Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Last trip to the mall~

Winter framed~

It’s that last minute crunch time before Christmas when I start worrying that I haven't bought the gifts that will make people happy--even though I know happiness has nothing to do with gifts. I mentioned to Bruce this morning that I was going to go out and look for some surprises, aka something "off list."

He got that look--the one where his eyebrows rise to his receding hairline. Apparently I have a reputation of last minute buying "with no purpose or plan." Moi?

So we did our own thing: Bruce went out with a purpose and a plan—and the paper list and a mental one. I went out without either kind of list... hoping for inspiration. Looking for surprises. Waiting for something to "strike me."

After battling traffic into the mall, I entered Best Buy and felt that sinking feeling. I wanted to go home to the comfort of my laptop, to a cup of tea with lemon and honey.

"Can I help you find something?" said a young salesman... shorter than me, and bald--the shaved head kind of bald.

I must have stared at him blankly because he rephrased. "What are you looking for?"

"Looking for?” I took a breath and tried to think how to explain my issues. “I'm not sure, really. I'm sort of... " I made some random motion with my hands.

"Hoping for inspiration? " he finished for me.

"Exactly." I said. "I’m going to wander a bit." Aimlessly, with no purpose or plan.

I realize I have a problem when it comes to shopping for others. I can't shop the way it's supposed to be done--with brave abandon, with confidence that my choices will bring smiles. I never hold up things and say, “Isn’t this adorable? Won’t she love this?”

Here's what happens. Every time I see something that might make a nice gift, I run through my list of practical questions until I've convinced myself that the item isn't worthy… and the end result is there is not a blooming thing that seems to be worth buying in the entire mall. And then I get into my “Christmas is too commercialized” mode, and this isn’t the meaning of Christmas mode… Then I stop at the Orange Julius stand before leaving the mall. Shopping makes me thirsty.

Today I came home empty handed.

Which is better than the year I came home with the infamous, soon to be returned, but never to be forgotten “tune belt,” a word that has become synonymous for my frantic last-minute shopping rampages.

David, my youngest, was barely into his teens and I guess I thought he might like to listen to his CDs while walking, or jogging, or any time he might need to listen “hands free.” What's better than to sport a fashionable “tune belt” around one’s waist? Especially at 14. Be the first on your block to have “tune belt.”


So to make a long story short, my husband has taken over the shopping, and I do the wrapping, a division of labor that works for both of us. When I get a little anxious, David tells me, "Mom, relax. Christmas isn't about presents."

So true. I was the one that taught him that. Sometimes I need to be reminded.

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. ~Burton Hillis

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to spend a snowy day~

Let it!
The weather outside was frightful, and the woodstove so delightful, and since there’s no place [I wanted] to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

And it did.

My husband and I shoveled eighteen inches off the driveway and walks this morning, and then, having freed the cars for use, chose to stay home.

And I, who doesn’t much enjoy the daily grind of cooking--peel, chop, boil, broil, serve, clean up, repeat daily—spent the day cooking. I baked meat loaf and lasagne, and then tackled the carrots we had only recently pulled from the back yard garden. Root vegetables can stay in the ground until a freeze, so we left them until the weather said, “Pull now.”

Sleeping in the snow~

It seemed odd to peel and slice fresh garden produce while the snow swirled, and odder still to utterly enjoy it. Usually preparing veggies for canning or freezing is a late August chore. Standing over a pot of boiling beans, beets, tomatoes, or whatever in 90 degree weather isn’t all that much fun, just a necessary task.

But peeling, slicing, and preserving a taste of summer in the midst of a winter storm was pleasure. Shredding carrots for muffins that filled the house with cinnamon warmth was delightful. And of course eating a buttered muffin warm from the oven was worth staying home for.

Let it snow, again!

And yet, I was ever aware of those less fortunate, those on the streets, those whose stomachs grumble, roar even, with hunger, those with no shelter, cold and alone… The awareness tempers my pleasure, while making me ever more grateful for what I have.

The epitome of patience~
What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. ~Saint Augustine

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cats and dogs~

“Cats rule, dogs drool,” meowed Sassy, the cat in Homeward Bound. Sassy was a bit of a prima donna, but despite her annoying prissiness, I agreed with her comment and its implication. Cats are cool.

I’ve had both cats and dogs for pets, but if I had to pick one over the other it would be a cat. Today when I left the house to meet up with my friend Lisa, my cat was snoozing on the couch—food and water in her bowl, litter box clean, ready and waiting. How easy is that?

I picked Lisa up, and after a quick lunch, we planned to wander in the Blue Hills with our cameras, not minding that we’d likely get more exercise than photos on this late November day when the only color was in the sky.

For all the families that came to hike the trails, leaving sleeping cats at home, just as many brought their dogs. All kinds, large and small, mutt or purebred, singles or in pairs, scampered alongside their masters in the unseasonably warm sunshine. It was dog’s day out.

Dogs are like grandchildren. They are adorable, funny, smart, and full of surprises. And if they get a bit carried away with their jumping, and licking, and heavy breathing, well, fine. They don’t live with me. I can go home and relax with my cat. Which is just what I did.

