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The Autumnal Equinox

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Letting go.

I stood in a ten by eleven foot room this afternoon wailing. I hadn’t seen it coming. These sobs from deep in my belly rolled up and out. My nose ran and my eyes rained tears. Loss seemed to have multiplied in black body bags. I was surrounded by five contractor size garbage bags of my father’s life. For three hours, I pulled items from his closet, from his desk from one of his four brief cases, from his bookcase, from his stereo cabinet and from boxes stored under his desk. I salvaged more than I intended. Four boxes of record albums dating back to the late 1800’s. A suit, a shirt, two ties, for the day he might require them. A collection of tape recordings made over the past 25 years. Several touching notes and letters written to my sister and me for such day that I was doing such a heart-breaking task. My father’s relocation to the Holyoke Soldier’s Home will provide him a new start on life. He left behind the detritus for my sister and I to sort out. The visceral pain of touching the pieces of his life that he treasured most were what was most difficult. My great-grandmother’s sepia photograph wrapped in a velvet sack laid along side money from the mid to late 1800’s. It was hard to ponder what brought these items together. The batteries and pens and stationery and the stamps on letters never mailed were inventoried and sorted.
My brother-in-law and I had spent hours and hours over the weekend right here in the exact same spot. We had removed close to a ton of clutter and cast aways from the house already. I tried to stee l myself to it. I tried to apply my very exceptional skill to sort and organize like and unlike items (learned from playing hundreds of games of solitude, I am convinced) without the emotional burden of being present - while I toss an entire refrigerator filled with half-eaten food. It is not easy. Loss always seems to declare itself as I finger a book, turn over a photograph, gather up items for the Thrift Shop. Letting go, no matter who, no matter how, no matter when, is simply never easy.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blame It on Mary Poppins

When I was young, Mary Poppins planted the idea in my head that “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.” Five years later, my father wrote a treatise on the Protestant Work Ethic. It seems that hard work is part of a person’s calling in the world; in completing work, we are serving God. Those are powerful messages to plant in the developing brain of a young woman. In fact, those two beliefs were tightly woven into the fabric of who I have become.
I have clear evidence of this fact while I take refuge on Martha’s Vineyard. While western Massachusetts suffers through the chaos and discomfort of an electricity-free zone, I have found safe haven at the Oak House on the Vineyard. Theoretically, I should have little more to do than write, eat, and of course, take hot baths. Wouldn’t you know by 6a.m. I had written a To Do list that has 23 tasks on it? Now isn’t that ridiculous? I seem driven to find work even when I could simply do nothing. Instead, I want to put my aunt’s cremains to rest, make brownies, sort through my father’s house, drag clothes to the thrift shop, and the list goes on....
If asked, I can trace this compulsion to be doing, to have work to accomplish, to the 150 times I listened to Mary Poppins sing her instructions to find fun in work and to my father’s treatise on Protestantism. Sometimes, I wonder why bother on this kind of self-reflection. Especially when I have laundry to put in the dryer.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Nor'Easter

IN a departure from typical fall weather, there are near blizzard conditions at home; I understand that the snow is piling in significant amounts in western Massachusetts. Here, on Martha’s Vineyard, we are weathering a Nor’Easter of epic proportions. I am watching the usually placid Town Beach churn into a cauldron of waves and foam. Rain is falling, horizontally. In the mid-day darkness, it is difficult to conjure the memory of a day of crystalline clarity. A day where the piercing blue brightness of the sky almost takes your breath away. In the midst of this fierce storm, I threw my entire body weight into holding the front door steady against the wind while my friend applied weather-stripping to plug the drafts. However, it was like plugging a leaking boat. Where do you begin? The wind found its way through crevices too minute to locate. It did help some to wedge foam where we could, but this fourteen bedroom house was bound to be subject to the wind’s brutal escapades. The roar of the madding wind drove me out of my preferred Library Bedroom in the Oak House to the Innkeeper’s quarters. On the backside of the house where the Innkeeper might reside, the pounding surf, whistling winds and heavy rains are slightly muted. Sleep may be possible here.

Friday, October 28, 2011


It is said that we are all haunted by something. A memory, a song, a person. These unbidden representations of the past hover in the present effectively diminishing our ability to be fully ensconced in the here and now. I know of which I speak.
Martha’s Vineyard is a place so populated by ghosts that there are times I have to shake my head to clear it of the images it projects. I have been in love with this Island for almost fifty years. During those years, I have explored unnamed beaches, slid down the Gay Head Cliffs, and had hot dogs at Menemsha while watching the fishing boats come in. I have danced under the moon, I have run barefoot in the rain around the bandstand in Oak Bluffs. I have been wooed, romanced and loved. I have attended funeral upon funeral upon funeral as I said goodbye to loved ones.
The ghosts of the Vineyard past ride shotgun on my shoulder wherever I go, whatever I do. It has taken some time to acclimated to their disturbing presence. I have gradually grown accustomed to the changes ...Hilliard’s is gone, no nude-bathing on South Beach, trespass signs have been posted at the start of most of the dirt roads I used to explore with my husband, a native Islander. I am beginning to see the sons and daughters of my friends becoming parents themselves. The Island names I knew are being passed down to the next generation. The unbidden ghosts of the past have started to become a reassuring presence. As I build my memory muscle and can carry both the past and the present around with me simultaneously, I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I am at that unique juncture in life where the past and the present seem to intersect. The ghosts of the past and the promises of tomorrow bear equal weight.
Soon, very soon, my future, that once stretched before me with no limit, will shrink and my past will overtake it. The ghosts that were once merely frequent visitors will be more regular visitors. I will enter the twilight years of my life. However, I have the good fortune to be at a place in time and spirit where my past and my future are juxtaposed. The ghosts have not, can not, will not take over until I give up believing that life has new friends, adventures and experiences to offer on this Island that has given me so very much.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Living Life Large

I have a cousin who lives in California. I love knowing that, should the opportunity arise, I could call her and ask if she is up for a visit. Unquestionably, she would throw open her door and her arms to receive me. I am always intrigued when I hear tidbits of her life; it is so very different than the path I have taken. It sounds immeasurably exciting and full of adventure. My cousin rides motorcycles, goes spelunking, and now, her passion is sailboat racing. She has weekends crowded with races and friends. Now, I am pretty sure, if you were to ask her, she would say there was nothing extraordinary about her interests and skills. She is not intentionally snubbing her nose at convention. Rather, she is mindful of the capricious nature of life and she is simply doing her part at living life large. How fortunate I am to have such a cousin who lives in California.
Day 44

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Achilles Heel

Do you know those “get acquainted” exercises many businesses and schools run where you have to reveal one secret about yourself that no-one would ever guess? You write
it on an index card, then the cards are distributed. You mingle among the group and try to match the secret to the person. Sound familiar? Well, here’s my secret. I’ll make it easy.

I moved nine times before I was eleven. Nine is a big number. My father opened new offices for the Mutual of New York Insurance Company. His letterhead said “Kenneth F. Evans, Jr. MONY.” That word (sounds like money) has to do some softening on clients subliminally. It may be what warmed new clients to the idea that they would make money with the company. My father’s job was to get those clients in the door, see that the office was up and running and then, move on. His territory was the Eastern seaboard.

My father’s completion of his tasks usually happened about a month before the moving truck, usually Allied Movers, arrived and loaded our entire belongings on the rig. We followed behind in the car and would start our new lives with the unpacking of books and pots and beds and toys and pets. The effect of moving nearly every year was that I treasured my friends. I worked too hard to make friends to toss them aside because I was moving. I have friends today that were friends from my childhood. They remain friends not because of our closeness of locale, but rather, due to the closeness of our hearts.

New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts all offered up wonderful people in different guises. I treasured the alliances I made at each new school. I earned the trust of the people I met at church. In the world when everything else changed around me, I knew enough to hold on to the people about whom I cared.

I have discovered that my propensity to hold on to my friends and not to toss them aside at the least sign of imminent discord is not typical. When I express the tenure of friendships I have nurtured through the years, people show surprise. I was puzzled at first. I learned that many people have situational friends that are there for convenience, not a lifetime. On the other hand, I believe I may invest too much in my friendships. I am deeply wounded when a friend moves on, by way of a Dear Jane letter or by selective absence in my life.

