English. Most evenings, on my way home from my job as a library assistant, I’d stop and buy a small bunch of anemones from a woman who called me “Love.” Then I’d pick up a spinach tart for supper, or some bread and cheese. As often as possible I’d eat out with friends, in one cheap restaurant or another. Sometimes a kind co-worker invited me to her flat for a home-cooked meal. I never asked anyone to visit me in my room. Except once. A friend was visiting from the States, spending a week in a posh West End hotel. We went together to museums and parks, saw a play, heard a concert. It seemed only right that I would have her over for a meal. I boiled water in the kettle and made us tea. I picked up Cornish pasties from the local pub. For dessert I made a little concoction with plain yogurt, a handful of cashews, and a few currants. My friend was polite. “Lovely, lovely,” she said, “everything is so lovely.” She was also trying to be English. Later, after she returned to America, she sent me a blue aerogram. “Get the hell out of that room,” she wrote. “Find someplace with a kitchen. Grow up already.” I crumpled the thin blue paper and tossed it in the waste basket. I was perfectly content in my bed-sitter. I didn’t want to cook, anyway. What did I need with a kitchen? 
     - Zee Zahava

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What We Are Looking Forward to in 2019

For the second year in a row I asked some people I know to share their hopes and dreams for the new year. Here are some of their responses. Perhaps you will feel inspired to ask yourself the question: what are YOU looking forward to in 2019?

doing the First Day hike on January 1; baking scones; working on creative projects every single day; hearing the first robin in my yard; getting better at hawk identification; riding my bike at least once every month of 2019; learning to weave; remembering morning meditation every day walking through the Cornell campus during quiet break times; organizing my art and sewing supplies; lighting candles more often; sitting outdoors in the moonlight; enjoying the freedom of not needing to wear a coat or to carry a bag, just leaving the house and walking; keeping a nature journal; looking for butterflies; blowing bubbles; creating things at Art Hive events; attending outdoor concerts; dancing more often; seeing the first summer fireflies; reading poetry; learning to recognize more constellations; remembering the importance of kindness

seeing two of our daughters graduate; learning new things in basketball; learning the song “Si jamais j'oublie" (if I ever forget) and singing it with our youngest daughter; dancing at the GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance in July; going to the Dances of Universal Peace weekend; walking, and walking some more; camping in Hector Forest; reading poetry, lots of poetry; kayaking on the lake when it's really smooth and quiet; working a little less; learning how to submit a poem for publication; going on a (possible) a trip to Nepal; dealing with my fear of heights if I do go to Nepal; dealing with some other fears while I’m at it; telling at least ten people at work that I love them; singing with friends from my high school days; making a bonfire and singing into the night until it's later than I imagined; holding hands with my sweetie and talking and laughing together

going sailing again, and hearing waves whisper past the hull; lots of reading: Julian of Norwich’s meditations, and Theresa of Avila’s too, as well as Emerson’s essays; getting my easel out and painting my dreams again; I believe that my one and only kidney will start functioning properly this year; I intend to write and write and write … poetry of course

learning how to make puff pastry, and incorporating it into 3 out of every 7 meals I cook

bumping along the highway of life in the stagecoach of time, sometimes grateful for a destination, sometimes longing to just get off and lie in a field, gaze up at the sky, listen to the horses snort and paw the dirt, grateful too

hearing new sounds; following a different routine; traveling further and discovering more; sitting in silence; cleaning out my closet; using my new day-planner; grabbing ahold of positivity and saying farewell to negativity; staring across the table at someone I could fall in love with; getting a new pair of glasses; getting a new tattoo, an ode to women's rage; reading books by bell hooks; using social media less; going on a real vacation; writing and sending more letters; creating boundaries and sticking to them; singing ABBA's classic hit "Mamma Mia" at karaoke and not caring that I can't actually sing; running two miles on the treadmill, running one mile outside; sharing what makes me happy with people who make me happy

going on a writing retreat with my friend Lilace; experiencing the next snow and the next and the next; organizing my study and then writing in it; trying a new recipe or two; seeing my son Matt who is back from the Philippines; meeting my daughter-in-law from the Philippines; teaching Tai Chi; seeing “Brigadoon” in Niagara-on-the Lake; getting to know a new writer friend; going on adventures; writing some Saturday with Zee and others; reading Michelle Obama's “Becoming”

visiting my dear friend in Kansas; knitting up that mountain of yarn that now sits in the corner; seeing my oldest grandchild settled and happy; no longer having to see that huge dead willow tree by our stream; getting a chance to write with a group again; reading to the Pre-K class where my youngest great-grandson will be a student; participating with others who are exploring the history of their roots; reorganizing the huge pile of books I'm planning to read