But it did occur to me that dogs make such good companions on days like these, a little friend to share a walk with. It would be nice to have one. But cats are keepers of the hearth, ever ready to curl up on your lap and purr a welcome home. And for me, that’s just a bit nicer.

Maybe I just need a granddog.

Cats are smarter than dogs. You can't get eight cats to pull a sled through snow. ~Jeff Valdez

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Enjoy her while she's here~

“Just enjoy her while she’s here,” my husband says. "It's all we can do."

He’s talking about our cat eighteen-year-old cat Becky, who is sleeping at the other end of the couch. Comfortable now, it appears. No twitching and tossing and turning. No frequent change of position. Just what looks like a normal cat nap. She’s napped for most of the day, but that’s par for the course for an old cat.

Becky’s my baby. We got her when my youngest, was three. He’s twenty-one now, and Becky is… old. And so loved by us all.

Early on, she chose me as her objet d’amour, and she became mine.

The kids always said, “You love Becky more than us, Mom.”

Of course I didn’t, and they know that, but damn, she ran a close second!

And now she’s on borrowed time.

“If a cat lives beyond fifteen,” the vet said, “that’s something!”

Something, but not enough, really.

Just enjoy her while she’s here. Bittersweet love.

She’s had a healthy life until recently when old-age issues led us to the vet, who, with a gloved finger where the sun don’t shine, discovered a mass. A mass. Such a loaded word, and it matters not what it’s loaded with in Becky’s case—cancer or benign, it’s inoperable according to the vet--Becky’s pediatrician cum gerontologist.

Better to have loved and lost than never too have loved at all. Undeniably true. The sorrow when a pet dies is balanced by a lifetime of pleasure she provides—and  the reciprocal love that passes back and forth is priceless.

For now, Becky seems to have rallied from her setback. I knock on wood as I type; I’m aware that she’s fifteen plus three. I’m realistic. Even stoic, in a small way. Been here, done this. It hurts. I'll heal.

But for now, she’s here. And I’ll enjoy her company for as long as she stays--my sweet girl.

If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans. ~James Herriot

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A tattoo and a prayer~

I stood, camera in hand, waiting my turn at a local bakery where a mouthwatering array of pastries and cakes would tempt the most ardent dieter to fall off the wagon. Fall? Make that, leap off the wagon. Happily. Diet schmiet!

Colorful cartoon-character cupcakes, with candy eyes focused on elegant petits fours on dainty doilies, shared prime shelf real estate with brash Italian pastries stuffed with cream cheeses.

When the counter woman asked, "May I help you?" I explained that I was a photographer and would like to take some pictures of the goodies.

I expected a quick, "Sure, go ahead." But instead she looked confused, and said she'd have to ask the manager in the back room.

"Ask him if I can set up a time to take some photos of someone decorating a cake, too, please."

The answer was no. No, I couldn't take any photos in the shop, nor of someone decorating a cake.

And no, I will not buy anything from your bakery either, I thought silently, while I made my lips say, "Okay, thanks for asking. I appreciate it."

And then, because I'm me, I said, "I'm curious, though. Did he give a reason?" She just shrugged; she seemed the type who wouldn't think to ask why, especially not of a boss. Maybe not of anyone.

But there are people who welcome the lens pointed in their direction. Broad Street Tattoo was happy to allow me in with my camera.

"Come back at 1:15," shop owner Joe Staska told me. "I'll be setting up for my next customer, and you can get some photos then."

Joe Staska of Broad Street Tattoo

When I returned, a kid--a young man, I suppose--clean-cut, sort of sweet and innocent looking, was sitting on the couch. I figured he was waiting for someone who was getting tattooed, maybe his mother. Or maybe a friend with a five o'clock shadow at 1:15. Someone wearing a do-rag and tee shirt with the sleeves ripped off, the better to show bulging biceps in tattoo sleeves.

But then he took out a wad of cash and counted it--twice. "Are you here to get a tattoo?" I asked.

He was. He smiled and told me he'd always wanted a tattoo, this was his first--he'd just turned eighteen--and he was excited about it, that he wasn't worried about the pain. Yes, his mother knew, and no, she wasn't upset at all.

Nick Bennett

All sorts of designs adorned the walls. "What are you going to get?" I asked, thinking of my son's tattoos. Ghoulish designs that, nonetheless, have meaning to him.

"The Serenity Prayer," he said. "I've always loved that."

I'll never know the reason he chose that tattoo. There are only so many questions one is entitled to politely ask. But I'll bet there is a good story there. I wish I knew it.


God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.


Read my story, Coffee Break, at Camroc Press Review--a tattoo related tale of mother and son.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

For Alice~ She's home!!!!!!!

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometimes it's all about knowing that loved ones and friends stand behind you,
knowing that support is there on the down days,
the worry days,
the days when you feel off-center,
out of sync,
bedraggled emotionally,
and in pain,
but knowing all the while that you're not alone.

You're not alone...

Alice is an online friend--she lives in Hawaii-- who belongs to the writer's workshop that I do. We've only "met" online, but those who have online friendships know that they can be just as strong as those in-person relationships.

Alice was hit by a car while walking, and is in the rehab phase of things. She's working to regain mobility after a broken pelvis, a broken arm, and a broken nose. It's scary to realize how, in the blink of an eye, life can lurch and our plans for a time are displaced by survival and healing. We've all been there--the place where the road veers sharply and suddenly--and it is then that we see how much our friends mean to us.

