Monday, June 1, 2020

Long, Lost Friend


When my husband and I first bought a small house on a tiny property in New Jersey 30-plus years ago I had two main objectives: To get my hands in the soil and plant tomatoes, and to raise a family. I did both. But over the years I lost touch with the soil.  
          When our three boys were little I spent hours in the backyard before cell phones and video games. The backyard was our refuge along with local parks; we had our own sand box and swing set and a glorious apple tree that succumbed to disease one year and a mulberry tree that fell over in a hurricane. The apple tree was the perfect place to search for a six-year-old who’d gone missing. I could always find him there or on the top of the two-car garage in the rear of the yard which we use to store junk since there is no pavement leading to it (now grown, this particular son likes indoor rock climbing).
            Our yard is less than a quarter of an acre, but from the onset it was filled with treasures, not the least of which was an expansive blackberry patch. When we first moved in from New York City, I had no idea what that pile of bramble was, and considered digging it up. Come May however, it burst into bloom, and every July since the delight of fresh blackberry pie outweighs the aggravation of summer baking.
            Our yard has been home to praying mantises (sadly, I don’t see them any more), cicadas, small snakes, slugs –particularly the year I planted zucchini—cardinals, bluejays, woodpeckers and many other birds. Woodchucks come and go, as does the occasional rabbit. My first year here I called my father wondering if there was a badger in the yard—he laughed at that idea. We’ve also had the occasional skunk and opossum. Deer have come to visit but only twice in 30 years.
            Every year I planted tomatoes (until recently) and one summer I planted lettuce, eggplant, cucumbers, broccoli and a pumpkin or two. We spent hours in the sandbox until the boys grew too big for it and I had a modest deck built instead. We have lilies of the valley, lilacs, violets and wild roses (one would think I live on an estate!). We have four pear trees—each producing a slightly different kind of pear. (One variety is so tiny the squirrels feast on the fruit before fully ripened, mischievously throwing the chewed remnants onto the deck below.) When the kids were little they filled toy wagons with the larger pears to distribute to the neighbors (with the warning to watch out for worms as they were never sprayed).
            For years this yard was my haven, our place to play and swim in a plastic pool, to shoot water guns, blow bubbles, and run through the sprinkler, to dig and get our hands in the earth. And then one day the kids got too big and cool to play outside and their mom—aka me—retreated to my computer…where I’m sad to say, I remained for many, many years, only venturing into the yard from time to time to sit on the deck and sip a coffee, or to pick a few flowering sprigs. My husband mowed the lawn and trimmed the hedges (a bit grudgingly, I might add, since I'd agreed the yard would be my realm and responsibility).
            This year during the pandemic it all changed. I was called by some primal force to return to my yard. I’ve spent hours during this time getting to know this old friend again…lamenting the loss of some of my former companions (the phlox have completely disappeared, and I  detected only one white violet this spring), but miraculously discovering things I didn’t realize were there, like five small wild cherry trees in a row that might have been mistaken for weeds had I been paying attention, but instead are now already three or four feet tall. 
            Because I was in my yard this spring, I noticed that the ivy was taking over the blackberries so I cut it back and now will have a bumper crop of berries. I cleared one neglected area behind the deck and ordered packets of wildflower seeds which are now sprouting due to attentive watering. 
            Because I’ve been home and not running about I noticed trees that needed pruning and called an arborist. The removal of dead branches gave way for new growth on the aging pear trees. The tiny sapling (a pine) I planted 30 years ago now towers high into the sky, and the ornamental plum tree I planted after the apple tree was felled has revived after a bout with some fungus. 
            This year, I’ve sat on my deck in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the early evening, listening to birds and watching the buds turn to leaves on the trees. My shoes have been caked with mud, my hands have been blistered from raking, and my back has ached each night as I’ve crawled into bed.
 I’ve reunited with this yard as if it is a long, lost friend I haven’t seen in decades. Indeed, that’s exactly the case. And just like a dear old friend, my yard has welcomed me back into its arms, as if I’d never even left. I hope--as long as I'm on this earth--we will never be parted again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Peeps, Beans, and Other Surprises


