Gratitude in a Time of Crisis


“dragonfly” by davedehetre is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Like all of you, I am living in the strangest and most stressful of times. Like you, I am dealing with all of the sadness, worry and fear that has come with the Covid-19 global pandemic.

I am afraid of getting sick and dying. I am afraid of passing on this terrible sickness to my 90 year old mother, and to my newborn grandson.

I am worried about the collapsing economy, and about all of those I know and love who suddenly find themselves without jobs. I worry about the trauma of having done everything right, from completing college to getting a decent job, to paying back student loans, and yet having it all fall apart because of a microbe that none of us can see.

I am sad about the people I can’t hug. My sons, my siblings, my friends. I miss the contact. I miss the support. I miss the feeling of being loved.

But even in the midst of all of this, I know that I am incredibly blessed. I know it, and I am trying to hold on to that awareness.

In March, when the world shut down and all of us huddled in our respective nests, I was grateful to have a spouse whose company I treasure. I was grateful for our house, for the safety of our three kids, for the fact that his job could continue from home.

In April and May, I was grateful that my daughter and her family live only a half a mile away, and are part of our “quaranteam”. I was so thankful to be able to see them and hold them and be a part of their Covid life.

In June I was grateful for my big yard, and the chance to grow some food. I was grateful for the fact that I live in a place where farms and farmstands and local markets abound.

But July came around, and I found myself tired of the stress, worried about the worry, anxious about the future. My daughter is a teacher, and I am scared to death of her return to the classroom. My sons have jobs that have them interacting with the public, and I am so afraid of them getting sick.

I am worried about my 90 year old Mom, and about my siblings who help to care for her. I am worried about my little granddaughter, who won’t be going to kindergarten in September after all.

It is getting harder every day to stay grateful.

But sometimes there is a moment of grace, and we are forced to see how lucky we are.

At 64 years old, it isn’t surprising that I have developed a set of cataracts. My eye doctor told me a year ago that I should think about having them removed “in a year”.

But in early February I realized that I couldn’t see to drive at night. I realized that my vision was getting more and more murky, and so I made an appointment to go back to the doctor.

He checked my vision and told me with a bit of surprise that my vision was deteriorating much faster than he’d anticipated. We made an appointment to have my cataracts removed in late March.

But, alas, Covid arrived and elective surgery went away.

So I waited. My vision grew foggier and grayer, and driving even in the light of day became a challenge.

And here is my moment of gratitude.

Last week, at last, I had my right eye repaired. The cataract was removed and a new lens was put in place. The vision in my right eye went from 20/80 to 20/25 in an hour.

Last night I sat on our deck, watching the sun set and feeling the breeze. I laid my head back against the deck chair, and looked up.

Far overhead, whizzing along like a rocket, I saw a dragonfly. He swooped and dove and sped off over my rooftop.

And I could see him.

I held my breath, and let the tears flow down.

“I can see you,” I whispered. Another dragonfly sped past, and then another.

We are still living in a time of danger and sadness. But I am suddenly so grateful.

I can look up. I can see a dragonfly.

I am more than blessed, and I am determined to remember that.

So Are Schools Vital or Not?


Oh, what a funny, funny time to be alive! After more than 6 decades of life, it suddenly seems that everything we thought we knew to be true has morphed into something else.

Up is down, dark is light, medical masks cause disease, scientists are diabolical villains and game show hosts are prophets.

I tell you, it can make a Nonni’s head spin.

Let’s think about public schools, for example.

As the mom of three grown children, I have many fond memories of standing in line at the store to buy pencils, crayons, markers, tissues and hand sanitizer for my kids’ classrooms. I didn’t mind donating to the classes, but I did wonder why our country didn’t value education enough to provide the money for basic supplies.

I was a teacher for about 30 years, too. I’ve lived through many years of budget cuts, layoffs of staff and an inability to update materials. I’ve taught in buildings with no air conditioning, windows that couldn’t be opened and bits of ceiling tile falling on our desks.

