It was the first time since February that I found myself afloat in the Atlantic ocean.
The kids were so excited to be there, even though the waves were a little bit daunting. I was with my daughter and one of her best friends. Two fabulous moms at the beach with their happy, excited, beautiful kids.
The sun was out. There was a gentle breeze. Fish were feeding off shore and terns were diving.
We met families celebrating 4th birthdays, families from abroad, families of young people who were clearly just starting out. There were other grandparents, smiling with joy at their little ones.
There was salt. And sand covered fruit. And the booming of the waves. And the sound of children and gulls screaming together.
It was a perfect day.
I floated. I jumped in the waves. I made sand castles with Ellie and pushed a toy beach buggy down the sand with Johnny. I jumped through the surf with Hazel. I laughed with three little children, and shared my lunch with all of them.
I spent the day with my firstborn child, my amazing and beautiful daughter.
I am undeservedly lucky, and humbled by that fact.
I was thinking about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib today. I was thinking of her because she isn’t going to visit her grandmother, and that makes me so sad.
I’m a grandmother, too. I love my two grandchildren so much that sometimes I think it might be too extreme. I love their smiles, their hugs, their sweet voices.
I love their hair, and the softness of it against my cheek. I love their deep brown eyes and all the emotion those eyes express.
Being separated from them, even for a week, is a pain that tears my heart.
I live because my children and grandchildren breathe and laugh and sing and because they love me almost as much as I love them.
I can’t begin to imagine how awful it would be to be kept away from them.
So I think of Rep. Tlaib. I think of her “sity”, her 90 ish year old grandmother. I imagine how much the old woman craves the embrace of her beloved granddaughter, and how much Rashida misses her grandmother.
The Congresswoman wanted to travel to Israel/Palestine. She wanted to go to see her family, but also to address the desperately important issue of how the USA’s key ally treats its Muslim citizens. She and her colleague, Ilhan Omar, wanted to have some oversight of the country that receives one third of our foreign aid.
That’s their job, after all.
But Israel, with a push from the Donald Trump, denied them entry. The Israeli government claimed that the two Muslim women, who support and promote the idea of Palestinian autonomy, would be coming only to damage Israel.
Two young women.
And the most powerful country in the middle east was afraid of what they might say.
After a strong pushback from Americans of both political parties and many Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups, the government of Israel offered a tepid compromise. Rep. Tlaib could go to see her grandmother, but could not engage in any conversations or activities that would promote the cause of Palestinian activists or criticize the Israeli government. Rep. Omar, lacking a local grandmother, would not be allowed in at all.
Ms. Tlaib rejected the offer, saying that it violated her right to free speech and diminished her role as an elected official of the USA.
“Why doesn’t she just accept Israel’s offer to let her visit under a humanitarian visa?” I thought yesterday, as the story of the Congresswoman’s thwarted visit to her ancestral homeland unfolded.
“Why not just go, and hug her grandmother, and thank her for her years of care and guidance? Why not just brush off Israel’s rules about not mentioning the conditions under which the Palestinians are living? Just go, and don’t be so political!”
But then I started to think. I realized that I was thinking like a grandmother, and not like an educated citizen of the world.
And I remembered a moment that happened to me long ago, in the summer of 1973. I was living as an exchange student with a Muslim family in Tunisia. They were open minded, very well educated and as kind as any family could be.
We were talking about the increasing tensions between Egypt and Israel and the threat of war on the horizon. I said something about Israel, and there was a sudden silence in the room.
My sweet, kind, loving Tunisian Papa said to me, very gently, “Karima, ici on dit Palestine.”
“Karima, here we call it Palestine.”
Not Israel, but Palestine.
That simple phrase opened my eyes.
That land is both. It belongs to both. Both have roots in that place. But the needs and wishes of the Palestinians have long been pushed aside as the west tries to make amends for what happened during the Holocaust.
I understand both sides. I support both sides. I think there is room for both peoples to live in that ancient land.