a handsome man with oodles of money (an esteemed publisher!) will fall insanely in love with me; there will be mounds of friends knocking my door down, with invitations galore

opening nine more boxes (out of ten) — my mother's things — she left us three years ago and I am still finding treasures in the first box, but it is so hard to look; visiting England, a country I have never been to, and then going on to see friends who live in a thatched cottage in Nordfriesland; having an 18 course dinner party to celebrate the publication of my book of 18 poems; more writing, yoga, walking, museums, gardens, tai chi, music, dancing, singing, and smiling; creating an atmosphere of as much peace as possible, with quiet moments and new perspectives

laughing with my brother; picking fresh blueberries; floating down a river; writing with friends; being part of a play reading; giving and receiving hugs; making funny faces with my dog; dancing in the kitchen; breathing in some joy; reading some good novels; swimming in the lake

visiting a Colombian beach I haven’t seen in 45 years; figuring out how to use my new watercolor pen, which requires deciphering the instructions which are written in the form of Chinese characters; writing and recording two new songs; finding just the right botanical name for my friend’s grand-daughter; enjoying at least six months without a single medical appointment; reviewing my archives to salvage three good stories from my life; writing countless 700-word stories with my pen-pal in Florida; digitizing and publishing our family cookbook with my grandmother’s dessert recipes; calling my best friend every day just to check in and appreciate her; teaching my grandson to write haiku in Spanish

stretching my body and my mind; locating the still point, again and again; staying active: walks on the beach, walks on the road, walks in the woods, keeping my body moving; reading non-fiction; doing volunteer work at an animal rescue shelter someplace in the tropics; cooking large group dinners for friends and family; worrying less; if not easy times then at least easy laughter

keeping on writing; seeing the crocus and snowdrops come up; no deer eating my garden, especially not the tomatoes; lightening up; seeing Indiana University Women's Basketball team continuing to do well; hoping that our independent bookstore will stay open; more cloudless nights, so I can see the moon enjoying another poetry series on PBS; experiencing a good night's sleep; keeping my hearing

walking every day and eating a healthier diet; returning to my Tai Chi and meditation practices; learning how to make essential oil candles; practicing the piano for half an hour, five days a week; bringing fresh flowers to the table once a week, or whenever they need changing; watching the new-born alligators and checking their progress until they can climb up on their mother’s back; observing otters, wood storks, egrets, and all the other shorebirds; spending time doing nothing; hugging trees, and sitting with my back against them; reading some of the many books that are stacked on my nightstand; setting aside one day each week for writing, with no distractions from the telephone or the computer; writing one haiku a day, but not expecting perfection, not even close; watching sun set every night

figuring out the joys of being  an “old old” person; reading all the way through my file of the 40 annual letters sent to friends in all the years between 1978 and 2019; eating slowly and fully tasting the foods I put in my mouth; seeking and finding ways to share my relative comfort and abundance with others in desperate circumstances e.g., the starving children of Yemen and their stricken parents; creating an essay for my seven young adult grandchildren about “What I Wish I Had Known at Your Age”; keeping the clothing I own that helps to make me feel ready for whatever might happen — for example, keeping extra blue jeans and sturdy night gowns; stopping myself from thinking of memories as things and times that I have lost — I want to think of them as times that I can experience again whenever I feel so inclined because they are still quite vivid in my memory

listing/documenting/photographing many of my beloved objects (paintings, furniture, scarves, pillows, lamps) so that my family and friends, and I, will remember their genesis and emotional value; tracing the careers of my doctoral advisees, mostly women, and feeling  proud; thinking often of the beautiful places I have seen — such as the island of Eigg off the west coast of Scotland, the Summer Palace at Beijing, the small village of Dolna Krupa in Slovakia, the old-growth forest of Heart’s Content, NYC crowds at Christmas, Trim’s Corners in Pennsylvania, the Oregon coast, etc.; being proud of my fortitude as I turn off the TV news and actually meditate in the resulting quiet; remembering to get a haircut before I feel totally uncared for; getting my CD player repaired or replaced so I can again hear the music I have long loved without the recent gurgles and skips that are so  bad; rereading, and rereading, and rereading, yet again, many of the writings that I love — written by me and by others