I even taught in one building where the sixth grade kids had metal buckets on their desks because hot water was leaking from the ceiling pipes.

A couple of decades ago, I served on my local school committee. In that role, I had the interesting experience of trying to convince government officials that schools were essential places.

Hahaha. That was fun.

The federal government only provides about 10% of the public school budget, but they didn’t want to hear that we needed more support for the many special needs kids in the district. They weren’t convinced when we asked for more staff to support those kids and the teachers struggling to meet their needs. They were busy spending money on new aircraft carriers; they didn’t have time to deal with the problems of little kids.

The state government sounded a little more open. Our committee explained to our governor and state legislature that we hadn’t been able to update our technology in years, and that kids lacked access to the internet. They felt bad, but, gosh, they explained, there’s only so much money to go around. They explained that everyone wanted a piece of the pie, but we couldn’t just come in and ask for a bigger piece.

(Humble brag coming: I told Gov. Mitt Romney that he needed a bigger pie.)

The state clearly didn’t find public education to be much of a priority. They ignored our request for help.

And then there was our local government. To be fair, our town is not wealthy. We are a semi-rural town with very little business to add to our tax base. Our property taxes are pretty high, given the economic status of many of our residents.

But the schools were really struggling while I was on the school committee. We weren’t doing well enough on state tests, we had outdated buildings, old books and too few support staff. We tried to convince the townspeople and the selectboard that we needed more funds.

It didn’t go well.

So you see, I have more than 35 years of experience with public schools. I have had decades to recognize how little respect our country has for them. I’ve spent years hearing, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

I’ve heard that schools are too rigid and that they are too lenient. I’ve heard that teachers are lazy. That the curriculum is “dumbed down” and that classrooms are just “babysitting.” I’ve heard that school push too hard and that they don’t push hard enough.

I’ve had engineers, lawyers, truck drivers and dental assistants tell me what I am doing wrong as a teacher. Everyone around me has always seemed to have the belief that they could handle a public school classroom without cracking a sweat.

So you can imagine how amused I am listening to those same people, from my own friends to Betsy DeVos, as they demand that schools reopen RIGHT ON TIME!!

I just heard a well known Senator lamenting about all of the dangerous things that are happening with schools closed. Did you know that without our teachers being on alert, hordes of kids are being abused at home and nobody knows it? And that kids are suffering from depression and anxiety because they are not able to be in classrooms with their friends and teachers?

I hear government officials at every level saying that public schools keep children safe, and that education is absolutely vital. They are insisting that our kids desperately need the support of the mental health staff and nurses at school. I have heard that without the chance to gather together in one place, children will suffer irretrievable loss.

Wow.

All of a sudden, public school is the bedrock upon which all of society stands. All of a sudden, teachers are the most essential line of defense between civilization and it’s utter collapse.

I agree.

But it strikes me as both laughable and sad that it took devastating global crisis for this country to recognize the crucial nature of public schools.

I’m thinking about the fact that most schools don’t have enough space to keep kids apart. And about the huge number of schools that have crappy ventilation. About the huge number that lack modern, sanitary bathroom facilities.

Where was all this interest when teachers were begging for new buildings?

I remember all the times I was told that “now isn’t the right time” to update technology. I was once asking for a new router for our High School and an elderly member of the finance committee scolded me. “I got through school without the internet and I did just fine.”

Where was all the demand for updated technology when we asked for it decades ago?

I’m thinking of the times when our schools didn’t have enough money for more counselors. I’m remembering when we had to cut teaching staff because the funding just wasn’t there to keep us all.

Perhaps if this country had valued public education then as much as it does now, we’d be in better shape to safely reopen. Maybe if we had given our children safe, clean, spacious buildings in which to learn, we could manage a socially distanced teaching model now. Maybe if we had continuously updated access to technology for all schools, we’d be able to move easily into a hybrid education model.

If only we had continued to fund the appropriate support staff, our schools could reopen with the ability to screen kids for all of the trauma caused by the pandemic.

If only.

What a strange time to be alive.