Pohai Nani Good Samaritan Retirement Community
Weinberg Care Center Room
45-090 Namoku Street
Kaneohe, HI 96744

September 12 update... Alice says: Please tell everyone that I'm walking better and better. My physical therapist even let me try a cane instead of a walker and suggested that it might be better to use in the house instead of the walker. We're beginning to discuss logistics and I'm working harder and harder. Able to rise almost gracefully and get myself out of bed. Getting back in is another matter, not quite so elegant, but pain is at a minimum.

September 17 update... Alice is making good progress. She'll soon be able to go on "outings" with friends or relatives, and is looking forward to seeing the ocean again.

She writes: I do have a lovely piece of news - I'm moving into a private room! There are only two. Mine has a patio facing the forest that covers the hill behind Pohai Nani. The private room is my luxury. I do believe I've earned it.

It's probably easier to send any future snail mail to my home address. My husband, Sachi, brings it to me every day.

Alice Folkart
333 Aoloa Street #324
Kailua, HI 96734

September 20th update:
Dear Friends,

I still don't know when they're going to let me go home, but I did make a very pretty polymer-clay rose--pale pink--in occupational therapy(OT) yesterday. Clay play is good to improve dexterity in the broken-arm hand. In physical therapy(PT) I endlessly stepped up and down, down and up on a low step.This is supposed to get me ready for climbing stairs.

In addition to two hours a day of OT and PT, I walk and walk and walk, mostly with my walker but sometimes with my lovely new cane. There's not much of any place to go except round and round in the corridors or in tight circles in the little garden.You can't leave the building without setting off an alarm. So, I don't do that.

We have a black standard poodle here named Hoku. He is definitely NOT a therapy dog. He'll only go to people who have food preferably French fries. He's very naughty. I'm trying not to take him personally.

Wish I could give you some local color, but the big news here is when someone's doctor has increased
or decreased some blood pressure meds or maybe when someone has convinced the nurse that he really does need a suppository. Big news! Am loving my private room and my very own shower. That's it, what's big here.

Thank you all again and especially Ruth.

More later.

September 25th update: Alice is home!!!!!!!

Friday, September 4, 2009

The scarlet letter~

I feel like Hester Prynne, except, instead of a scarlet A on my bosom, I have a big red X on Facebook… next to a picture of Obama.

There was a "quiz," and though I seldom take quizzes I saw that other people had big green check marks showing that they had taken the quiz, so I clicked the link.

Here's the question:

Should President Obama be allowed to do a nationwide address to school children without parental consent?

-I don't care

Well, in a blink of an eye "without parental consent" trumped the president in my mind, and I clicked the box beside No.

Then I thought, I really should find out what this is all about. I looked for the cancel button, but there wasn't one, so I returned to the Facebook page.


There was a big, fat, red X next to a picture of Obama at the chalkboard on my page, like I was Xing him personally. Everybody else has pretty green check marks next to the picture on their pages.

Some of us are just doomed to fail multiple-choice tests, aren't we?And we know what a red X means beside an answer.

If my kids were little, would I complain about an encouraging message from the president to children? Not at all.

If they came home and said, "Guess what, Mom? In school today, we all watched a speech from President Obama."

I'd say, "Oh? And what did he tell you?"

"That school really matters. That we should try hard, blah, blah, blah…"


But still, there is something about "without parental consent" that bothers me. Not that I think there is something sinister or political about this speech. I don't. Some parents raised issues, as is their right, and those in charge made changes to some of activities that were suggested teachers do with their classes afterward. Good move.

But the bottom line for me, after years of teaching and interacting with parents of my students, is my I belief that each parent should have the final say over what his child is exposed to. Yes, even the "kookie" parents. The one whose views differ from mine. The ones I really don't see eye-to-eye with. The ones who sound… uptight, overly concerned, paranoid, or … fill-in-the-blank with an adjective of your own. Because if we don't grant parents their different opinions and approaches… then whose opinions do we replace them with?
The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls. ~Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's all peachy~

Full steam ahead. It’s harvest time. And time to can and freeze as much as possible, a hot process in steamy late summer.

My husband doesn’t remember that I canned peaches last year, he says, although I have the pictures to prove it--and memories of pleasant winter breakfasts of peaches on oatmeal when he--oblivious, I guess--had toast.

This year, we make it a team effort. Although, to be honest, right now, I'm not playing. I’m on my laptop, and he’s peeling peaches at the sink. We have a small kitchen, poorly designed. If I get in his way in the crowded space he sighs in annoyance so… fine… peel away. Have fun. We’ve bumped elbows enough, and he is too precise for me, and I’m too loose for him.

“Why don’t you do such and such?” he asks me.

“Because this way works fine,” I reply.

He times things. I don't. He measures. I don't. He doesn't cut corners. I do. this is an exaggeration, but you get the point.

He sighs. Exasperated. “I don’t know why you insist upon doing things your own way,” Don’t you think the experts know what they are doing?”

“Experts? Experts!” I cry. Who’s the expert? You’re just reading directions on someone’s blog!”