That being said, as much as I want to avoid the pain of losing a friend, I treasure the gifts that friends bestow upon me - their kindness, their humor, their staunch loyalty, and, occasionally, their form of tough love when I need it. I relish the opportunity to offer my love, my gifts of humor and cerebral creativity and, the biggie, my loyalty. My loyalty is second to none. I have often heard it said that our Achilles heel is the same as our greatest strength. So, there it is. My strength is my fierce loyalty. This quality could just as easily be regarded as my Achilles heel. All I can do with that knowledge is to choose my shoes wisely.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Sometimes, it seems that the Universe delivers exactly what I need when I need it. Yes, my sister and I exchanged words this morning that required 45 minutes to put to rights. Yes, the ATM ate my check today. And...Yes, I had to toss a steak, a loaf of bread, and clementines because they were “aged.” All of those incidents of life needed to be pushed aside to reveal what is most important. From friend to friend, this message returned to me. It was the exact prayer, meditation, offering that I gave to my friend three years ago. She still has it posted on her wall. I can read this one hundred times one hundred and I still need to be reminded.

"May today there be peace within.
May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are
born of faith in yourself and others.
May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us."
Maybe I will find it posted on your wall sometime!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sunrise Over Whately

The morning started with a sunrise that took my breath away.
It was like a painting with broad strokes of color erupting into vibrant hues of pink and purple and red. Silently, I recited a childhood poem, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailor’s take warning.” I may be a long way from the ocean, but the sunrise this morning served to predict that sailor’s would be wise not to set sail today.
The most important part of my day was a visit to my father at the Soldier’s Home. It was his third day there, so he is still becoming acquainted with the facility, his neighbors and the staff. The challenge of keeping positive was made easier by the gentle kindness of my friend, Sharon.
This kind woman reappeared in my life about ten years ago, after a twenty year hiatus.
We had a mutual friend in the late 70’s, or early 80’s. Our friend introduced me to Sharon at her wedding shower. Our paths crossed from time to time, but we became neighbors six years ago. Her twin sons played sports with my son. Sharon and/or her husband would be at games cheering. Her daughter was friendly with my eldest daughter. The girls are a year apart. The children shared a casual friendship that took its own meandering course.
However, as a result of the children, I was reminded that Sharon is a generous and kind person. She brings her warm spirit to all that she does. She is a heath aide, mostly to those with Alzheimer’s. Recently, I asked Sharon if she had any extra time during the week, if she would be available to be my companion for a few hours. Sharon’s schedule was pretty tight she did not have extra time. Sharon didn’t just decline, however. She called a friend who was recently retired and was willing to do some driving for me and Sharon recruited her 23-year old daughter to help me. As it turned out, Sharon had a bit of flexibility in her schedule and she was able to help me today.
Sharon drove me to the Soldier’s Home. After sitting through lunch with my father and trying to help him become more comfortable with the organization of his belongings, Sharon and I had to leave. My father called me later in the afternoon. He thanked me for coming and expressed the unaccountably warm feelings he felt toward Sharon. He felt like she was a long-time friend. These were kind words from an octogenarian.
As it turned out, the sun’s rays cast light and warmth into the day that had nothing to do with the weather. They served to illuminate the unexpected kindness of a friend. Sailors, raise your sails.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Children's Exchange

I first learned about The Children’s Exchange when I lived in New Rochelle, N.Y.; I was four. When we were children, our parents would tell my sister and me that we would be sent to the Children’s Exchange if we persisted in misbehaving. On occasion, we would drive by a small, run-down shop that they would point out and tell us that was where parents could take their children if they wanted new ones. This was the most powerful behavioral control agent with which they could have threatened me. I was petrified the time would come when I would inadvertently provoke them and the inevitable would happen. I would be left at The Children’s Exchange until a home with less exacting standards for behavior could be found for me. The part that was hardest for me was the idea that my parents would get a replacement for me. Someone that loved me and accepted me no matter what. I was relieved when we moved to new Jersey because I didn’t think my parents would drive an hour to take me there. Then it occurred to me that The Children Exchange might be a franchise! I wasn’t confident that my misbehavior wouldn’t result in a trip to The Children Exchange until I was at least twelve.

As a mother myself, I wondered what on EARTH my parents were thinking when they fabricated this story. I went to the source, and asked my mother. “We had no idea you believed us, dear. We showed you the second hand shop so you would know it was simply a joke.”
“But Mom, I really believed there was a place called The Children’s Exchange that you might take me. I thought you identified it as our destination if we were naughty.”
“Your father and I thought that calling a used clothing store The Children’s Exchange was witty. When we told you we would take you there, we thought you understood that it was the name of a thrift shop. We would never, not for anything, exchange you for anyone or anything. We love you! How awful that you believed it.”

That was when, once again, I understood how we make mistakes as parents --unwittingly, at times. Never mind the missteps we take with full conviction that we are doing the right thing. There are the inadvertent scars we inflict upon our children without even realizing it. I am left wondering what version of The Children Exchange my children will bring to my attention.
Day 41

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Brooklyn from Bed

I am lying on a bed in the Nu Hotel. The Nu Hotel is a boutiquey hotel located in Brooklyn. It has this cool, edgy feel. My room is done in white, black and grey with high ceilings, a mirrored wall and leather seating. The bed is mounded with a white down comforter and a white pane-square coverlet. The bath tub is comfortable, the hot water, plentiful. The requisite 32” flat screen t.v. is dwarfed by the 3 x 4 foot black and white photo of pedestrian traffic mounted alongside of it. All afternoon, sunlight has streamed in through windows that take up most of one wall. There are sheers to pull if the glare becomes too much. A polite knock at the door announced the housekeeper. I thanked her and declined the services. When I asked her where the ice machine was located, a hotel engineer who was passing by offered to bring me some. This kind of service orientation has typified all my experiences with the staff here. It is making my stay here pleasant.
When I made plans to visit my daughter, I knew I would not be up to our typical walking, shopping and exploration of her adopted city. I prepared her in advance so she wouldn’t have unrealistic expectations. As it turns out, I am the one who is disappointed. She accepts me exactly as I am.
We have enjoyed the time we have shared. I have been available to her to return to after class, before work and when her schedule permits. I have been frustrated not to be tackling the City with the gusto and enthusiasm I have in the past. However, if I practice a bit of mental discipline, I can tuck away my thoughts of lingering over a long meal in a fine restaurant, or picking through the racks at Saks, or losing myself in a Broadway show. Instead, I cherish the memory of my proximity to my daughter and her life. I treasure the opportunity to kiss her cheek because I love her, I feel grateful for the generous spirit that prompted her to buy me a pair of leggings, I hold on to the fact that I made the trip at all!
And if I have a bit more downtime than I would have liked, I am pleased to have had the chance to explore my creative side using my Iphone camera.
Day 40

Friday, October 21, 2011

French Literature

I made a mistake today. I opened the Barnes and Noble home page. From the home page, I started following book title after book title, from reviews to authors to titles again, then back to reviews. I felt like I was tracing a spider web of literary achievement. This
maze-like odyssey started innocently enough.
The first book I looked at on the website was In the Woods by Tana French. The simple reason I found this 2008 novel published by the Penguin Group was the word FRENCH.
I had searched Barnes and Noble for a current title in literary fiction that was written in french. Too much for the search engine to handle, it gave me a close second, a book written by French.
When I initiated a search after the Tana French lead, I changed the command to “Recent novels written in FRENCH.” I bet you can guess what happened. I’ll help. I got Tana French’s 2009 book, The Likeness. My third original phrase was French language book. In response to that search, I discovered that Tana French authored Faithful Place in 2011.
What happened next was my undoing. I started reading the list of books I might like to read if I had enjoyed Tana French’s work. I started reading reviews indiscriminately. The more I wanted to leave to return to search for a book in french, the more I felt drawn to the thousands of amazing reads available in English. Finally, my eyes alighted upon Firefly Lane by Kirsten Hannah. It was published in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press. If you are curious, Barnes and Noble describes it in the following way,

“From the New York Times bestselling author of On Mystic Lake comes a powerful novel of love, loss, and the magic of friendship. . . .”