Self-Care in the US, July 2020


It is so hot today. The air is dense and wet. Sweat is dripping down my spine, making me feel achy and tired.

Paul and I decide in the mid-afternoon to give ourselves a break. We drive across town to our local state park, stopping in the nearly empty lot, leaving our glasses and our wallets in the car.

There are two families swimming in the tiny roped off “safe area” of the pond. The air smells of pine resin and wood smoke, drifting from the little campground across the pond.

I drop my towel on the gritty sand. I shed my shorts and sweaty tee-shirt. My glasses land on the pile. I draw in one deep resonant breath.

I am in the water, well past the ropes. I am on my back, my arms and legs loose and boneless around me. The water surrounds my face like the cowl of a nun.

With water in my ears, I can’t hear the world. I can’t hear the angry yells or the complaints or the demands. I am deaf to everything except the beating of my own heart. I listen to the silence. My body relaxes.

I lie with my vision limited to a circle right above me. Smooth blue sky. Silky blue. Two small puffed clouds. Nothing else. I let my eyes relax, I let them stop trying to focus.

I drift.

Afloat on the gentlest of currents, my arms are floating at my sides. The top of the water is warm. Liquid sunlight fills my palms. An inch lower, and that same current brings water so cold that my bone marrows thickens.

I swirl my hands and my arms through the green water of the pond. Warm, cold, sunlight and ice. I cannot hear the world, I cannot see the world.

But I feel the earth around me. I smell the trees and the mud and the tiny green frogs that jump out of the grass. A dragonfly lands on my forehead, decides that I am neither flower nor insect, and bursts away across the top of the water.

I float. The sun hits my skin.

I am carried by the water, and for the first time in weeks, I feel no pain. My joints are loose, my muscles free. No part of me catches or clutches or aches.

I float. The breeze brushes my lashes.

Here in this tiny pond, in this small American town, I am free. I am neither too much nor too little. I am none of the things that pull on my mind and my heart. I am not needed, or depended upon, or subject to anybody’s judgment.

Here in this cool/warm sunkissed water, I am only one more floating organism, drifting on the current, touched by the sky, held up by mother nature for no particular reason.

Here in this silken green water, I don’t have to think about the left or the right or the virus or the stock market. Here in the arms of this water spirit, I am not fighting or struggling or arguing or trying to change the world.

Right now, in this small pond, in this small town, I am only a woman taking a break from the heat and the worry and the world.

This is self care. This is how I can take care of me.

I hope that you have all found a similar way to turn off this human mess and embrace the real world around us.

It Isn’t Paranoia


“we’ll become” by Genista is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The year was 1980. I was sitting in a dimly lit hospital room. The pale yellow walls were streaked with cigarette smoke. A woman sat on the edge of the bed, her arms pressed against her middle, her eyes fixed on the floor.

She rocked back and forth, a rhythmic self-soothing motion that was somehow both sad and frustrating. A lit cigarette dangled from her dry lips.

I was in the room with a young and eager psychiatrist, newly minted and ready to help. His questions were asked in a gentle voice, in perfect American English. I was there to translate them into the Russian spoken by our elderly patient.

She was a recent immigrant to Boston from what was then the Soviet Union. She was one of a wave of Russian Jews who were coming to the US with the help of the aid organization HIAS. I was one of a handful of young interpreters who helped with their resettlement. Today I was interpreting an intake assessment for a severely depressed older woman and her psychiatrist. She had been admitted to the hospital the night before when her son found her unable to settle, to stop pacing or to be calmed.

The assessment didn’t take long, because the patient failed to answer most of the questions. Instead, she repeatedly mumbled about strangers in black jackets who she feared would break down the door. She stood up a few times to peer out the small window, scanning the street for the “black cars” that would come to take her away to an unknown prison.

After the interview, I sat with the psychiatrist, another doctor and a psychiatric nurse to review and clarify what had been recorded. As we finished, the young psychiatrist turned to his supervisor and said, “It certainly seems like paranoid delusions. She actually believes that strangers are going to come and take her away in the night.” The team was planning to treat her for psychosis.