The freshly cut fruit needs to have lemon juice on it to prevent the oxidization that turns it brown. I have lemons. How much juice, he asks, am I adding? Enough, I tell him, as I squeeze lemon juice on the slices. My fruit never rusts. But he bought a 32 oz. bottle of lemon juice and he adds a precise 1/4 cup to his fruit. This bottle will see us through many seasons…. maybe well past 2015.

“Hon,” he says, “it was only $2. 29. How much did your lemons cost?”

“More than that,” I admit, “but at least they’re real. If I squeeze them in tea they don’t taste like ….”

And so it goes. But come December, come the blizzards and Nor’ Easters, we’ll sit down to oatmeal with peaches and cream, peach muffins, peach cobbler, and peach jam on toast--not to mention what we did with the apples and pears-- and when the temperatures plummet and the wood stove keeps the house cozy, we'll be tasting summer.

We’ll forget all about lemon juice and what the "experts" said. We’ll forget who measured, and who didn't. It won’t matter a whit come winter. We are both experts who work differently. And it's impossible to eat peaches and not smile.

Proof of last year's canning.


And more peaches.
Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring and because it has fresh peaches in it. ~Thomas Walker

Saturday, August 8, 2009

River of hope~

There was a woman taking a nap on the granite bench that curves along the river walk running through downtown Providence. She had on several layers of clothing despite the warm August sun, and used her backpack as a pillow. I stood photographing city architecture from my place nearby. She must have heard the click of the camera's shutter .

"No pictures of me," she said sitting up to swing her legs up on the bench in the opposite direction.

"No, I wouldn't. I won't," I assured her. Then I asked, "Do people take your picture?"

Truly, I'd thought briefly of doing so--a photo journalistic impulse, a poignant documentation of the sadder, sorrier side of life. In honesty, I might have taken a picture had I been using my zoom lens from farther away where she might not have noticed me. I've been tempted at other times, with other homeless folk, although something always holds me back from what feels like a blatant invasion of privacy.

"Lot's of people do," she said, and then angry words delivered in a measured tone, "I tell them they better stop, or I'll grab their God damned camera, and I'll . . .

She was already lying down again with her back to the river and me. Her words became indecipherable

"Oh, well, they deserve that," I said lamely as I walked away. I'd deserve that, I suppose, had I given in to impulse.

And I left her lying there beside a bridge with Rhode Island's symbolic brass anchor--HOPE--shining in the summer sun for all who walk beside the river to see.

But not for all to feel. Some people see the flip side of hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without words, and never stops at all. ~Emily Dickinson

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A sip of summer~

A sip of summer


Collect shells along the beach.
Pocket them till they rattle as you walk.

Pour shells into an eight ounce glass.
Add warm, golden sunlight.

Savor in small sips all year long.
Summer's glow keeps well

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mama Peach~

"Mama Peach" is on her nest this morning, and something in her eye--a watchful but calm and peaceful glint--makes me feel envious of her leafy retreat in the peach tree.

I begin my summer mornings with a walk around the yard, cup of coffee in hand. The cat trails behind me, stopping to wash when I pause to inspect the blooms or pull a few weeds.

The peach tree hangs heavy with an offering that should be ready next month. I inspect the soft peach-fuzzy fruit in the morning sun from several angles, the way I would if I had my camera.

And that's how I discover Mama Peach's nest.

There is no bird on the nest, but three eggs wait in the nest's deep bowl. I try not to worry that the eggs are unattended. It's early in the day, and robins--quintessential early birds--leave their nests to grab worms before the heat drives them to wriggle deeper underground. Besides, a mother robin often doesn't settle on the eggs until she is through laying--four being the average number of eggs per nest--to ensure that the babies hatch at pretty much the same time.

So I trust nature to manage what it's done so well for time immemorial. And there are multitudes of robins in the yard to bolster my faith.

But I do peer daily through the peach boughs, and I'm always relieved when I see Mama Peach sitting, immobile and camouflaged, on her nest.

Today she looked so content that I found myself wistful. Her task, needing only time and patience, requires her to remain still and out of life's spotlight. Seeing her reminded me of the times years ago when I'd settle in a quiet room, rocking the baby at my breast to sleep. I heard life go on around me: muffled conversations from the other room, the TV, the ringing phone. I knew what was happening. Like Mama Peach, I was hidden, but not apart. I felt as content then as Mama Peach looks now. She reminds me of the pleasure such quiet interludes bring.

By the time the peaches are ready for picking, Mama Peach will be caring for her babies. I'll wait patiently for fruit and fledglings. Some things deserve time.

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
~C.S. Lewis

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How old are you now?

I stopped in the local pet shop the other day to buy meal worms for the remaining class pet, one of two sweet girl geckos I brought home when I retired a year ago. She's . . . can she be 9 now? Her sister died recently, and this one--Tillie or Lizzie, I never kept them straight--lives alone in the aquarium that has prime real estate in the living room . . . so I won't forget to feed her. And, okay, so she'll have "socialization," such as it is. Sometimes she gets more attention than I do, but that's a post for another time.

I live in a home of old creatures. An old gecko, and old cat, who at 18 is amazingly youthful despite her missing teeth, and gives me more attention--and eye contact--than my husband (also old) does. But this is for the other post I mentioned.