In my opinion, that could describe a broad number of novels. “A powerful novel of love, loss, and the magic of friendship.” Something about that phrase resonated in a particular way. What could it be? In a rush to solve this perplexing mystery, I opened my own folder called The Growing Season. This is the working title of the novel I am trying to publish. In a letter that I wrote to an agent last year, I found this phrase, “The Growing Season is a moving novel about love, loss and the power of redemption.”
I knew there was something familiar about the description about Kirsten Hannah’s book. However, there was one HUGE difference. Her book has been published and thrives in today’s market. Such a realization can be a blow to a writer's fragile ego. Shopping at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon tend to have that affect on me. I look at the scads of books for sale and I wonder, if they were published, why not mine?

Back to the precipitating impetus for my search. I discovered that, by going to www.Amazon.fr, virtually ALL the titles are in french. Now it becomes a matter of choosing the best one....without the teeth of jealous envy taking a bite out of me.
Day 39

Thursday, October 20, 2011


If ever I wondered whether my trip to see my daughter was a good idea, I had validation this afternoon. After a three-hour train ride, enjoyed lying flat across two seats, I was pleased to arrive at Penn Station. My daughter was there to help me maneuver both my case and myself into a cab for the ride to her house in Brooklyn.
I had seen pictures and heard reviews, but it was first time I saw it as it sits. This property is nestled in a small, hidden courtyard, surrounded on all sides by brick buildings. This erst-while carriage house was built decades before its neighbors. It has been grandfathered by Brooklyn building codes and manages to just squeak by on public health ordinances. For instance, in Massachusetts, law requires two forms of egress from any structure built for the purpose of dwelling. There is one door in this two-story home. The steps leading upstairs are steep and narrow. The razor-sharp metal lip on each step seems to make it that much more hazardous. However, the house has many charms. Large windows, wood floors, extravagant space, clean,white walls, and charm galore. The winter heating bills remain a topic of estimation; the heat has yet to be turned on this season.
The first thing my daughter and I did after unloading bags and coats was to go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. A favorite we both love. My daughter moved confidently setting out mugs, filling and heating the kettle, grabbing the honey. She remarked that was the last of the honey I had given her -- it was made by an apiarist from our hometown. Just as she tossed the container in the trash, my daughter squealed. Her face flushed and her eyes went wide in astonishment. I couldn’t fathom why. She ran to get her phone but remained immune to my questions. She clicked a photograph and had texted it to her roommates before I walked over to the garbage to see what had caused such a frantic reaction. The corner of the trap and the tail told me everything.
We had to wait for her roommate to come home before serious discussion could begin about removing the varmint. I wanted to scoop it up, throw it out and be done with the whole thing, They had different thoughts. Her roommate called home to get advice on removal unwanted animals. The upshot was that they wanted to put off dealing with it. Off they went to do errands.
I am a mother. I am a warrior. I donned plastic bags (no rubber gloves to be found) swept the offending creature up and tossed it. I poured a quarter of gallon of bleach where it had lain. After waiting fifteen minutes, I put on my plastic bags-cum-rubber gloves to mop up the remainder of the offending fluids. I packaged everything in a black Hefty trash bag, tied it tightly shut and set it by the (one and only) door to go out to the curb for garbage pickup the next morning.
Welcome to Brooklyn.
Day 39

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Preparation for a Leave-taking

Tomorrow, I leave my quiet sanctuary on the mountain to head to Brooklyn, NY. Just the very notion of moving from this locale to that tires me. However, with the knowledge that my daughter will be waiting for me at Penn Station, inspires me to think through outfits, calculate meals and re-inventory my electronics for travel. My daughter and I have planned nothing more taxing than ordering meals in, watching movies and shopping together - on the internet. I have a hotel in close proximity of her house so she has ready access to my room. It may not be the Mother-Daughter weekend we have shared in the past, but I believe we are simply grateful to have the time together. I will enjoy seeing her in her milieu and she will be pleased to share her world with me. These memories are sweet jewels to treasure for a lifetime.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Messages of Grocery Check-out LInes

If I had the opportunity to undergo deep psychoanalysis, one of the topics I would put on the table for discussion would be the number of important, life-shaping moments I have had in grocery-store check-out lines. Perhaps the simple frequency of my shopping excursions can account for placing me at the right place at the right time. Perhaps there is some higher power pulling the strings. In any event, I have managed to be extract and decode some of the messages that were meant for me.
My home is the direct result of me being stuck in a grocery store cart-jam (similar to a log-jam, but pertaining to grocery carts). After a slow-moving cashier had completed ringing out the order two carts ahead of me, I shoved my cart forward by the length of one cart. My line of vision was altered so that it fell straight on the magazine rack. There is a reason the displays leading up to the cash register are designed for impulse buying. I reached for a Better Homes and Garden Magazine. As I flipped through it, (thoughtfully replacing the magazine order cards as they tumbled to the ground), I stumbled upon a pictorial on the 1995 Home of the Year. My jaw dropped. I was staring at my dream home. Within a week, I had shelled out the $395 to order three sets of plans. It took another eight years to find the right parcel of land. As the house was framed, I had the unique sensation of having a dream materialize right before my eyes. All this because of a magazine in the grocery check-out line.
Three years ago, I was watching the woman who bagged my food to make sure bananas stayed on top, that meats were wrapped in plastic and that fruits and vegetables were packed together. Quickly, I grasped she was experienced at her job. I turned my attention back to the list in my hand. The cashier asked me, “How’re you doing today?” I laughed “I am okay, thanks. I just wish my “TO DO” list was a lot shorter.” I extended my hand to show her a list with about twenty things scrawled on it. The bagger laughed in a good-natured sort of way and said, “If I do three things, just THREE things, and do them well, I have had a good day, Tomorrow you can start over.” The cashier and I stopped our chattering to turn at look at this woman. At first impression, she appeared to have some sort of challenge, but whatever it was, it didn’t keep her from articulating some of the best advice I ever received. Ever since, I make my To DO lists, then I let my eye scan until I have chosen three things, just THREE things that I want to get done without fail. The sense of accomplishment I garner from completing those three things often propels me to do more.
“Bride Marries Her Sister’s Husband,” Alien Invasion Explains Rosie’s Weight Loss,”
“Brad and Angelina May Adopt Quintuplets.” These magazine headlines typify what I might read while waiting my turn to empty my shopping cart. The nearly obscene and always intrusive photos on the covers scream at passersby to LOOK, LOOK AT ME. I rarely do. Rather than a single life-shaping moment, these rags remind me, every time I see them, to grateful for the quiet anonymity of my life. Navigating life’s challenges is complicated enough. No-one, but no-one, deserves to be judged, maligned and castigated by others. Apparently, the practice of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is laid to rest when making money is the incentive.
To make a long story a bit more succinct, a grocery checkout magazine rack led to the home I so love. A grocery bagger shared her secret to having a meaningful life. Do three things, do them well, and let tomorrow take care of what comes. And finally, we, as humans, need to exploit less and love more. In the appalling and invasive way we study each other we seem to have forgotten the basics. Do unto others as you will have them do unto you.
Next time you go shopping, pay close attention when you check out. You might just find a message meant expressly for you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Proper Fit

Among the things that were never mentioned when I agreed to have my hips replaced was the very obvious; the size of my hips would change. Initially, I attributed my new, larger hip size to post-surgical swelling. Nope. As it turns out, the swelling has, for the most part, subsided...and still, I am left with new girth. In addition, I was not prepared for the shock for seeing my “hip bones” protruding at unequal heights. My doctor explained that my legs are, unfortunately, different lengths. He couldn’t change the length of my legs, so he adjusted the placement of the prostheses to accommodate this inequality.
I share this information with you so you can understand why my bag of clothes to share with the Salvation Army is heavy with slacks and jeans and skirts. The clasps simply don’t close. My weight, if anything is less than a year ago. Apparently, my new hips are to blame. It is a basic mathematical equation. I thought bringing out my winter clothes would bring the familiar thrill of seeing my seasonal clothes come back to life. Not so much this year. As I tried on this, pulled on that, I found my wardrobe shrinking at an alarming rate.
Today, I treated myself to a trip to T.J. Maxx. When it came right down to it, I couldn’t bring myself to schlep into a dressing room and try on new clothes. I came up with a feasible solution. I would purchase a new pair of exercise pants. After all, I will be doing adductor and abductor exercises for the rest of my life. I might as well look good while doing them. The other bonus my idea offered was that exercise pants stretch. No need to worry about the taking off and trying on most pant purchases require.
I chose a pair of black New Balance yoga pants with “an extra booty lift.” Hey, now that sounded good. When I got home, I couldn’t wait another minute to try them on. One glance in the mirror told the whole story. The hips fit perfectly....but the pants were too short.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ice War

“Greater men that I have been defeated by ice.”