I meant to write this blog on Easter, but in the season of Covid-19 (I wish this was the name of a cocktail combining cognac and vodka instead of what it is) time got away from me. Or should I say there seems to be both a plethora of time and no time at all, apparently the result of following an altered routine that includes too many nights of interrupted sleep as well as too many naps.
            My prose wanders, as the point of this blog was to write about jelly beans. This was the first in many years that I had none in the house on Easter Sunday. My father made a huge deal of having a jelly bean hunt every Easter and this was a tradition I carried on with my kids. He would sprinkle jelly beans up and down the stairs to my bedroom, and all around the house on window sills and chairs (needless to say some were indeed rather dusty). This never mattered to me, nor did it to my three sons who used to race around the house, elbowing and kicking each other to find all the bunny’s hiding places. My dad was famous in the family for this ritual.
            In the Jewish tradition, I’m told, there is also some searching for the hidden prize –a piece of matzo known as the afikomen. 
            Anyway. In the time of Covid-19 I did not think ahead to order or purchase any jelly beans and I found myself not only without my grown sons visiting (they still like a chocolate rabbit and a few beans strewn about), but also with nothing sweet to celebrate with except a package of Peeps (which I detest) that my husband had picked up at Aldi’s the day before the sheltering commenced. I usually dye Easter eggs as well, so in the early morning I scuffled into my basement searching for the plastic bag that contains my Easter decorations. Often, there are a few tablets of dye left over from the year before, but alas, the bag was nowhere to be found. I resorted to taking a gel pen to some brown eggs. The result was not impressive.
            But all was not lost! The point of the jelly bean hunt was not just to fill one’s basket with candy, but also to relish the feeling of surprise and delight when a bean was found in an unexpected place (in a shoe, for instance, or tucked into an empty coffee cup). Instead… Easter morning revealed that unbeknownst to me on a dusty shelf in the rear of my cellar there were three—yes,  three—cans of Lysol. What a gift! This is a product that I would never willingly purchase under normal circumstances, and I have no idea where these cans came from. My hunch, however, is that one of my sons had them at college (have you ever stepped into a young man's dorm room?) and stashed them there on a visit home.
            Lysol! Poison in most circumstances in my opinion, but gold in a Covid crisis. Having no disinfectants in my home—and with the stores depleted of the stuff--this was truly a find.
            Later in the day, my husband and I ventured into our backyard to pull weeds and rake some leaves. We spent several hours in the sun, enjoying the fresh air. Minutes after I came inside to make tea my husband followed, holding another treasure. Under a pine tree on the side of our house he had discovered a small green stone the shape of an egg. Again, my suspicion is that one of our kids had buried it there in bygone years and it had just made it to the surface. So, on Easter Sunday we did find an egg--though not a jelly bean (and certainly not edible). Nevertheless, we experienced the comforting delight of finding something pleasant or useful in an unexpected place.
            Naturally, I segued in my mind from the Lysol cans and egg-shaped stone to other unexpected gifts that this horrid Covid experience has offered. I won’t recount them here, because I'm rather tired of Pollyanna-ish lists when so many are suffering. But I have heard of joy from many unexpected quarters…I have also heard from a number of folks who are  treasuring their time at home with family, and that they are re-thinking many things, and planning for a brighter, more authentic future.
            You never really know where you might find a jelly bean.
            

Friday, March 20, 2020

Something's Fishy



A few weeks ago, before the world turned upside down, I noticed that I was running around a lot. My comings and goings had become so intense that one day, looking around my living room at all my coats, scarves and sweaters thrown on chairs, boots and shoes by the doorway, and piles of papers on the table, I actually began talking to my goldfish in despair. (Truthfully, my son’s goldfish, but we’ve been Arnold’s adoptive parents for many years now.) From his tank, I felt almost as if our goldfish was wagging his fin at me…giving me a sign of sorts…warning in his fishy way, that I needed—nay, that I would soon be forced—to slow down.