I'd made a comment to the woman at the pet store, a joke really, about having mid-life issues. And then I thought, "Midlife. Who am I kidding?" To be truly MIDDLE aged I will have to live to 116.

I got a book from the library the other day, Memory Lessons: A Doctor's Story, a memoir by a gerontologist who writes of his father's Alzheimer's disease. He calls his father the "oldest old."

It seems that in the world of gerontology "old" has been split and redefined in several categories. Age sixty-five to seventy-four is considered "old." Those between seventy-five and eighty-four are labeled "old old." And the "oldest old" are eighty-five and up.
The young me

I'm none of those yet, but I hope to become each of them in due time. I'm "old mid-life" if I may create my own label, but I feel ageless inside. As my father said in his latter years, "I feel like the young me looking out of the same eyes." I guess this is why mirrors or photos provide a jolt. Who is that old middle aged person that looks a little like me?

May I someday be among the oldest old?

Yes, please!
Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative. ~Maurice Chevalier

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When you get lemons~

Make Lemonade

The month of June in Massachusetts has not been good to its beach goers or vacationers, or, I suppose, to any of us who have been looking forward to some warm summer sun. But being raised by a mother who often reminded me that complaining accomplished nothing, and most particularly where the weather is concerned, I'll not complain.

When it's raining lemons, I'll make the metaphorical lemonade.

I picked cherries in the rain. Not counting what we ate out of hand, our five-year-old Rainier cherry tree blessed us this year with a pie and two cobblers.

Who wants to bake in the hot summer? Not me. But in the unseasonably cool rainy days, I found it pure pleasure to mix and stir, and pop a pan into the oven, and then fold laundry while the delicious sweetness filled the house.

I thought often of my grandmother. I think it was the act of pitting the cherries--truly manual labor--and it brought to mind the long-ago summer days I'd sit with her while she shelled peas or snapped beans for supper. While I folded clothes, I thought of my mother who would iron while watching Afternoon Playhouse on TV. I can still smell the starch, and hear the hiss of steam.

Those were labor intensive days in many ways, yet they forbade the multi-tasking we are so prone to today. Laundry day was for doing a week's worth of laundry; shopping day was for buying groceries for the week. I find my self tossing in a daily load of wash and then jumping in the car to pick up some milk and bread, and then doing the same the next day. And the next. I've lost the sense of being done for a week that my mother and grandmother had.

Maybe I need a little old fashioned one-thing-at-a-time in my life.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Retirement anniversary~ one year!

When I retired last June, my then 24-year-old daughter was on a business trip in Copenhagen, and couldn't attend the retirement party. She sent this note, which my son read aloud. It made me cry then, and I see now that it still chokes me up. Forgive my indulgence for posting it . . . but an "anniversary" warrants looking back. And I am.


For 36 years, you have corrected quizzes, monitored lunch rooms, chaperoned field trips, assigned homework, led discussions, read aloud, taught spelling words, and taken home class pets for summer vacations.

I’ve gotten used to finding containers of mealworms – the most recent class pet’s food of choice – firmly wedged into the refrigerator between the butter and the cream cheese.

You’ve made it clear to children that their, they’re, and there, are spelled differently – something a lot of adults I work with can’t get right, but your 11-year-olds wouldn’t be careless enough to mix them up for fear of disappointing you, and your red pen.

You’ve tied shoes, explained the multiplication tables, patiently stated that just using spell check isn’t good enough, and taught children how to think critically, and most importantly, think for themselves.

When I was a little kid, I loved visiting your classroom. I remember bright sunlight streaming through the windows, and books and building blocks spread throughout the room. I relished sinking my feet into the soft carpet of the reading circle and testing each desk to see which had the best view of the chalkboard. It was a treat to sort through all the posters and decorations you had saved to adorn each bulletin board for each change of subject or season, and I especially loved tapping on the glass of the current rat or lizard in the cage by the windowsill. I looked at the student essays tacked on the walls and eagerly anticipated the day when I would write my own essay, to be stuck on our refrigerator at home.

You set the bar for my own time in elementary school extremely high, and I constantly compared my own teachers’ classrooms to yours, knowing that the chairs in your classroom were better, you read every character’s voice flawlessly, and you had a far better variety of books in your bookshelves. Certainly you were reading Charlotte’s Web to your kids while I was stuck practicing my handwriting.

Having you for a mother has ingrained in me a deep respect for all teachers. It is one of the very toughest careers, requiring endless patience, intelligence, and creativity – traits you have in spades. Your students look up to you and they will always remember you when they think about their childhood, and thank you for the positive impact you had on all their lives.

All one has to do to see just how much respect and admiration your students have for you is look at the cards you get from them on every holiday and last day of school. Crayon messages on carefully folded pieces of construction paper bear words of thanks and admiration, and when you would bring boxes of cards and candies home on these special days I would get a lump in my throat to see there were so many other kids out there to whom you meant so much. Then I would dig through the box to look for any chocolate chip cookies.

And now, after years of being a guiding light to so many lucky students, you are going to turn your classroom lights off for the last time and start on your own “field trip.” And you’ll finally be able to sleep in.