This was the phrase that ran through my head as I applied hot towels to an ice dam that formed inside my wine cooler. The explanation for the two inch-deep coating of ice on the back of the refrigerator has to do with confluence of humidity, heat and cold. The resulting ice caused six cans of soda to freeze, three of which - exploded. Coke, Pepsi and club soda coated bottles of water, wine and soda that were neatly placed in rows nearby. The sticky liquid evaporated to a glue-like consistency that was syrupy with sugar. The glass door of the refrigerator and the glass shelves were glazed in dehydrated soda.
I have to confess, that for an instant, I considered taking my bottle of ice tea and shutting the refrigerator door without taking appropriate action. It would be so easy to turn a blind eye.
My inner good do-bee voice steered me clear from the dark side. I went into the kitchen to assemble equipment. First, I put on a kettle of water to boil. I located kitchen gloves,
several dish clothes, a big bath towel, a sponge and a plastic spatula. While the water heated, I removed the sodas and water from the refrigerator and washed each one.
I isolated the ones that had exploded from the rest. I brought the glass shelf into the kitchen and used hot water and soap to dissolve the sticky soda sludge. I left the shelf to dry on a dish towel. I heard the whistle of the kettle so I poured the boiling water into a large pot. The back wall of the mini-fridge had a crop of ice that was about 10” high and 24” wide. It was at least 2” thick. Kneeling on a pillow, I could lean in and lay down towels that had been soaked in the boiling water. The ice showed little sign of melting after doing that repeatedly for thirty minutes. I decided to go at it like a warrior. I balled up a bath towel and laid it on the floor of the fridge. With a fresh pot of boiling water, I was able to pour water directly onto the ice, soaking it up with the bath towel. Finally, I saw the ice shrink about an inch all the way around. At this point, I was lying on my back because my hips were arguing with me about doing this project to begin with. I chopped away at the ice with my plastic spatula. For all my troubles, I got slivers of ice in my face. Nothing more significant than that. My mind cast ahead at what needed to be done in order to put this project to bed. Ice and all. I still had to wash and put away about thirty cans of soda and water. It was at that instant I conceded defeat for today.
Over the next ten minutes, I did cleanup duty and returned things to order. Towels went into the washing machine. The pot was rinsed, dried and put away. The spatula was dried and put away. I put away the soda and water and ice tea -- minus six cans of soda and an inch of ice- placing them back into the clean refrigerator. The glass door looks so much nicer without the veneer of soda coating it.
The ugly truth, however, is that the ice won. I did not succeed in removing all of it.
All I could do was make sure none of the soda cans or bottles of wine could come directly in contact with it. The ice, short of my unplugging the refrigerator and waiting overnight, was victorious.
Not just the Titanic was defeated by ice.
Day 37

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Television in My Life

When I was a child, my parents granted me the special privilege of having a television set in my room. I spent more time than I would like both in, and on, my bed. I converted my bed into a ship, booking passage to far away places. When my books grew boring, I turned to television. My father had purchased a “remote control” unit that plugged into the small black and white television I had been privileged to receive. The remote control consisted of a long cord ending in a small cylinder with a button. On/off functions were the total of its functions. I memorized the theme songs (and wrote lyrics when I deemed it necessary) to the Dick VanDyke Show, Bewitched, The Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat Junction, I Spy, Star Trek, The Man from Uncle, Laugh-in, Superman, The Partridges, the Waltons and multitudes of others. With the advent of readily accessible digital recordings, characters, plots and music from my past can now spill directly out of my laptop in some kind of distorted mirror of my childhood memories. Thanks to Infinity, curtesy of Comcast, I can slow down, stop moving so fast. I manage to make the morning last.
More than forty years have passed. My bed is larger, my boat sails further.
Now I am watching shows with more complex plots and less memorable theme songs.
Many are British or less-favored American shows such as: Doc Martin, Monarch of the Glen, Persons Unknown, Inspector Lewis, A Touch of Frost, and Kidnapped. In addition, a whole new genre of reality shows was spawned. It is simply impossible to compare The Bachelor or Survivor with Murphy Brown or Get Smart. They are in a league of their own.
There are people who have opined that television is a contributing factor to the downfall of American culture and literacy. What if they are wrong? I have managed to read one to three books a week for my entire adult life. I am inspired by how both books and television provide grist for the mill. I am able to synthesize new thoughts.
What I know for sure is that I am grateful to have a companion that does not require feeding, responds to my commands, serves to distract and educate me and grants me free-range on a planet of which I have seen little.
I continue my love affair with books, but I definitely have a place for television in my life.
Day 36

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Self-Proclaimed Foodie

I was not born into a foodie family. I have compiled sufficient data to support this claim. When I joined Ancestry.com, I expected to streamline the stack of notes and scraps of paper that I have accumulated over the past forty years. My filing system consisted of placing anything to do with my ancestors or my husband's family into a folder called "Heritage." It was my intent to coalesce the data so I could create a family tree for my children. With the accessibility of actual documents from both the United States and Europe, I am able to trace my family tree as far back as 1642! Nothing about what I read about my British, Scottish, French and German forbearers suggested an extravagant love of food. (Witchcraft, that is another story. A blog-worthy one at that!) More accurately, as I leaf through the past, I sense a well-honed practice of parsimony. I imagine diets based on food on hand; bread pudding to use up yesterday's stale bread heels, shepherd's pie to reengineer leftover meat and naturally the ubiquitous potato. The preferred beverage, tea, was likely served six times a day. That requires nothing more than tea leaves and water.
The solid Portuguese legacy that makes up my husband's family suggests a long history of life on, or, near the ocean. It is easy to imagine that, particularly the women, of his family developed cooking skills that reflected their culture and their pasts. I have copied many more recipes from his family than from my own. The Portuguese people make use of the riches offered up by the region and its proximity to Mediterranean Sea. The meals are colorful, rich with olive oil, deep red wines, fresh-slaughtered kpork, air-filled yeasty breads, goat cheeses and sweet grapes.
Ah, but I digress. My own affection for food was inadvertently revealed at a very public venue.
About twenty years ago, my mother took me to a diner in Falmouth, Massachusetts. She had developed a habit of going for coffee after her twice/week exercise class. My mother had become friends with numerous local women who met there routinely. These women were well-acquainted with my mother and her family. They greeted me as if they already knew me. Going through those doors, I had attained celebrity status. I surprised my mother, her friends and, frankly, myself, with the wry and comedic accounts of food in the Evans household. Once I started with the monologue about some of my mother's most memorable meals, I couldn't turn it off. I was worried I might offend my mother, but she seemed to be laughing as sincerely (and raucously) as the rest of my audience. I sat on a spinning barstool at the head of a U-shaped counter with my mother by my side. I was like a computer downloading food stories that, without humor, might have been sad. My talents as a raconteur were revealed as I launched into the routine; at age 17, I discovered there are two halves to an English muffin. I thought each half WAS an English muffin. I felt like I was channeling Ellen DeGeneres, an up and coming comedic personality at the time, when I went into a riff describing the dinner party at which my mother served us each four freshly boiled frozen ravioli in a soupy layer of tomato sauce. The bowl of salad contained six leaves of lettuce, half a cucumber and one tomato. The meal was without a realistic serving size of ravioli, wine that might have made it more palatable, garlic bread to sop up the soupy tomato sauce and a salad with dressing. By now, the women in my audience were falling off their stools laughing. I moved onto the sketch describing the Christmas Eve meal of lima beans and a slightly undercooked pound of meatloaf. There was a salad on the side. This meal was meant to serve six. My sister, her husband, my husband and I went out for Chinese food after we cleaned up the dinner dishes. Before the crowd turned maudlin, I launched into my habit of eating half a frozen banana cream pie after dinner every night during my junior year in high school. They were jealous that I did not gain weight. I explained it would be hard since I subsisted on air and banana cream pie. I explained that I started taking over preparing meals a few times each week when I was sixteen. I closed my comedic routine with the heartfelt observation that our shared family dinners were sacrosanct even if the food was lacking.
As we walked out to the car my mother remarked, "I didn't know you had that in you!"
Clearly, food was an important issue in our family. I believe a psychiatrist would be delighted to have me on her couch for at least three or four years on this issue alone.
I started to learn how to cook in third grade. The mother of one of my classmates was a chef and offered to give us weekly lessons. I continued to learn my way around the kitchen when I enrolled in Home Economics in middle school. By high school, I knew I wanted to be fully proficient in all aspects of meal planning and preparation. I volunteered in the school kitchen and I enrolled in a mini-course offered for a month. By junior year, I was confident enough to host a dinner party. It was an occasion to dress up and entertain boys. I served Spaghetti and Meatballs. Safe. It felt like we were playing adults.
In college, I bought second-hand cookbooks and read them on Saturday afternoons as a respite from studying for school. I tried out hundreds of recipes. Very little daunted me. If a meal turned out to be totally inedible, I trashed it and ate Cheerios. It was only a matter of time that my Joy of Cooking would become subjected to my habit of writing about it. I was fortunate enough to find acceptance at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. I made a habit of testing every recipe I wrote about. It wasn't until I had been doing it for several years that I found many of the other contributors were not that rigorous. I loved sharing my passion for food and literature with others.
I may have hung up my pseudo-career as a comedienne, I may have distanced myself from the Gazette because it was not financially rewarding, I may not write about food on a weekly
any longer, but I am still a foodie.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Foodie is an informal term for a particular class of aficionado of food and drink. The word was coined in 1981 by Paul Levy and Ann Barr, who used it in the title of their 1984 book The Official Foodie Handbook.
Food remains an interest, a hobby, a passion and a culinary delight. Which explains
why, when Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer arrived in the mail today, I read it cover-to-cover while making notes about what I would like to buy if I am fortunate to find a ride there. Trader Joe seduces the reader into wanting to pick up the car keys and motor on down to the market. Let me know if you are going that way!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Silver Linings