But I also support Rashida Tlaib in her decision not to go there now. Not to visit her much loved grandmother.
I support her desire to go at a time when she can address the governments of both the US and Israel and say, “Here we call it Palestine.”
Woke up at 6:30 AM, Pacific time. Washed up and got dressed. We had packed our suitcases the night before, so all we had to do was toss a few last minute items into our bags.
We didn’t have time for a real breakfast, so my husband and our two friends and I went to the general store at the lodge where we’d been staying. We got our coffees and our slightly stale muffins. We checked out of our place in Yosemite National Park and shoved all of our luggage into the trunk of our rental car.
Katja, Paul and I were passengers, and Katja’s husband Jorg was our driver.
When everyone had a coffee in hand, and everything had been safely packed, we headed out for our four hour journey from vacationland to the airport. We laughed a little and shared photos and talked about our next adventure. Then we all slumped back in our seats and let Jorg maneuver his way through rush hour traffic.
When we finally made our way to San Fransisco, we had to stop for gas, then make our way to the rental car return. When that task was finished, we lugged all of our bags through the car rental building and onto the airport transit.
It was a sad time, saying goodbye to our German friends for at least a year. We hugged and laughed and thanked each other, but all of us were focused on getting ourselves home.
Paul and I grabbed our bags and headed down the escalator, through the building and into the concourse. Ten minutes of walking found us at our departure gate, and we checked our bags and got our seats.
The flight loaded, we flew to Detroit, then we raced across what felt like 50 miles of airport to make our connecting flight, worried the entire time that our luggage wouldn’t make it.
Because we had forgotten to take our car keys out of said luggage, and if we got to New Hampshire while our keys were in Detroit…..well. You can imagine.
But, the bags were checked and we couldn’t uncheck them. We stood in line for our seats, and finally boarded our flight home.
After sitting for what felt like an hour on the tarmac, the plane finally took off. I had my book open on my lap, but I was too nervous to read it.
By now we’d been awake for some 14 hours. We were tired, anxious, and pretty cranky.
And as our plane took off, I thought about how miserable I was. I was sitting in the world’s smallest seat, breathing in stale air and feeling my ears pop.
I was in a skinny metal tube, filled with the exhalations of a hundred other humans who had spent the day eating nothing but cheetos and pre-packaged salami sandwiches. All of us were exuding stale sweat, dirty foot aroma and salami/coffee/cheeto breath.
We were elbow to elbow in a tin can, trying to pass the time by watching videos that none of us could hear over the roaring of the jet’s engines.
I was not happy.
I wanted out.
I wanted out NOW.
I felt my neck muscles cramping as I sat there with my knees raised and my neck bent. I was not a cheery traveler.
But I glanced out the window as the plane rose through the sky. The full moon was out there, seemingly right beside me. Down below, I saw the twinkling lights of an American city.
I felt us rising into the air, and suddenly I found myself remembering the scene in the old “Peter Pan” movie, when the children found themselves magically able to fly.
I felt us rise.
I felt myself rise.
I put my hand to my heart and leaned into the window, watching the lights of Detroit as they faded below me.
“This is a miracle,” I thought.
And it was.
We had woken up in a Yosemite Park lodge, and now we were in Detroit. We were heading home.
In less than one day, in only 15 hours, we had crossed the entire continent. A journey that at one time took a full year had been completed in a little more than half of one day.
It was a miracle.
In spite of the cramped space, the waiting in lines, the dragging of suitcases, the bad food, it was so so worth it.
We can now travel across continents in the time it took our ancestors to cross a township. We can wake up in the middle of a Ponderosa Pine forest and go to bed in a maple grove.
Now our biggest challenge, I think, is to appreciate that reality.
Many years ago, when I was a tender girl of ten, I joined our elementary school orchestra. I had no idea what I was doing, but the idea of an “orchestra” was immensely alluring.
When it came time to choose an instrument, if I remember correctly, I wanted to choose the violin. I loved the idea of being able to create the gentle sounds I’d been hearing on my Mom’s “Nutcracker Suite” album. I wanted that violin.