“Wait,” I said. I didn’t usually say much in meetings like this, because I was only a 22 year old Soviet Studies major with no medical training. But this time it was different.

“She isn’t making this up,” I told the team. “In the 1930s, under Stalin, the secret police broke open her door in the middle of the night. She and her husband were taken away and put in prison. He was sent to Siberia and he never came back.”

I looked at the frowning faces in front of me. They didn’t know the history of the Soviet Union under the dictator Josef Stalin. In the middle of an American summer day, the idea of unmarked secret police taking people away without any evidence of a crime seemed improbable enough to make them doubt my story. This was the United States. There were laws protecting citizens from this kind of illicit action.

They couldn’t believe that such a thing was possible. But I knew it was. I had studied the history, but I had also spoken to the survivors. This frail woman, rocking and smoking and living in constant fear, was not the first survivor of Stalin’s regime that I’d met. I head heard her story from her son, and from her current husband. I had heard similar stories of men going out to work and never coming home. I knew one man who had been snatched off the street and sent to a labor camp where he was held for five years, never knowing whether his family was still alive.

I finally convinced the team that what I was telling them was true, and they verified it through the patient’s family. Her treatment was adjusted and within a few weeks the worst of her severe depression and anxiety was eased.

I think about her sometimes.

Lately, though, I think more about that medical team. If they are still alive now, what do they think of what is happening in the US today?

Do they realize now how easy it is for people to slowly lose their rights? Do they understand how an autocratic leader can convince people that in order to be safe they need to give up some freedoms?

I hope that as they watch the news unfolding in Portland, they recognize the incredible danger facing the US at this moment. I hope they speak out, loudly. I hope they share the story of that one old survivor and what happened to her family.

The Passing Years, and How to Count Them


My family is enormously lucky because we live in a place that is green, and beautiful. Our house is surrounded by trees.

We’ve been in this house for 30 years. That seems so hard to believe. My husband Paul and I raised our three kids here. We’ve had two cats and five dogs at different times in this house.

Parts of the yard have been, at various times over the years, a baseball diamond, a hockey rink, a vegetable garden, a flower bed, a strawberry patch and a place to put the swings.

Now the kids are all grown up and on their own, and it’s time for us to start looking forward. In another ten or so years, we plan to sell this house and move someplace with less upkeep. It’s time.

With that thought in mind, we’re hiring someone to help clean up this huge yard and make things look neater and less overgrown. I have mixed feelings about it, isn’t that weird?

I walk around and I look at what is now a big rock buried in raspberry and blackberry vines. I remember thirty years ago, when that was the site of my first little garden. I planted “hens and chicks” and other succulents, thinking it would be a rock garden. I didn’t anticipate the encroachment of the woods. It didn’t occur to me that Mother Nature had her own plans.

The arborist is going to take down a tall, slender oak tree near our driveway. It is competing with other trees for sunlight and is now leaning toward our deck. It shades an entire section of lawn. Everything will look more open, more sunny, when it is gone.

But I remember one warm summer morning when that oak was about my height. I laid on the grass with our new puppy in my arms and looked at the sky through its leaves. That puppy is long gone now, crossed over the rainbow bridge in his old age. I look at that oak tree, and I remember his soft ears and his puppy smell. I don’t really want the tree to go. But it’s time.

There is a little grove of baby white pines that need to be taken out, too. They stand together, like a little family that has silently stepped out of the forest and into our yard. They silently watch the grass where my kids used to play “desert land.” They need to come down, but I will miss them.

I can count the passage of our family’s years by looking at the tree stumps that now stand in the yard. There’s the stump of a tree that once held a toddler’s swing. There is the stump of a pine that used to guard a squirrel nest.

Time passes, and we know we are aging. My mirror and my bones tell me that!

But I forget sometimes that this house and this yard are aging, too. It will be good to have it cleaned up, and to have the woods retreat back to where they belong.

