The Penultimate Day

It’s March 30, and here I sit wondering what to write.

It’s March 30, my daughter’s birthday. I’ll bake her a cake and prepare a casserole and bring it to her house as a “surprise” she’ll pretend not to expect.

It’s March 30. My mother-in-law would have been 101 today.

My mother-in-law, Inez, suffered from dementia the last 10 years of her life. She lived with us for a while during that period. Until she started roaming the house at night: making pancakes on the smooth top range without using a griddle; setting off the alarm when she decided to walk “home”; washing her bed sheets in the bathtub; refusing to go to adult day care.

The last lucid thing she said to me was “You know, I never liked you.” But I wasn’t her daughter-in-law that day. I was her high school frenemy Mae.

It’s March 30, Good Friday. I remember my mother fussing about Friday meals–no meat. My father would not abide sandwiches for supper. We’d have pasta fagioli most Fridays or thick crust home made pizza (no basil, my dad didn’t care for it–how could you not like basil?) Our dinner tonight will be pasta with shrimp.

It’s March 30, one more day to go in this challenge. I think I’ll make it.



Writing Saved me

Alice Walker: Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.

I have written before about being in a constant state of outrage. Every single day it’s one more thing to get exercised about. If it’s not the decimation of the State Department, it’s the weakening of the EPA, or the Facebook debacle. Now, I’m in a state about the new question being proposed for the 2020 census regarding citizenship. The Founding Fathers knew that an accurate count of the population is necessary in a democratic republic. They did not say, “Count only voters.”  If they had, no women or children would have mattered in the census when it was first done. We count all the people who live in the country because we are responsible for the health and welfare of all of the people, voter or not.

So, instead of burning effigies or punching Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, I write. I have already called my Congressman (who has announced he isn’t running for reelection, Yay!), and my two senators. I have also sent Emails. I have cheered the states, like California, that have brought lawsuits against the proposal. But writing about my outrage has a salubrious effect.

Writing makes me think deeply; writing makes me take action. Writing about my worries doesn’t make me worry less, but writing makes me worry more productively. And it saves me from the sin of violence.

Routinely joyful

Sometimes I worry about becoming too set in my ways, too accustomed to routine. Every morning my husband brews the coffee and I print two copies of the NY Times crossword puzzle. We sip our coffees, work on the puzzle, and then plan our day. If we’re home at lunchtime, I will make sandwiches, or a salad and we’ll talk about current events; fortunately, we are in agreement about almost all of the issues, and we read the Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer (which is a ghost of its former self) daily. Then, it’s chores or nap time (sometimes both). In the early evening we watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, guessing the phrases on Fortune, feeling proud of ourselves when the old brain recalls Jeopardy answers.

These routines are comfortable and the truth is, I like having the sameness. Yet, I know that adventure is good for the soul too. We travel some, we visit friends who have relocated to South Carolina and Florida, and we rent at the beach for two weeks every year, but these are routines of a sort too. My sister says that she’s often on “automatic pilot” and chores get done without her having to think about doing them. “When did I empty the dishwasher? I don’t even remember!” I guess routine is a kind of automatic pilot, and there are advantages in that. The challenge is to bring joy and excitement into the day-to-day. That’s what teachers do every single day.  That’s what, as a retired teacher, I guess I need to work harder to do…discover the joy in watching the black-capped chickadees at the feeder, the joy in participating in an egg hunt with the neighborhood children (doing that today as Sunday’s was postponed due to snow cover!), discovering the joy in the first swallow of French press coffee this morning as I write this slice. Routinely find joy. How’s that?

Waiting for the words

August 20,  my wedding day. A photographer from Prestwood Studios has snapped picture after picture in and around the house:  in my room, my mother adjusting my veil; in the living room surrounded by bridesmaids; on the stairs with my parents;  in front of the picture window; outdoors next to the peony bushes. Now, he’s snapping my father and me in the back seat of the limo, ready for the slow drive to church. Neighborhood kids line the sidewalk for a peek at “the bride.”

I am waiting for my father to say the words.

Our driver stops at the corner, looks both ways, and eases the car down Jefferson Avenue.

I am waiting for my father to say the words.

We stop at the intersection of Jefferson and Rushbrook and turn left. Outside La Rosa and Sons Grocery Store, Frank La Rosa, who is sweeping the sidewalk, turns to wave to us.

I am waiting for my father to say the words.

We turn right onto Madison Avenue. In the middle of the block Sacred Heart of Mary Church stands waiting to receive us.

I am waiting for my father to say the words.

We exit the car. Dawn, my flower girl and niece, steps to the door to help me gather the train of my wedding dress. We begin the ascent—18 steps to the open front door.

It is time for my father to say the words, “Honey, if you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to. We can turn around and go back home right now.” Those are the very words he has uttered to my five sisters before each of them took their vows. I stand poised and ready. I think maybe I won’t go through with it after all. The organ swells. I turn to my father who places his hand over mine and says, “Come on, honey. Let’s go.”







In a New York State of Mind

Sunday afternoon I drove to NY City with an old friend who has a time-share apartment in Manhattan. We breezed into the city and enjoyed the environment, gearing up for the main event: Dress Rehearsal of Luisa Miller at the Met on Monday morning.

Dress rehearsals at the Met are a spectacular event. The singers hold back a bit, because they are saving their voices for the upcoming performances, but even so, there’s always some drama. Once, when we sat in the rehearsal audience for Salome, there was an actual fire onstage. One of the torches required back stage personnel to put it out with fire extinguishers. The house was evacuated while the fumes were dispersed with giant fans and air conditioners. Other times, the conductor will halt the performance if the strings aren’t lush or the baritone misses his cue or the soprano isn’t emoting satisfactorily.Today we were treated to a repeat of the death duet of Rudolfo and Luisa.  I love all of that. It’s a front row seat to real formative assessment and reflection.

Do teachers, I wonder, ever, ever do anything or go anywhere that we are not making connections to learning?

On the way home today I learned several things: leaving Manhattan at on a weekday is always a challenge, especially entering the Lincoln Tunnel, but it works out eventually. I should have listened more closely when my friend tried to explain to me how to post from an iPad; we were in traffic so long, I could surely have written this in the car. If the lane I’m in sports a red X, that actually means something. If the NJ Turnpike entrance is closed, the Parkway will connect me to the turnpike eventually.  A minute in New York gives me hours of memories.




When cold wind

beats biting chips

against your face,

Believe in summer–

sandy beaches,

coconut-oiled canvas chairs,

A white hot sun,

laughing seagulls.


When your icy heart

feels friendless




Children building castles

out of sand.

A feral acrobat

The Sunday magazine section of the NY Times each week runs  “Poem,” a piece  selected by Terrance Hayes, poet and author most recently of “How to Be Drawn,”  which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2015. His February 4 selection came with a suggestion which I repeat here:

“This pithy poem could double as a writing prompt. The poet gets you started, opening with the seemingly surreal image of a six-legged horse. It unfolds with a mix of aphorism, fantasy, and myth. How would you proceed after beginning with a horse? How would you conclude? Try adding another 36 words to the poem. Go playfully toward the imaginativeness the poem invokes.”

Beginning With a Horse

By Alan Felsenthal

A horse has six legs

two belong to a man

who might be Pluto

disguised as the devil

abducting a unicorn

whose horn was used

to purify a spring

that whetted the infinite

now behind us

Accepting the challenge I add 36 words:

The other four

belong to

a feral acrobat

descended from Zeus

and an Aigamuxa

with eyes on her feet

who grew extra

to better spy her prey

while doing handstands

jumping fences

win, place, and show.