It occurred to me in that prescient moment that Arnold the fish must wonder what the hell I’ve been so busy doing. He must have been thinking: “Why is the door constantly, slamming open and shut? Why does this couple disappear for days at a time (causing me to miss a few of my regular meals), and why do they move so swiftly in and out of the house, constantly in a rush? Why is she always searching for her keys or losing her sneakers under the table?”

I thought to myself in that moment, that Arnold --who habitually swims leisurely during the day and retires to the bottom left hand corner of the tank every night at around 9 p.m. to sleep until 7 a.m.-- must think I’m nuts. “Yes, Arnold,” I said aloud, “we are running around a lot. Your life actually makes a lot more sense than ours sometimes.”

Well! Little did I know that just two weeks later Arnold and I would be so simpatico. Now, the door opens only twice during the day; when my husband goes out to take his run, and when I step out to take my walk. The clutter is gradually disappearing from the living room. There are a lot of hours when Arnold and I are together: he’s nearby when I roll out my yoga mat, when I read my books, even when I turn on the news. We’re spending many, many quality hours together, Arnold, my husband, and I. 

Arnold has been swimming in his tank for close to ten years. Universe willing, we won’t be confined for that long! But my fish is a beautiful reminder that life doesn’t have to move at such a fast pace. In fact, as we adjust to all the myriad changes this unwanted virus has brought to our days, I rather envy Arnold; for him, life goes on as per usual--quite swimmingly, as he might say.


Friday, February 14, 2020

The White Rose



It’s said that you can’t change anyone, but people do change. Decades ago, for instance, I was a young lady working in Manhattan. On my way home from my office in midtown, often after 7 p.m., I might stop at the local liquor store and pick up a bottle of wine, then stand in my strappy high heels waiting for the light to change on 171st  Street, and light up a cigarette. 
            My husband was a classical street musician. With his quintet, he played for cash strewn into an open instrument case in front of a store on Fifth Avenue. We were often “ships passing in the night,” and in those long-ago days, my main concern was my career at a magazine.
 I wasn’t a nasty woman (I was especially kind to my aging parents, whom I adored).  But I wasn’t exactly easy to live with. My mate (a very private dude), was highly critical of my behavior; he was judgmental, and didn’t smoke, drink, or dance (aside from an occasional  waltz). Our marriage was rocky; it crashed up on the rocks now and then but miraculously survived.
            Flash forward a few decades: I’m a yoga teacher, my husband is a successful musician, and we’re the parents of three grown sons. Rarely do we argue, though we sometimes disagree. Because of my New Age-y pastime, I routinely do things that the husband of yore would have scorned. Just the other night, for instance, I was awaiting a visit from some angels (having signed up for an angel visit via an angel chain letter too complex to explain here) and I was setting up my altar in preparation. I’d had a busy day, and didn’t have time to obtain the requisite white flower to welcome the beings. I bemoaned this fact aloud.
            “I’ll get the flower for you,” my husband volunteered. “What kind would you like?”
            “Any white flower will do,” I said gratefully. He sprinted off to the local florist and returned with a lovely white rose.
            At precisely 10:30 p.m. that night I was supposed to let the angels in the front door. (Yes, that sounds nuts, but can you actually prove that angels can fly through metal?) 
“Are you coming up to bed?” my husband asked.
            “Um…I have to do something first.”
            “Oh, that’s right.” He smiled conspiratorially and headed up the stairs without further comment.
            Throughout the years, my husband and I have both changed. We learned how to parent, though we were clueless when our first child was born. We learned to fight, and we learned to forgive. We fought off cancer and grieved the death of parents; we watched two kids get married. We learned to laugh with instead of at one another (well, mostly!) and to accept each other’s likes/dislikes with tolerance instead of nasty derision (he: Mel Brooks/pop music; me: angels/anchovies…among other things). In my wildest dreams I never could have imagined the easygoing man he has become, and in his wildest hallucinations he would never have conjured up a mantra-chanting Kundalini yoga teacher.
The critical young musician I married would have said angels were a crock. That snarky girl on the corner would have heartily agreed. Clearly, we’ve both evolved, but what matters most is not whether my mate believes in angels (doubtful) but whether he honors my belief. His respectful offer of the white rose tells me he does. 
Often, we insist that the traits that most annoy us about our beloved will never change, but life itself is change, so why be so sure? Happy Valentine’s Day to all, and may your love grow deeper, wiser, and more surprising each day.