Still, there is a little piece of me that wishes for something else. Perhaps it would be magic, I think, if we simply moved away and let the forest gently and slowly enfold the house where our children grew up. Let her cover it up and keep it safe, like a tender memory that can only be revisited in dreams.

Image: “Pine Tree and others” by scottc320 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

E Pluribus Unum


Here we are in the United States of America, in the year of our Lord, 2020. We are in an election year. We are in a year of record high temperatures around the globe.

And we are in the year when the world is grappling with a new and deadly disease for which there is neither a treatment nor a cure.

I wonder why our conversations online don’t reflect these facts? I wonder why the headlines aren’t focused on how to address any of these concerns?

I wonder.

Today I read about whether or not we need masks. I didn’t see a lot of factual information, and I didn’t see any ideas about how we might make the wearing of masks a more positive experience. I didn’t read much about making masks free or affordable.

What I did read is that people who wear masks are weak snowflakes who are buying into Bill Gates’ attempt to take over the world. I read that people who won’t wear masks are ignorant, selfish rednecks who want to kill all the old people.

Today I read stories and posts about whether or not Black lives matter in this country. I read about the question of whether or not racism exists. I read that the Black Lives Matter Movement is a Marxist attempt to take over the country. I read that every person who timidly states that they’re not racist is a history denying, ignorant self-centered privileged “Karen”.

We’re furious at each other about statues and about pieces of cloth and about words painted on city streets. We’re pouring all of our famous American ingenuity into meaningless memes that make the “other side” look stupid.

Fellow Americans: What the HELL are we doing???????

Here’s what I know.

A lot of radical lefties are in the ICU with COVID-19. They are in the same unit with a lot of right wing conservative MAGAs. They’re all on the same oxygen that keeps humans alive.

I know that a bunch of completely apolitical people have lost their jobs and their insurance and are scared to death of what’s coming next. I know that a bunch of political activists have lost their jobs and their insurance and are scared to death to think about next month.

You know who is at risk of COVID? White people. Also brown ones. And Asians. And dark black recent African immigrants. And Europeans. And Pacific Islanders and red heads and Puerto Ricans and Japanese and Bahamians and New Zealanders. Don’t forget Russians, Poles, Italians, Greeks, Egyptians, Tunisians and Siberian residents. People with glasses and people who run marathons. Singers and accountants and engineers and teachers and Grandmas and babies.

Every. Human. Being. Is. At. Risk.

Why aren’t we focused on how to make it better? Some of my very conservative family members are businessmen. They are creative and efficient. Why aren’t we seeing them come up with efficient solutions to help businesses stay open and stay safe? Is it because they’re too busy finding and sharing memes about “owning the libs”?

Some of my very liberal friends and family are artists and therapists and teachers. They are creative, imaginative and flexible. Why aren’t they publicly sharing ideas about how to maximize our human talent in ways that will support the community? Could it be because they are getting some weird pleasure out of finding and sharing memes about the stupidity of conservatives?

I don’t know.

I’m as guilty as anyone else, though, that I will admit.

Today I argued with my Uncle about the definition of “antifa”. My Uncle, who I have known and loved my entire life. My uncle, who is one of the funniest, most clever, most intelligent guys in the world. He is informed, he is smart, he is articulate. We completely disagree on political and economic issues, but so the hell what?

Why am I not asking him how he’d approach the reopening of businesses in this climate? Why am I wasting my time pointing fingers and arguing about which side’s vandals desecrated a truly sacred memorial?

I don’t know. I know that I’m scared. I know that I want this to be over. I know that I want to be able to hug my mom again, to kiss my sons again. I want to be with my friends and I want to know that this blessed earth is a safe place for my children to raise more children.

I’d like to find a way to remind my loved ones, conservative and liberal, that everyone is in the same boat and that the storm is raging. It doesn’t matter who is captain right now. It matters that all of us mere sailors start working together to bail her out, keep her steady, and get her back to shore.

The D’s and the R’s can call each other names all they want. Nancy and Chuck can point fingers at Mitch and Donnie all they want and vice versa.