But alas for me, there were too many girls who wanted to play the violin, so I was assigned to try the viola. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was still a beautiful stringed instrument. I accepted it happily.
And it was love at first screech. During that year of joyful musical exploration, I discovered the glory of harmony. I discovered the power of playing music with friends. I experienced the amazing mind buzz of hitting the rare perfect note.
It was so much fun, and so inspiring, that even 53 years later I can still remember the smell of the resin on my bow. I can remember how cozy it felt to be on our school’s small stage when the curtains were drawn every Thursday. That was when the strings would practice together while the rest of the grade was at recess. I loved those lessons!
I still remember that my viola was number 82, and that the case was lined with purple velvet. I used to rub my thumb along the velvet. So rich! So elegant!
I loved every minute of rehearsal, of practice, or screaking away on my instrument in my bedroom. I loved the full orchestra rehearsals on Friday mornings. I loved our concerts.
I loved it all.
Unfortunately, I had to give up my viola lessons at the end of that year. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for two kids’ music lessons, and it was my sister’s turn to take up the viola. I gave up my beloved number 82 with many tears.
(I still haven’t forgiven my sister, just for the record. Every few months, I call her up and moan piteously.)
Anyway, the years went by. I grew up. I still managed to sing harmony a lot, and I even tried a very brief stint of playing the guitar. But in the back of my mind, all this time, the idea of returning to the viola as been lurking.
So. Recently a good friend of ours took up the saxophone. He’s our age, and not much more musical than I am, but he threw himself into learning his instrument with joy and abandon. He was my inspiration.
I decided to take up the strings and the bow once again.
My younger brother (aka, the musical genius) had a spare violin hanging around his house. I learned that a novice like me should start with the violin and then move on to viola if all went well. I happily took Dave’s violin.
I signed up for lessons.
I rubbed the resin on my bow.
I made hideous zombie noises on my lovely little violin, but I was thrilled. It was all so familiar! So wonderful! I remembered the movements, the feel of the strings, the shiny glorious wood of the instrument!
Luckily for me, there’s a fabulous local teacher who was undaunted by the specter of an old lady rookie. I went to my first few lessons, learned my scales, practiced my basic fingering.
It has been so much fun!
My teacher, Susan, is endlessly upbeat and joyful. Her smile is the most encouraging thing I’ve ever seen. Even when I continually run my bow across two strings at once, she smiles. When her chickens run out of the yard at the sound, she still smiles, and encourages, and makes tiny adjustments to my wrist.
With Susan I feel like a musician.
So you can imagine how exciting it was for me to arrive at her house yesterday, ten minutes before my lesson time. I took out my instrument, tuned it with my phone app, and resined up my bow.
From the lesson room, I heard the sound of the same familiar song I’d been working on for two weeks.
Not Tchaikovsky, but still, it was a song.
It was someone working on two of the five variations of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” that are the first lesson in our Suzuki violin book.
That someone was doing OK. A little slow on the fingering, but not bad. The student did hit a few extra strings, (maybe more than I do) but it was still cool to hear it.
“Ah, another novice,” I thought.
As the other student played, I quietly played along on my own. I heard Susan’s voice, as joyful as always. I smiled to myself. “Self,” I told me, “You actually play a little bit more smoothly than this person.” I had an image of another woman, younger than me, but struggling to get the combination of finger placement, bowing and rhythm all correct.
“You’ll get it eventually,” I thought to myself as I smugly packed my instrument back in its case.
I heard the door to the lesson room open, and two women’s voices chatting happily. I made out the word, “Good job!” and “Thank you!”
I stood up, ready to head into my own lesson.
And a teeny, energetic little 6 year old boy came careening around the corner, his mother trailing behind.
“Hi!!!!” he called to me. “I just played my WHOLE SONG!!!”
Susan was still cheerful and smiling when she found me standing with my mouth wide open.