Saturday, August 31, 2019

September



Have you ever heard a woman complain that the days of pregnancy passed too swiftly? I know I haven’t. For me, the days of pregnancy (three times) were interminable. But then the baby comes and time speeds up. And one amazing day, the baby gets married (this happened very recently in my family). Alas, the old clichĂ©: where did the time go?
            It’s a conundrum I’ve been grappling with lately: How to slow time down? Apparently, there are a few methods, like meditating (a good one) or living a boring life (I can’t imagine how the latter would be possible, but I do know people who say they are bored and that time seems to drag). I wouldn’t recommend this approach, however, and can’t even figure out how it might work.
Just maybe, living in an extremely cold climate would help make time stand still; I know, for instance, that even though the days are shorter, they can seem agonizingly endless during a bout of bad winter weather. Still, this incentive would not be enough to get me to move to, ahem, Greenland.
 At this time of year on the East coast in particular, I’m always reminded of how fast time travels. At the end of summer, I can never believe how swiftly the warm season has passed. On Labor Day, it seems as if only yesterday it was Summer Solstice (unless, of course, one has kids who are antsy to get back to school and summer has gone on for far too long). I remember my mother listening to Willie Nelson’s soulful rendition of  “September.” The thought of her tears every time she heard that song brings me to tears even decades later.
As a kid, I spent endless afternoons on particular time-expanding pursuits, and I wonder if perhaps I should try some of them now. A favorite was to recline on the living room rug and gaze up at the ceiling, imagining that it was the floor. I was fascinated by the fact that the ceiling/floor could be so uncluttered, making the room seem exceptionally spacious. On the empty ceiling there were no coffee tables, chairs, or couches, no magazines, books, or clutter of any kind. I felt an infinite expansiveness just staring up at the empty, flat space. So maybe…fast forward to adulthood…I would feel time slowing a bit if I could just get rid of some clutter and lay flat on my back.
Another activity was naming my marbles. Yes, I know this sounds odd…but I whiled away many an hour in an altered state while taping monikers on my voluminous collection (I may have named some rocks, too, though I can’t swear to this). Clearly, the names didn’t last—they fell off after a few rolls. But that didn’t seem to matter. This mind-numbing activity made a day last like an eternity, and I thoroughly enjoyed it even though the names—Catsy, Sparkle, Greenie—were pretty lame.
I suppose if I splayed out on the floor all day now or sat with a pile of marbles, my grown kids and husband might call a family meeting. So, I’ll stick to meditation—which seems to help, as does being “present” and avoiding winding thought-paths into past or future. 
Still, I sense that time is speeding up and a “slow pill” sounds enticing. If only September—truly, my favorite month-- could go on…and on… forever. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

Summer Reading



I’m half way through this fantastic novel—perfect for summer beach reading! So many interesting characters, and such intrigue! Wait…what? This is not fiction??? Omg! 

I don’t care if you’re left handed or right handed, using your left brain or your right brain, or if you’re left or right winged politically. If you’re Republican no doubt you’ll conclude that this unbelievable tale is indeed that—unbelievable. And if you’re a Democrat no doubt you’ll think, ahah, now it all makes sense. But whatever your political label (and even if you don’t have one) The Mueller Report  is worth your attention. I see reading this tome as my civic duty—and surely this should be mandatory reading for everyone in the government—yes, all 400-plus pages. We require our school children to read over the summer—so why not our Congressional representatives and Senators? (Actually they'd better get reading right now.)