You have so much in store for you!! Think of all the time you now have to do anything you want!! You’re going to garden. You’re going to write. You’re going to travel. You’re going to photograph everything. You’re going to read so many books that your favorite authors are going to struggle to keep up. You can throw away your alarm clock, and you’ll never again have to rise before the sun to shovel out your car on a frigid, blustery winter morning!

You will do all these things and more, knowing that for the rest of your life, wherever you go and whatever you see, you are held in the hearts of hundreds of children and colleagues who remember you as a fantastic teacher, inspiration, and friend.

And, if you ever miss teaching, just remember that you’ll always have a permanent student in me.

I’m so proud of you. Congratulations!


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Father's Day AND Happy Birthday! Call me!

I hear my husband downstairs in the living room.

"Dial home," he says. And again, "Dial home," a firm command with precise enunciation.

I think of ET, the loveable extraterrestrial asking to call home.

But Bruce is actually speaking to his new iPhone, trying to get it to recognize a voice command.

"Call Ruth Douillette, home," he commands.

The phone rings. That's for you, he yells up the stairs.

I'd figured as much.

"Hello there!" I say.

"It's me," he says.

So we talk for a bit about the marvel of this new device that does his bidding--no questions asked, no ifs, ands, or buts.

A couple of days ago, he'd asked, "Want to know what you can get me for Father's Day and my birthday?" The two are days apart.

Of course I wanted to know.

I hate shopping, and I'm a lousy gift picker-outer, to boot. I hate to disappoint, so I belabor choosing a present, looking at it from so many angles until I convince myself that it's a stupid idea, until eventually every gift seems like a stupid idea. So if Bruce knows what he wants, and he usually does, bring it on!

He wanted an iPhone. He was in line early yesterday when the phones went on sale, along with many others. It reminds me of the Cabbage Patch doll thing. Only at the Apple store they don't trample.

I don’t much understand this techno-love, and as a result, I'm probably not much fun. He tells me excitedly about all the available applications.

"But what's the point of that?" I say. "You can just . . ."

Each one seems to do something one could get better results with another way. Like seriously, would you download an app on your iPhone to tell you how to read the results of your EKG?

I thought not. That's not one he's interested in either.

But he's happy, and I already have his birthday present taken care of. Nothing to worry about from now till Christmas.
Read about my phone: Call me.

Scientist announced a device that can be placed in a pacemaker and will call your doctor whenever you are having heart trouble. When told about it, Dick Cheney said, "I can't afford those kind of phone bills.~Conan O'Brien

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What will they think of us?

Yesterday a new name was unveiled on the black marble monument that stands in the town common. A new name under the name of a new war . . . or rather an old war renamed and continued through the centuries in locations all across the globe--different civilizations, different weapons, but for the same reason: power, resources, religion.

And I wondered . . . eons from now, long after ancient wonders have turned to dust; long after Stonehenge is mere grains of sand; pyramids are flattened plains; cities are piles of rubble, and the archeologists discover us anew, what will they make of these indestructible monuments of polished black marble buried at odd angles beneath ruins across the world?

Will they deduce their purpose? Will they decipher our ancient language? What will they say about our society?

That we take pride in our countries?
That we honor our heros?
That we recognize sacrifice?
That we mourn for loved ones lost?

That we never found peace? Never made peace?

And will they learn from our sad lesson?

About Kevin T. Preach
Read Memorial Day Tears on Camroc Press review

Peace has its victories no less than war, but it doesn't have as many monuments to unveil. ~Kin Hubbard

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Only a dream~

Into the future . . .
I cried in dreams two nights in a row.

Dream one: I was at a teacher's meeting. We were planning to give an important test the next day. There was a lot of preparation to be done. At the end I thought, "Wait a minute. Someone will be giving this test to my class. I'm not responsible. I'm retired." I pointed this out to another teacher. I left the meeting and cried.

Dream two: I was waiting for an important phone call, but in the mean time had tried to get things done. I'd cut the time too close and realized my cell phone was in the car, not my pocket, so I ran to be sure not to miss the call. I found my phone already flipped open. When I said hello, it was my mother. She told me that her mother--long dead--no longer recognized her, and wasn't that funny? "It's funny," I acknowledged, "but it's also sad." Yes, my mother admitted. And I cried.

They say dreams mean something.

They say dreams work out conflicts we struggle with in daily life.

They say dreams are cathartic.

They say a lot of things.

I only know that I'd been unnaturally sad for a few days before the dreams.

I'm fine, now. Outwardly, any way. As far as I know.

But I'm willing to bet I'm struggling with change, at the very least. Things have been left behind that mattered very much--my job, for one. I thought I'd moved on, and quite happily. But there must be a residue of melancholy. My mother will be 89 soon. It makes me happy that she still remembers me; she doesn't remember much. But if ever she doesn't remember me . . . I've felt the pain already . . . in a dream.
Life is its own journey, presupposes its own change and movement, and one tries to arrest them at one's eternal peril. ~Laurens van der Post

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Life's games~

Erring on the side of caution seems reasonable. I've certainly followed the axiom now and then through the years.

I've looked before I've leaped; I've double-checked; I've played it safe rather than sorry.

I've also taken chances, risks--reasonable ones. Can you live without taking risks? Should you?