I am a very relaxed gardener. I am very trusting. I believe that nature is uniquely designed to take care of the seeds that we put into the ground.
I mean, seriously. Who am I to challenge the superior wisdom of Mother Nature when it comes to planting a garden?
The result of my calm and serene approach to gardening is the appearance of a very free spirited yard.
For example, my daylilies are mixed up nicely with my goose necked loosestrife, and both of them share space with the tall phlox that I never even dreamed of planting but which arrived via bird poop. There are the mallow plants that came on their own and the coneflowers that I actually placed in the flowerbed.
It’s all pretty and it smells great and it comes back every year! And…..Mother Nature is pretty much responsible for all of it.
See how relaxed and trusting I am? “Go, Mother Nature! You rock!” I quietly chant under my breath as I sit on the deck with a nice ginger libation.
I trust her.
I sometimes drop a seed or two, or pull out a few weeds. But mostly my yard is in her capable hands.
My pumpkin garden is the most perfect example of what a nice laid back gardener I am.
We have a small fenced off garden area that has gradually become too shady to grow most summer veggies. It’s OK for peas and garlic and a few onions, but not much else. This year, because my grandkids really love pumpkins, I put in a few hills of pumpkin plants.
And now, 8 weeks later, I have a few hills of wimpy, droopy pumpkin plants.
After I planted my few hills, I decided to toss the rest of the seeds out into the woods that encircle my yard. There is one small spot, about 3 ft by 3 ft, where I composted for 25 years. I tossed a few of the seeds out there, too.
The days went by. I forgot about the back woods pumpkins, but was careful to weed and water my “garden” pumpkins.
You can guess what’s coming next, can’t you?
Yep, you got it.
My planted, fenced garden is doing…..ok….ish. There are a few slender vines and some of them hold a couple of limp blossoms. I haven’t seen a future pumpkin yet.
BUT: my compost pumpkins are OUT OF CONTROL! There are huge vines taking over the entire area. There are dozens of blossoms on every vine. There are little newborn pumpkins forming on at least half of those vines.
All without one single bit of effort or attention from this mere human gardener.
So. I am now the proud farming Momma of three giant, tree climbing pumpkin plants.
I’m not convinced that my laissez faire 8 feet in the air pumpkins will live long enough to ripen.
But I don’t want to waste all of this fecundity, do I?
Of course not.
Luckily, I grew up in an Italian family. I know how delicious zucchini blossoms can be. I figured that pumpkin blossoms couldn’t be too far off.
So here I am. Making giant-free-natural-tree-climbing-pumpkin flower fritters.
I went out there this morning, into the wilderness of my backyard, and made my way to the compost garden. After pulling aside the humongous crab grass, the maple saplings, the Joe-Pye weed, the Queen Ann’s Lace and the nettles, I grabbed about half of the open blossoms that were spreading across the area.
I brought them inside and cleaned them out a bit. Pulled out the flies, and the stamens. Opened each one into a flat plane. Then I dipped each piece into egg and milk, and tossed them into salted flour. I browned them in olive oil, and added a little more salt.
I ate them all, one by crispy one, with an ice cold glass of white wine.
We might not get any jack-o-lanterns out of this particular airborne patch of pumpkins, but that’s OK.
I had a plate of crisp, salty pumpkin flower fritters.
I trusted Mother Nature and she came through.
And who knows?
Elle and Johnny might just find themselves the very first owners of the original air pumpkin.
I met the most fascinating woman last weekend! Although I went to high school with her son, I’d never known anything about Jean before now.
But in meeting her, and getting to know a little bit about her life, I found myself enchanted with this older lady.
Jean was born in March, like me, but her birthday predates mine by 33 years. Even so, I felt like we were kindred souls.
I learned last weekend that Jean was born in the small city of Berlin, NH. My family has been going on vacation in the same area for almost 50 years, and I know Berlin very well! That was one thing that made me feel a connection. Jean described looking up at the beautiful Presidential Range which overlooks the city, talking about how deeply she appreciated the beauty of the spot.