I was particularly pleased with what I accomplished yesterday. I had hired a young woman to help me with the task of putting away my spring and summer clothes. My closet is not large enough to accommodate everything simultaneously, so this is a necessary rite of season.
Silver Lining: I spent 2 1/2 hours with a perfectly lovely 23 year-old woman who is excited about life and what the future holds for her. She is earning her master’s degree in occupational therapy. By nature, she is a compassionate person, but she was also organized, and fashion-savvy enough to advise me on pointed-toes shoes or skirt-lengths.
In fairly quick order, we sorted into piles clothes to share with others, clothes to sell to a second-hand store or those that need repair before wearing. We discussed ideas to reorganize my closet and, the big bonus, we emptied two boxes from the basement. The elimination of boxes from basement storage is a project that has lasted six years thus far. Every collapsed box helps.
Among the clothes that I will try to sell are numerous pairs of pants. When I exercised due diligence by trying them on before putting them away, I discovered more than half of my skirts and pants no longer fit. At first, I was appalled. My weight is less than last year, but my clothes don’t fit? Panic! Then it struck me; my new hips! Out came the tape measure and sure enough, I boast an extra two inches on my once nonexistent hips.
Silver Lining: I will have to replace some of my clothes due to my prostheses. Hmmm. A legitimate reason to shop.
While we were rooting through storage bins, I decided to pull out the winter coats and hats and mittens for the family. It took a bit of extra time and hauling, but it is satisfying to open the mudroom door and see the rows of boots, the boxes of gloves, hats and scarves. Coats in all sizes and colors hang at the ready for the first cold snap.
Silver Lining: I am fortunate enough to have clothes warm enough to serve in this climate. I know my children will be well-equipped this winter, and I will still have enough to share with those less fortunate than we are.
As the cold, bone-chilling days of winter come closer with each revolution of the earth, I watch the days grow shorter. Sunrises bring light but less warmth. I turn to nesting to give me a sense of control over the impeding change in season. I will be ready for whatever winter delivers.
Silver lining: I have flannel sheets for my bed and plans to travel to the tropics at the beginning of the new year.
Day 34

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I'm Being followed by a Moon Shadow

For all of my adult life, Cat Steven’s song, I’m Being Followed by a Moon Shadow, has played in my head based on a lunar schedule. As the moon waxes, I hear a barely audible humming. The humming builds to a crescendo and I am likely to break into verse when the moon has risen full and bright overhead.
The moon was full last night. Its shadows were cast by the sun’s reflected light on its dark face. Elongated shadows danced on the ground as the wind bent the trees. Over time, I have read up on the moon because it fascinates me as it has fascinated mankind through out the ages. For instance, when trying to discern if the moon is waxing or waning, the following nuemonic device is helpful..

L-E-ft hand curve = D-E-creasing
R-I-ght hand curve = I-ncreasing
Using the curve of the the hand from pointer finger to thumb, if the Moon’s crescent fits the curve of the L-E-ft hand, than it is D-E-creasing. If the crescent fits the R-I-ght hand, then it is -I-ncreasing.

My mother would use the phrase “once in a blue moon,” frequently. When I finally looked it up, I was surprised to learn that a blue moon occurs every 2 1/2 years; it is the
phrase used to describe the second of two full moons in the same month. The lunar cycle is 27.3217 days and, as a result, a blue moon is the result of a reliable mathematical probability.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac was kept in my my parents’ bathroom when I was growing up. I would love to read about the many kinds of moons and how to use them to manage the seasonality of nature. It has always been my aspiration to right a novella consisting of twelve chapters that would correspond with our many moons:
Full Wolf Moon
Full Snow Moon
Full Worm Moon.
Full Pink Moon
Full Flower Moon
Full Strawberry Moon
Full Buck Moon
Full Sturgeon
Full Harvest Moon
Full Hunter’s Moon
Full Beaver Moon
Full Long Nights Moon

I have yet to write the novella, but I can claim a first-hand knowledge, an intimate viewing of all twelve moons. Under their pale light, I have danced, cried, prayed and loved. The moons have served as silent witness to the days of my life.
Mother Goose memorialized the special allure the moon has for boys and girls everywhere.
Boys and girls, come out to play.
The moon doth shine as bright as day!
Leave your supper and leave your sleep,
And come with your playfellows into the street.
Come with a whistle,
Come with a call,
Come with a good will, or not at all.

Lest the moon hide its face with snow or rain or fog or clouds, I can be assured that another full moon will bring light to illuminate our dark nights.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Scramble in the Bramble

The stonewall begins to take shape as I strip away the brambles.

A surprise discovery - I found both the front and back doors for this animal. I did not investigate too closely.
The luscious raspberries that seduced me also left me scratched and bleeding.