holding my love of truth (and my adventurous lover's hand) as I choose decisively and deliciously into dare; visiting my kid in New York City because love calls me there, though some inner ghost of my old parched, loveless self would resist and whine (pain-in-the-ass of getting there, dizzying buzz of being there); re-friending the big night sky, mind-blowingly charged with stars and powdered starlight, even though that opening requires exiting my cozy in-town world — but how would it not be worth it to weave back into my sight and soul those silver-gold threads of a firmament so grand I cannot fathom how I lost it from view

drinking coffee in a Paris CafĂ© and eating a croissant; becoming more fluent in French and being able to speak to people without putting my foot in my mouth by saying the wrong thing; returning to Ithaca in mid-April and dusting off my binoculars for birding season; hoping to find an exotic bird as I did two years ago when I found the elusive “yellow breasted chat” that had not been seen in Ithaca for 14 years; taking life slow, deepening my meditation practice, and experiencing gratitude every day

a year of transformation, healing, and new growth; pruning back my hours at work and creating space and time and fresh air to be me again; decluttering and downsizing my home; slow cooking steaming pots of day-long soup; tracing my family roots; starting a book about coping with climate change; reading “Braiding Sweetgrass” as a weekly meditation; learning to work with animal spirit guide oracle cards that were gifted to me; writing more, writing more, writing more

taking long walks without the fear of falling; hunkering down in the quiet of winter and enjoying the sweet slow days of the season; going to the Women’s March in January; being able to use 2 hands after my wrist heals; watching myself heal, more and more each day; doing my physical therapy exercises; being able to drive again; going to Mexico where the sun shines in February; creating a new performance piece and performing it; getting back to Zumba; gaining a new perspective on life, with gratitude and joy whenever possible; returning to Maine in September; swimming in the warm pool; lowering my expectations; dreaming of a life that’s fair for all

writing — a lot; reading — a lot; having real snow, and at least one of those impossibly bright blue cold days that follows a real snow; getting off my blood pressure medication; accepting the invitation to visit, from my nephew who lives on a houseboat in Washington, the only state besides Alaska I’ve not set foot in; trusting my tears; no longer owning a car — yay Carshare and Lime Bikes; eating more spinach (really!); getting in the lake (not Cayuga) naked; sitting in that curved place in the gorge where the phoebe lives and waiting until he sings; smelling Spring, smelling Fall; learning how to stream WSKG; when tempted to use Amazon, remembering the people who work like frantic ants in the windowless warehouses; believing what I feel during yoga; simplify, simplify, simplify

letting go; being more daring; living where my feet are; being a nicer person; creating better relationships with my family and spending more time with them; being more compassionate and tolerant; losing some weight; watching more sunsets and appreciating the day they represented; connecting more with friends; traveling more; maybe, just maybe, actively searching for new love; worrying less about things I cannot change

acquainting myself with my body; shepherding wayward thoughts; enjoying cups of tea; having respectful dealings with food; accepting all that enters through the gate, as ally and friend; experiencing a renaissance of health; feeling gratefulness in all things

lying on my back, floating on water, the sun warming me; celebrating a 25th anniversary with my beloved; sharing long meals and conversation and laughter with dear friends; cooking with Zee; slipping the boat away from the dock and onto the lake; returning to Venice to sit along the Misericordia Canal, with my writing notebook, a pen, and a glass of red wine; cuddling with the grandkids; caring for my 88-year-old mother, so that her final years are filled with comfort and laughter and joy; spending a part of each day reflecting on the gratitude I feel for being alive; sitting, stretching, breathing; planning the first public exhibit of my photographs; lying in bed, just after sunset, as summer breezes fill the room and crickets and cicadas orchestrate my dreams; standing naked in front of the mirror and learning to accept/appreciate/love the curves and gray hair — and the history they contain

integrating spiritual lessons into my daily life; being authentic; letting true intimacy come into my life; recognizing my needs and not being afraid to put them out there, even if they are rejected, because I can love myself; living a life that is free because I have learned to forgive; being grateful that I have reached this place in my life that feels true; being open to the magic of everyday living; being open to love without expectation; having magical moments with the magical womyn in my life; getting to know and trust someone new in my life and being honest about who I am and what I need, with no expectations; accepting that I do not have to be anything more than who I am; having sex with authenticity, and knowing for the first time what that means