It could have been my husband or one of my children talking! That range is their favorite place in the world.
As I learned more about Jean, I also learned that she loved music intensely. In fact, she loved it so much that she defied her penny pinching father by renting an instrument in his name and taking lessons that he ended up paying for. I laughed out loud at that story.
Like me, my new acquaintance was a young nerd. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been as smart or as studious as Jean, but like her I have always loved to read. We both love to learn new things, even as we age.
What I liked best about Jean, though, was her life philosophy. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was something like this: “To find as much pleasure as possible without hurting anyone.”
I want to be like her. I want to be as full of joy. I want to be as dedicated to enjoying my life.
I’m so glad that I got to meet Jean. I wish I’d met her years ago, when there was still time for us to be friends.
You see, Jean died last February, at the tender age of 95.
I was never lucky enough to have actually met her.
But Jean was a writer. She recorded the stories of her life. She wrote with love, and with humor. The warmth of her voice as a writer pulled me in and allowed me to feel like her friend.
What a gift!
Many thanks to Stacy and Louise for sharing Jean’s story with me!
It’s been a long and scary day here in Massachusetts. One, or maybe two, tornadoes touched down on Cape Cod. We saw roofs blown off, power taken out, trees uprooted, roads blocked.
And of course we saw dozens of people stepping up to help their neighbors, their friends, and total strangers.
It got me thinking.
When the storms blow in, and everyday life is turned completely on its head, we humans immediately become our best selves. We bring each other water, and give each other food. We pull the trees off of our neighbor’s houses and we offer to share our generators.
I’ve seen it.
In 2008, a huge ice storm hit this part of New England. My street was without power for nine days. But our neighbors across town offered hot showers, a place to do laundry and a community meal. Our neighbors across the street emptied their swimming pool into barrels and brought them around to all of us who couldn’t flush our toilets because our water runs on an electrically operated pump.
We shared food, wood stoves, water, chain saws. It was wonderful and awful at the same time.
Disaster mentality. It’s not a bad thing.
So how about this?
How about if we all approach each other as if we were in the middle of a disaster? How about if we look at each other as people, humans, neighbors?
I know that when the power went out, I didn’t ask my neighbors who they were voting for. I didn’t ask their thoughts on immigration or global warming or race relations or anything.
I just asked if they needed anything. They asked me that back.
So wouldn’t it be a wonderful idea if we all decided to think about each other as if we’re in the middle of a major disaster? If we could ask each other, “What do you need?” or “What will help you?” instead of asking how we feel about Medicare for all?
I don’t know if it would help.
But it couldn’t be worse than what we are doing right now. It couldn’t be worse than judging each other by which T shirt we are wearing.
As if we didn’t have enough to worry about these days! Between the killer heat waves, the rising oceans and the increase in mega storms, it’s already obvious that Mother Earth is trying to kill us before we kill her.
There are weird new super germs appearing everywhere, and the drugs we have aren’t working.
Did you know you can get flesh-eating disease from swimming in warm ocean water? And ALL the ocean water is warm now!
(Who the hell thought up the name “flesh-eating disease” anyway? Sicko.)
And even if you decide to risk having your flesh chewed off my bacteria and you jump into that warm ocean, you’ll probably be eaten by a great white shark.
I tell ya. It just isn’t safe out there.
The food supply isn’t safe. Our household cleaners are giving us cancer.
Don’t even get me started on what happens if you drink water that got left in a plastic bottle in your car!!
So as if all that isn’t enough to send you to the therapist with a bottle of Xanax in one hand and a pot brownie in the other….There is a scientist in Tennessee who is trying find a portal into a mirror universe.
Yes, I am serious.
A. Portal. Into. A. Parallel. Universe.
What in the world is wrong with people? Shouldn’t scientists be busy trying to cool off the earth, or stop the bacteria from eating our flesh?
We don’t need another universe, thank you very much. We’re having enough trouble with the one we’re in now.