"I went in knowing I was being foolhardy. I went in pigheaded. I went in for reasons too complex to excavate. Mostly, I went in because I wanted to." D.Evans

On our property, there is a stone wall that weaves its way through forest and hillside. It dates back about 150 years or more. I think about the hands that first worked to clear our land without benefit of tractor or plow. Chestnut Mountain is the result of geological events that date back hundreds of thousands of years. lAccording to what I read:
Lava flows are dramatic and important Mesozoic events in the Connecticut Valley and profoundly influence the landscape today. The dark basalt lavas, called "traprock", flowed out over the Mesozoic lowlands, commonly reaching over 100 feet in thickness. Today these flows, tilted by movements along the ancient Eastern Border Fault and then exposed by erosion, form spectacular ridges that stretch tens of miles, creating interesting, dramatic vista points and important upland ecosystems in the middle of the wide valley (Fig. 5). Examples include the Pocumtuck Range (Greenfield - Deerfield, MA) and the Holyoke Range that trends east-west about 10 miles from Amherst to Easthampton, and then southerly for about 60 miles (known as the Metacomet Ridge) to the outskirts of New Haven....
Information from:
Another good resource: http://users.crocker.com/~lhtg/geo.html
From what I can tell, on Chestnut “Mountain,” stones must have been scattered like marbles. In order to make the land manageable, homesteaders had to drag, roll or carry these impediments to perimeter boundaries. After all these years, piles of rocks still stand as testament to those determined souls. The weight of the forces of nature and man come to bear when I look out at the vista from my office; two walls practically open wide to allow this view. Inevitably, I find peace and inspiration when I look out upon the expanse of lawn and mountain, stone and towering pines. Wildlife - deer, fox, squirrels, turkeys (we’ve talked about them enough), possums, chipmunks, porcupines, pheasants, skunks, bears, and one bobcat are animals I have observed from my vantage point.
My husband knows how much I love the view. When we first moved here, six years ago, he cut a swathe through grasses and overgrown raspberry so I could see the stonewall that wends through our property. He had the landscape designer patch parts of the wall with large stones he had unearthed and that had to be relocated. In every season, I have loved looking up from my computer and seeing what traffic might be up at the stonewall -- the water cooler of wildlife. However, nature abhors a vacuum. It races to fill in empty space. In this case, nature went to work filling in the stonewall that had been laid bare. Just this week, I could barely see the large boulders up on the ridge, let alone the stonewall.
Today I was overcome with the desire to bring back the view of the stonewall I love. I covered my legs, donned my gloves and grasped my pruners. I hacked and sawed and chopped to carve out the wall. Nothing about my hips or back encouraged me. Truth be known, they complained loudly. I treated those complaints with blatant (foolhardy) disregard. It was a reckless hour well-spent. Even now, you might find me flat on my back, under treatment with pain medicine. However, a smile of contentment is on my lips; a smile that is likely to return often as the winter months advance and the snow makes new patterns out of familiar shapes.
For me, tackling the raspberry brambles was a battle of epic proportion. However, there were intrinsic rewards...like the flowers I uncovered, the animal hole I unearthed and the warm, plump, red raspberries I popped into my mouth without caution or hesitation. I may be uncomfortable for days, but the pure joy of resurrecting the stonewall will sustain me through the long winter.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Plethora of Words

Since I was very young, I had an affinity for words. I loved anagrams and puzzles. I read the
dictionary with a passion generally reserved for sports. Well, words were my sport. It was my English vocabulary that allowed me to make quick gains on my French vocabulary. It was my English vocabulary that boosted my SAT scores and, presumably, my AP scores in both English and Frenh. (My Advanced Placement tests allowed my to opt out of Freshmen English and French at Mount Holyoke.) Still, I persisted in the belief that I was going to go to med school. I piled on the sciences and felt a bit like I was cheating when I took the prerequisite English courses. The reading was divine. The classwork was fun and stimulating. I pulled A's without trying. Avoiding the obvious, I declared my major in Pscyhobiology. I intended to minor in French, but, after two years, I lost myself in neurophysiology and my French was suffering. I realized I had to let something go. I needed to stack the deck if I was going to survive the rigors of two years of Organic Chemistry that I would need for med school. So it's easy to see, years later, that I was skating right past the obvious. Language, in its many shiny facets, came to me easily because I loved it. I wanted to be hardcore and push myself to do well in a field that captivated my interest, but not my heart. In today's vernacular, I was not being authentic. Someone who loves words the way I so, should be crafting them for a living. Instead, I began working in a lab on the genome labeling project. I did help edit the papers that we published...
To fill that secret passion I had for language, I started writing articles on a freelance basis for the Daily Hampshire Gazette in 1980. I was assigned a cantankerous editor who barked criticism at me whenever we spoke. He improved my writing. I freelanced for the Gazette for years. I took a long break when I realized that, in 2005, I was earning the same I earned in 1980. No fancy calculations, dollar for dollar, the same amount. How disheartening.
I started writing a novel, "The Growing Season", in 2005. Finished it in 2009. I could serialize it and post chapters, but so far, I have not found an agent who wants to take me on.
That being said, I still think words are mine to use, to craft, to hone. One of my favorite editors at the Gazette, Margot C., cautioned me about using words that may not be familiar to the newspaper's readers. I kind of laughed because, years earlier, I had received virtually the same advice from my sister. The night before I was about to start a new job working for Shawmut Bank, we had dinner together. She suggested, "Be careful you don't use big words, or no one will like you."
Well, on that point, I have not paid heed to Margot or my sister -- only because I must stay true to who I am. As I raised my three children, I spoke to them using adult words, beautiful and expressive words. My assumption that they understood me because the words were used in context was proved wrong about twenty years too late! My son and daughters told me over dinner recently that they had absolutely no idea what I was talking about half the time. This news caused side-splitting hysterical laughter. To think!
I still content that Words are a gift for us to use to try to express ourselves to the best of our ability. In 1979, my parents, knowing my love-affair with the English language, gave me the unabridged Webster's dictionary. It is on my library shelf now, its binding frayed and worn. My mother and father honored my love for words once again in 2003 when they gave me The Superior Person's Book of Words by Peter Bowler. It boasts words from Abecedarian (arranged in alphabetical order) to Zzxjoanw (A Maori drum -- man, that is a Scrabble winner!). Honestly, what better way to spend some free time than to avoid utter nescience (lack of knowledge) by expanding your vocabulary?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Martha Stewart and I

Last week, I was channel-surfing when I happened upon Martha Stewart with her round vowels and elongated syllables as she touted the joy of naturalizing bulbs. She had, as her guest, a gentleman from Holland and a famed landscape designer who has designed the largest bulb garden in the world. Okay, my interest was piqued. Years ago, at our home in Sunderland, I planted 100 daffodil bulbs from White Flower Farm. I buried another 50 tulip bulbs. Over the years, they slowly filled in the pool area and I felt like I had accomplished something that elevated our vision of spring annually. In the six years since we moved to Chestnut Mountain, I have resisted planting bulbs. On a ten-acre lot, where would I begin? But then my husband put up a twelve feet fence and my mission was defined. With Martha's encouragement and my husband's carpentry, I could envision tulips and narcissus plants, hyacinths and tulips blooming next year. Martha's film crew set up a time-lapse camera and in two minutes, we watched a year of her 110,000 blue-hued bulbs transform from bulb to plant to withered leaves. It occurred to me I could do a smaller scale show and tell on my blog. So, here we go... I bought the bulbs. I will bury them in their deep soil nests and hope that deers disregard them, that the winter freeze doesn't burn them and that the warm rays of sunlight will lure them to the surface next spring. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Often, I am overwhelmed by the generosity, both in spirit and deed, of my friends. The gestures may be large, they may be small, they may be tangible or they may be intangible. The important thing is that, in those moments I find myself most alone, I am buoyed by the knowledge that I am loved. The gifts of love have a shelf-life of their own.
So far, I have not found them to expire.
I have the fairly uniqued ability to predict the cost of a trip to the market to an amount within one dollar. It is uncanny. As the cashier starts to ring out my groceries, I whisper under my breath, “$219.” The cashier will intone, “That will be $219.89 with your coupons.” Tada!!” I did it again. I mention this kind of arcane talent because of its parallel to the running tally of the kindnesses bestowed upon me by others.
I would like to share just a few of the ways people have touched my life with their generosity.
My husband has, over the span of thirty-five years, given me his love. He has been present through the daily challenges and the most difficult moments in my life. And when it becomes too much, he has recruited help from others to support me.
One Christmas, my husband and I decided to forego the expense of a Christmas tree. We were both in college, money was tight, and we were heading home for a few days anyway. Our shock was real when we came back to our apartment on December 27th. What did we find? A six-foot pine tree aglow with lights, decorated with hundreds of ornaments! Our friends, Ernie and Frank, had a key to our place. Little did we know that they were of the opinion that no home should be treeless at Christmas. They had three in their apartment. So, our little elves used the five days of our absence to prepare a surprise of seasonal splendor.
Once, when my daughter was sick, a friend offered his plane to fly her to Johns Hopkins. Another time, when I was undergoing major surgery, another friend who himself had undergone multiple surgeries, insisted on upgrading my hospital room to the Shapiro Pavilion. The Shapiro Pavilion provides patients with private nursing in an hotel-like setting. It was a large scale gesture typical of a large-hearted man.
I have hundreds of small kindnesses over my adult lifetime; books delivered, meals served, bedside visits, magazines shared, a smile, a touch, a phone call, a note, a healing playlist.
I have had friends take time out of their lives to escort me to doctors’ appointments, drive me to physical therapy, take vacation to play nurse to my patient. Phone calls to offer help in preparing meals, help shopping, help with my chores. I have had a friend open her home to me during a period of recuperation from surgery. She nourished my body and soul with nutritious meals and positive attitude. My cousin sends me goodwill packages from time to time. Another friend calls me daily whenever she deems that I need it.
My friend’s husband has earmarked the library in his 14-bedroom Vineyard house as my home away from home. Then there is my friend who has made me “goddess boxes” for twenty years. When I first had children, she worried that I was forgetting that I was a goddess, not just what I called a “milk-dud.” With three children under five years old, I felt like I was nursing, feeding or cleaning children 24 hours/day. It was she who would not allow me to succumb. She has sent me a box of 20 or so wrapped gifts every year. Three or four might be for the children, the rest, for me. I would take months to draw out the pleasure of opening her gifts. I never expect the goddess boxes, there is no schedule. They just arrive. One arrived just yesterday!
Like my uncanny ability to predict the grocery total, I have an another super power. It may be wrong to come out and admit this, but it is an extension of my abilities as a grocery bill savant. I have a sixth sense about how far I lag behind in giving back to the world the blessings that have been bestowed upon me. That having been said, I will continue to try to give back the multitudinous gifts that I have received, but the magnitude of them far exceeds my insubstantial efforts to balance my account.
Day 32