perfecting “Wave Like Clouds” in Tai Chi; singing "Fly Me to the Moon" with my 92-year-old mother; forming more snow angels; substituting chocolate for anti-depressants; learning how to say “I Love You” in 10 languages; celebrating my wrinkles as roadmaps to a happy long life; inviting the Muses into my writing room for a cup of peppermint tea with honey; remembering that each day is a Holyday; lighting candles and saying aloud the names of the lost; welcoming the 13 wild turkeys who visit our yard every morning for cracked corn and birdseed; planting sunflowers in the backyard so it will look like Grandpa's garden; empowering my voice so I can use it like Aretha's: with RESPECT; walking lightly and leaving soft footprints on the earth; unwrapping the only present I have, knowing each minute is a gift; beginning and ending each day with “Thank You”

picking up a brush and having an adventure with color; biking for miles and miles and miles; building a better bird house with my grandson; creating a pool with cascading water beneath my window; continuing my once a year tradition of body surfing in the Atlantic; reading 50 books and being able to remember every one; planting zinnias in the corner garden come spring so they will provide a festive colorful party in the summer for all the passersby

taking a long, hot, bubbly bath on New Year's day to wash away all my negative thoughts; taking short day trips with my husband to unusual places we've never heard of before; planting an above-ground vegetable garden that will give me juicy tomatoes, snappy carrots, okra, maybe even a few peppers (none nibbled on by yard rabbits); reviving my miniature rose plants in late spring; writing new forms of poetry and prose I've wanted to experiment with; continuing my study of Spanish using old and new techniques and resources, like books, CDs, online sessions, and occasional real-time classes; writing entries in my personal memoir notebook

sending more hand written letters through the U.S. Post Office; losing that same 10 pounds once again; finishing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in 2 hours; being better at remembering people’s names

listening to a new TED talk every day (or at least once a week); spending more time by myself, with myself; keeping regular hours: consistency with waking up and going to sleep; accepting myself — my weaknesses and my strengths; listening more carefully when others talk; shutting off my computer every afternoon at 4 p.m. and spending the evening/night reading; sending postcards to friends whenever I feel like it, not waiting for there to be a special occasion or even for there to be something vital to share

finding a job that I love and look forward to each day; writing alone and also with my writing friends; publishing something/anything that I’ve written; only eating food that I enjoy with the purpose of nourishment and pleasure; holding my husband’s hand so he knows I'm here beside him; honoring my sorrow and grief with grace and kindness;  maintaining strong loving boundaries with everyone — for my sake and theirs; owning only what is mine to own; allowing the past to be in the past so that I can move through the world without dragging what doesn’t work into each precious moment

walking more in nature for my well-being, walking in the city to remind me that I'm part of something bigger, and walking at the gym so I won't fall, again, on the ice; playing everyday with my dogs and letting their sweet acceptance remind me of the light in the dark; smiling and laughing and playing and running and being with my grandson; appreciating my daughter’s thoughtful navigation of life; moving my body so that it can continue to carry me in the world with more ease and comfort as I go further into my 6th decade; siting in meditation and gratitude for this precious life; being in quiet understanding of the certainty of change

being less judgmental; dancing with my grandchildren; having special times with my husband; holding dear the love of my children; helping my mom and dad and brothers; listening and truly hearing others; losing the weight I've let on, and if I don't, still being okay with that; going to Italy!; inspiring all my 5th grade students, especially the reluctant ones; learning to knit; finishing a quilt with my mom; meditating more; running in another half marathon (maybe); helping others in recovery; watching for miracles of all kinds, especially the ones that seem ordinary — like a smile, or a letter, or any just-the-right-thing at any just-the-right-time

I am looking forward to hot summer days with the kids at the Stewart Park splash pad; the feeling of time starting over again; a really big February or March snowstorm that takes us by surprise and shuts down the town for a day or so; planting the first seedlings and maybe keeping some alive; the magic of the strawberries out back, growing again without any effort at all on my part, which is a true miracle for a mother of toddlers; placing another tiny pin in the map of National Parks; and of course: Ithaca Festival Parade

THANK YOU to all these contributors:

Anne Killian-Russo
Annie Wexler
Antonia Matthew
Barbara Anger
Barbara Cartwright
Barbara Kane-Lewis
Blue Waters
Fran Markover
Helen Lang
Ian Mickey Shapiro
Jamie Swinnerton
Jennifer VanAlstine
Jim Mazza
Jo Balistreri
Joan McNerney
Joanna Weston
Judith Sornberger
Kath Abela Wilson
Linda Keeler
Margaret Lay-Dopyera
Mary Jane Richmond
Mary Louise Church
Mimi Foyle
Nancy Gabriel
Peggy Stevens
Rob Sullivan
Sharon Fellows
Summer Killian
Susan Koon
Theresa A. Cancro
Yvonne Fisher
Zee Zahava