So I’m reaching out to all of you. Please send a letter to your local elected officials. Tell them that unless the new mirror universe is cool, safe and has a non-insane President, we don’t want any part of it.
We live in difficult times. We live in sorrowful times.
We live in times that make it hard for us to keep our humanity close at hand. Times when we need to remind ourselves that those “others” are really “us”.
So I’m thinking. I’m not talented enough to come up with the powerful words that these times require. Luckily, a lot of very talented people have already covered this ground.
“What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the observer.” by Elie Wiesel
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
– Abraham Lincoln
“A Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me.”
– Robert E. Lee
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
-Emma Lazarus, poem on the Statue of Liberty
“If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”
The woman is a musical genius. A musical prodigy. A gorgeous, smart, articulate musical freakin’ genius.
And when you see her (as I’ve done at least ten times in the past two years), she sweeps you up in the beauty and power of her songs.
What can I say?
I’m a fan girl. Big time.
So last weekend when Paul and I saw Rhiannon and her equally genius partner, Francesco Turrisi, we were completely overwhelmed with the music, the rhythms the lessons, the words, the whole damn thing.
I was, shall we say, swooning by the end of the set.
So an hour after the set, when I made my way down the row of foodtrucks for a snack, I was giddy with delight to see Rhiannon and Francesco in line in front of me.
“Leave them alone,” I told myself in my head. “They are tired and hungry. Let them order the tuna riceballs without being interrupted.” My rational self told me to behave. It told me to let these two nice people eat supper in peace.
But my emotional self just had to step in. I HAD to!
“When will you ever get a chance like this again,” emotional me demanded.
What could I say? Emotional me won the round, fair and square.
I stepped forward to approach my idols.
“Excuse me,” I probably squeaked, “I just had to tell you how much your music means to me and how grateful I am to hear it!”
My two music heroes smiled graciously, shook my hand, let them chat for a minute with them about their multinational sound, the drums from around the world that they use, the message they are sending.
I was quick. I was brief. I apologized for interrupting and I let them order their meals. I was silent as I watched her walk away to get some pierogis while he waited for the rice balls.
I thought I was fine. Well behaved.
But you know what?
Even though that was the highlight of my weekend, week, month, musical life, I am slightly abashed at having done it.
Don’t get me wrong! When I saw Ms. Giddens on the Today Show the morning after our chat, all I could think was “I shook that hand! I talked to her! I made her laugh!” I felt like I had somehow shared the glory with her; as if our 45 second conversation would be etched in her mind.
I felt special.
And that is the secret of fame, I think. The secret is to make the people who bump into you feel brushed by the glittery sparkles of your fame.
That probably works for big huge Hollywood types.
But it can’t be so simple when all you want out of life at that moment is a tuna rice ball and a jalapeno pierogi.
I find myself in an interesting spot in terms of fandom and musicians. While Paul and I revel in our short interactions with the musicians we admire, I also resent people who do the same thing.
That’s because our future daughter-in-law sings in a band that is gaining more and more attention lately. We have gone to hear Upstate many times. It’s always really fun! But lately we have found our conversations with our sweet girl interrupted by strangers who want to tell her how much her music means to them and how grateful they are for it.
They ask her questions about where the group met, who writes the songs, and where they’ll appear next. Sometimes they ask if they can take a picture with her.
My daughter in law smiles graciously, poses for the pictures, shakes the hands. She never lets on that she was, um, ya know, in the middle of a conversation with her future parents-in-law.
You can see how conflicted I feel about this whole thing! Music is the universal language, it brings us all together. It expresses our deepest, most powerful feelings and thoughts.
The people who can create that music? Well, of course they are our heroes! Of course we want to rub against them, shake their talented hands, share a story or a joke or a smile with them.
We feel as if we’ve been pulled into their special circles when we do that. But.
We need to remember that they are people, and they have their own lives. Once they step off of those stages, methinks, we need to learn to leave them alone.