Friday, October 7, 2011

Frank Talk

I try very hard to put a positive spin on the events in my life. After all, negativity tends to feed negativity, whereas as positivity breeds optimism. I can see how very much of my internal compass was tempered by the books I read as a child. Case in point, look on your library’s bookshelves. There, you will find 100-year old books about girls who had indomitable and cheerful spirits; they uplifted even the most cantankerous people in town with their kind hearts and winning smiles. One such book was called Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and another was Pollyanna. These novels shared the theme of how a sunny and optimistic disposition can bring light into the darkest days. Another significant influence on my perspective on life is easily traced to the Beatitudes, purportedly preached by Jesus at his Sermon on the Mount:

List of Beatitudes:
As of in Matthew 5:3-12:
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I mean no disrespect to those religious scholars amongst you by referring to Jesus, Polyanna and Rebecca in one breath. However, each, in its own way laid down the tracks on my psyche about how to deal with a life that, at times, seems imperfect and injust. I have looked for answers from Kahill Gibran to Ghandi, from Jonathon Livingson Seagull to Pooh Bear. Rabbi Kushner is yet another frequent advisor when I feel life’s challenges are outnumbering me. That inner mechanism that lifts us out of despair, allows us to feel empathy for others, and grants us the ability to bestow forgiveness upon ourselves and others seems to be a universal constant across time, culture and character. I have been fortunate to have had glimpses of that chimera-like secret for brief instances. When I have it pinpointed, I will certainly write a best-seller, be interviewed by Oprah and earn my own place in history.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs 1955-2011: A Man I Did Not Know

Most of us hope to live a life in which we are loved, a life in which we matter and finally, a life after which, we will be remembered. I did not know Steve Jobs, but I can safely say that he has led such a life. This man I did not know has profoundly enhanced the quality of my life. I am disabled and his genius brings me the world every day. By computer, by phone, I am connected.
Last weekend, my seventeen-year old son insisted I sell my three-year old Macbook and replace it with a Macbook Air because it is so much lighter and easier for me to manage. I have my life organized on my iPhone and FaceTime let's me visit my children who have scattered to the winds whenever they agree to it. Steve Job's imagination intersects with my life all the time.
My first job out of college was working for a financial consulting company that specialized in performing reimbursement analyses for hospitals in the Northeast. We used "sophisticated" computer-modeling on a mainframe that was housed in a separate building. The building had huge air-conditioners in order to cool the room in which the computer worked its magic. It was the off-spring of a University of Massachusetts project put to good use. We heard someday, computers would fit in our briefcases, but it was hard to believe.
Five years later, I had a job training Silicone Valley executives on principles of leadership and communication. The seismic shift between dial up modems and the room-sized monsters to which I was accustomed and these new computers they were building was hard to digest. I inched along with the rest of the world on my p.c., wondering about the future.
Inadvertently, I learned about Macs after a brilliant computer designer from Washington state came and stayed at my house for a couple of weeks while his mother, my next-door neighbor, died. This man, often homeless, would pick up work troubleshooting at Fortune 500 companies when their computer systems crashed. He would earn buckets of money, live on it until it ran out, then repeat the process. He told stories of working with this guy from his I had never heard of. He told me to write down these names. " STEVE JOBS and STEVE WOZNIAK.. Trust me, we worked together on some projects in the late 70's. You will hear his name a lot soon enough. You wouldn't believe what Steve Jobs is doing…." then my guest launched into a language I couldn't possibly profess to understand, particularly while manning the chaos of three children under five. In retrospect, I feel like I had an oracle in my house.
Steve Jobs came home to me through my son. Since he has been eleven, my son stretch out on his bed, lying on his stomach, reading daily Apple.com updates. He teases me about my former habit of reading the dictionary. Little does he know his kids will probably tease him about his intense study and knowledge of all things Apple. He has been getting to the point that he can predict product direction and marketing strategy. Tonight, my son came in to my room and told me Steve Jobs died.
"Mom, I can't believe it. He was my inspiration."
So Steve Jobs has found his way into my life on many levels. I did not know Steve Jobs, but his life has mattered to me, and he will be remembered.

Dawn Elise Evans

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Kitchen Rivalry

My sister gave me a wedding shower before I was married. The gifts I received were generous and varied. There were the requisite naughty nightgowns and the ubiquitous bowls and two crystal serving platters. One present, in particular, has maintained a place of honor on my kitchen counter for about thirty years. My mother could not attend the shower, but she sent an Oster blender to my sister to give to me. My mother had had one when I was growing up and knew I used it often when I lived at home. I appreciated the gift.
About ten years ago, my mother gave me a replacement blender, explaining that that the first one she gave me must have worn out by now. I was delighted by the appearance of the shiny new appliance...until I used it for the first time. The motor was a sorry cousin to the one I was still using. I had taken care of my blender; over the years, I replaced the seals on my Osterizer and I ordered a new lid, when mine melted in the dishwasher. However, no matter what I threw at it, the motor on Osterizer #1 chopped, pureed, and liquified with ease. I can't say the same about Osterizer #2. It's motor was weak and puny. I repackaged #2 and donated it to the Salvation Army after giving it a few month's trial. Out came my favored wedding shower blender. It has continued to serve me well.
Then, I had a brief summer affair with a Vitamixer. While I was recuperating from surgery, my friend opened her Nantucket home to me. It was while ensconced in this inviting paradise that I was introduced to the five stainless steel blades that slice through vegetables and fruits like a Japanese knife through paper. My friend taught me the value of using organic fruits and greens to make daily shakes to supplement my diet. Each day, she would hand me a suspiciously green-looking sludge-like concoction and say, "Drink this." As I started to regain strength, I became a convert to the place these shakes had in my diet as daily supplement.
When I came home, I continued the nutritive regime. I used my Osterizer. It wasn't as speedy, or as thorough at breaking down the fibers of the greens or the crushing raspberries. It wasn't the deluxe model, but it was a workhorse. I was satisfied with what I had.
I had a spirit-lifting surprise when my summer dalliance came to light on my counter today. My dear friend delivered a replica of her Vitamixer to further contribute to my continued healing. I will not abandon my beloved Osterizer. My daughters each have equipped kitchens of their own and I know that my Oster blender would be happy to serve one of them as well as it has served me all these years.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hubris in the Kitchen