Along the line of acting cautiously in regards to the swine flu, the Center for Disease Control has placed the country at Level 5: continue with daily lives but take precautions. Wash hands. Check out symptoms. Don't panic

Common sense. I've done that for years. Especially the "continue with daily life" part.

There is a considerable amount of media hype and comment from our leaders--both Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi said they'd keep their families from traveling--that sends a message of fear. I don’t mean to make light of a potentially serious situation. Yes, it's better to be cautious where the flu is concerned, but there is such a thing as over reacting in fear.

My hairdresser has two plane trips coming up next month: one across the country to California, and one across the Atlantic to France. She had been excited, anticipating the time away. But now the swine flu has put a damper on that. She's worried, and might change her plans.

But think of this, I told her, "Suppose you stay home and catch the flu from someone here. And if you’d gone you wouldn't have."

It isn't really about the flu; it's about thinking we can control what happens to us. If we stay home we'll be safe, we think. But not necessarily, because bottom line, we have so little control. We play life like it's a game of chess, but sometimes it's a crapshoot. Life has plans. We get dragged along.

I finished reading Life Lists for a review next month in the Internet Review of Books. It was a biography of the famous birder, Phoebe Snetsinger, who was diagnosed with melanoma and given a year to live. She determined to pack that year full--no more playing it safe for Phoebe. Her cancer went into remission, then reappeared . . . several times. Twenty-five-years after her "death date," she died. Not from cancer.

So what am I saying?

Wash your hands. Stay away from people if you feel ill (and why weren't you doing this anyway?) Take precautions. Don't panic.

But mostly, continue with your daily life.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring speaks in poems~~

There's a flower blooming.

An unassuming plume of pink

As generous as a baby's grin

And just as captivating,

This is newborn spring!

The bees are bumbling.

Tumbling over blossoms,

They, too, are thirsty

For the first sweet sip of spring.

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pajama party on the Cape~

I love getting away overnight. As my husband explained to David when I told him I was going to spend a night at a friend's cottage on the Cape, women never give up the pajama parties of their youth.

Why would we? There is something to be said for staying up late talking and eating, eating and talking.

The get-together started mid afternoon, talking, snacking, and sipping wine on the couch in the cottage. Later, out to dinner we talked through Martinis, soup, and salad. Upon returning to the cottage, we talked and ate strawberries in cream and chocolate chip cookies. Then lights out and more talk before sleep.

Talk is key. The only thing different from the school day pajama parties of days gone by and the adult sleepover is that adults talk about husbands instead of boys. And eventually we do stop talking and go to sleep.

There is, of course, the inevitable shopping portion of the day. I know I'm not the only woman who gets little to no pleasure from shopping, but I am a decided minority, and the only one among my friends.

While they shop, I'm happy to spend an hour or two in a bookstore, or in this case, walking off our huge breakfast.

I hadn't walked far when I ducked out of the wind into Nantucket Natural Oils. I love essential oils, and prefer them to perfume. This was my kind of shopping: sitting at a bar in front of a variety of bottles . . .

Photo from Nantucket Natural Oils webstite.

I ordered up sniffs of this and smells of that. Now and then the shop owner gave me a cup of coffee beans to breath deeply over to clear my olfactory nerves, freeing them to smell again. I was planning to buy, and was at the point of exchanging wrist sniffs with a friend who had wandered in. How does this smell on me? Wrinkled nose, sniff of coffee beans, the question is taken as seriously as, how do these sun glasses look, or this dress?Eventually I settled on a quarter ounce bottle of Nantucket Rain, a mix of three oils.

We drove back to the cottage and spent the rest of the day talking and finishing up the guacomole and chicken wings, me basking in the pleasant fragrance rising from my wrists. Good stuff , Nantucket Rain. I'm wearing it now, a scented reminder of a great pajama party.
Last year's trip to the Cape: Like an Early Spring.~
Happiness is perfume, you can't pour it on somebody else without getting a few drops on yourself.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sharing hope~

The other day I took a walk along the power lines without my camera. I do that when I'm weary of my photographic eye being on high alert. I take mental pictures anyway--can't help it--but when I have my camera I stop-focus-snap-stop-focus-snap throughout the walk.

This particular day I just needed to walk and think after sitting too long at my laptop. I wanted to move, and breathe, and find that quiet place in my mind. I walked faster than I do with the camera, which felt good. I did stop, but only twice: to feel the satiny, grey pussy willows the size of new peas, and to listen to the faint song of spring peepers--chirping tree frogs whose melodious chorus means spring is really here to stay.

Rounding a turn I caught a familiar shape from the corner of my eye. Among plants that fringe the trail was a brown strand of grass whose tip curled into a shape like the breast cancer support ribbon.

I thought instantly of a friend I met through the blogosphere who is entering the dreaded territory of breast cancer. I thought of her faith, her bravery, her determination to learn something from this adventure she had not asked for. And it seemed this hopeful symbol, crowded by a tangle of vines and prickles, was a confirmation that hope and blessing exist, there is reason for faith, even when we are trapped in a thorny thicket.