But we, we Americans, we the people, we damn well better find a way to work together and stop our stupid bickering. If we don’t, this old boat is going to crash itself on the shoals and we are all going to go down into the endless deep together.

E pluribus unum.

Time to find our unum.

Oh, Poor, Poor Me


Well, jeez.

I am so tired.

I haven’t been this tired since I was 17 years old and had to endure the horror of working for SEVEN HOURS on a Saturday. I did that every week for months on end. And at the end of every single “all day” shift, I dragged my exhausted butt home where I collapsed in a heap until Mom served dinner and I could replenish my health before heading out for a night of fun with my friends.

Yeah, the COVID lockdown has reminded me of one fascinating fact of life:

No matter how much work you do in a day, it will always feel like it’s too much.

Consider this: when I was a high school student, I went to school for six hours a day. I did a little bit of homework every night. (cough, cough…well, it felt like more at the time).

Because I came from a hard working family, my parents had “encouraged me” to get an after school job. I was forced to spend a full TWELVE HOURS a week slaving at the local grocery store.

I didn’t hate the job (#cuteboys) but I did feel unbelievably tired every Sunday. Phew, poor me. School, plus friends, plus job….I was just wiped out.

Then I went to college. Hahahahah. I still didn’t study very much ( I majored in Russian studies, so I happily avoided any classes that would have taxed either my interest or my brain.) I had a couple of part time jobs to help me pay tuition, but none were particularly difficult. Still, I was so often just plain TIRED. Wow. College classes, a commute, a job? I was sure that I would expire at any moment.

Then I graduated, attended grad school and got my MS degree. Now I had a REAL job. An actual professional, bring-the-paperwork-home job. Wow. So much stress! So much work!

This went on for a couple of years before I had my first child. And then I had a couple more.

By the time I was in my mid-thirties, I had a full time job, a long commute, three kids, a house to manage and seven dinners a week to produce on command.

THAT was tired. THAT was a hard row to hoe. At that point in my life, you could have shaken me awake at 3 Am and asked me about the contents of our cabinets. I’d have been able to tell you exactly which foods, meds, clothes and supplies were there and which were on the “list”.

Those were the years when I’d dream of cooking a pot of pasta sauce. In my dream, I would look over my shoulder and see that in addition to my three kids and a couple of their friends, two of my students had appeared. In the dream, I’d open another can of tomatoes and add some spices, and just keep stirring. Then I’d look back and see four more students and a couple of their parents at my table. I’d add more to the pot, and keep on stirring.

Those were my really hard working days.

And they are far behind me now. Now I’m retired. My kids are grown and gone. Most days find me without enough to fill the hours.

So here’s my question:
Why do I still feel like some days are just such hard work?

For example, today I woke up at 8, showered and dressed, had my breakfast and read the news. Then I wrote a short article for Medium. At 10 I had a half hour Zoom violin lesson with my lovely and supportive teacher. I practiced for another half hour.

Then I paid the bills (on line. Both bills). I did a load of laundry. My Instacart order of groceries was delivered, and I put all four bags of food away.

At 2, I went to the bank, and then to our local farmer’s market where I bought a few things. I came home, planted my new thyme, and did a little weeding.

So.

By 4, I hadn’t actually done any real work. Why did my day feel so…..full? Why did I feel as if I’d done a bunch of hard work?

I don’t know.

All I can tell you is that I suddenly understand my 17 year old self, and I recognize the feeling of having done SO. MUCH. WORK.

It’s kind of funny.

Anyway, it’s almost 8 PM. Time for me to head in for a good night’s sleep.

Dad Made Things


My Dad was a pretty typical father of the 50s, 60s and beyond. He went to work while Mom stayed at home with the six kids. He earned the money. He was the provider.

Dad came home every evening right around 6pm. Dinner was just about ready, and we were around the table. A drink was made, Dad took a sip, then settled down for dinner with the brood.

He was a good provider. He was a breadwinner.