I know you have better things to do (and read). You could play hopscotch, do the laundry, or just close your eyes, relax, and wait for the movie. But in the family in which I grew up, news was taken seriously, and no one ever heard of it being “fake.” In fact, I’m quite certain that my fascination with the Mueller report links genetically back to my father’s obsession with the Congressional Record. I can still see him—in his retirement years—sitting in his favorite chair next to his lamp with a copy of the latest Congressional Record in his hands. I don’t know how he got these things (there was no internet back then)…but got them he did. After his passing, there were boxes and boxes of the Congressional Record left behind in a spare room upstairs.

We also subscribed to two newspapers—one for the morning, and one for the evening, from which my parents often read excerpts aloud (sadly, they mostly shared gruesome stories about kids skating on unfrozen ponds or driving drunk…the paper was used not only as a source for current events, but as a learning tool). Back then, newsmen (and the few newswomen) were respected and revered.

My father was a Republican and a Nixon man, but I am quite certain he would be “fit to be tied” over what’s going on now. (The word “sex” was never uttered in our home—let alone the word “porn” or “porn star.”) Even so, I know for sure if Dad were here today he’d be reading The Mueller Report—from start to finish. 

This popular argument that Americans can’t and won’t read, I believe, is not only disheartening but untrue. Exhibit One: Fifty Shades of Grey. It wasn’t so long ago that Americans were virtually unable to put that book down. 

So, reach for the latest Elin Hildebrand summer beach read if you must. But first, give Mr. Mueller a try (he is gray, after all, and the story he tells is shady). It’s only ten bucks (or free, if you download it somewhere and there’s even a large-print edition) and will keep you engaged (angered, saddened, amused, disgusted, horrified, frustrated, etc.) for hours. Fix yourself an iced tea (or perhaps a stiff scotch), and open to page one.  Ah…the joys of summer reading!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Beautiful Gift to Me

This Christmas, I gave myself a gift. It didn’t come in a box. It didn’t come in a gift bag. It wasn’t even wrapped. It came in my thoughts, or rather, in the absence of thoughts. My gift to myself was the promise that I would not be thwarted: I would enjoy the happiness of the present moment. 

This meant that I did not allow myself to turn on the news, to be lured by headlines on my computer, or to give voice to my political opinions. This had nothing to do with “keeping the peace” at the dinner table, as all of my guests were on the same page politically this year, anyway. Rather, it had to do with not succumbing to the tantalizing magnetism of toxic thoughts in my own mind.

The lack of drama was refreshing! I focused on cranberry sauce and stocking stuffers instead of the Mueller report or who will run for President in 2019. An eerie peacefulness settled around me as I relinquished my newly acquired cable news stations and ignored The Huffington Post. I had calm conversations with my now grown children that involved eye contact and had nothing to do with he who shall not be named. 

In the course of enjoying my gift over several days I felt less stress than I have in months (perhaps, actually, in two years), even though December is a high-stress month. Instead of listening to the radio while I drove to various stores to shop, I turned up my favorite mantra CD and felt as though I was floating through traffic on a fluffy cloud. No loud voices ranted about walls. No snarky rebuttals. No threats or proclamations of blame. It was damned lovely.

Of course, as the holidays wane I know I’ll return to my natural state of news junkie. But maybe not with quite the same level of devotion. Giving up the news felt a bit like quitting smoking (which I did many years ago). It brought a sense of breathing freely, a lightness, a realization that create my day—my life is not owned by anyone else. 

Ah, peace of mind. Such a lovely present. And it didn’t cost a dime. Come to think of it, my birthday is coming up and now I know precisely what I will give myself.