I returned the next day to get a picture. Hope should be shared.
Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.~George Iles

***I'm reading this post six years after writing it. I've removed the links to my friends blog as they are inactive. I hope she's ... just too busy to blog.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Of giants and flying~

Driving home after lunch at a local steak house, my son and I were quiet. My mind wandered. I looked out the window at the naked trees--stiff, brittle, and woody-- but in the late sunlight the bare branches somehow looked soft as grass. Wispy. A giantess could dip the branches into mud makeup and apply color to her humungous cheeks with a tree, I think.

I asked David, "If a giant--a really huge one--were standing in the woods, would the trees feel soft to him?"

"What do you mean?"

"Would the trees feel soft to someone so much bigger than they are? The way moss feels soft to us?"


"Mosssssss, " I say. "If something very tiny were driving through a moss forest, the moss might feel stiff and tree-like, even though it's soft to us."

"Why would the giant have to be so big, Mom?" he asks, and I think he doesn't understand.

"He has to be big enough to step on trees," I say.

"There are some very small things we could step on that would feel sharp. Like thistles. It's not about the size. It's about what things are made of."

He's right. If giants step on a tree, they better be wearing boots. Trees would be sharp, even for giants. Massive splinters!

When we pull into the driveway, Dave says, "What super-power would you rather have? Being invisible or able to fly?"

I picture my mid-life body struggling to stay afloat in the air while I frantically flap my arms. Who wants the neighbors to see that?

"Can I be invisible while I fly?"

"No. One or the other."

"Then definitely invisible," I say. "Besides, I'm afraid of heights."

"Well, you wouldn't need to be if you could fly, " he says.

That's logical.

And I suppose if I could fly I wouldn't need to flap my arms frantically, I think. I'd soar effortlessly. But I don’t change my mind. Invisible is better. More useful.

Back to reality, when we get in the house Dave goes down stairs to study for a poly-sci test. He'll drive back to campus tomorrow.

I make tea, and think some more. I love taking to Dave. He's fun. He humors me. He gets me. He'll talk about giants. And super powers.

We all need at least one person in our life who does that.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hurry, spring~

You can't hurry love. No, you just have to wait. You got to trust, give it time, No matter how long it takes. (The Supremes)

Neither can you hurry spring.

I've learned you can't hurry much of anything. Or, rather, you can try, but the results will never be quite what you hoped for.

Spring is like a baby waking from a nap. Slowly. Eyes flicker momentarily. More sleep. Another flicker. One eye opens. More sleep, but lighter. Until finally, fully awake, life resumes after a long winter's nap.

A week ago a friend and I drove to a pretty place. We had our cameras and hoped for the tease of early spring, which was only a week away, but with both eyes tightly shut, spring still snored. The day was cold with patches of snow in the deep woods, mud in the sun, and varied shades of brown everywhere. Pretty enough for winter's end, but we were impatient for a change.

As we chatted in the parking lot before heading home, Lisa gently fingered some soft magnolia buds on the pruned branches in my truck bed. They were fuzzy, mouse-grey, full of life's promise. Like soft sacrificial lambs--the rest of the tree would be better without them--they awaited the brush pile at the landfill. Lisa seemed to be comforting the buds in some unconscious way as she touched them while we talked.

I got home and pulled the branches from the truck, clipped the ends, and stuck them in water. To have come so close to blooming and then be tossed seemed sad, a waste, a loss.

"Maybe I should have waited until fall," my husband said, but he's a hurry-up guy. The tree needed pruning, so he pruned. He didn't feel the ouch, or hear the cries. I did.

I wasn't sure if the branches would respond, but days later buds began to open; the grey fuzz split to reveal white petals. Small green leaves sprouted. Weeks ahead of the tightly clamped buds on the mother tree in the yard, these were opening.

It appears I can hurry spring.

But somehow it feels, if not wrong, not quite right, either. I'll enjoy the forced beauty, and try not to think of caged birds that should fly free. The flowers will grace the kitchen, even as I look beyond them through the window to the tree that will bloom freely on it's own time.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.~Lao Tzu

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The next day~

A couple of days ago, the weather was unseasonably sunny and warm, like a day in May. I reveled in the spring tease, while raking the canvas-like blanket of oak leaves off tender shoots-- pale and yellow--as in need of the sun as I am.

But I'd heard the forecast. A "wintery mix" was predicted was for the next day. More snow. Cold and grey . . . like one expects in February in Massachusetts.

This isn't going to last, I found myself thinking of the day's beauty. Too bad it's going to snow tomorrow. With the sweet sun warming my shoulders, I thought over and over, too bad it's going to snow tomorrow.

Until I caught myself . . . looking ahead, living in the future, instead of the here and now--the only moment in which we exist--the present.

So many times I've told my kids, "Don’t worry about tomorrow. Enjoy what you have right now. Don’t ruin today worrying about tomorrow" I managed to take my advice.

I spent the rest of the day examining the remains of winter through the lens of my camera, capturing faded, wilted, brown, and surprisingly beautiful, remnants of last summer fall--dried flowers and seed pods soon to be replaced by the buds already swelling on bare winter branches.

And the next day was full of its own fat-flake-swirling beauty. Nothing to complain about at all.
Live this day as if it will be your last. Remember, you only find "tomorrow" on the calendar of fools.~ Og Mandino