But that isn’t what I remember tonight, as I think about Father’s Day and what my Dad meant to me.

What I remember about my Dad was that he made things.

Just for fun, just for a sense of creativity, my Dad made things.

When I was a very little girl, he made pancakes. He did it every Saturday morning while encouraging my Mom to sleep in a bit. Dad would get up with all of us, and he’d make batch after batch of pancakes. We’d eat them up while watching “The Little Rascals” on tv.

As I got older, Dad made things like shelves, and picture frames and other small wooden items. On the weekend, Dad would go down to his workshop in the garage, where he’d make step-stools and Confirmation Crosses and bookshelves.

After his retirement, Dad made more decorative items, just for fun. My parents had a beautiful in-ground pool, and Dad made planters for the flowers that Mom placed around the patio.

When my family was young, and settling into our first and only home, Dad helped my husband to build a shed to store the garden tools.

Dad isn’t here with us anymore. He went on to the next step back in 2008.

But tonight, as we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day without being able to hug our kids, I am thinking of my Dad and of his legacy of creation.

I’m thinking a lot about the fact that although I am his daughter, I don’t really take after my Dad. I don’t know how to hammer a nail or saw a board or make a shed. I’m not good at math, the way that he was. I don’t have Dad’s sense of detail and his ability to create logical, sequential plans. That skill is shared by my sister, but not by me.

That thought made me a little bit sad today.

Then I took a walk around my garden. And I thought a bit.

Maybe I’m stretching it, maybe I’m making it up, but it seems to me that in a different sense, I do share Dad’s ability to “make things.”

I have made a garden out of a yard that was once completely wild. Slowly, step by step, blossom by blossom, I have turned my wild property into a pretty, fragrant, welcoming space.

Making something out of nothing is perhaps a skill, or a desire, that I do share with my Dad.

Maybe the bread that I make from my own sourdough starter is a way for me to create something, too.

What I know is that I miss my Dad. I miss his smile, his humor, his hugs. I even miss his rigid sense of right and wrong. I miss his love. I miss the things that he made out of nothing.

So tomorrow morning I will walk in my garden. I’ll salute my Dad as I admire the coreopsis growing in the goose planter that he built. I’ll take a lawn chair out of the shed that he built in our yard.

And I’ll water the wild roses and irises and herbs that I have planted here in what was once a piece of woodland.

I’ll think of my Dad and I’ll treasure the small ways in which I am like him.

Is This Offensive?


Does it even matter what I think?

It seems more than a little bit odd to me to hear people out there arguing about what is offensive and what isn’t.

It’s especially strange to hear white people, who make up pretty much my entire social circle, arguing about what makes something offensive to black Americans.

Is Aunt Jemima’s image on the syrup bottle “offensive” or is it just a meaningless picture? How about Uncle Ben? Is a statue of General Lee offensive? Or is it a monument to a cultural history?

As is so often true, when I think about the big questions that trouble adults, I turn to my experience as a classroom teacher to guide me.

I’m remember one particular year of teaching fifth grade. My students were a sweet combination of innocent and sassy. As ten year olds, they were still gentle and tender. They liked me, I liked all of them, and we had a good rapport. But as almost-adolescents, they’d begun to test some of my limits. A few kids had tried out “bad words” in the classroom, and we were discussing why some words were offensive.

One of the best parts about teaching kids this age is watching when one or two of them get that glint of mischief in their eyes and try to push the envelope a bit. In this case, a few of the kids wanted to experience the thrill of saying the forbidden words, so they started to ask me, in whispers, which words to avoid.

“Is ‘shit’ a swear?” (Giggle). “Can I say ‘dammit’?” (Giggle)

I realized pretty quickly that it was time for us to regroup and talk. I gathered the kids on the rug in our “meeting area”.

“OK,” I began. “I am not going to give you a list of acceptable and unacceptable words. There are millions of words in the English language and we aren’t going to check each one.”

I looked around the circle at all the eager faces and bright eyes.

NOTE: If you ever want to capture the attention of 25 ten year olds, tell them you’re going to talk about swears.