In eighth grade, I was introduced to Greek tragedies. I had moved to Rhode Island three months before completing eighth grade. It was a very difficult transition to make socially. The move was made even more difficult because, in my new school, I was placed in all accelerated classes. This did not sit well with my class-mates. In New Jersey, I was accepted for the somewhat bookish scholar that I was. In Rhode Island, this quality was disdained. In retrospect, I did myself no favors by persisting in raising my hand, participating in class and having the annoying habit of always completing my assignments. When I reflect on my poor assimilation to the inner city East Providence school, I set my sights on eighth grade English. It was Oedipus Rex who may have been my undoing. You see, I understood Oedipus. I was absolutely caught up in the drama as it played out. When the teacher lectured on fatal Greek flaws, in particular, hubris, bells were ringing so loudly I thought everyone must be hearing them. Hubris, an exaggerated sense of pride, proved to be the undoing of many Greek characters. This simple stark clarity propelled me to read Agamemnon, The Odyssey, and later, Milton's Paradise Lost. Hubris, in its many forms, always proves to be the undoing of the character foolish to fall victim to it.
So, you might wonder why I would be so foolish as to congratulate myself on my superior cooking skills this afternoon. I even went so far as to wonder why I wasn’t still writing the food column for the newspaper with such a fine command of the kitchen. I had chunks of butternut squash and sliced mushrooms roasting for tomorrow night’s ravioli and butternut squash recipe. The scent of fresh sage wafted through the kitchen in all its savory freshness. Simultaneously, I managed to season and bake chicken breasts for a chicken, rice and grape salad recipe I planned for my lunch tomorrow. While waiting for those to cook, I put together Blondies and lowered the oven temperature to accommodate them. My thoughts turned to dinner tonight so I decided to cook sausage to use in sausage rolls. While the sausage cooked, I got the dough (I used ready-made) rolled out.
I set the timer and went back to my computer to look for hotel rooms. Suddenly, I smelled the Blondies. I raced to the oven, they looked alright. But I knew better. As they cooled, they would get crispy. Not the texture I wanted at all. Distracted, I didn’t turn the sausage, one side over-browned. A sharp knife took care of that. While I was removing the darkened sausage skin, I remembered the timer was no longer set. I nearly dove into the oven after the butternut squash combo. Half of the mushrooms had turned into mushroom chips. I wonder if there is any retail value in that product. I managed to dice the sausage, stuff the dough and bring dinner out of the oven without further incident. However, I could hear the Greek chorus singing the lesson I should have certainly learned by now. Pride goeth before a fall. At least dinner looks quite edible.
Day 29

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mushrooms Galore

Driving down Haydenville Road today, I saw a car pulled over on the berm of the road. The driver crossed the road where a gully seemed to swallow her. She bent over and began to closely examine the ground. My curiosity once piqued was satisfied. She was a mushroom hunter. I have a healthy respect for people who are sufficiently confident in their ability to identify mushrooms that they will put their lives on line with their harvest. There are a plethora of web-sites dedicated to educating people who are curious about the practice. Mushroomhunter.net touts the wonders of the mushroom and all of its fungal cousins. However, before going too far with the raves the authors caution, "There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”(This is attributed to Klingensmith.)
The hill that rolls down from our house, beneath our deck, has produced a prodigious number of mushrooms this year. According to a report I heard from the U.S. Department of Fish and Game, the wet weather this fall produced the ideal conditions for mushrooms to prosper and multiply. I have risked life and limb to balance on the steep hill and photographed them repeatedly. This preoccupation with the wonder of mushrooms reportedly runs in the family. My grandmother’s brother started a business as a teenager when he made a fortuitous discovery of a crop of edible mushrooms growing in one of their grain silos. My great-uncle Donald found hundreds of desirable mushrooms growing happily in the dark, dank damp environment of abandoned corn. Before long, local housewives and restauranteurs turned to him for their mushroom supplies. Happily for all, everyone survived.
I am less sanguine about the prospects of safe selection of mushrooms. I claim a particularly healthy respect for the supermarket, shrink-wrapped varieties after an incident in college. A family who had immigrated to the U.S. from Italy lived in my apartment complex. After several rainy days in a row, we would see the wife (a scarf covering her head and tightly knotted under her chin)out in the apartment common with basket and knife at the ready to hunt mushrooms. Everything was fine....until it wasn’t. I commented to the complex manager that I had not seen the couple lately. His face grew ponderous and sad. “She killed him,” he said. I screeched, horrified- I was envisioning guns, knives and bloody carnage. “She poisoned him when she fed him the wrong kind of mushroom.” It’s been thirty years, and that incident lives as vivid in my memory as if it happened last week. Despite the abundance of mushrooms on our hill, I am not the least tempted to bring them home for dinner. I will stick to the photographic preservation of the mushrooms I find.

Technical glitch: In a perfect example of how life and art merge, my new computer is resisting all my attempts to upload one of the many fabulous mushroom photographs I captured. Apparently, I am lacking the expertise to figure it out tonight. One day, when least expected, pictures of mushrooms will blossom suddenly on my blog. Look for them!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

$1200 into thin Air

I bought my first car from my grandmother's estate for $1200. It was the most I had ever spent on anything. It was a 1969 Dodge Dart. The car brought me freedom and a promise of future adventures. I was surprised to find that today, I felt like I was facing another $1200 opportunity. Recently, my son has been urging me to replace my MacBook. The laptop was a gift from my daughter when she outgrew it eighteen months ago. It served me well. Regrettably, I have over burdened it with music, television shows and photographs. My son's sales pitch succeeded in 1. getting me to the YES computer store 2. getting me to bite the bullet and buy a $1200 computer (which actually came to $1361 when all was said and done) and 3. landing him a job offer at YES computer for next summer. I learned today that, thirty-four years later, $1200 still seems to offer freedom and a promise of future adventures.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sleepwalking Adventures

Sleep is an adventure every night. I picture myself as going on a journey with no GPS or map. In other words, there is not much predictability to the hours between 10:30pm and 6am. I rarely have trouble falling to sleep. My old nemesis, pain, does its job intruding on my shut-eye; after being in one position for two or three hours, I wake up. I use my left hand to pull my right shoulder back into its socket. I reposition my legs with both hands, rewedging the pillow to protect the alignment of my new hips. At that point, I usually put in my earphones and listen to my Ipod. I have night-time playlists and several books on tape that, eventually, lull me to sleep. I may sleep another hour, then pain intrudes. I get up and take a bath hot enough to cook lobsters. I may or may not drop a book into the tub as my muscles relax and sleep tempts me. I climb back into bed and check the time. I may have an hour until it’s time to get up. I practice breathing deeply. I practice patience. I practice prayer. I lie awake waiting. I don’t want to be late to say good morning to Charles.
Complicating the sleep scenario is one small behavioral deviation that has followed me since childhood; I sleep-walk. Talking in my sleep is not subject to life’s stresses. If you talk to me while I am sleeping, I am likely to respond and have no memory of the conversation the next day. Sleep-walking is a bit more complex. It occurs during times in my life that I am feeling out of control. When I first read Heidi I was enormously relieved to find I was not alone. Heidi, despondent about leaving her beloved mountain and grandfather slept walk nightly – searching for a way home. Senior year in high school was the first time that this humorous behavioral aberration intruded on my life in a real way. I woke up in the kitchen having made breakfast for the family. It was 3:30 in the morning and I didn’t recall opening the bacon package or scrambling the eggs. It wasn’t until I was accepted into college that my nighttime adventures stopped.
My nocturnal wanderings have returned intermittently over the ensuing 35 years. Once again, they have claimed me. A couple of months ago, I found that I had gone through the first floor of the house and emptied all the trash, including the large bag in the kitchen. I placed them in a Hefty trash bag. I found evidence of my nesting in the garage the next morning. A few weeks ago, I opened the dishwasher while Charles was eating breakfast only to find I had emptied the dishwasher sometime during the night. This week, my office desk had been tidied and organized while I was “sleeping”. I shouldn’t overlook the night that I woke up because I had walked into a wall full-paced. I thought I was striding across a field. It was a harsh way to wake up. My nose bled. From past experience, I know this, too, shall pass. I will resolve my concerns and my sleep-walking will cease. Until then, each night, I am left wondering where my travels might take me. This morning around 6 am, I woke up and studied my husband’s bureau for a few minutes. It was like the game “What’s wrong with this picture?” from Highlights magazine. Apparently, during my sleep-walking activities last night, I delivered a gift to my husband. I am still trying to figure out if there is some deep meaning or if it was just a random event. More importantly, I am wondering where my walking may take me next.
Day 26