“A swear is a word that hurts someone. It’s a word that makes someone feel bad, or makes them uncomfortable. Even if it’s a word or a phrase that you don’t mind at all, if it hurst someone else, you don’t say it.”

They were thoughtful for a minute. A hand was raised.

“So is ‘stupid’ a swear?”

I let the kids talk about it. They realized that they knew the answer. If I say, “This stupid shoe won’t stay tied,” then it isn’t offensive. If I call my classmate “stupid”, then it is.”

I’m sure they were a little disappointed that we weren’t going to try out various spellings of the f- word, but my point had been made.

Next I asked the kids to do me a favor. I told them that sometimes we say or do things that offend others and we don’t know it. I told them that I would appreciate it if they’d tell me any time I said or did something that hurt them or offended them.

One sweet, kind little girl raised her hand. I was surprised, because I couldn’t imagine what I might have done to offend her. I asked her to tell me what was wrong.

“Could you please not say “God”? My family goes to church, and my mom says it’s wrong to say “Oh, my God”, but sometimes you say it.”

She was right. I said that phrase a LOT.

But I looked into the deep brown eyes of my trusting student, and I promised her that I would do my absolute best never to say it in front of her again.

“God” was an offensive word to this religious little girl, when I said it in that phrase.

The kids understood the lesson and we never had to revisit the question of what words were offensive.

If your action, your logo, your statue, your language, your clothing hurts someone else, you can’t keep using it.

Thanks, children. As usual, you show us the way.

Tonight I Feel Safe


This is a silly comment, really. I live in a rural community. I am at home, in my nice house with my dear husband of 42 years. There’s barely any crime here. The COVID rate is very low.

But still.

I live in this world. I live in this crazy, out of control world. I am aware that going grocery shopping or getting a haircut can put me and those I love at risk. I try to stay safe. I order online and I wear my mask when the FedEx comes to the door with my case of wine.

We wash our hands. We disinfect. We are secure.

But I’m still afraid.

And I watch the news. I see the outbreaks of racial violence and the riots in the streets. Even though I live pretty much in the wilderness, I am worried about the wide world around me.

But a funny thing happened today. Something that has really caught me off guard and gotten me to thinking.

Here in North Central Massachusetts, the weather has been very dry, and pretty warm. Today, though, the warm jumped itself right up to hotter-than-hell.

I played outside with my two grandkids this morning, running through the sprinkler, jumping into the tiny blow-up pool, watering the herbs and flowers. We came in and had lunch, and the little guy went down for a well deserved nap.

As I sat in my living room with my granddaughter, the temperature really started to rise. The heat got worse, the humidity rose, the sweat popped up on both of our heads.

It was…..gross. We didn’t like it. Little Ellie and I were NOT HAPPY. So we did what happens pretty rarely in this part of the world.

We turned on the window AC unit in the living room.

We closed the living room and dining room windows, shut the skylight and let the machine do it’s magic.

Within an hour, the house was cool, we had stopped sweating, and Nonni’s three months of ignored hair growth had dried out a bit.

By dinner time, the kids had gone home with Mom and Dad and Papa and I made our dinner. In an unusual homage to the heat, I made the whole dinner indoors, instead of out on the grill. I saluted our AC unit as I did it.

We had dinner. We watched the news. We chatted about our day and did the dishes and got settled down to read our respective books.

All the while, that AC unit kept chugging. And we did not sweat or curse the heat.

Which brings me to this moment, tonight, as the sun sets on a gloriously beautiful summer day in New England.

I do not want to shut off my AC unit, even though the air outside has cooled. I do not want to open my windows, in spite of the sweet smells of wild rose and honeysuckle and peony that I know would come wafting in.

I do not want to touch the world outside of these four walls tonight. Instead, I want to stay safely wrapped in my faux safe air flow, pretending that the world of deadly viruses and deadly hatred cannot reach me while I sleep.

I know that I am only pretending.

Even so, I will go to bed tonight with the window units running.